Author Archives: debooker

About debooker

A brief (and somewhat ambiguous) biography. One hundred words, more or less, about David Booker might include the following: though lost in the cosmos without a compass, he has nonetheless managed to find his way into middle age. As to what he will do now that he is there is still a matter of speculation. He often seeks guidance from his youthful daughter as he alternately approaches and retreats from the slow expansion of his waistline and the slow collapse of Western Civilization as he knows it. He hopes the two will reach a libration (or libation) point and he will creep into old age with some dignity and clothes intact.


Some days even staying in bed did not help.

Some days even staying in bed did not help.

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Monday morning writing joke: “Big stink”

There once was a writer from Spokane /

who did his best output in the can. /

Flushed with success, /

he created such a mess /

and ruined his one and only fan.

[Editor’s note: writing joke in the form of a limerick. It might not be the last one as April is Poetry Month. You have been warned.]

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Author interview: Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem: “My intent to skewer is practically nonexistent”

He talks to Salon about his new book “Lucky Alan,” comics, fans and adoring his characters—even the difficult ones



I started reading Jonathan Lethem with “Amnesia Moon,” maybe five or six years after it first came out. A teacher had suggested the book, after seeing me struggle with the more realist selections of the typical undergrad creative writing syllabus of the early 2000s, and almost immediately I was hooked, on both that book and Lethem’s writing in general. “Amnesia Moon” is an intoxicating but very strange novel — perhaps Lethem’s strangest, at least for me — and so I was surprised, in 2003, to find myself reading “The Fortress of Solitude,” with its much more grounded period setting beginning in 1970s Brooklyn.

I would soon immerse myself in the rest of Lethem’s books, and this range became one of the most exciting aspects of reading his novels and stories and essays: His interests are broad, his obsessions deep and his influences both announced and fully explored, engaged, built upon. If Lethem has topics or time periods or genres he returns to frequently, it feels to me less like a tic or a limitation and more like an indication that something is not yet finished, that his unshed obsessions return often to further provoke his imagination into new stories.

Jonathan Lethem’s “Lucky Alan” is his first short story collection since 2004’s “Men and Cartoons,” collecting the stories written in the decade that followed. In the years between, he’s published three novels, including 2013’s “Dissident Gardens,” and a slew of other projects in other genres, including penning a reboot of the comic book “Omega the Unknown”; collecting two books of essays, including “The Ecstasy of Influence,” titled after his provocative Harper’s essay of the same name; editing a volume of selections of Philip K. Dick’s journals; and another nonfiction book on The Talking Heads album “Fear of Music” for the popular 33 1/3 series. Our conversation with Lethem discusses how stories in “Lucky Alan” were written, as well as what changed (and what stayed the same) throughout this busy and productive decade.

Once I was a few stories into “Lucky Alan,” I started thinking about the book’s ordering, wondering if you’d consciously decided to start with two of the more realist stories — the title story and “The King of Sentences” — before moving on to stranger fare, like “Traveler Home,” where the protagonist is given a baby by a pack of wolves, or “Procedure in Plain Air,” with its surreal “installation” involving a man left in a hole outside a coffee shop, “an inverted phone booth of dirt and rubble.” But then a friend mentioned seeing you read “Procedure in Plain Air” at Skylight Books in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, where he reported that you’d said the stories appear here in the order they were written.

That answers one question but begs another: How do you chart the progress of your interests in the short story over that time? Does “Pending Vegan,” the last story, complete some line of artistic thought that began with the first, “Lucky Alan,” or is the book simply a method of collecting all the short work of a certain period in one place?

Q.: I’ve got at least 12 answers to this question, depending on whether I grab it by trunk or tail or some other appendage. Somewhere I once read a pragmatic assertion that the way to order a story collection is to put the best story first and the second-best last and the rest anywhere you like. I do think “Lucky Alan” and “Pending Vegan” are the two most satisfying and complete stories I’ve written, or at least that were uncollected. When I threw them into those positions, just to see what that looked like, I noticed immediately that one was the earliest piece in the book, and the other the most recent. Putting them in chronological sequence made for a quick solution to what probably wasn’t an important question in the first place: Does anybody typically read a story collection from beginning to end? (Of course many would say I could quit that rhetorical question sooner: Does anybody typically read a story collection?)

