Entries Tagged as 'creative writing'

books & writingcreative writing

Added to my e-bookshelf … Speculative Story Bites

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My experience with LibraryThing has added a LOT of different works to my e-bookshelf, and that’s led to a diverse array of reading experiences for me, and reviews for the books.

Some were great, others not-so-great-but-alright … there were titles that registered somewhere in the middle of the ‘meh’ meter … and one that left me scrambling to find words that adequately expressed how odorous I found it.
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books & writingcreative writing

Back and Broke in Philly

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Back in Philadelphia was when I first saw my father as weak, as dependent, and as a guy who didn’t like working. Despite his lack of funds he seemed insistent on this last point—he would avoid work entirely unless he found what he considered to be his proper position. This was when I first saw that he’d possibly risk getting booted onto the street rather than take any job. In 1991 we were in the heart of the first Bush’s recession, and it didn’t seem like there were many of those idealized white-collar management positions around. My father was overweight, unemployed, under massive debt, and for the first time in my life, I saw him as old. He hadn’t had a full-time job since 1987, and I could see he wasn’t looking forward to searching for it. He knew the companies didn’t want him anymore, at least not for any kind of lucrative position. [Read more →]

art & entertainmentbooks & writing

An Interview With Rebecca Schuman

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Rebecca Schuman’s new memoir is a fast read with a long title: Schadenfreude, A Love Story. Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For. The book offers an engrossing look at the author’s adventures in the liberal arts, graduate training, and much more. Schuman’s memoir takes us from the Pacific Northwest to college back East, and then on multiple excursions to Germany where she has a chance to be reminded that her literary love, Franz Kafka, wasn’t German even as she immerses herself in a language that bamboozles her in comic, yet thought-provoking, ways. The book grabbed this reader, and I was eager to return to it every chance I got. Toward the end the narrative moves to graduate school and the anguish of an extremely competitive academic job market where we know that well over a hundred applications can greet each new tenured slot, particularly in the humanities. Since completing her PhD and failing to land such a dream job, Rebecca Schuman has built a substantial online readership writing about academia for Slate. More recently, she has returned to Germany as a subject “in the accusative case” in spunky columns at The Awl. In the middle of Schadenfreude, it occurred to me that it would be fun to interview Rebecca Schuman, and the author was kind enough to respond to these questions. [Read more →]

creative writingfamily & parenting

A Poor Man’s Christmas

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Christmas was coming and my father was between positions again. It was the late seventies and well after his temporary gig driving the van delivering flowers in downtown Philly. It must have been between computer-programming jobs, possibly Textronix in Blue Bell and Arthur’s Travel in Center City, the job that would launch him to California and alter the trajectory of his life.

But in the winter of 1978 or ’79, my Dad had nothing. He was broke. I remember him hinting at this, but I don’t have a great sense of feeling any danger because of it. [Read more →]

books & writingcreative writing

Excerpt from Auggie’s Revenge

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In 2016, I was lucky enough to have a second novel slip out of the apartment and onto a publisher’s list. Here’s an excerpt you’re welcome to share and enjoy. If it leads to a few sales, I’m grateful; if it doesn’t I won’t sulk. Or, not in public anyway.

from Auggie’s Revenge, chapter 9, “Uncle Sam’s Blood Money”:

But the thought of murder, like most others, drifted away, and I resumed my daily grind. Taking attendance and grading papers. Designing lessons. Lecture or discussion. In class, expounding upon the poverty of philosophy, or at the very least the philosophy of my poverty. Making a jackass of myself in front of undergrads so certain they wouldn’t wind up like the sloppy joker in front of the room.

One afternoon while strolling to the street corner after classes, in the middle of my muddled thoughts on philosophy, Auggie, humanity, murder, et al., I spied a thick wad of bills. [Read more →]

books & writingcreative writing

The Writer’s Parents

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“They were like all other parents. My mother liked to feed us. My father liked to take pictures.”

from The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

Recent news of Lionel Shriver donning a sombrero to protest identity politics in the creative-writing world reminded me of Jenny Zhang’s Buzzfeed response to white poet Michael Derrick Hudson’s use of the Chinese pen name Yi-Fen Chou to wiggle his way into a Best of American Poetry collection.

