26 February 2009
Will e-books take over the world? Will the publishing industry go the way of the music industry? Most writers hope not, and many readers too. I just, for example, got the estimated page count for Long For This World from my publisher (288), and a little thrill shot through me. Pages. I started to imagine and wonder about paper stock, dimensions, font…
But the good news, of course, is that literature will be more accessible to more people in more formats. Theoretically. We’ll see (cautious optimism / managed pessimism, etc.)…
25 February 2009
The recent press on Caroline Kennedy’s awkward bid for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat has me thinking about awkward self-promotion in general. At a party shortly after CK’s announcement to seek the seat, a guest recalled that, when asked about it, “She folded her arms over her chest…and disappeared into herself—a characteristic gesture.”
When I encounter other artists who seem perfectly at ease promoting their work — and promoting it aggressively, either in person or via any number of on-line venues — I think wow. I think how do they do it. I think, a little, ew. When I send out an email announcing something — this blog, a reading, a bit of good news — I feel, a little, gross.
I don’t think Caroline Kennedy has low self-esteem — not any lower than your average person anyway.
Caroline Kennedy’s friends are always saying how normal she is, and it appears that they are right. Normal people do not run for the Senate.
A political consultant who is also a friend of CK’s said, “Most of us have modesty impulses—you don’t want to brag—and you have to learn to defy these basic human impulses and say, ‘I am the greatest, and here is why you need me for this job,’ and do it without any hesitation or any doubt. Which is inhuman.” Or maybe super-human?
I think sometimes that, for artists, there are two distinct kinds of ego: the ego to create, and the ego to promote. If one has the ego to create, but the primary audience is the self, then the ego to promote doesn’t much come into it.
Last week I got my first taste of awkward publicity. They say no publicity is bad publicity, but… awkward publicity might be the exception to this. My high school class secretary somehow got hold of a stock bio I use for things like readings or teaching; it includes publishing credits, awards, etc. (I think I’d included him on the e-mail list when I sent an announcement for a reading last summer; attached was a press release, which included my bio). So that bio got printed, in full, in the alumni class notes. It read like a commercial. It read like I’d sent it in to be included in the class notes. To me, it read like ew.
At some point, self-promotion becomes less about ego and more about survival: if I do not sell books, I cannot support myself as a writer. Ms. Kennedy, however, was not in survival mode, because fortunately for her, she had a pretty good fall-back plan: she now gets to go back to being Caroline Kennedy.
And you know, I begrudge her not; in fact, I’m thinking, if I had had that fall-back plan, I probably would have done the same.
23 February 2009
Today, I learn about permissions.
I’d hoped to use an excerpt from a Louise Gluck poem for the epigraph to Long For This World. The author (me) is responsible for securing reprint permissions, so after reading over (three times) a document from my publisher which describes how to do this (I’m still not 100% clear on the legalese) I find the Rights & Permissions page at Farrar Straus and Giroux (Gluck’s publisher) and discover this:
We do not allow editing or re-titling of any selection. Your selection must be reproduced verbatim, as a continuous, uninterrupted excerpt, without alteration, deletion, editing, abridgement or condensation.
Well, darn. The entire poem would be too long for an epigraph.
The part of the permissions-explaining document which I understood very clearly was this:
For poets who have been dead more than 70 years, you do not need permissions.
I have no idea who came up with the 70 years rule (or why); but it’s a good thing I had Rilke (1875-1926) in mind as a backup.
17 February 2009
“It’s not that he’s a Luddite — he buys songs on iTunes and does late-night YouTubing like everyone else — or a misanthrope who believes that art was better in someone else’s day. ’I know there’s great stuff out there. But I don’t want to be influenced by stuff that’s going on around me. I’m more interested in consuming stuff that’s stood the test of time and the hard work of filtering has already happened…’
“For Mr. Ward… success has been a slow and steady build. In the decade since he moved to Portland to record his first album, he has supported himself through music — a reflection of the city’s livability as well as his career as a sideman.”
