Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Happens When a Book Doesn't Sell?

Want a candid look at the difficult and sometimes dead-end process of trying to get your work out into the world? Literary compadre Edan Lepucki is bracingly honest in this wonderful essay at The Millions. (The takeaway: Don't stop slogging!)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Penn alumni: Take my free online book group!

book group 55: September 12-22, 2011 (10 days)

Aleksandar Hemon and Lorrie Moore: Love & Obstacles in Contemporary Short Fiction
led by Courtney Zoffness
Courtney Zoffness
Courtney Zoffness

Many of the classic love stories we most revere revolve around ill-fated courtships. Romeo & Juliet. Anna Karenina. While storytelling styles may have evolved since Shakespeare and Tolstoy, the themes have endured. “How to Be the Other Woman” by Lorrie Moore and “Love & Obstacles” by Aleksandar Hemon both follow characters down misguided paths to intimacy and affection. As a group, we’ll explore how Moore and Hemon, two vastly different but widely acclaimed contemporary authors, use a range of narrative techniques to create drama and impact our sympathies. What’s the effect of Moore’s second-person point of view—one that implicates us in her heroine’s infidelity? How does the threat of war in Bosnia reflect in the sexually desperate young boy’s misadventures in Hemon’s “Love and Obstacles”? And what compels us, despite the cynicism buried even in these stories’ titles, to read on?

To enroll, go HERE.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How much should writers consider their future readers?

Dani Shapiro's compelling essay in this week's New York Times Sunday Book Review explores her attempts to shield her son from a confessional and unflattering memoir she penned years before he was born. Unlike most parents who can conceal or disown their pasts, memoirists create an undeniable record. I think the issue applies to fiction writers too: How many of us wrote provocative stories before we even conceived of our offspring? Before we gave a thought to what our children might think of our work? Moreover, even when we opt to have kids or become parents, how much does their potential readership effect what we produce?

Consider these questions after reading THIS.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Art vs. Life and the "Professional Widow"

In anticipation of author David Foster Wallace's posthumous (and unfinished) novel The Pale King, the Guardian conducted an interview with Wallace's widow, artist Karen Green. The article--and their story--is by turns riveting and heartbreaking.

Read it here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Egan Takes the Gold

How thrilling that Jennifer Egan's smart and playful A Visit from the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction -- after having won the National Book Critics Circle Award. She chatted with The Wall Street Journal minutes after learning the news and among the choice bits of reflection, she says this: " My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower." Amen.

You can read the entire (short) interview here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Life after a bestseller

Re-posting a wonderful essay by Elif Batuman, about everything from literary success to industry schmoozing to the challenges of an academic writing life.

Read it here, in The Guardian.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Author, sell thyself?

In a recent article, Laura Miller, senior writer at, discusses the changing face of publishing and PR in the days of tight publishing budgets, self-publishing, and the e-Book: authors have to advocate for their own work in order to succeed. The obvious paradox Miller elucidates is that writers -- many of whom are, by nature, reclusive or shy or awkward -- often make crummy self-promoters.

You can read more about this contemporary dilemma here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe Reimagined

I wouldn't dream of calling contemporary fiction boring -- especially since there are plenty of gems (read: Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad or Díaz's Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao). But I will say that Mat Johnson's Pym, a hilarious and clever reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe's only (and unfinished) novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym will make most novelistic options seem comparatively dull.

From the drama of chapter one in which Chris Jaynes, the only black male professor at a small liberal arts college, is denied tenure for refusing to sit on the diversity committee, to said professor's seafaring adventure through the South Seas, to his discovery of the only-ever uncolonized species—primitive natives so dark that even their teeth are black, Pym offers no shortage of entertainment and surprise.

I saw Mat give a reading from this novel a few weeks ago at SoHo's McNally-Jackson, where he discussed the challenges that dragged the writing of Pym on for a decade. Among them: How could he imbed literary criticism in a novel without sacrificing the story's enjoyability? His solution, in part, seems to be through humor and narrative drama. In fact, one of the successes of Pym is that it can be understood and appreciated on multiple levels—even for those of us who've never read Poe's Pym.

Toni Morrison in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, says that “no early American writer is more important to the concept of American Africanism than Poe.” Mat Johnson ensures that this piece of Poe's reputation will be as well canonized as his beguiling "Raven."

Thursday, March 17, 2011


My short story "Lunch in the Labyrinth," which initially appeared in Washington Square, was just reprinted in all of the Weston Magazine Group's tri-state quarterlies, including Rye, Westport, Greenwich, New Canaan, and The Upper East Side.

The layout is lovely! Peep it here (pg. 116).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bankrupt Borders

Hurry up and use your gift card (if you have one)...

Filing For Bankruptcy, Borders Hits Troubled Times

Friday, February 4, 2011

Go Goon Squad

The 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award fiction finalists were announced at the end of January. Winner will be announced on March 10th. The contenders include:

Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

David Grossman, To the End of the Land

Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key

Paul Murray, Skippy Dies

My vote is for Goon Squad, despite how much I enjoyed Freedom, and despite how much I admire David Grossman. My pick is mostly informed by admiration for Egen's playful and contemporary text ... but partially informed by this new data. Can you believe these pie charts?!