A.: Of course, I may have forgotten or been mistaken or be lying about the order of writing of some of the stories between those two. I jiggered the sequence at some point to make for what I thought would be a better alternation of the “more realist” with the “stranger fare” — though we might differ on what’s strange. In the experience of their maker, “The King of Sentences,” for instance, is stranger than “Procedure in Plain Air.” The first is an unrepeatable language pratfall, the second a pretty methodological fiction, putting two incommensurate things together and playing out the result. That one feels traditional to me. But that’s just the experience of the maker.

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This Guy Created His Own Hilarious Book Sections At A Local Bookstore


Tired of having to look at boring and often misleading book sections at his local bookstore, one guy decided to create his own alternative sections that would describe the books more accurately. He carefully placed them all around the bookstore, photographed the results and quickly got away before anyone noticed.

For example, the culinary section is now called “Meals You Intend To Make, But Never Will” – which we have to agree is a much more accurate description. Also, instead of looking for romance novel section, girls can now ask the store manager to show them where the “Dudes who lost their shirts” section is.

Finally there’s some order in the book world!

Section titles include:

Dudes Who Lost Their Shirts

Meals You Intend To Make, But Never Will

Great Places To Poop

And others.

To see photos and read more about it, go to

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Photo finish Friday: “Spring table”

The weather and calendar turn to spring. Invariably, there will be picnics. Here's a writing prompt. Build a scene, story, or poem around it.

The weather and calendar turn to spring. Invariably, there will be picnics. Here’s a writing prompt. Build a scene, story, or poem around it.

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Haiku to you Thursday: “Mental”

My insanity: /

the only thing keeping me /

well … kind of … normal.

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Writing tip Wednesday: “Top ten….”

The Top 10 Elements of a Book People Want to Read

by Helga Schier, PhD


Aim for High Readability

Helga Schier

Helga Schier

People enjoy books with a high level of readability—books with a captivating story and memorable characters, books we can’t put down, books that stick with us long after we’ve read the last word.

As an independent editor, I’ve come across my fair share of readable books, and all of them are well crafted on three distinct but intricately connected levels.

  1. The surface structure of the words on the page, which includes grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  2. The level of style and voice, which is defined by the choice of words, the sentence rhythm, the use of literary techniques and images, and the tone or approach
  3. The content level, where the fictional world comes to life.

Highly readable books are polished, refined, sophisticated, and mature on all three levels. To fulfill the potential of your book, develop and sharpen the following top ten elements.

1. Your Words Are Your tools; Make Sure They Are in Working Order.
Avoid typos, sort out commonly mistaken words such as die/dye or there/their/they’re. Watch your grammar—make sure your nouns agree with your verbs and the personal pronouns fit. If a paragraph begins in the past tense, it likely ought to end in the past tense, too. Figure out where those commas go to help your readers make sense of your sentences. Sounds basic? It is. So run that spell-check and get it right.

2. Check for Inconsistencies.
Writers revise their work constantly. As a result, characters may appear or disappear at random, because chapters were rearranged; subplots remain unresolved, because chapters were cut; and timeline issues may tiptoe in. Looking for inconsistencies and holes in your story is an integral part of polishing your work.

3. Avoid Overwriting.
Your style or voice should step into the background to serve your story. No need for a clever metaphor in every sentence, or for an adjective before every noun. Avoid complicated sentences if a simple sentence will get your point across. Avoid inflated sentences and unnecessary introductory or summarizing phrases. Don’t be verbose—every sentence has a point; get to it.

4. Avoid Underwriting.
Allow your language to adapt to its context. Using the same words and/or sentence structures repeatedly makes a novel repetitive and monotonous. If the teenage girl and the CEO of a multibillion dollar company have the same voice, we’ll learn more about the writer than about the characters and their relationships. Avoid clichés and create your own personal images instead. Or use clichés and stereotypes to your advantage—say, to define a character.

5. Make Sure Your Characters Are More Than a Name.
As a reader, I want to be able to relate to your characters. I don’t have to always like them or agree with their choices, but I want to understand why they say and do whatever it is they say and do. I want to care for them, fear and worry with them. Therefore, your characters need to be recognizable and unique at the same time. They need to be complex rather than cardboard cutouts, and dynamic rather than passive. Even a bad guy deserves a redeeming quality.

The other five recommendations are:

6. Show, Don’t Tell.

7. Sharpen that Dialogue…

8. …And Expose that Subtext.

9. Drive the Plot Towards Your Reader’s Aha-Moment.

10. Build Your World.

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