Tuesday, April 20, 2010
'A fabric of tawdry, mass-produced dreams'
Six years later, his other masterpiece, The Day of the Locust, met with critical misapprehension and reader indifference. The American public and even the Popular Front-fixated intelligentsia were in no mood to be told that the common man was a sullen and disappointed entity ripe for violence and proto-fascism, and American culture a fabric of tawdry, mass-produced dreams.
How like today! That's why I'm working on a novel with some of the same themes, though nothing to do with Hollywood.
(That reference to the "Popular Front" stopped me, and I had to look it up on Wikipedia. It's still ambiguous as to what the writer is referring to, but I'd guess it was either or both "the alliance of political parties in France aimed at resisting Fascism" and Stalin's "policy of forming broad alliances with almost any political party willing to oppose the Fascists.")
technorati: Hollywood, Nathanael West, Day of the Locust
Labels: 1939, American dream, books, Hollywood, writers
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Torn between two lovers
For a while, she made use of an office at The New Yorker. Through the window, she could see the flashing sign of the Time-Life Building; she told her new friend Shirley Hazzard, "When it says 'Time,' I write. When it says 'Life,' I want to go out."
-- from a profile of novelist Muriel Stark
in the April 5, 2010 New Yorker
Labels: New York, New Yorker, writers
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
'Between infatuation and love'
Q. Who are some writers that influence and inspire you?
Here I draw a line between infatuation and love. There are authors I am attracted to, whose books I read and enter into a kind of love correspondence with them, but only in few cases such infatuation transforms into love. I read and re-read such authors repeatedly, see them in my dreams; they seem to be my relatives. I even feel embarrassed naming the authors of the former kind: a love made publicly known rarely lasts long, as Andreas Capellanus would have it. The authors of the latter kind I name proudly: Pushkin, Nabokov, Brodsky, Tolstoy, Mark Twain. There is also a third category of attachment that one carries within like a wound that never heals. For me, two names stand for that: Anna Frank and Maria Shkapskaya. At times I feel my predicament is to write what the two have left unwritten.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Today's fake: Author who admitted to plagiarism last month is caught again
From the increasingly invaluable MobyLives blog, which is the house blog of the Melville House publishing concern: author Gerald Posner, who wrote for Slate.com until he was caught plagiarizing, is once again the subject of plagiarism charges. Apparently he scanned in lots of sources for a book on Miami vice -- organized crime, that is, not the TV show -- and neglected to clearly mark in his files the material that was from other authors.
That's his explanation, in any case... He also says the stuff he was found to have lifted constitutes "a unique case," and will revise the book, and wasn't that just what Charles Pellegrino said a few weeks ago when questions first arose about "Last Train from Hiroshima"?
technorati: fakes, writers, plagiarism
Labels: Bad Behavior, books, fakes, publishing, writers
Friday, January 22, 2010
Narcissism and literature
The new New Yorker has a review of a book titled "Memoir, a History," in which author Ben Yagoda looks at the history of memoirs starting with St. Augustine and coming down to our present era, in which a a desperate search by readers and the entertainment industry for authenticity and stories of redemption and triumph led to a spate of faked memoirs. (A couple years ago the NYT took notice of this phenomenon.) The writer of the review, Daniel Mendelsohn, names most of the recent flaming scandals except for the J.T. LeRoy hoax, but the LeRoy books weren't actually supposed to be memoirs. That particular flim-flam was more elaborate than a single (or series of) fabricated memoir.
For several years I've taken great pleasure in blogging about these cases, collected on my blog with the labels hoaxes and fakes (applied somewhat inconsistently, but do I look like a librarian?).
technorati: hoaxes, literary hoaxes, memoirs
Labels: closet cases, fakes, hoaxes, writers
Friday, December 25, 2009
David Aaron Clark, writer
A man I knew very tangentally during the heyday of Frighten the Horses and my erotica writing career, David Aaron Clark, died last month, I just noticed. In addition to being an erotica writer and editor, he was involved with the adult movie scene, writing screenplays and covering the industry in reviews and news articles. No newspapers seem to have published obituaries, but here is a tribute by Amelia G, a fellow traveler.
technorati: erotica writers
Labels: pornography, writers
Saturday, December 12, 2009
An understandable confusion
He was gradually, I wouldn't say losing his mind, but he would get confused about things. I remember when my daughter was born, he would refer to her as a book. And he would refer to his latest book as a child. He really had things turned around.
