an evening with jonathan safran foer

Hello, readers.

It’s Wednesday again. Imagine that.

One Wednesday, not so long ago, Jonathan Safran Foer (author of, among other things, Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Eating Animals) joined Guardian books editor, Claire Armitstead in conversation at Milton Court. The two touched on topics such as: teaching writing, returning home, wrestling with gods, and the masturbatory possibilities of door knobs. Foer spoke throughout with a quiet assuredness and open-hearted sincerity that I imagine in England might have come across as both extremely loud and incredibly close1. He answered questions as best he could, and when faced with an impossible question, he often answered an entirely different question that, in its own peculiar way, somehow answered the original impossible question.

On more than one occasion, I cried.

After the event, EG turned to me and said, “I see why you love him. Sometimes it felt like I was watching you. Or like you had already seen this and gone back in time and decided to live your life based on what you heard.”

Here are some of the things we heard Jonathan Safran Foer say that night…

On praise and criticism:

I don’t want praise or criticism. I want engagement…when people strongly disagree with my books that’s great. That means we both agree there’s something vital here.

Every review review is bad in its own way. A bad review, I think they’re a schmuck. A good review, I think I’m the schmuck.

On his latest book, I Am Here

I am happier about this book than any other…I finished this book without caring any less about it than I did when I started.

It took eight years to begin to be with these characters.

On caring less over time:

I think that’s one of the big problems with living. Figuring out how not to care less over time. About anything. Inertia moves towards getting used to things and, along with that, a diminishment of concern.

On writing books:

Each book, a voice is telling me that this is the last book you’ll ever write. And by that, I don’t mean that I will stop writing. Or get hit by a bus and die. I mean that the next book will be written by a slightly different version of me.

There’s been a lot of novels that have never happened…My response to not caring about something is not to persevere but to change.

I pursue what makes me feel alive.

There’s an old story that often gets used in philosophy classes. It is the story of a ship that leaves one port and, slowly along its journey to another, every part of the boat is replaced. Now, the question is: Is it the same ship? We think, no it can’t be, because everything about it is different. And we think, yes it must be, because it doesn’t make sense to say that it’s not. I discovered when moving several boxes of manuscripts. One of these manuscripts, fairly thick was titled, The Zelda Museum. I had completely forgotten it. I wrote this book to be my second novel. But somewhere along the way, in the same way as that ship, each piece, each word, was replaced. And that became Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Writing is a leap of faith. A belief that something good will come from pursuing what I care about.

When I turned thirty, I started having birthday parties again. At one, I had a magician. I asked the magician what happened if a trick went wrong. If someone lied about the card they picked or something. This magician that looked at me. He said, ‘I don’t perform tricks. I perform a process.’ That’s how I think about writing.

On truth

I have no idea why some things feel true to some people and not to others.

And it’s not that it just feels right. It’s more than that. It’s that you feel known. Almost exposed. It’s a very intimate relationship between a reader and a book. It’s a singular kind of intimacy.

I could tell you what I think, but I don’t necessarily trust what I think.

There is an enormous category of things you have seen but which you aren’t aware of having seen. An enormous amount of thoughts or feelings which you have thought or felt without being aware that you thought or felt them.

On writing and thinking

How do people who don’t write, think? I walk down the street thinking: Hungry. Unseasonably warm.

I believe the only time I have thoughts are in conversation or when writing. In response, or in creation. Writing creates thought and changes thought.

On ritual

Something that is sustained by choice seems richer than something sustained by habit. But choice leaves you open to choosing to not do it.

On wrestling with god and writing

I wish I was a more ritualistic person.

Max says, Basically we lose everything over time. Except the things we wrestle with. Embedded in that is a kind of hopefulness. Despite all the inconsistencies. The contradictions. It remains in my life.

I don’t have a problem coming up with ideas. I have a problem coming up with good ideas. Ideas that move me.

I want my book to be the news of the world I live in. Not the world outside. The world inside.

I want to be as sure as I can that I am working on what I want to work on. A real and direct and sincere expression of who I am. That I’m not trying to fulfill an idea of myself.

(You move between more and less realistic modes of writing. Fiction and non-fiction. Do you think you’ll settle into one or the other?) Life is long enough. I can do both. I can do neither.

