"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pale blue skies, heat is on the way. I’ve never been particularly good at analyzing my dreams unless they contain fairly obvious messages from my unconscious, but there are dreams that linger with me and some I can still remember from childhood. I’m reminded of Emily Bronte’s comment, “I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have shaped and changed my ideas; they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and alter the color of mind.”

A few nights ago I had a dream that the U.S. Senate was entirely made up of women. In the dream, I’m in the visitor’s gallery looking down at them and the group was vibrant, alive, sophisticated, hearty, and middle aged. They were assembling to establish an award to honor Bella Abzug, the late Congresswoman from New York. And I think of the old Gestalt advice about asking yourself how all the characters in the dream are some part of yourself. Maybe the dream is giving me permission to become more powerful than I ever imagined.

I read recently that when the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky slept he posted a sign on the door that said “Poet at work.” Think about it, you’re screenwriter every night, populating your dreamscapes with actors and dramas, pathos and understanding, shown for your private screening.

A few years ago I was at dinner at a friend’s parent’s home. They had served in the diplomatic services and one of their postings was in Italy. I asked them who over the years in their service was their most interesting guest. They claimed Nancy Reagan was their least favorite and described how she kept dignitaries including the president of Italy waiting while she changed outfits and had her hair done---a regiment of guards in ceremonial mail toppling off their horses in the heat. Abzug was their favorite guest and she described an evening in Naples where Abzug joined the musicians—I believe she was playing the mandolin.

.I just finished reading The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. It’s an amazing memoir and I’ve wanted to read it since I heard him interviewed by Terry Gross of Fresh Air. It is a coming-of-age story, about a fatherless boy becoming a man with the help of a group of men at a bar. It’s woven with interesting themes and a portion of his story tracks his growth as a writer. At one point while working as a copyboy at The New York Times he struggles to write a novel about the bar, but it wasn’t working out. He wrote: “Of course, had I been trying for a debilitating case of writer’s block, the conditions above Louie the Greek’s couldn’t have been better—hot, loud, the walls vibrating with every train pulling into and out of the station, the air vibrating with the aroma of pickles, bacon fat, fried potatoes and cheese. But I wouldn’t have found any at a secluded writer’s colony in the woods, because I was the ideal candidate for writer’s block. All the classic defects converged in me—inexperience, impatience, perfectionism, confusion, fear. I thought words were supposed to come unbidden. The idea that errors were stepping-stones to truth never once occurred to me, because I’d absorbed the ethos of the Times, that errors were nasty little things to be avoided, and misapplied that ethos to the novel I was attempting. When I wrote something wrong I have always too it to mean that something was wrong with me, and when something was wrong with me I lost my nerve, my focus, and my will.”

I believe that it’s one of the wisest statements on writer’s block I’ve read in a long time. For years I’ve heard people talk about writer’s block as if it’s like catching a virus—a mysterious malady that arrives out of nowhere, for no reason. But there are often reasons why a writer feels stuck or stalled and from what I’ve witnessed they usually are caused by lack of experience and knowledge. I wrote my first book Writing Out the Storm because over and over I met writers who were somehow stuck because they were afraid. Writers block is most often based on fear—of failing, of trying, of sitting in one place long enough for the words to come out right.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The marine air is still blanketing the sky, a pale pewter color and I woke up late—any time after 6 is late for me since I like to start writing by six, but I was awake after midnight reading a memoir by J.R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar. Most memoirs are about dysfunctional families and the pain thereof, and this book is no exception. However, at the heart of the book is a bar and the men who work there, the patrons who drink there, and the lessons this camaraderie teach a boy about how to be a man. In fact, the theme is about what makes a man and I cannot recommend it enough.

In a voice that sounded like old whisky, this morning on NPR Annie Dillard talked to Paul Simon about writing and how as a mature writer she now eliminates every unnecessary word. She read a segment from her new novel, The Maytrees. She also said, “Everything we know about writing we know from Hemingway.” When Simon asked her about writing habit she said you have to slow down and think. She’s against using computers to write because they dilute and spread out the story and spent 10 years on her latest novel. Don’t you sometimes feel that every time you blink you hear about another book you need to buy?

