Benjamin Mautner – The Writer’s Life – Lonely No More

For many writers, the work of writing is a solitary one. More than most professions, writing seems to lend itself the idea that the written word is the life of the mind put to page and that its ends are best achieved locked away somewhere, just doing the work. In a recent piece in the New York Times, Bonnie Tsui, author of American Chinatown, challenges that popular notion by discussing her experience working in a writers collective.Benjamin Mautner

(Image: Bonnie Tsui)

Tsui, for a large portion of her professional life, had been a magazine editor in New York City. She says that the office atmosphere never appealed to her, and that she was always plagued by insecurities that writers so often face regarding acceptance and envy of their peers. However, after leaving New York to live in the Bay Area, Tsui joined the San Francisco writers grotto.

Joining the collective allowed Tsui the opportunity to share working space with writers of all stripes, working in all genres. She says that what she found there was unlike any experience she had working at a magazine – a confidence in herself and faith in her own voice as a writer.

She attributes this to talking in a writerly context. Tsui asserts that she has many social dates with friends and is hardly a recluse, but interacting with writers within her collective has allowed her to talk through her ideas so that they are more streamlined and clear before she attempts to put them on the page. She finds that she does not simply talk about narrative, structure and grammar with her fellow writers, but also explore day to day endeavors that shape the spirit of what she writes.

Tsui describes composing her own work and wondering what others in her group would think about a line, or who they would approach a particular literary problem. The result is a way of finding an individual voice via committee.

“I” has become, at times, a comfortable “we.” Tsui says.

Benjamin Mautner – Telling the American Story of Immigrants in “The Book of Unknown Americans.”

For their run up to Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune has been profiling writers who will be attending to promote their recent work. Cristina Henríquez is a Chicago-area fiction writer and author of the new novel “The Book of Unknown Americans.”Benjamin Mautner

When discussing the subject of immigration, the conversation can quickly become very heated along partisan lines. Henríquez wrote a book to do just the opposite – to the tell the quiet, human side of immigration.

The book deals with a diverse group of Latin American immigrants living in the same apartment building in Delaware. The two central characters, Arturo and Alma Rivera, immigrate from Mexico to enroll Maribel, the couple’s 15-year-old daughter, into a special-needs school. Mayor Toro is a naturalized citizen, born in Panama, who falls for Maribel, complicating the lives of all involved. The Riveras immigration status lapses from legal to illegal and Maribel is on the receiving end of bullying, both of which lend the novel its dramatic arc.

Henríquez, the daughter of a Panamanian father who immigrated to the U.S. in 1971 came to realize that discussions of immigration never extended to stories like her father’s. The author of the 2009 novel “The World in Half” and the 2006 short story collection “Come Together, Fall Apart” felt that some stories never get told, even though they should.  Despite the the subject matter Henríquez she is not particularly looking to wade into the identity politics discussions that surround writers like Junot Diaz.

“I go to see Junot, and he’s talking about identity politics,” Henríquez says. “I go to see Sherman Alexie, same thing. It’s what the audience wants them to talk about, and they do. Then I go to see George Saunders, and everybody wants to talk to him about his writing. To me, that’s unfortunate. If those conversations skew differently in the future, I think that’s a good thing.”

To learn more about Henríquez’s work and the autobiographical stories that inspired it, check out the original article at the Chicago Tribune.


Benjamin Mautner – Mlive Interviews David Sedaris

Lovers of the humor essay can rejoice. David Sedaris is on tour promoting his latest collection, “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.” Mlive recently conducted an interview with the beloved satirist and he was very revealing about how he approaches writing about personal topics such as his husband and family.Benjamin Mautner

When discussing his husband, Hugh, Sedaris says that he understands that nothing truly embarrassing will ever be written about him. “I’m not going to describe what he looks like naked or anything.” Sedaris says. What he does find challenging is what could be termed a slight lack of enthusiasm on the part of Hugh, who can be something of a “killjoy.” Hugh seeks perfection, but Sedaris never thought he “had a shot at perfection.”