Closing our eyes allows us to open our eyes. In the same way, humor primes sadness, and sadness primes humor.

There’s something about writing and the commitment to a book that is similar to a relationship with a person. There’s the first burst of excitement. And then the learning tapers off. You have to move into a different kind of being.

Every writer I’ve ever met with battles with the question of stopping…The conversation about how to persist inspires me.

In my experience, writers, artists, in general maybe, face two kinds of despair.

  1. I will never make something good.
  2. Nobody can make something good.

The answer to the first is to get back to work. The answer to the second is to go out into the world. To a movie. Or an art show. A concert or a play. Oh yeah. There are good things out there.

There are many reasons, perhaps, listening to Foer moved me as much as it did.

One is that, of late, I have often felt both kinds of despair of which he spoke.

That night helped with both.

Another is that, Donald Trump and his ‘locker room talk’ reminded me of growing up as a boy uncomfortable with locker rooms. Of growing up as a boy uncomfortable, often, with groups of boys of any kind. Of growing up as a boy uncomfortable with being and becoming a man. Of growing up a boy who endeavored not to fantasize about girls he knew because, bless that boy, he worried that using even the idea of someone amounted to a kind of violation2.

Junior year in high school3, I remember accidentally knocking a bit of money off my desk. A girl, on whom I had a crush, bent over to pick it up. I looked away. My friends whispered at me with much indignation. How could I have looked away from the sight on offer? What was wrong with me? I didn’t know how to answer them. But, I felt like they must be right. I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed for not looking. I felt ashamed for being seen as weak. I also felt ashamed for being ashamed. And for having wanted to look, even if I didn’t.

Here’s the thing, I thought about listening to Jonathan Safran Foer say thoughtful things in his quiet, assured, and open-hearted way.

As much as it stressed me out. As much as it may have been needlessly shameful. My boyhood self was right to worry about how he imagined other people.

Most of being human concerns how you imagine yourself and how you imagine others.

As a boy, I found it harder to imagine having sex with girls I liked than with girls I didn’t like because somewhere along the way I became equipped with this crazy idea that wanting to have sex with a woman amounted to reducing her to an object. I can’t imagine where I got such a crazy idea.

It is a failure of imagination that, for many men, the only way they can engage with their desire for women is to imagine women, or themselves, as less than human.

When people talk about toxic masculinity this is what they sometimes mean.

I have, as happens, grown older. And, perhaps, I have grown wiser.

I haven’t, as of yet, become a man.

I am still a boy growing up afraid of becoming something unrecognizable.

I am still a boy that believes the thoughts we think, and the words we say, even in private, especially in private, affect who we are. How we are. In public as much as in private.

Because we are always in the company of ourselves, and what we choose to imagine about ourselves, and what we choose to say with and to ourselves, affects how we see, and therefore how we live in, the world.

As Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretended to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

Pretend well, readers.




  1. see_what_you_did_there_doctor_who↩︎
  2. There was, also, a consideration that somehow after I died, and they died, and we were all in heaven, they would know that I had masturbated to them. I no longer have this particular fear. ↩︎
  3. For Brits, this would be, I believe, the first year of your N.E.W.T.S., erm, A-levels. ↩︎

blue bird fell

Hello, readers.

Here’s another excerpt1, from a story called ‘Annabelle’ or, perhaps, ‘Annabelle and The Attack of the Blue Box.’ Or something. This blue box has appeared in other stories I’ve written.

I wrote this particular story some two years ago while living in Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as some still say). The story needed some tending to, and so, this week I’m shaking it about and putting it back together.

In one bit of shaking, a dead bird fell out. That was sad. But also right, as sometimes sadness is.

I’m happy, in anycase, to have found the poor thing rather than it staying there, dead and unnoticed.

