Tag Archives: writing

Raymond Carver On Writing

Ray Carver

Writers write, and they write, and they go on writing, in some cases long after wisdom and even common sense have told them to quit. There are always plenty of reasons—good, compelling reasons, too—for quitting, or for not writing very much or very seriously. (Writing is trouble, make no mistake, for everyone involved, and who needs trouble?) But once in a great while lightning strikes, and occasionally it strikes early in the writer’s life. Sometimes it comes later, after years of work. And sometimes, most often, of course, it never happens at all…. But it will never, never happen to those who don’t work hard at it and who don’t consider the act of writing as very nearly the most important thing in their lives, right up there next to breath, and food, and shelter, and love, and God.

—Raymond Carver (introduction, Best American Short Stories 1986)

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How I Got My Story Published in the New York Times: The Truth of the Matter

 

When Dan Jones of the New York Times called about publishing one of my stories for Modern Love, I was delighted. I was also determined not to let him know I had a drug history. Dan had emailed me that he thought my story might work well for Father’s Day and wanted to discuss it more by phone. I immediately thought: Don’t tell him about the drugs. He’ll think you’re a loser. But then when he called, we talked for less than five minutes before my drug history came up.

It went something like this:

“So if your son was in Pennsylvania with your ex-wife, what were you doing in New York City?” Dan asked.

I chuckled demurely. Lying seemed like a bad idea.

“Well,” I said taking a deep breath. “That’s another story.”

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Back to School Special

Today is the second day of the teacher’s strike. To try to appease the back to school gods, I have posted another excerpt from my coming-of-age memoir. Everyone has a story about facing the generation gap with their parents: this one is mine. I hope you like it.

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Coming down the third floor stairs, I hear Mom call to me from inside her bedroom. I have been looking for ways to make up with her, so I quickly poke my head into the room and find her sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Listen,” she says to me with no preamble. “I got no money for your school clothes this year.”

I look at her confused. Lack of money is always a complaint, but this comment seems uncomfortably targeted towards me.

“I’m buying for all the others,” Mom says. “You get your dad to take care of you.”

“Dad?” I ask, panic in my voice. I have been avoiding Dad since my failed attempt to steal the car radio from his van, but that’s not what alarms me.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

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The Truth About David Sedaris

Last month Holly and I got to see David Sedaris at Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle. He was promoting his latest book, When You are Engulfed in Flames, which is a collection of previously published essays and some new material. The most enjoyable part of the evening had to be the Q&A session after he read, and this is only because David Sedaris is so witty and fast on his feet. The truth about David Sedaris is that he is arguably one of the best American humorists writing creative non-fiction today, but he has also been criticized for stretching the truth in his work.

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Page of True Stories

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I added a page to the site where I can showcase my writing.

I added one new piece and put some links top stuff I’ve already discussed in other posts. The title of the new essay is 20/20. This one earned kind comments from an editor who rejected it. I hope you like it.

On the new page, I’ve got links to the New York Times article and to my essay on Brevity. I believe my Brevity story is going to come down at some point, so I thought I’d get some other stuff posted. I added two stories from my childhood memoir project that I previously posted, but now on pages of their own. 

Things still looks a little sparse, so I’ll try and get some other stuff up soon.

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Tim Elhajj at Brevity

I’ve got an essay appearing in a special mid-summer bonus edition of Brevity 27. This is a companion piece to my Modern Love essay from earlier this week. The Modern Love essay examines my relationship with my son, while the Brevity piece explores my relationship with Dad.

The Brevity piece also appears on the Brevity blog, a great place to discuss creative non-fiction, truth in memoir, or the concept of a mid-summer pick me up.

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A Mother’s Day Story

I wanted to post another excerpt from the work I’ve been doing in my memoir.

I show my wife all the stories I come up with and rely on her sage comments and suggestions. After reading this one, she said, “You were such an pain in the ass.”

But she said it with love.

I call this one, “I Am Not Your Broom” (with apologies to They Might Be Giants).

