Columbia Fiction School Uncategorized

MFA Personal Statement

I’m including this because during the application process I couldn’t find a single example of a successful MFA statement, so here’s mine:


My literary practice began as a reaction to an alien environment, and at its best retains the defiant posture of exile. I was born in London but dragged through a progression of increasingly strange, pungent countries by my parents, who were both foreign correspondents. Our last post was New Delhi, a dusty megalopolis teeming with medico-pharmacological complexes, sleek five star hotels whose clattering silverware and condensation-streaked windows conceal croaking lepers and shantytowns that look like dried mud puddles behind the tinted glass of an A/C taxi cab.

I attended an American Embassy School in an armed compound but prowled the city after-hours, trying to assemble my own version of the crystalline future I was convinced my homeland was sliding into and I could only glimpse at through the trickle of data coming over our 2,400-baud Internet connection. I collected transistors and halogen bulbs, gobbled waxy orange spansules of dubious intelligence-expanding pharmaceuticals intended for Alzheimer’s patients, and put out an underground newspaper called The Green Banana. My stories (pastiche of William Gibson and line art traced from The Last Whole Earth Catalogue) were typed, snipped into columns, taped onto B4 paper ‘plates’ and photocopied. My largest run was 300 copies, and peculiar enough to keep me confined to the school library “under supervision” by soft-spoken, khaki-clad American strangers when the Clintons came to visit.

I moved to the United States in 1997 for college, expecting to become a combination chemical engineer, architect and painter. The United States I found left me reeling; I drifted in and out of college, moved to Colorado, then California, then Hong Kong to intern at TIME magazine. I held jobs at casinos, in toy factories, forged bronze bells in an architectural commune in the Arizona desert, reading and writing throughout. At various moments Don Delilo, J.G. Ballard, Rudy Rucker, Jonathan Lethem, James Ellroy, Peter Carey, Martin Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Stone, and W. Somerset Maugham all fundamentally re-wired the way I thought about literature.

Early on my “real” work was patchy, more cartoonish doodle than writing, but gradually it began to take shape, particularly after working as a freelance journalist and online editor. I moved to New York City in 2002 and completed my undergraduate education at the Columbia’s School of General Studies in 2007, where, with help of superb instructors like Sam Lipsyte and Joanna Hershon I learned to discipline myself and pin down ideas, build the story-making machinery, and churn memories into fiction. What I want from grad school is to come in from the cold, to contextualize my work within the larger discourse of contemporary writing and perfect my exile patois. I completed my first novel in May, it was an attempt to harness that angry sense of alienation I used to exist in; though the story veered off into thriller territory in the latter third, I feel I have reached the point where I am confident enough for informed feedback and that, above all else is what I am really looking for.


Play the News Game


Culture 11 Op-Ed

Why Attack Hotels?

Take the population of New York City, double it, cram it into an archipelago half its size, and turn up the temperature: you get Mumbai, a city whose luxury hotels are its best escape. These air-conditioned comfort bubbles, far above the sweltering, seething masses, afford the world-weary traveler or Indian executive access to the best restaurants, luxuries like crisp croissants and pepperoni pizza, glossy magazines that haven’t yet gone limp in the relentless humidity, water that won’t give you “Delhi Belly,” and respite from the traffic jams and screeching hawkers on the streets below… (LINK)


The Madness of the Upper Class

My latest article, about my brief stay in a 5th Avenue Penthouse:

Illustration from L Mag

Readers humbled by New York City’s billionaire hedge fund managers and their trustafarian progeny may take some comfort in knowing that Andrew Carnegie’s warning about wealth slipping between the fingers of subsequent generations?“from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”?still applies. … click to read.


Yale Herald

It’s my website, that’s why I am linking to articles about me.

We had a business writing seminar at work yesterday and the instructor described my sample business correspondence as being ‘I-centered.’ I avoided the poison words in it, however.


Quantico, Virgina

Marine Museum

The Marine Museum in Quantico, Virginia. The rest of the campus is mainly red brick and barracks:


A little ways off, near the Marine University, is the Research Center:

Marine Research Center

Somewhere inside is a bust of Col. John Boyd,  I tried to get close but the place was closed. Still, I pressed my nose up against the glass for a look:

The front of the Marine Corps Research Center

I got closer and closer:

Up against the glass

Turns out this wasn’t Boyd… so what lurked behind the glass?

Air and Space Museum


New site for old Spectator clippings


Clippings Uncategorized

Spook Country

I have an essay out next week in The L Magazine about William Gibson’s latest novel, Spook Country. This post will eventually become an excuse to link to it.

The L Magazine

Truth be told, I was a little disappointed by Gibson’s latest. I was reminded of Tibor Fischer’s review of Martin Amis’ Yellow Dog, “it’s like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.”

I liked Yellow Dog, I’ve been on a serious Martin Amis kick since moving up to New Haven and I think sentence-wise it’s better than Money or London Fields. I’d dig out some quotes, but my Yellow Dog is under bedbug quarantine, wrapped tight in permethrin-laced plastic right now.

Partly I don’t like Spook Country because Gibson’s veering off from science fiction, which I think is a cop-out. But more to the point, I think the whole book is a conscious attempt to replace the Neuromancer metaphor for cyberspace. He’s trying to say that cyberspace is becoming just another layer of consciousness, which would be fine but it’s rammed down your throat–all these layers of things other than technology floating about, influencing characters… oh, it’s all so hacky.

The worst is when the omniscent narrator voice goes into the head of a young Cuban character. The writing gets self-consciously ethnic-sounding, like you can tell Gibson has been reading all this breathy, badly translated Latin fiction and has decided that’s the way Cubans think. Worst of all, Gibson has pared down his prose and, let’s just say he’s no Martin Amis once he loses the density.

Spook Country is still worth a read, though, I mean he’s still a good writer. But the density is what made his writing, without it it’s flaccid, sloopy (not sloppy, sloopy) stuff. Plus he’s wrong about his Internet metaphor. Information operates like grammar does, it’s about linkages between things and not about things themselves. It’s still a concept metaphor, what the Internet is and will become reflects that. That’s what pattern recognition is, I think, it’s seeing the ‘shape’ of a network of intermingled exchanges.