Jess Walter

Author of Beautiful Ruins

A former National Book Award finalist and winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award, Jess Walter is the author of five novels and one nonfiction book.


Thrity Umrigar on what writing has taught her.


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Featured Articles & Reviews

I Know All There is to Know About the Reading Game
by Joan Frank
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The Emperor Has Nothing On Us
by Jennifer Paros
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Book Reviews: Editor's Pick
Hard Target

reviewed by Jon Land
read article
Wedded to Your Words: Get a Divorce!
by Erin Brown
read article
Ooops!
by Cherie Tucker
read article
What’s Love
Got to Do with It?

by David Boyne
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From Hand to Screen: Technology and the Writer
by Mary Vensel White
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You’re (Not) So Transparent!
by Jason Black
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I Know All There is to Know About the Reading Game
by Joan Frank

On the occasion of the release of a new novel of mine, a writing student e-mailed to ask:

"Just wondering—if you have you done any readings so far, how have people interacted with you? I'm curious about authors' book signings or readings. Have you had any strange or funny experiences?"

I stared at her words. Strange or funny experiences. How could I answer in a way that wouldn't appall her?

Most writers with a reading or two under their belts know that the event is theater, first and last: forced to compete these days with so much else in real-time America, an author's got to really shine to draw anyone to the gig.

By "shine," I mean the author should be fairly well-known in the places she goes to read—also that she'll have the savoir faire to have already publicized the daylights out of the event, reaching out to every source of support she knows. Never least, she must engage and provoke and (sorry) entertain. more...

The Emperor Has Nothing On Us
by Jennifer Paros

My thirteen-year-old son has a habit of saying “of course” when I ask something of him or speak of topics in which he’s not interested. His tone - distant and automated - sets my mind racing with complaints of not being acknowledged. Suddenly he is The Emperor whose attention I am trying to win.  And there’s no winning - I can’t make anyone hear me out.  It is natural to want to be heard, but still my greater desire is to speak authentically, regardless.  And no one’s response or lack thereof determines me realizing that desire. 

When we write, we strive to fill pages with what interests and moves us, speaking as we wish to hear.  Yet the same issues of reception and response can come up.   Now the audience (Agent, Publisher, The Masses) can become The Emperor in our minds – the one we have to win over, rather than the one with whom we’re sharing.   

I have encountered a few “Emperor” types - people with whom I found it hard to express my authentic voice.  more...

Book Reviews
Editor's Pick
Hard Target

reviewed by Jon Land

Everybody dies, it’s just a matter of when. 

With that opening, Alan Jacobson’s latest thriller Hard Target races off to a bracing and wrenching start.  Jacobson, known best for pitting his series hero Karen Vail against the best serial killers this side of Hannibal Lecter, does an abrupt one-eighty here and the result is a smashing success. 

His foray into the high-action political thriller arena postulates an ultimate nightmare scenario of a president-elect being targeted for assassination on election night, of all things.  Before you can say Day of the Jackal, FBI agent Aaron “Uzi” Uziel is on the trail of terrorists who may, or may not, have been behind the plot.  To his credit, Uziel isn’t one to accept the simplest solution, suspecting from the beginning that Al Qaeda is a bit too convenient a suspect.  But if not our modern-day catchall boogeymen, then who, and what may the truth portend for our political system?  more...

Wedded to Your Words: Get a Divorce!
by Erin Brown

One of the greatest gifts that you can give yourself and your book is the ability to self-edit. Well, the gift of a big-time agent and six-figure publishing deal would really be worth unwrapping, but let’s stay focused for the moment. As the saying goes, “There is no good writing, only good re-writing.” But why, when you’ve spent months or years letting your genius flow from the pen (or realistically, the computer) would you want to make major cuts to those beautifully crafted sentences? Well, because the end product will be a gazillion times better. A first draft is an accomplishment, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just the beginning. If every author submitted a first draft to an agent in an attempt to get representation, agents would have no clients. Or clients with really crappy manuscripts. This is why thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of writers are still un-agented. Have you hired an editor to review the manuscript and slash it to pieces so that you can restructure from the ground up? Have you mastered the ability to do this yourself? If not, and you’re still struggling to get your foot in the door, then it might be time to take a break from your greatest love—your words—and hack them to pieces in order to take your work to the next level.  more...