A few days ago I was teaching my critique group for our final session and one of my students, a lovely man and talented writer, started talking about his writing process. A few years ago he took a course called Dangerous Writing. Tom Spanbauer started the Dangerous Writing concept and according to Wikipedia, “The emphasis is on writing "dangerously" — writing what personally scares or embarrasses you in order to explore and artistically express those fears honest.” Chuck Palahniuk of Fight Club fame is probably the most famous alumnae.

Spanbauer says, “On the surface, that may not seem like a dangerous or even daring act. But it is. When the words one believes to be the truth about oneself are actually written, they take on a power that is no longer exclusively controlled by the writer. The spin that could be applied when the ideas were merely in a person's mind or coming out of a person's mouth melt away. The words lay the heart bare for all to see. Those words become a separate entity, an unflinching, unvarnished document of the self.”

Anyway, I’ve heard a lot of great things about Dangerous Writing classes over the years and since I never attended one, I cannot comment on them except that writers who have attended seem like born-again Christians—full of the light of minimalism and edginess. Back to my class--as were wrapping up for the summer and this student accused me of having a formula for writing, meaning that I believe people should outline and know their characters before they write fiction. Twenty years ago he wrote a novel where he did a lot of outlining and the one he’s writing now is coming from a deep place, but he started by writing the middle of the story.

I countered with the only formula I believe in is that writers need to stay close to their stories, writing every day if they can so that their characters speak to them. But I doth protest too much. I work with writers who want to get published. And over the years I’ve read so many dreadful half-baked and poorly conceived novels that I have longed to charge for pain and suffering. There are lots of people who are typing away calling themselves writers, but I prefer to work with people who are serious about what they do and who read a lot and analyze how other writers work their magic. This is purely selfish on my part because dabblers are extremely difficult to work with and they’re usually thin-skinned to boot…… In the years I’ve been teaching and editing what I’ve witnessed is that writers who know the ending of their story before starting out on the long journey of novel writing have an easier time of it and spend less time rewriting and reorganizing. I’ve also figured out that the more you know about your characters, the easier it is to bring your characters to life and shape a story around them. So if that’s a formula, guilty as charged.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The sky is pushing clouds off its blue backdrop and a single bird is chirping, the same four notes, again and again. Last summer one bird perched on the phone wire near my backyard and sang the same song, over and over, all day. Day after day, week after week. And now I’m hearing those same notes again although I cannot see it. As each day passed last summer and the bird took up its post I was amazed at its stamina. There were so few breaks in the song, so few pauses for food or water. Since I’ve been a kid I’ve recognized that birds are hearty as they withstand wind and storms clinging to a branch. But it’s only in the past few years that I’ve noticed how they can spend hours singing, that they seem born to sing.

I cheated this morning and spent the first part of my morning at salon.com reading an interview with Joseph LeDoux. He’s a neuroscientist who studies emotion and memory and his comments in the article are fascinating. I try to keep tabs on the research and writing from about a handful of neuroscientists. Years ago I was helping a psychologist write a book and started reading books and research that she was using in her work. The article is at www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2007/07/25/joseph_ladoux in case you’re interested.

On Monday I had a long conversation with my agent about the next books I’m going to write. Since I’ve finished the Bad Guys book and am waiting for my editor to send rewrite instructions, I’ve started working on several proposals. It was helpful to hear from her which ones she thought had the most potential, which ones might be easier or more difficult to sell. It takes me weeks, months to write a decent proposal since it includes at least one sample chapter. So in order to save time and pain, I want my agent on board before I invest my energy in new projects.

In the past few years I have written three books that were more than 100,000 words and I want to work on shorter books for awhile and start a longer book next year. But I’ve been thinking about how all writers need a person in his or her corner to help plot out a career path. In my work I see a lot of writers who don’t seem to develop a big picture of what they want to accomplish, along with solid plans for accomplishing their goals. It seems to me that if you don’t have an agent that you need to partner with another writer, teacher, or writing group to work out a trajectory for your writing career.

