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Mar 31 14

Springtime in the City

by BLH

Are you craving spring? It’s been a hard winter along the east coast this year, as both Bostonians and New Yorkers can attest. We’ve had brutal, biting bold and bitter wind; it’s felt more than usual that Winter was a conscious presence in our lives, breathing its spiteful breath down our necks.

Winter can be demoralizing; I know I’ve holed up a little this season, concentrating on my work, on getting through the week, on binging on food and cheap entertainment on the weekends. Winter encourages us to crawl back inside ourselves a little. But there’s also nothing so liberating as a New England spring, perhaps because we’ve had to suffer a little to earn it. There’s always that first day that looks just as gray as the rest, but when you step outside, you feel an unexpected gentleness in the air, a promise of spring if not spring itself. You still wear your parka and your boots and you end up sweating when you’re outside. The rain washes your old salty coat and washes the filthy crusts of snow down the gutter.

It’s been an especially long winter this year; it had me thinking about one of my favorite books growing up, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, one of the sequels to the classic Little House on the Prairie. In this epic story, the cold is so relentless and fierce that the entire town runs out of food and wood; Laura must weave knots of straw just to make something that will burn. We folk in the city certainly never have to experience winters like that; the worst of our seasons are gentled and insulated against. But still, we work hard, and we’re out there every day, tramping in our boots. And maybe this week or the next, we’ll be rewarded with spring.

Mar 14 14

Boston Launch Party!

by BLH

At our second launch party in Boston, we rocked the Middlesex Lounge. We introduced the mission of Two Cities, held a raffle, heard contributor L. Michael Hager read from his work, and met some great new literary friends. Thanks to everyone who came out for the event, and thanks as well to our wonderful writers.

Here’s our reader, L. Michael Hager:

This means that issue 1 is officially launched! You can read it online at our Current Issue page, or you can buy a print copy online at the following link, at Lulu:

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Keep following us for more thoughts on the city literary life, and don’t forget to Submit your work for our summer issue of Two Cities Review!

Feb 24 14

Are You a Binge Reader?

by BLH

I saw an interesting post on the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog the other day about a new trend in entertainment consumption that book publishers are trying to capitalize on. We’ve all heard of “binge watching” as the new it term for sitting down and bombing through an entire season of “Battlestar Galactica” or “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix; there’s something absolutely addictive not only in the way the episodes are framed these days, but even in the way they’re queued on our computers, inviting us to watch more and more. Now publishers are trying to make “binge reading” a thing. The Christian Science Monitor has more: read the article here.

Do you think binge reading will catch on the way binge watching has? I think there are two problems with the way the article is being framed; first, likening binge reading to binge viewing is misunderstanding the fundamental difference in thought that occurs when reading and when watching tv; and second, binge reading has already existed long before the advent of television. This may sound a little contradictory, but bear with me.
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Feb 14 14

Writing Romance

by BLH

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! My return to a regular writing schedule is coinciding with this somewhat fraught holiday, so I couldn’t get away without commenting briefly on it. For lovers, Valentine’s Day is a good marker on the calendar, at least as a way to do something special for our significant others. For the single, Valentine’s Day can be a cause for frustration, bitterness, or resentment, or a reminder of loneliness — but of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re single and happy to be that way, just let the holiday pass you by. Treat it as one of those many calendar holidays that we don’t really pay attention to, such as Arbor Day or Groundhog’s Day (no offense to the arbor or groundhog enthusiasts out there).

In any case, Valentine’s Day is a chance to think about writing about love and romance. Check out past posts I’ve written about How to Write Romance, How to Write about Flowers, and How to Write Gender in Fiction. And below, check out a new Writerly Life exclusive: the post I wrote only for my ebook, How to Write Sex Scenes. Enjoy, and have a fun holiday, whether you’re alone, with a special someone, or among a crowd tonight.

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Feb 14 14

Back to the Writing Challenge

by BLH

Hello readers! It’s been an inexcusably long time since I’ve written, but now that the new semester has begun and I have a snow day to catch up, I’m re-committing to Writerly Life. As I’ve written many times in the past, business is no excuse for neglecting the projects in your life that you truly care about. Managing a creative life is about prioritizing, and while it’s certainly possible to be over-programmed, it’s often surprising how much time and energy you can make for yourself in the day if you care enough about finding it.

So although my schedule is more full than it has ever been before, I’m taking that as a challenge to re-focus on what my priorities are. I’m working hard at keeping new writing projects in the works even as I concentrate on polishing and sending out my novel manuscript; and I’m also committed to keeping my online writing going. I’ll keep up with the usual regular updates, thoughts, and tips related to the writing life.

So how do you make room for your creative goals, readers? I’d be delighted to hear what little methods or strategies you have for keeping a thread of creativity in your life.