Screenwriter Robert Towne on novelist John Fante
in an interview in
Stop Smiling magazine, no. 32
technorati: Robert Towne, John Fante, writers
Labels: Beat writers, books, writers
Friday, November 13, 2009
The life of a writer, part LXMDVVVII
My friend Marilyn, who went through a few years when she supported herself by writing romance novels, posts a few anecdotes today that highlight the strange demands of genre work:
In the Secret Hours was even worse. It was my one & only book to have an exclusive distribution with Borders Books. I had just begun writing it. It was late May and I allegedly had until Labor Day to write a 255 page novel. But, oops! The publisher called in alarm to say there was some sort of misunderstanding in the contract and my novel had to be turned in by the 4th of July. I had 5 weeks to write an entire novel that I only had a vague storyline for. No outline, just some notes. It was really hell. I thought my fingers were going to fall off from all that marathon typing everyday-long-into-the-night. Not only that, but I seriously had to let the story tell itself. Whatever the fuck came out onto the paper became "the novel." It was a real nightmare for me. And when the reviews came out and were bad, well, what are you going to say? Complain about the fuck up in your deadline? It just makes you look like a cry baby. Read the whole entry.
technorati: writing, novels
Labels: fiction writing, writers, writing techniques
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Augusten Burroughs on tenacity
I had an agent for a few years, and she did a wonderful job getting my novel Make Nice in front of publishers. (Unfortunately none of them bought it, but that was my fault, not hers.) As most of my friends know, last year she quit the agent business, so I'm trying to find a new agent for my novel Mango Rain (which has had other titles in manuscript, including "Bangalored").
As I start the process of trying to find an agent again, these words from Augusten Burroughs are encouraging.
As a writer, you can't allow yourself the luxury of being discouraged and giving up when you are rejected, either by agents or publishers. You absolutely must plow forward. I believe that if you have real talent as a writer, a true gift, you will eventually be published. But it may not happen according to your schedule. And it may not happen with the first manuscript you create. Or the second. So you have to be, if not patient, at least endlessly tenacious.
Once I decided to write, to be published, I knew it would happen. I knew that if I wrote a new book every six months or every year, if I continued to read great books, eventually I would write something worthy of publication. I understood I might be in my forties or my fifties or even my sixties, but I felt confident that it would happen. The reason I was so confident is because I knew I wouldn't stop trying until it happened. And this is the secret. You don't need to be confident. You just need to be stubborn.
technorati: writing, rejection
Labels: publishing, writers
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Take what you will
Novelist Richard Ford, interviewed by a Chilean newspaper: "Bolaño is overrated in the U.S.... But I liked the sex scenes." Interview in Spanish.
Labels: Bolaņo, writers
Friday, August 14, 2009
Triumph of the bourgeoisie: getting rid of the dark scum on your deck
A couple days ago the NYT had an article about someone who realized a classic upper-class fantasy: buy the house behind yours, and transform it into something that shows everyone the superiority of your taste.
Just to be clear what we're talking about, here is the photograph showing an interior view of the transformed second house:
That the person in question was a celebrity author, Douglas Coupland (among other things, he is credited with creating the phrase "Generation X") adds to the cachet of the project and makes it seem like an acceptable thing for a liberal to do. To clarify his intentions, here's his description of the house in question:
"It was just a mess," he said. "There was dog effluvia, nicotine dripping down the walls, water damage...."Nicotine "dripping down the walls"? Man, your neighbors were real trash, weren't they? You sure did the world a favor by taking their house and turning it into some kind of overblown cartoon of 20th century architectural flavors rather than, say, creating a home for for a family (or, given the apparent size of the mansion, several families). But if people lived in it, they might smoke, or have pets, or disturb the "art" that Coupland has put up, or worst of all, interrupt what he has apparently been doing ever since being the renovation, and which he must be doing over and over and over again while reading this New York Times piece and viewing its slideshow of images, namely, masturbating.
technorati: houses, Douglas Coupland, decorating
Labels: closet cases, geeks, writers
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Crank of the day
The novelist and short story writer Ray Bradbury, now 89, is the subject of a New York Times profile because of his campaign on behalf of his local library. "Libraries raised me," he says.
But on the subject of the internet and e-books, Bradbury turns up the cranky old man:
Yahoo called me eight weeks ago. They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? "To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet." While I admire the spunk, and acknowledge the author's right to control the distribution of his work, I wonder who he thinks has been reading his work for the last ten or twenty years. The same people who are crazy about the internet. And once a decent digital device is arrived at, Bradbury's books will be on it, along with everyone else's.
technorati: Ray Bradbury
Labels: books, the internets, writers
Monday, June 08, 2009
A citizen of what?
Some conversations I've had recently, along with articles and interviews I've read, as well as the upheaval in the world media industry, has made me think more about democracy lately, and the relationship between media and citizenship. By citizenship I mean not whether or not one is eligible to carry a passport from any particular country, but the role one plays as a citizen of wherever you happen to be living.
This train of thought started when I interviewed Trevor Paglen earlier this year about his work mapping secret surveillance projects, military installations, and government agencies. He talked about how valuable investigative journalists were:
Investigative journalists are becoming so scarce; there's increasingly less and less funding for people to do real time-consuming, painstaking forms of research and journalism. And let's face it, when we look at the big news stories coming out of the world of state secrets in the last eight years or so, they were pretty much all broken by people who spent years, investigative journalists who spent years working on these stories. Things like NSA wiretapping, CIA secret prisons. And people who are in a position to do that work are becoming rarer and rarer, and there's less and less funding for that kind of work.So the endangered status of newspapers means not just that we'll have to figure out a different way to get box scores in the morning, but that we'll have fewer people holding government, business and other institutions accountable for their actions or failure to act.
