Thursday, April 5, 2012

Androids, Elephants, and the Magic of the Alphabet

The Andover Bookstore hosted a wonderful event a few weekends ago. I was lucky enough to join Jennifer Jacobson, author of Small as an Elephant, and Ben Winters of The Mystery of the Missing Everything and the Tolstoy remix Android Karenina. Thankfully Ben also dragged a few of his children in with him; normally I’m the only one trailing kids.

Each of us read from one of our novels, then took questions from the very engaged, interested audience of young readers and parents. The young Tom Brady’s points about my title, Dangerous Waters, were especially astute, and thanks to Serene for the lovely drawing of Emily!

Chris Rose, an elementary school teacher who also runs the children’s section of the store, delivered a wonderful introduction about the magic of writing; the strange power of the 26 letters of our alphabet, and how, in certain combinations, they can generate such vivid characters and scenes, such real emotions in the minds and hearts of readers. After his introduction, I sure was glad that Jennifer Jacobson went first. Talk about pressure!

If you’re ever passing through north of Boston, stop by the Andover Bookstore. It is truly a singular place, a testament to the importance of independents, and I hope to return soon.

Exercises in Style

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A great book for any writer. Queneau proves that there are so many ways to tell the same story. The characters and events and setting don't have to change at all. By tweaking the form or style or perspective or the weight of the different elements, you can create so many versions of the exact same story.

For me this book is also a prime example of the importance of independent bookshops. I found it at Symposium Books in Providence, up at the counter, I believe, while I was killing some time before a meeting with a very cool group of roboticists. And I doubt I ever would have stumbled across it otherwise.

The story on the robots is here, if you're interested.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why I Write About Water

During a recent visit to a wonderful school in New Hampshire, a thoroughly vexed young student raised her hand and stared up at me. “Why,” she asked when called upon, “are you always writing about water?”

In fact, my first novel, The Wages of Genius, was set in an office. The problem with writing a story that takes place in a bland and boring business office is that if you really commit yourself to the world, really build and imagine it and make it real, then you end up feeling like you’re sitting in that space all day. I left my job because I couldn’t stand working in a cubicle farm. Then I hung out in independent, funky cafes listening to jazz and scribbling away, imagining the whole time that I was actually in a cubicle farm.

So maybe I’ve learned something. I love the water, but my family is landlocked for the foreseeable future, so I visit the deep ocean in my imagination. Fish, Dangerous Waters, and the new novel I’m polishing are all set out on the sea, and while working on each one, I felt like I was there, staring out at the ocean through my characters eyes, feeling the waves beneath me.

Thanks for the question, and all the others from the devoted readers and budding writers up at Woodbury and Fisk. And Kevin, don’t forget: Fifteen revisions. No less.