Saturday, January 18, 2014

Plus or Minus: A Brief Study in Fatherhood

Over the holidays, I got a chance to spend an unbelievable amount of time with my children. Like most working parents, non-stop family time is a rarity. While it was obviously something I enjoyed, I'd be lying if I said there weren't a few rough patches. I documented one of those rough patches here, self-loathing and all, in this short essay for my friends at The Weeklings.  

Hope everyone is having a nice 2014 so far.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hurls of Love

My friends at The Good Men Project recently asked me to contribute to their cool series, 100 Words On Love.  I said yes, of course, because how hard could 100 words be to write...right?

Well, harder than you'd think.  At a bloated, meandering 426 words, my first draft went on and on like Moby Dick.  There was dialogue, a flashback, and even a paragraph break in there, if you can believe that.  My second draft was somewhere in the three-hundreds, I think.  I'd lost the flashback, but was still stupidly clinging to the dialogue.

For the next two evenings, I trimmed and cut and killed things, and this is the result. I can say with a fair degree of certainty that it's the most blatantly sentimental 100 words I've ever written.  Sorry about that. But, if you're a guy and you have a daughter, you'll understand. 

thenormannation@gmail.com

Monday, June 24, 2013

Is Sexy Back?

Hello, Friends and Readers. Apologies on my recent radio silence. I took a break from working on my new novel the other day to write an essay for my friends at The Weeklings about my experience with the new Justin Timberlake album, The 20/20 Experience. Click here to check it out.

In other news...
  1. The new novel is coming along very well. I'm tentatively calling it "We're All Damaged," which comes from a line of dialogue between two of the main characters. But, keep in mind, before "Domestic Violets" was called "Domestic Violets," it was called "I'm Always In Love" and then "What It's Like To Be Me."  So, who the hell knows, right?
  2. Along with the book, I'm also half-heartedly writing an essay about how much I hate taking my children to the pool. So far there's a lot of swearing.
  3. I just finished reading the novel "The Middlesteins" by Jami Attenberg, and I really enjoyed it.  Family Sagas are my literary weakness. My non-literary weakness: Jack Daniels. But, you know what, we'll save that for another blog post.
  4. I think it's pretty cool that it looks like Justin Timberlake is actually reading my blog post in this image, and, frankly, he's kind of annoyed with me. Don't give me that sassy look, JT.
thenormannation@gmail.com

Monday, February 11, 2013

Man On The Street

-->
One of my favorite things about publishing a novel—aside from the international stardom and incalculable wealth—is that I’ve had the opportunity to call in and speak with book clubs around the country.

I’ve done it maybe a dozen times now over the last year and a half, and it’s always a good time.  I say hello and try to sound literary, and then the group tells me a bit about their reaction to my book and then asks me questions. 

Each group seems to ask a question that I’ve never been asked before—often about something I’ve never even thought about.  But there are a handful of questions that come up a lot, and one of those relates to whether or not I ever encounter my fictional characters in real life. 

Some context here. Tom Violet, the main character in my novel Domestic Violets, is haunted by this phenomenon throughout the book.  Tom is himself a struggling writer, and he sees his own characters, like ghosts, at key moments in the plot of Domestic Violets.

As a writer, it’s always seemed romantic that I’d see the people I write about wandering around in real life.  But it had never actually happened to me before.  That is…until last week.

I’d dropped my daughters off with their nanny and was in my car working my way through downtown Baltimore on the way to work.  The weather was crappy, which wasn’t helping, and I was listening to covers of Beatles songs.  And suddenly, there he was.  His name is Andy Carter, and he was walking out of a Dunkin Donuts with a cup of coffee.  He looked at me—if just for a second, probably because I was a random guy stopped dead at a red light staring at him—and then he flipped up the hood of his rain jacket and walked across the street. 

He didn’t look back at me. The light eventually turned green and I started inching forward again.  It was pretty obvious that he wanted to though.

“Hey,” he would have said.  “Hey, you.  Do us both a big favor and quit looking at pictures of Frowny Cat online and help me figure out my fucking life.  Seriously, man…it’s a cat that frowns.  Ha-ha. Get over it!”

That’s the thing about my characters…they swear a lot. 

And yes, I am available for book clubs.  Send me an email and we’ll set up a time.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What’s Your Return Policy?


When I was younger, each year about this time I’d come up with an elaborate list of my favorite things of the year.  Books, movies, albums, TV shows.  With virtually no responsibilities and an embarrassing amount of spare time, I was able to consume all of these things incessantly. 

Not so much anymore. Sadly, thanks to the two small time vampires living in my house, I now read, watch, and listen less than ever. And, to make matters worse, I now have the short-term memory of an aging, wide-eyed goldfish, which has left me unable to remember anything beyond about three and a half weeks ago. 

So, instead of struggling and Google searching and giving myself a big headache, I thought I’d skip all the pop culture stuff and share my favorite moment from this past year. Somehow, all by itself, it manages to be both a perfect year-end review for 2012 and an exact microcosm of my current life.

