Sunday, August 25, 2013

Celebrating the 1,000th Quiver of My Pen

I woke up this morning feeling very milestone-y.  According to my Blogger statistics, this is the 1,000th post here at The Quivering Pen since I started blogging on May 2, 2010 ("And so it begins...").  I don't know about you, but 2010 seems like the Jurassic Era in internet years and enough water has gone under the bridge since then that I could fill up Lake Erie.  Twice.

Not that I'm nostalgic or anything.  I'm always looking ahead here at The Quivering Pen, always scrambling to put together the next day's post (and the next and the next).  Speeding along at 80 mph, I rarely have time to stop at rest areas and think about the journey.  Nonetheless, #1,000 seems like as good a time as any to take a look at the most popular posts in Quivering Pen history.  Here we go, counting up from #10:

Front Porch Books: December 2012 Edition
When it comes to grit-lit, there's no one giving Donald Ray Pollock and Chuck Palahniuk a run for their money more than Frank Bill.  His debut collection of short stories, Crimes in Southern Indiana, smashed readers with a right hook as powerful as the one pictured on the cover of his first novel, Donnybrook.  You'll notice that fist has no glove.  That's how Bill writes: smack! smack! smack! without letting up.  Wrack and ruin.  Drugs, sex, blood.  These pages aren't for the timid.

Having Sex With Madame Bovary
Before the financial ruin, before the shame, before the suffering, before the world's slowest suicide, there was the sex.  And it was good -- at least in the hands of Gustave Flaubert and Lydia Davis, the most recent translator of Madame Bovary.  Flaubert's novel, published in 1856 and dragged through the courts a year later, has long titillated readers with its ripe, non-explicit sex (e.g. "the joys of the night").  But now Davis helps make Flaubert even frothier for a new generation of readers.

Great Beginnings: The Doorknobs of Novels
In the best novels, every word serves a purpose, every sentence propels the reader to the next, and the next, and the next.  And it all begins with the first words on the first page.  Here, opening sentences set the stage as they bring us inside.   If novels are split-level, five-bedroom homes in which we lose ourselves down hallways and up staircases, then those first sentences are the doorknobs.  Turn, push, enter.

My First Time: Jessica Francis Kane
I allowed myself to daydream about the day of acceptance.  Often, this was the only dream that kept me going.   I was pretty sure the news would come by phone, and so sometimes if I came home from work and there was a message on my machine (this was before cell phones and texting, you see), I would walk slowly to the table to press the button, relishing the last few moments of possibility before hearing a message from my mom or bank or dentist.

Michael Cunningham and Jodi Picoult Kick Me in the Ass
This might be the only time you see Michael Cunningham and Jodi Picoult together in the same blog post here at The Quivering Pen, but I'm using them today to help kick-start what has been the writing equivalent of running a pickup truck into a muddy ditch and attempting to climb out with bald tires.   In short, the Dreaded Doldrums have come to pay me a visit again.  It's been about a week since I did any serious writing on Fobbit (typing a period in a sentence lacking one, and changing a character's hair color from blonde to brunette does not count as "revision").  I've lost focus and have succumbed to distraction.

Soup and Salad: Anna Keesey's Paperclip, etc.
You must imagine me crouching, an unbent paperclip in my hand, trying to pull a lumpy woolen scarf through a keyhole.  This is what writing a novel was like for me.  It could be done, but it was painstaking work.  A few millimeters would come, but then a bunching, or a knot in the wool, compelled retreat—that precious progress had to be poked back through and drawn forward again.  The bit on this side of the keyhole, though perhaps gay in color, looked ragged from the journey.  On the other side—who knew?  Perhaps some dexterous artificer was behind the door knitting away, and if I remained patient and picked and pulled and picked and pulled with the little tool at my disposal, then as much as I pulled she would knit.  But it was also possible that I was working in vain, that there was nothing much there, and what emerged from the keyhole would be weathered, ugly, and too short to wear.

