An Arsonist's Guied to Writers' Homes in New England

Arsonist's Guide - burning lady memoirizer, letters, practical advice, authors' homes

About the Author, Brock Clarke

Brock Clarke is the author of five books, most recently Exley and An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, which was a national bestseller and has appeared in a dozen foreign editions.

His stories and essays have appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, OneStory, The Believer, the Georgia Review, and the Southern Review and have appeared in the annual Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South anthologies and on NPR’s Selected Shorts. He lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches creative writing at Bowdoin College.

The Blog

The Book Tour, 2010

posted on October 28th, 2010

Brock Clarke will be starting a book tour in September 2010, for his new novel, Exley. Tour dates, locations and details are being posted on the new Brock Clarke website.

Visit the new website for tour dates, September through November, interviews and more news, and for more info about Exley.

The Book Tour Dates, 2008-2009

posted on July 5th, 2008


3/13–TUCSON (AZ) BOOK FESTIVAL: 11:30 AM with Jonathan Tropper; 1:00 PM with Jerome Charyn.


4/10–LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS (Arkansas Literary Festival): 4 pm, with Kevin Brockmeier


A Correction, and a Clarification

posted on October 30th, 2007

It’s been pointed out to me that November 3 is a Friday, not a Saturday. That’s true, and Saturday, November 3 is when I’ll be appearing at the Books on the Banks Festival in Downtown Cincinnati. Thanks for pointing out my mistake. And speaking of my mistakes, I forgot to mention: I’ll be reading at Miami (OH) University, in Oxford, OH, on Friday, November 29, at 7:30 pm.

Also, some of you have asked if the character Peter LeClair in An Arsonists’ Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England was in any way inspired by Tom LeClair, a colleague of mine at the University of Cincinnati and an excellent fiction writer (please read his newest novel, The Liquidators, and his other books, too, while you’re at it). No. Peter is a taciturn New Hampshirean who reads a lot of books; Tom also reads a lot of books, and is also taciturn, but is from VERMONT. A big difference, as anyone from Vermont or New Hampshire would tell if you if they weren’t being so taciturn.

1 comment


posted on October 18th, 2007

Some of you have been insulting me, which I appreciate. Many of the insults have come in response to some very nice words Jennifer Finney Boylan had to say about me and my book– One of the nice words Jennifer used to describe me was “generous”; this word in particular has caused a good bit of dismay, outrage even, among many of you. My sister-in-law, for instance, when she read that Jennifer thought I was generous, said, indignantly, “Generous? You?” One of you even sent me an anonymous, profanity laced email–although the swearing feels familiar, almost fond, and so I’m assuming the swearer knows me, well. It’s always nice to hear from old friends, is my point.

If you’d like to swear at me, or see how generous I really am or am not, in person: I’ll be reading at Wichita State University on Thursday, October 25; at Watermark Books on Tuesday, October 30; in Cincinnati on Friday, November 3; at Washington University at St. Louis on Wednesday, November 14; and at Ohio Wesleyan University on Friday, December 7. Please see the tour news link for further details.



Between Portland and Seattle

posted on September 24th, 2007

Many of you gave me a good bit of grief last week, when I wrote I was “touched” by the people who came to my readings in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, etc., and so I won’t write that I was “touched” by those of you who came to my readings, and those of you who hosted my readings, in San Francisco, San Mateo, Portland, and Seattle. Although I was. “Touched,” that is.

But speaking of being touched, I do have a story to tell. I stopped at a rest area alfway between Portland and Seattle on Interstate 5. It was 10:30 pm, or thereabouts. I walked into the men’s restroom, and there in the first stall two men were (and I’m going to put this as delicately as possible) having sex. With the stall door wide open. One of them saw me and smiled at me. I didn’t know what to do, so I did what I was there to do in the first place: I went to the bathroom, and then got out of there as fast as possible, but before I did I heard one of the guys say (presumably) to the other one, “Yeah, I have diabetes.” If anyone has any idea what this information would have to do with anything, please keep it to yourself.

See you in Buffalo, Brattleboro, Providence, Concord, South Hadley, Boston, Manchester, New York City.



Cincinnati, Lexington, Dayton, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago

posted on September 13th, 2007

I’ve been touched to hear from so many of you, saying nice things about the book (please click on News and Reviews to see new reviews of An Arsonist’s Guide), and making sure while i’m on the road that I’m eating well. I am, thanks: over the last two days, I’ve eaten Polish food (pierogi and sausage), German (Koningsberger Klopse), Belgian (mussels), and Serbian (cheese burek). So, no problems there; if there’s a healthier diet that that one, I’d certainly like to hear about it. But thanks for worrying about me.

I’ve also been touched by the people who’ve come out to see me read, and the good people who work at, Joseph Beth in Lexington and Cincinnati, Books Co. in Dayton, the Loft in Minneapolis, Harry Schwartz in Milwaukee, and (today) Barbara’s in Oak Park. I’m grateful, and I hoped you enjoyed the experience; if not, I hope, at least, that I didn’t keep you too long.

