THIS WEEK IN LITERARY HISTORY

Thomas Hardy gets wasted, sells his wife and child, and thinks, "This is an awesome idea for a novel."

Earworms

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When Katniss Met Oswald

Hungah

I’ve done it! I’ve published something on my blog for the first time in months!

Can I get that book contract now?

The class in which I learned the most about writing fiction was not a writing class at all, but, of all things, a course in comedic acting.

No joke.

One of our “assignments” was to develop a skit that took hierarchy and status as the determinants, as it were, of the laughs. And I came up with one of my better efforts–a skit about a lesbian urologist, though the woman acting it out essentially ruined it by reading her lines with the same enthusiasm she might have in examining the flaccid, hairy appendage of an 88-year-old begging for a re-up for his ED meds.

I’ve been running this over my brain (the connection between acting and writing, not octogenarians trying to get boner pills) as we are being overwhelmed by The Hunger Games, the film version of the ridiculously successful YA novel by Suzanne Collins. The success of these books proves, without a doubt in my mind, that successful writers are, essentially, actors in disguise.

Hunger Games appears to be the next multi-movie, multiplexgasmic money machine from our friends in Hollywood, following the Lord of the Rings series and Harry Potter (of which my favorite is the yet-to-be released Harry Potter and the Asshole of Fire, but never mind). The first weekend of Hunger spawned more than $150 million in box office, which will feed a lot of people indeed.

You may not have anticipated the wild success of the novels and movie if you knew much about the author: Suzanne Collins started out writing for television. Not just any television, mind you, but children’s  television. Really little kids television, the kind that Young Boy watched with some regularity from ages two to four before discovering Uber Violence in the form of a nascent fascination with warships, fighter jets, tanks, and anything that explodes.

yo

 

From calamari to stone-cold killa Katniss

For those of you familiar with such entertainments, Collins’s TV credits include Oswald, about a friendly blue octopus, voiced by the great Fred Savage, who wears a bowler hat, has a dog shaped like a hot dog, counts an obsessive-compulsive penguin and talking daisy as best friends, and is as gentle as “The Hunger Games” is, well, savage. Also to her credit: Clarissa Explains It AllLittle Bear, and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woowhich featured Pat Morita, who does not once in the series say “Wax on, wax off.”

Now, one’s opinion of children’s television or Pat Morita’s acting skills aside, the fact that Collins could go from writing about the cheeriest, happiest, sweetest octopus in the world to a dystopian post-apocalyptic nightmare in which children hunt each other for entertainment indicates, shall we say, some talent to write from different perspectives, if not genres.

Collins could “live” the life of a happy, innocent cephalopod to teen leader of a rebellion that features some degree of scorched earth and flesh. Or, as they said in my comedy class, it showed range and understanding of social status.

In a sense, good writers are good actors, and not for stage or screen. The ability to inhabit a character, convey their status, give him or her life on a page and do so in a way you actually believe—whether it’s on stage or on the page—that this person is real and that there’s something enormously at stake for them is really one and the same.

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All the world’s a page

Actors submerge themselves into character as a matter of course; writers, unless they are of the most shallow specimen of scribe, will get inside their characters’ heads and write as if getting a job or laid or across the damn street is the most important thing in the world. If you aren’t Heathcliff, you better not be writing Wuthering Heights.

Well, that’s what I tell myself when I write, so I don’t say it too often.

The WTF Letter of All Time

I don’t get much in the ol’ bookfraud.com e-mailbag. In fact,  I almost never check the box.

Then, this:

On Thu, Aug 4, 2011 at 11:43 PM, <XXXXX@sohu.com> wrote:

Good afternoon to you from the People’s Republic of China! I am Mr. D_______ from Office of Information Maintenance at Ministry of Foreign Affairs (IMMFA).

I am writing to you on behalf of the People’s Republic of China in response to your unfair and malicious remarks at:

http://bookfraud.com/2010/05/15/ni-hao-kai-lan-one-mans-insanity/

Specifically, you criticized the children’s television program “Ni Hao, Kai-lan”, your child’s favorite television show that they cannot get enough of.