Then I saw this fascinating interview with San Francisco journalist Richard Rodriguez, who says it's not so much that the San Francisco Chronicle (to take one example) is dying, it's the myth of San Francisco that the Chronicle sold all these years.
Finally, there's this annoying piece by Pico Iyer in the New York Times, in which he brags that his life is better without a car or even a bicycle, much less his own laserjet printer:
I still live in the vicinity of Kyoto, in a two-room apartment that makes my old monastic cell look almost luxurious by comparison. I have no bicycle, no car, no television I can understand, no media -- and the days seem to stretch into eternities, and I can't think of a single thing I lack. I'm no Buddhist monk, and I can't say I'm in love with renunciation in itself, or traveling an hour or more to print out an article I've written, or missing out on the N.B.A. Finals. But at some point, I decided that, for me at least, happiness arose out of all I didn't want or need, not all I did.Later he makes clear two things: he hasn't divested himself of electronic possessions, for he exults in new releases by his favorite bands; secondly, "when I return to the United States every three months or so and pick up a newspaper, I find I haven't missed much at all. While I've been rereading P.G. Wodehouse, or 'Walden,' the crazily accelerating roller-coaster of the 24/7 news cycle has propelled people up and down and down and up and then left them pretty much where they started."
Great for his peace of mind. Of course most people want a simplified life, and if it means choosing between a stereo and a printer (although printers are cheap, and it just seems silly not to have one), then you have the advantage of feeling virtuous for (in his case) having to walk an hour to print something.
But I was alarmed at the note about how he reads a newspaper only once every three months. If everyone detaches like that -- sorry if this sounds corny -- who is left to defend democracy? Who is left to notice, and to protest, when a mining company plows a mountaintop into a fragile river, or when businessmen wreck an industry and profit from it? Or when the police or government agencies overstep their bounds, as they always will when no one is looking?
technorati: Pico Iyer, voluntary simplicity, living abroad
Labels: civil rights, geeks, Japan, writers
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Chris Adrian story in the New Yorker
In the April 20 New Yorker there is a short story so amazingly good, the kind you tell every friend about, so I am linking to it here: A Tiny Feast.
I was excited because I hadn't heard of the author before and he seems to be from San Francisco. A quick Google search proved my ignorance; he has several books and apparently has been famous for the last seven or eight years. So I probably won't be ringing him up for an interview. Some writers inspire me and make me feel like I could write as wonderfully as they do, even if a part of me knows I can't; this year I found Yiyun Li and Roberto Bolaño especially inspiring. Other writers -- classically Toni Morrison -- discourage and intimidate me and make me feel like I have no business trying to write. Chris Adrian is one of the latter, so even if I did wangle an interview I don't know what I'd ask anyway.
technorati: THIS, THAT, TOTHER
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
More celebrity memoirs the solution to publishing's problems
She says she wants to flog "celebrity-driven" books, bringing in "'really smart' writers to help shape those public figures' lives into books." As for the literary part of being a literary agent:
I'm trying not to do too much literary stuff -- which is not to say I'm not taking smart things, but there's a certain type of pretentious novel that I just hate, that I'd spent most of my career trying to write away from... I want to represent books that will actually reach people.Like celebrity memoirs. More at my Open Salon blog
technorati: books, writers, publishing
Labels: books, novel writing, publishing, writers
Friday, January 23, 2009
Interview with Yiyun Li -- the personal and political
Yesterday I interviewed author Yiyun Li, whose new novel The Vagrants is the best literary novel I've read in a long time. Get used to me mentioning it, because it's one of those books you feel everyone who appreciates great writing should read.
One of the questions I addressed in the interview has to do with her intention in depicting the lives of people living in a provincial Chinese town in 1979, a few years after the close of the Cultural Revolution. She depicts those lives as very grim, filled with brutality and violence. Some of the details on the smaller scale strike one as particularly heartless, as when she talks about a family where the parents, disappointed after having six female children, don't even bother to give names to the youngest three, who are referred to as Little Fourth, Fifth and Sixth. Other details, about the way the government treats political prisoners, are violent in a more physical way -- for example, they stage a "denunciation ceremony" for a political prisoner, and cut her vocal cords before the rally so she can't shout any counter-revolutionary slogans in front of a crowd.
Given this cruel picture, I asked the author if she intended the book to be an indictment of Chinese society, and she answered very forcefully:
I don't have any intention for the novel to be an indictment of anything. That is a big NO. NO. NO. The situation may seem Chinese and specific to this era, but if you look at history, horrible things happen all the time. Brutality and violence happen all the time. On all scales. I can't shy away from that if I am writing a book.... My story happens to be set in China, and the characters happen to be Chinese. But if you read, say, Toni Morrison's novels, would you say she is depicting an unfairly negative picture of America? I replied, "Certainly negative, but I would not say unfairly so." But there's more to say. Most Americans are secure enough in their views of their country that they don't object to negative, yet fair, criticism. I don't think China is yet secure enough in its reputation to feel the same way. You'll remember how sensitive they were last year to criticism of their human rights record, and how they took pains to ensure that the picture of China -- during the Olympics, at least -- was a positive one.