Annabelle shook the box again. Nothing. What was the point of discovering a strange box if there was nothing inside it? She pressed it closer to her ear and shook harder. Silence. Presuming it was probably impossible to guess what might be inside the box if the thing inside the box made no sound and possessed no weight–and refusing, still, to believe that a box like this might contain nothing–Annabelle held the box in front of her. She pushed down on the front clasp with her thumb until the thing released with a satisfying clunk. She raised the latch from of its locked position. A car drove by. Annabelle looked up. Staring at her, and her new, ridiculous glasses, and the unlatched box pressed against her chest, was Emilio Graves, Annabelle’s one and only one-time friend who had, very recently, confessed his undying love for her and succeeding in kissing her on the mouth. She could still taste his tongue–like peanut butter smeared across the bottom of a shoe. She frowned at the car, and at him, as hard as she could–the way her mom frowned at waiters that lingered too long near the table. Emilio looked out the passenger side window with a look like she was tearing the arms off one of his beloved action figures.

Annabelle waited until the car disappeared around the corner.

She turned back to the box, surprised to feel how right it felt, cradled so close to her heart, as though, if it were possible, the best thing would be to never open it, but to slide it under her skin and keep it there, warm and shut and safe.

Goosebumps covered her arms. The autumn air was cold, but not that cold. It was silly, Annabelle thought, to feel so connected to something so small, so strange. She held the box away from her and opened it slowly.

A whisper of smoke escaped. Maybe it was dust, or dried leaves. It smelled like rotten bananas.

Inside the box, there was nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Or, at least, nothing that Annabelle could see, even after turning the box upside down and shaking it.

Annabelle did not generally curse much, beyond the occasional shit or crap, but, at this moment, she could not think of anything better to say than, Fuck you, box. She said this directly into the box.

A blue bird fell dead at her feet, a bright still thing among the fallen leaves.

Annabelle closed the box. She thought about throwing the box away. But, she did not. She was not sure why she did not except that she had been the one to find the box and so now it seemed to belong to her through some unspoken universal law about finding and owning. Besides, maybe she could put stuff in it. Maybe dumb stuff she didn’t want like Walgreens glasses. The dead bird didn’t mean anything.

Happy Thursday, readers.



  1. Note, this is part of a continuing series of blog posts that begins with this post on my participation in the Clarion Write-A-Thon. ↩︎

black hearts sated

Hello, readers.

From time to time, as part of the 2016 Clarion WRITE-A-THON, I will post excerpts here on the blog as well as on my write-a-thon profile.

Here’s something I wrote:

The woman’s gloves reminded me of home, the sunset sky over Tampa Bay. My parents had lived as modern day pirates. They took me out on the boat with them sometimes, into the salt-burned wind, their big old sailor’s coats billowing and their bright hair waxed and still. Every time they went over the side, my heart stopped. Every time. They were there, and then they were gone. It didn’t matter how often I saw them go over. Or how often they climbed back. They plunged down into the dark, leaving my terror behind, and then they returned, their black hearts sated by the delicious flush of finding what others had lost: jewels, bones, ships, airplanes.

So far, I’ve rewritten two stories1. And written various bits of several other various stories which may or may not end up all being one big story. Sometimes that happens. You never know.

In other news, Storyological continues to be amazing. This week, in THE ONLY BEAUTIFUL THING, we discussed stories by George Saunders and Alan Bennett.

A couple of weeks ago, in WEDNESDAY, FULL OF WOE 2, we discussed stories from Wole Talabi and Mairead Case.

I love this podcast. I hope you give it a try, if you haven’t yet. And if you have tried, I hope you’re enjoying it.

Happy whatever day it is where you’re reading this.


  1. One of these stories being from 2009, and one of these being from 2016. It’s spectacular how sometimes you don’t really figure a story out for seven years. Perhaps, I mean terrifying. It’s hard to tell with words. They keep changing. ↩︎
  2. Will I mention this episode every time I post on a Wednesday? Probably not. ↩︎

clarion write-a-thon 2016 edition

Hello, readers.

Right now, I’m taking part in this thing called the Clarion Write-A-Thon. It’s very similar to those sorts of marathons where you sponsor the walker/runner.

Except, in this case, you sponsor a writer.

The Clarion Write-A-Thon raises money in support of the Clarion Foundation which funds the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and allows for scholarships to be awarded to future students.

Past students include: Kelly Link, Octavia Butler, Margo Lannagan, Ted Chiang, Alyssa Wong, and Isabel Yap, among many others.

Clarion helped me become a better writer and person. It changed my life. Among other things, it introduced me to my future Storyological co-host.