“Ni Hao, Kai-lan” is not “propaganda”, though we understand that you have made this mistake because you are a product of your country’s poor education system. It is The People’s Republic of China’s attempt to help the struggling American Empire in the coming days. As your poor and backwards nation owes ours 95 trillian dollars in debt, it is obvious that when your child is an adult they will need to speak Chinese well to perform their duties in our clean and modern factories. It is also our hope that through this children’s program we can share some of China’s superior culture and history with the children of America, a country with no culture of its own. So, as you plainly see, “Ni Hao, Kai-lan” is a form of humanitarian aid.

You will notice many reports in your biased American news programs of Chinese hackers penetrating the Pentagon. They do not work for our government. They are just children in their homes performing a hobby. In their way, they are so anxious to serve their beloved nation! Of course we do not encourage this. But if Chinese hackers can do such things in their homes, imagine how technologically advanced our government must be! Probably you cannot imagine it. The reason is because you having nothing to compare it to in America.

We hope you have learned many things from our kind e-mail to you. If you have any questions, please direct them to your area’s local Consulate General of China or Chinese Embassy. They are used to answering many questions to clear up the ignorance of misinformed Americans. Furthermore, each employee speaks fluent English in addition to other languages, as we are aware that America is decades behind the rest of the developed world in language education. Finally, we are aware that due to poor diet and exercise habits Americans have difficulty in climbing stairs, so our embassy offices have elevators for your convenience. As you can see, we have arranged for your every need to be fulfilled in helping you better understand “Ni Hao, Kai-lan” so that you are no longer confused and intimidated by this child’s cartoon show.

Kindest regards to you,

C____ D_____

Office of Information Maintenance

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
People’s Republic of China

This actually came over the transom,  though it’s obviously a joke,  and borderline racist to both Americans and Chinese. I suggest the letter writer spend his or her time looking for a better job, if he or she has one.

Thought I sorta like jokes about bad schools and diet. Kinda funny,  for a douchebag.

6 Surefire Ways to Reengergize Your Blog—and That Will Ruin Mine!

You know the feeling. You’ve started your blog with a bang, built up a network of loyal readers,  then boom! you run out of steam. You stop visiting other blogs. You stop writing your own. You spend you free time surfing for you-know-what or worse,  watching television.

No blog for you!

Ha,  ha,  just a little blog humor there. Seriously, it’s when reality—family,  friends, or anal retentive,  dingleberry-chomping fellow employees who spy over your shoulder and report to your boss that you’ve been “spending too much time on the Internet,” forcing me to write this out in a word processing document—intrudes.

Suddenly,  you don’t have a blog entry for days! Weeks! Months!

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Really, I have no idea

So how do you get “back on track” and make sure your blog gets the attention it deserves? Here’s six surefire ways that you will put your blog back in business:

1) Lots of bulleted, numbed list. The Internet is a scannable medium,  so you should make your blog as scannable as possible. Even though for a writer such as myself, making a written document “scannable” is akin to saying, “Nobody gives a fuck how well-crafted your sentences are or well-formed your ideas may be — I AM ON LEVEL 129 OF ANGRY BIRDS JUST GIVE ME YOUR FUCKING INFO DAMNIT

2) Links ahoy! Make sure there are a lot of links in your blog to other sites to related content. This generates credibility with readersand ensures that you get lots of hits from people wanting know if Joshua Bell is gay or not.

3)  Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Short entries. Short short short.

4) Lots of entries, few words! Which is good for someone like me who has nothing to actually say.

5)  Keywords in bold. BOLD IS GOLD!

6) Great headlines. In headlines,  always put a number,  proper noun or a benefit to attract readers, such as “The 6 Ways I Will Reenergize My Blog.” Or “12 Ways the Tea Party, Koch Brothers and the Republican Party Suck Donkey Balls” or “How to Make Millions and Have the Greatest Time Ever Through Reading This Blog*.”

6A) (TOTALLY AWESOME,   SUPER-SECRET BONUS WAY THAT I WILL REENERGIZE MY BLOG): PØ?N! And lots of it!!!