I ignored the controversy over cultural appropriation but “took” from the Zhang essay to compare and contrast her parents’ fear of a child’s future as a writer to my own parents’ feelings about my choices. [Read more →]

books & writingcreative writing

Cartilage and Skin: An Interview With Michael James Rizza

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Michael James Rizza’s debut novel Cartilage and Skin won the ninth annual Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction. It’s a fascinating, fast-paced narrative that also offers its share of ambiguity, and I knew I wanted to interview him as soon as I put the book down. Here are my questions along with the author’s responses.

AK: How did you write the book? Did you outline first or write a substantial draft and allow a plot to come to you? How much writing did you have before you “saw” the plot of the entire book? Are there any twists of plot or turns of phrase that came up remarkably late in the process? [Read more →]

creative writingdiatribes

Sounds like… victory.

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At around 7:15am every weekday, two whiny children run down the street making enough noise to wake the dead. Only, the dead are dead, so they just wake the living. They drag or ride some sort of hard plastic vehicle, like a wagon or a tricycle. I’ve never actually looked to see what it is, for fear that I might be tempted to shout profanity-laced threats of violence out of a window at children (not an entirely humorless idea, but one that tends to be frowned upon by society). But if you’re familiar with the sound, you know that hard plastic on a sidewalk is not a quiet rumbling, but rather, a sound similar to what you might hear if you were to eat a handful of sand while someone gently played a drum roll on your head with the bottom of their fists.

It happened again today. [

animalscreative writing

Grizzly bear stories: the Quiet Car

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Sometimes I buy expensive versions of things without understanding why. Some stuff’s just weird like that I guess — like toasters. I know I could have gotten a perfectly functional version without cracking a twenty. Yet somehow, if only through the existence of a luxury version of it, I found myself needing it as if it would magically fix me crab cakes for breakfast out of two pieces of bread. It doesn’t. Damn thing cost me three hundred bucks and I still burn my toast.

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creative writingmoney

Grizzly bear stories: the impossible decision at Dunkin Donuts

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The gym where I work opens early enough that I’m usually the only person there when the Dunkin Donuts opens. But to my surprise, I wasn’t first today. There was a bearded man in his early forties and a grizzly bear in a blue polo in line in front of me and the following scene took place:


(I enter the store wiping sleep-boogies out of my eye and get in line behind the grizzly bear. He nods to me.)

BEAR: Hey, how ya doin’?

ME: Not too bad, yourself?

BEAR: Can’t complain.

ME: Chilly out there again, eh?

BEAR: (casually shrugs) Eh, ‘supposed to hit fifty a little later this week.

ME: Wish that was today. Just gotta bundle up I guess.

BEAR: Not me. I’m a grizzly bear.

ME: I see that.

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creative writingtechnology

Grizzly bear stories: a phone call to Apple

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Recently, I spent four days trying to figure out how to activate my new iPhone 5. I’m not a very technology-savvy fellow, but I am extraordinarily stubborn, particularly when I know that asking for help will involve having to follow a robot’s instructions for a while, pressing a series of buttons, and sitting through a lengthy holding period before I actually reach a human being. But yesterday, I finally caved: I talked to a robot. I pressed buttons. I sat on hold for a while. And then Danielle from Apple was very helpful and got me up and running. The following is a completely factual account of what might have happened if Danielle had not been working, and had been replaced by a grizzly bear.


BEAR: Thank you for holding and welcome to Apple. This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes. My name is Monty and I’m a bear. How can I help you today?

ME: Yeah, hi Monty. Did you just say you’re a bear?

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all workcreative writing

If you like true stories about golf and murder, you’ll like this

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In the years before I’d gotten the job, my dad would describe it as the golf mecca. The Pro Shop was the first to stock the newest, name-brand clubs; the greens on the executive course always rolled true and stayed soft through November; and every few months, management would replace the grungy, cracked range balls with a new shipment of pearls. Even the name was refreshing: Somerton Springs Golf Center of Feasterville, Pennsylvania.

One night, years later, my old man told me over dinner that he’d spoken to management and set up a job for me. He was my hero. I imagined the negotiation: He’s escorted into some back room with one light where a bearded Greek man sits alone at a corner table, shrouded in shadow. My dad throws down a briefcase packed with unmarked, non-consecutive hundreds. My son gets this job, he says. The Greek opens the case and thumbs through a stack of bills. He nods, approvingly. My dad nods back. [Exeunt.]