These days I’m also getting ready for the upcoming Willamette Writers Conference (www.willamettewriters.com/wwc) that is coming up the first weekend in August. It will be held at the Portland Airport Sheraton and attracts lots of interesting writers and talented speakers. It seems that conferences are good places to find not only agents and editors, but also writing partners. And that muddling along by yourself as a writer works for only a few writers, most need the community and insights of writers who are farther along.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Skies still overcast and birds singing away filling the morning air.

On Friday night I attended the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival. On Friday nights of the festival they feature a national blues act and this year is was Charlie Musselwhite. He’s originally from Mississippi and appeared with three much younger musicians—all hot, but his guitar player is one of the best I’ve ever heard. I stood and danced near the stage for most of the show and let the music wash into me. For the last number I was actually on the stage, but behind the bank of lights directed at the band.

And it was frickin amazing and the songs from that evening are still with me. Yesterday as I was writing and going through my day, I was remembering other musicians I’ve seen in concert who are now gone—Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Charles Brown, and others. You can watch a bio-pic of Ray Charles but nothing captures the way he sparkles on stage except being there and witnessing it.

And I’ve decided while I make a point to see aging musicians in concert, I need to extend that list to authors and poets too. A few years ago I went to a reading by W.S. Merwin and came away so moved by everything about him, so filled with memory and imagery and language. When I left the place he was speaking I felt like I’d been on a canoe ride on a river that wound through an old forest. I saw Merwin in March of 2005. I know the date because I have the program and notes from his talk in my writer’s notebook for that year.

He was born in 1927 and his poems, essays, translations and other writings have been part of the literary landscape for more than 50 years. That evening when he spoke about he writing life or read his poems there was a church-like hush in the room. He began the evening by reading a poem by Emily Dickenson and talked about the link between language and poetry and music. He answered questions from the audience and talked about his home on Hawaii where he’s planted 80 species of palms that are in danger of extinction. He also mentioned that half the native birds of Hawaii are extinct and the other half in danger of extinction.

Merwin said about writing: “Writing is something I know little about, less at some times than at others. I think, though, that so far as it is poetry it is a matter of correspondences: one glimpses them, pieces of an order, or thinking one does, and tries to convey the sense of what one has seen to those to whom it may matter, including, if possible, one’s self.”

Friday, July 20, 2007

Overcast again today and because I’m going to an outdoor concert tonight, hoping that it doesn’t rain. But a week in the 70s has been heavenly—my favorite temperatures.

Yesterday I went to a visit a friend, her husband, and newborn. I walked through the hospital lobby and was thinking of how it looked like a high end hotel with plush seating, greenery and gleaming wood, and an air that no expense was spared. I was thinking about all the lobbyists who will probably never allow universal health care, when I walked into their hospital room. I haven’t been around a newborn in four years and holding little Holden Thomas in my arms was a revelation. I held him away from me so I could watch him, and his many movements, grimaces, sighs, squints, and frowns were eloquent as an opera.

Most of the time he appeared to be dreaming, and I kept wondering about when consciousness really begins, because it was obvious that he had a fully formed personality and already had memories. I learned that he had been circumcised that day so was wondering if that trauma was now stored away, tied forever to flesh. I heard Isabelle Allende talk once about the birth of her grandchild. She told the newborn, ‘remember where you came from and tell me all about it.’ I wanted to somehow quiz Holden about the Land of Babies, or his past life, or his memories.

When I woke this morning the radio news was reporting that today is the 38th anniversary of the moon landing. When I was a teenager I lived in a small town in southern Wisconsin. It was an odd, conservative, boring place. At a high school assembly we once had a member of the John Birch Society describe how John Kennedy was a communist, and afterward, when I stepped out into the thrumming crowds of the school hallway spotted my social studies teacher’s face dark with rage. The thing about small towns is that there is usually not enough to do when you’re a teenager. This town didn’t have a bowling alley or tennis courts or community center. So by the time my friends and I were sophomores, we’d find ways to reach the next town over, Cedarburg, a few miles away, where there was more happening.