Regardless of her intention, I wouldn't be surprised if some people see Li's book as an indictment of Chinese society. But she went on to say:
I think that is a very narrow way of looking at literature... a very soviet, socialist view of how literature should represent certain things. I feel that as a writer the only people I feel responsible to are my characters. And I would need to treat them very fairly. Of course, that's the right approach for any artist to take. But what strikes me is that, as far as the content of her book is concerned, she feels her first allegiance is not to either the country of her birth or her adopted one -- one she had to struggle to stay in, as I mentioned yesterday -- but to her book's characters.
I admire that very much, and I found much else to admire in the book itself, as I state in the interview.
technorati: writers, Yiyun Li, China
Labels: books, narrative, novel writing, novelists, writers
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Today I interviewed author Yiyun Li, whose new novel The Vagrants I just finished reading, and can't say enough good things about. It'll take me a little bit to edit and post the interview, but in the meantime you can read a short profile of the Oakland writer, or read this 2005 Washington Post article about her struggle, ultimately successful, to stay in this country.
technorati: Yiyun Li, books
Labels: books, writers
Sunday, January 04, 2009
Eight years' work on her book paid off
On the SF Metroblog, I just posted an interview with novelist Nami Mun, whose work I was alerted to through the blog of another Korean-American writer, Alex Chee.
I hadn't heard of Mun, but she is a Pushcart Prize winner. According to the book deals log on Publishers Marketplace, Mun's book sold in a "significant" deal, which is between $250K and $500K, but she did work on it for eight years. Say she got $250K for the book, that's about $30,000 a year.
Her multi-city book tour has just started, and I hope it goes better than that other guy's.
technorati: writers, book deals, Nami Mun
Labels: book deals, books, publishing, writers
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Friends' sites, links and projects
San Francisco author Michelle Richmond had a reader so entranced with her novel The Year of Fog that he took a Flickr photo set of the places and things mentioned in the book. The novel is being developed for the screen by Newmarket Films.
Stephen Elliott and some other folks have a new online magazine, The Rumpus, and they're having a benefit reading on Jan. 14.
Labels: books, magazines, writers
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
My near-misses with the near-famous, part 1
In August 2002 I went to L.A. to do a reading for Too Beautiful, the first edition of my first book. It was a strange event, held at the Hustler Store in Hollywood. Of all the writers who appeared, I was the only one who actually read anything; everyone else just talked for a few minutes. Among those appearing was a woman who did a strange sort of grad-student presentation about bukkake porn almost illegible blown-up photos that had been turned into a sort of black-and-white poster-sized comic book. She had "researched" the subject by attending the filming of a bukkake video, but was at pains to say that she, personally, was not into it. My whole reaction was, yeah, whatever. This turned out to be Suzannah Breslin, who has become internet-famous. Just as I didn't get her presentation, if that's what it was, I have never really gotten her blog or her writing.
technorati: Suzannah Breslin
Labels: porn, pornography, the internets, writers
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Why should the devil have all the good music?
Brilliant writer Janice Erlbaum posted an amusing tale about combatting an annoying subway preacher by singing as loudly as he was ranting. Her selections included "Let's Do It," "You Do Something To Me," "When They Begin the Beguine," and "It's All Right With Me." It didn't stop the guy's ranting but did raise her spirits.
The title of this post refers to a song by a Jesus rocker, Larry Norman.
technorati: Bad Behavior, subway+preachers,Janice Erlbaum
Labels: Bad Behavior, bloggers, democracy, evangelicals, writers
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Pessoa in the NYT
A few weeks ago I started reading a remarkable book, "The Book of Disquiet" by a Portugese writer, Fernando Pessoa. It's a collection of very short pieces -- almost like journal entries -- written from a fictionalized point of view. The perspective is almost zen-like (in fact, I bought a copy of the book for a friend who practices Zen meditation) in the narrator's quality of observation and his perception of nothingness at the core of existence. But it's not correct to speak of the book's "narrator," since the author's intent was not to write a novel or even a fictionalized diary, but to filter his own perceptions through layers of personas.
Today in the New York Times there's an article about Pessoa, whom I had never heard of before a month ago. In fact, I can't remember how I heard of this book. But it's really, really great. I was happy to see that its star shot in the NYT today resulted in a big spike in sales on Amazon.com, where it's number 4016 at this moment.
technorati: Fernando Pessoa
Labels: books, reading, writers
Friday, May 09, 2008
It's Bad Behavior Friday&trade! -- Mother's Day edition
The 83-year-old mother of French novelist Michel Houellebecq is interviewed in the Guardian today (courtesy Galleycat), calling her son -- a French version of Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Cooper, if their work was merged, cleansed of male homosexual content, and made even more obsessed with death -- an "evil, stupid little bastard" adding that "this individual, who alas came from my womb, is a liar, an imposter, a parasite and above all -- above all -- a petit arriviste ready to do absolutely anything for money and fame."