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creative writingfamily & parenting

The Bicentennial with Grandpa Andy

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In the 1970s, we’d met Grandpa Andy before, on a trip or two to his government-subsidized apartment. It was on a high floor among a cluster of pale brick buildings—the standing tall but defeated housing projects of Newark, New Jersey. I’d learn years later that he was worried enough about the “bad element” living there—what he no doubt saw as young men with darker skin—that he’d ride the elevator with a butcher’s knife in his belt. If anyone enjoying the ride looked menacing enough, Grandpa Andy would contort to reveal the weapon hidden under his trench coat.

He finally appeared in Philadelphia at my father’s house in University City in 1976. [Read more →]

creative writinggetting older

A Visit to New York at 38 Years of Age

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I love New York. I’ve been there twice before but it didn’t have the same effect on me then as this most recent visit did. I don’t know–it could possibly have something to do with age and sobriety. I have considerably more of both now than I had then. This time, instead of partying all night, I explored Brooklyn and Manhattan in the daylight hours and attended a college graduation. Both activities caused me to reflect about my younger years and some of the paths not taken in my life. [Read more →]

all workcreative writing

The Golden Plot

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All the best plots are stolen, and all the best snots are, too. I should know. I was the attendant of our town’s
stone nose. Night and day, I guarded the golden snot. It was honest work and lousy pay, easy work at a steady rate. I stood by the nose and protected the snot. From the left nostril, it hung, its golden green gleaming under warm sunny rays.

My job was simple. Only the lawful could essay a picking. The frauds were forbidden, you know, those without
papers—usurpers, outsiders, weaklings, and thieves. But the lawful had documents in order, and so by the thousands, they waited in line, and one by one, I allowed them a plucking. Easy, no? [Read more →]

creative writingfamily & parenting

No Returns

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When my father’s favorite sister leaves, I get Dad all to myself again. Since early in the summer, my aunt and I have knocked heads on the proper way to care for a dying man, so as soon as she is out of the house, I feel an enormous weight lifting. I feel more relaxed. I plan to make up for all the arguments from earlier in the summer. Then, I wanted to confront my father with his various failings as a Dad—from his various absences to his overbearing presence—but I’ve come to realize that it’s too late for this. He hasn’t eaten in weeks and can hardly take any fluid at all; he doesn’t have energy for intense conversations. If anything, a dying man feels he’s owed an apology from the rotten world, not like he is the one to apologize to selfish offspring or anyone else. So now, I am committed to rising above the fray and playing the role of the dutiful son until the end.    [Read more →]

artistic unknowns by Chris Matarazzocreative writing

Still, we create

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The other night, I caught the last hour of a movie masterpiece on TV: Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men. It is an inspiring film to watch, in and of itself, and it is full of that 1950’s mixture of sinewy intellect and bongo-driven, twelve-tonal avant-gardeness. It is a film that simultaneously, as much of the art of that period did, praises and condemns the register of human action and tendency. 

But the old stream-of-consciousness kicked in when I again saw Lee J. Cobb, the disgruntled father who wants a young man to hang as a result of his own feelings against his own rebellious son. Seeing Cobb made me think of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, in which he played the first Willy Loman. [Read more →]

creative writingmusic

Trying to tell my grandkids about SXSW 2011

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“We slept in a bungalow! On the floor!”

“After waiting in line for 3 hours, we were lucky enough to see a 30 minute comedy show…for free!”

“As far as the eye could see, there were free energy drinks…and boy did we drink them.  We drank them all.  We were sick as dogs.” [Read more →]

creative writing

e.e. sheenings

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Q: What do you get when you mix a celebrity spouting self-truths, the power of social networking, and some people up for a silly little creative writing challenge?

A: Charlie Sheen-inspired poetry, written in the style of e.e. cummings!

So here’s the back story: [

creative writingscience

The erotic fiction of Carl Sagan

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I probably should have published the following post on Valentine’s Day, but since VD was only three days ago, I’m guessing everyone is still filled with tender emotions and the excitement of love.

Anyway, here’s a thought experiment:

What if Carl Sagan had written erotic fiction…”


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