AUTHORS: Do You Have What It Takes?

It’s the ultimate reality series, the ultimate game show and the ultimate half-hour of intriguing storylines. The Ultimate Author is an awesome television program packed with entertaining, engaging and interesting events. Each week, contestants go toe-to-toe in a writing competition that tests their ability to develop attention-grabbing content.

Casting Call: June 16, 2007. Fort Lauderdale, FL.

[via gawker.]

At Theatres: Atwood

Margaret Atwood has made her acting debut. Sort of. The deal is that there’s a staged reading in the works of The Penelopiad, Atwood’s latest novel. The book is a reinterpretation of the Odyssey told, go figure, from Penelope’s perspective. Atwood will be playing the part of Penelope. But what’s particularly interesting is how Atwood justified the way women helped Odysseus: ” It’s surprising how many women there are in the Odyssey and they all help Odysseus, which is why I made him so charming. He’s the kind of guy women like – he has a lovely voice, he takes an interest in them, he understands human nature. That’s why he’s so persuasive: he doesn’t get his way by force, he’s not a thug. He was fun to be around. That’s why Penelope is sad he’s not there. He’s helped by women at every turn: by Helen in The Iliad, and by all the goddesses he meets along the way in the Odyssey. And then there’s Penelope holding the fort while he’s away. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Tough Talking

Move over, Madonna. James Carville’s entered the kid lit business. The tough-as-nails politico is co-authoring a picture book inspired by his mother Lucille. Early reports indicate that several children have fainted while reading the book. Editors are quietly encouraging Mr. Carville to tone down his prose.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s just nabbed a lifetime achievement award from the ALA. This is actually her fourth lifetime achievement award in the past three years, suggesting that either Le Guin has achieved enough for four lifetimes, or that there are four Ursula K. Le Guins running about.

Randy VanWarmer, singer of the Bread-like ballad “Just When I Needed You Most,” has passed away at 48.

Matthew Pearl lists ten books that have kept the spirit of Dante alive. Notably absent is the 1970s New Age bestseller, Getting in Touch with Your Inner Dante: Avoiding Infernos with Smiles and Sideburns.

Salon has an excerpt from Chalmers Johnson’s The Sorrows of Empire.

The Christian Science Monitor interviews Edith Grossman on the new Quixote translation: “The differences: modern technology, especially in communications, has changed the world drastically; in the industrialized world at least, the majority of people are literate. As a consequence, the oral tradition at Sancho’s disposal is becoming — or already may be — extinct.”

Elmore Leonard’s Rules of Writing (via Good Reports) And, in fact, here’s the complete “Writers on Writing” series (now compiled in a book), which includes Donald E. Westlake on psuedonyms, E.L. Doctorow on the effects of film upon lit, Louise Erdrich on language, Richard Ford on not writing, Ed McBain on mystery archetypes, and Kurt Vonnegut on writing classes (among many more).

Helen Oyeyemi signed a two-book deal for ?400,000 and didn’t tell her parents. She also forgot to take out the garbage. (via Maud)

The Handmaid’s Tale is being turned into an opera! (via Elegant Variation)

To Check Out Later: The Orange Word has an impressive of writer and screenwriter interviews archive up. (via Crooked Timber)

Pop Matters asks: Does South Africa have it in for Coetzee?

Sean Penn writes about his Iraq trip.

And Braun’s out.


There’s a moment in Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, when the narrator refers to radio as “the four-square beat of heartbreak.” The metaphor’s apt to the character describing it, seeing as how, early in life, she’s experienced a monstrous marriage at a young age. Innocence and pathos, in situ, lost to a scoundrel. The implication is that the emotional shrapnel is buried far beneath the flesh, the damage so insurmountable that even the simple joys are easily recognizable for their artifices. Happiness can no longer be gained or guaranteed. The world’s workings lie exposed, spewing out like oil leaking from a car. It gets our hands grimy. Best to avoid it.

There’s more being codified here than how love reduces us to giggly, internal histrionics, and how radio ballads (the genuine ones from Patsy Cline or John Prine or Janis Joplin, not the treacly messages buried beneath horribly sequenced, aural pillaging from Elton John, Phil Collins or Sting) can, in this delicate state, reduce us to tears, or touch some heartbreak permeating beyond our careful fortifications, the protective walls we build over the years. The music , perhaps, reverts us to a childlike flurry. In some way, it involves an inexplicable surrender that helps us cope. Even if the methodology is less than enviable.

For some people, the “four-square beat” may be all they have. Or it might serve as a way to progress forward. Not nearly as nefarious as television, which only serves to stave off loneliness. But is radio harmful? Or cathartic? I think of how the human spirit, even within the most indomitable individuals, is capable of reducing itself to a woeful, spongy morass. A good thing, because it allows us to feel, helping us grope against the slime, climb out of the cesspool, knocking upon our own portcullis, gaining entry, carefully cataloging our emotions once again, placing the fallen visceral leaves back onto the delicate branches of our all-too-human hearts. A bad thing, because as we’re recollecting, we’re so open to being used, exploited, or damaged by deliberately harmful persons. Or, optimistically speaking, sometimes running unexpectedly into a kind soul, a presence not necessarily there as a crutch, but as a helping hand. I’ve been in this place many times in my life, although I generally keep such reconstructions to myself, for fear of falling prey to the demon with an outstretched hand. It could be paranoid self-preservation, having been burned so many times, and remarkably forgiving towards parties that have wronged me. But I wonder if it’s all as much of a deadly game as Atwood seems to imply. All the same, the process involves trying to understand just why all the veins are twisting, congealing, and then pumping in an entirely new configuration, hopefully representing some improvement over the last one.

