BookTalk Nation — Check it out

I have “discovered,” after about a year of hearing about it, an interesting, engaging, and useful blogsite called BookTalk Nation.  On it you can hear  half-hour interviews with authors of fiction and non-fiction books.  You access the interview by computer at booktalknation.com or by phone (212/563-5904).  This is a fairly new enterprise sponsored jointly by The Authors Guild and the independent bookstores who join.  Hearing/seeing the interview is free, while profits from book sales resulting from each interview are shared, half by the “home” indie bookstore conducting the interview and half divided among the bookstores that have joined BookTalk Nation.  (Full disclosure:  I get a huge pile of nothing for telling you about all this.)

It’s a very cool idea, allowing writers to escape our lonely, harsh lives—You know, “sit down and open a vein”—to hear how other writers do it, what their lives are like, where their inspiration and characters come from, etc.-squared.  So, go to booktalknation.com and see if it’s good for you.  Hit the “HELP” key in the upper right corner of their home page for answers to most of the questions you may already have.

The next interview is with Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club (non-fiction), Thursday, March 7 at 3:00pm Pacific Time.  The next fiction tallk is Tuesday April 2, 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST with Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train.

Oh, almost forgot.  If you have a book already published, you can click on a button at the lower left of BookTalk Nation’s home page to offer yourself for an interview spot, along with an indie bookstore you’d like to conduct it.  Which is a nice switch, the author getting to select the interviewer.

My love-hate relationship with writing advice

I do not write in isolation.
I have a spouse (roommate/compatriot/lover/best friend) who expresses strong ideas about my lack       of self-promotion.
I am in three critique groups, each worthy of my devotion.
I have attended various writing retreats/programs (Centrum five times).
I was in a masters degree writing program (UC-Davis) before blowing town.
I spend several computer hours each day reading and researching about writing.
And it’s relevant to this piece that I began writing for publication well before the computer age, producing books, daily journalism, and academic stuff.

But I sometimes wonder whether I wouldn’t have been better off, writing production-wise, in a cell, solitarily confined.  How much have I gained from all of those (these) writing-related activities?

I cherish the comments I receive in critique groups, because the folks are usually paying attention to the work, though I use maybe one out of five comments.

I seldom go to writing conferences anymore because they yank me out of writing-mode, and most of the general advice I’ve heard before. The specific advice applicable to my pages hits home (is useful), again, maybe one in five.

As to writer-blogs and the bounties of the internet in general, it’s like trying to squash a one-pound slice of chocolate decadence cake into a four-ounce Chinese take-out container.  (Well, maybe not, though some of you will resonate to my meaning.)  Along with the tons of horrid junk available on the www, we can find some great stuff—Anne R. Allen’s blog, The Millions, Kristen Lamb , Jane Friedman, etc.—but even these take loads of time.   Sure, you can access the stuff fast, but you still need to digest and use it at far less than warp speed.  (One answer, of course, is for humans to evolve into cyborgs, which is not the sort of progress I would hope for.)

Maybe the origin of my problem lies way, way back in childhood.  “Shmuck!,” my mother used to say (not actually; it just felt that way), “Your eyes are too big for your stomach!”  I want the advice, but I don’t want it.  It takes too much time to get, then mostly reject.

So, who says I have to spend the time seeking it?  But if I don’t, then maybe I’m missing things.  A new writer-help program or product.  Insight or information about selling (a term I prefer to “submitting”) my writing.  New tricks for an ever-trickier trade.  The wonders of self/indie-publishing vs. the horrors of traditional publishing.  And vice versa.

And what if Asteriod XXX-fortyskugelfogwahwah passes too close to earth and wipes out all our data and programs and chapters?  What will literary (more or less) civilization do then?  Go back to the methods of Faulkner, Hemingway, Mansfield, Woolf, Huxley, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Wharton, Lawrence, Ferber, etc.?  Wouldn’t that be awful, to have a new generation that wrote with less advice and minimal machinery?

Laszlo Luddite, guest poster

E-book readers pull data from you sub-rosa. So?

Lynn Neary (NPR, 1/28/13) recently did a report on the electronic tracking that Amazon, Barnes & Noble and probably others do of our e-reading, not only what we buy, but how we read it.  Maybe the first issue is that of privacy.  Do we, the purchasers/readers of books, want the sellers and the writers of books to know if we stopped reading, where we stopped, did we read passages on particular pages more than once, etc.?  Some readers, of course, will take the standby position that since they are doing nothing wrong, it matters not to them that they are being tracked.  As this particular post is not intended to be political, we can tackle that question another day, though the privacy issue may linger in one’s mind.