Also,  I could actually think something through,  commit the idea to virtual paper,  and post it here. But that would take work. And who has time for that?

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Blogito, ergo sum

*Rob banks, pay for prostitutes.

Super Bowl Sunday Posting

Obsessed With Obsessions

Paul AusterPaul Auster , whose eyes burn with the intensity of a star gone supernova, was staring me down, and not in a seductive manner. More like I was threatening his children.

Auster, a writer whose work I admire, was taking questions following a reading at my graduate school, and I’d asked him about his apparent obsession with money in his fiction. I imagine he was so sick of addressing this particular issue that he turned into a literary anti-superhero and tried killing his questioner with laser beams springing forth from his pupils.

Funny, I don’t mind being asked about my obsessions—in fact, I can talk obsessively about them.

They are broad and minuscule, sublime and ridiculous: The Mayor of Casterbridge, the CubsRachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Elvis (Presley and Costello), certain unknown bands from my hometown, the nature (and unfaithfulness) of memory, Jackie Chan, evolutionary psychology, Spinal Tap, certain movie stars, astrophysics, criminalizing Bud Light.

Also, big numbers. Not the kind of numbers used in counting money, or grains of sand, or even atoms in the universe. Larger than that.  Numbers like Graham’s number, considered the largest number ever used in a mathematical proof. (And if you will stick with this mess, I’ll actually show how this relates to writing. Or fiction. Or Paul Auster’s glare. Or all of them.)

Graham’s number is named after one R.L. Graham, who used it in a proof dealing with an really, really hard mathematical problem. What is fascinating about Graham’s number is despite the fact it was actually put to use, it is beyond human comprehension.

Yes, you can use it but not comprehend it.

The only way I can explain Graham’s number is via exponentials. (And if I mess up the math, please feel free to correct me).

Starting with: 33 = 3x3x3 = 27, which you already knew. But add another 3 to the top of the exponential string–just one–and you get the following: 333 =327=7,652,600,000,000 (That’s 7.65 trillion).
By adding an additional three to the stack, and it’s: 3333 = 3327= 37,652,600,000,000.

Graham's number

Don’t try this at home

Which means multiplying 3 by 3 more than 7.6 trillion times. In other words, stacking four 3s on top of each other creates a really, really big number. So big you can’t calculate it—3^3^3^3 is by far more than all the atoms in the observable universe (1070).

Simply stack “3″s that another 61 times (yes, for a total of 64 times) and you get Graham’s number, which is so far beyond the realm of human comprehension that it beggars the imagination.

Compare it to something most of us are familiar with: the googol (the number, not the site engine that deposited you here in search of pr0n-o-graphic pictures). A googol is 10100—a 10 with 100 zeros behind it.

A googolplex is 1010100—a googol a googol number of times. A googolplex is so enormous that if you tried writing out the number, and put each “0″ on an atom, there wouldn’t be enough material in the entire universe to do so.

Now consider this: Graham’s number is far, far, far larger than a googolplex, which is to Graham’s number as an electron is to the Milky Way.

In a sense, Graham’s number bigger than infinity, for infinity is at least comprehensible. To me, Graham’s number is another way of saying that numbers, which are a human invention, exist in their own dimension independent of comprehension. We understand the universe in ways that we cannot understand. Is that the coolest, most amazing, facinating thing ever?

What, you say that it’s not?

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The most humbling thing in the universe

OK, so I’m a nerd. In a different life, I would have been a mathematician, if that life actually included aptitude with mathematics. Instead, I became a writer, but one of my preoccupations is describing the cool, the offbeat, the indescribable—like Graham’s number or Elvis Presley or the Cubs.

Like Paul Auster’s fixation with money, I am obsessed.

And if we aren’t obsessed with something, we really shouldn’t be writing.

“10 Writing Mistakes Smart Bloggers Make,” or Why Writing As We Know It Is Dead

speakers cornerPerchance, as many things are of this Internet thing, last week I alighted upon the “10 Writing Mistakes Smart Bloggers Make.” It made me think of two things: a graduate school classmate with the writing skills of a concussed ferret, and the end of writing as we know it.

