Dear Committee Members is the second novel from PEN/Hemingway award finalist and creative writing professor Julie Schumacher. Written entirely in the form of letters of recommendation, the novel relays the academic trials and tribulations of Jason Fitger, a floundering novelist, creative writing professor and self-proclaimed "dinosaur" in the rapidly changing landscape of liberal arts education. At a time when literature departments are in danger of extinction and bureaucrats wield unprecedented power over university funds, Fitger aspires to speak truth to power through his rambling, disjointed, and cranky letters of recommendation. The best use for these letters, he believes, is not to praise his misguided students and colleagues but to [...]
Edan Lepucki’s novel, California, will launch next week as one of the most pre-ordered debuts in the history of the publisher Little, Brown. It has become, in recent weeks, an unintentional emblem of the war that Amazon is currently waging on Little, Brown’s parent company, Hachette, as the focus of a campaign by Stephen Colbert to “not lick [Amazon’s] monopoly boot” by pre-ordering it from independent bookstores. In some ways, it’s a fitting choice, since it tells the story of a couple, Frida and Cal, making their way in the world after the collapse of society as we know it. But it’s about much more—love, marriage, [...]
In 2010, an anonymous writer took over the advice column "Dear Sugar" at the literary website The Rumpus. Last night, Valentine's Day, she went public with her identity at a “coming-out” party in San Francisco. Like many others, I’ve become obsessed with her advice, but I wasn’t sure I wanted her to come out, and told her so when I interviewed her last year. Still, she did it anyway, which shows how valuable my advice is, I guess.
I poked my head out of a room that smelled of casual sex into a hallway where the prevailing odor was casual violence. It was the smell of spent adrenaline, the kind of butt-puckering pheromone warning that sent small animals scurrying back into the brush for cover. The top floor of the Unfettered Souls’ Wellness Center had witnessed the kind of primal discharge that Chief Motivationalist Wayne Maker dedicated books to suppressing. None of these men had paused to take a deep breath and count backwards from five.
Luckily, I’d been down the rabbit hole when the violence took place, working on a different sort of discharge.
Wayne Maker had inspired me. I’d calmed down, centered myself with an entirely improvised breathing exercise, and had choked back the overwhelming desire to flee New York. When the diner ceiling had collapsed above Paul Fennel and I, it’d been the second time in as many days that the sky had opened at the will of God and dumped trash at an uncomfortable proximity to my person. I’d argue that I had good reason to be a little shaken; that maybe my instincts were as blunted as Dot had warned, that I wasn’t up to juggling homicidal marines, ingratiating self-help gurus, and a variety of supernatural warnings [...]
Let me tell you a little story about your client. I know by looking at you, not to mention by the way you throw a punch, that you've never served. You city boys never have to. Too many opportunities for you, too much life to live. Even a guy living like you are, like a real dirtbag by the look of this place, even you probably think you got it too good to hump around the dunes and light up some Arabs, am I right?
I imagined my insides to be as roughly calloused as a day laborer's thumbs. In my line of work, you develop a certain tolerance for the unexpected gut-punch.Â Even a blow delivered by a master of casual brutality like Bo Harkins couldn't slow me down for long. It was more the whole getting tossed in the trash thing that I was sore about. That, and, even after nosing around the Unfettered Souls Wellness Center, still not having a clue how to find my client Paul Fennel's indentured soul mate. I'd returned to Ahmet's bodega to figure out my next move. It was to call Dot, my [...]
Dear Karl Ove,
I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to you, but as curious as I've been about your work, I had to overcome my suspicion and jealousy resulting from the onslaught of critical praise and (though I wish I could ignore such things) rock-star photographs of your L'Oreal hair and heavy smoking habit. In any case, with the understanding that the third volume of My Struggle (Boyhood Island) was recently published in the U.S., I just finally finished the first one (A Death in the Family). I have to admit, I was impressed by the opening section. Your meditation on the decay of a human [...]
6. The High Window
5. Farewell My Lovely
4. The Lady In The Lake
3. The Big Sleep
2. The Little Sister 1. The Long Goodbye
God cradled me in one burly arm, my cheek pressed to His nipple. It was the size of a satellite dish. Blown by a gentle breeze, the downy blonde hair on his forearm tickled me. Endless blue sky stretched out around us. Fluffy oblong clouds gently bobbed upward, inevitably drawn by some divine magnetism into formation around God’s face, preventing me from gazing directly upon Him.
“THERE THERE, ROYCE MULLINS” said God, and though His voice exploded in my ears like fireworks, I still found it soothing. “YOUR TROUBLES ARE AT AN END.”
My Joining lasted about eight minutes. I didn’t take my time.
