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Author Archive: "Jess Walter"

Jess Walter: What I’m Giving

In this special series, we asked writers we admire to share a book they're giving to their friends and family this holiday season. Check back daily to see the books your favorite authors are gifting.

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I'll be giving my brother a book of short stories, Jim Gavin's Middle Men (unless my brother reads this blog post; then he's getting what I usually get him: a $7 gift certificate at the Booze Barn).

These funny, naturalistic stories are about the kinds of people we grew up with (or maybe the kind of people we grew up to be) — characters a less nuanced writer might depict as life's losers. But Gavin writes with such ease and generosity that a genuine poignancy bubbles up.


Paging Ari Gold

I'm waiting to hear back from Hollywood.

This is a position many authors find themselves in, waiting to hear if their books are going to be made into movies. My last novel, Citizen Vince, was optioned by HBO Films (the theatrical division of HBO) and the great Richard Russo (who discovered the book when it was in galley) wrote a killer script based on the novel. So now... I wait.

During all of this, the author is not really in the loop (honestly, you don't want to be) but I do catch whiffs of various casting ideas (is Charles Nelson Reilly even alive?) and hear about directors and agents who love it. It's all fine as long as you don't take it too seriously or spend the imaginary money.

A few years back, I wrote a couple of screenplays myself and "took meetings" with various producers and studio people. I understand how cynical the whole process can make writers (I'm finally reading Day of the Locust... any other Hollywood recommendations out there?) but I thought it was great fun. They tell you how smart you ...


I’ll take a Strawberry Julius and Midnight’s Children

I love book festivals. Today I'm off to the Montana Festival of the Book, in Missoula, where I'll be reading with the short story writer and essayist Charles D'Ambrosio and the novelist David Long and sitting on a panel to talk about fiction writing.

In November I'll read at the Miami Book Fair International. Last week I read at Thin Air, the Winnipeg, Manitoba book festival, where one of the Canadian authors told me that almost all of the Canadian readings are done at book festivals — each city has a book fair and authors just make the rounds. It certainly sounds more civilized than sitting in a Barnes and Noble in some suburban mall, hoping a few shoppers from The Gap happen to stumble in while you try to read over the sound of the Orange Julius machine.

Festivals are a great chance to see several authors at once. I remember at the L.A. Times Book Festival one year having to decide whether to go see Francine Prose or George Plimpton, Ray Bradbury or Dave Eggers. (One ...


Muskrat Love: Fiction Inspired by Captain and Tenille

So I'm at work this morning, torturing the home keys, and listening to an old Tom Waits album (Rain Dogs). There's almost always music playing when I'm writing. I recently wrote a short story for an anthology called The Empty Page: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth. The book is the brainchild of a talented and tireless British writer and editor named Peter Wild, whose website Bookmunch is one of my favorite stops for book reviews.

Peter gathered an impressive group of authors (myself excluded) to write short stories that share titles with songs by Sonic Youth, the landmark alt-rock band. I chose a later song, "Rain on Tin," from the album Murray Street. Like the others, my story has nothing to do with the song except that it shares the same title.

The Sonic Youth book is one of a series that Peter is editing for a British press. The first book, Perverted by Language, features stories inspired by the English post-punk band The Fall (the only band I know named after an Albert Camus novel). He's also doing collections of stories inspired by The Smiths, ...


The Great American Golf Novel

I once broke my collarbone in a golf tournament.

Technically, I suppose, the injury was more of a gin-drinking accident than a golf accident, but it still says a lot about my relationship to the game that it's my fondest golf memory. I bring this up because I played in another golf tournament yesterday — a shortened Ryder Cup style match with two teams. (My team got killed. In my defense, I'm not really much of a golfer. To me, golf is like karaoke: the only thing more pathetic than being bad at it is being good at it.)

But as I was getting my clubs out yesterday, I started wondering if there was a great American golf novel out there. There's a fairly rich tradition of baseball literature (and movies) and some great writing on basketball, but for some reason golf hasn't lent itself to that kind of treatment. There are some classic short stories that feature golf, John Cheever's "The Brigadier" and "The Golf Widow," for instance, but it's not really about golf. It's about bomb shelters and infidelity. Walker Percy's novel The Second Coming begins with a nice golf scene, but again, the ...


So It Goes

I'm on a four-day reprieve from a very long book tour for my new novel, The Zero, and I've fielded a few questions about why I ventured away from my earlier literary crime novels to write a dark satire about America's reaction to 9/11. So I thought I'd start my blogging week there.

The first half of the answer is that I was at Ground Zero in New York five days after the terrorist attacks and since that time, I've wanted some way to register my outrage over the way fear has become politicized in this country, the way patriotism and capitalism have been conflated, and the way we lurched toward a misguided war in Iraq.

But that's only half the story. The other half has to do with Kurt Vonnegut.

When I was young, I idolized Vonnegut. I'd first found his books when I was in my junior high school library, checking to see where my own novels would someday be filed, which was right after Vonnegut, at least in my library. So I grabbed his book, Breakfast of Champions, and was hooked. I read everything he wrote. ...


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