First, the fellow scribe. Among the many lowlights of my graduate program in creative writing was the first fiction workshop. It was a complete catastrophe, as I was the only first-year student and perhaps the only student who wasn’t partially or completely insane.

The first inkling of trouble was “Jennifer.” In the very first class, she presented a novel excerpt about a farm family growing up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and I can objectively say that the result was appalling. Not simply the plot, characterizations, or even the writing itself, but the grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Here’s an action-packed sample:

She said You want to see a man? Ill show you aman.”

We walkd to the creek which I new from swimming in first grad. “Yousee that overthere Thats Fred. He aint got no close on Hes a man”

I said I dont know what your talking about”, but I kept watching

At first, I wanted to give Jennifer the benefit of the doubt and thought she was trying some Joycean experiment with form. When I asked about it in workshop—”Is there any reason there’s a lot of punctuation missing?” was how I put it—she simply said no thats a roughdraft and sorry if theres mistakes”.

I don’t know what was more appalling: Jennifer’s apparently inability to spell or use proper punctuation, or the fact the rest of the class didn’t think it was a big deal.

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Pitt of anachronisms

When I protested that the least a writer should do was turn in a manuscript relatively free of errors one might associate more with a second-grader than a 26-year-0ld graduate student, I was hooted down (though it was a learning experience. So to speak).

So when I saw “10 Writing Mistakes Smart Bloggers Make,” I could only think of Jennifer. That, and the end of civilization.

For these “mistakes” are not those of logic, style, length, design, or any other intellectual or aesthetic considerations, but largely of basic grammar:

  1. Confusing You’re and Your
  2. Using could of and would of
  3. Abusing the word ‘literally’
  4. Confusing their, they’re and there
  5. Confusing affect and effect
  6. Apostrophes
  7. Confusing to and too
  8. Confusing lose and loose
  9. Abusing “unique”
  10. Text speak (“LOL,” “OMG,” etc.)

Your literally making me piss my pants, because I could of known their effecting blog’s effectiveness too loose the most unique badness of writing. STFU.

Oh, I’ve been guilty of all of these errors save for the last, but not out of ignorance. (Mostly because I was too lazy to check my work). What makes me believe that the end of civilization is nigh is that we even need a list like this in the first place. If “smart” bloggers need to be told that there’s a difference between “their” and “there,” it’s just a matter of time before the video gamers, illiterates, brain-dead jocks and the Jennifers of this earth simply swoop in and take over.

Epic Fail(ure)

A failure within an epic fail(ure)

The fact is that soon, not only will “smart” people routinely make these mistakes, but nobody’s going to correct them. Improper usage will be considered correct.

And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it except whine. Which I am known to do on occasion, and do quite well. Literally.

Special Guest Blog! Rich Rodriguez Tells Us How Not to Write (or Coach)

speakers cornerANN ARBOR, MI—

Well, dadgumit. Just dadgummit.

Yeah, I’m a country boy from West Virginia, but you can stop making assumptions right there, mister. Even though you may think I sound like I’m a hillbilly, I’m pretty smart. Doggone smart.

I just wish I were still a Michigan Man™, if I ever was one.

After a school from Starksville, Miss.—Mississippi! hell, we even make fun of Mississippi in West Virginia!—trashed the Wolverines the other day, my boys are no longer my boys.

That’s because I lost my job as head football coach from the school that has more wins than any other in college history, that has the largest stadium in the country, and the greatest helmets known to humanity. Of course, if my defense hadn’t been as loose as a hooker at a traveling salesman convention…ah, forget it.

Now, this here Bookfraud fella went to Michigan, and tells me he covered the football team for the school paper or some crap when that there Bo Schembechler was coach. And the quarterback was Jim Harbaugh! The Stanford smarty-pants coach who everybody thought was gonna replace me before some NFL corncob offered him $8 billion to coach the 49ers! Dadgummit!

But I ain’t here to complain. I made my bed, leaving my alma mater three years ago (man! Were those Mountaineers pissed!) so I could go chase the big time. Bookfraud wants to act as if he’s productive as a blogger, but he’s really a lazy ol’ coot, so that sumabitch asked me to fill in today.

