Latest Entries

How do YOU celebrate Bloomsday?

If you’re anything like us (and you are, we checked) you wait all year for June 16th, better known as Bloomsday, the day that everyone everywhere celebrates all things James Joyce and Ulysses. It’s like St. Patrick’s Day, except with staged readings, scenic tours, and pretension instead of binge drinking. This year we thought it’d be fun to do a sort of informal survey to see how people around town celebrate in their own way. Enjoy.

Justine Castaneda, Barista: Excuse me? What day? Look, are you going to order something or what? You’re holding up the line. I don’t know what that is, I’ve never heard of that holiday. Listen, you’re going to get me in trouble. I’ve gone to bat for you, you know that. When Claudia wanted to ban you, you know I stood up to her. Just order—I don’t know what Bloomsday is, okay? Okay, listen. Grande Ice Coffee, okay? On the house. Just, just go.

Ava Gains, College Student: That sounds neat, I’ll have to look that up when I get home!

William Hudson, Postal Worker: I go down to the beach and rub one out. Best day of the year.

Bryce Hubbler, Bookstore clerk: Well, me and all my friends get together and dress up in period costumes and we do a little pub crawl and read our favorite passages aloud to one another as we go. My friends? Yes, they’re real. That’s a rude question. They—uh, they—no, I can’t give out their numbers or anything. They’re, uh, very private people. They’re names? Why do you—uh, hey, my break is over so I’d better—where do we meet? We’re, uh, well I can’t really say. It’s, uh, it’s kind of…look, I have to go, okay?

Helen Parker, Pharmacist: I don’t read for pleasure, sorry.

Shel Burroughs, Prof. of American Studies: I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time. No, sorry, I’m really very busy right now. What am I doing? What—what business is that of yours? I’m sorry I—because I’m, I’m busy dealing with family business right now, and you’re being very rude. No, no you give those back, right now. How dare you, how dare you. Give those—those are very expensive glasses and I’m quite blind without them now return them immediately or I’ll be forced to call—no, no wait. Okay, okay. Listen, lets be reasonable. No one has to get hurt, now why don’t you just put the knife away and I’ll do whatever you say. No, please, I want to. I want to, I want to help you. No one needs to get hurt, do they? We’re all reasonab—

Sgt. Peter Barnwood, Arresting Officer: You have the right to—sorry? Shit, is that today? I totally forgot to run down to the beach and rub one out. Damn it. Well, I’ll get ot next year. Where were we…yeah, the right to remain silent.

The Four Laws of Writing Humor

One of the most frequent questions we get here at Failbetter HQ is ‘How do I write something funny?’ Since we’re a journal and not an advice column, we’ve never responded…until now.

Why now? I don’t know. Why anything? Why do people have two arms instead of four? Why bother getting up in the morning?

Writing humor is a bit like getting a date for Friday night…unpleasant when forced, but if coaxed with the proper tools, feasible at least. We’ve worked up a list of what we call THE FOUR LAWS OF HUMOR that we absolutely 100% guarantee will put you on the path to eliciting giggles if not guffaws from your readers in no time at all.

THE FIRST LAW: Observe and Report

Observational humor is maybe the easiest type to master. Learn to key into the mundane and commonplace. Can you find a new angle on some shared experience that each and every one of your readers will be familiar with? Can you expose a truth about daily life that’ll have them howling? Here’s an example. I’m looking around the room I’m sitting in right now, and across from me is this big old recliner that I’ve had since college. You’ve probably got one just like it, that you hardly think about, right? I’m looking at this recliner, and I’m thinking, here’s a chair that leans way back and has a footrest…so maybe you might say something like, Hey, make up your mind! Do you wanna sit or lay down? Or maybe you might say something like, why does a chair seem so small when you’re sitting in it and your wife is nagging you to lose weight and so huge when she’s gone and you’re sitting there thinking you should turn the lights on because it’s depressing to sit in the dark but you’re too tired to get up and then you do get up to turn the light on only to realize that it’s been on the whole time, that the darkness is coming from inside of you?

THE SECOND LAW: Use Metaphor and Simile

A snappy metaphor or simile can brighten up a sentence faster than Paxil brightens my mood.

Instead of writing, ‘The room was empty’ try something like ‘the room was as empty as he felt inside.’ Instead of writing, ‘He was tall,’ try ‘He was tall as the Rocky Mountains that my wife and her new lover had a nice view of from their fancy cabin.’

