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Author Archive: "Stephan Talty"

A Day In the Life

My great college mentor, Benjamin DeMott (who, sadly, passed away last year), once looked out at the faces in his classroom and rhapsodized about a school, whose name I've long since forgotten, at Oxford. Apparently, the fellows of this place were required to do no teaching, no grading or tutoring or office hours at all. They were just to think. Or write, if they felt like it.

Professor DeMott told us how he longed to be there. There was a pause after the story. The Oxford thing had been apropos of nothing. He got on with teaching the class.

At the time, I was grimly amused. The fact that he wished to be at Oxford meant, of course, that he wanted to be away from us, his students. Apparently, our latest set of papers, or some other aspect of life, had plunged him into the despair of a writer forced to do other things.

But now I empathize. Life steals time relentlessly. This was mine today:

7 a.m. Woke to my 16-month-old son, Asher, crying on the bed beside me. He was pointing, I'm ashamed to say, at the plasma TV hanging opposite the bed. ...


Gene Therapy

When researchers in 2285 get around to mapping the genomes of highly specific types — the Wesleyan-educated grant writer, the gay foreign-film publicist, the "slow" dude who bikes around Brooklyn in tight nylon slacks, Yankees cap, tight jacket, blaring 1010 WINS on their small Panasonic radios (an eternal and beloved type, at least to me) — they will, I predict, make a discovery: A certain protein common to the DNA of a wide range of writers.

This protein blocks writers from working simultaneously in multiple genres. The historian finds it hard to write, or even think of, good magazine pieces. Screenwriters fail at getting that novel done. Narrative historians struggle to write, you know, words for blogs.

And yes, I know about Christopher Hitchens. Christopher Hitchens is a mutant.

For the rest of us, the need to concentrate on the form at hand makes thoughts of other genres float away, uncatchable. Your brain offers up pictures of deserts and empty rooms. Which is my explanation of why I'm submitting a patchwork of thoughts today. My genetic disability is not allowing me to write a coherent essay or what passes for an essay ...


Beach Writing

It's sunny and 52 degrees here on the south shore of Long Island. This place has such a tawdry reputation that you need to remind people that is actually has a bright, clean ocean around it, and shores, many miles of them. Tomorrow, when it is forecast to reach 82 degrees, I'll be researching my next book at a place called Long Beach, in a beach chair, reading War and Peace (about the Napoleonic invasion of Russia that I'm writing about) while the surf hisses.

As my Irish immigrant father would say, "It was a lucky day for you when I came to this country."

The beach before Memorial Day is half-deserted. There are fishermen with 20-foot poles (I have always wanted to ask them what they are going for but never have), mothers with small children protected from blowing sand by elaborate screens, surfers, old guys who stare at the ocean, old guys who search the sands with their metal detectors. It is not yet loud and raucous as it will get on summer weekends. It's all potential, none of it spent.

I have always wanted to write a ...


An Empire of Their Own

If you are a writer, probably the nearest thing you will get to flying in by helicopter to a throbbing rock concert is the L. A. Times Festival of Books. I was there this weekend to give a talk, and it was as close to being Mick Jagger as I am likely to get. Thankfully, unlike Jagger at Altamont, no one punched me in the face as soon as I arrived. Perhaps shuttle buses don't inspire the same blind rage as choppers.

There were 130,000 people there over two days. 130,000 people of all ages, races and creeds. For books. In Los Angeles. I was swept away. I felt like grabbing some of the people who swarmed the UCLA campus like the lost honeybees and asking them, "Who are you wonderful people?"

My talk was about my new book. Being in LA, I began with a movie: namely, the third installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean epic. I spoke about how every writer, when he begins a book must think of a one-sentence description of it to use at parties and on airplanes. Mine was "It's ...


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