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From Phyllida's Desk

Writing Dirty

In a recent post, I talked about the problems of trying to write while earning a living at the same time. The issue comes down to the ability to write—that is, write well, produce good prose, the best you can—and work at a full-time job.

But the ugly secret nobody talks about is as old as the change from nomadic hunter-gatherers to villagers:  Read More 
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Wrath of Achilles

“Sing, muse, the wrath of Achilles…”

I still remember the first words of the Iliad this way, from the Richmond Lattimore translation. I read it years ago, when I became aware of the part of the story that interests me (no surprise to friends and fans of my fiction): the love between Achilles and Patroclus, and the tragic arc that led from Achilles’ loss of his battle prize, the (literal) trophy wife, Briseis; through Patroclus’ death; to Achilles’ inevitable choice of the short life with glory over the long, uneventful life.  Read More 
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Writers' Lives

Anybody who’s worked at writing knows that creative success doesn’t necessarily lead to material success. We tend to think of the award winners and the bestsellers as two mutually exclusive sets of writers; and we hope, even if we don’t always believe it, that if a writer stays true to his or her voice, the work will be recognized on its merits, eventually.  Read More 
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To Beth Massey, raisa, and steamkitty, with Love

Authors of “controversial” fiction go through a steep learning curve. If we get good print and mainstream reviews for our first book, as I did with Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, we eagerly and obsessively check the blogs, the offbeat or specialized online reviews and our sales rankings on Amazon and B&N. And, wow—can that be a bucket of cold water, or, to use an analogy Henry Fielding might have employed, a chamber pot emptied over one’s head.  Read More 
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Algorithms and Genres

People make fun of the Netflix algorithm, the computer program that recommends movies based on how you rate other movies. I’ve certainly laughed at it. Its worst recommendation for me was Jackass 2. And no, I didn’t give Jackass 1 five stars, or even watch it.

The reason Netflix suggested Jackass 2 was that I had given Monty Python’s Life of Brian five stars, as did, apparently, many jackasses.  Read More 
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Beauty and Truth

It’s a truism that people become actors because they want to be someone else. But isn’t it true for everybody?

I went to a Christmas Eve party with a man I met a week earlier, at the holiday party at the Center for Fiction (formerly the Mercantile Library). Steve won me over because he told me, completely spontaneously, that I look like Bette Davis.  Read More 
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The Aesthetics of Porn

In the recent movie The Kids Are All Right, an early joke is that the lesbian couple watches gay male porn. When their fifteen-year-old son discovers their stash and wants to know why they don’t watch movies about women, his biological mother, played by Julianne Moore, tries valiantly to come up with logical explanations.  Read More 
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Disinterested Love

A couple of years ago, when I was a regular participant in a “bisexual social discussion group,” I used to have fun with a good friend, a bisexual man married to a woman, debating the difference between a bisexual man and a gay man married to a woman. We weren’t seriously trying to name names or define other people—it was more of an amusing unresolvable question, the middle-aged successor to those college dorm philosophy all-nighters that some people supposedly enjoyed as undergraduates.  Read More 
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Likes Spiders and Snakes, Hates Art

I’m thinking of the Jim Stafford song from 1974: “She said, "I don't like spiders and snakes, And that ain't what it takes to love me, You fool, you fool.”

Gorgeous, inspiring art, from Oceania to Dutch Masters, from Neolithic cave paintings to Picasso? Hate it, hate it hate it! I hate it all.

Snakes, frogs, scorpions, centipedes and spiders? Love ‘em! Can’t get enough hairy-legged, slimy or scaly creepy-crawlies.  Read More 
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Unfinished Business

I consider myself a “good talker,” someone who thinks on her feet, enjoys speaking in public and can even come up with the occasional witticism. But I find that I’m rarely at my best in book club meetings. People raise questions that require me to think before expressing an opinion (always a challenge).  Read More 
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