How I Wrote Certain of My Books

[In which I elaborate on an earlier post, “Slow Writing?“]

In thinking about my earlier contention that writing ought to be slow, I decided to examine my own process. Specifically, I wondered if I, a man with two books coming out this year, was living up to my own lofty standards. I thus constructed a mental timeline for one of those books, Critique of Pure Reason, out this fall from Noemi Press.

Critique is a collection of essays and fictions, and so already has the patchwork frame of an occasional book built into it. But I had the concept of it in mind at least since 2009, when I gave my Master’s thesis that title after thinking (at absurd length) about what to call the heterogeneity that was to be contained therein. (It should be noted that, of the seven stories in that thesis, only three will appear in the book, and one of them has been completely overhauled. The rest, it transpires, were not meant for posterity of a more public kind.)

The oldest story in the book, “The Behavior of Pidgeons,” was begun in 2006. I won’t bore you with “VH1 Storytellers”-type information here, just the (boring) facts. It took me another year to get it into shape. I began another story, “Play,” around the same time, but it was put aside while I was in grad school, and didn’t get finished until two years later, a sort of book-end for that experience. While I was in grad school, I began two other stories from the book, but neither were “finished” at the time of my graduation. 2009 was a relatively productive year for me — I finished “Play” and one of the stories I had started in school, I pushed forward with a third, and I started and finished a fourth. In 2010, I wrote four of the remaining stories in the collection, start to finish, and started another two. But last year was the worldbeater. I finished those last two, finally finished overhauling the one from school that had been languishing, and wrote four more, start to finish. But I had an advantage I hadn’t had before: a project. I was thinking about this loose shape or constellation of creative work as a book, and seeing for the first time its bounds and its gaps. With a proper map, I could explore the remainder of the territory, free from worries of unprofitably covering the same ground or taking the long way from point to point.

But: to the numbers! Continue reading


My Favorite Books from 2009 (in alphabetical order):

I’ve read over 120 books in 2009, and by the time the year is up I’ll have reviewed over fifty. At the risk of being redundant, I’ve put together a list of the books I thought were this year’s best. I’ve also included links to the ones I reviewed. But before that, I should mention some great books that weren’t published this year: Eugene Lim’s Fog & Car, Eugene Marten’s Waste, Mary Caponegro’s first three books, Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Michael Kimball’s The Way the Family Got Away and Dear Everybody. And then there’s Shane Jones’s The Failure Six, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, all of which won’t be released until next year. By the way, while the so-called major presses churned out a whole lot of fluff I did enjoy John Haskell’s Out of My Skin and Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault. Oh, and I should mention The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino which  is playful and inventive in that inimitably Calvino way. Each chapter is a combination of pseudo-science (as far as I can tell) and fantasy—a weird mishmash of fable and fact. They sound like entries from an encyclopedia sometimes, albeit a whimsical one. This was the best way to close out the year. So, besides beautifully-crafted language, eddying narratives, evocative imagery, and provocative characters—whose quirks, thoughts, and comings and goings remain with me—what the books on this list have in common is that they were published by independent presses.
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Mary Caponegro

Mary Caponegro’s All Fall Down, her latest collection of stories and novellas, was, for me, one of 2009’s most powerful works. It is often baroque, expansively philosophical, and darkly comic. Caponegro is a virtuoso.  Not having read any of her earlier books, I recently picked up her first book, Star Café. It’s such a strong debut. It’s invitingly dense, filled with fabulist  departures, and proves, once again, that she is a lover of elliptical language. Today, I found this interview with her. It’s from 2002, but it is incredibly informative about her process, obsessions, and influences.

Here is Caponegro responding to John Hawkes’s idea that “the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting and theme”:
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