THE THIRD LAW: Be Incongruous and Use Juxtapositions

Incongruity and juxtapositions make your reader’s brain go ‘say whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?’ Examples include a tiny baby lifting a huge boulder, a turtle smoking a pipe, or someone vowing ‘till death do us part’ and then taking off with another man long before either you or she is dead.


Humor works best when breaking the rules, blasting taboos and boundaries. I’m not sure why this is, though. I mean, I’m someone who played by the rules. Always did well in school, and after school I got a job and met a woman and asked her to marry me and we bought a house with a yard and planned on starting a family. All the American dream stuff, step-by-step, towing the line. But what’s it got me? Nothing. A house I can’t afford without Jen around to share the mortgage and bills. Maybe if I’d been more cutthroat at the office I could have moved up the ranks a little faster, made a little more money. More money would mean stability. But I thought, tow the line, work hard, they’ll notice. The bosses will see you’re someone they can depend on, and it’ll all pay off. Jen, when she left, she said it wasn’t about the money. Yeah, that’s what she said, but who’d she ditch me to shack up with? Some guy who got rich designing apps, has a place in San Diego, has a place in the mountains…that’s kind of funny, I guess. Yeah, Jen went there. Went all the way. Broke a vow, went outside our marriage by sleeping with whats-his-name while we were still together. That counts as blasting a taboo, I suppose. Yeah, I see how that’s funny. Makes me want to laugh. I will. I’ll laugh. As soon as I remember how.

Philip Roth Announces That He’ll No Longer Eat Pizza Bagels

Two years after announcing that he would stop writing fiction, author Philip Roth announced this week that he would no longer be eating pizza bagels.

Roth, 81, made the announcement on the steps of the 92nd St Y in Manhattan following a public reading Thursday night.

“I’ve never really liked them all that much to begin with, but they’re convenient—pop them in the microwave and they’re done in just a couple minutes—so I’ve continued on and on,” Roth told reporters. “I’ve eaten them for breakfast, lunch, as a snack. But I’m done. I think I have a box in the freezer, still. I’ll toss it when I get home.”

Roth’s agent, Andrew Wylie, says that Roth is becoming steadily more health conscious as he ages. “Years pass, we’d get together on a Friday night and eat a large pizza each—each of us, our own large pizza—then head out for ice cream after. That kind of living loses its thrill after a while, it’s only natural.”

Roth scholar and Professor of American Studies at the Bosley Institute for Learning John Tucker points out that Roth’s affair with pizza bagels was hinted at in 1998, when “an early draft of Portnoy’s Complain surfaced, featuring several scenes where the title character could not achieve sexual gratification without a plate of the snack, fresh from the microwave, cooling somewhere in the room.” According to Tucker, Roth moving past pizza bagels “is just another monumental moment in the life of a man whose life story consists of a long chain of monumental moments.”

When asked what snack might replace pizza bagels in Roth’s diet, the author replied that he’d heard good thing about Pop Tarts, but wasn’t ready to commit just yet. “This is all so new to me,” Roth said. “I think I’d like to try a couple things out and see what I’ve been missing.”

AWP 2014 Events Worth Checking Out

AWP 2014 kicks off tomorrow, and as a courtesy to our readers we’ve put together a selection of the conference’s can’t-miss events.

You’re welcome.

Why are you not famous yet?

Wednesday, 7:45pm Hall C

A group of authors younger than you flaunt their bank accounts and discuss their various awards.

The Memoir

Thursday 2pm Hall F

Published authors and experienced editors give advice on monetizing your terrible upbringing.

The art of the erotic novella

Friday 9am Conference Room 2

Obese shut-ins who make millions of dollars self-publishing pornography discuss artistic integrity and laugh like they’re hiding something. Towels will not be provided, so plan ahead.

An evening with Claudia Haines

Friday 7pm Hall 1

Claudia Haynes published a single poem in The Paris Review 28 years ago. Join her as she discusses her process and grouses bitterly about missed opportunities.

The value of an MFA

Saturday 1pm Hall C

Teams of MFA faculty and bloggers compete in a pie-eating contest to decide once and for all whether academic writing programs actually have merit.

20 years of Zenix!

Saturday 8pm Hall C

The publishers of Zenix! join a group of authors associated with the magazine in a frantic conversation that assumes you are familiar with the publication and exaggerates its importance in cultural history.