Sedaris speaks of the seemingly disparate personal events he relates to one another in the span of a few pages. He contrasts his style with that of “This American Life” – a show he has appeared on many times – where stories cut right to the chase. Sedaris compares his own writing to The Simpsons, which he loves for the fact that  “you watch the first 4-5 minutes, and you have no idea where the show is going.”

Sedaris also discusses the article he wrote for the New Yorker, “Now We Are Five” about the death of his sister, Tiffany. He says that while he does not consider writing cathartic, he does use writing to make sense out of the senseless. He discusses how his family dealt with their grief and how no one barred him from publishing the story, for which he is very grateful.

To read more about Sedaris’s feelings on race, writing and why he dedicated this new book to his sister Amy, check out the original article at Mlive.

Benjamin Mautner’s Crunchbase.

Benjamin Mautner – Dos And Don’ts For the Aspiring Novelist

In Writer’s Digest, new novelist Chuck Sambuchino details some of his best advice for what aspiring novel writers should and should not do. Here is a sampling of his thoughts.

Do: Start small.

Focusing on short stories is a great way for a writer to focus on the craft. Short fiction forces the writer to incorporate plot and character development in a very limited amount of space. It prepares the writer for the challenge of writing a novel, but with the immediate returns of accomplishment a smaller goal.Benjamin Mautner

Do: Write something everyday.

The most important thing that a writer can do is write. Writing everyday turns writing into a routine. Even if you are only writing a paragraph or few sentences, you will be reinforcing the behavior in yourself. Not only will the work get done, but it will improve as well.

Don’t: Let you day job get in the way.

Not everyone can make their living as a writer. Most of us have to write on the side and earn the lion’s share of our money from some other pursuit. But do not use that as an excuse not to wright. Only writing makes a person a writer, so commit to writing whenever and wherever you can.

Don’t: Fall in love with your own words.

You should write what you love, but you should not love it so well that you keep it from becoming the best piece of writing it can be. Be an uncompromising editor and you will come to demand the best work from yourself. The more you ask from yourself as a writer, the less agents and editors will have to.

To read the original article, head over to Writer’s Digest.

Benjamin Mautner – ‘The Snow Queen’ Explores Life, Death and Hans Christian Andersen

Michael Cunningham might be writing the loveliest prose stylist in American letters today. In his new novel, ‘The Snow Queen’, the Pulitzer prize-winning author applies that exquisite gift to a tale of brothers dealing with failure and mortality in New York City.Benjamin Mautner

As The Daily Beast reports, Cunningham’s strength in capturing the ebb and flow of modern life in the big city. But ‘The Snow Queen’ is not content to simply reflect life as it is in the ever-gentrifying urban landscape, with Cunningham shooting his story with semi-supernatural elements – the book shares its title with a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.

The novel’s protagonists, Tyler and Barrett, must contend with their complicated relationship, instilled in them by their now deceased mother, while also dealing with the personal and professional failures that have characterized their lives.  Tyler, at 43 years-old, is an unknown musician, while his younger brother is a brilliant, PhD program dropout working in a vintage store. Much of Tyler’s self-worth stems from his caring for his girlfriend who is suffering from cancer, distracting him from the music that has failed to bring him notoriety.

Barrett experiences one of the aforementioned supernatural elements, when he sees an apparition, “a pale aqua light, translucent, a swatch of veil, star-high.” He good portion of the novel attempting to ascribe this occurrences some sort of significance.

Fans of Cunningham and ‘The Hours’ understand that the author’s real preoccupation is with art and the artist. Tyler’s self-criticism over the wedding song he composes, as the article points out, is emblematic of Cunningham’s exploration of the purpose art serves in the lives of artists. It can be a source of salvation or destruction.

To read more about ‘The Snow Queen,’ head over to original article at The Daily Beast.