I Am Not Your Broom

“I’m sick of this,” Mom says. “Sick of it.”

I am lying on the love seat and hear Mom come grousing into the living room. Cocking my head, I see she is upset but have no idea why. I ignore her and continue to watch TV, a dull sitcom from the 60s.

My little brothers retreat from the living room to the front porch. Still complaining, Mom continues into the kitchen. I can hear the kettle being filled with water for coffee as Terri heads up the stairs toward her room, calling for Tina to follow.

When Mom’s mood plummets, everyone knows to leave her alone. She makes coffee, calls one of her sisters, or just sits at the kitchen table, staring across the room. This has been going on for as long as I can remember. When I was little, Mom would regularly throw everyone out of the house. I remember staggering into the afternoon sunlight, after being in the cool of the living room, curled up with a book. Mom would say, “Run around, play! Have fun like a normal kid, for Christ’s sake.”

Although I can go hang out with my new friends at their apartment on Front Street, I decide to hold my ground here in the living room instead. I haven’t had an opportunity to swipe any cigarettes, and I hate to arrive at the girls’ apartment empty handed. I focus on the TV, even though I’m not that interested in the program.

Mom stands in the entrance to the living room.

“Out,” she commands.

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Getting to Home Plate

Aaron is a talented baseball player, but this year his ability caused him problems. He couldn’t get onto the team he’s been playing on for the last five years because the coaches felt the teams would disproportionately matched. He was disappointed. I took him to his first practice on the new team. He didn’t know any of the other kids, but the coaches knew his name and seemed excited to have him. At home he moped and complained. This went on for a week or two. Holly and I were considering letting him sit out a year and then it all changed, almost overnight.

I came home from work one night and found him in the living room practicing his wind up. He seemed excited. He told me that on his new team if he was on third base and the pitcher accidentally stepped off the rubber he could steal home. I asked if that was a new rule for this year (each year the league adds new elements to the game, like stealing bases or allowing the kids to pitch). He said it wasn’t. In fact, the kids have been able to steal home like this for a few years, but his old coach considered it poor sportsmanship and wouldn’t let the boys do it. 

But Aaron has no compunction with getting to home plate this way and apparently neither does the new coach. This is what I love about Aaron. He finds himself in a new situation and finds a way to make the best of it.

I have been struggling to get my memoir moving forward. The last chapter I wrote was almost a year ago. Since then I have switched jobs, taken on sweeping life style changes, and even lost 30 lbs. I’ve poked around with submitting my work (and I feel good about that) and I’ve been toying with essays from different parts of my life, but I have to find a way to get to home plate with this manuscript.

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Zen and Writing Memoir

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Went to see Natalie Goldberg Friday night.

I could have sworn I read her book, Writing Down the Bones. But I don’t see how I could have, since until they introduced her Friday evening, I had no idea she was into Zen. According to Wikipedia, teaching writing using Zen principals is Goldberg’s niche. Fortunately for me, I just finished Dinty Moore’s, The Accidental Buddhist, which is a fun exploration of Moore’s experience with Buddhism. So when Goldberg started talking about Monkey Mind and focusing too much on this side of life, I was able to put it mostly in context.

Poor thing lost her mother on Christmas eve. She was talking about the experience of losing her mother and, at one point, she asked, “Where is my mom?” It came out so plaintive. The rest of the night I felt sad, vulnerable. Sooner or later everyone loses their mom.

Goldberg also pronounces memoir funny. She says, “memwhhar.”

And I long for the East coast.

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Strange Submission

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Today I sent my story, The Solution to All My Problems, over to The Stranger, which bills itself as Seattle’s only newspaper. It’s certinally the only Seattle newspaper that’s going to publish a story about jacking your Mom’s purse, even if it is told in an amusing way.

The story doesn’t freak me out as much anymore. It’s a commodity. I’m just another struggling writer sending his work around. I realize it’s not the kind of story you can tell at a party (or even an AA meeting, it turns out). But I like to think it works as an essay.

Let’s see what The Stranger thinks.

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