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Tupelo Quarterly (Call for Submissions!)

Tupelo QuarterlyLast October, I became a Senior Prose Editor at a new literary journal called Tupelo Quarterly, which is published online by Tupelo Press under the direction of Editor in Chief Jessamyn Smyth. I’m excited to be working alongside great authors such as Elizabeth Eslami (Bone Worship and Hibernate [spring 2014]), E. J. Levy (Love, In Theory), and many other poets, prose writers, and translators.

I came on board following the release of Issue #1 but just in time to help with the first Prose Open, which was judged by author Matt Bell (The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, Cataclysm Baby, How They Were Found). Check out the winning story, “Laps” by JoAnna Novak,  as well as “Jesus’ Son,” my own introduction to finalist Chelsea Werner-Jatzke’s wonderful short short “Sweet Nothing: A Manifesto.” There’s a ton of other great stories, poems, and artwork in Issue #2 as well!

We are currently accepting submissions for TQ3, which will feature the winners of our second Poetry Contest, judged by Alicia Ostriker. We use Submittable for contest entries and open submissions. Click here to submit your work!

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“Marlon Brando” Translation Hits the Shelves

Anatomy of an Actor: Marlon BrandonI’m happy to announce that Florence Colombani’s Marlon Brando, translated from the French by Lucy McNair and yours truly, was officially released today. The book tracks Brando’s career through ten iconic roles. It is available via the Phaidon store and on Amazon.

The New York Journal of Books just tweeted me their review of the English-language edition, in which Vinton Rafe McCabe writes that Colombani’s lushy illustrated biography “guarantees equal degrees of enjoyment, enlightenment, and giggling nostalgia. There is a vibrancy, a flush to the writing as if the author were pouring a glass of some very good wine and sharing anecdotes across the dinner table.”

The Anatomy of an Actor series is being launched at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. In an interview with Port magazine, Colombani talks about Brando’s legacy and her inspiration for writing the book.

Finally, if you missed it last October, check out my post called “My Afternoon with Truman Capote,” which is about the day I spent at the Library of Congress digging through Capote’s handwritten notes for a New Yorker piece called “The Duke in His Domain,” which he wrote on Brando in 1957.


Words at Play

An Almanac of Words at PlayNearly twenty years ago, I stumbled upon a wonderful out-of-print literary calendar called An Almanac of Words at Play. For the next three years, it was permanently checked out of the college library in my name.

The book is a self-proclaimed “three-ring circus of words” full of hilarious verse, acronyms, palindromes, and countless other word games, all written or collected by Willard Espy, a New York PR counsel and frequent contributor (back in the 1970s) to The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and other magazines.

Espy also produced two sequels, which I read compulsively throughout my early twenties. Unfortunately, the only one I own today is a battered, water-damaged copy of the first volume that an ex-girlfriend’s father managed to salvage for me from the stacks of the Strand some fifteen years ago.

One of my favorites of Espy’s games is called “Anguish Languish,” and I have been playing it for years. This morning I began composing an example while still half asleep:

Apple edge alley gents tooth Aflac udder ewe knighted stays offal Merrick ah, an toot aura pub lick four widgets dance, wan neigh shun under guard, indie viz able, wit lil’ birdie en just us fur awl.

If you read it aloud quickly, you’ll get the gist of it (and of the reason the game is called “Anguish Languish”). You might also recognize it as the fundamental technique of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Joyce, of course, does it with multivalent phrases throughout: one that often springs to my mind is “she was yung and easily freudened.”

The cleverest example I’ve seen of it appears, in bilingual form, in a little book titled Mots d’heures: Gousses, Rames. Not only does the author, Luis van Rooten, arrange French words to sound like the English Mother Goose rhymes, he also provides facetious notes to explain and justify the French. (The note on “un petit d’un petit” comments on the tragedy of children having children.) If anyone can find a copy of that little gem, please let me know!

I’ve introduced this game to many people over the years, but the only one who’s ever really taken to it is my editor/poet friend Mitch Albert, who to this day occasionally IMs me in Anguish Languish. For literary types and word lovers, Anguish Languish a fun bit of linguistic acrobatics to liven up an e-mail and to keep your brain sharp.

Why not give it a try in the comments section?



Là, Demeure.

A while back, I posted that I was working on a translation for the Fondation Zervos in France. The project was meant to culminate in a Carte Blanche Exhibit at La Goulotte in Vézelay, but this fell through. In the end, the co-exhibitors, Simon Bethenod and Olivier Rignault, decided to publish the catalog as a photo book.