Benjamin Mautner Princeton – McSweeney’s 46 Showcases Latin American Crime Writing

For fiction readers in the US, Latin American fiction normally boils down to a few high-profile names like Borges, García Márquez, or Bolaño. In terms of subject matter, stories about struggle against dictatorial regimes shot through a dose of magical-realism is what a popular reader has come to expect. But as Daniel Galera, guest editor of McSweeney’s 46, puts it, “it’s not so simple anymore.” This month,McSweeney’s Quarterly, one of country’s most popular outlets for literary fiction, has chosen to devote their entire issue to the Latin American crime story.Benjamin Mautner Princeton

As an article in the Los Angeles Times points out, there is a logic to the decision. Crime writing has a way of straddling the line between “genre and literary.” The best crime writing uses the concept of crime as a gateway to tackle larger social and literary questions without necessarily resorting the ‘whodunit’ formula. And it appears as though formula was not the order of the day with this collection, with stories ranging from the relatively straight-forward “The Dirty Kid” by Argentine writer Mariana Enríquez, to Brazilian Bernardo Carvalho’s look into the mind a strange government official in his 11 page paragraph, “Jealousy.”

The latest issue of McSweeney’s contains 13 pieces from all over Latin-America, showcasing great diversity as well as some unexpected similarities, which Galara ascribes to the “anxiety of influence.” The collection works both as an introduction to writers that may not be that well-known in the states, as well as a celebration of a not often observed genre of Latin-American writing.

For more indepth discussion of the McSweeney’s 46, check out this article at the Los Angeles Times.  For interviews with authors represented in McSweeney’s Latin-American Crime issue visit here.


Benjamin Mautner Princeton-Serialized Fiction

With the use of technology, serialized fiction has made a huge comeback recently as discussed in this article. Writers such as Dickens, Dumas, and Henry James used to participate in such a form of releasing stories. Now, writers have the ability to post episodes of stories on an app called Wattpad.Benjamin Mautner Princeton

Anna Todd is such a writer that utilizes Wattpad to release chapters of her story about Tessa and Harry, a college couple with a heartbreaking and inspiring relationship.  By using the app, she can upload a chapter and have readers comment on it. Her story, “After,” has more than a million readers on Wattpad.

The use of such an app is transforming the writing of fiction into an art that is social, informal, and intimate. Wattpad is the leader of this storytelling environment. It has over two million writers who produce approximately 100,000 pieces of material per day for 20 million readers.

Charles Melcher, a publishing consultant who hosts the annual Future of StoryTelling conference, said, “Now that everyone’s been given permission to be creative, new ways of telling stories, of being entertained, are being invented. A lot of people are lamenting the end of the novel, but I think it’s simply evolving.”

Wattpad’s material is mainly aimed at younger women and the app tends to draw readers from fan fiction. The writers are not paid for their work but continue to put up stories, edit them, and delete them. The system of uploading coincides with the fragmentary attention span of the mobile world.

Writers who use Wattpad have the opportunity to establish a fan base and gain free feedback. It is a great stepping-stone to a published novel.  Rebecca Sky, a Wattpad writer, said, “If you can go to a publisher and say, ‘I have 15,000 fans,’ that counts for more than someone who comes out of their basement with a perfect manuscript who knows no one.”

Fans have the opportunity to express their adoration and love of the writers on Wattpad and the stories they enjoy. This relationship with the readers encourages the writers to produce their best work and to constantly keep updating the stories.

Benjamin Mautner Princeton-Josh Turner: Country Star and Author

Josh Turner, popular country singer of songs such as Long Black Train, Your Man, and Time is Love, has announced that his first book will be published April 29. Thomas Nelson, an imprint of Harper Collins Christian Publishing, is the publisher.