It’s all happening in Portland these days, isn’t it? I hope the city is able to keep its DIY soul for years to come. Speaking of which, check out my friend Elizabeth Dye’s blog. After grad school, where we first met, E. decided she wanted to “teach herself how to sew.” Now she’s an acclaimed fashion designer and co-owner of The English Dept, a boutique in Portland.
16 February 2009
“My mother’s was, I think, a nineteenth-century consciousness… this is far from the register in which ambition expresses itself in the early twenty-first century. A reader looking for irony will find none.” --David Rieff on the early journals of his mother Susan Sontag
(So I’m almost done with the Sontag journals.)
Long for This World is a novel in which a traditional rural culture and modern (media) culture collide. Its “register,” for me, is hard to pinpoint — I will leave that to readers and critics. But I will say that, for the most part, “a reader looking for irony will find none.”
I got nothin’ against irony. As a writer, I enjoy riffing in ironic registers as much as the next guy. Here’s a draft passage from my novel-in-progress, Sebastian & Frederick:
Joe Sonnenberg was, among other things, a superb arguer. His penchant—more like zeal—for nose-bloodying debate (always above the belt, but sharp weaponry permitted) created the exact conditions, the parameters, in which I felt free to chuck things against the wall and see what would stick. Joe was our Socrates and our Ali in one. “The question, Lee, is who the fuck cares? You’re sinking dangerously into the swamp of subjectivity here. The general reader doesn’t care enough about you to care about the boyhood memory that came to you when you entered that interrogation room. Get your goddamned childhood outta there, for Chrissakes…”
Joe was a newspaper man, a Senior News Editor, before coming to World. It was a controversial hire, he was much more rough-and-tumble—a yeller, a gesticulator, a phone-slammer, with black brillo-pad hair and giant hands—than the refined Marsden Letts (Yalie, author, curator, lecturer) who preceded him. But the magazine had begun losing readership during the last years of the Letts reign, alienating, they used to joke, Gerard and Gillian Master’s Degree, who couldn’t get beyond all-but-dissertation and thus missed the subtle intonations of Lettsian World intellect and humor. Joe Sonnenberg may have been rougher ’round the edges than some, but the hiring circle—that’s what they called it, a circle—and anyone who’d ever worked with Joe, knew that his mind was as sharp and brilliantly nuanced as any; and that he understood the business of media.
What fun, writing this passage! And yet, who knows if it will make the cut in later drafts. An ironic voice is not easy to sustain, not if it’s also going to be compelling and on some level trustworthy. The truth is, my natural temperament, and my novelistic interests, are probably, like Sontag’s, more 19th-century than 21st-century.
This is a journal where art is seen as a matter of life and death… And [Sontag] never lacked for people who tried to get her to relax.
Sontag would never have been a blogger. Too much built-in expectation for blip and byte, for irony and entertainment.
Well, God help me; 11-and-a-half months to go…
11 February 2009
AUTHOR QUESTIONNAIRE — Question # 33) For what audience is your book primarily written?
What a question. What I mean is, that’s quite a question. For one thing, it assumes there exists an answer.
From the writer’s perspective, it is not unlike–is in fact related to–the question of why we write. And the answer, I confess, is not so noble or generous as one might hope…
But so as not to upset my publisher, I give it another go. I think less in terms of demographics, and more in terms of bookshelves: if you have these books on your bookshelf, then my book is, generally speaking, written for you. What would those books be? Here is where I need an Amazon.com mathematician, the guys (or gals) who create the algorithms for “Your Recommendations”–if you liked Attack of the Disco Rice, you’ll also like…
The question, I suspect, is formulated for an answer that looks something more like this: women, professional, 30-65; gay men, 25-45; possessors of a passport; HBO subscribers.
Seriously, though, let’s go at it straight: Long For This World is written for people who read literature for both pleasure and meaning. I think I could slap that on the product label and feel pretty good about it.