I remember the night of the landing as being hot and still and thick. My friend April and I were sitting on the steps of a grocery store, in the middle of town, watching cars going by, chatting. Probably hoping a car full of cute boys would pull up and change our world. And I can remember feeling a longing and restlessness that even today I can taste. The knowledge that far away men were taking part in a historical endeavor while below we were waiting for our lives to begin. The next day I’d watch the moon landing, grainy and black and white on our Zenith [back then American companies made televisions] and think about that faraway place. But on that sultry night, looking up at that moon, where sometimes a few clouds drifted past, was like looking into an impossible future.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Overcast and raining this morning but the birds are singing away as cheery as a gospel choir.

Yesterday I had another meeting with my fiction critique group and I wanted to write a bit about getting a manuscript ready for an agent or editor. These days in the publishing industry there is a clogged pipeway of unsolicited manuscripts—the notorious slush pile—and if more writers would perfect their manuscripts before they mailed them off, then the whole system would work more efficiently.

If you’re reading this I’m sure you know better than to send off a manuscript that hasn’t been rewritten and honed and fretted over. The first draft is essentially for putting the story down on a paper, later drafts fix pacing and language, theme, character development, individual scenes and plot points. In your last drafts you’ll be analyzing scene goals and how quickly you’ve gotten in and out of scenes. You’ll make certain that your characters are vulnerable, achingly complex, and capable of surprising your readers. You’ll make certain that your story is highly visual and yet that you don’t have huge blocks of information weighing down the story. In your last draft make certain that each verb sparkles and gets the job done and that you can justify every modifier. Bottom line: if you haven’t gone over your manuscript at least three times, you’re not a writer, you’re a typist.

So after you’ve printed out your polished gem, you’ll want at least a few qualified readers to give you feedback. In my critique sessions I’m always amazed at the insights that other writers bring to the process. And while we have all heard about writers whose husband or wife is their first and most qualified reader, in my experience, a person’s spouse isn’t always in the best position to give intelligent feedback. Instead you want voracious readers to go over your manuscript; preferably people who read widely but still are discriminating and opinionated. Then really listen to what they have to say and weigh and possibly incorporate their suggestions.

At some point you’ll need to stop yourself from endless rewrites and tinkering and take the plunge of submitting. Over the years I’ve seen a number of manuscripts where the writer rewrote so often that the original thread of the story was buried and the result was a tangled mess. So quit when you’re exhausted and weary of the project and satisfied that there is nothing more you can do to improve it.

Next comes the hard part—trying to connect with an agent or editor. I’ve recently met a writer who mentioned how she had little trouble meeting agents and making contacts in the industry. She was a fiction author a while back and is now back in the fray, rewriting a suspense novel. I was rather fascinated by her and I wished that more writers had her confidence and chutzpah. It seems to me that too many writers see the publishing industry as the enemy and don’t realize that publishers and editors of every ilk need us.

You’ll want to adopt this writer’s confidence and you’ll want to do your homework and research the most appropriate agent for your story. It’s always a good idea to examine the front matter of every novel you read, especially the acknowledgments so you become familiar with the agents and editors in the game. Check out the agent’s previous sales, the types of books he or she represents, and the agency’s manuscript guidelines. Then follow the instructions to the letter.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The sky is still a summer blue and, oh hallelujah, ring the bells, clouds are moving in. It’s been unmercifully hot lately, but I guess folks living in Baghdad wouldn’t blink. Well, that is unless they lived in the Shiite neighborhood where American troops raided and switched off their electricity in order to gain cooperation because they’re looking for militants. I’m sure the residents, their neighbors dead and buildings destroyed are ready to kiss the feet of their American liberators. But then again they might be sticking to the floor since it was 114 degrees.