Here’s the thing: I read a lot, but I can’t say I’m a big writer. But the more I think about it, the more I gotta say there’s more than a little sumpthin’ similar to writing and coaching. At least at Michigan.

Now Bookiefraud still writes, he says, and I never met a sportswriter who was worth more than a loaf that a bear tossed after eating a fried prune po’boy. Fiction writers, sportswriters, court reporters, they are all about the same to me. A buncha nimrods, not Rich Rods, if you ask me.

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Know the rules before you break them (especially about words)

Here’s the four sins them writers in the media said sunk me:

1. I was  a “bad fit.”

2. I didn’t know any of the Michigan “traditions,” whatever the bubbasnot those were, like giving the number “1″ jersey to the top receiver, and beating Ohio State, Michigan State, Toledo, and just about anybody else.

3. I was arrogant and didn’t listen to advice.

Let’s just stop at three, Okee dokee?

What Bookfraud tells me is that all three of these are applicable to writing. Like the “bat fit” stuff. You start writing stuff that’s “bad fit” the medium, and you better make damn well sure you have the right form for the right material. You don’t want to stuff novel-length plot into a short story, or make raccoon stew from a possum.

Number two, traditions. “When writing, break all the rules you want, just as long as you know that you’re breaking them,” I read somewhere. Meaning that you don’t piss everyone off for no reason and you don’t write stories with the word “buttjuice” unless you have a damn good reason for them. And I can’t think of not a one.
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One tradition Rich Rod left intact
And there’s arrogance. When Bookfraud was a young ‘un, he didn’t listen to advice with his fiction, trying to develop his own voice, and he suffered. Then he went in the opposite direction, and let everybody’s every ass-backwards critique influence him. You got to learn to be humble, and listen to the people you can trust.

Aw, hell, what am I saying? I just got fired, I don’t know squat about writing, and Bookfraud is some Yankee cracker who thinks he knows better than me because he doesn’t speak with a twang.

What? You say Bookie’s originally a  Tennessee boy. And his dad grew up in Arkansas. Arkansas!

My last chance to make it seem like I’d been wronged, and Bookfraud ruins it by being a bigger redneck than me.

Dadgumit.

Resolved: A Better 2010…or 2011…or Whatever the Hell Year It Is

speakers cornerBefore this life ends, which I expect to occur sometime between 2036 and 2058, I thought I would give everybody a nice big wet kiss with wishing them a Happy New Year and hope that 2011 will be only half as miserable as 2010.

Of course, prior to 2058 I might have to end this life, which has been buffeted by anguish, constant negativity, pain, anxiety, disappointment, heartbreak, and, most of all, unfulfilled potential.

Just kidding! About the suicide joke. I certainly could not kill myself, at least in an obvious fashion, for that would mean Wife and Toddler-Brat would not receive my life insurance money, they could end up destitute, and if there’s one thing a nice Jewish boy like myself I can’t live with, it’s guilt.

Also, I cannot live with sloth. I absolutely despise it in others. But I am often slothful myself (making me what is known as a “hypocrite”)–it is the worst of my seven deadly sins besides lust, but lust at least has the end benefit of getting laid, while sloth has the end benefit of regret.*

Meaning, I regret watching three hours of vital sports entertainment action (read: pro wrestling, Lingerie Football League) yesterday that could have been spent in more productive activity, such as having a sphincter-busting bowel movement or writing this beloved blog.

So it is my New Year’s Resolution, given five days after the fact, to eradicate sloth in my literary life: I shall sit before the computer more, blog more,  write more fiction,  write more non-fiction, engage in more epistolary efforts, and just more words, words, words. Naturally, since the total sum of my writing the past 12 months could fit on the inside of a gum wrapper, merely writing this blog entry will match 70 percent of my efforts in 2010, which ended sometime in September.

I don’t know if all this additional bloviation will actually translate into something actually worth reading, but you can’t make such a judgement unless there is something to read.