Of note. Some of you might remember a thing called The Red Volume, or The Orange Volume, both anthologies of short stories, put together by me and my Clarion classmates, and then released as a fundraiser for The Clarion Foundation.

My Clarion class will put out another anthology later this year, after the write-a-thon: The Yellow Volume.

If you want to sponsor me in the write-a-thon. Amazing.

Any donation ($1, $5, $whatever) will get you an e-book version of our anthology when we release it later this year.

If you’d like to wait for the anthology to be released (and for us, perhaps, to figure out some perks for donating at certain levels–such as for a PRINT EDITION), and donate/buy the anthology then (also for whatever you want, including for free). That’s cool.

I’ll post again when it’s available.

Happy Thursday, readers.



42 things to keep in mind concerning mancunicon 2016 in case you find yourself traveling back in time to save humanity from hyperintelligent shades of blue or something else equally silly

42 things to keep in mind concerning mancunicon 2016 in case you find yourself traveling back in time to save humanity from hyperintelligent shades of blue or something else equally silly
  1. You don’t need to go to the opening ceremony. It is fun seeing everyone introduced, though. And feeling like you’re there at the start of something. Like now. With this list.
  2. Don’t wait to go to that panel you’re really excited about or possibly features your partner. Go to it. Now. I don’t care if it’s not until tomorrow.
  3. There are many things to learn at the TRANSCENDING THE GENRE AND OTHER POLITE INSULTS, such as, among other things: stickers are cool and worthy of discussion; astronauts equal SF; the closer SF gets to dreamy, the closer it gets to being considered literature; it’s possible SF is less a genre than a mode or a way of thinking; Flaubert’s main rule for novels? NO HEROES OR MONSTERS; books begin with a question.
  4. Whiskey or wine is best. For all you may think that you want to try the cider it will only end in sadness.
  5. Remember to examine anything you think might be a ghost with your glasses on. Trust me.
  6. The panel on Comma Press will be cool because you will learn that Comma Press exists and is connected to that whole MUNDANE SF thing what involves Geoff Ryman. Geoff Ryman continues to be very tall.
  7. Niall Harrison is an excellent person to whom to direct questions. He knows a lot of stuff about a lot of things. If you get a chance you should read a lot of Ian McDonald before attending the con, so that you also seem to know stuff.
  8. Miss Fisher’s Mysteries. Watch it. If nothing else so you understand what people are talking about on that panel FABULOUS HATS, FAST CARS, & FEMINISM. Also. Consider whether or not the heightened reality of Miss Fisher which might attract SF people, might also be what attracts such people to Jane Austen.
  9. There are too many amazing things to read. Luckily THE YEAR GONE/THE YEAR AHEAD panel will tell you what’s most important. You should read this post by EG Cosh after the con. It will help you remember.
  10. It’s still too many, but that’s okay. At least, you won’t get bored before you die. Well. Unless.
  11. When in doubt write it down. Fuck it. Write it all down.
  12. Particularly everything Sarah Pinborough says. Well. Except that. You probably didn’t need to know that.
  13. Do not worry about moderating.


    I know it is the first panel you’ve ever been on and you’re moderating it and Sarah Pinborough, a guest of honor, is on there, along with Martin Wisse, Glyn Morgan, and Martin Petto, all seemingly rather smart and experienced con-going SF people. I know your stomach will cramp. I know you’ll feel sick. I know that you will never not be scared and nervous, really, about these sorts of things. You still get scared sometimes to talk to strangers or even friends. I know it seems crazy to be this nervous over something that doesn’t have sharp teeth or eyes on the inside of their hands. Its okay. You have learned how to deal with this before. Smile. Remind yourself everyone is afraid. We’re all pretending. Besides. It might be fun. It will be, in fact. All you have to do is ask questions, anyway. These people will take care of the rest. They are smart. And hilarious. Plus you have that panel on grief and death to look forward to, so that’ll be fun.

  14. I don’t know why people think when you say does anyone have any questions that what you’re really saying is are there any comments and suggestions. But they do.
  15. Don’t worry about speaking up about this. It will work out okay.