But mostly, I’m touched by the person who wrote in, saying I looked like the drummer for Joy Division! I take this as a compliment, even though I have no idea wha the drummer for Joy Division looks like. He looks like me, I suppose.


Bad News

posted on September 5th, 2007

Bad News: my picks to win this year’s US Open have let me down. It’s nearly too painful to think about. I can’t even bring myself to type their names.

Anyway, here are some new reviews.

“Funny, profound . . . Larded with grabby aphorisms . . . memorable images and bittersweet epiphanies, Clarke’s novel is an agile melding of faux-memoir and mystery. Spot-on timing gives it snap, and a rich sense of perversity . . . lends texture. It’s a seductive book with a payoff on every page.”–People Magazine (“Critic’s Choice,” four-stars)

“Part mystery, part comedy, part insightful memoir, Arsonist defies the conventional formula in producing a wildly entertaining novel.”–Daily Candy

“Clarke’s novel sizzles. . . . This straight-faced, postmodern comedy scorches all things literary, from those moldy author museums to the excruciating question-and-answer sessions that follow public readings . . . They’re all singed under Clarke’s crisp wit. . . . [An Arsonist's Guide] is written in an innocent, deadpan voice, packed full of Sam [Pulsifer]‘s bittersweet observations and fueled by Clarke’s satire. . . . Literature, Clarke suggests in this witty lament, is somehow the pain and salve of our lives. We’re drawn to stories like a moth to you know what.”–Washington Post Book World

Clarke’s satire scorches a wide expanse of our cultural landscape. Left smoldering are Harry Potter books (unnamed but obvious); pretentious macho novelists; higher education – with a devastating caricature of an English professor who dismisses an array of major American writers with a single curt, crude sentence; vacuous suburbia; our increasingly nonliterate society and mendacious memoirs. …Clarke can make you gasp…At the end of the short-story ancestor of “Arsonist’s Guide,” the narrator declares he is sick of talking about the fire and will never speak of it again. Lovers of satiric fiction will be grateful that he lied.”–Cleveland Plain Dealer

“An absurd if weirdly compelling faux ‘memoir,’ which takes aim at the danger of stories–at least false ones . . . [An Arsonist's Guide] gets at some unexpectedly poignant emotional truths.”–USA Today

“[A] dark, dry, fast and furious novel.” Martha Stewart’s Blueprint

“Clarke has the ability to crack us up with his clever insight into human nature and suburban angst, but there is also a depth to his characters that helps raise the story above straight satire.” MSNBC

“It is hysterical, it is tragic and it is maddening. . . . Like TV analysts who deconstruct Tiger Woods’ swing, it’s not easy to do justice to writers like Brock Clarke. But Iknow just enough to recommend An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England to anyone, and especially to anyone who wants to read the best, newest manifestation of great American writing.”–Pittsburgh Post Gazette

“A quirky comic novel . . . strangely beguiling. . . . Clarke [has a] way with sly humorous observations.”–Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“It’s difficult to think of a premise for a literary detective story . . . that could be more enticing. . . . [Clarke] depict[s] in a funny and heartbreaking manner the subtle ways in which parents, children and spouses fail each other . . . [and] brilliantly captures his characters’ environments.”–Hartford Courant

“An incisive satire that takes on everything from authors to reading groups and Harry Potter . . . sharp wit.”–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Fall Guide Picks: New York magazine’s annual Fall preview issue recommends Arsonist’s Guide along with 25 other fall titles, and it’s also included in Fall previews in the San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, and San Jose Mercury News.


You’re Safe in Akron, Cleveland, Atlanta, Southern California

posted on August 29th, 2007

I just received some nice emails from some nice people in Akron, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Southern California, asking me if I’d be giving readings in those places. I understand the real question here, which is: can a person live in or visit Akron, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Southern California without fear of being expected to go to one of your (my) readings? It is; you are. For now. But to remind you, here are the cities and their bookstores and universities that aren’t so lucky.

9/5—CINCINNATI, OH—Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 7:00 pm

9/6—LEXINGTON, KY—Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 7:00 pm

9/10—DAYTON, OH—Books & Co., 7:00 pm

9/11—MINNEAPOLIS, MN—Loft Literary Center, 7:00 pm

9/12—MILWAUKEE, WI—Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop, 7:00 pm

9/13—OAK PARK, IL (Chicago area)—Barbara’s Bookstore, 7:30 pm

9/18—SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Books Inc., 7:00 pm

9/20—PORTLAND, OR—Powell’s Books, 7:00 pm

9/21—SEATTLE, WA—Elliott Bay Book Company, 7:00 pm

9/25—BUFFALO, NY—Contemporary Writers Series at Canisius College, 7:00 pm

9/26—BRATTLEBORO, VT—The Book Cellar, 5:30 pm

9/29–PROVIDENCE, RI–Brown University Bookstore, 4:00 pm

9/30—CONCORD, MA—The Concord Bookshop, 3:00 pm

10/1—SOUTH HADLEY, MA—Odyssey Bookshop, 7:00 pm

10/2—NEWTON, MA (Boston area)—Newtonville Books, 7:00 pm

10/3—MANCHESTER CENTER, VT—Northshire Bookstore, 7 pm

10/5—NEW YORK, NY—One Story Reading Series at Pianos, 6:30 pm

10/10—WASHINGTON, DC—Olsson’s, Dupont Circle, 7:00 pm

10/25—WICHITA, KS—Wichita State University, Time TBA

10/30—WICHITA, KS—Watermark Books, 7:00 pm

11/3—CINCINNATI, OH—Books by the Banks, Time TBA

Also, new reviews of An Arsonist’s Guide:

