Author Archives: James Warner

InsideStorytime DANGER

Napoleon reportedly said the time of greatest danger was the moment immediately after victory.They used to have posters in the U.K. saying THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF LIFE ARE THE MOST DANGEROUS, on which a graffiti artist commented, The last five can be pretty hairy too.“If you’re keeping a dozen balls in the air, the […]

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Do Not Push The Red Button

What does this game have to tell us about holding the reader’s attention? Give it a go.Could you stop pushing the red button? I couldn’t. In the words of David Foster Wallace, “There’s some weird, delicate, I-trust-you-not-to fuck-up-on-me relationship between the reader and writer, and both have to sustain it.” For me, this game somehow […]

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The Last Speakers of Half the World’s Languages

Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word is about widely-spoken languages, but Ostler is also the chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages. He mentions in Empires of the Word that “it is reasonable to believe that, for half the world’s languages, their last speakers may already be alive today.”I’m obsessed with how it feels to […]

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Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs

In this witty, Midwestern novel, sadness laps around the edges of every joke. Here, for example, Moore dissects Wisconsin speech patterns —“’I’d been going to do that’ seemed to live in some isolated corner of the grammatical time-space continuum where the language spoken was a kind of Navajo or old, old French. It was part […]

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Words and Worlds

Tonight (Thursday January 14th) marks the inauguration of a new reading series, Why There Are Words, at 7 p.m., at Studio 333 on Caledonia Street in Sausalito. Reading will be Tamim Ansary, Shana Mahaffey, Kemble Scott, Mari Coates, Michael Alenyikov, and Gravity Goldberg. Hope to see you there.The theme is “Different Year, Different Worlds.” So […]

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Tom Paine’s “Will You Say Something, Monsieur Eliot?”

This story can be found in the collection Scar Vegas and Other Stories. It moves fast – Eliot’s molars shatter in the fourth sentence. A nautical tale by an author who was briefly a Marine, it reads rather like a story by Robert Stone.And it’s a story that makes you feel guilty about Haiti, which […]

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Roberto Bolaño’s “Henri Simon Leprince”

This story can be found in Last Evenings on Earth. Its humor is Borgesian and many-edged.Like many Bolaño stories, it’s about a writer, a struggling writer if that isn’t an oxymoron —“Publishing houses and their accredited readers (that execrable subcaste) seem for some mysterious reason to detest him.”Whether the joke here is more on writers […]

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Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Veganism

From Masson’s The Oceanic Feeling — “we cannot indulge in wild analysis and claim that every case of vegetarianism is a reaction formation (that is, an overcompensating and ultimately ungenuine lurch in the opposite direction) against unacceptable cannibalistic urges, yet we will have to acknowledge that the problem with reaction-formations, as Fenihel informed us long […]

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Blogging as Social Activity

Caleb Crain claims the Internet “is always welcoming you to the party; it is always patting you on the back to congratulate you for showing up.” Crain’s experience as a blogger is that “writing on the internet tends to be more popular when it satisfies the reader’s wish to be connected – the wish not […]

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Story as Worm

E. M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel, called sunrise in the tales of One Thousand and One Nights “the tape-worm by which they are tied together.”He wrote that story “is the lowest and simplest of literary organisms. Yet it is the highest factor common to all the very complicated organisms known as novels.”Also – […]

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The Purely Literary Distorts the Outlook Upon the World of Phenomena

In Mimesis, Erich Auerbach compares the world of Flaubert and the two Goncourts to the world of Stendhal and Balzac. He finds Flaubert’s world wanting —“we sense… something narrow, something oppressively close in these books. They are full of reality and intellect but poor in humor and inner poise. The purely literary, even on the […]

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No Perfect Novels

The impossibility of perfection is part of the appeal of novel-writing, and in this, writing resembles life.

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Fiction and Prediction

“No one would write a word, if he remembered how much fiction eventually comes true.” — Richard Powers, Generosity.Does your fiction writing predict your own future?Many fiction writers have found this to be so — but how to make sense of the phenomenon?Well… any character you invent contains aspects of yourself. Plotting involves realistically forecasting […]

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Should Your Characters Dream?

One advantage of dreams for a fiction writer is that they tend to be emotionally charged.

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Mueenuddin and Turgenev

Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders has been compared to various works by nineteenth-century Russians – especially Turgenev, one of Mueenuddin’s influences. Contemporary Pakistan as seen by Mueenuddin is disturbingly reminiscent of Turgenev’s Russia — a place where the impact of Westernization is powerfully destabilizing.There are also temperamental affinities between Turgenev and Mueenuddin. Belonging […]

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