writing

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On fictional versions of a certain kind of man.

"I’ve known a few of these guys in my lifetime, all variations on the cad theme. There was Clifford, a tennis-playing Long Island boy who also sailed and all that junk. There was Daniel, straight from L.A., who had rigid opinions about how a woman should look, as did Ian, a barrel-chested charmer who strippers genuinely liked."

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A tale of identity in LA's television scene.

"Because he’s written television for as long as Shelly has known him, Jack drags her along on these nights, to watch staged readings of other writers’ scripts in the attic above the bar—a cramped, airless room they call the “Actor’s Den.” The television Jack makes rarely finds its way into peoples’ homes, but he makes it, one way or the other—even if he only guides it along its path to destruction like a doomsday chauffeur. The bar is wood paneled and velvety like the inside of a jewelry box. The owner drinks ancient scotch out of a miniature crystal glass and pulls constantly at his handlebar mustache, a collector of old timey things. When they arrive, he tells Jack about the two screenplays he’s writing: one comedy, one horror."

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A budding scifi writer attempts to overcome his parents' reservations and his own mental issues.

"I stuffed nearly a dozen scripts in my bag before I left my dorm this morning, just in case somebody important happened to be here. It’s been a while since I sent them out. I figured I wouldn’t hear much back from anyone I sent it to. Sending scripts to random slushpiles doesn’t yield great results. I read that on the internet."

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A woman takes a job as a typist for a Southern con man.

"Nor did he notice that her bag was packed and sitting at her feet where she waited by the window, twisting the curtains in her hands. But then, Cal has no reason to notice these things. He is not her lover, not really her friend. Just a man who pays her to take notes, a man she has known only a few months, a drunk, a liar, and when he suggested this outing, when he asked her if she’d like to take a break from her note-taking, have some fun, she should have known better."

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On the legendary journalist and the book he never finished.

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A young assistant causes strain and conflict between a writer and a painter.

"We took her with us when we went out. It was startling when a waitress at the Forest Diner mistook Evvie for our daughter. I had just turned 38 that fall, and Colin was 46. We were both on our second marriages, and had both agreed that children would get in the way of our art. Colin was old enough for a 22-year-old daughter—I certainly wasn’t. It was something like having a child, though, without the trouble of rearing one. Evvie was devoted to Colin. If she’d been more attractive, I might have felt threatened, but I didn’t. She was almost a daughter, in those early months."

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The unique, haunting talents of a dinner-party guest have long-ranging complications and implications.

"In July, my old friends Gabe and Lila tried to crack the designer’s secret. Gabe invited the designer to one of his parties and Lila seduced him that very night. But when she had him in bed and asked how he wrote like that, he just smiled and told her, 'I listen to the party but try to focus on nothing, purely. It’s very relaxing. When I look down later, the pages are full of words.'"

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A man is tasked with tracking down his eccentric, troubled neighbor.

She pleaded with me to go up there and talk to her husband, persuade him to come home, up there meaning to Shandon Street where he now lived in solitude with Hannibal, his terrier, living out a threat that had consumed him for so long, no-one believed he would ever do it, to cut off all ties with his old established life. Her daughter had tried and his brother, useless, for all he did was stay inside the door. He might listen to me.

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A poet takes a train journey in the company of her daughter—but not her husband. [Free registration required.]

"Once Peter had brought Greta's suitcase on board the train he seemed eager to get himself out of the way. But not to leave. He explained to her that he was just uneasy that the train would start to move. Once on the platform looking up at their window, he stood waving. Smiling, waving. His smile for their daughter, Katy, was wide open, sunny, without a doubt in the world, as if he believed that she would continue to be a marvel to him, and he to her, forever. The smile for his wife seemed hopeful and trusting, with some sort of determination about it. Something that could not easily be put into words and indeed might never be."

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A philandering newspaper reporter documents a small town's economic collapse.

"But, very late at night, other men and women walk the small streets alone, shuffling slowly along the leaf-filled gutters that border the roads, sometimes a constable stopping them as they walk, shining flashlights in their faces, saying little or nothing before nodding and driving away from the distant, fading stare of a man or woman fearing that their life is falling apart.