The world needs ditch diggers too: giving up the dream

Sunday, Noon Conference Room 3

Anyone ready to give up the dream is invited to meet with military recruiters and career counselors to discuss potential opportunities as either cannon fodder or substitute teachers.

Hemingway Drafts

Legend has it that when challenged to write a short story in just six words, Ernest Hemingway quickly came back with that well-known stunner that is widely acknowledged as one of the first examples of Flash Fiction. Recently unearthed documents, however, reveal that Hemingway actually slaved over multiple drafts of the short before unveiling it. Now, for the first time anywhere, Failbetter is proud to share these early drafts, which we believe give an unprecedented glimpse into Hemingway’s mind and creative process.

For sale, baby shoes I found.

Who buys their kid used shoes?

Damn kid was born sans feet.

I’m selling my dead kids shoes.

For sale: baby shoes, slightly burned.

Shit, these baby shoes are haunted!

Keep Warm with Books

Another winter storm means that once again schools and businesses are closed, your Facebook timeline is clogged with pictures of the Wal-Mart check-out line, and every single driver on the road is crying in one voice about the inadequacy of every single other driver. If you’re like me, there’s nothing you like more under such conditions than to snuggle up and keep warm with books. If that sounds good but you don’t know where to start, consider these suggestions…

The Poetry of Robert Frost

Think about how many poems have been written since Frost died in 1963. Millions, right? But we keep coming back to these. Isn’t it time we moved on? This book is pretty big—over six hundred pages—so it should burn for a while. And if you do end up having some sick urge to revisit a Frosty favorite later on, you can find anything he ever wrote for free online.

Anything by Charles Bukowski

Having some Bukowski around the house makes sense if you’re under the age of 23. If you’re older than 23, it’s time to admit that you only still have these out of sentimentality. We both know you’ll never read these things again, that if you tried you’d just blanche at how much meaning you used to find in the endless descriptions of sad old butts and hobo vomit. I say light ‘em up, whatever age you are. If you’re over 23 it’ll lighten the load next time you move, and if you’re under 23 it’ll maybe help you get your life together a little bit faster.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

You will never get all the way through this. You’ll keep trying, sure. Every year or so you’ll say, this time I’m going straight through, and once again you’ll get to about page 150, right around where Slothrop is imagining getting sucked into a toilet or whatever, and you’ll put it aside. Torch it. Next year you can dedicate that reading time to something you might actually finish.

Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism by Bill W.

This is another biggie, good for when the fire starts running a little low. You might have some hesitation about burning this one, I get that, but lets examine that hesitation. You really need some book telling you what to do? Having this dependency on a book, on these rigid rules and regulations, is that freedom? Because to me? That sounds like slavery. And anyway, what’s wrong with having a little fun from time to time? Sure, you maybe got a little out of control there for a while, but that was over a year ago. You know who needs rigid rules and regulations to keep their lives under control? Children. Are you a child? Or are you an adult, capable of deciding for yourself what’s right and what’s wrong?

So Far…by Kelsey Grammer

Kelsey Grammer’s memoir? Why do you have this? Did your doctor tell you that you would die if you didn’t get more exposure to smugness? Burn this and the books on either side of it on your bookshelf, just in case something leaked out and infected them.

Great Works of Fiction by Great American Athletes

The Winter Olympics are underway, bringing with them threats of terrorism, institutionalized bigotry, wild dogs, and finally world class athleticism. While many great authors have tackled the sporting world, and many great athletes have written memoirs, we thought we’d take this opportunity to reflect on some of the best fiction ever produced by professional athletes.

Michael Jordan

Mack Bolan, The Executioner #347 The Explosion Device

It’s widely known that in 1994 Michael Jordan left Basketball behind to pursue his dual passions for Minor League Baseball and gambling; lesser known is that Jordan, under the penname Don Pendelton, also penned an entry in the long-running Mack Bolan series during that time. The novel finds Bolan hunting a femme fatale named Maxie Teets across the slums of Eugene, Oregon, in order to prevent her from using the titular Explosion Device to destroy the porno theater where Bolan’s parent’s met. Jordan’s prose flows with unstoppable momentum, mimicking the movements of the man himself during his best years on The Bulls.