So I am going to blog at least twice a week  the next month for whatever wisp of an audience that remains reading this space. Though I more negative than a neutron and more metaphor-challenged than a…than a…

Well, hell, I updated the layout. There’s that to consider.

My message to myself is simple: “Think positive, Bookfraud, think positive. Be superpowerful. Stop making fun of Wayne Newton.”

And if you just got that joke, you really should have stayed in Las Vegas.

*Or not maybe lust isn’t so great:  read “Araby” and you’ll know what I mean. Also, it’s good reading for chuckleheads who say literature doesn’t tell us anything about the wider world or how to live.

More Matter With Less Art

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Madness is rare in individuals, but in groups, parties, nations and ages it is the rule.

–Nietzsche

The thing about Twitter is that I can’t truly express how I feel about Twitter in 140 characters, though this item clocks in at a mere 139.

Right now in the Bookfraud household, we are in the midst of renovating a property we hope to inhabit by the end of 2023. Wife, bless her, has done enough research to complete a dissertation on home remodeling; just ask her about sofitt vents or vitreous or low-VOC paint (I dare you). The whole exercise makes me realize why she’s such a good writer. When writing any story, Wife does copious research, be it on 19th century clipper ships or birders tracking woodpeckers. She gets the detail right and infuses her prose with it. Me, I be lazy and just write whatever comes to mind, which usually involves sports, beer, sex or some combination of the above.

When Fidel Castro slams Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over anti-Semitism and how Ahmadinejad’s idiotic invective is making Israelis paranoid, you know that we are officially in bizzaro world or that Castro must be pretty close to giving up the ghost.

Meanwhile, this blowhard makes me want to reattach my foreskin.

Oh, yeah, and this, too.

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Going to bat for the Jews

Now that we’ve started renovating, I’ve done a tally of the shit that we’ve gone through in the past five years, and it forms our own private Harper’s Index of Bookfraud Hell:

  • Number of home renovations: 2
  • Number of home renovations we really could not afford: 2
  • Number of moves: 4
  • Number of bed bug infestations: 1
  • Number of months that life was ruined by said bed bugs: 10
  • Number of times bed bugs nearly ended my marriage: 43
  • Number of parental deaths: 1
  • Number of reports of major parental illness: 2
  • Number of times laid off: 1
  • Number of months in advance having to sell property on short notice, in the worst housing market since the Great Depression: 3
  • Number of cross-country moves: 1
  • Number of bags that flew off roof onto Interstate at 70 mph: 3
  • Number of traffic accidents caused by bags flying off roof onto Interstate at 70 mph: 0
  • Number of properties viewed in new city before buying one: 42
  • Number of additional months our douchebag landlord allowed us to stay in our rental while renovating said purchase: 0
  • Number of times Bookfraud has considered suicide: 9,355

Unlike love, publishing publicity is a limited resource. It can make or break book sales, and though it certainly isn’t the only variable in separating the best-sellers from the also-rans, a competent book publicist still remains an author’s best friend. That’s why this article, which was posted sometime before the invention of Red Bull or Ambien, is fricking depressing. It just reinforces the truth that if you want to write fiction, do it for the love, not the money, unless you’re James Patterson.

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Welcome home

As he dabbles in poetry, fiction, a PhD in English and other endeavors unrelated to acting, the confession by James Franco that he pulls on Charlie a lot somehow just seems perfect.

Finally, I want to ask the chucklehead who plans on burning a copy of the Quran on 9/11 if he could at least have the decency to wait until after Yom Kippur do so, or at least don’t burn it on the Sabbath. Shit, doesn’t anybody respect us Jews?

The Silence and the Fury

speakers corner

In the spirit of stimulating under-stimulated minds, my high school would convene assemblies to hear speakers debate the issues of the day. That was the occasion for an event that still rankles me to this day, and, in part, explains the appeal of Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and all of our friends in the T-Par-T. It also explains why, to a trifling but measurable degree, many of us write.

The school hauled out a local yokel from the NRA to do battle with some liberal hippie teacher about, you guessed it, gun control. After they had gone through the expected pantomime of debate—the liberal decried the scourge of guns in our cities, while the NRA representative, honest-to-god, actually said, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”—the floor was opened for questions.