From a purely publishing/writing/reading stand-point, according to best-selling author Scott Turow, president of The Authors Guild,

I would love to know if 35 percent of my readers were quitting after the first two chapters, because that frankly strikes me as, sometimes, a problem I could fix. Would I love to hitch the equivalent of a polygraph to my readers and know how they are responding word by word? That would be quite interesting.

(A polygraph hitched to your readers, Scott?  Now that is interesting.)

Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan (The Goon Squad) says, in contrast,

…this speaks to the question of how important market research really would be for me as a creative person … [It’s] interesting to know, but should not really be predictive or part of the creative process.”

I for one (or 2 or 3, depending on whether dog and/or cat are on my lap) read in idiosyncratic ways, which I challenge a computer program to make heads or tails out of.  For example, I read several books at a time (upstairs book, downstairs book, and on my Kindle, from which I may read from several books, depending upon mood, need, or interest of the moment).  Sometimes I “quit” reading a particular book for several months.  Sometimes I quit a book “permanently,” meaning it’s lost my interest…until it regains my interest.  Sometimes I dump a book.  But if Scott Turow thinks I stopped reading at page 50, because that’s where it got boring, it may have been boring from page 3 and I just waded through until it got unbearable.

So, I don’t believe “they” can make accurate and useful marketing or editorial decisions from my patterns.  While I know that such decisions are made by computers from aggregated data (i.e., lots of readers), I believe my reading patterns are closer to normal than odd-ball.  In fact, if you want to read reactions to this new sub-rosa electronic feedback tracking game, check out the comments at the end of Lynn Neary’s NPR article.

Which goes to one of my favorite maxims that applies at least to the last 100+ years:
Just because something can be measured, doesn’t mean it should be measured.

So, what do you think, not only about your reading patterns being tracked in the background (sub-rosa), but what editors/publishers and writers might make of the data, for good or ill?

Justice, our comedy of errors

Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1914), defined Justice as a “commodity.”  He might just as well have called it a “comedy,” as in a comedy of errors, particularly the kind of justice observable in the democracy of his time through ours, and on, apparently, into the future.

Yes, justice is a commodity because it is bought and sold.  (Anyone who requires examples has been living in a cave with an ostrich.)  Which makes of justice a comedy because it is a ludicrous rendition of it’s original home among its siblings: fairness, fair play, fair-mindedness, equity, even-handedness, impartiality, objectivity, neutrality, disinterestedness, honesty, righteousness, and morality.

Will this ever change?  Doubtful, but the name of Justice should be changed to something like, ummm, Marketice, or perhaps Commodice.  Any ideas out there in the land of people who like honest words?

The Fiction-writing Apocalypse…Or Not?

 

In the ever-tweakable world of writing on, if not for, the internet:  E-publishing Division, Amazon has added another tweak:  Kindle Serials, as expounded upon by Porter Anderson (on the great Jane Friedman’s blog).  Home base of the discussion seems to be, “If Charles Dickens could serialize his novels, why not 21st Century writers?”  And Amazon, as usual, is the provider (or enabler) of such writer-friendly venues.  Kindle Serials is subtitled, “Great Reads, one episode at a time.”  Sounds great, right?  To me, too.  But Porter Anderson raises an interesting and important question (marketing- related, of course) for would-be serializers to consider:  If a story is going to be serialized (i.e., released piecemeal to the public over time), why not “improve it,” given the opportunity to get feedback from readers over that time?

I put “improve it” in quotes because that’s the issue, isn’t it, whether the likes/dislikes/ideas of readers would improve the author’s product, especially when those are the people presumably buying it?  Would that process improve a piece of writing, or simply result in the proverbial camel, venerably defined as a horse designed by committee.  Well, here is my unabashedly sarcasm-loaded opinion on that:

Reader-influenced serialized stories, hmmm. Why not apply that process to musical compositions, even opera? Or how about paintings? Or dance. Have each performance stop at several points and have the audience vote on the next movements, whether or not they know anything about dance. Seems great for Broadway productions, right? The ultimate in audience participation.

