“Failure as Fuel, Staying Hungry, and Wolf Naps” – PBH on the CNF Podcast

Here’s my new interview on The Creative Nonfiction podcast with Brendan O’Meara:

Click to listen.

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New Interview On Too Shattered, Failure, and What’s Next

This interview just came out today. I talk about my new novel Too Shattered For Mending, what a real writing process looks like, having no talent, hip-hop, and my next book – An American Afterlife:

Click to read.

A Few Good Book Recs

I was asked for a few book recs in an email yesterday, and I realized that I should probably share my response since I love it so much when people tell me about books they’ve enjoyed. Here’s what I wrote:
“This year, I loved The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (National Book Award), Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (National Book Critic’s Circle Award for Poetry – although it reads more like essays), James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird (National Book Award), Kevin Barry’s short story collection Dark Lies The Island, and Welch’s The Death Of Jim Loney (which felt eerily close to my current mental state with a brain injury).
Bryn Greenwood’s All The Ugly And Wonderful Things was DISTURBING but she wrote it beautifully.
Also, I’ve read ten of the Best American Short Stories collections.
Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow was hard but good as well.
In the last few years…I loved all three Patrick deWitt novels + Lean On Pete & The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin.”

Best Author’s Bio Ever

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Recently, I’ve been reading as many of the Best American Short Stories anthologies as I can. With 20 stories by 20 different authors in each addition – edited by a different guest editor each year – they’re all excellent. I’m entertained while also learning from the various styles and techniques of these award winning authors.

I’m not reading the collections in any particular order, just reading whatever anthology I find next at my used bookstore or library. That’s how I came across the 1998 edition, guest-edited by Garrison Keiller. It includes incredible stories by Annie Proulx, Carol Anshaw, Akhil Sharma, and others, but it’s the authors’ bio sections that really caught my eye in this edition, because a short story writer named Poe Ballantine wrote the best author bio I’ve ever read.

Since it’s not available online, I’m going to retype his bio for you right here:

“I am forty-two. College dropout. Live in a motel room. I generally move every year, but I am tired of moving and I like this room so I think I will stay another year. I have had lots of odd jobs, mostly cooking. I worked at the radio antenna factory just across the tracks for a while, then sold a couple of stories, so I quit March 5, and if I live on $400 a month and this wisdom tooth coming in doesn’t knock the rest of my teeth sideways, I will be able to write until August.”

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New Piece On Censorship – Huffington Post

I’m writing for The Huffington Post again (after a three year break). Here’s my new piece on censorship:

“Should We Censor What Teens Read?”

Prologue poem from Blood Dazzler

Patricia Smith wrote a Hurricane Katrina collection that published in 2008. It’s gorgeous, dazzling in its use of sound and metaphor. I wanted to record one of poems but there are too many excellent pieces to choose from. So I went with the opening: “Prologue – And Then She Owns You.”

Here’s the prologue poem – click to watch.

When We’re Wrong About A Book

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At an English department book exchange, I received a memoir I’d never heard of, James Thurber’s 1933 memoir My Life And Hard Times. To be honest, it didn’t look good. It was 86 pages long and filled with very mediocre black and white cartoons. Plus, I was judging the book by its cover, and simply because of that godawful cover, I doubted that I’d ever read it.

But…

I got back from snowshoeing last night, got into warm, dry clothes, cracked the book, and read the opening chapter. And not only was that chapter incredibly well-written, but it was funny. Laugh out loud funny. My daughter and I were sitting next to each other on the floor. She was reading her book and I was reading mine, and I kept laughing so hard that she’d make me read passages aloud to her.

But I still thought the book might not be very good. I thought that the first story might be an aberration. There were still those terribly-drawn comics throughout. There was still that really ugly cover. How could a memoir that presents itself so badly be this good?

And it turns out that I was right about the first chapter. That chapter was an aberration. As good as it was, the first chapter was nowhere near as good as most of the chapters in the book. This memoir was a tiny little collection of brilliant and funny essays. The author (Thurber) sneaks up on you. His self-deprecating methods are subtle but successful. It’s almost as if he doesn’t know what he’s doing in his own writing. Yet he does. There’s mastery here. Mastery throughout.

Also, his father is afraid of automobiles.

His senile grandfather lives in the family’s attic and shoots at police officers.

The family escapes a great flood in 1913.

And Thurber’s story about a family dog is so good that I finished it and immediately started re-reading.