Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bruce Springsteen on Flannery O'Connor (it's her birthday), "“The short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.” (The link:…/5-flannery-oconnor-quotes-to-live-b…)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

1/2 Dozen for Katherine Center

What a pleasure to announce Katherine Center's new novel HAPPINESS FOR BEGINNERS -- now out in the world!

If you haven't heard of it yet, here's something to draw you in: "Such a charming, heartfelt novel about a woman who needs to escape from her life in order to rebuild it. I read it all in one delicious gulp." -- Sarah Pekkanen, author of The Opposite of Me 

Katherine is here today for a quick Q and A -- and generously offering some brilliant writing advice.  

Here we go: 

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.
Oh, so many obsessions all the time!  I just churn through them, getting seized by one topic after another: Old houses, swing music, typography, paper flowers, sign painting, the entire state of Maine, line dancing, whales, embroidery…  On and on.  

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.
Write the story you want to read.  Not the story you think your smart friend wants to read.  Or the story you think will impress your writing group.  Or the story you think will be a bestseller.  Write the story that your own inner reader would love more than anything to curl up with for an afternoon.  There are infinite stories you could write.  The real question is, which one is yours?

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?
I love to write.  I love most things about the writing life, actually, though different parts have their upsides and downsides.  But there's no downside to the actual writing.  For me, that's always blissful.  I love the early first-drafting, when I get a rush of endorphins like I've just fallen in love--and I also love the editing and re-working.  The only time writing is hard for me is when I have a deadline that I'm stressed about meeting--which does happen sometimes.  I am a mom, after all, and when my kids are sick or it's somebody's birthday it can be hard for me to focus on writing.  Like, if people need me in the real world, it can be hard to give myself permission to go to an imaginary one. 

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?
No.  And yes.  Depending on the month.  I am not organized or disciplined or habitual.  I write when I'm in a frenzy because an idea has caught fire in my head.  Some weeks, I don't write at all and it feels like I might never do it again.  Then, inevitably, a spark of a story turns into a flame and everything else is an interruption.  Mostly, I write all day when my kids are at school, and that's a pretty good balance.  But when I'm caught up in a story, the school day isn't nearly enough time. It's hard for me to stop and start.  I go on writing retreats a couple of times a year when I can just be very quiet and listen to the narrator's voice in my head.  I can get more done in five days that way than in five regular weeks.

If you teach the craft of writing, why do you do it -- other than cash?
I like to teach writing from time to time because it helps me refine what I think.  I like to read books about writing, too, for that same reason.  I don't have a writing group or anything, so reading about how it works--and why--helps remind me of different aspects of the process.  It's so complicated!  So many different things have to be working well on so many different levels for a story to really work.  You're never done. You're never like, "Now I know everything about writing."  I'm constantly trying to figure out how to do a better job.

What project of yours was the easiest writing of your life? And, flip-side, which one was the most like wrestling bears? (And could you tell before you started or did they turn on you, for better or worse?)
This new book, Happiness for Beginners, was the easiest project of my life--hands down. It wrote itself.  It really did: I was just taking dictation.  I think maybe I just had the right characters in the right situation--and the premise of the story was the fuel that carried it through.  I was curious to see what would happen--and how it was going to happen. I was pulled along the way you are when you read a good novel. Like reading a page-turner, only writing one.  Flip-side, the hardest project was my next book (the one I've just turned in that will come out next year).  I was still so in love with Happiness when I started it, it was hard for me to shift gears.  I can write and revise all day and all night, but a story is never going to really knock anybody's socks off until the characters magically come to life and light the thing from the inside.  It took a while for me to find the magic on my last one--but I did finally find it.  It's always a little scary though, because I don't know how to force it.  All I can do is keep writing and hope the magic happens.

KATHERINE CENTER's newest novel is Happiness For Beginners. She's the author of four other novels about love and family including The Bright Side of Disaster and The Lost Husband. Her writing has appeared in RedbookPeopleUSA TodayVanity FairThe Atlantic, and Real Simple.  A graduate of Vassar College and the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program, Katherine lives in Houston with her husband and two sweet children.

Visit her website at

Sunday, March 15, 2015

stubborn memory. the feeling before the story finds the page.

I'm eleven or so. It's fall.  I'm growing up in a sweet little college town -- Newark, Delaware -- on a dead end, literally. I'm alone in my front yard with absolutely nothing to do. No one else is out. A convertible appears at the top of our street, top down though it's a little cold for it. A young man is driving, wearing a sports coat, maybe a loose tie. It's a fast car, blaring California Dreaming, and he's driving way too fast especially as he's heading toward a dead end. He passes by and I kind of follow a few steps to see if he'll wreck. He cuts the wheel, the car swings around, and heads out as fast as before, kicking up leaves. The music fades and I'm alone again, feeling like I saw something that may or may not have happened -- no other witnesses. The strange thing is that I think of this moment often -- maybe three or four times a year. I'm sure the car wasn't his. I'm sure he was pissed off. I'm sure he really didn't have anywhere to go except just out of wherever he was. And maybe that's it -- he expressed some trapped restlessness, maybe even a creative restlessness, the feeling of a story that you don't understand and haven't yet started to tell.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Fellow Americans, A Rant (& suggestion that some of you stop talking)

When someone says they want to be an actor, an artist, a writer, someone in the film industry, for example, people assume that they're saying they want to be Bradley Cooper, JK Rowling, Warhol, or Spielberg. They assume that the person is being delusional and uppity. 

When someone says they want to be an accountant, people can't name a famous celebrity accountant and so they never assume the person is delusional or uppity. (In point of fact, if I said I wanted to be an accountant, I would be completely delusional -- I'm horrible with numbers.) 

Despite the fact that the listeners likely have no idea how these arts operate, despite the fact that there are many middle class actors, artists, writers, and film industry folks and despite the fact that most often they're listening to someone who isn't interested in the celebrity of art but has -- in some very personal and intimate way -- fallen in love with a craft, with doing and making, and that most people realize that they're actually making sacrifices for this art they love and are painfully aware that a life in the arts comes at a great sacrifice and risk and the complete opposite of celebrity -- how could they not with the way we beat each other with the stick of the starving artist? -- REGARDLESS of ALL of this, the listener takes it upon themselves to beat down this person who has confessed their aspiration, to tell this person that they'll never make it. As a culture, we supposedly encourage greatness -- at least in theory. In practice, we don't. Sometimes that beating comes in through the door of "I'm being nurturing" sometimes through the door of "I'm just joking." 

Sadly, sometimes the artists set themselves up for it -- by engaging with people they know they should be wary of, by preempting with a joke themselves (I've done this many times), by allowing the person to get away with it so they feel empowered to go merrily along and do it to others -- completely and astonishingly blind to the fact that they're walking down hallways lined with paintings, passing a public sculpture, their earbuds tuned to the music they love, hopping into the car that they fell in love because of ads written by writers in scenes created by filmmakers, on their way home to binge-watch a TV show that was worked on by set-designers, costume designers, casting directors, special and visual effects, cast and crew, based on a novel, while sitting in a chair designed by someone who studied industrial design in an art school while wearing clothes designed by people who studied fashion and printmaking, inside of their homes filled with things bought in beautifully laid-out magazines created by designers,

Here is what I have to say to my fellow Americans, if you don't know what you're talking about, stop talking about it.