Bonus bust: Henrik Ibsen

imageThis is Henrik Ibsen (those Norwegians! sometimes their Is look like Js).  He is also from eBay.  Many of the household’s busts have been bought elsewhere, in antique stores and flea markets, but I’ve been photographing our more recent additions.  Ibsen is made of parian, one of my favorite substances for busts: light, more durable than plaster, easy to clean, always beautiful.  Until this bust arrived in our house, I didn’t realize that to my tin ear “Henrik Ibsen” and “Henry Gibson” sound identical.  Happily I love both, and I love the strange jolt I get when I hear someone say “Henrik Ibsen” and I picture Henry Gibson on Laugh-In, about to declaim a poem.


Unknown/Publishers Weekly

imageThis is another eBay bust.  We bought him from the artist’s daughter, who said it had been made in NYC in the 1930s.  Like Florence Nightingale, he’s also plaster, but very big: that rare bust that is more than life-sized.  The artist’s daughter didn’t know who was depicted, or even if it was an actual person, though my ball-&-chain thinks it looks little like Edmund White in a good mood.  He sits in a window with Florence Nightingale, she melancholy and he pensive but happy. 

I got a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

(Edited because I do actually know the difference between Edmunds White & Wilson but it’s been a trying day.)

Kirkus Reviews/Florence Nightingale


After a bust hiatus, more busts.

I am very bad at self-promotion, not for any moral or philosophical reason but because I am tremendously awkward, and also because though I have mostly ditched the superstitions that ruled me as a younger person, I have retained a fear of the Evil Eye inherited from my grandmother, who said that her father would never even count how many children he had (he had 11) for fear of attracting the Evil Eye.  You don’t brag about children: the Evil Eye might snatch them away.  (Or if you do, you then say kinehora, to ward off the EE.)  Talking about positive reviews feels like bad luck to me: that is, if it seems like you think you deserve them, the Evil Eye will do something about that to set you right.

& if you talk about them on social media, nice people will congratulate you, so posting links to good reviews is a way to solicit more praise, and now I am squirming in my chair with awkwardness.

Nevertheless: I have decided that I can post reviews if I also include a bust.

Above is Florence Nightingale.  No good story for how she arrived—she was a lucky eBay purchase—but she’s very lovely, made of plaster, and mounted on a home-made wooden plinth.  She seems to have a subtly different expression depending on what angle you see her from.  I imagine she’s a maquette for a bigger work.

Also: I got a starred review from Kirkus.


On Twitter—my favorite place to ask opinions—I asked people for who they thought were the Greatest Living American Short Story Writers.

Here are the answers, in no particular order. 

I will also add two more underrated (I think) young short story writers of my own: Judy Budnitz and Asali Solomon. 