  17. You know that woman that haunts your dreams? The faded one in the white dress standing in the window of the photograph hanging over your hotel bed. She is actually a large flower pot sitting on a balcony. See earlier point on wearing your glasses.
  18. Some smart things people will say during the panel: IF YOU DON’T SCREAM YOU’LL LAUGH. Sarah Pinborough-“If you give people the light, they’ll follow you further into the dark.”; Charlie Stross – “Sometimes going for a profound sense of unease is better than going for horror.”
  19. Some things people will recommend during this panel – Inside #9, League of Gentlemen, Dr. Strangelove, Shaun of the Dead.
  20. Is concrush a word? Let’s go ahead and say yes. Try to limit concrushes to less than five.
  21. Before the FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD panel, you should probably eat. But you won’t. You’ll probably think it’s a good idea to go in hungry so that you can really LIVE THE MOMENT. Well. Whatever. Do what you want. Just keep in mind that when people are saying smart things about the rituals of food or how SF is a literature of the mind, perhaps, more than the body, you will be thinking about how good a papadom would be about now.
  22. Did you know Babylon 5 has a cookbook? It does. So does Moomin. You will find this out at the FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD panel. You will learn other things, too, such as: the best writing about sex and food is about what’s happening in the character’s head; food is memory; stew gets a bit of a bad rap; Chaz has a turtle that roams free about the house; people remember the things they’re interested in, and, at one time, tea was thought to be very, very bad as it encouraged women to get together and gossip.
  23. Actually, the only gluten free option at Dogs n’ Dough is a hot dog without the bun.
  24. Luckily there’s an Indian restaurant nearby. It’s delicious. And there’s papadom! You might want to ask for that bread and rice again, though.
  25. Hey. You. Yes, you. You don’t need so many notes for that panel you’re on called THE DEEPER THE GRIEF, THE CLOSER TO LIFE, with Neil Williams, Alison Sinclair, Sarah Pinborough, and Kev McVeigh (m). Already know you that which you need. You’re an orphan remember? Well. Recently an orphan. Does that still count? I think that still counts.
  26. Besides. If you’re too attached to what you already think, or want to say, how will you be able to respond in the moment?
  27. For example referencing Babylon 5. That show is awesome. You should totally reference it more often.
  28. Remember to write down what Sarah Pinborough references after saying that your reference to Babylon 5 had sufficiently lowered the bar such that she could reference that other thing you can’t remember.
  29. Or you could ask EG. And she will remind you later.
  30. It was the Face of Bo.
  31. The thing that you will want to take away from THE DEEPER THE GRIEF…is that when you get people together to talk about death mostly what people talk about is how it feels to be alive. It isn’t scary. It’s funny. Sometimes sad. Occasionally true. I don’t know that you need to tell everyone you’re an orphan in your introduction, but go ahead. I can see it delights you.
  32. Terry Pratchett did us a great kindness in the character of Death. It allowed us to be less afraid. Death was warm. Death was funny. Death was real. GK Chesterton has this thing about how fairy tales are more than true not because they tell us dragons are real, but because they tell us dragons can be defeated. The thing I love about Death in Terry Pratchett, and in Sandman, is that those stories don’t just tell us death is real, they tell us that Death is someone we can have a relationship with.
  33. I realize sometimes that this list loses its place in time. That is for the sake of realism.
  34. Other things you will learn on the grief panel: we all lose parts of ourselves; you don’t know people not really but sometimes when they die people bring you pieces of them that you’ve never seen and it can be scary and it can be amazing. Just like with still alive people. Just like with cons.
  35. Part of traveling through time is that you can say things like this: Everyone here is going to die. But not today.
  36. Also. Sarah Pinborough does not care about your touching story concerning The Force Awakens. You might want to rethink mentioning it. But, then again. Go ahead. It’s hilarious.


  37. Enjoy your wake with Sarah and Kev after the grief panel. It is a weird sad funny giddy moment. It’s also Sarah’s birthday. Pay attention to everything everyone says. Even you.


  38. I could write more. But this was it for me. The grief. The wake. The stories. Laughs. That was my closing ceremony. That was the best goodbye.
  39. Until next time, of course. When you hopefully see these people again.
  40. Try not to die.
  41. Don’t be afraid.

hitherto unknown

Hello, readers.