But I probably don’t need to explain how our failed occupation of Iraq deteriorates daily. Let’s get back to writing and such.... I have a few small luxuries in life that I can't get by without—fresh flowers, good wine, organic food, books, and magazines. I receive at least a dozen magazines in my mail box each month and Vanity Fair is sent courtesy of a friend. It comes every month thick with glossy ads, including perfume samples that I immediately toss out before I begin sneezing, a cover graced by beautiful people, and it opens me to a world far from my own. I ignore the stories about troubled heiresses and jewel heists and have come to appreciate their political coverage and an odd feature, the Proust Questionnaire that is on the last page of the magazine. All sorts of people have answered the questions from Norman Mailer and Helen Thomas, to Helen Gurley Brown (the August answerer). Now, I don’t give a whit about Brown, but each month I cannot resist peeking at the answers. And each month I’m also somehow surprised as when I discovered that Brown seems remarkably devoted to her husband.

The young Marcel answered the questions at two social events, once when he was 13, another when he was 20. Proust isn’t credited with inventing this party game; but was one of the first interesting persons to give intriguing and revealing answers.

I think the questions are delightfully revealing and fun. I also believe that all writers need to know themselves well and if they write fiction, know their main characters as intimately as they’ve known lovers. So here are the questions—I’d love to hear about your answers:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What is your greatest fear?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Which living person do you most admire?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your favorite journey?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
Which living person do you most despise?
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What is your greatest regret?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
Which talent would you most like to have?
What is your current state of mind?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Where would you like to live?
What is your most marked characteristic?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
What do you value most in your friends?
Who are your favorite writers?
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Who are your heroes in real life?
What is it that you most dislike?
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. Ray Bradbury

The sky is a pale, cloudless blue and the temperatures projected to hit over 100 today. Global warming is smacking us alongside the head here and my new hobby is watering—my sprinkler is misting the side yard as I write.

Last night I attended a summer concert and sat on the lawn with friends listening to music, drinking wine, eating picnic food and watching the trees bend in the night breeze. I arrived at the park before my friends and discovered I had forgotten my chair and book, so spent fifteen minutes watching the crowd, noticing the children greeting their friends, soap bubbles floating past, people unpacking food. I’m going to drink in these balmy days, store them for the winter months of gray and rain.

I want to call your attention to a terrific essay on summer at salon.com. It’s written Oliver Broudy and it’s called Air Head and is about his dilemma with buying an air conditioner. His reason for not buying one is that it blocks out all the sensory delights of summer—the sound and heat coming in through his windows in Manhattan.
Here is an excerpt: “…..
But I grew up on the shores of Connecticut. To me, summer has always been a time of heat, the sun baking the paint on the bottom of old wood dinghies, small waves breaking, blackberry ice cream dripping down your forearm, and some lucky kid five years your senior fooling around with a kit-built remote control car.

The heat comes in and slows things. It comes in through the window where the ice tea sits brewing in the sun. There's a dog panting somewhere, behind the couch. For coolness, you'd drape yourself over the thick limb of a purple beech tree, or slide an ice cube back and forth across your forehead. You'd sneak a miniature fan into school and surrender it to a girl you liked -- a hopeful investment. The windows were open, and in the clean kitchen a fly would circle looking for some forgotten spot of honey. The most valuable commodity was a screened porch. We didn't have one, so my father built one. Then we put up a hammock. “

To read the essay go to www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2007/07/07/heat

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Cloud cover this morning with temperatures in the 80s later on. I’ve been outdoors a lot this week and have been picnicking, eating el fresco, and walking in the evenings, so I feel drenched in summer. Today I’m going for a boat ride and we’ll land on the shores of the Willamette for a picnic. My memories of my childhood have been stirred a lot this week, especially when I was watching fireworks on Wednesday night head turned to the spangled sky, and felt connected back in time and to other places and people.

Back to summer reading. I’ve just finished Janet Evanovich’s latest book in her Stephanie Plum series, Lean Mean Thirteen—it’s a fun romp, with lots of misadventures, laugh out loud dialogue, and sexual tension. Evanovich has implanted a terrific device in the series in that Plum wavers undecided between her sometimes boyfriend Joe Morrelli and bad boy Ranger. The series work best when Ranger and her coworker in the bond bail business, Lula, a former ‘ho. are around a lot and in her 13th book in the series she wisely showcases both of these characters. The story also includes her nemesis Joyce Barnhard, and her ex-husband, Dickie. All the secondary characters in the series are wacky or at least interesting and I believe that the key to her success is mining her quirky secondary cast.