Early last month, just as I was finishing up a translation (with Lucy McNair) of Florence Colombani’s Marlon Brando: Anatomy of an Actor for Cahiers du cinéma (due out in May 2013), I received three copies of Là, Demeure. I am credited on the jacket flap inside the front cover.


Là, demeure

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Writer, Hear Thyself!

How Kindle’s Text-to-Speech Can Help Your Writing

Kindle Text-to-Speech

For a long time, I resisted the notion of buying a Kindle. I’m an old-school bound-book man, one of those who prefer the smell of acidic paper and the rustle of a turning page. As a writer, though, I can’t imagine how I ever got along without a Kindle. And here’s why…

The Kindle Keyboard and Kindle Touch both feature text-to-speech, which enables them to read aloud any document in .MOBI or .AZW e-book format. (Note, the new Kindle Paperwhite and Fire do not have text-to-speech.) For writers trying to get outside their own heads while reworking their latest article, story, book, screenplay, or poem, this technology is invaluable.

First of all, reading your own work on the Kindle’s 6” black-and-white E Ink display is helpful when revising (literally, “re-seeing”) it. The change of format alone draws you out of the comfort zones of the computer screen and the 8.5”x11” rectangle of a printed draft. Once your text has become visually unfamiliar to you, it tricks your critical faculties into regarding it as someone else’s. The Kindle even has highlighting, annotating, and sharing options that can help you with a rewrite. But the truly indispensable self-editing tool the Kindle offers is its text-to-speech.

Having your own work read back to you aloud in someone else’s voice is a surefire method for catching grammatical and logical errors, awkward turns of phrase, bad dialogue, unclear descriptions, mixed metaphors, and much more. If your ideas aren’t coming across clearly or your scene isn’t jelling, it will be far more obvious in audio than it was while you were banging away in front of your monitor. Listening takes you off the page or screen entirely, dispels writerly complacency, and forces you to hear what you’re saying in new ways.

Learning to Listen to Yourself

Though the Kindle famously once had trouble pronouncing the president’s full name, Amazon’s voice technology is remarkable. If you know the text well (as any writer does his or her own darlings), the occasional errors are but a minor nuisance. You can select a male or female voice and set the reading rate at “Slower,” “Default,” or “Faster.”

I keep my Kindle’s text-to-speech set at the default pace, and I’ve come to enjoy the steady, nasal intonation of the electronic male narrator (who, judging by how he pronounces his “abouts” and “sorrys,” hails from Canada). In a way, he’s become a kind of imaginary friend, reading my drafts back to me—with all the implied criticisms…

The Kindle Touch comes equipped with speakers and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and the volume is adjustable on the device. I plug mine into my car stereo to review the day’s work as I run errands. I find myself constantly hoping for a red light, so I can stop to jot down new ideas or voice-record notes on my smartphone.

To enable text-to-speech, you must first convert your files to .MOBI or .AZW  format, which involves a few simple steps:

  1. The easiest way to begin is to save your document in Rich Text Format (.RTF). Be sure to save it as a new document, since you might lose some formatting.
  2. Convert the .RTF document to .MOBI or .AZW using an e-book conversion program (Calibre, Mobi Pocket, Feedbooks, or Juntoh).
  3. Finally, load the new .MOBI or .AZW file onto your Kindle using Calibre or a similar program, or simply plug the device into your computer, open it as an external hard drive, and paste the new file into the folder of your choice.

Too many steps? Well, there’s an even simpler way.

Each Kindle has its own e-mail address (check your Amazon account details to find out what it is). You can e-mail yourself documents and they’ll download onto your Kindle via Wi-Fi or Whispernet. In fact, to convert a .DOC or .DOCX file to .AZW automatically, simply add “free.” between the “@” and “” in the e-mail address, and enter “Convert” in your subject line.

Simpler still, install Amazon’s free “Send to Kindle” app and upload files from your computer with a single click.

For more details, refer to the “Carrying and Reading Your Personal Documents” section of the Kindle User’s Manual or the “Kindle Personal Documents” page on

Meet Your New Editor

Whether you write nonfiction, novels, screenplays, short stories, or even poetry, the Kindle is a worthwhile addition to your craft toolbox. Its text-to-speech capability serves as a 24-hour voice-for-hire who will tirelessly read back to you in a calm and uninflected tone every word you’ve written. The Kindle offers a new and engaging way to discover what your work sounds like to others, to get you out of your own head and into the mind of your reader. And isn’t that the essence of a successful rewrite?

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