Orenthal James Simpson

If I Did It

In one of the most audacious displays of imagination in the history of fiction, Simpson’s postmodern epic follows a character named OJ Simpson as he plots and carries out a brutal double murder. Released in 2007, critics at the time found it difficult to get past the graphic nature of the material; it remains to be seen whether future audiences eventually embrace this work as the subversive masterpiece that it is.

John McEnroe

Jericho’s Notion: Fist of the Guardian part I

The notoriously hot-headed McEnroe penned the first entry in this never completed trilogy in 1989 out of pure spite after being ejected from a Waldenbooks for ripping the centerfolds out of Playboy Magazines and hiding them inside of comic books. “I’ll write the best book ever,” McEnroe told reporters, “an all-time classic, and it’ll be in my contract that Waldenbooks won’t be allowed to carry it!” The story, as much as there is one, is a blend of fantasy tropes, to-do lists, and speculation about the sex lives of McEnroe’s high school teachers.

Shaquille O’Neal

Goodnight, Soon

This unlicensed prequel to Goodnight, Moon got Shaq in a whole heap of legal trouble upon it’s initial release, but the sheer oddity of the book (as well and its scarcity, most copies were ordered burned as a result of the lawsuit) has made it a cult hit. Goodnight, Soon features all the same illustrations as the original, only with the words ‘Soon it will be time to say…’ written before the original text on each page. In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2011, Shaq explained that the inspiration for the project came from his lifelong curiosity about what people do while getting ready for bed.

Proposed Literary Remakes

The recent announcement that The Hogarth Shakespeare program has invited notable writers like Margaret Atwood to revise and update some of the Bard’s greatest hits signifies that the literary world is finally getting wise to what television and movies have known for years—you’ll never find an audience pushing anything new, you need to give people properties they’re familiar with, only dusted off just enough to feel fresh. We here at Failbetter pride ourselves on our willingness to hop on the bandwagon, and as such have prepared this list of proposed updates to some literary classics.


First of all, I feel like we can shave some pages off this sucker, right? I’m all for long books, I’ve read The Stand, but this thing is long as hell for a book about two guys walking around. And why are they walking around? What’s their motivation? I get the connection to the Odyssey, okay, but that’s so played out, isn’t it? What if instead Stephen and Leopold were sworn enemies, and they were in fact hunting one another through the streets of Belfast? I know the original takes place in Dublin, but moving it to Belfast lets us introduce an IRA angle, like maybe they were both involved in the struggle and one betrayed the other, and now it’s payback time. I’d keep the part where Bloom masturbates to that woman on the beach. If at that point we already know he’s a merciless killer, that’s going to make the reader really wonder what this guy is capable of.

The Great Gastby

Hm, let’s think…a super rich, super intense, super handsome guy obsessed with a beautiful woman who is easily dominated by strong personalities…what enormously successful recent bestselling trilogy does that remind me of…here’s an idea, let’s load in

a bunch of berserk S&M. As is, Gatsby is looking for Daisy to acquiesce with his take on reality and their shared history, so getting her gussied up with a bridle and all manner of clamps, we can call that a metaphor, right?


Swap the Mediterranean for Kabul, strip out all the humor. At the end, instead of escaping, Yossarian shoots himself in the head.  That should be about all it takes to net this one a National Book award, at least.

Portnoy’s Complaint

Cash in on the mania for dystopia by setting this in the far future, and changing Mary Jane ‘The Monkey’ Reed to some sort of sexual gratification robot. That’ll add some pathos to all the scenes where Portnoy is mean to her, because then it’ll be like, does she even have a soul? And also it’ll make some comment on consumerism, maybe, because he bought this sex robot but he kind of hates it. Add the words ‘A Parable’ under the title on the cover. People love that kind of thing.

The Catcher in the Rye

Young Holden Caufield never felt like he fit in…and on his eighteenth birthday, he finds out why when a letter from his mother reveals that Holden is in fact a werewolf. Not just any werewolf, though, for Holden is the fabled Lycan Prince, destined to guide his people to superiority over all life on Earth. Will Holden embrace his destiny, or will he discover that were-folk are just as phony as regular people?