Of course, being an NRA member, the pro-gun fellow trotted out the Second Amendment time and again, really never defending the primacy of or need for guns other than the usual “you have to be able to protect yourself and your family” canard. And I had a line of inquiry for him: What if there were no Second Amendment? Why are guns “good” things to own in a modern world when most of us don’t hunt for our grub? Would people really be defenseless without semi-automatic weapons? Would a citizen’s militia really be able to hold off a government takeover by the military?

I don’t think these were half bad inquiries for a 17-year-old boy, especially since 94.7% of 17-year-old boys’ brains are fixated on sex. Unfortunately, I never got to ask them, because when the moderator pointed to me when I raised my hand, a classmate sitting behind me named Miles jumped up, and, in a voice trying to be far more mature than his years, blurted out the following: Hey, man, how can you say that guns shouldn’t be illegal when the whole point of them is to kill people?

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When she was good

In retrospect, it isn’t as stupid a question as I’d like to remember it being, but just imagine it being asked in a disaffected voice with a snarling lip and finger pointed at the stage. Miles was Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” without any intelligence, charisma, good looks, or any semi-redeeming feature. Though I had full sympathy for Miles’s point of view, I had nothing but contempt for how he asked it—or really, I was contemptuous that he got to ask his question and I was silenced.

Granted, I guess Miles was par for the course. Teenagers really aren’t particularly bright or mature, and I couldn’t expect my fellow classmates to be Cicero or Clarence Darrow. But the incident eats at me still, 28 years after the fact. I envision it repeatedly, thinking that had I actually gotten to pose my questions and debate the NRA bozo, I would have annihilated him in battle, and won the gun-control debate. Q.E.D.

My recurring desire to relive that moment is much to my discredit, showing my self-centered nature and desire to be the center of attention, no matter how right or wrong I might have been. Which, if you think about it, is really what makes Glenn Beck go, since we have a college dropout convincing much of the nation that he is smarter and knows better than a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, not to mention a gun-totin’ “grizzly momma” who thinks plain ol’ common sense (which those pointy-headed liberals lack) always trumps nuance or pointed inquiry, and that complicated problems don’t require complex solutions.

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Before he discovered carbohydrates

People want their voices heard, and would rather have their own ideas validated than challenged; there is comfort in having someone “speak” for you even if it means they have no command of fact or total command of prejudice. Even though Beck and Limbaugh may actually believe the hateful drek they spout, they realize it does their bank account well, and would say it no matter what they actually thought.

That’s actually one reason I write: nobody speaks for me but me, and I have enough ego and not enough humility to believe my ideas actually matter—you don’t have to read between the lines to see the anger in my voice.

And I still want to throttle poor Miles, who I understand now works at the Kerplonsky’s Carpet Discount Warehouse, supervising the guy from the NRA.

The Island of Misfit Blog Ideas

dr.x

Anybody who has taken any fiction workshop will hear the following: no matter how well-written a sentence, paragraph, passage, or chapter might be, if it doesn't fit the larger narrative, it's gotta go.

You may not hear it phrased so brutishly. One may be treated to churlishness masquerading as advice, largely from fellow workshop attendees who are there only to flaunt their literary chops or have praise heaped upon their own work:

The writer fell in love with his own voice. (Said snottily)

If you can't kill your "children," then you really shouldn't be in this line of work. (Said contemptuously).

Don't bore the reader with digressions about fly fishing and the protagonist's ex-lover dentist-soldier of fortune named Dirk. (Actually, I would listen to that one).

I have deleted thousands of unnecessary words in my day, but what's much harder for me is getting rid of ideas. I collect them like a compulsive hoarder, never trashing a single thought, no matter if the bulk of them are threatening to keel over and smother me like Homer and Langley Collier. I used to count how many ideas I had for plots, characters or structure, but I lost count after about 200.

I found the blog titles in my blog's "drafts" queue. Some have a few hundred words already; others, none at all. To my horror, I realized that many of them were about not writing, but complaints about the world's indifference towards poor, poor pitiful me.

Worse, I could not remember what many of them were actually about.