But why stop there? Let readers—writing seems the most available for this, given its unfolding nature and the time it takes—grab each subsequent chapter and run with it, submitting their individual efforts to the “readership,” then have that readership—for a fee. Weee!—vote for the best submitted chapter, and so and so on. ‘T’would be the ultimate in this our Interactive/Interconnected Age. I just love 21st Century progress.

Missing in this commentary, of course, are other issues, such as ownership of a work, artistic unity, and the author’s original intent, etc, which should be considered.  Soooo, consider them, please, and let me/us know your thinking.

 

 

 

Modern problems: a Chaplinesque

I am so fed-up with computer-type crap, such as failures and glitches and GOTCHAS (my name for so-called easy to add-on and use programs and apps which take endless hours to either get working or get rid of).  They tap-tap-tap my furious button to the point where, if I add/change anything, I’m just waiting for something to go wrong that will cost me dearly in time, money, and hair follicles.

When I watch pre-1980 movies, my nostalgia-gene homes in on the absence of computers, cell-phones, the WWW.HTTP.XYZ, etc.  Yeah-yeah, without personal computers we wouldn’t be able to clabgerate the folderoll and other neat things humanity never thought of doing until Hi-Tech showed us what we could do, even if we didn’t want to, but we should because everyone else is, and you don’t want to get left behind, heaven forfend.

Life would be calmer and more enjoyable without all this computer stuff (originally flogged as a time-saving devise, ha-ha), though I’d be back to the old carbon copy and white-out routine—Does anyone under 25 even know what that was?— which I could still do, of course, although the world would pay even less attention to me than it does now.  Oh, woe am I.

Please don’t call me Luddite; I prefer Chaplinesque.

Anyway, that’s how I feel this first Sunday in August.

How do you handle computer/software/cloud woes?

William Faulkner’s Self-Doubts (and yours)

Have you ever doubted yourself as a writer?  Why am I doing this?  Am I good enough, or any good at all?  Is it worth my time and the blood-letting?  Have you tired of the “Oh, that’s nice,” response when someone asks what you do and you reveal that, “I’m a writer”?  William Faulkner has some wise and telling observations in the Editor’s Notes at the end of the Vintage Books edition (1987) of “Sanctuary.”  They deal with his early sense of himself as a writer and his off-beat perception of success.

I’ve just finished reading “Sanctuary” for the third time, but the first  in over twenty years.  I recalled having liked it a great deal but like it even more now.  (I suppose “Light in August” is my favorite, but choosing among his works is like a chocoholic choosing whether he or she prefers dark chocolate nuts or chews.  Here’s a better analogy:  If I were “stuck” on a desert island with “Light in August,” upon finishing it (again),  I’d swim to the next island for the promise of “As I Lay Dying.”

So, here is what William Faulkner has to say about himself as an early writer  (By the way, he didn’t want this revelation printed in later editions by Random House):

“This book (Sanctuary) was written three years ago.  To me it is a cheap idea, because it was deliberately conceived to make money.  I had been writing books for about five years, which got published and not bought.  But that was all right.  I was young then and hard-bellied.  I had never lived among nor known people who wrote novels and stories and I suppose I did not know that people got money for them.  I was not very much annoyed when publishers refused the mss. now and then.  Because I was hard-gutted then.  I could do a lot of things that could earn what little money I needed, than to my father’s unfailing kindness which supplied me with bread at need despite the outraged to his principles at having been of a bum progenitive.

“Then I began to get a little soft.  I could still paint houses and do carpenter work, but I got soft.  I began to be concerned when magazine editors turned down short stories, concerned enough to tell them that they would buy these stories later anyway, and hence why not now.  Meanwhile, with one novel completed and consistently refused for two years, I had just written my guts into “The Sound and The Fury” though I was not aware until the book was published that I had done so, because I had done it for pleasure.  I believed then that I would never be published again.  I had stopped thinking of myself in publishing terms.  [I wonder why he doesn’t include “Mosquitos” and “Soldier’s Pay”.]

“But when the third mss., “Sartoris,” was taken by a publisher and (he having refused “The Sound and The Fury”) it was taken by still another publisher, who warned me at the time that it would not sell, I began to think of myself again as a printed object.  I began to think of books in terms of possible money.  I decided I might just as well make some of it myself.  I took a little time out, and speculated what a person in Mississippi would  believe to be current trends, chose what I thought was the right answer and invented the most horrific tale I could imagine  and wrote it in about three weeks and sent it to Smith, who had done “The Sound and The Fury” and who wrote me immediately, ‘Good God, I can’t publish this.  We’d both be in jail.’  So I told Faulkner, “You’re damned.  You’ll have to work now and then for the rest of your life.’  That was in the summer of 1929.”