Jan 21 14

A Trip to Melbourne

by BLH

I’m just back from a three-week trip to Melbourne, Australia, where I traveled to visit the family of friends and get a taste of a new city. I’ve visited the city just once before and had a wonderful time, and this trip was fantastic too. It was just delicious to get some relaxation away from all screens and devices and spend my days eating and walking and exploring. There was nothing fantastically exotic that I saw in Melbourne, besides a trip to the zoo; it is a distinctly familiar city to me, because Australian culture has so much in common with American culture. Specifically, the city of Melbourne has so much overlap with the city of Boston.

You can start with the size of the city, which at a few million, is right around Boston’s size. As an American, you’ll also be surprised to see all the usual fast food places you know lining the busy, pedestrian-friendly streets. (KFC, for one, is huge there for some reason, but you don’t get biscuits — you get chips, a.k.a. American fries). The Australian accent even shares some commanalities with a Boston accent, with its broad a’s and dropped r’s. You’d “pahk your cah” in both Boston and Melbourne. More than that, though, there’s a kind of cultural vibe that Boston and Melbourne just might share; a friendliness, business, and hopping intellectual life that I saw evidence of. We’re both small, but we act cosmopolitan.

Australia and the United States should get along pretty well, because they’re both the slightly coarser, bumpkin cousins of Great Britain, though Australia holds its ties to Britain much closer. Most of the television is British, as is the interest in British celebrities. Some people I hung out with knew all the details of the royal family, for example, whereas I think most Americans don’t know more than the queen and her direct descendants. Australia maintains a close cultural handshake with Great Britain, whereas a lot of America is disdainful or uneasy of any connection to England.

There were perhaps only two major differences I saw in my brief tourist’s view of this lovely city; the first was the proliferation of Asian culture and cuisine, and the second was something more intangible. Because of its proximity to Asia, Australia has benefitted from the things that Asian immigrants have brought with them. Just as Mexican food is accessible and known everywhere in America, Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian food is cheap, ubiquitous, and delicious in Melbourne. You can get fast food or street food from most countries of Asia on every street corner.

The second difference might be the most fundamental shift from American to Australian life. From the little I’ve seen, and from what I’ve heard when I questioned Aussies, it seems that Aussies are far more laid-back than Americans. There’s a certain calm, friendly laisse-faire attitude that fills every part of life. Americans are certainly casual about some things, but we are very heated and violently polarized about others. Politics are deadly serious and can divide the nation sharply. The whole time I was in Australia, the people I saw didn’t get too fussed about anything, even when they didn’t approve of the government’s latest doings. It’s a great place to spend a vacation for that reason — it’s just hard to rile the typical Aussie character.

The mirror image of Boston was presented to me in other ways, too — I happened to be there right in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave. I was watching matches of the Australian Open on a 112-degree day. I’d never felt such extreme heat; it was hard to breathe, and impossible to keep my clothes from getting soaked in sweat. This was at pretty much the same time that Boston was struggling through record-breaking lows in the temperature. Go figure.

There were a few moments of startling discrimination that came from some drunk train passengers, but you can find that kind of attitude in America as well. Again, the attitudes of Americans and Australians seem closely intertwined. It’s funny to think of a brother city, a parallel Boston, or a parallel Melbourne, almost exactly around the world.

Jan 20 14

We Did It!

by BLH

GREAT news, readers — Two Cities Review‘s Kickstarter campaign has been successfully funded! That means we’ll be able to launch our first issue and give it the support and attention it needs to be great. Thank you tremendously for your support; if you’re a backer, you’ll soon be receiving news via email about what rewards are available and how to make sure you receive them. You can expect plenty of exciting updates to come about our launch parties in Boston and New York and the work that will be appearing in our first issue. But there’s one thing you won’t have to read anymore: that’s me begging you for support!

Spread the word about our first issue, which we are targeting for a March release, and stay tuned to hear more reflections on city life and information about our launch. Thanks again, backers!

Jan 3 14

Countdown: My FAVORITE Read This Year Is…

by BLH

I’ve been counting down my top ten read of 2013 as our Kickstarter project counts down. We now have just a few days left and we need your help! Consider donating, and in the meantime, take a look at my FAVORITE read of 2013.

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner

I just can’t get over Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers. It is so wildly exciting as a story for so many reasons. It’s dark and dangerous; it’s cold and clear and beautiful; it’s got some kick-ass female characters; it’s sensitive and sad; it enlightened me about what a few corners of the world looked like in the 1970′s that I knew virtually nothing about. It does all these things, and is also just a rip-roaring good read.

The story follows “Reno” as she’s known, a young female motorcycle enthusiast who somehow ends up in the landspeed motorcycle racing time trials across the barren salt flats of the western United States. Reno loves racing for the speed, but somehow she becomes caught up in the 70′s intellectual art scene of New York. In this crowd, every act is a statement, every event a creation of art. So her focus on motorcycle racing becomes something of an artistic statement, and it grants her entry into a very exclusive club.