See, that's what happens when your parents read your work. Never let your parents read your work! Or, at least, work as if they never will.
Speaking of mothers, searching on "Britney's mom" turns up this amazing video, which does not depict either Britney or her mom. I love how that guy catches the babies on the first bounce.
Forty-one states have laws allowing women to abandon their babies at fire stations or other government facilities without facing prosecution. Curiously, the time limit for doing so varies wildly, from 72 hours (many states) to 45 (Indiana, Kansas) or 90 days (New Mexico) to a whole year (North Dakota). For some reason, all the states with long deadlines are rural flyover states, though New Jersey, Connecticut and Maine give you a month.
technorati: mothers, flying baby, Michel Houellebecq
Labels: Bad Behavior, Houellebecq, mothers, writers
Monday, May 05, 2008
Adventures in book publicity
Hey look, it's my friend Sara on the NPR home page, doing a "This I Believe" shot to promote her book Take This Bread.
I interviewed Sara in 2006 when she was completing the book; this interview with the SF Gate.com website is much better. Among other places, you can see her work on salon.com.
Her book caught the attention of the Episcopal church's presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who quoted it in a 2007 commencement address at an Episcopal seminary. Others who loved the book include Anne Lamott.
Sara's previous book was about the relationship between Web 1.0-era entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and the Al Gore campaign, but this piece she wrote in the New York Times in 1999 -- the same year she began going to church -- already reflects her questions about whose responsibility it is to make sure people are fed.
(By the way, this Sara Miles is a completely different one than the one with the autistic kid who's gone on the Snow White ride at Disney World 2084 times, and whom I blogged about yesterday without mentioning the mother's name.)
technorati: Sara Miles
Labels: books by friends, friends, Sara Miles, Take This Bread, writers
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
It's Bad Behavior Wednesday™!
In a shameless bit of online theft, a Chinese publisher took interviews and illustrations from a comix fan's website and packaged them into a $100 coffee table book, even including a CD with digital copies of everything -- "They didn't even bother to change the filenames." And a famous romance author has been caught stealing as well.
In other news from Galleycat, Generation X is now feeling angst about not being the newest, hottest generation anymore. They're "caught between the boomers and the millennials." But the millenials don't have it so good: just look at this epic whine from a Harvard freshman.
technorati: whining, plagiarism, authors, Chinese publishing
Labels: Bad Behavior, publishing, writers
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Contra status quo
I do not know the work of Belgian novelist Hugo Claus, who died this week, but I like this quote used to describe his relation to the world:
I am a person who is unhappy with things as they stand. We cannot accept the world as it is. Each day we should wake up foaming at the mouth because of the injustice of things.
technorati: authors, writers, obituaries
Labels: waking early, writers
Friday, February 29, 2008
Today's hoax: author says 'I felt Jewish'
A woman who several years ago insisted that her 1997 memoir "Misha, a Memoir of the Holocaust Years" was true has admitted that the whole story, in which she depicts herself as a Jewish child who wanders by herself across Nazi-occupied Europe searching for her deported parents, is a hoax (courtesy Publishers Marketplace). The book is the basis for a new French movie, "Survivre avec les Loups" -- it seems that according to one passage in the book the author claimed to have been sheltered by wolves.
In a statement, the author said the real story is that while she is a Belgian Catholic, her parents were resistance fighters who were arrested by the Nazis, and that therefore she "felt Jewish," and believes the story "was my reality, my way of surviving."
Apart from the preposterous notion of a small child being taken in by a wolf pack, rather than devoured for lunch, the notion of a child being protected from the Nazis in this manner seems very strange even as a fictional trope, as wolves were a symbol favored by the Nazis themselves.
Coincidentally, I saw part of "Dr. Zhivago" on TV last night, and as we watched the scene where Zhivago and Lara are marooned in a snowy dacha surrounded by howling wolves, Cris murmured, "The wolves symbolize the Bolsheviks." That never occurred to me, but I realized she was right. I'm terrible at symbols, they go right by me -- somewhat of a handicap for a novelist.
technorati: literary hoaxes, holocaust, novels, French cinema
Labels: Bad Behavior, books, hoaxes, writers
Saturday, December 22, 2007
'The modern world is absolutely fascist'
From the point of view of mass propaganda and advertising, I think there's been nothing new since the time of Goebbels. Women must look like this, this and this. All who are not within these bounds must strive for them, or be losers. That's a completely fascist doctrine. I'm surprised there aren't people standing with rulers outside nightclubs and measuring the distance between people's ears. Probably they will be soon, and that will be right in this situation.That's Russian novelist Sergei Minaev, profiled in the NYT today. The article is good, and there's also a Q and A sidebar, from which I drew the extended quote above.
