Ten or So Favorite Books

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Mariette in Ecstasy: Ron Hanson
  • If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things: Jon McGregor
  • The Shipping News: Annie Proulx
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Milan Kundera
  • Ulysses: James Joyce
  • I Sailed with Magellan: Stuart Dybek
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: Carson McCullers
  • The Things they Carried: Tim O’Brien
  • The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov
  • A Confederacy of Dunces: John Kennedy Toole
  • Middlemarch: George Eliot
  • The House on Mango Street: Sandra Cisneros



Queen’s Ferry Press Reading at Book Soup, Los Angeles

I’m reading at Book Soup tomorrow evening for Queen’s Ferry Press’ Best Small Fictions of 2015 Anthology. On the roster are fellow West Coast writers, Lauren Becker, Yennie Cheung, and Chris Terry. Hope to see some familiar faces in the audience…

BSF Cover_print

Ten Books that Matter to Me

I Hate to See that Evening Sun go Down by William Gay
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor
That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern
I am Somebody by Nuala O’Faolain
House of Prayer No. 2 by Mark Richard
The Cider House Rules by John Irving
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tóibín
Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews

Up the Staircase Review of Blood a Cold Blue

Delighted to find a fine review of Blood a Cold Blue at Up the Staircase Quarterly this weekend. Back in 2011, this was the venue for my first published piece of creative writing, “Bingo Night.” I’m grateful to April Michelle Bratten for launching my writing onto the waters and for the generous review of my collection.

Blood a Cold Blue cover updated

On first looking into Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude

I was 21 when I first encountered Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, and it was loaned to me by my tennis friend, Joseph O’Dwyer. He’d returned from America, where he was playing tennis on scholarship at North Kentucky University, and all his talk was of Bolivian Marching Powder, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.”

“You’ve got to read this,” he told me, just before he flew back to Highland Heights and another year of college tennis. We’d spent the summer playing marathon games of chess in his back garden, running drills on the courts a hundred yards away at St. Mary’s Tennis Club, and talking books and movies. Before he flew off, a dog-eared copy of Solitude was thrown at me, and a farewell until the following summer. I promised to read the book, let him know what I thought of it.

I read the first sentence, scratched my head, and buried the book under a pile of laundry in my bedroom. Nonsense. Yes, I couldn’t make head nor tail of the thing. Instead, I re-read Stephen King’s It, and Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and forgot about Marquez and Macondo.

Sometime after I broke up with the girlfriend I was seeing at the time, I cleaned out my bedroom and found Joe’s copy of the book, cobweb-covered and more yellowed than when he’d given it to me. Lovelorn, I opened the cover again, read those first sentences, “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” Whether it was my broken heart, or the chill of an Irish winter, something resonated with me and I ended up turning page after page, through the night, until sometime around 3AM I reached the last sentence and held my breath. Oh, the epiphany of those words, the completion of Marquez’ circular narrative:

Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

Now, so many years later, I re-read the book every year or two, delving once more into the mad waters of Marquez’ narrative river. There’s a comfort in this novel, a remembrance of a youthful time when tennis and chess and movies and books and pubs was the be-all and end-all of my life. For those reasons I found the news of Marquez’ death today to be devastating, as if a part of my soul had shut down and gone out of business. And in a way it has. But, I’ll always have the words to return to and savor anew. Godspeed, Maestro, Godspeed.

(Quotations from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

2014-04-17 18.45.26

Writing Process Blog Tour: Bonnie ZoBell

I’ll be participating in the “My Writing Process” blog tour, thanks to an invite from San Diego writer, Bonnie ZoBell, author of the collection, What Happened Here. Read her blog answers below:


Below is a guest post written by Bonnie ZoBell.

Bonnie ZoBell: My Writing Process:  Blog Tour

Today I’m taking part in the #MyWritingProcessTour. It’s so interesting and instructive to see how other writers go about their work. I was nominated by my friend, Susan Tepper, writer extraordinaire.  Be sure to get a copy of Susan’s latest book, The Merrill Diaries, beautifully written and a thought-provoking romp through the U.S. and parts of Europe.

The awkward part about writing this blog post is that at the moment I don’t have much of a writing process because besides teaching, I’m in the process of birthing my newest book, What Happened Here: a novella & stories. I’m doing everything I can to ease her passage into the world, making sure she’s nurtured in every possible way, and giving her a good wholesome introduction with the hope people will be as good to her as they’ve been to me. At the moment, it’s on pre-release and available only on my site, but she’ll be officially launched on May 3rd. What I’ll do here is write about my process when I’m writing. I warn you: This process isn’t entirely the healthiest for children and other living things, in other words younger writers. Don’t show this to your students.


What am I working on?

I’ve gone back to an old novel, most recently calledAnimals Voices—which I worked on for many years—because I think I’ve finally figured out a solution to a problem I was having. The story starts out with some young kids, the boy very curious about the unusual girl, after he gets over her strangeness and the way all his friends make fun of her, because she can communicate with animals. They grow up and marry and he is diagnosed with AIDS in the early years. Communication is difficult when no one will acknowledge the disease, probably even more so than communicating with owls. Then I’m going to go back to another novel that I also spent years on calledBearded Women, about a woman who goes to an electrologist because she’s hirsute. There are class issues between her and the electrologist, and it comes down to the main character needing to pluck other parts of her persona as well.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’d call what I write literary fiction, though I’d like to write more magical realism. Oh, give me anything to read that contains beautiful language and a good story, and I’ll devour it. Perhaps mine differs because of my love of setting. I’m thrilled going back toAnimal Voices, getting the chance to revisit the southern part of Del Mar in San Diego, land filled with an estuary, all kinds of unique crawly life, and the magnificent Torrey Pine trees. These gnarled pines grow crooked because they’re on the bluffs right above the ocean and therefore get a lot of strong winds. They’d be creepy if they weren’t so beautiful.

I’m no minimalist, though I try to be as spare as I can. I like to think that sometimes I’m successful at writing beautiful, in-depth descriptions that let you see images in life in a unusual way without going overboard.

I’m whimsical.

Why do I write what I do?

I write because I love language and because writing fiction helps me figure out the world. I’d be lost without it.

How does my writing process work?

This is the unhealthy part: I’m a binge writer. I can go for days, weeks, even a couple of years and do nothing but write. I ignore my husband and animals, my hair gets dirty, my bills don’t get paid, and I wear clothes that should have been recycled some time ago if I get really passionate and possessed about what I’m writing. But it takes a toll. So after doing this for a while, it’s hard to allow myself to go back there—there’s so much deprivation. Unfortunately, the other side of it is that I can also go for a long time not writing at all. That’s where I am right now while I promote and regroup from my collection. But I’m daydreaming about those Torrey Pine trees.


My tags

I’m tagging three of my favorite writers who will take the baton next and telling you about their writing process:

Myfanwy Collins – Lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son. She has published her début novel Echolocation, a short fiction collection I Am Holding Your Hand, and her YA novel The Book of Laney is forthcoming.

James Claffey – James’ collection Blood a Cold Blue was published earlier this year. His writing has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies, and he is currently working on a novel based on his childhood in Ireland.

Tamara Linse – Writer, cogitator, recovering ranch girl ~ broke her collarbone when she was three, her leg when she was four, a horse when she was twelve, and her heart ever since. She lives in Wyoming, and just released her collection, How to Be a Man.


About Bonnie ZoBell:

Bonnie ZoBell’s linked collection, What Happened Here: a novella and stories, will be released by Press 53 on May 3, 2014. She’s received a NEA fellowship, and currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College. Visit her at http://www.bonniezobell.com.