Skimming over the Surface of Our Lives and Missing the Point

A disturbing and all too true assessment of our writing, lives and our times. Read it. Your life depends on it.

A Memoir Is Not a Status Update 

by Dani Shapiro

On the absence of depth, insight and hard won wisdom in today’s writing.  From the New Yorker.

Turn off your phone and computer and read, think, reflect tonight. Maybe even write something surprising and lasting (wink).

You have the time. Don’t kid yourself. Use it.





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The Writing Life and Dealing with the Inevitable Failures (from the New York Times)

[An excerpt from an honest and compassionate look at the terrors and disappointments unique to the writing life.  Recommended!]


 “In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows promise, you keep writing anyway.”–Junot Diaz NYT


“Failure, Writing’s Constant Companion”


Draft is a series about the art and craft of writing

This story is included with an NYT Opinion subscription.
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Failure in writing is not like failure in business, where you lose money and have to fire everyone and remortgage your house. When you’re a writer, most of the time, people don’t depend on you to succeed. Although you may starve if your books don’t sell, or your agent might yell at you for producing something that three people will read, failure in writing is more of an intimately crushing day-to-day thing. O.K., minute-to-minute. Measured against your ideal of yourself.

In the last few years, Philip Roth and Alice Munro decided to put down their pens.

Munro told this newspaper that she didn’t know if she had the energy “to do this anymore.” And Roth said, “I no longer have the stamina to endure the frustration. Writing is frustration — it’s daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It’s just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time.” Roth and Munro have produced many admirable works. They should be allowed to stop failing on a daily basis, if they want to, in their eighth decades.

But the rest of us are stuck.

In writing, failing is not dramatic. There will be no news headline: ANOTHER WRITER FAILED TODAY.

Sure, there are garden-variety failures, the ones everyone can see, like not getting rave reviews, prizes, cushy teaching jobs, fellowships in Tuscany and membership in prestigious intellectual societies. But these are nothing compared to the other ones, invisible to the civilian eye.

Failure in writing is not just external failure. Not having produced a best seller by 23 (or 36 or 54) is the least of your worries.

By the way, unless you come from a family of writers, you can be certain that your family will have no idea what you’re talking about when you mention that you’re failing every day. They will encourage you to become a radiologist. They mean well. They are likely to be worried about the thing that most families are worried about, namely your ability to support yourself in the fashion to which you are accustomed.

But for writers, early on, other kinds of failure demand attention. There is the logistical failure of getting to your desk. Then there is the failure of not being able to stay there. John McPhee once famously tied himself to his chair, which strikes me as a good way to deal with the torpor that overcomes many writers when faced with the blank page or screen.

But even if you succeed here, you can’t stop your mind from getting up and going over to the couch. Another potential failure: pacing. Writing is not like bingeing on “Breaking Bad.” You have to do it every day. Whatever happens.

Sometimes, especially when you’re a young writer, you pay too much attention to what other people think. You worry too much that you are a failure. You measure yourself against other people’s possessions and talent.

Yet, perversely, you have to be inured to success. If you succeed (in the marketplace) right away, you risk failing your talent before you even know what that means. If you don’t succeed, you risk a failure of nerve.

I remember the first time I felt like a bona fide failure as a writer. This feeling of nausea washed over me, but it was confusing because it appeared at the exact moment when I was supposed to be feeling success. It was when I finished my first book and realized there were some things in it that I hated, things that were made all the more hideous to me whenever people said, “You must have such a sense of accomplishment.” I asked a more experienced writer if she ever got over this nauseated feeling. She didn’t reassure me. “Oh, that never goes away.” ….

Read the rest of this terrific piece at

Fascinating up close and personal interviews with major writers on this subject of the writer’s malaise avaIlable FREE in the archives of the legendary archive of the Paris Review Interviews.  All the big shots are there, and are candid, ruthlessly honest, about their languor and pain in dealing with the constant haunting feeling of failure. 

Rachel Shteir is the author, most recently, of “The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting.”

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A Whimsical Incoherent Review of Images from Nearly 3 Years of This Licentious Literarly Lalapalooza

Well, I’ve been “playing in my sandbox.” Don’t make too much of this, wordsmiths, for it’s incomplete and mood dependent (as in mine;)).  I was curious to review some images that had appeared here over the years and at the same time experiment with the WordPress “make a gallery” function. It’s truly “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” but seems to me (self-analyzing) reflective of a feverish, eclectic imagination and a maniacal devotion to language, literature and fine writing.

Is that dangerous or contagious?  Hahaha. Enjoy the weekend! Play!

NOTE: If you click on an image, it expands and the whole thing turns into a slide show. Mirabile dictu!


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Guest Author Margaret Langstaff


Rosie Amber recently conducted an pretty extensive interview with me my about my fiction, in particular about “Twlight’s Indian Princess,” my latest. I thought I’d share with you in the event you might find it interesting.–Margaret …. * P.S. Self-promoting authors immediately get a deaf ear these days, and understandably so.  I re-blogged this, not because I expected soaring sales as a result, but as a testimony to my respect for the hard core purist book lovers and reviewers at Rosie Amber’s Book Reviews who take their mission seriously.  The questions they asked me were tough and required much introspection and thought. It took me hours to respond honestly and sensibly.  I treasure them for their seriousness and dedication and thank them for including me at all (a mystery still to me:))! They are terrific.

