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.

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Posts tagged "books"

"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?

Ain’t gonna lie, I’ll be happy to be done with this sucker so I can move this stack off the desk — just so I can start a whole new stack. It’s gonna be a few more weeks I think. Line edits are coming on Monday. But now I’m just tweaking things. Now it’s just the finer points. Nearly done.

Here is a point I write to sometimes: I want people to read my writing and think, “Holy crap, I didn’t know she had it in her.” Sometimes I have a real screw you, you didn’t believe in me attitude when I’m working. I don’t even know who I’m saying that to anymore. I have plenty of people who believe in me. But I still think I’m saying it to someone and I still think it’s driving me and who am I to argue with something that makes me get my work done.

Somehow I’ve cut 4,000 words from my book, which has worked out to be about seventeen pages. I wanted to cut twenty-five total. (Fifty pages would be a dream, but seems unlikely.) I’m not yet halfway through my revision but I don’t expect to cut a lot from the final third. Still, cutting 2,000 more words seems possible. I’ve started with 450 pages. Usually my books are about 300 pages.

I want this book to be slimmer and move like the wind. I want you to pick up the book and have all the pages fly through your fingertips as if they were enchanted.

Stayed in (mostly) last night so I could get up early and work on the book before I go to yoga and then a bunch of parades today. Most of what I am thinking about this morning while I’m editing, what I’m infusing it with I guess you could say, is the idea that I write because I want to see things exist. They aren’t already there, and they should be — at least for my own benefit or enjoyment.

Once I ran into my friend Andrew on the subway platform in my neighborhood. He was wearing headphones, and we waved hello. I’ve loved Andrew’s music for twenty years, so of course I asked what he was listening to, and he said his own songs. He told me that he wrote music so he would have something to listen to. I don’t think that means he hates other music. (He is a pretty loving guy.) It’s just that he knows what he loves best.

There are plenty of things for me to read out there but it’s true, the work I like to spend the most time with is my own. I’ll read this book, these sentences, consider these characters, a hundred times before I’m done. I’ll fall in and out of love with them during that time, but hopefully I’ll land on love in the end.

This morning I was reading this gem (which I always keep by my desk for inspiration), and I found this little nugget from September 24. 1947: “Important thing in the novel is the message that anything done for love is in itself enough reward and nothing is too much to do.”

It never has to be more complicated than that for a story to work and also: What a beautiful thing to want to communicate.

Hey this is my front porch!

I live in a hippie house here, and it is very peaceful and quiet and I love it.

I am reading a lot. I want to read thirty books in three months. That’s my goal.

The dog is happier here. I can’t figure out if he’s happier because I’m happier, or if it’s because we are surrounded by a lot of green goodness for him to sniff everywhere we go, and also it’s sixty degrees outside instead of twenty. I will never know. Probably both!

I’m sleeping like a rock. My skin looks good. I’m writing well. Everyone is friendly here. I am friendly here. Together, we are friendly.

I am vibrating with optimism. I hope you are too.