Fess up, Mitt…and others!

Should Mitt Romney reveal his taxes for at least 10 years?

Absolutely, they ALL— anyone running for public office—should reveal their financial situations and how they got there and certainly where they’re hiding how much.  We’re their gol-dang bosses — so the myth goes.

We should make them undergo the Milgram Test.  Strap them to a shock generator—a real one— and ask them questions about their finances, who they influence and who influences them and with what prizes and goodies or simple cash.  The first lie earns them a little shock.  For each subsequent lie, the juice is turned up another notch or three.  Video the whole process and show it on YouTube every night.  What an audience it would get!  The networks would be reduced to showing re-runs of Mr. Ed the Talking Horse, Sky King, Soupy Sales, etc.  Or maybe re-runs of America’s Got Talent.

Here’s something else that has scratched at my craw for many, many moons:   What’s with  this  ritual of referring to Senators, etc.  as “The Honorable…?”  Where lies the basis for this verbal genuflection?  Why do we have to think of those elected to national office so royally while they’re in office, if not forever more?   We know that 73.472% of our elected Congress-slugs are as honest as a 2.9-Penny Opera.  Who granted them this honorific of “The Honorable…?”  Likely some earlier self-serving, back-scratching, beady-eyed version of Congress.

Wow, that felt good!

AN OVERNIGHT SENSATION

ONCE AGAIN, THANKS TO MY NEWSMAN FRIEND TOM COCHRUN FOR SENDING ME THE FOLLOWING LINK TO A RECENT AND ENJOYABLE NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE ON OLD-TIME NEWSPAPER FILMS, STARRING THE LIKES OF BOGART, BETTE DAVIS, BURT LANCASTER, CARY GRANT, ROSALIND RUSSELL, KIRK DOUGLAS, JIMMY STEWART, JACK WEBB, HOFFMAN/REDFORD, AND EVEN BORIS KARLOFF.

[WANT TO KNOW WHY I’M WRITING THIS IN ALL CAPS?  ‘CAUSE THAT’S THE WAY STORIES CAME OVER THE TELETYPE — AP, REUTERS, UPI.]

REMINDS ME OF NIGHTS AT UPI—8PM TO 4AM, EAST 42ND ST., NYC—AND MY BRIEF CAREER IN JOURNALISM HANDLING SUCH HEART-POUNDING NEWS AS THE FINAL RACE RESULTS FROM RUIDOSO DOWNS, NEW MEXICO.  THERE WERE BITS OF EXCITEMENT, THOUGH.  ONE NIGHT A GUY IN A CANARY YELLOW SPORTS COAT [HEY, THIS WAS THE MID-1960S!] COMES INTO THE UPI OFFICE—ENTIRE 11TH FLOOR, NO INSIDE WALLS, ONLY ROUND CONCRETE COLUMNS HOLDING UP THE CEILING— HANDS ME A BIG, THICK MANILA ENVELOPE BEARING THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE LOGO.

OUR MAN IN THE SLOT (OVERNIGHT EDITOR) IS BUSY DOING THE NEXT DAY’S NEW YORK TIMES CROSSWORD PUZZLE, SO HE DOESN’T ASK WHAT’S IN THE ENVELOPE OR WHO IT’S FROM.  TELLS ME TO WRITE 30 COLUMN INCHES BECAUSE IT’S A SLOW NIGHT.  TURNS OUT IT’S THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE NFL-AFL MERGER, A VERY BIG DEAL FOR THE HORDES OF CITIZENS INTERESTED IN PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL.

SO, I’M TYPING AWAY, SALIVATING ALL OVER THE UPRIGHT BLACK UNDERWOOD’S KEYS, WHEN MILT RICHMAN, UPI’S TOP SPORTS WRITER, REACHES OVER MY SHOULDER, RIPS THE PAPER OFF THE TYPEWRITER PLATEN, AND SCOOPS UP THE ENVELOPE AND CONTENTS, SAYING NOT A WORD, BUT SETTLING INTO HIS OWN SACRED HIGH-BACKED CHAIR TO POUND OUT THE SPORTS STORY OF THE YEAR…OR MONTH…OR WEEK.

I COULDA BEEN A CHAMPION.