Category Archives: writing

THE LUCKY ONES UK cover + excerpt


Many things are happening very quickly. HERE IS THE FINAL UK COVER of “THE LUCKY ONES”. The talented people at Faber were able to turn it into a gif–how, I don’t know. I don’t know how to post it as a gif here, but I think if you click on this link, you will be able to see it. Anyway, I love it. Via this link you can also read “Lucky,” the story that opens the collection.

Thanks to the kind assistance of generous people, I also now have a professional website. Ideally I will be posting book related events and news in that space from now on, so that way I can save this blog strictly for the function it’s had since 2007, that of reviewing books that I’ve read.

But for now I have these two forthcoming events:

I’ll be reading at the Swimmers Christmas party in London this Thursday, which will be a fun way to visit London before I leave for the U.S.

And on February 23rd (so this is super early notice lol) I’ll be reading at UEA Live, which will also serve as my Norwich launch.

In terms of my personal reading, I have to read 12 books this month if I want to achieve my goal of 8o books read this year, which I don’t anticipate being a problem unless something unexpected happens, as I usually have lots of time to read during the Christmas holidays (the cruelly long bus and plane rides also help). I’m definitely looking forward to reading people’s Best of 2016 round-ups and writing my own… I already have a good idea of what books are going to end up there but time will tell…

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Cheltenham & UK Proof cover

I have been very busy with edits recently (both for the collection and the dissertation) and have thus sadly had less time to read for pleasure than I would like. Hopefully this will change soon. However, I did go to Cheltenham last week for the literature festival, as part of Faber’s proof party. This was my first festival-type reading in support of The Lucky Ones. I’d done a similar reading before, in support of my pamphlet The Tourists at the Daunt Books festival a few years ago, which was good preparation for an introvert like me. I was on a panel with Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat and the upcoming The Doll Funeral, who was so kind and full of advice about Everything. Her partner gave my traveling companion a business card for his mole-killing company–how cool is that? How does one get into mole-killing? #FutureGoals


UK proof cover! The final one won’t look like this, but I’m really digging the red.


Onstage on Cheltenham. My mother’s childhood best friend lives nearby and was able to attend, so thankfully there was a familiar face in the audience. It was also amazing getting to meet tons of other people who are obsessed with reading.

I obviously have a lot of Thoughts and Feelings about having finished the book (to put it mildly), but I guess all there is to say is that I worked on it as hard as I could, it feels very personal to me, and I’m glad I’m working on the next one.

I look forward to posting more book reviews soon…! For now, here’s another poem by the great Mary Ruefle that I read recently:

White Buttons

Having been blown away
by a book
I am in the gutter
at the end of the street
in little pieces
like the alphabet
(mother do not worry
letters are not flesh
though there’s meaning in them
but not when they are mean
my letters to you were mean
I found them after you died
and read them and tore them up
and fed them to the wind
thank you for intruding
I love you now leave)
Also at the end of the street
there is a magnolia tree
the white kind
that tatters
after it blooms
so the tree winds up
in the street
Our naked shivering bodies
must be at some distance
missing us come back
come back they cry
come home
put down that book
whenever you read
you drift away on a raft
you like your parrot
more than you like me
and stuff like that
(dear father
you always were a bore
but I loved you more
than interesting things
and in your honor
I’ve felt the same about myself
and everyone I’ve ever met)
I like to read in tree houses
whenever I can which is seldom
and sometimes never
The book that blew me away
held all the problems
of the world
and those of being alive
under my nose
but I felt far away from them
at the same time
reading is like that
(I am sorry I did not
go to your funeral
but like you said
on the phone
an insect cannot crawl
to China)
Here at the end of the street
the insects go on living
under the dome
of the pacific sky
If Mary and Joseph
had walked the sixty miles
to Bethlehem vertically
they would have found
themselves floating
in the outer pitch of space
it would have been cold
no inns
a long night
in the dark endless
and when they began to cry
the whole world would think
something had just been born
I like to read into things
as I am continually borne forward
in time by the winds like the snow
(dear sister
you were perfect in every way
like a baby
please tell brother
the only reason
we never spoke
was out of our great love
for each other
which made a big wind
that blew us apart)
I think I am coming back
I feel shoulders
where a parrot could land
though a tree would be
as good a place as any
You cannot teach a tree to talk
Trees can say it is spring
but not though bright sunlight
can also be very sad
have you noticed?


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‘Honey Bunny’ in the New Yorker

I have a short story in the New Yorker this week! It’s called ‘Honey Bunny’ and it’s about cocaine and childhood memories, among other things. It was influenced by Silvana Paternostro’s memoir My Colombian WarI haven’t written about it here, but it’s a book that had a great personal impact on me, as you’ll be able to see if you read it, which I highly recommend.