The Virtue shoved me onto a mattress and straddled me. She pinned my hands above my head. As per the rules of The Joining there was no speaking and, as per the rules of sex-workers, no kissing. Her face inches from mine, close enough that I could smell the Newports lingering on her breath, and still I couldn’t make her out through the room’s oppressive darkness. Deprived of sight, I wouldn’t have been opposed to some mood music. Instead, I was forced to focus on my increasingly erratic breathing and the growling of my stomach as [...]
Even gently cradled in the contoured backseat of Wayne Maker’s town car, my back howled in protest. Boxed in by tinted windows, an architect of self improvement beside me, I felt vulnerable. Paul Fennel, my former client, had opened up too many cracks, and now I rubbed shoulders with a man who had built an empire out of probing fissures of the spirit with benevolent tentacles.
The last man I punched was the owner of a vegan grocery store. In general, I don't take issue with the vegans, but I'd recently discovered this particular soy-milquetoast had been having it tantric with Claudette who, at that point, I had still planned to make my common-law wife. I caught up with the vegan in the produce aisle and clipped him in the ear. He told me that no amount of fisticuffs would make Claudette love me again, and then he had me arrested.
They say violence isn't the answer, that it won't make you feel better. If that's the case, why did the afterglow of that [...]
The Unfettered Souls operated out of a repurposed movie theatre in Midtown, where the streets had already been cleared of last night's Chinese garbage rain, likely with the same crisp efficiency Mayor Kelly used to purge the pan-handlers years back. The Midtown economy had come to depend almost entirely on the tourists, which meant cleaner streets, brighter lights, and the installation of the death-defying quadruple-loop Rudy over Times Square. Normally, I avoided Midtown as if there was some plague unique to Eurotrash that I'd catch by rubbing up against the tourists. But my lovesick client Paul Fennell, a mewling man-babe recently detached from The Unfettered Souls' bosom of [...]
Pitchfork Reviews Reviews was a Tumblr that launched in 2010. It, as one might expect, reviewed Pitchfork album reviews in a piercingly strange and touching voice—flat, declarative, obsessive, a bit breathless—that made it wildly compelling. But Pitchfork Reviews Reviews was only partly about Pitchfork reviews. The true subject of the blog was the anonymous young man who wrote it—his insecurities, his fears, and his triumphs of experience and understanding as he made his way through the various milieus of New York. It was weirdly elegant, tender and funny because of the author's willingness to share uncomfortable details about his own life.
The deceptively banal confessional tone had a charm [...]
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When I was little, I had a typewriter my parents got at a garage sale for about three dollars, plus the cost in shoe leather of tracking down a place to buy those awful inky ribbon things. And, being seven or eight, I knew that there was no point in writing my own book, because it wouldn't be any good, so I instead attempted to copy out The Lord of the Rings. I never got more than a third of a chapter in, due to my belief that any typo [...]
Paul Fennel was waiting in front of the motel room door when his soul mate and I pulled up, his face flushed the color of brake-lights from forehead to chin. I watched as Paul auditioned a variety of places for his hands – in-pocket, out-of-pocket, thumbs through belt loops – before hiding his overactive digits in a tangle behind his back. Darlene, The Virtue, watched this too, and sighed.
“That’s him, huh?”
“Go to him,” I replied, sagelike. “His soul cries out to yours.”
“Barf,” she said, as she stuffed her wad of chewing gum into my car’s crowded ashtray.
Disappointed children shuffled away from the entrance to The Rudy, their fuming tourist parents trying to cheer them with brochure read taglines of lesser Times Square attractions. Above, the dormant Rudy hung empty midway through its second loop, the ride closed for garbage related damage to the tracks. Childlike wonder derailed by the stinking detritus of the adult world, it was an image that suited my mood, and it sent waves of inappropriately sadistic cheer through me, as if I was the one responsible for the roller-coaster’s breakdown.
“You’re angry,” said Paul Fennel.
In a back booth at a LES greasy-spoon renowned for the historic amount of orange Department of Health stickers scraped off its windows, I stared at Paul. He stared down at his pancakes, refusing to make eye contact, making like another motley patch on the upholstery. Yesterday morning, Paul asked me to infiltrate the Walmart of self-help to rescue his soul-mate, a girl he’d never actually seen but that’d almost literally burned her way to his heart. By nightfall, I had an unhinged marine waving my own gun in my face, conscripting me into a murder plot against the seemingly harmless [...]
Believe it or not, some percentage of the world's population likes to write novels. (I'm one of them.) Or maybe "like" isn't the best word, considering that it often feels more like a compulsion or an addiction, although there are more destructive compulsions or addictions, as we'll explore in some detail below. To put a slightly more positive spin on it, novels are the LTRs of prose writing: never easy but on balance probably worth doing. (Although just to be clear: writing a novel, like being in a relationship, doesn't make you "better" than anyone else, that's for sure.) From a mechanical perspective, novels generally range from about 60,000 [...]