The Disappearance of Seth

This week in my literary quest to become a better person, or at least a better-read person, I’m visiting an author by the name of Kazim Ali.

On my bookshelves, Mr. Ali comes after one of the better modern authors, Sherman Alexie. I have a few of Alexie’s books, and I particularly recommend his short story collection Ten Little Indians. One of Alexie’s biggest strengths is his wide range of interests—he doesn’t just stick with short stories or adult novels; he has written screenplays and young adult fiction as well. Also, his technique is brilliant. He’s a writer who will make you laugh and care and think about the world—how unfair and how beautiful it can be. Yes, I recommend Sherman Alexie.

Another thing I should explain up front is why I’m reviewing a second book by Etruscan Press within two weeks (yes, the infamous Zarathustra Must Die was put out by them, too). Trust me, Etruscan Press is not paying me to review their books (I don’t know if they have the budget for things like that). The explanation is: a few years ago, when I was still an undergraduate, I won a one-page story contest for a great journal called the Penguin Review (shout out to their former editor, Tom Pugh), and part of the prize was the near-complete collection of Etruscan Press books published up until that point. Most of what EP puts out is poetry, but they’ve done quite a few novels, too. My whole point is, this is not the last time I will be reviewing one of their books.

I’m not saying that Etruscan Press puts out poor-quality books; I like their books, for the most part (last week’s selection aside). They are small and relatively obscure, but I think we need more publishers like them. Why? They don’t compromise. I get the sense that most of EP’s authors are full-time professors who, because of the fickle nature of modern universities, have to keep publishing, or else they perish. These writers don’t care about sales, but they do care about putting out a good product, according to their exacting, sometimes quirky standards. That’s honorable. I would love to have that option someday. EP realizes that literature is about more than entertainment—sometimes it’s about trying to wrap your mind around the things in life that are hard to understand.

Speaking about things that are hard to understand, let’s get down to this week’s book. The Disappearance of Seth is everything I was just talking about—uncompromising, hard to follow, daring you to try to understand it. And it still manages to be successful, being easy to read at the same time as being hard to follow. How does that happen? I have a theory: Ali is a poet, first and foremost—he writes like a poet, in clipped, beautiful phrases that sometimes don’t even make it to the level of sentences. He uses odd punctuation and weird tense shifts, and they actually work, most of the time. My theory is that Ali’s book is easy to read because he uses small, beautiful sentences and his section breaks push the momentum—this book is designed to keep pushing you forward, even if what you’re reading doesn’t become clear all at once, or at all.

unnamedMomentum is key in this book, because the plot is not linear, and it’s also key because of the subject. Seth is about 9/11. For something so heavy and humorless as 9/11, we need the pace to be quick, otherwise we bog down in our own sorrow and personal memories. Ali does a good job of keeping us moving, even though it’s tough for anyone to read a book about something as politically loaded as 9/11 in the way it was intended. And are we too far away from that day to remember it in all its rawness? I guess what I’m asking is, can this still be an effective book? If this were just a book about something as broad as 9/11, I don’t think it could, but it is about more than that—it is personal. The “Seth” of the book’s title makes it personal.

Our main character, Seth, has died in the Twin Towers, or so the other characters think. Seth is the thread that connects all of the book’s characters together, and really the only thread that connects the book together. The other characters reflect on how he has touched their lives, and what he meant to them, and how he has changed them. The book becomes a meditation on loss and how trauma affects us, and it becomes a meditation on the things we cannot say—how we handle grief. As such, it’s a beautiful story, if unclear at times, and the way that the death is only indirectly approached echoes how we try to avoid coming to terms with loss in our own lives.

Seth is thoughtful, deep, and potent, and Ali writes his characters’ thoughts so well that their reflections become the biggest emphasis of the book. These are thoroughly developed characters, never feeling anything less than real.

That is not to say that this book does not have flaws, because it does. Ali’s use of odd punctuation and tense changes mostly work, but sometimes this technique just comes across as though he needs an editor. Need an example? “He stops by a dusty car parked at the curb and fumbled with his map, trying to unfold it” (p. 175). Most of the time I try to leave technical issues like this alone, but in Seth it happens too frequently to ignore. Trying to figure out Ali’s reasoning in these cases distracts from the rest of the book, especially when these slip-ups do not look like artistic decisions as much as they do mistakes.

Another flaw in the book is the “twist” at the end, which I won’t reveal, in case you decide to read it. Good literature, I’ve found, does not need twists to make it interesting—the writing is interesting enough. This twist is not deep enough to change the meaning of the story, and it feels a bit tacked on.

Other than those problems, however, I gladly recommend The Disappearance of Seth. It’s for you if you enjoy difficult texts that reward your effort. It’s also for you if you want beautiful, koan-like paragraphs that you can really sink your mental teeth into.


Ali, Kazim. The Disappearance of Seth. Etruscan Press, 2009. 197 pages.