I also did a Q&A which you can read here. More and more I’m starting to see that watching ‘Narcos’ might be inevitable…

(I also just want to say that I LOVE the photo for the story!)

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The Lucky Ones is the short story collection that I’ve been working on for the past three years. It’s going to be published! By Faber in the UK!! And Spiegel & Grau (a Random House imprint) in the U.S.!! And Atlas Contact in Holland!! OMFG!!!

There are no words. So here’s a Bolaño picture that I love (mainly for the fuzzy jumper!):


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New story in The White Review

A story from my linked collection, “The Bird Thing,” has just been published in The White Review and you can read it here! :D

I’ve been a huge fan of The White Review for years (César Aira! Lydia Davis!! Alvaro Enrigue!!! Esteemed alumni from my school like Jonathan Gibbs, KJ Orr and Rebecca Tamás!). So needless to say this is dead exciting.

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SALT’s Best British Short Stories 2015

I have two short stories–“Lucky,” originally published by Lighthouse, and “The Tourists,” published as a pamphlet by Daunt Books–included in Salt Publishing’s Best British Short Stories anthology. It’s edited by the epically great Nicholas Royle and other authors include Hilary Mantel, Helen Simpson, Jonathan Gibbs and KJ Orr. You can currently get it for 20% off (using code BBSS15) here or on Amazon. You can also read a review in the Guardian if you’re curious.

I also have a short story, “Lemon Pie,” in the just-released issue of Shooter Magazine. I worked for a long time on this story (it’s about aliens, Colombia and kidnapping, among other things) and was over the moon (to put it mildly) that Shooter Magazine gave it a home. I don’t know what I would do without publications like them, or Lighthouse and Daunt Books–places that make a point out of giving early-career writers a chance. Blessed be.

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Exciting news!

A short story I wrote last year for Lighthouse Literary Journal has been longlisted for a prize in the Sunday Times! Very exciting! I am dead chuffed, as they say here in in England (at least I THINK that’s something people say…). Or as they say in Colombia: ¡QUE EMOCIÓN!

You can read all 19 Short Story Award longlisted stories on The Sunday Times website. Among others, they include Yiyun Li (I’ve been a big fan for years), Colin Barrett (on my to-read list for ages) and Mark Haddon (author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a long-time fav). QUE ES ESTA LOCURA.

In other news (just to make this post a little more than here-is-the-thing), I went running today in rain that gradually turned into wet slushy snow and then back to rain again. It was intense. But I had to do it, ’cause I am running the Lisbon half-marathon in March. I’m looking forward to discovering the land of my Portuguese ancestors (although they mainly inhabited the Azores).

Also, here is the poem I posted today on my poem-a-day (um, more like every couple of days) blog, which I really liked:

Poem That Wants to Be Called the West Side Highway

(Samuel Amadon)
You can do the work just by starting it. You can
do whatever you want. A bill
is drafted on a train to Albany, or in a black
limousine. Like how one day I walked
the entire length of Manhattan, except I didn’t.
I didn’t finish. Not nearly. How could I?
Stopped as I was by the boat basin. These
credit cards fill with gin
and tonic. They pool with the stuff. Maybe
I get a little lost sometimes,
start thinking I went to Yale. Once I swam
to Governors Island, between the ferries
and freighters. It was like a job you should’ve seen
me quit. Maybe they looked for me. Maybe
it wasn’t someone else’s shift, and then
it was. Sometimes people are just turnstiles.
You have to tell them to keep
turning, keep turning into someone else. The rain
crashes across a cab, and the road
has filled. We’re waterborne. Or whatever
the word is for that little moment
when the heart lifts. Why don’t you devote
yourself the way you once did? It’s
an old answer, and an early
one. The alarm goes off for a while after it
stops. In your face in the bathroom
mirror. You play that little song to look at
your teeth. My teeth. They haven’t been cared for.
The class giggles at my age. This is
my hearing. The chances taken on a new face.


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wise words from Francisco Goldman

Original text in Spanish here, poorly attempted translation by me below:

I have never felt compelled to give up fiction. Like you, despite that times like these in Mexico aren’t easy, I remain faithful. I’ve dedicated my life to this fucking art that I love and that is in reality a very marginal trade, as it perhaps should be–I hate the solemnity and pomp of certain kinds of “novelists”–and it’s also what I live on. I don’t think that the novel is in itself something useful, that it has or should have a political use. It is the reader who decides what has value. What is the novel for me? A search for something that can only be expressed through writing a novel, and that something includes the search for its own structure, its style, pattern, rhythm and so on. You follow the whispers of intuition and memory, and many times you have no idea what will happen on the next page. I believe the novel turns out better when it’s like that. Of course in some way or another it’s an encounter with yourself, with your most intimate self. There’s a high risk of embarrassment, of failure. Perhaps breaking the silence is always a danger. Pain is fundamental. But maybe, as speculated as much by W.H. Auden in some essay, the first pronunciation by a human was “Ow!” Some caveman stumbled, his foot struck against a stone, hard and sharp, and yelled “Ow”; later another did the same, and so on. Human language began here, the song of experience. Pain is perhaps the seed or start; others have said it’s death and loss. Finally, the wish or desire to search, to understand, to dramatize the pain of others. That is the art of the novel, and one of the few things that the novel has in common with certain types of journalism.

