Home No. 5

Hi, I'm Jami Attenberg. I write books, and much, much more. My fourth book, The Middlesteins, came out in 2012. You can order it here or here. My fifth book, Saint Mazie, will be published in June 2015.

Also I like dogs and fighting crime.

This is the fifth place to find me on the internet. Please don't tell me I need a sixth.

Posts I Like
Posts tagged "books"

"I have this thing that I’ve been doing for the last few years where I make it my business, no matter what, to read 30 pages of a book a day. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve gotten through."

Vincent Piazza: 40 Blocks From Home, but a World Away

Hot Boardwalk Empire actor insists on reading 30 pages of a book every day of his life, novelist swoons.

Topics: Being disciplined, setting your own deadlines, finishing your project.

Response: Set a goal for three months from now, reach it, set another goal for three months after that, reach that. Keep going till you are done.

There are no shortcuts, and no one can write this book but you.

I’ve noticed a few times my Italian readers have made these cool little food/dining-related images with the book and I LOVE it each time. This is by far the most elegant one.

I’ve noticed a few times my Italian readers have made these cool little food/dining-related images with the book and I LOVE it each time. This is by far the most elegant one.

There have been three or four books I’ve blurbed that Ben Fountain has also blurbed and he always gets the cover or top billing over me. It’s fine. Also he beat me out for a prize. It’s FINE. (He’s really the nicest person ever.) Anyway Ben Fountain and I both blurbed this amazing book and so did Claire Vaye Watkins, Donald Ray Pollock, and Carrie Brownstein. I send this book the best of my luck and I think you should read it.

I think the thing about writing is that you have to pretend what you are working on is a book just long enough for it to actually become one.

Once I wrote a novel called Antiheroine. This was after I broke up with my boyfriend and went to LA and broke my ankle and was trapped in a house there for two months in a cast living on Percosets and trail mix. After I recovered I wrote this novel in about three months and the plot of it was this: A woman breaks up with her boyfriend, goes to LA,  breaks her ankle and gets trapped in a house there for two months. Etc. (With a few changes.) (But basically the same deal.)

I showed the book to my agent and he said he liked it (but did not say he loved it) and that he could maybe sell it but I would need to fix the middle of it, which “sagged.” I swapped my apartment in Brooklyn for an apartment in Rome owned by a documentary filmmaker and I took the manuscript with me and I marked it all up with edits and then I decided I never wanted to look at it again, and I haven’t. I just needed to write it and get it out of my system.

A few years later, after I finished The Midds, I wrote another book which, while not loosely based on my life, had a character I identified with strongly, and I wrote this book in about five months and then I showed it to my agent and he said, “Wellll,” and then I showed it to Lauren and she said, “Wellll,” and then I thought about what I would need to do to fix it and if it were really the kind of book that would make sense to publish after The Midds and I talked about it with Lauren and a few other people and then I put it away and never looked at it again. This book was called Upstate, which I still think is a great title and someday I’m going to use it for something else. Just you wait. (I know you are not waiting.)

Now I just started a new project which feels, for similar reasons, like these other two books, which is to say autobiographical (although less so than Antiheroine and more so than Upstate, which means nothing to you since you have not read them, I know) and ready to be written fast fast fast. I was talking to Vannesa in the park today about it and I said, “There are two possibilities. One is that it’s just another book I need to throw away. Or, it’s the book I’ve been working on for years that is finally ready to be fully realized.” It could be either, this is what we discussed for few minutes. And that it would be OK for me to throw it away when it came time. Because not everything that gets written needs to be read. 

But I go forward in good faith that it could be good enough or necessary or important enough to be read. I also go forward so I don’t have to sit still any longer.

"I’m eating dinner with the man I slept with two years ago, last year, and maybe this year, too. We’re sitting at a weathered picnic table, gorging ourselves on spicy fish tacos and beer. We don’t usually eat out when we see each other because he doesn’t ever have any money."

The assignment was to eat in a restaurant and write a restaurant review that is not a restaurant review. I ended up writing a short story. Read Cafe de la Esquina over at The Morning News.

(It’s really shocking I wrote some fiction involving food, isn’t it.)

What I’m doing lately is writing on my iphone and emailing little bits of a new story to myself. Which is weird because I’ve never done that before. I’ve re-written the first sentence five times. I’ve got all these short emails with no subject line, just the same first sentence in the body, with the words slightly different each time.

Also I have a small green moleskine and I was making notes in it while I was driving. I can’t bring myself to look at it because I’m pretty sure it’s a mess and I’ll never be able to decipher it, and then I’ll get sad because of all those lost ideas. But anyway I am writing some fiction and that’s good.

Earlier today a friend of mine was upset because she’d been sitting at the library for hours and had gotten nothing done all day. She was sad about someone she loved who had passed away, that was the real story. It was his birthday and she missed him. It was getting in the way of her writing, and all she wanted to do was write. She’s the real deal, she gets it, she knows that the work is what carries you from one place to another. It’s your thruline.

I told her I was done talking to her, that she had to write 250 words, and then she would have done something with her day. Then she would feel better. “Bye,” I said. “xoxo.”  Later in the afternoon she emailed me and said she had written 167 words so far.

Now I have to write 250 words tomorrow. I tell her to do it, I remind myself to do it, I’m telling you to do it, too. 250 words. That’s all you have to write to have done something with your day.

My friend’s boyfriend got hit by a garbage truck (! I know!) and it’s pretty bad and she asked if I could bring him a book and I was like COULD I EVER. One book? No, I will bring him ten books! So these are my get well recs for a man in his 40s spending the next few months getting well.

The thinking here is: contemporary memoir and investigative reporting because dudes like non-fiction; a few smart suspense books to keep his brain riveted; Lipsyte bcause Lipsyte’s hilarious and a New Yorker and my friend who got hit is a New Yorker; Josh Mohr because he’s funny, too, and dark and weird; ditto Pasha Malla; and finally The People of Paper's pretty trippy and experimental and my friend is on Dialudin right now. 

A friend messaged me, asking for advice on switching from writing the first draft to revision mode. It’s a different pace, he explained, after the speed and discovery of the first draft.

I said:

"Save it as a new document called ‘final’ or ‘finished’ or something like that. Create a folder called ‘old’ and put all other versions in that folder.  This is a subtle tweak to your mindset but it works. Set a page count of edits you want to reach every day, say 25, and make sure you hit it. Work in a new physical space, a different cafe or something. It’s the breaking of first draft rituals and creating of new ones kind of thing.

Also I might change who I am writing for in this version. I feel like every draft is a letter to someone. Say the first draft is a letter to yourself, and the second draft is the letter to your intended reader, and the third draft is for your editor. (Obviously this doesn’t have to be your order.) It’s just helpful for shifting things a little bit, giving your new draft a different spin.”

Got any other tips?