Anxiety & The Writing Life

When I decided to write about Tim Parks’ new essay collection Life and Work: Writers, Readers, and the Conversations between Them, I didn’t intend to write about panic attacks, anxiety and the emotional toll of the writing life, but these themes curiously bubbled up to the surface. I was also writing it for The Millions, which unlike the Los Angeles Review of Books, for example, avoids straight-up reviews, forcing me to look for interesting themes across Parks’ divergent essays. One of his pieces focused on Samuel Beckett–no stranger to anxiety himself–and this led me to Anthony Cronin’s fine Beckett biography, which helped give me some additional material.

samuel beckett photo
Photo by TANAZE

The piece is titled “The Writer is Not Here: On Nihilism and the Writing Life,” and I can also say that when I was reading Parks’ collection, I was finishing my own novel and experiencing a certain amount of anxiety in the process. Not anxiety in the career sense (i.e., have I written a good book?), but at the level of raw nerves, of scratching at emotional wounds, of going deep.

The essay was well received. It has been mentioned in The Paris Review Daily, 3 Quarks Daily, and also in The Rumpus. I suppose the topic is not unfamiliar to writers who “go deep” on a regular basis.

Japanese Novelist Hideo Furukawa & Fukushima

I recently wrote a review of Hideo Furukawa’s new novel Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale That Begins with Fukushima for The Quarterly Conversation. Furukawa is a native of Fukushima and his memoir-like novel recounts elements of his journey back to Fukushima in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that stunned the country in March of 2011.

Book Review of Horses, Hideo Furukawa

I was in the city of Fukushima in May of 2011 visiting a friend, and there were great concerns about radiation and the long-term health effects of the nuclear disaster. And while I saw massive cracks in buildings, the city itself was spared the terrors of the tsunami because of its distance from the coast.

My review has some background on Furukawa. His is a writer we will be hearing more about in the West as his work becomes translated and more widely available. In addition to reading Horses, you can also get an interesting and novelistic take on the events in Fukushima by reading William T. Vollmann’s Byliner book on his trip there, or his long form piece in Harper’s. 

A Marine’s Vietnam Story & Other Writing

Operation Georgia - Marines blow up bunkers and tunnels used by the Viet Cong

This month I published a creative nonfiction story titled “The Consecration” in Booth, the literary journal of Butler University. The story is taken from my recently-completed memoir, and recounts my teenage friendship with a Marine Gunnery Sergeant who had fought in Vietnam as a combat engineer.

This week I also published a book review in Full Stop where I looked at recent works by novelist Marilynne Robinson and French philosopher Pascal Bruckner in light of today’s disheartening culture wars.

Writers & Day Jobs


For my January article in Full Stop I wrote about writers and day jobs with a little intro about T.S. Eliot and his years working as a clerk at Lloyd’s bank in London.

I couldn’t have imagined the interest that the article generated across the Internet over the last week and a half. There are clearly a lot of writers who work full-time and are conflicted about what this does to their creative work.

Here is a sampling of the sites that wrote about and linked to the essay:

Casting Sophia Coppola in ‘The Leopard’

My Twitter friend the writer Kim Askew invited me to guest post on her site Romancing the Tome last week as part of a celebration of the release of her new book Tempestuous (co-authored with Amy Helmes). I wrote about one of my favorite novels The Leopard by the Italian writer Giuseppe di Lampedusa and why director Francis Ford Coppola should use it as a vehicle to redeem Sophia Coppola’s notoriously poor acting performance in his 1990 film The Godfather III.

Hoping Sophia Coppola one day stars in ‘The Leopard’

I was honored to guest post for Kim alongside such luminaries as famed literary networker Lauren Cerand, writer and editor Edward Champion and publisher Richard Nash.

This is not the first time I’ve written about Sophia Coppola. Last year in The Millions I imagined moving to Paris and bumping into Sophia and her singer husband Thomas Mars somewhere in the Latin Quarter.

My ‘Full Stop’ Piece on David Foster Wallace

Recently I had the good fortune to be named a monthly contributor to Full-Stop Magazine. For my December piece, I wrote how I had been unknowingly “shadowing” the late-novelist David Foster Wallace across America for years. When I read the novel Infinite Jest back in 1996 or ’97,  I immediately recognized that Wallace and I shared connections to some very odd and specific American places.

Vol. 1 Brooklyn linked to the article today as part of their “Morning Bites” daily round-up. Morning Bites (and Afternoon Bites) features some of the best literary and cultural writing  online and is well-worth keeping tabs on.

I have blogged about David Foster Wallace before. Most recently I wrote about the mystery surrounding religion and David Foster Wallace. There is a lot of speculation that DFW had been something of a closet Christian–but the issue of his faith in not a clear one–and D.T. Max’s new biography seems to discredit the notion that Wallace was a believing Christian.

Whereby the National Book Critics Circle Mentions Me

Book critic Mark Athitakis, the respected author of the blog American Fiction Notes and editor of the National Book Critics Circle’s blog “Critical Mass,” included my essay on Yukio Mishima in one off their weekly roundups last month. It was an honor to be mentioned on the site and with so many other gifted writers. Each week Critical Mass provides a great rundown of the best reviews and essays in the literary world.

‘First Things’ Blogs on my New ‘Full Stop’ Feature

I really love the headline that First Things gave to their blog post about my feature essay in Full Stop:  “Roger Scruton and Yukio Mishima Walk into a Doughnut Shop…” That’s perfect.

Read the First Things post on my essay about Mishima, Roger Scruton and beauty.

Robert Fay essay on Mishima in First Things


My New Essay in The Rumpus

I have a piece up at The Rumpus today titled “The Dreams of a Shrinking Nation” which is both an essay on the Japanese mega-pop band Dreams Comes True (my wife is a big fan) as well as a light-hearted look at Japan’s current demographic problems. The occasion for the essay was an Oct. 1, 2011 appearance by Dreams Come True at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.

The band typically plays soccer stadiums in Japan and so the opportunity for Japanese fans in California to see the band in an intimate setting was a big deal. I had a lot of fun writing the essay.

Screenshot of Robert Fay's essay on the band Dreams Come True