“In the spectacularly titled An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, Brock Clarke gives us a sharp new novel that reads like a memoir, a scathing satire that reminds us of the horrors of truth-telling. . . . It’s a crisp story that moves along like a detective novel. But what makes it come alive is Clarke’s sharp wit, dropping funny, deadpan observations about suburbia . . . and literary life throughout the book. . . . Beyond the vicious satire, however, there is serious business in the Arsonist’s Guide. Clarke has a lovely sense of the meanings that hide behind what we say and the contradictions of personality. An Arsonist’s Guide is a smart novel about people who desperately need to reinvent themselves, perhaps without knowing who they were in the first place.”–Associated Press

“Funny, profound . . . Larded with grabby aphorisms . . . memorable images and bittersweet epiphanies, Clarke’s novel is an agile melding of faux-memoir and mystery. Spot-on timing gives it snap, and a rich sense of perversity . . . lends texture. It’s a seductive book with a payoff on every page.”–People

“A brilliant novel.”–People (Style Watch special issue)

“We love An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England . . . Even a book’s editor in Kentucky can occasionally find gems in the making: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, which looked like a classic from here long before it owned the New York Times paperback best-seller list. Water for Elephants, which went on to make Sara Gruen a literary superstar. And now An Arsonist’s Guide.”–Lexington Herald Leader (monthly Book Club pick)

A “smart, witty novel-staged-as-memoir . . . Clarke nails the suburban landscape in high satiric fashion. . . . Beneath satiric pokes at suburban America, the memoir craze and literary culture in general (the very title of the book is a winking reference to a popular literary form), there is honest heart here. . . . It’s a blast­its story line rollicking and often absurd, its themes satisfyingly hefty. Clarke keeps the plot clipping along, each chapter launching you right into the next, and ultimately delivers an ending that upholds the intellectual comedy of the book and its themes (parent-child bonds, the consequences of mistakes, the flimsiness of genre) while lobbing us a few in the soft spots.”–Time Out Chicago


But Enough About Me

posted on August 23rd, 2007

First, since you’re nice enough to keep asking about my just-published novel An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in England, here are some new reviews:

“As a title, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England has a lot to live up to. Happily, Brock Clarke’s hilarious new novel makes good on its title and then some, with a loopily shambolic narrative as captivating as its feckless firebug narrator, Sam Pulsifer. . . . It’s the perfect end-of-summer book, funny and sharp and smart enough to ease the transition from beach to boardroom. Just don’t leave it near a pack of matches.”–Village Voice

“A witty, intensely clever piece of writing that scrutinizes our relationship with stories and storytelling. . . . Clarke composes with panache, packing his pages with offbeat humor, vibrant characters, and tender scenes.”–Utne

“Brock Clarke flames entire genres of fiction in this clever and often hilarious tale.”–Paste magazine

“Lit lovers of all stripes will find something in it that they’ll love–after all, the mystery is about figuring out who’s burning down the homes of some of America’s most famous writers, from Edith Wharton’s to Herman Melville’s. And the writing? Darn good stuff.”–American Way (in flight magazine of American Airlines)

“A tenderhearted black comedy that’s reminiscent of classic works like John Irving’s The World According to Garp. . . . What makes An Arsonist’s Guide such an engaging and wildly original work is the captivating voice of Sam Pulsifer . . . Like all of literature’s most compelling characters, it’s hard to say goodbye to him when we turn the final page.”–Bookpage

So, thanks for asking, and I’m glad to have good news to report.

But that’s enough about me. Let me answer the other question so many of you have been asking: who is going to win this year’s US Open tennis tournament? Good question. And the answer is: Thomas Berdych, the softhanded Czech, and Maria Sharapova, who people keep saying, with authority, has an easy draw. And as importantly: I don’t have cable, and so who is going to let me come over to their house to watch the tournament?

1 comment

Why Western Massachusetts?

posted on August 16th, 2007

Katy recently asked me this: I recently finished reading an advanced copy I picked up at BookExpo in June. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I live in Northampton and I’m curious what your ties are with Western Massachusetts? Have you spent time here or was it just the proximity to the Emily Dickinson House that made you set the novel here?

I was born in Springfield, MA. My mother was born in Springfield, too, as were her parents, as was my middle brother. My grandfather, father, and little brother all went to Amherst College, and I would have, too, if they had only let me in. But that’s more than you asked. As for my interest in the Emily Dickinson House, I took a trip there as a college senior, and have, for several reasons, never been ever to get over it.