The book is titled Man Stuff: Thoughts on Faith, Family, and Fatherhood. Turner describes the bookBenjamin Mautner Princeton as “full of life lessons, life stories from my experiences, things I’ve learned throughout my life, mistakes I’ve made.” Turner decided to write the book after Thomas Nelson suggested it. Turner had been named “Hottest Dad in Country Music” in 2011 by People Magazine so Nelson thought it would be a good time for Turner to write about being a father. The cover of the book supports the family theme as it sports Turner with his three sons: Hampton, Colby, and Marion.Turner says the writing process was actually easier than writing music. “People talk about songwriting being therapy, but for me it was great to not have to be hunched over a guitar or be trying to craft a melody along with the words. I just let the words flow and told stories,” says Turner. However, editing the book took quite some time and effort. “You want to be able to say things the best you possibly can, to make sure people take the best possible lesson away from the story and not come across as preach, coarse, or harsh,” says Turner. Duck Dynasty’s Jase Robertson wrote the book’s forward. He comments on Turner’s sincerity and honesty in his writing when referring to God and His treatment of us “in our strengths, despite our weaknesses.” He also notes that Turner utilizes heartfelt experiences to express his thoughts. Turner got an advance copy of Man Stuff this week and speaks of the pride he felt after completing such a task. “Can you believe your husband has a book?” Turner asked his wife. She replied with, “yeah, and I think you have more in you.”

Maxine Kumin dies at the age of 88

The 88 year old Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Maxine Kumin, passed away February 6th at her farm near Warner, New Hampshire. Maxine served as poetry consultant at the Library of Congress in the early 80’s. She was known for writing much of her work about farm animals, pace of the country life and changing seasons that she was called “Roberta Frost” by some. Her works looked into the timeless theme of life and death and how poetry can spur the spirit of an age.

Maxine Kumin
Maxine Kumin

Her work “Up Country” is the collection that won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. “Up Country” is an 83-page, 42 poem piece that has sharp observations about nature merged with sensitive look at the human understanding of what happened before.

Novelist Joyce Carol Oates said “The experience of ‘Up Country’s’ 42 poems is dramatic and visionary, but above all convincing.” She also goes on to say that although the setting is in rural New England, the imagination in the work is boundless.

Her poetic gaze could look at things as simple as mud, animals dying and excrement and could widen her view to make points related to environment, religious intolerance and warfare. She was a firm believer in poets avoiding political statements, but in 2008 she said she, “changed her mind.” She also said, “I had to write them.” She then wrote “Mulching” in 2007, she discusses feeing like, “a helpless citizen of a country I used to love.”

Ms. Kumin and her husband worked together to clear fields of rocks and trees from their home in New Hampshire in 1976. To build fences, plant a vegetable garden, muck out stables, help mares give birth and split wood. They also gave many abandoned dogs and horses a home in their stables and household.

In 2008, she was quotes saying, “writing is my salvation, if I didn’t write, what would I do?”


Harnessing Celebrities to a Civil Rights Cause

Ruth Feldstein has written a very important new book titled “How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement.” This book takes a look at the lesser-known role that black entertainers, especially women, had in the civil rights movement. Some of the black entertainers in this book are Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln, Cicely Tyson and Diahann Carroll. All of these women were popular at the climax of the global struggle for black freedom from around 1959 to the 1970s.

How it Feels to Be Free
How it Feels to Be Free

Ms. Feldstein is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University in Newark. In her new book, she talks about the importance of popular art to the work of social change. Feldstein says that, “culture was a key battleground in the civil rights movement.”

Areas in New York, especially Harlem and Greenwich Village allowed artistic and political opportunities for each of these women. Having open access to the folk and jazz clubs allowed these women to have meetings and fundraisers in a space with sophisticated and discerning audiences.

The city was home to a bunch of left-leaning artists and intellectuals. Some of those people were Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. Each of these figures brought the intense views of the political culture of the 1940’s with them into the next two decades. They also openly got behind the women highlighted in Ms. Feldstein’s book. These artists also helped to shape the female artists ideas of themselves to help them to engage in the international struggle against white supremacy.

These women in the book conceived themselves as more than sex symbols or entertainment commodities. Their performance strategies and and images animated their struggles for social change.