All of modern consumer society, without a doubt, is profoundly fascist. You can see this by Africa. People have problems finding drinking water. But you can always find Coca-Cola. How is this possible?
I studied the history of the Third Reich. I found incredible facts. It's clear that the Soviet Union of those years and Fascist Germany were twins. It's no secret for anyone. But the fact that in the contemporary situation, all of these speeches, all of these propaganda approaches, in one way or another serve as the template for the speeches of many politicians. The direct speech of Goebbels is incredibly modern, just change radio to television and no problem.
In addition, I was struck by this quote:
I had a period when I was 24-28 years old. I was part of a heavy scene that began Friday evening and as a rule ended on Monday morning. This was about age 24-27. Now, I don't go out except for exceptional cases... Now, we get together at home and talk, the same format as in kitchens in the 1980s. That's much more pleasant because you're surrounded only by those people whom you like. There's none of that showing off. It's completely peaceful.I was struck by the similarity of this depiction of life with the description of the life of a member of the Chinese intelligentsia of the 17th century in the latest New York Review of Books. From the article (not yet online) 'Ravished by Oranges' by Simon Leys, a review of "Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man":
A great number of scholars gave up the idea of entering public life and opted instead for an existence devoted to the exclusive cultivation of art and letters in the privacy of their homes... Zhang Dai... designed exquisite pavilions and gardens; he gathered a huge library, collected antiques, and was a connoisseur of calligraphy and painting...Here you have two men, separated by 450 years, who respond to the bankruptcy of public and political life in the same way -- by retreating to the domain of the home and forming a world built around friends, art and talk. I'm not saying it's the best solution, but an understandable one in the face of a morally and politically bankrupt society, one becoming increasingly fascist -- which is to compare Ming Dynasty China and modern Russia.
technorati: writers, novelists, Russian, advertising, marketing
Labels: advertising, marketing, novelists, writers
Saturday, December 08, 2007
The Ghost Writers
Think Tom Brokaw and other celebrities actually write those books that appear with their names on the cover? As Forbes says: "Surely you jest."
Why this is described as "ghost writing" and not as a hoax is beyond me. (Courtesy MediaBistro.)
technorati: writers, hoaxes
Labels: publishing, writers
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Humorous coda to 'Alice's Restaurant'
Last evening I was doing errands in the car when I happened to hear the 1995 live version of Arlo Guthrie performing "Alice's Restaurant."
As a coda on the 30th anniversary of the original events that inspired the song, he adds an anecdote in which Jimmy Carter's son Chip tells him of discovering, when the Carter family moved into the White House, the "Alice's Restaurant" album. The text of the anecdote is at the link above. Funny.
Arlo Guthrie, born in 1947, would have been only 18 in 1965 when the "massacree" transpired, 20 in 1967 when the original recording was made, and 22 when he appeared as himself in the Arthur Penn movie.
Yet he is now an old man. How do these things happen? Arlo Guthrie grown up, I can handle; middle-aged, okay. But not like this.
technorati: Arlo Guthrie, Alice's Restaurant, 1995
Labels: 1969, radio, writers
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Who Twinka was
In my looking around the internet for references to Henry Miller, I ran across an interview with the painter Wayne Thiebaud, whose candy-colored paintings of California I have always liked. In the interview, Thiebaud mentions a daughter Twinka (b. 1945). The name rang a bell, and I thought of this famous photograph: I knew the title of the photo was "Imogen and Twinka," and I thought, hell, there must be only one Twinka. Wow, I never knew the gorgeous woman in that famous photo was the daughter of a famous painter.
The photographer is Judy Dater, and another of her pictures of the famous painter's daughter can be seen here.
Anyway, according to the interview, Twinka Thiebaud "helped take care of Henry Miller in the end of his life. She was friends with his daughter" and also edited a book of Miller's miscellanea titled "Reflections." She is seen with Miller in the small image at the top of this blog post, which has links to this amusing anecdote by a newly minted mail carrier who met Miller and Twinka. And here is the uncropped image of the two of them.
technorati: Imogen Cunningham
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Random links to Henry Miller
In writing my current book, I'm engrossing myself in the work of Henry Miller, digging through the Tropics and the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy (I'm now almost finished with Plexus.) At the same time I'm reading a biography, The Happiest Man Alive. Miller is clearly of a piece with Jack Kerouac in that his novels consists mostly of fictionalized autobiography, and I was looking on the internet for something that would be the equivalent of this chart of Kerouac's characters in On the Road and their real-life equivalents.
I found this blog entry by another Miller aficionado with a small graphic of such a chart that Miller himself kept, but not even the original graphic, much less a chart than anyone else compiled. Maybe I'll do it myself -- but not at the moment.