Another book that I read recently is a thriller, Sharp Objects. It’s the first novel from Gillian Flynn and has so much tension in it that you practically break out in hives while reading it. Flynn’s protagonist Camille Preaker, a reporter, returns to her Missouri hometown to investigate the murders of two preteen girls. Back home, Breaker is forced to confront her past and truths about her twisted family. Camille is also fresh from a psych ward for reason I won’t divulge, but let me say that this character has a backstory that you’ll never forget. You’ll also never forget the whole Gothic feel of the story. If you like your stories sweet, or your characters to remain safe amid a saccharine world, by all means, do NOT read this book. If you want a real thrill ride, to shudder at depravity and suffering, and to study a fresh voice in this crowded genre, read Sharp Objects.

Flynn was lucky to garner a blurb from Stephen King whom she has never met who wrote: “To say this is a terrific debut novel is really too mild. I haven’t read such a relentlessly creepy family saga since John Farris’s All Heads Turn as the Hunt Goes By, and that was thirty years ago, give or take. Sharp Objects isn’t one of those scare-and-retreat books, the effect is cumulative. I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them. Then, after the lights went out, the story just stayed there in my head, culled and hissing., like a snake in a can. An admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights.”

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The sky is turquoise smeared with wispy clouds that you can tell will not last long. This morning on NPR Jon Clinch discussed the difficulties of writing his first novel, Finn (Random House Books). He says it’s like building a house with raisins. It’s the dark secret history of Huck Finn’s father and the excerpt read on the air sounded fascinating. Before Finn was published Clinch spent a dozen years writing fiction and wrote five novels that weren’t published.

I need to turn you onto a writer you’ve probably never heard of, Poe Ballantine. I have not read Ballantine’s novels but have been following his real-life, oddball adventures in The Sun magazine. He regularly contributes essays about his forays on the outskirts and strip malls of America. His lifestyle is spare, and he lives in crappy motels, working at minimum wage jobs so he can write. His writing is sad and funny and real and sweet and makes you think a lot about what is wrong with this country. Often his work makes me feel as lonely as hearing a far-off train whistle in the middle of the night. His latest essays have been collected in 501 Minutes to Christ: Personal Essays by Hawthorne Books. In the July issue of The Sun he has written about his experiences with meth and the essay is so searing and jumpy and that I got a hangover after reading it. I’ve always been baffled why so many people have gotten hooked on such a dirty, wasting drug, but after I read his essay I finally understand why people get involved with it. The essay describes how he moved home with his parents to write a novel, then because the writing wasn’t going well, got a job in a warehouse, then starting using meth. Here is an excerpt from Methamphetamine For Dummies where he described the aftermath of doing meth:

“God strike me with a urine-soaked newspaper if I ever do this drug again, the aftermath is simply unforgiving, a hangover infinitely more excruciating than you get from alcohol, as if your nerves have been shaved by an asthmatic witch doctor, pumped with musard gas, and then stomped crooked by a drunken plumber who refuses to clean his boots. I’m convinced that methamphetmamine is not a drug but a plague with which Nature has supplied us in lieu of yellow fever and cholera. There is nothing subtle ir romantic about this souped –up bathtub solvent concocted from the very same items I move daily at the chemical warehouse. It doesn’t inspire odes and lyrics the way heroin does. Think of all the great heroin songs, from Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” to David Bowie’s “China Girl”. No one writes songs about meth, for the same reason no one writes songs about yellow fever and cholera.

I am back at Javier’s the next Friday, Amphetamines can be useful, I tell myself. They make you productive, a creative dynamo even. Think of Ayn Rand, who wrote The Fountainhead—all 720 pages of it—on amphetamines. And my drugs are about twenty times stronger than hers.”

Ballantine currently lives in Chadron, Nebraska. His first nonfiction book is titled Things I like About America. In addition, his work has been published in magazines such as The Sun and The Atlantic Monthly Online. He won a Best American Short Story award. His novels are God Clobbered Us All and Decline of The Lawrence Welk Empire.