When I don’t write I feel like a useless weakling, I’m good for nothing. When I do write, I know what I’m doing with all my being, with everything I think or believe: in one way or another, that’s where I’ll be… Then came Ayotzinapa and things changed. I’m still working on a novel that has nothing to do with it, a very intimate novel, which is practically the only thing that’s mine in the world, and I don’t regret it. But I am a citizen too. I admit that now my concentration is fragmented and that I have to discipline myself. I need to go out in search of what is happening. I like to observe, ask, listen. It is a privilege to share what I learn.

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My pamphlet with Daunt Books was released today!

It’s called “The Tourists,” it’s set in Colombia and here is the cover:



You can get it here or on Amazon. Please consider checking it out; I’d be VERY honored… :)

Que emoción, no??!

And now here is a poem by Franz Wright (love the last line…):

Publication Date

One of the few pleasures of writing
is the thought of one’s book in the hands of a kind-hearted
intelligent person somewhere. I can’t remember what the
     others are right now.
I just noticed that it is my own private

National I Hate Myself and Want to Die Day
(which means the next day I will love my life
and want to live forever). The forecast calls
for a cold night in Boston all morning

and all afternoon. They say
tomorrow will be just like today,
only different. I’m in the cemetery now
at the edge of town, how did I get here?

A sparrow limps past on its little bone crutch saying
I am Federico Garcia Lorca
risen from the dead–
literature will lose, sunlight will win, don’t worry.



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Madness, Rack & Honey / Art & Fear

I love Mary Ruefle. I kind of want to BE Mary Ruefle. Or at least my idea of her, which involves living in rural Vermont, reading sixty-something books a year, loving Emily Dickinson, criticizing technology in interviews, writing poems like this one or this one or this one, and generally not taking things too seriously. I don’t even write poetry!! I also HATE East Coast winters!!! And how could I ever become so wise and gracious? Can I bring myself to re-read the Greeks and make intelligent-sounding statements about them? At least I strongly identify myself in this passage, which Ruefle quotes as an example of what her relationship with reading is like:

“Although I steeped myself in an incredible amount of reading material, it merely expanded the void, fattened the darkness inside the cactus. Nothing was born from there… Despite that, I read more and more, growing endlessly fatter of soul until I could not move because of my weight. Just as the mouth takes in food, my eyes avidly devoured everything. No doubt my brain was swelling up from its morbid, chronic hunger. Even after I came to that cottage, my daily task (more even than studying for the university exams) was to continually browse among books like a crazed sheep.” (Kurahashi Yukimo, “Ugly Demons,” quoted by Ruefle in the lecture ‘Lectures I Will Never Give.’)

It’s not often that you encounter a writer that makes you feel like they GET you in a deeply personal way. Or like you get them. I still know nothing about poetry. I have nothing super articulate to say about her style or themes or methods. But I DO know that from a deep gut-level–like we’re talking intestinal fauna here–I loved, loved, loved her book of Collected Poems, and will probably rank her alongside Rodrigo Rey Rosa as my favorite literary discovery for the year. Madness, Rack and Honey, her book of non-fiction essays (or collected lectures, I guess) also helped push her up high in the rankings.

What I love most about Mary Ruefle is the way she writes: a stream-of-conscious, out of breath way that nevertheless magically ends up feeling connected as opposed to nonsensical or random. Take her poem “The March,” for example. We go from blue peas, to the clock, to meadow grasses, to a body wanting to drop, to the definition of genius… on and on until somehow it all ends up making sense. A painting depicting all the images in the poem in the order that they occur would be absolutely whacko. The person who introduced me to her poems this summer compared her writing to those times you end up on youtube, and then 15 minutes later you are somewhere completely different and you have, like, no idea how you got there. I think this feeling as expressed through literature is pretty groovy. I love hybridity and fragmentation in general, I guess. I also love people who successfully balance mystical wonder with gritty realism. That’s kind of what I want to do in my own every day life…

There are a lot of gems in Madness, Rack & Honey, a book of collected essays–oops, I mean lectures. I so want to steal her style for my dissertation. I love how many quotes she uses, for example, and the way she sprinkles them so liberally (almost Reality Hunger-style) throughout the text. I loved this James Salter quote in particular–Here then, faintly discolored and liable to come apart if you touch it, is the corsage I kept from the dance–and the way she equates it to the “secret” that is at the heart of all poetry. Fuck, I love that!! The truth of poetry as a crumbling corsage!!

