A Note on Notes, an Update on Updates, a Work in Progress

—When I feel not totally certain of what the point of having my own website is, I remind myself that it seems kind of useful to have your own bibliography and your own bio in one place (for the odd person out there who might be asking the Google “I loved this story in Fence but what else has Tom Hopkins written? I must know”), and which is worth a few bucks a year to maintain, I think.

—My tag line (up there in the upper left hand corner) is currently “sporadic news and occasional updates,” but it’s really pretty damn sporadic and occasional these days. In part, I guess, because I don’t send out stories all that much anymore—I only have a couple pieces out at the moment—so it’s been a while since I had one of those lovely phone calls or emails from an editor letting me know they want to publish something I wrote.

—On very rare occasions, I tweet; slightly more frequently, I post photos to Instagram.

—The best and most exciting news we’ve got these days is that The Book of Esther is out in paperback as of 8/22. (I posted a square-cropped version of the following to Instagram on 8/1.)

a box of The Book of Esther by Emily Barton

—Did you see that the novel was in last Sunday’s Paperback Row? (Quoting: “For her novel, Barton imagines a thriving Khazar kingdom in the throes of World War II — crafting a world and a story that are, as our reviewer, Dara Horn, said, ‘as addicting as a Jewish “Game of Thrones.”’”) (I posted a square-cropped version of the following to Instagram on 8/27.)

—Did you see the “5 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Inspired by Jewish History and Culture” post in Unbound Worlds last Thursday? Or the Begin in Wonder review?

—In other news (and this is also a contributing factor to why I have absolutely no short-story news), I’m writing a novel. The way I described it to Emily was “an autofiction wrapped in a writing dare wrapped in a false document”; in an email to a writer friend and mentor, I wrote this: “one shorthand way to describe it would be Knausgard meets Nabokov, although I should hasten to add 1) I haven’t read Knausgard and 2) that sounds more highfallutin than I think this thing actually is.”

I’m realizing now, though, that it’d be slightly more accurate than Knausgard-meets-Nabokov to call it John Cheever meets Anne Lamott meets Sarah Manguso meets Jenny Offill.

I’m going to try, if I can, to write progress reports on how the novel is going in this space on a regular basis, but I may completely fail to do so. The novel may fail; the reports about the novel may fail. (Again: what’s the point of having your own website? Whatever you want the point to be. The age of blogging may be long gone, but I’m trying to keep the fierce digital individualism of Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget as my lodestar here.) We’ll see.

—In other writing news, I also wrote a sequel to The Year of Living Autobiographically, but it may be just too damn dark to share. I think it might be called The Year of Living Ignominiously. It’s definitely on the back burner for now.

—I don’t have anything smart to say about this, but like most people I know, I’m thinking about mortality a lot these days; in my case, one of the specific ways I’ve been thinking about mortality is the fact that one of my childhood friends died suddenly this past January. I knew he wrote, but I discovered at his memorial service that Brian Shea wrote a lot, and published his own work. I am full of awe at the same time that I am full of grief.

Here’s a picture of me, age forty-seven, and Toby, age nine. I was nine when I met Brian. This is Toby and me at Brian’s memorial in June.

Toby and me in Maine

Brian also was a frequent contributor to The Good Men Project. I really want his essays there to become a book. I don’t quite know what I can do to make that happen, but for now, I’m leaving this link here, to create one more thread in the universe to his words, and I’m remembering what Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark, that we don’t know what the outcome of our actions will be, but we sure as hell know what the outcome of our lack of actions will be. (Timothy Snyder makes much the same point at the end of On Tyranny.)

More soon, I hope. Onward.

LEGOs: an Essay, by Tobias Hopkins, Age Eight

LEGOs are fun. If I got a brand new box of LEGOs, I’d open the box, then I’d open the bags that are inside of it. Then I’d pour out the LEGOs, but I wouldn’t sort them. It’s a little more fun to just look for the LEGOs, to dig through them. If you sort them, then everything would be with other pieces that are the same color, and it would be harder to find them, because they’d blend in.

Then I’d open up the instructions and I’d start building with what it says. It can be kind of hard, because the instructions don’t have any words, they just show you pictures. Sometimes the pictures are more like diagrams. I look at the picture of the LEGO piece I need, and I try to find it. Then I look at the picture of what that step should look like after I put the LEGOs together. Then I put them on the actual structure to do that step.

Sometimes it doesn’t go exactly right and I have to redo it. Sometimes I haven’t done exactly what the directions showed because it’s hard to tell what the directions are showing. I redo it if it’s not correct. It can be frustrating if you get a step wrong, but then it’s really fun once you get it right.

When I do it the right way, that feels good. If you get the directions correct, then you just move on to the next step. It keeps on going like that.

As you keep working on the kit, it gets bigger and bigger. At first it looks like a couple tiny pieces, and then it starts to look like what it’s supposed to look like. It looks better as it grows. When I built a treehouse, I started to be able to put more parts on it that moved in interesting ways. But not all LEGOs can move, and that’s okay.

Each step that you take when you’re building a LEGO set gets more exciting, because each step gets you closer to being able to play with it. And when I finish it, I feel really great about it. I feel proud that I followed the directions and made something that looks good.

A LEGO dragon that I built, after I finished, I took it apart so I could build the same thing again. I left some of the pieces together, like the head, and some pieces I had to put together from scratch, and I put all the parts back together. Some LEGO kits, after you build them, you just play with them.

If there’s anything that moves in a finished LEGO set, you can move that around. If there are humans involved, you can play with the humans by moving them around and having them do different things.

We also have a box of LEGOs that are all different kinds of pieces that can let you build a lot of different kinds of things. It used to have directions for how to build a fire truck, a house with a dog inside of it, and a few other things, but I ripped up those directions one time when I was really frustrated. So now when you use that box of LEGOs, you do things that you want to do, and you can’t use instructions, which also turns out to be kind of fun. I’ve ended up making things like a giant box thing on wheels, a swimming pool, and a couple different kinds of cars.

I like doing both kinds of LEGOs, but I prefer the ones with instructions. Then you get to play with things that have a lot of cool stuff and that actually look like real things.

I hope you enjoyed my story about LEGOs. (If you’d like to learn more about LEGOs, go to Wikipedia. On the LEGO website, you can see many different kits that they make and you can do games and stuff.)

—Tobias Ezekiel Hopkins
Kingston, NY
26 March 2017

A note from the publisher—that is to say, me, Tom, his dad: Toby wrote this essay for a publication class he’s been taking before and after the school day. This story will be included in an anthology that his teachers will be publishing at the end of the school year with CreateSpace; the book will serve as a fundraiser for the school. Once the anthology is published, I’ll add a link to the book’s buy page here.

While Toby did not type the essay, his mother, Emily, served as his transcriptionist, or stenographer. As a writer and writing teacher herself, she made no attempt to “improve” the work during its composition. A few times, she encouraged the author, in Socratic fashion, to prefer the specific to the general. The ultimate choices of words, sentences, and paragraphs are very much the author’s own.