Originally posted on Rosie Amber:

Today we welcome Margaret Langstaff to the blog, author of yesterday’s book “Twilight’s Indian Princess”. Here is a link to the book post. (Link to be added)

Margaret Langstaff

Let’s find out more about Margaret and her writing.

Where is your home town?

I live in a small town just west of Gainesville, FL (home to University of Florida, my alma mater) on a small farm with lots of large animals, many of them “rescues,” and crawling with wildlife. I moved here 12 years ago after leaving a career in book publishing to write full time.

How long have you been writing?

I started “writing” in elementary school when I was about ten and took advanced degrees in English Lit and writing at UF.

What genres do you enjoy writing and why?

I don’t really write genre fiction if by that you mean romance, fantasy, sci-fi etc., although I’ve written two funny…

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The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

inspiring blogger logoI was shocked and pleased to be nominated for this.  I’d been nominated for a few other awards in the past but failed miserably to act in a timely fashion on their requirements that I “tag” fifteen or twenty others also deserving of the award and fulfill expeditiously the other requirements attendant on accepting the award.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass on this one too. There is no way I can select just fifteen inspired souls from the many very inspiring fellow bloggers who follow my humble prickly literary blog and nominate only them. It would be a travesty.

I very much appreciate the intended honor, though I feel undeserving of it, and congratulate and applaud other recipients of the award. Kudos!  Bravo!

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The Force That Through the Green Fuse ….

pink-zinnias-9-12-1I am so easily side-tracked and waylaid from my plans for any given day, particularly by the mysterious and beautiful effulgence of the natural world–and (no surprise to my fellow bloggers here) by poetry.

This morning a dew speckled massive blob of hot pink petals, a zinnia the size of a softball as a matter of fact, stopped me in my tracks as I was on my way back from scooping up the equally damp Times at the foot of my driveway.

What is this? said I.  What a gorgeous delicate wad of glorious color! I leaned in for more myopic scrutiny.  I’d planted this miracle myself with a tiny seed and here it was roaring out of the ground on a slender fourteen inch stem.

And wouldn’t you know it? In a nanosecond Dylan Thomas was bellowing in my ear–

The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower*

By Dylan Thomas

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.
The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.
The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.
And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.


[*Wordpress is giving me fits putting in the stanza breaks in this poem! Read the original with proper stanza breaks at ]

The essential unity of all living things, their mystery, transience, all of it powered by, brought into being, and cast down at last by a force we cannot apprehend but in the fleeting particular instance (a flower, a sunset, a lover’s kiss) and only momentarily, for the weight of the matter is too great for our minds to hold for long.

Thomas’ stature among literary critics and the gate-keepers of the canon has ebbed and flowed, though sadly in the main because of his wild man drunkard persona, not from any serious deficiencies in his work. This strikes me as rather ironic and unfair in view of the legions (haha) of wild man drunkard poets who’ve escaped similar censure.  Apparently he could be particularly obnoxious in his cups and went through a number of times when he came across as hopelessly dissolute.

Even so his poetry has survived by virtue of its sheer energy, inventiveness and amazing linguistic virtuosity.  His gift was great and perhaps the burden of it, its “force,” was sometimes too great for him to bear.

The Poetry Foundation has an excellent essay on Thomas’ life, career and fate at the hands of the critics. It’s fascinating and I recommend it –

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Behinder and Behinder: Sun, Moon, Stars, Rain

Rather than feel ridiculous and un-horsed, I’d prefer to “feel” (in public at least) as “tested” and perhaps “tried.”  Hence the henceforth herewith. (Something like that, anyway).

I am so far behind with work, not only with blogging, as a result of the cratering of my two computers, that I’m having the off the wall fantasy that if I just sit still like a dead rock maybe it will all stop its whining – whirling. And maybe go away.

Fact is (and haha this takes guts to admit) the world will not come to an end if I don’t meet deadlines. I might but the blessed world will continue to spin.

So back to writing “deathless prose” and cut to the bone criticism and back here soon and as fast as I can  levitate.

Meantime, appropriately, consider this, as it puts it all in rather dreary, ghastly perspective (Good God, forefend! I’m not there YET, Don’t bury me next to my ain true love just yet, dammit, just keep these computers chuggin’): Anyway, were I truly tragic–and if this prelude were anything more than pure baloney–this magnificent poem will save the day–

anyone lived in a pretty how town

E. E. Cummings, 18941962
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

The Poetry Foundation on cummings:

“Among the most innovative of twentieth-century poets,” according to Jenny Penberthy in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, E. E. Cummings experimented with poetic form and language to create a distinct personal style. A Cummings poem is spare and precise, employing a few key words eccentrically placed on the page. Some of these words were invented by Cummings, often by combining two common words into a new synthesis. He also revised grammatical and linguistic rules to suit his own purposes, using such words as “if,” “am,” and “because” as nouns, for example, or assigning his own private meanings to words. Despite their nontraditional form, Cummings’ poems came to be popular with many readers.

“No one else,” Randall Jarrell claimed in his The Third Book of Criticism, “has ever made avant-garde, experimental poems so attractive to the general and the special reader.”

Read the rest here!


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