Why I Should Hate Tea Obreht
To say that I liked this book is like saying "sipping chilled wine and eating French pastries while floating on a raft in a swimming pool on a butter-warm day under robin's-egg-blue skies as your poolside wife reads The Wall Street Journal aloud, reciting the rising numbers of your stocks, while on the other side of the lawn the members of the London Philharmonic you've hired for the day play your favorite Strauss waltz" is just an "okay experience."  Yes, I loved The Tiger's Wife.

Soup and Salad: John Kennedy Toole's Lost Manuscript, etc.
The Millions has the account of a biographer's dream--the discovery of a lost manuscript.  In this case, the original manuscript of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.  Cory Maclauchlin, author of Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces, describes his quest for the Dunces grail:
I have been researching and writing about Toole for seven years, digging through archives, interviewing his friends and family, trying to decipher Toole’s character, his fears, his desires, his angels and demons.  And I have often contemplated that missing manuscript.  His mother claimed she discarded all the “[Robert] Gottlieb edits” in order to showcase her son’s “pure genius.”  Still, seeing how Toole altered the creation that he felt defined him would certainly offer insight into his final years.  But no one I interviewed seemed to know its whereabouts.  The Toole Papers at Tulane University does not have it, nor does the Walker Percy Papers at UNC Chapel Hill.  Some of Toole’s friends had heard that Percy’s typist threw the “badly smeared, scarcely readable carbon” away after she retyped it.  Walker’s wife, Bunt, didn’t believe that story.  She suspected it might be in Walker’s miscellaneous papers that had been boxed-up after his death in 1990.  But the family scoured the boxes and found nothing.  I had nearly given up on the question of the original manuscript until a year ago when I interviewed Lynda Martin, the sister of Toole’s best friend in high school.  “The manuscript?” she said in a soft southern accent.  “Yes, well I have it in my closet here at home.”

Tuesday Tune: "Poison and Wine" by The Civil Wars
What starts as a somber meditation on the brutally honest things you can't tell your lover rises to a mutual cry of pain.  Each partner in this relationship is building their own brick wall, but it's a melancholy task.  Then, in a brilliant moment of editing around 2:45, they are together in the same frame, nose to nose and still singing “I don't love you but I always will.”  If you're anything like me, you'll be coughing down that lump in your throat at this point.  This, then, this was the moment my admiration for The Civil Wars turned to love.  The dichotomy of emotion in the climax of the song nearly shattered my computer monitor in half.

....And the Most Popular Quivering Pen Post of All Time is....

Front Porch Books: February 2012 Edition
I recently stumbled upon Jenny Lawson's popular blog, The Bloggess, and--as they say in Hollywood and Amway brochures--my life will never be the same again.  Why was I wasting so much of my internet time dillying and dallying when I could have been coming straight to the Bloggess for the web equivalent of Our Daily Bread?  One will never know.  But here's one thing I do know: Lawson's words grabbed me like a snoutful of cocaine right from the Opening Lines of Let's Pretend This Never Happened: "This book is totally true, except for the parts that aren't.  It's basically like Little House on the Prairie but with more cursing."

I can't leave this "milestone" post without a word of appreciation to all the readers who have joined me on this journey.  I've had the chance to meet a few of you over the years--especially during the Great Fobbit World Domination Tour 2012--while others have remained fleshless names in comments and emails, but I am humbly grateful to all of you for your cheers and applause for what I do here in this little corner of the internet.  Some of you know that I seriously thought about shuttering the blog recently when all the competing pressures in my life--the Day Job, writing the next novel, continuing Fobbit tour events, helping my wife with her new business, etc.--reached a boiling point.  For now, I'm continuing to go full-steam-ahead with The Quivering Pen, thanks in part to the many supportive emails I received in the past month.  Bless you, loyal readers for propping me up with your kind words of encouragement.

Now, onward to the next 1,000!


  1. It's been a joy to follow you as a reader David and I have learned a great deal about the craft of writing in doing so as well. Thank you for sharing your creative talents with us!

  2. I've been enjoying your posts for a couple of years and look forward to the next few years. Congratulations!!