Do we play music to help us rebuild? Why do we willingly surrender ourselves to the “soft rock” whims of a DJ spinning his medication from a playlist created and approved by an inchoate corporate entity? Why is there such a positive association between driving solo on a highway and listening to some random tune, whether compiled by DJ or mix tape? The sensation, the notes, the drumbeat, the bass line, the jangly guitars — it all burrows its way into our ears, trancing our inner determination or feeding a flight. But is this a constructive game? Or something intended for a six year old’s recess period?

I realize the voice that posited this metaphor is bitter. But, despite my chronic skepticism, I could never ever become this bitter. If coping’s a game to be avoided, if a lowbrow avenue that momentarily assists us is declasse, if one cannot stoop beneath from time to time (if it helps) and must remain in permanent isolation from the joys of life, then what’s the point of existence?

Does Maragaret Atwood Hate Food?

atwood.jpegIn the Margaret Atwood universe, not even an innocent cookie is safe.

From The Blind Assassin:

“Myra had left me one of her special brownies, whipped up for the Alumni Tea — a slab of putty, covered, in chocolate sludes — and a plastic screw-top jug of her very own battery-acid coffee.” (37)

“She says [hamburgers] are pre-frozen patties made of meat dust. Meat dust, she says, is what’s scraped off the floor after they’ve cut up frozen cows with an electric saw.” (44)

“On the menu, displayed in the window — I’ve never gone inside — are foods I find exotic: patty melts, potato skins, nachos. The fat-drenched staples of the less respectable young, or so I’m told by Myra.” (51)

“jars of jam with cotton-print fabric tops, heart-shaped pillows stuffed with desiccated herbs that smell like hay” (52)

“I sat on the park bench, gnawing away at my cookie. It was huge, the size of a cow pat, the way they make them now — tasteless, crumbly, greasy — and I couldn’t seem to make my way through it….I was feeling a little dizzy too, which could have been the coffee.” (54)

“There was nothing much I wanted to eat: the draggled remains of a bunch of celery, a blue-tinged heel of bread, a lemon going soft. And end of cheese, wraped in greasy paper and hard and translucent as toenails.” (56)

“Consomme, rissoles, timbales, the fish, the roast, the cheese, the fruit, hothouse grapes dressed over the etched-glass epergne. Railway-hotel food, I think of it now; ocean-liner food.” (60)

“Breakfast in a haze of forgiveness: coffee with forgiveness, porridge with forgiveness, forgiveness on the buttered toast.” (77)

“I purchased a small iced tea and an Old-fashioned Glazed, which squeaked beneath my teeth like Styrofoam. After I’d consumed half of it, which was all I could get down, I picked my way across the slippery floor to the women’s washroom.” (83)

“I’d eaten too many cookies, too many slivers of ham; I’d eaten a whole slice of fruitcase.” (96)

“We’d have buttered white bread spread with grape jelly translucent as cellophane, and raw carrots, and cut-up apples. We’d have corned beef turned out of the tin, the shape of it like an Aztec temple. We’d have hard-boiled eggs.” (138)

I’d keep going, but I think the point is clear. Either the narrator’s very being is hindered by eating, or Atwood is a closet anti-culinary type. To which I reply, if music be the food of love, play on.

Addendum (May 21, 2013):

Margaret Atwood’s remarkably nihilistic food description has continued unabated in the past decade, helped in large part by the fact that she’s spent much of her fiction writing time building an apocalyptic universe in the Oryx and Crake trilogy. Here are more recent samples:

From Oryx and Crake:

He said it was only pure dumb chance he wasn’t dead — that this fucking country hadn’t killed him with its lousy food.

Worms and grubs were what he recommended for a snack food. You could toast them if you wanted.

…the food in the cafeteria was mostly beige and looked like rakunk shit.

No point thinking about it, not in this heat, with his brain turning to melted cheese. Not melted cheese: better to avoid food images.

From The Penelopiad:

Have I mentioned that there’s nothing to eat except asphodel?

He was sorry he’d asked them for something to eat.

From Moral Disorder:

I was not an orphan, I told myself; I was not nearly enough of an orphan. I needed to be more of one, so I could eat food that was bad for me… — “The Other Place”

As a child she’d separated her food into piles: meat here, mashed potatoes there, peas fenced into a special area reserved for peas, according to a strict plan of her own. One pile could not be eaten before the one already started had been consumed: that was the rule. — “Monopoly”

From The Year of the Flood:

“Why would we hunt?” said Zeb. “To eat,” said Amanda. “There’s no other good reason.”