War and Peace

Another big boy we can easily trim. Early on, there’s a scene where Pierre goes to a party and these rich guys are messing with a live bear chained to the wall…I say we run with that. Pierre rescues the bear, killing one of these rich guys in the process, and the two of them go on the run to escape punishment. Also, lets set this one in the future, too, so the bear can…maybe not speak conversationally, but it can talk just enough to make its opinions known. Have the bear occasionally comment on how great nature is to rope in the ‘Green’ crowd. I’m super tempted to say we should ditch the war angle and add in some kind of crazy plague, but the title is so iconic, it would be a real shame to lose it.

To Kill a Mockingbird

It’s tempting to set this in the future have the kids hunting one another for sport, but maybe this one we can leave alone. Some things are sacred.

Donald Antrim – MacArthur Fellow 2013

Congrats to a writer we’ve always loved, and are honored to have as an fb alum — Mr. Donald Antrim — winner of a 2013 MacArthur Foundation genius grant, a coveted accolade that earns them $625,000 and a spot in cultural history…and I lifetime worth of pancakes.

Love By Drowning – Q&A with C.E. Poverman

Front Coverfb alum Buzz Poverman’s latest novel, Love By Drowning, was just published….the seeds of which we help sew here at failbetter.  We had the great pleasure of publishing several excerpts of the book in its most earliest stages — and are happy to see the project come to fruition.  We’re grateful to Buzz for letting us show his work, and even more happy that he recently took a moment to answer a few questions for us.



I wrote Love by Drowning day and night for five years.  It was like a blast furnace.  Whatever I fed it, it took it and melted it down.  I went on like this, and I was just exhausted and consumed.  When I finished, the book was 680 pages.  Over the next few years, different people read it and made suggestions and each time I dug back into the manuscript.  This is just a few sentences, what I’m explaining, but each time I returned to the world of the book, often for weeks or months, it was a kind of crisis of confidence; can I cut this?  Am I doing the best thing here?  Eventually, the book came to be the length it is now—440 pages in manuscript, the novel as it is being published.  Looking back, I feel good, almost lucky, about the path its editing and revision have taken.


Four parts of the novel were published by , and this would come to have a major impact on the book and its ultimate form.  Caitlin Johnson, Andrew Day and Thom Didato read the opening, MARLIN, and pointed out where the piece took off for them and how it could reach this place faster.  With very little back and forth, I made the adjustments and everyone was happy.

Several years later I sent Thom Didato the next section, which was simply entitled, VAL.  It was much longer—maybe 35 pages.  Thom asked that it be broken into three sections, each to be given a title so that he could publish them in succession.  I looked at how and where he had made his breaks and thought they made real sense.  I went back into each section to see if titles would emerge, and in doing so I found that each time three or four good possibilities would surface, and when I came back to them a day or two later, I knew which one was right.  I realized that this process gave me another opportunity to rethink and clarify the narrative.  This is a variation on what you do when you write anything—a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, a story.  You find out where it’s going, and then, once you know, you write and rewrite toward that place, refining it until you hit the exact note you hear.  Going back to break the narrative into sections and put in titles allowed me to reenter that process one more time in a comprehensive way in what was a long novel.  It allowed me to find a method for re-inventing, reinvigorating and renewing the reader’s focus.  And so, when I came to do the final editing, I applied this process to the rest of the book.  I looked for places where I could make breaks and title those sections, and this forced me to think harder about the book as a whole and what it was about and how it took its steps in getting there.  I never would have done this if Thom hadn’t made that initial request.  It became instrumental to the final form of the novel.


While acknowledging the changing world we’re living in, I would like to see the role of editors restored to the extent that they help a writer realize his/her work.  Let me illustrate by speaking directly from my own experience.  I’ve mentioned the effect of failbetter’s editors on the parts of Love by Drowning which they edited.  In addition, there were others.  Dan Green, who had formerly been an editor at Simon and Schuster, and who for some time was my agent on the novel, was very helpful in making broad editorial suggestions; he helped me shape and cut the manuscript down.  In addition, I’m grateful to the work of Kit Duane, the editor who accepted the novel at El León and then spent months line editing the entire manuscript with me.  She was patient and astute and helped bring the book into its final fine focus; in my acknowledgements, I thank her for being an angel on my shoulder, which is exactly how I came to feel her presence.  I would like to see the restoration of editors to that role: angel on the shoulder.  It will make writers and books better.

copyright 2009 - 2015 failbetter LLC - all rights reserved.

this blog is powered by Wordpress and uses Modern Clix, a theme by Rodrigo Galindez.

Switch to our mobile site