'This kind of rapid breakdown generally only occurs in times of war, famine or plague,' a Stanford economics professor tells me as I take notes, a group of six strikingly healthy grad students unloading knapsacks, tape recorders and clear plastic clipboards from a Land Rover parked nearby."

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Metafictional entanglements and sexual violence in a lost 1970s novel from Stephen Dixon, published this year by experimental publishers Fugue State Press.

"When he was here two winters ago he wrote a short story about a writer who came to a similar village to get over a woman in New York who had stopped seeing him. In the story and real life she was an actress portraying an actress on a daytime television soap opera who was in love with a writer of soap operas who couldn't give up his wife for her. One night, in the story and real life, she told Paul she couldn't see him anymore as she was in love with and thinks she'll be marrying the actor who plays the writer on the show."

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A woman tells the story of her odd alien abduction.

"I was talking very fast, so as not to lose my nerve, but as soon as I stopped, I didn’t feel so good. I was able to tell that it had gone over very poorly. The one alien furrowed his brow. Then he translated for the others, and they too furrowed their brows. He turned to me. Why would you write something like that?"

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A profile of Quentin Rowan, a.k.a. Q. R. Markham, ‘author’ of last fall’s short-lived spy novel hit Assassins of Secrets, which was pieced together using more than a dozen sources.

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Two older writers—literary allies—discuss their memories, their past relationships, and their past conflicts.

"Their own sales were holding up, just about. A couple of thousand in hardback, twenty or so in paper. They still had a certain name recognition. Alice wrote a weekly column about life's uncertainties and misfortunes, though Jane thought it would be improved by more references to Alice's own life and fewer to Epictetus. "

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A fictional imagining of Edgar Allan Poe and a Faustian explanation of his talents.

"Don't you admit that a grave and corpse are more real than a memory and a lock of hair? and she said I never thought you such a materialist, Eddie and he laughed and they went on into the suffocating gloom and the Star set slowly over the black valley which his reasoning powers in combination with his accurate knowledge had enabled him to predict in bold relief, and as the Star set it cast a last beam down through the night-trees that occluded the gull, and tenderly brushed the pure darkness below."

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Married sitcom writers, once famous for their love, buckle under sexual and creative differences.

"The funniest lines in their work, the lines with that satisfying crackle of sadism, were mostly his, but he was aware that it was Pam’s confidence and Pam’s higher tolerance for cliché that had won them their big contracts. And now, because she wasn’t engineered for doubt, Pam seemed to think it didn’t matter that she’d gained fifteen pounds since moving to the mountains and that she was thumping around the house with the adipose aquiver in her freckled upper arms; she certainly seemed not to care that they hadn’t had sex since before Labor Day; and she’d been pointedly deaf to certain urgent personal-grooming and postural hints that Paul had dropped during their photo shoot for L.A. Weekly."

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A Mexican man reluctantly provides cultural insights to a pandering white American journalist.

"Two years before, Samuel Kramer had arrived to write the nteenth feature on Frida Kahlo. Someone told him I wrote screenplays for tough documentaries, and he paid me to accompany him through a city he considered savage and explain things he called mythical."

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A nuanced, lively investigation of the relationship between a mother and a son, this received First Prize in the O. Henry Awards for 2000

"Mom understands life don't play so spends beaucoup time and energy getting ready for the worst. She lifts weights to stay strong. Not barbells or dumbbells, though most of the folks she deals with, especially her sons, act just that way, like dumbbells. No. The weights she lifts are burdens, her children's, her neighbors, yours."

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A detailed, fictionalized diary entry of a German Jew in the early 1940s.

"We actually forgot we were Jews most of the time. But the men in charge keep reminding us of our heritage in an increasingly torturous way. My father laughed it away at first."

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HEMINGWAY: You go to the races? PLIMPTON: Yes, occasionally. HEMINGWAY: Then you read the Racing Form . . . . There you have the true art of fiction.
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Envy and failure in the 1970s literary scene.

"There is a kind of minor writer who is found in a room of the library signing his novel. His index finger is the color of tea, his smile filled with bad teeth. He knows literature, however. His sad bones are made of it."

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Poe's "The Raven," reimagined

" That's right, buddy, the crow is talking. Pinch yourself; it isn't a dream. The crow is talking. Feed me meat."