Suspend Your Disbelief

Sarah Van Arsdale


Sarah Van Arsdale teaches creative writing at New York University. Her third novel, Grand Isle, will be published in spring, 2012, by SUNY Press; it was a finalist in the 2008 University of Michigan Novel Contest. Her second novel, Blue, won the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel and was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2003, and her first novel, Toward Amnesia, was published by Riverhead Books in 1996. She also makes short animated films from her watercolors, and works as a manuscript consultant ( ne of her all time favorite writers is Iris Murdoch, but currently she’s reading a lot of poetry as April is National Poetry Month; a favorite poet is Elizabeth Bishop, from whom the line “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” is taken. Visit her blog at


Shop Talk |

Stories We Love: "A&P"

It just kept nosing its way into my own novel—“A&P” by John Updike. I’d first read it when teaching lit classes years before, and now, as I finished my third novel, my characters kept making references to it: a girl’s mind “just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar” or the way the boy at the register sees the girls’ bathing suits. Knowing it’s best to let the subconscious have its way while writing fiction, I let the story in, even as I wondered what it was doing there. My novel, Grand Isle, was in print a […]

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Perseverance Triumphs Over Despair At AWP

Editor’s note: At AWP 2012, which just wrapped up in Chicago, we were thrilled to hear this wonderful story from one of our contributors, Sarah Van Arsdale, and are delighted to share it with you. It’s a reminder of what conferences are really about: fostering community to buoy a writer’s spirit, helping you hang in there through those the hard months years when it feels like you’re going nowhere. 2009, Chicago. Attended AWP with the single-minded purpose of finding a publisher for my novel; my agent had tried like hell, and failed to place it. Barely made it to a […]

Shop Talk |

Europa Editions celebrates publication of its 100th book

It was an unbridled love fest. And not only because I was there, Tuesday night in New York City, swooning a little to be in the presence of all those Europa-eans. Author Stacy Schiff described Europa’s Old Filth, by Jane Gardam, as “unforgivably perfect.” Two of the press’s translators, Alison Anderson and Ann Goldstein, spoke of their passion for their work: “If you really love the book, you make it your own,” Anderson said. The event was held at Housing Works Bookstore Café and co-sponsored by McNally Jackson Books—two of New York’s best beloved independent bookstores—and the circle of love […]

Shop Talk |

Stories We Love: "The Lottery"

I don’t remember the first time I read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. It seems I’ve been haunted by that story forever: the dusty June center of town where the annual lottery is held, in my imagination a composition of all the Vermont towns I’ve lived in, and the blind cruelty of the populace a reflection of blind cruelty everywhere. The idea of “The Lottery” is that people can turn on one another for no reason other than that it’s what everyone else is doing, that we follow the crowd even when the request or demand that’s being made is […]

Reviews |

The Art of Losing, by Rebecca Connell

The skill of disclosure is often at the heart of good fiction; never more so than in The Art of Losing, by Rebecca Connell, just out from Europa Editions. Contributor Sarah Van Arsdale explicates what makes this book work so well by looking at it alongside The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins.

Shop Talk |

Bloggers: Give Quote, Get Promo

I’m writing a chapter for a course on blogging, and I’ve been asked to collect quotes about writing from bloggers. So I’m turning to you, readers of the FWR blog, to help me keep my day job by making this great! To participate, you must have a blog, preferably one on writing, but it could be on something else. And you must send me a short quote – about 3-5 sentences – about writing. You can send more than one, but we’ll only use one from each blogger. If we use your quote, we’ll give you credit and likely ask […]

Essays |

Hobbling Up The Magic Mountain

I just read Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. The whole thing. Starting on page one and ending on page 706. The events in the book span seven years, and reading it seemed to take almost as long. When I embarked on this project, I was recovering from orthopedic surgery … Why, then, would I want to read a lengthy book packed with intellectual digressions set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss Alps prior to the start of World War II? Hadn’t I been through enough? How about something light, or at least short? A Carol Goodman murder mystery, or something by Nick Hornby? As it turned out, The Magic Mountain was a choice so perfect I’m thinking a copy should be handed out with every pre-admission packet given to surgical patients…

Essays |

AWP: Hope Takes Flight in the Basement of the Hilton

At first, I didn’t care too much about the economic troubles of Wall Streeters, or people living off their investments, or people with things called “401ks.” Let them give up their limos and learn how to take the bus; let them eat at the table next to me at Ali Baba’s Kebab House. But then the publishing world followed. Has the prospect of getting a literary novel published plunged from very unlikely to totally unlikely to absolutely-forget-about-it-impossible with each drop of the Dow Jones average? Or is there hope?