All posts in the Books category

UNREAL: Writers Studio Teachers Read Their Work

Published October 4, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Join us on Oct. 18 for a public reading event, cohosted by Antigone Books and The Writers Studio. Teachers from the Tucson branch of The Writers Studio — Lela Scott MacNeil, Richard Leis, Donna Aversa, Reneé Bibby and myself — will read selections of poetry and prose that focus on the unusual, the dark, and the unreal.

WHERE: Antigone Books, 411 N 4th Ave, Tucson, Arizona 85705

WHEN: October 18, 2019 at 6:00 PM

No RSVP or admission fee is required.

At The Writers Studio Tucson, we pride ourselves on being active participants in Tucson’s thriving literary community. Please join us, and patronize Antigone Books, one of the finest independent bookstores in the country. Visit their web site and sign up for their newsletter.

The Writers Studio, founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Schultz in 1987, offers writing workshops designed to help students discover and nurture their own voices. The Writers Studio Tucson offers four levels of classes to help students achieve their writing goals.

For more information on The Writers Studio, click here

When Reality Doesn’t Cut It, UNREAL Is Our Best Friend!

See you on Oct. 18!



Published September 27, 2019 by Philip Ivory

So a few days ago, I posed the question: Which book is being reviewed here by the editor of The London Sunday Express?

” … the most infamously obscene book in ancient or modern literature … All the secret sewers of vice are canalized in its flood of unimaginable thoughts, images and pornographic words. And its unclean lunacies are larded with appalling and revolting blasphemies directed against the Christian religion and against the name of Christ — blasphemies hitherto associated with the most degraded orgies of Satanism and the Black Mass.”

That was a contemporary 1920s review of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

I came across that remarkable quote in the current (9/26/19) issue of The New York Review of Books. It reminds us that Ulysses, which among its other preoccupations details a variety of human sexual and excretory functions, repulsed many early readers, including Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats and even D.H. Lawrence. Lawrence, who celebrated lusty behavior in his own work, labeled Molly Bloom’s famous concluding soliloquy “the dirtiest,  most indecent, obscene thing ever written.” Other early readers such as T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway hailed the book as a masterpiece.

Take a look at “Ulysses on Trial,” The New York Review of Books‘ fascinating account of how publisher Bennet Cerf and ACLU lawyer Morris Ernst waged a brilliant and ultimately successful campaign to help Ulysses navigate its way around anti-obscenity laws so that Joyce’s master work could be published in the United States.


Writers Studio at 30 Anthology

Published December 16, 2018 by Philip Ivory

The WRITERS STUDIO AT 30 anthology, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the landmark school for creative writing and thinking founded and directed by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Philip Schultz, is now available for purchase at

The 400-page volume is a compilation of fiction and poetry by current and former faculty and students, as well as The Writers Studio’s Advisory Board members Jennifer Egan, Robert Pinsky, Edward Hirsch, Carl Dennis, Matthew Klam, Rosanna Warren, and others.

A fiction piece I wrote which originally appeared in The Airgonaut, titled “Probably Last Meeting of the Bluebell Ridge II Homeowners Association,” is featured in the volume, along with work by other teachers from the Tucson branch of The Writers Studio including Reneé Bibby, Lela Scott MacNeil and Eleanor Kedney.

CLICK HERE to order your copy of WRITERS STUDIO AT 30 today.



Debut Novel by Alice Hatcher: The Wonder That Was Ours

Published September 4, 2018 by Philip Ivory

My good friend and fellow Tucson writer Alice Hatcher had her debut novel published today, The Wonder That Was Ours, and I couldn’t be more excited. Congratulations, Alice!

I’m eager to get my copy, because Alice is an awesome writer, who combines a sense of history and social awareness with wry humor and an ability to create compelling characters who are flawed but deeply human.

If you’re in Tucson, come out this weekend to see Alice read from her novel and take questions at Barnes and Noble at 5130 E. Broadway at 2 PM on Saturday, Sept. 8.

The Wonder That Was Ours won Dzanc Books’ 2017 Prize for Fiction and can now be ordered through Amazon.

A former academic historian, Alice has published stories, essays and poems in such places as Alaska Quarterly Review, The Beloit Fiction Journal, Notre Dame Review, Lascaux Review, Fourth Genre, Contrary, Chautauqua, and Gargoyle, among other journals.

Adrienne Celt, author of Invitation to a Bonfire and The Daughters, says: “Hatcher’s unique narrators offer a bird’s-eye view of history, with all the glory and devastation that entails: an ambitious experiment that ends in an achingly compassionate achievement. This book is funny, warm, and piercingly intelligent―and it will probably break your heart.”

For more on Alice’s work, check out

Be sure to come out and meet her on Saturday. I’ll see you there!


Must-Read Horror

Published August 4, 2017 by Philip Ivory

For anyone interested in horror writing, this is a list published about a decade ago by the Horror Writers Association of must-reads in order to familiarize oneself with the genre. I must admit I have only read about a third of this list. It’s subjective, of course. I would definitely add Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Peter Straub and others. Shirley Jackson definitely belongs here, particularly and most egregiously since the list features only one woman, albeit in the most important, lead-off position. Hope this is stimulating, at least.

