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Archive for the 'Let’s Talk Books' Category

A Trip to Portland; or, The Long and Convoluted Story of How My Novel Came to Be: Part Five

I finished my novel in the fall of 2010 — at least, I wrote through to the end of the story and even wrote those magical words, "The End." Then I waited a few months before I sent it to agents. I wanted to get feedback from a few friends, but I also wanted to cool off so I could evaluate the novel myself.

I learned with my first novel that it is entirely possible for me to write something and not see what is wrong with it. Before that, I thought I was fairly self-critical, a pretty good judge of my own writing. But what I realized is that the flush of happiness that often follows in the wake of finishing a big piece of writing is a wonderful high, but it can also be blinding . And when you are in that state and you try to read your own work, you read not only your words as they appear on the page but your words suffused with your own emotion, with all these associations and colors that you bring to it. In my experience, you need ...


A Trip to Portland; or, The Long and Convoluted Story of How My Novel Came to Be: Part Four

When my husband and I finally got back to New York after our trip, I knew I'd have to reopen my novel and face the same set of problems that had been making me crazy when I left. To refresh: I was about halfway through the novel, and I was trying to figure out how to show a slow change in the relationship between my main character and the woman he was dating. (I should clarify I knew from when I first started the novel how its plot would play out overall — the arc of it — but I didn't know what specific set of scenes was going to take me there.)

My last attempt was to write a chapter in which I had made the woman character confront my protagonist while the two of them were out for dinner. She wanted to define their relationship. But when I reread it, the scene seemed "talky." Issues were being introduced in dialog instead of being dramatized. It seemed inartful, kind of flimsy and not very effective. There were a few lines I liked here and there, but I knew ...


A Trip to Portland; or, The Long and Convoluted Story of How My Novel Came to Be: Part Three

After our wedding, my husband and I set out on our honeymoon — a month of driving across the country.

To say that we had a great time on our cross-country trip is an understatement. To spend so much time together, away from cell phone reception and email, talking for hours and hours as we drove through some of the most beautiful and overwhelming landscapes either of us had ever seen, was simply amazing — especially for a bookish pair of New York City residents driving a borrowed car, my mother's Subaru.

We enjoyed the spaces between official sights as much as, if not more than, the sights themselves. I don't think either of us will ever forget our long drive through a so-called National Grassland called Thunder Basin, in Wyoming, near the South Dakota border. The designation "National Grassland" is more than a little bit misleading since tucked within the vast expanse sits the country's second-most productive coal mine, a mind-bogglingly huge surface-mining operation that supplies eight percent of the nation's coal. It kind of makes you wonder what level of industry would have to be in place ...


A Trip to Portland; or, The Long and Convoluted Story of How My Novel Came to Be: Part Two

When my first novel didn't sell, I fell into a slow-burning sort of depression. It lasted for the better part of a year and began to fade only when I started to make some positive changes. For one, I moved, from Manhattan to Brooklyn. I had stayed in Manhattan for too long because I had gotten a pretty good deal on a rent-stabilized apartment near Columbia, where I'd gone to journalism school. But, over the years, most of my friends had moved to Brooklyn. I was a lone holdout, and it wasn't as if I particularly loved my neighborhood anyway. I mustered the energy to do some apartment searching, and I found an apartment in Brooklyn — a sixth-floor walk-up, but it had a great roof deck. More importantly, I wasn't so isolated from my friends.

I had started working as an SAT tutor, but around the time that I moved to Brooklyn, I also began pitching freelance articles, something I'd resisted when I'd first returned to New York after writing my novel. At that point, so much of my inner life was wrapped up in the novel that ...


A Trip to Portland; or, The Long and Convoluted Story of How My Novel Came to Be: Part One

I love Portland. I do. But the truth is I've only been there once. For one night.

Still, the occasion was special. It was my honeymoon. My husband and I drove across the country, starting from Maine. We were about two-and-a-half weeks in when we reached Portland. After a couple of nights in Montana, including the hardest hike of our lives at Glacier, we were ready to do it up in a city that felt fun and cosmopolitan — and, as people who live in Brooklyn, sort of reminiscent of home, different but also familiar.

We had a terrific time. Here's a picture:

Adelle Waldman in Portland

But it's funny for me to think of that time now, three years later, when my novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., is about to be published.


Mark Slouka: The Powells.com Interview

Mark Slouka is a marvelous essayist, short story writer, and novelist and a frequent Harper's magazine contributor; he's written about everything from Chang and Eng to cyberspace and the nature of reality to why exactly George Bush needed all that brush clearing. His latest novel, Brewster, takes him closer to home; it's a dark and spare coming-of-age story, a portrait of a small New York town in the late '60s, and a moving depiction of an intense and loving friendship. The book follows Jon Mosher, a 16-year-old with a difficult family life who befriends an outsider named Ray, a rebellious fighter with an abusive ex-cop father. When Ray falls in love with a new girl in town, Karen, the dreams — and the fates — of all three friends hinge on getting out of Brewster.

Jennifer Egan raves, "The dark undertow of Slouka's prose makes Brewster instantly mesmerizing, a novel that whirls the reader into small-town, late 1960s America with mastery, originality, and heart." And Colum McCann writes, "Reading Brewster is like entering the very heart of a Bruce Springsteen song — all grace, all depth, all sinew. Slouka — one of the great unsung ...


Powell’s Q&A: Kate Christensen

Describe your latest book.
Blue Plate Special is the autobiography of my first half-century of life, with food as the subject. I wanted to write a food book for many years, partially in homage to the great M. F. K. Fisher, whose books had sustained me through dark and lonely times. As I started to write about food, my own life became the scaffolding and structure, since food and memory are as intertwined for me as food and language.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
In 1990, when I had just arrived in New York City as a wet-behind-the-ears 20-something girl from Arizona, I spent a year or more working as the personal secretary and secret ghostwriter to an American-born countess in her apartment on the Upper East Side. She was terrifying, fascinating, maddening, and glamorous; I was hapless, hung over, scruffy, and ambitious. That job became the inspiration for my first novel, In the Drink.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"In your memoir, no one should look like an asshole but you." – Rosie Schaap

How do you relax?
After ...


Fishing the Flats

A few weeks ago I sent my son off to Bristol Bay, where a job waited as a deckhand on a fishing boat. Ethan was excited to have lined up one of the summer jobs most coveted by teenagers in our small coastal town: high pay and hard work chasing salmon in the wild estuaries of Alaska. He is 18, tall and strong, a varsity athlete freshly graduated from high school with college ahead in the fall. But as we walked to the security-free gate in Anchorage where his prop plane to Dillingham waited, he admitted to a few butterflies.

I felt them, too. A summer like this would change him, whatever happened. I had only to think about the summer when I, too, went to sea in Alaska. It had been a season that changed everything, including the direction of my career as a writer.

My invitation to work as a deckhand came at the end of a long, dark winter. I happily shelved the historical fiction that had swallowed me whole, relieved to trade the guilt of long hours at a snowbound desk for the simple urgency of ...


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