Each week Drew Wade will attempt to read and review a book by an author who’s new to him, and then he’ll tell you if it’s worth your time or not.

Where you publish and why

Where your work is published matters. Period. Anyone who tells you differently is wrong.

With the prominence of media and self-publishing as options, it can be daunting to know exactly where to publish your work. There are a few easy rules to remember.
Discover Magazine April 2014

Self Publishing

This is when you pay for your book to be printed on paper and bound together into a book. This is also when you pay to have your text published in an online form such as an eBook. Any form of publishing which you do not pay to appear on the page yourself is not self publishing.

1. Don’t self publish if you intend to be the next Stephen King.

2. Self publishing can be done by anyone anywhere.

3. No publisher means little or no marketing. It also means poor distribution.

4. No agent could mean no one to guide your writing to the proper form.

5. No editor means that you may produce a piece of work with several errors.

6. Paying for your own work to be printed isn’t a career.

7. Be wary. Self publishing is for those who want a personal accomplishment not a professional one.

Online Publishing

1. This included blogs, website, etc.

2. Publishing online without a strong company behind you (like Time) can be risky.

3. Anything online can be immediately distributed.

4. Serious offers may not want to publish your work if they know it is already online somewhere.

5. Online publishing is a great way to get your opinion out. It is also a great way to break into journalism or to become a critic.

Publishing Houses

1.These exist for a reason. Because they are a business and have made money for a very long time.

2. Publishers have the funding to market your work.

3. They also have the funding to pay you.

4. This is the route most commercial authors go – with an agent sometimes included.

5. They have professional editing services.

6. They are willing to work with you to craft your work if you are already someone they feel has promise.

7. Their interest is an investment in you.

8. Having a finished piece is best to present to a publisher.


This isn’t a publishing avenue, but agents are important.

1. They have special relationships with publishers.

2. They understand the legal aspects of a contract – or they’re supposed to at least.

3. They only make money if you make money – and if they ask for anything otherwise, walk away.


What Neil Gaiman taught me about writing

I’ll start this by saying I’ve never met or spoken Mr. Gaiman. However, for the last 12 years, he has been my shadowed mentor.

When I was 10 years old, I picked up Coraline in one of my classrooms. I just wanted something to read. I was always reading. Years after the fact of middle school, teachers would identify me as the girl who always had her nose in a book. Coraline wasn’t the first book I’d read, and it wasn’t the last. But, Coraline was the most important book I’d ever and will ever read. I can identify the moment I first read Neil Gaiman’s writing as the moment I realized I wanted to be a writer.

Since I’ve read that book, I’ve attempted to collect anything and everything Gaiman has ever written. But it wasn’t only that I enjoyed his writing that I became such a fan. it was how much I wished to model my own writing after his. Gaiman is sparse – well, in everything but American Gods – and funny. He is whimsical like Alice Hoffman but with more thrilling ideas and fantastical worlds. He is everything that has made me a writer.

Gaiman receives questions all the time about writing, and my favorite thing about him is that he is also sparse in his responses. The conclusion Neil Gaiman usually comes to is that in order to write you need to just do it. Stop asking questions. Stop trying to bypass the process. Write. Write more. And keep writing. As a writer myself, I know that this is the hardest part of the process. But if you can’t write, you aren’t a writer, period.

Check out Neil’s online journal.

Writer Realities #3: Originality Doesn’t Matter

Many of us struggle with the question of how original our work is. In the early stages of a writing career, it may seem vital to be as original as possible.

I’m here to say that this isn’t necessarily true. While I won’t ever condone plagiarism or having no respect for intellectual property, I realize that ideas are seemingly finite. Eventually, we will circle back around to something that has been said or done.

It is more important to understand what you are writing about than it is to be entirely original. Plenty of writers have appropriated or adapted works by previous writers. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a movie that’s a remake. You can’t look at the canon without finding someone who has used previous stories. Shakespeare is a well known example of this phenomenon.

The best advice is, if something seems overused at this current moment in history, you are likely going to want to turn to another topic. Anyone who attacks you for being unoriginal or reusing a story (within reason), probably doesn’t know a whole lot about the history of English and American literature. They probably also don’t know – or don’t want to acknowledge – that no two people construct sentences exactly the same way. If you are writing something that is truly your own, that will be evident upon its completion.

Artists feed off of one another. And there’s nothing wrong with expanding on an already existing idea.

You can stop stressing about how original your story is now!

Reasons to adore Sherman Alexie










1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

2. His unrelenting humor.

3. His honest commentary on racism.

4. His understanding of human nature.

5. Every short story he’s ever published.

My first exposure to Alexie’s work happened in my classes in college. I was shocked to realize the existence of such a talented and comedic writer. I don’t remember the name of the first short story I read by him, but I remember the first book. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a knockout, and I am excited to read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

If you have a moment to do so, pick up one of his books. I promise you won’t be disappointed. You may be disappointed that you laughed so hard you peed, but you won’t be disappointed by his story-telling.