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Cynthia Newberry Martin

women’s fiction, men’s fiction

About ten years ago, during the keynote lunch at the San Diego State Writers’ Conference, we were supposed to sit at the table whose center placard best described what we wrote. The choices were Memoir, Sci-Fi, Thrillers, Mysteries, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, and more. But not Men’s Fiction. I didn’t know whether to sit at [...]


I want to slow things down. I was planning on writing a post on several stories in Alan Heathcock‘s debut collection, Volt, but I think I’ll just look at the first story. “The Staying Freight”–I love the title–was first published in the Harvard Review. At 36 pages, it’s a long story. And it’s divided into [...]

Await Your Reply 5: parceling out your life

And you wipe the snow out of your hair and get back into your car and drive off toward an accumulation of the usual daily stuff–there is dinner to be made and laundry to be done and helping the kids with their homework and watching television on the couch with the dog resting her muzzle [...]

Await Your Reply 4: image

From Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply, how an image can make words come alive: Without the image: Her thoughts were not clearly articulated in her mind, but she could feel them moving swiftly, gathering. “What are you thinking about?” George Orson said, and when he spoke, her thoughts scattered, broke up into fragments of memories. [...]

Await Your Reply 3: repetition with new detail

In Await Your Reply, published in 2009, Dan Chaon uses repetition in a very cool way. Instead of bogging down the original scene, he pushes the action forward first, then a bit later, moves in for a close-up or two, adding additional details. For example, on page 246, Miles wakes up in bed with a [...]

Await Your Reply 2: nods

In the surprisingly interesting Reader’s Guide at the back of Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply, Chaon writes: As a writer, I feel like I’m always in conversation with the books that I’ve read. Yiyun Li, the author of The Vagrants, feels the same way: “I believe a writer writes to talk to his/her masters and literary [...]

Await Your Reply 1: three threads

From the first page of Dan Chaon’s novel: On the seat beside him, in between him and his father, Ryan’s severed h and is resting on a bed of ice in an eight-quart Styrofoam cooler. Enough said? Dan Chaon’s second novel and fourth book, Await Your Reply, which was published in 2009, intertwines 3 seemingly unrelated [...]

A life in stories

Ellen Gilchrist’s first book was not published until she was in her forties. In “A Reading Group Guide” at the back of Nora Jane: A Life in Stories, she is asked about this: “I didn’t begin to write seriously and professionally until I was in my forties because I was busy being alive.” Now she [...]

The chronology of water

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. Wow. Some book. One reviewer admits to considering throwing it across the room. It’s a memoir, and the writing is uneven. But that fits the life it mirrors. Like the story out of which it grew, it’s About fathers and swimming and fucking and dead babies and drowning. Written [...]

Then, suddenly

In 1999, my first writing workshop: Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Yes, in the Napa Valley. St. Helena. Mark Doty was there. David Lehman. Jane Hirshfield. Richard Bausch. (I always get him and his brother confused, never remembering which one it is I met. Which is terrible, given that we actually had a conversation at the [...]

This won’t take but a minute, honey

If you haven’t visited the Harvard Book Store, take a minute and pop over there. Watch the shutters open and the store come to life. See what books fill their front windows. Click for a close-up; double click to look inside a book. With your mouse, you can zoom in or out. Amble to the [...]

Reality hungry or good hungry

So, David Shields’ manifesto Reality Hunger. Structure: 618 short sections grouped into 26 chapters. Subject: our hunger for the real as opposed to the invented. Shields makes some strong points and shares some controversial ideas, most of which, in the real world, would require a cite. But Shields does not believe that reality–words, music–belongs to anyone. [...]

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan wins Pulitzer

The Pulitzer Prize in Fiction was awarded today to A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, “an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed.” For more about A Visit From the Goon Squad on Contrary Blog: Dear LATimes, This [...]

Things we think with

Sherry Turkle asked scientists, humanists, artists, and designers to “trace the power of objects in their lives, objects that connect them to ideas and people.” In Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, published in 2007 by the MIT Press, you’ll find thirty-four essays on objects such as a rolling pin, a yellow raincoat, an axe head, a suitcase, [...]