"A few weeks ago I sent my son off to Bristol Bay, where a job waited as a deckhand on a fishing boat. Ethan was excited to have lined up one of the summer jobs most coveted by teenagers in our small coastal town: high pay and hard work chasing salmon in the wild estuaries of Alaska. He is 18, tall and strong, a varsity athlete freshly graduated from high school with college ahead in the fall. But as we walked to the security-free gate in Anchorage where his prop plane to Dillingham waited, he admitted to a few butterflies.
I felt them, too. A summer like this would change him, whatever happened. I had only to think about the summer when I, too, went to sea in Alaska. It had been a season that changed everything, including the direction of my career as a writer.
My invitation to work as a deckhand came at the end of a long, dark winter. I happily shelved the historical fiction that had swallowed me whole, relieved to trade the guilt of long hours at a snowbound desk for the simple urgency of boat chores. (Advice to youthful writers: it’s ok to work on a first novel, finish the handmade cabin you live in, and share the good life with your girlfriend or boyfriend, but choose only two of the above at a time.)”
More from author Tom Kizzia’s original essay on the Powell’s blog: http://powells.us/15uLBPf
"Last night I did a reading for students at NYU with Lydia Davis and Chad Harbach, two great, literary writers, but also two very funny writers. (I promise you the crowd was really entertained by both of their readings, and I was extremely glad to be the opening act. You do NOT want to follow Lydia Davis.) During the Q&A we were asked several times about being funny. How do you impart humor in your writing? How do you know when something is funny?
I always think life is funny enough without even having to try very hard. I’ve heard from some people that they think my most recent book, The Middlesteins, is funny, but I’ve heard from plenty of others that it’s extremely sad. It’s both, I guess. Last night I said I was a ‘laugh through the tears’ kind of person, which probably describes the essence of my writing too. (Although, sadly, I am also a ‘laugh when it is totally inappropriate to laugh’ person, as well.)
One young woman said that she thought she was writing something that was funny, but then when she showed it to some people, they didn’t think it was. I told her she should only ever hang out with people who think you’re funny, and she should stop being friends with them immediately.
But really the point is this: When you are just starting out, you should be writing to entertain yourself. There should be a sense of joy to your work, and a sense of exploration. There’s plenty of time to worry about what everyone else thinks. Like basically you have an entire lifetime of people being up your ass about everything; might as well make yourself laugh along the way.
Another young woman later told me she thought she was writing serious things, but then it turned out everyone thought it was funny. It didn’t seem to bother her, though. I suspected immediately she was probably just an exceptionally keen observer. She whispered to me something about most people sucking and I thought she would do just fine as a writer.”
More from Jami Attenberg on the Powell’s blog: http://powells.us/1470QLF
"Travel and reading go so well together — people just have more time to read while traveling, and the freedom to read whatever they like. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few books I tend to foist upon people whenever I have the chance. For the most part they have nothing to do with travel, or walking, but even so:
Laird Hunt: I was just telling someone about Hunt yesterday, in fact. He’s a Boulder, Colorado–based writer whose dreamy, semi-experimental novels aren’t quite like anything else I’ve read. I recommend starting with Indiana, Indiana, but all of his books, including his new novel, Kind One, are strange and wonderful.
Steve Aylett: Aylett is a British writer who, again, doesn’t sound like anyone else I’ve ever read. He produces some of the most compressed sentences ever made — there are zero wasted words. My favorites of his are The Crime Studio, one of his earliest books set in the maddening hardboiled city of Beerlight, and Fain the Sorcerer.
Kelly Link: Kelly is probably much better known than Hunt or Aylett, but I still think not enough people read her, mostly because I think everybody should read her. Fans of Aimee Bender will love her (although fans of Aimee Bender probably already know about her). Try Pretty Monsters. She’s amazing.
Rory Stewart, The Places In Between: OK, this one actually is a walking book. I recommend it frequently. Stewart, a British writer and politician, walked across Afghanistan in 2002 and wrote about his journey here. It was a massive undertaking, and the book is a really great read.”