Edward P. Jones, Gish Jen, George Saunders, Nathan Englander, AM Homes, Amy Hempel, Kelly Link, Deborah Eisenberg, Yiyun Li, Ted Chiang, Lorrie Moore, Ethan Canin, Cynthia Ozick, Pam Houston, Allegra Goodman, Chris Adrian, Jeff Ford, Stacey Richter, Carol Emshwiller, Karen Joy Fowler, Jayne Anne Phillips, Karen Russell, Steven Milhauser, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jennifer Egan, Robin Black, Andre Dubus III, Dan Chaon, Tobias Woolf, Lydia Davis, Tim Gautreaux, Anthony Doerr, Junot Diaz, Gilbert Sorrentino, Mary Caponegro, Antonya Nelson, Claire Vaye Watkins, Susan Steinberg, Kevin Brockmeier, Mary Gaitskill, Emma Straub, Sam Lipsyte, Stuart Nadler, Tom McGuane,Charles Baxter, Elizabeth Strout, Joan Wickersham, T. C. Boyle, David Means, Edith Pearlman, Mary Robison, Charles D’Ambrosio, Lori Ostlund, Lauren Groff, Jess Walter, Laura van den Berg, James Alan McPherson, Andrea Barrett, John McNally, Rebecca Curtis, Denis Johnson, Robert Boswell, Tim O’Brien, Jamie Quatro, Ron Carlson, Rick Bass, Tom McGuane, Tom Franklin, Richard Ford, George Singleton, 
Alan Heathcock, Benjamin Percy, Joe Hill, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Richard Russo, Bill Lychak, Robert Stone, Jean Thompson,Mary Gaitskill, Ann Beattie, Mary Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Miranda July, Stuart Dybek, Edith Pearlman,Peter Orner,  Jim Shepard, Tobias Wolff, Kevin Wilson, Tim O’Brien, Lorrie Moore, Roxane Gay, Brian Evenson, Stacey Levine, Rick Moody, Sherman Alexie,  Ward Just, David Schickler, Sherman Alexie. Steve Almond, Pinckney Benedict, Hannah Tinti, Gary Lutz,  Gene Wolfe, Ursula K. Le Guin, Russell Banks, Tom Barbash, Diane Williams, Aimee Bender,Jill McCorkle, Matthew Klam, Adam Johnson, Rick Bass, Lydia Davis, Tim Gautreaux, ZZ Packer, Melanie Rae Thon, Wells Tower, Lauren Groff, Lydia Peelle, Elizabeth Spencer, Robert Coover, Donald Antrim, Richard Bausch, Lee Abbott, Holly Goddard Jones, Cary Holladay, Patricia Henley, Caitlin Horrocks, Jess Row, Barb Johnson, Dylan Landis, Norman Lock, Thomas McGuane, Jamaica Kincaid, Michael Chabon, Stephanie Vaughn, Robert Olen Butler, Elissa Schappell, Julie Hecht, Rick DeMarinis, Joy Williams, Chris Offutt, Elizabeth Crane, Lucy Corin, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Doris Grumbach, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Jessica Francis Kane, Seth Fried, Danielle Evans, Patricia Engel, Christopher Coake, Adam Haslett, Joshua Ferris, Rebecca Lee, Louise Ehrdrich, Noy Holland, Tony Earley, Lydia Millett, Susan Minot, Michael Martone, Lore Segal, Cris Mazza, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Amy Bloom, Daniel Alarcon,Elaine Fowler Palencia, Edwidge Danticat, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Thom Jones, Tania James, Alice Elliott Dark, Alyson Hagy, Jessica Keener, Allan Gurganus, Victor LaValle, Beth Nugent, Aleksander Hemon, Jodi Angel, Donald Ray Pollock, Rebecca Makkai, Rajesh Parameswaran, Sandra Cisneros, Brad Waston, Aryn Kyle, Tiphanie Yanique, Julie Orringer, Joan Silber, Reginald McKnight, Lynne Tillman, Nell Freudenberger, Elizabeth Tallent, Susan Daitch, Jonathan Lethem, Dawn Raffel, Christine Schutt, Yannick Murphy, Gordon Lish, Peter Ho Davies, David Leavitt, Ron Hansen, Padgett Powell, Rafe Posey, Percival Everett, Jeffery Renard Allen, Victoria Redel, Stephen O’Connor, Rebecca Brown, Thomas Glave, Debra Spark, Steve Yarbrough, Ben Stroud, Kevin McIlvoy, Kevin Canty, Steve Stern, Joshua Cohen, Tess Gallagher, J. Robert Lennon, Ben Marcus, Jim Krusoe, J.C. Hallman, Geoff Becker, Leni Zumas, Richard McCann, Elizabeth Evans, Melanie Sumner.



Fiction requires friction. What we have here is here is just a soupçon of frottage.

Novel readers want to be implicated.  They long to be implicated. 

Hooray! A White Hen Pantry!

Just because someone came up with the word “interrobang” doesn’t make it a piece of punctuation for grownups.

If you withhold information from the reader so you can reveal it on the last page, it’s like pulling an ace from under the table at the end of card game.  The reader won’t think: the writer’s great at cards!  The reader will think: the writer cheats at cards.

No more deer in headlights unless you’re speaking of an actual deer in actual headlights and it’s written from the point of view of the deer and even then it’s probably a bad idea.

Lynda Barry is a genius.


(Possibly the first in a series.)

There seems to be a nitrous oxide leak in this story. Less smiling and laughing, please. 

No more characters storming off.  It means nothing, unless your character is 3-years-old or an actual storm. 

You have put a bomb in your story. As a writer who cares about the world you created, you instinctively you want to defuse it.  But that’s not your job.  Your job is to let the bomb go off.

If you start another story with unattributed dialogue I will wring your neck.

If, when revealing a secret at the end of a story, you think, Wow, this is going to blow the reader’s mind! think again. At best, you will befuddle them.

Any time you suggest a character “couldn’t help but remember” you might as well drop a coconut on their head to start a dream sequence.

Your characters seem to have a neurological disorder that prevents them from recognizing ordinary household objects in order to make the story more “suspenseful.” 

Two unconnected symbolic animal deaths in a story is one too many.

Ask any slapstick comedian: comedy requires gravity.