Meanwhile, here are a few interesting things I ran into on the way, thanks to Google and others' links:
- April 2007 SF Chronicle: Novelist Herbert Gold on his acquaintance with Miller. I was particularly amused by Gold's saying that in his later writing Miller "declared loudly and hotly, with dash, brio, careless grammar, repetitiveness and bawdy self-centeredness, that idleness, drunkenness and sexual complications were essential to a life of proper dignity." And also that "He was a Jack Kerouac who really liked sex."
- October 2007 Guardian: a short appreciation, but I liked the author's statement that without Miller leading the way "authors such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Kathy Acker, and Michel Houellebecq" would never have found the audiences they did.
- Style, June 1997: a scholarly article on "Henry Miller's bourgeois family Christmas in 'Nexus'"
- And finally, a big fan page of links to more Henry Miller-related stuff.
technorati: Henry Miller, writers
Labels: novelists, writers
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
The only people that interest me are the mad ones
"... I certainly do envy you... The thing I'll always remember about this fellow" -- he looked from one to the other with a melting glow -- "is his inextinguishable gaiety. I don't think I've seen him depressed more than once or twice in all the time I've known him. As long as there's food and a place to flop... isn't that it?" He turned his gaze on me with unmingled affection. "Some of my friends -- you know the ones I mean -- ask me occasionally if you aren't just a bit touched. I always say, 'Certainly he is ... too bad we're not all touched in the same way.' And then they ask me how you support yourself--and your family. There I have to give up..."
We all began to laugh rather hysterically. Ulric laughed even more heartily than the rest of us. He laughed at himself -- for raising such silly issues. Mona, of course, had a different reason for laughing.*
"Sometimes I think I'm living with a madman," she blurted out, tears in her eyes.
"Yes?" said Ulric, drawing the word out.
"Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night and begins laughing. He's laughing about something that happened eight years ago. Something tragic usually."
"I'll be damned," said Ulric.
"Sometimes he laughs that way because things are so hopeless he doesn't know what to do. It worries me when he laughs that way."
"Shucks," I said, "it's only another way of weeping."
-- Henry Miller, Plexus
* Miller's wife June -- "Mona" in the book -- supported them by gold-digging.
technorati: Henry Miller,artists,iconoclasm
Labels: art, depression, novelists, working, writers
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Flannery never liked digging too deeply
Here's Flannery O'Connor, writing to her correspondent "A" on why the bull had to gore a character in her story "Greenleaf":
What personal problems are worked out in the story must be unconscious. My preoccupations are technical. My preoccupation is how I am going to get the bull's horns into this woman's ribs. Of course why his horns belong in her ribs is something more fundamental but I can say I give [sic] it much thought. Perhaps you are able to see things in these stories that I can't see because if I did see I would be too frightened to write them. I have always insisted that there is a fine grain of stupidity required in the fiction writer. Previously: Another instance in which O'Connor resisted interpretation of one of her stories.
technorati: Flannery O'Connor, fiction, literary criticism
Labels: fiction, writers, writing techniques
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Today's peak experience not so isolated
Today's NYT has a prominent feature on one of the dwindling corps of human (as opposed to robot) fire lookouts. It carefully catalogues the firewatch tower, one of thousands built in the 1930s by WPA workers, and name-checks the most famous fire watchman ever, Jack Kerouac.
Kerouac chronicled his summer of 1956 atop Desolation Peak in his novel Desolation Angels, which has become my favorite of his books. (He published a shorter description in "The Dharma Bums," a more widely read book.) A few years ago, an absolutely beautiful companion book, Poets on the Peaks by John Suiter, revisited Kerouac's outpost, along with those of fellow Beat writers Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen, who also served as fire watchers during the 1950s and whose understanding of Zen Buddhism was greatly enhanced by their experience of solitude.
One of the most vivid passages in "Desolation Angels" is the anxious scene in which Kerouac, whose only pair of shoes had fallen to pieces during the summer, hastily descends the mountain with bleeding feet to a lake cove where a Forest Service boat would pick him up. The sequence makes clear how isolated the Desolation Peak outpost was -- reachable only on foot by a steep trail after a boat ride up a lake. (The trip to the isolated Holden Village retreat center, where I spent six weeks in 2003, is somewhat comparable, though you don't have to hike into it on foot.)
The writer of the Times article seems to suggest the lookout he visited is similarly isolated:
One travels back in time, road-wise, going from asphalt to dirt to a treacherous stone-filled path that acts as the lookout's driveway. And then you hike. Up past an outhouse, up past the spot where rattlesnakes like to sun themselves and up two flights of metal stairs... But a close look at the photograph published with the NYT piece shows a truck parked only a couple hundred yards away:
The article doesn't say, but I'd bet that's one reason that particular lookout cabin has survived as a human-staffed lookout: its accessibility.
Labels: Beat writers, travel, writers, writing techniques
Monday, September 17, 2007
With Frey's new book deal, people are pissed afresh
James Frey, who made quarter-million readers throw up when he admitted that the harrowing details of his drug-addled youth, as chronicled in "A Million Little Pieces," were mostly made up, signed a book deal last week for a novel. Since that's what his first book should have been characterized as, you might think he'd get a little credit, but it just made people pissed off all over again. Alexander Chee and friends comment.