Some things for you, on this Tuesday, the first of March.

  1. The Colbert Show’s precise lampooning of Facebook’s Reactions. Far more precise, in particular, when compared to my earlier emoting.
  2. Anthony Lane writing of the Dali-esque Oscars, including this bit at the end on the matter of money and influence.

    Take the combined global earnings of the ten films that starred the nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Leading Role, all of whom are white, and you arrive at the rough sum of $1,316,000,000. Now put that next to the box-office takings of “Star Wars: the Force Awakens”—$2,048,000,000. That is quite a chasm, and it tells us that, if we lay aside for a moment the admittedly vexing question of prejudice in the awards system, and concentrate purely on the numbers, more people around the world went to see a movie that was fronted (at times, indeed, pretty much held together) by a young black man and a young woman, both hitherto unknown, than went to see all the films that were—with justice—lauded and garlanded last night. J. J. Abrams, the director of the new “Star Wars,” didn’t just think about diversity, or cry it up as a good thing; he put it into play. He realized, as George Lucas failed to do, that racial equality was not just an option but a laughably clear obligation in a galaxy far, far away

  3. Books are the only real magic. I have nearly finished She Came to Stay by Simone de Beavoir, and during one scene in a barn, I thought about how love can feel like you’re standing on the edge of a precipice and across from you, on the other side, there is the person you love, waiting for you. All you have to do is leap. But what if you fall?
  4. Sometimes it is scary how moody my moods can be. How my mind seems to have a mind of its own. It is also, of course, quite wonderful. This is how magic works, after all. Things appearing and disappearing by some mechanism cloaked from view. You know it’s a trick, but you enjoy pretending.


Happy Tuesday, readers.




Hello, readers.

This morning, EG called out from the living room.

“I can react to things now.”

“Is it a long-press?” I said.

“I just hover,” she said.

“Oh, right,” I said. “Probably a long-press on mobile.”

This does not seem like a conversation from the future, and while technically forevermore it will be a conversation from the past, it reminded me of how one way to write about the future is to write about how technology changes the world, and another way to write about the future is to write about how it changes breakfast conversation.

On Medium, you can read this post from Facebook Design about reactions. Much like watching The Social Network in 2011 in Korea, it’s fascinating to consider how much Facebook, much like NBC’s one-time Must-See-TV Thursday, has become a collective cultural experiences. Both happen within, more or less, the same sort of virtual space, except what happens on Facebook isn’t exactly a story–there’s no change in the relations of characters, no reveal about Ross’ new wife, so much as a change in the way we tell stories with each other, or, as in this case, with the simply way we react to the stories we tell each other.

And this is what feels like the future. The sense that changes to our virtual reality become changes in our reality reality. Changes that we all notice, and which, whether we think much about it or not, speak so loudly to the assumptions being made on our behalf, assumptions that define what’s best, or as is often the case, what’s both best and most *convenient*, for our relations with one another.

And maybe that’s what feels like the future, too. Media has always shaped us. Buster Keaton, a very long time ago, included in his film a scene in which, after seeing a dashing young man kiss his dashing companion, Buster Keaton performs the same kiss with his dashing companion. Books. Television. Newspapers. Cameras. Pen. Paper. Everyway that we relate to the world, and each other, changes how we relate to the world and each other. 

And, for a very long time, giant companies played a larger and larger role in the stories we consumed, and the manner in which we consumed them, and so shaped more and more of how a lot of people saw the world.

What’s different now is that giant companies (Facebook, Uber, AirBnB), our playing larger and larger roles not in how we consume stories, but in how we share our stories with each other. This is not particularly good, or bad, so much as the future of our present. 

And it’s only going to get more futuristic.

I would say one thing, though. You could call it advice. Or hope. Or the first inklings of, “Kids these days…”

I don’t know.

But here’s what I’m reminding myself today.

Don’t forget to live outside of what others have created for you.

And here’s what I’m wondering, though, which is if that’s even possible. Considering our languages, our cultures, have been created by everyone that came before. 

I suppose, though, that whatever has been created, has been created by people like us. And there’s no reason we can’t keep making things up as we go along, like everyone else has, or ever will.

Happy reacting to things, readers.