As we’ll see, the world of the 70′s art scene is cruel; even as it claims to espouse liberation of every kind, it actually polices its members. Gender and sexuality are explored here with a stunning eye for detail and nuance of meaning. And that’s only the beginning. The Flame Throwers captures the world of a youthful, transgressive, and misguided, or self-deluded, culture. It captures revolutions in Italy and slave labor in South America. Its reach is truly global, even as its story is inherently personal. I can’t recommend this stunning, original book highly enough.

Thats my top ten! What are YOUR favorite reads of 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014? And can you help get our magazine launched? Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

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Jan 1 14

Countdown: My Second Favorite Read This Year Is…

by BLH

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year, and we’re almost at the end!. My second favorite read is the oldest book on the list; it’s a classic I only got around to reading recently. Read on to find out that my second favorite read this year was…

Middlemarch, George Eliot

I’m not the biggest Victorian lit fan. Jane Austen has some good moments, but overall I’m usually bored; the writing can be very dry, and the reflections of people and their doings too outdated to apply to people today. I therefore avoided George Eliot and her Middlemarch, thinking it would be typical nineteenth century British literature. How wrong I was!

It’s hard to describe what is so profoundly moving in the large, leisurely story of Middlemarch. Here’s what I wrote in an earlier review:

Middlemarch succeeded in utterly beguiling me. It’s less like Austen to me, and more like Henry James; it is passionate, realistic, and willing to gaze upon the lives of unhappy individuals with great clarity and compassion. Unlike the stories of Austen, which generally bear toward a marriage, several marriages happen in Middlemarch right at the outset. The drama will stem not from who will marry whom, but what life will truly be like after these matches, for better or for worse, have been made. One storyline follows Dorothea, an enlightened, modern women with great wisdom, ambition, and intelligence. She is a wonderful character to follow, full of identifiable emotion, passion, and loyalty. She marries an older man who is a respected scholar because she believes she wants to support him in his great work; but to Dorothea’s dismay, and the reader’s as well, we discover that his work is useless and backward, the scholarship that he has been devoting his life to an utter waste of time. Through Eliot’s graceful writing, we can see a marriage, having lost its foundation, crumbling from within.

There are other married-life dramas within this story, including another marriage that seems to begin on the best of terms, but begins to fall apart as husband and wife discover how little they know about each other and how unwilling they are to understand each other. Eliot’s descriptions of the small bitternesses of relationships, and how wounds can fester, or how chasms can open between people who once loved each other, are sensitive and real. They feel as relevant to relationships today as they must have been about marriages of a previous century. Frequently I felt myself associating guiltily with the character of Rosamond, whose utter self-absorption causes rifts to open in her marriage. She firmly believes each new hardship is done deliberately to spite her or marr her happiness; it’s these sorts of perspectives that I feel I take when I’m at my worst. And it’s these sorts of perspectives that can make relationships fall apart.

Of course, in the time and place of Middlemarch, divorce or breakups are not an option; so the members of these unhappy unions must struggle along the best they can, facing a lifetime of dischord. They realize that unhappy marriages can mean a lifetime of smothering their true selves, or subjugating their wills to others; but a chance for freedom, even at the risk of social disapproval, might just be worth taking.

Middlemarch is a small-town gossip novel; it’s a gripping portrait of troubled family life; it’s a coming-of-age novel; it’s even a murder mystery. I found it riveting, honest, subtle, and true. It’s the first book in a long while that I’ve felt a real, personal connection to. Finally, I get what all the hype was about.

Stay tuned for my FAVORITE read of 2013, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

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Dec 30 13

Countdown: My 3rd Favorite Read This Year Is…

by BLH

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My third favorite read is the only short story collection on my life. Read on to find out that my third favorite read this year was…

Dear Life, Alice Munro

What a triumph that Alice Munro should win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. The timing couldn’t have been better, considering she published what might be her very best story collection yet a year ago. After a few decades and a few dozen books, Alice Munro’s mastery of the short story is unmatched; her writing has a clear, fluid beauty to it, as though you were holding water in your hands. The stories in Dear Life have that crystalline quality, as well as her usual warm understanding of humanity, but they are also among her most tightly plotted stories, with startling twists and taut suspense at every turn.

In this collection, Munro is making some of the more bold choices of her storywriting career, pushing characters to the brink. I somehow found these stories to hold more deadly emotional violence, more devastating choices, than ever before. Her writing is stunning on every page, her cold weary understanding of the choices we make to grow up, the quiet sacrifices we make, at its very height. There’s warmth here, too — a calm glowing portrayal of the inner life all people have.

We’re almost at my favorite read this year! Stay tuned, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

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