A few weeks ago, plagued by cabin fever and an odd wave of na├»ve optimism, my wife and I decided to take both our daughters to the shopping mall by our house.  Our first stop was the Macy’s restroom where my three-year-old, Caroline, tried unsuccessfully to go to the bathroom. Our second stop was a different Macy’s restroom where Caroline tried unsuccessfully again to go to the bathroom.   

“It’s not coming out,” she told me.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

And so we soldiered on. Our destination: J.Crew.  I needed to find one more present for my dad, and my wife had a bunch of stuff from the store’s website to return.  Like a lot of unnecessarily tall women, about 90% of what she buys online goes back immediately.

With her mother distracted at the register, my one-year-old, Hazel, sensed weakness and demanded I let her out of the stroller. She did this by writhing and screaming like a wild animal who’d been tethered to a cinder block. When I set her down, she took off running toward…well, everything.  First, she tried to flip over all of the mannequins.  Then she unfolded an entire table of colorful wool sweaters.  Then she hid inside a clearance rack of polos and laughed at me. All the while, I kept one eye on Caroline.  She stood quietly, examining some long necklaces on a table by the registers—too quietly, actually, but I was distracted by the fact that Hazel was now attempting to barge into occupied dressing rooms.

By then, a long, impatient-looking line had formed behind my wife.  As luck would have it, this line was made up entirely of people in their teens and twenties. When I came out from the dressing room carrying an angry Hazel, I noticed that everyone in this line, each of them well-rested and childless, was looking at Caroline. She was saying “Mommy” over and over again, and her expression had turned panicky.

I knew right away what was happening, but I also knew that there was nothing I could do about it.  I imagine it’s how a person feels seconds before witnessing a train derailment. 

And then Caroline announced to all of us that poop was coming out. 

Happy New Year, everyone. 

thenormannation@gmail.com

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Free Fiction. And It’s Free.


I was fortunate this month to have my short story Miss November included in a very cool, totally free digital anthology from my friends at Harper Perennial called Forty Stories. 

I wrote Miss November during a break from my novel Domestic Violets, which was published last August.  Seeing both of them now in retrospect, the similarities are pretty vivid.  Both are very domestic stories set squarely in the middle of marriages in transition, both include couples hell bent on not talking about what they really should be talking about, and both use humor as a device to mask their author’s long list of personal insecurities.   

The narrators, though, at least in my opinion, are two very different guys. While Tom from Domestic Violets infuriates everyone around him and sprints headlong toward trouble, Mitchell from Miss November is much quieter in his shortcomings, which somehow results in a more ominous conclusion. 

I wish I could tell you that Miss November was easy to write—that I hammered out those thirteen or so double-spaced pages over the course of a few hours while watching old Daily Show reruns.  But, in truth, it was a total pain in the ass. 

A writer friend of mine named Ryan Effgen told me once that a novel is like the Grand Canyon while a short story is like a diamond.  I can’t remember if he made that up or if he was quoting someone, but, either way, he was right.  Domestic Violets is a big, messy hole in the ground with jagged edges and streams that seem to go nowhere.  And Miss November is…well, at least my attempt at…something very small and really shiny.

You can download the entire Forty Stories anthology here to your computer, or here from Amazon.com to your space-age e-reading robot device. In either case, Miss November appears on page 298.  And did I mention it’s free?

thenormannation@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Bad Day For Book Nerds


To say that my novel, Domestic Violets, which came out last August, was eligible to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is a true statement.  Technically. Right? I mean it’s true in the same way that I was eligible to be named People’s Sexiest Man Alive.  After all, I am a man, and I am alive. Regardless, I think we can all agree that I can speak about this year’s lack of a winner with a healthy bit of objectivity. 

In failing to name a winner for fiction, the folks in charge of handing out Pulitzers did all of us a disservice.  And by “all of us,” I mean the rapidly shrinking number of people out there who still care.

Let’s face it—it’s getting harder and harder to be a true Book Nerd.  While certain aspects of TV have never been worse, much of it has never been better. Thanks a lot, HBO and AMC. Movies are delivered right to our homes now—either by mail or modem. And our actual televisions are so enormous and ridiculously advanced that even the shittiest movies you can imagine are marginally impressive, at least visually.  Even the weather is against us.  Thanks to Climate Change, I can’t remember the last time it was actually cold enough outside to not feel guilty about laying around and reading all day. 

But, as depressing as all of that sounds, we could always look forward to the Pulitzer.  The National Book Award is fun to follow—and so is the PEN/Faulkner.  But there’s something different about the Pulitzer.  Each year, when the winner is announced, I email my Book Nerd friends and we discuss it.  If we’ve read the book, we either complain about it winning or celebrate it.  If we haven’t read the book, we’re embarrassed, and so we go out and buy it right away.  And for a few days, we aren’t talking about Don Draper.  We aren’t talking about politics or sports or movies or whether or not 30 Rock is a repeat.  We’re talking about books. 

I’m not saying that choosing the best novel of the year out of thousands is an easy job. In fact, it sounds pretty overwhelming.  Next year, though, for the sake of everyone in the country who is still struggling to cling to Book Nerdom…come on, seriously…just suck it up and pick one. 

thenormannation@gmail.com