Coincidentally, San Francisco writer Stephen Elliott published an essay in the Chronicle's books section yesterday called Focus On the Book, Not On the Writer. He says it doesn't matter there was no real J.T. LeRoy.
I can't agree. I regularly excoriated and mocked the LeRoy hoaxers, as well as other fakes, last year. Charlie Anders, on the other hand, agrees with Elliott.
technorati: writers, hoaxes,JT LeRoy,James Frey
Labels: fakes, writers
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Lit liars in the news
Coincidentally, two of last year's most disgraced authors were in the news today. The filthy rich parents of Kaavya Viswanathan, whose name was attached to a largely plagiarized novel "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed" etc., bought a $3.2 million condo in Manhattan. And Galleycat reports that James Frey has recovered enough from his national humiliation on Oprah to pen a novel. Man, that's one book that's going to be combed for lice like a first grader's head.
technorati: James Frey, Kaavya, hoaxes, writers
Labels: book deals, fakes, hoaxes, publishing, writers
Friday, September 07, 2007
Live the life of a writer!
Via Publisher's Lunch:
I was speaking to a friend recently and telling him I was going to Italy this summer with my family to work on a book there and he said, "Tell me, sometime, how one gets a lifestyle like that." I wanted to tell him that what you have to do is write for ten or twelve years not knowing if anyone else in the world will ever want to read it, and then be fortunate enough to get a book published, and have a good wife who understands your need to do that, and then be able to deal with the fact that you have about five thousand dollars' worth of bills in the in-basket, and about three thousand dollars in the bank, and you have no idea when the next dollar is coming, or where it's coming from, and you go upstairs with that worry swirling in your mind, and you sit down at a desk that has pictures of your kids on it, and you make up stories that you think will move other people ... but it didn't sound right somehow, so I just shrugged and made a joke.
For other people it's not going to a party on Saturday night and staying home and writing. For others it's looking your mom or dad in the eyes and saying you know they put you through college, and you appreciate it, but instead of going on to pharmacy school, which was their dream for you, you've decided to live in a crappy apartment someplace with your girlfriend and write a book. For others it's facing all the little madhouses inside themselves and writing about that, all the self-doubt and negative voices, all your other failures and half-successes, all the comments of the practical-minded folks you love. Or all of the above.
technorati: writing, writers, lifestyle
Labels: novel writing, novelists, writers
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Remember your manners
[The writers] Caroline [Gordon Tate] and Katherine Anne Porter spent the weekend here... and one night, we had the lot of them to supper. Katherine Anne remembered to inquire about a chicken of mine that she had met here two years before. I call that really having a talent for winning friends and influencing people when you remember to inquire for a chicken that you met two years before. She was so sorry that it was night and she wouldn't get to see him again as she had particularly wanted to. I call that social grace.
-- from a letter of Flannery O'Connor
to the novelist Cecil Dawkins, 8 November 1960,
in The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor"
technorati: Flannery O'Connor, Katherine Anne Porter
Labels: novelists, writers
Thursday, June 07, 2007
How Simenon wrote over 200 novels
In the Summer issue of Bookforum, Luc Sante discusses several novels of Georges Simenon that have been re-released. Of the "phenomenally prolific" Simenon, who wrote over 200 novels, he writes:
Famously, two days before starting a novel, he would consult a map of the place where the book was to be set, search through his collections of telephone books for names of characters, and establish the cast -- ages, backgrounds, family ties -- on the back of a manila envelope. Then he was ready, as he told a Paris Review interviewer in 1955: In this 1997 obituary, Simenon is further quoted:
On the eve of the first day I know what will happen in the first chapter. Then, day after day, chapter after chapter, I find what comes later. After I have started a novel I write a chapter each day, without ever missing a day. Because it is a strain, I have to keep pace with the novel... All the day I am one of my characters. I feel what he feels.... And it's almost unbearable after five or six days. That is one of the reasons my novels are so short; after eleven days I can't -- it's impossible. I have to -- it's physical. I am too tired.
I write a chapter a day. It's the character who commands, not me. I know the end only when I finish. But during the time I'm writing I concentrate, concentrate on my characters. Only the characters matter.
Labels: fiction writing, novelists, writers
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Best friends in the world
Lots of action from friends of mine.
Sara Miles is promoting her new book Take This Bread, and yesterday she did a radio interview at Irvine's KUCI. I saw her this morning at morning prayer and she was handing out buttons that read: wtfwjd?
Painter Chris Carraher recently put up a new show of her work down in the art capital of the Mojave Desert, Twentynine Palms. (Don't believe it? Ask The New York Times.) Her recent post about performance artist Nao Bustamente, in which she confesses she is dumbstruck in the presence of the local genius, is lovely.
technorati: Chris Carraher, Nao Bustamante, Sara Miles
Labels: Chris Carraher, Nao Bustamante, Sara Miles, writers
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