Twenty-One Horror Classics (list by Robert Weinberg*)
1. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
3. The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson
4. The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James
5. Burn, Witch, Burn! by A. Merrritt
6. To Walk the Night by William Sloane
7. The Dunwich Horror and Others by H. P. Lovecraft
8. Fear by L. Ron Hubbard
9. Darker than you Think by Jack Williamson
10. Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
11. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
12. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
13. Richard Matheson: Collected Stories, Vols. I, II, III
14. Hell House by Richard Matheson
15. The October Country by Ray Bradbury
16. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
17. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
18. Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg
19. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
20. The Stand by Stephen King
21. Watchers by Dean Koontz

*source: “On Writing Horror: A Handbook b The Horror Writers Association” 2007 Writer’s Digest Books

Writers Studio 30th Anniversary Anthology

Published April 20, 2017 by Philip Ivory

The Writers Studio is the renowned creative writing program founded in 1987 in New York by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Philip Schulz. With its branches in NYC, San Francisco, Tucson, Hudson Valley as well as its online and “Kids Write” components, Writers Studio has been helping poets and fiction writers reach their potential for 30 years.

Through my work with Writers Studio as a student and now as a teacher, I’ve become more confident at developing strong narrative voices that take command of my creative material. Using effective narrators that help guide the reader through a satisfactory literary experience has helped me  publish multiple short pieces and make progress on a novel, a first draft of which I hope to complete later this year.


To celebrate its three decades of helping writers develop their craft, Writers Studio is releasing a 500-page 30th anniversary anthology, featuring nearly 100 hundred authors. The publisher is Epiphany Editions.

The Writers Studio at 30 features work by Writers Studio advisory board members Jennifer Egan, Robert Pinsky, Edward Hirsch, Grace Schulman, Matthew Klam, Carl Dennis, and Jill Bialosky, as well as 30 years of students and teachers from its creative writing classes.

I’m proud to be one of the authors featured, with a short fiction piece titled “Probably Last Meeting of the Bluebell Ridge II Homeowners Association.” It was previously published in The Airgonaut.

A celebratory reading will be held in New York on May 6 at the Strand Bookstore to mark the occasion. Wish I could be there, but traveling to NY is not in my budget right now.

The Writers Studio at 30 Anthology should be a great resource for anyone interested in enjoying a smorgasbord of strong narrative voices used in service to poems and stories containing wildly divergent subject matter. 

Until May 6, you can pre-order the anthology at a discounted price of $20.

Click here for Discount Pre-Order.



Book Review: Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon

Published April 5, 2017 by Philip Ivory

Robert McCammon’s 1991 novel Boy’s Life (not to be confused with Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life: A Memoir) is a richly imagined, episodic, and often sentimental 1991 tale with horror/fantasy shadings about a white 12-year-old boy growing up in a racially segregated town in the south during the 60s. It’s an odd, rich soup, in which incidents involving good-old-boy townsfolk doing KKK stuff sit alongside fantastic bits like a stegosaurus getting loose from a circus van and then charging out of the woods to attack cars on the highway, mistaking them for rival dinosaurs.

In between, there are loads of Bradburian reminiscences from the perspective of our boy narrator, Cory. They are magical memories of small town growing up, awash in a romantic nostalgic afterglow. Tales of bullies, baseball, camping trips and nascent encounters with the mysterious species known as girls, as well as portraits of oddball locals like the rich guy’s grown son who walks around town stark naked. (Everyone in town is used to it.) There are also vignettes involving faithful dogs and a seemingly-enchanted bicycle with a personality all its own.

Along the way, we’re treated to danger, death and a mystery involving a murder victim submerged in a car in a lake, an incident witnessed by Cory and his dad. In particular, it’s Cory’s dad who’s haunted by the horror of not being able to help the bound, sinking victim. The quest for a solution to this mystery (no spoilers here), and the peace of mind it would bring to Cory’s dad, becomes the main unifying narrative thread, but dozens of others are woven in between.

Perhaps best to think of the book as a phantasmagorical tapestry with dollops of sociological/historical observations of the period. From a narrative perspective, the author unapologetically violates the perspective of his first-person narrator (Cory), cutting away to incidents that Cory did not witness. Whether this is a faux pas or an act of supreme authorial confidence is something the reader must decide.

I enjoyed the Boy’s Life a lot, although the episodic structure made forward narrative momentum sag in places, and its extremely fond and nostalgic perspective on growing up is a bit sweet for my taste. But the author cannot be faulted for lack of imagination or invention. This is a richly baked cake of the warm, wondrous, adventure-packed boyhood we all deserved but didn’t get.

Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life on Goodreads
Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life on Amazon


Tucson Poetry Event: The Offering with Eleanor Kedney

Published September 8, 2016 by Philip Ivory

Join Writers Studio Tucson for a special event on Sept. 9.  For details, visit:


Eleanor Kedney’s poems constantly surprise the reader with flashes of sheer intelligence and attention to language. While her spirited work no doubt engages the intellect, these are also poems of the body and the voice; this book never disappoints. The sensuality of The Offering is unavoidable and ultimately joyous. There is a music here that sings and rings and lingers in the mind.