 

Ooops!
by Cherie Tucker

The other day I was in a shop waiting my turn when another customer and the owner asked me where I was from.  I told them I grew up in Seattle.  Then the customer asked me what my area code was.  When I said, “Two zero six,” she and the owner looked disappointed.
 
“Most people in Seattle say ‘two oh six,’” the customer told me.
            
Oh is a letter; zero is a number,” I said; “everybody knows that.”  That made me think that perhaps we’d better take a look at some of the other things that "everybody knows."  We’ve finally emerged from the “nu-cu-lar” pronunciation of nuclear, but what else is looming out there?  Mrs. Jackson, my second grade teacher, had us remain standing after we said the daily flag salute and recite:  li-brar-y, Feb-ru-ary, and pump-kin. Anyone who said “liberry,” “Febuary,” or “punkin” risked being taken into the cloakroom and paddled.  We learned those quickly—and, I might add, permanently. 
more...

 

What’s Love Got to Do with It?
How a Conversation with Ray Bradbury Changed My Life

by David Boyne

Somewhere in my once-in-this-lifetime conversation with Ray Bradbury, he told me the same story I had read in his book, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity.

It was the story of when he was a 9-year-old boy way back in October of 1929, and after weeks of tormenting from his peers he succumbed to their contempt and pressure. He did what they wanted: he tore up his collection of comic books. Destroying those comic books, Bradbury said, nearly destroyed him. For a month he wandered in a dark daze, sick at heart, and knowing, "I am as good as dead." 

What the 9-year old boy then chose to do would set the pattern for what has proven to be a long, rich, rewarding and rollicking life. He quietly, firmly, implacably, rebelled. To Society, with its crushing criticisms and persecutions of those who choose not to conform, Ray Bradbury flipped the metaphorical finger. And he joyfully returned to collecting his beloved comic books.

In his 80s when I spoke with him, he told me that the boy who fell in love with comic books had gone on to fall in love with whatever and whomever he damn well pleased, and that he had never again even considered asking for anyone’s permission or approval.  more...

 

 

From Hand to Screen: Technology and the Writer
by Mary Vensel White

My son and I just returned from a short vacation in Austin, where our final stop was the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. On display from March through October this year is an exhibit detailing Texas’s rich music history. Behind one section of glass stood a series of listening devices, beginning with the first phonograph, a console-like piece of furniture with its faded, scalloped speaker, and ending with a tiny iPod and earphones. And it got me thinking about the trajectory of my own writing career, which bridges an unprecedented technology boom.

We had an electric typewriter at home, and my grade school reports were done on erasable bond—an almost transparent, embossed paper.  Hunt and peck, of course, and sometimes even with the erasable paper, you’d smear something beyond redemption and have to start a page again. I learned to type properly in high school on a more modern machine. I was enamored with the sound of the thing, a gentle whirring over which you had to raise your voice and when an entire classroom of would-be typists fired up, the teacher had to speak very volubly indeed. 

Before I began college at a slightly older age than is traditional, my future husband bought me a gift to encourage my writing: a Brother word processor. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry. Consider it an extinct ancestor of our current laptops.  more...

 

 

You’re (Not) So Transparent!
by Jason Black

Two months ago I wrote about the fundamental double standard, wherein we misjudge people because we can’t see deeply enough into their lives and minds. Given that we can’t do this, you’d think we would intuitively understand that other people can’t read us very well, either. Yet, in all our flawed glory, we engage in another doozy of misapprehension.

Psychologists call it the “illusion of transparency,” and for once, the name is apt. The idea is that we go through our lives believing that our feelings, our motivations, and our desires are as transparently obvious to others as they are to ourselves.

When we’re frustrated, stressed out, or elated, we tend to think everyone else will just know this and will react to us as we would wish, without us having to tell them. Even when doing something as prosaic as moving a pot from one burner to another, we may feel our motivations for doing so are perfectly obvious, when in reality our spouse may be wondering what the heck we’re doing that for.  more...

 

 

 

 

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