I found something amusing on Amazon today. There’s a concordance for my story collection, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress. The concordance lists the 100 most frequently used words in the book. They tend toward the masculine–ivan, jake, jimmy, john, sven. One thing is clear from this list: characters in the book, for better or for worse, seem to spend a whole lot of time looking and thinking.

across against always arms away baby bed beneath big black body boyd boys came car city come dad darlene day door down dress even everything eyes face father feel first front get girl go going got hair hand head home house ing ivan jake jimmy john know life little long look looked looking love man miss moment mother name new night now old own parents place right road rodney room saint say school see side small something stand still story street sven table take tell thing think thought time told toward two want wearing went white window woman world years

The exercise: Read a couple of your stories or novel chapters and try to identify the most frequently used words. Then write a story using precisely none of these words.

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consider the source

I and several other bloggers, including Dan Wickett of Emerging Writers Network, have been very critical of Robert Clark Young’s stink piece about Sewanee in the New York Press. But here’s a better source than I’ll ever be: Richard Bausch. In an email to the New York Press, Bausch states that he does not know Vice, that there are no private rooms from which certain participants in the conference are barred, and that Young sounds like someone with a bad case of paranoia.

I must say that it sounds like Mr. Young must have attended the conference and assumed he wasn’t invited somewhere or other, and then turned that into a plot against him. Either that, or he has listened uncritically and without checking his source to someone who did feel that way……It sounds, in fact, as if Mr. Young was IN a workshop, and people had critical things to say about his work. As EVERYONE knows, criticism takes place in a workshop. And also, as anyone who has ever taught one or taken part in one knows, there are sometimes people who attend them not to learn anything in particular but to have their own conviction that they are geniuses validated. These people often assume there is some ‘coordinated workshop attack.’)

Bausch also states, quite rightly in my opinion, that Young is “not fit to tie” Barry Hannah’s “literary shoes,” challenging anyone to “read the work of Mr. Hannah and the work of Mr. Young and see.” Sheri Joseph, currently an editor at Five Points, the magazine in which “Tuscaloosa Knights” was first published also weighs in eloquently.

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the anti-hero on basketball

It was not as patriotic as baseball, but it seemed to make a lot more sense. Basketball consisted of throwing the large inflated ball through a metal hoop horizontally fastened to a wooden backboard hung vertically high above their heads. The team that threw the ball through the hoop more often was the team that won. All the team won, though, was the same old thrill of winning, and that didn’t make so much sense. Playing basketball made a lot more sense than playing baseball, because throwing the ball through the hoop was not quite as indecorous as running around a bunch of bases and required much less teamwork.

This little bit of sports commentary comes from a “lost” chapter of Catch 22 which did not make it into the book when it was originally published in 1961. The chapter was later published in Playboy, circa 1987, under the title “Yossarian Survives.” In a note he wrote to accompany the Playboy publication, Joseph Heller said that a couple of U.S. Air Force Academy officers contacted him around the time of Catch 22′s 25th anniversary to ask why he had omitted the chapter. “My reactions of surprise were contradictory,” Heller wrote. “I had forgotten I had written in; I was positive I had left it in. ‘Do you mean it’s not there?’ I exclaimed!”

A musical side note: Did you know there’s a ska band out of Jersey named Catch 22?

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Every now and then, I’ll hear someone’s name and think that it perfectly matches her vocation. Lara Zeises is one of the lucky few whose name is so utterly cool that she perhaps could make it as an indie rocker or a world-famous astrologer on the strength of her name alone. Instead, she chose to be a writer, and we’re lucky she did, because the result is her recently released third novel Anyone but You. Kirkus praises the “pitch-perfect narration.” This is a book that knows its audience, a teen angst chick spin that’s rowdy enough for grown-ups who are into reading for a good time. And why shouldn’t reading be a good time, people? The tone reminds me of Katia Noyes’s recent debut, Crashing America, which happens to already be gaining a sort of cult following in San Francisco. Here’s a taste of Zeises’s (try saying that ten times, fast) latest:

Jesse helped, giving Layla half the cash he earned jockeying slushies at the Sip-n-Stop down by the Movie King. Me and Critter were supposed to pick up part-time jobs, too, but when Critter failed English (again) and I scored my own F in biology, it was no go. For one thing, summer school started right after the Fourth of July, and no one would hire us for the few weeks we had off before the start of our Loser Kid classes.

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