I also love how in her lecture about poetry and the moon, she launches into a long tangent about what happened to all the American astronauts once they returned to earth (they all became mystics, basically). Most memorable to me was the reclusive Neil Armstrong, specifically his answer to the question of how he felt knowing his footprints might remain undisturbed on the lunar surface for centuries: “I hope somebody goes up there some day and cleans them up.”

I love the way she compares sentimentality in poetry to a kitten–the “human feeling” that insists we may be moved by it, because poets ultimately are people who are moved by EVERYTHING (what a great justification for being overtly-sensitive and getting teary-eyed when watching early 90’s family films! Not that, uh, that has ever happened to me…). She also pleasingly goes on to insist that if we fail to be moved by the kitten,  then something is terribly wrong. ROCK ON.

I love her straightforward, quote-worthy sentences, like “In the end I would rather wonder than know” (“On Secrets”)  or “When anyone asks me how my love-life is, I cringe” (“On Sentimentality”), or “The more I think the more bewildered I become” (from her title essay–though now that I’ve just checked, it’s actually a quote from Charles Darwin!).

I love the conclusion of her lecture “On Fear“: “What has life taught me? I am much less afraid than I ever was in my youth–of everything. That is a fact. At the same time, I feel more afraid than ever. And the two, I can assure you, are not opposed but inextricably linked.”

I love the lecture “My Emily Dickinson,” a rumination on her relationship with Dickinson, Emily Bronte and Anne Frank (because what else would describe the kind of feelings you have towards the authors you love other than a “relationship”?).

And I love, love, love the entirety of her essay on reading, in which she confronts the very real Bolaño-esque fear that at some point, every reader reaches a juncture in which they must accept that there are simply too many books in the world to read in their remaining lifetime, and at some point you need to decide at which point you start being picky with your time and start re-reading.

I could go on and on, but I feel like my attempt to summarize my fondness for Ms. Ruefle is already (perhaps appropriately) starting to fragmment. One last quote, then, from the title essay, which is maybe one of the most pleasing mission statements about writing I’ve ever read:

The only purpose of this lecture, this letter, my only intent, goal, object, desire, is to waste time. For there is so little time to waste during a life, what little there is being so precious, that we must waste it, in whatever way we come to waste it, with all our heart. (137)


This book was great. I’m glad I bought it and I highly recommend it. In the spirit of Reality Hunger, (i.e. I am leaving for Morocco tomorrow, have limited time to finish this blogpost and thus must resort to the quickest, most efficient way of writing it possible…!), here are all the quotes that stuck with me. There are a lot:

Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward… Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself. (2) <– This to me was the ultimate message of the book… if you’re going to make art, you need to be A-OK with uncertainty. AAAAAH!

In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself. (3)

When you act out of fear, your fears come true. (23)

It’s the ballad of the cowboy and the mountain man. (42) <– I liked this quote in particular–it’s in reference to the need for community vs. hermetic solitude. Overall, I feel like I’m a rugged mountain man who needs to hang out fairly regularly with the other hermits chilling by the river.

Habits: they allow confidence and concentration. They allow not knowing. They allow the automatic and the unarticulated to remain so. (62)

Not many activities routinely call one’s basic self-worth into question. (65) HA! HA! HA!!!!

Healthy artistic environments are about as common as unicorns. (71) HA HA HA AGAIN

Occasional competitive grousing is a healthy step removed from equating success with standing atop the bodies of your peers. (72) <— LOOOOOLZ once more

What we really gain from the artmaking of others is courage-by-association. Depth of contact grows as fears are shared—and thereby disarmed—and this comes from embracing art as process, and artists as kindred spirits. To the artist, art is a verb. (90) <– Love this too, a very pro-grad school argument for me.

What is worth doing? (94) <— What indeed?!

While good art carries a ring of truth to it—a sense that something permanently important about the world has been made clear—the act of giving form to that truth is arguably unique to one person, and one time… No one else will ever be in the position to write Hamlet. This is pretty good evidence that the meaning of the world is made, not found. (106) <– Love this definition of truth.

Making art is about self-expression… a need to complete a relationship with something outside yourself. As a maker of art you are custodian of issues larger than self. (113) <–It’s interesting how similar this is to religion!

It’s a simple premise: follow the leads that arise from contact with the work itself, and your technical, emotional and intellectual pathway becomes clear. (113)

Artists come together, in the knowledge that when all is said and done, they will return to their studio and practice their art alone. Period. That simple truth may be the deepest bond we share… Only in those moments when we are truly working on our own work do we recover the fundamental connection we share with all makers of art. The rest may be necessary, but it’s not art. Your job is to draw a line from your life to your art that is straight and clear. (115)

Art is hard because you have to keep after it so consistently. On so many different fronts. For so little external reward… In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot and therby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice. (118)


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