—Juliet Patterson, winner of the Nightboat Books Prize

A Novel Kind of Conformity by Tim Parks | The New York Review of Books

Published December 1, 2015 by Philip Ivory

“Anything great and bold must be brought about in secrecy and silence, or it perishes and falls away, and the fire that was awakened dies.”

That’s a wonderful quote from the New York Times Book Review article I’m linking to below, which makes some trenchant points about the wisdom of thinking less about meeting the needs of a perceived marketplace … and thinking instead about doing something that nobody else is doing.

I’ve been thinking about that, because in the literary fiction book group I belong to, our next discussion book is the extraordinarily successful space survival adventure, “The Martian,” by Andrew Weir.

Since the focus in our group is largely on literary writing, this book is a slight departure for us … and one of the questions asked in advance is:  “How does one go about writing a best-seller?”

I kind of think that’s the wrong question.

I don’t know what Andrew Weir set out to do. I’m going to guess he wasn’t primarily taking a strategic approach to the marketplace, even though his miraculous success might make you think so.  I think instead he allowed himself to write about subjects he loves … technology, survival, space and problem-solving. He found a story with which to play with those ideas, and then he let himself have fun writing it.

Ray Bradbury said: “Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

Check out the essay below, which is good food for thought about freeing oneself from all the marketing considerations, and instead writing what you love, and letting your enthusiasm for the subject matter infuse your work. Hopefully,  your reader will be infected by your enthusiasm and willingly come along for the ride.

 Is it really possible to be free as a writer? Free from an immediate need for money, free from the need to be praised, free from the concern of how those close to you will respond to what you write, free from the political implications, free from your publisher’s eagerness for a book that looks like the last, or worse still, like whatever the latest fashion might be?

Source: A Novel Kind of Conformity by Tim Parks | The New York Review of Books

John Grisham on “Wiseblood”

Published November 11, 2015 by Philip Ivory

Feeling annoyed ….

Today Turner Classic Movies is showing films based on books by great southern writers. Author John Grisham was roped in to help TCM host Robert Osborne do intros and outros for the films, presumably because Grisham is considered a modern southern writer.

I just watched Grisham’s comments about one of my favorite oddball movies from the 70s, “Wiseblood” directed by the great John Houston, and based on the novel (mistakenly referred to by Grisham as a short story) by the great Flannery O’Connor.

After the movie finished, Osborne asked Grisham why he was grumbling … yes grumbling … during the screening, and Grisham went on to complain about the film having too much religion (a little like blaming Moby Dick for having too much whale) and then talked in a dismissive way about the proclivity of old time southern writers to deal too much with religion. He had nothing to say about O’Connor herself, whose short stories command respect for her peerless mastery of the form.

Brad Dourif in John Houston’s “Wiseblood” (1979).

“Wiseblood” is admittedly a difficult and troubling movie, based on a difficult and troubling book. But both book and movie shine with brilliance and are deserving of greater respect from Grisham, and TCM.

Grisham, I understand, is a religious man. Wikipedia cites him referring to his conversion to Christianity as “the most important event” in his life.

Flannery O’Connor was very devout as well. She was also not afraid to write about religion. In fact, the subject permeates her work. She was a Catholic, although her writing is predominantly about the lives and fates of southern Protestants. I’m not sure if O’Connor focused on religion so extensively because it was of tremendous personal importance to her … or because she recognized religion’s shaping influence across the southern states and thought that was something worth writing about.  Perhaps both. In any case, why is Grisham, a self-proclaimed religious fellow, not in greater sympathy with O’Connor’s writing?

The fact is, O’Connor’s religious south is far from a comforting place. It’s not full of genteel homilies out of Sunday school. It’s a fairly savage landscape, populated by often grotesque characters who are severely challenged with regard to such cardinal virtues as  compassion and concern for others. They are often ignorant and self-satisfied. Racism is taken as a given.

So is violence.  This is from her classic story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”:

“She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

In O’Connor’s world, life is short and stupid, but salvation, oddly enough, is around any corner. It comes at her characters like freight trains crashing through front parlor walls, taking them off guard, crushing them out of earthly existence, but bestowing that most valuable gift of enlightenment and grace, just when it is least expected.

O’Connor does not make religion, or the south, seem cozy or safe. Perhaps that’s what John Grisham doesn’t cotton to.

Said O’Connor about “Wiseblood”:

“It is a comic novel about a Christian malgre lui (in spite of himself), and as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death.”

Not only did Grisham pass over O’Conner’s huge significance in 20th century literature, he also showed scant interest in the film’s director, John Houston, a monumental filmmaker who adapted Joyce and Melville and O’Connor and other literary heavyweights, with varying success. It seems unlikely Houston would have been interested in dramatizing one of Grisham’s potboilers.

But then, John Grisham has had 8 or 9 films made from his work, and Flannery O’Connor only one. I guess he gets the last laugh.

I’m just not sure TCM should have recruited him as an expert on great southern writers.  Let’s just say, if you ask me what is next in this sequence … William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, _________ … my answer wouldn’t be: John Grisham.