So, because I need your help, here is a sampling of unfinished or not-started blog ideas residing in my drafts folder. The meaning of some are obvious, but what about those with no apparent meaning at all?

Care to take a guess? Yours is as good as mine.  And if you come up with something clever, I will actually blog about it.

"Verbal Ex-Lax"

"Being Good Vs. Being Good"

"Less Matter and More Art"

"Honesty is Not the Best Policy"

"VEX Contents"

"Genre Fiction: A Genre I Can't Write"

"How to Not Hold Yourself Accountable"

"Zadie vs. Zadie"

"Write Right Baby"

"Readers, Friends, and None of the Above"

"The Greatest Band You've Never Heard"

"Writing the Bookfraud Way! (Badly)"

"Twitter THIS"

And, my personal favorite, the meaning of which is lost on me forever:

"Beckett, Yah"

I know it was about Samuel Beckett, but whether it was his about his haircut, wrinkles or something about his writing forever remains a mystery.

Frank’s a Bigot, Clint Eastwood Is Not, and I’m Here to Explain the Difference

dr.x

If hell is other people, the ninth rung is other students at State U.

Yes, the worst part of attending a large public university is that with a little luck on test day or a couple of good years at a community college, pretty much any village idiot and his cousin could gain admission, as long as they lived in state. Such was the person who lived across from me my freshman year, a community college transfer by the name of Frank who was by no means stupid, but appeared to have been raised by wolves, racists, or racist wolves.

He once made a derogatory remark about a cheapskate to me by referring to him as "such a Jew," then made matters worse by the ignorant scoundrel's first (and worst) defense: "No, it's not an insult. It's just a common usage." Yeah, maybe from under the rock where you were raised, Frank.

He harbored other unpleasant attitudes that might have made him feel at home at a white supremecist rally. And, tellingly, he was a Clint Eastwood fan.

"Fan" does not do it justice; "insanely obsessed" would suffice. And not just your typical Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, but his movies featuring that all-American vigilante bigot "Dirty Harry" Callahan, who had the charming distinction of hating every ethnic group on the planet.

In an era before DVDs and widespread VCRs, Frank had seen every Dirty Harry movie at least 10 times, and could quote them at length. If I heard Frank say "I gots to know" or "Make my day" one more time…well, you have to ask yourself. Did I shoot six times, or…are you lucky, Frank? Are you lucky, punk?

I was thinking about Frank and his ilk after watching "Invictus," a recent movie that Eastwood directed. It tells the true-life story of Nelson Mandella trying to help build South Africa via rugby and the South African national team, the Springboks, winning the rugby World Cup. 

Inspirational stuff, even if you don't believe for a second Matt Damon is Afrikaans or if you weren't completely distracted by the movie's lousy pacing, crummy dialog, and rugby sequences that look like an eighth-grader choreographed them. Actually, it's way, way off the Clint Eastwood ranch, and shows. 

Although a mess, "Invictus" does have the charm of being adamantly anti-Frank, I mean, anti-racist. Both black and white South Africans are taken to task, of a sort, and all eventually end up cheering on the Springboks, the beloved (by Afrikaans) and despised (by blacks) rugby team to the World Cup championship game, in which they defeat the New Zealand All-Blacks, named for the all-black uniform and the irony of which is not lost on anybody with an I.Q. over 50.

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Hey Frank, go ahead. Make my day

That would probably include Frank, who, as I mentioned above, was not a complete moron, though when he claimed Richard Nixon was the greatest president of the 20th century, I had to question not only his brains, but sanity. I wonder if Frank, whose last name (thankfully) escapes my memory and may or may not be having a lucrative career as a lawyer, ever saw "Invictus," and what he'd make of it.

Probably, not much, because like most chunkheads like him, he really believed that Clint Eastwood and Dirty Harry were one and the same. Dirty Harry was an important barometer of American cultural stupidity—say what you will about Clint Eastwood, but he has never stuck me as a fool. He knew that Detective Callahan was not the type of dude with whom you'd want to share afternoon tea, much less run the world. I imagine that he would have probably found many of his Frank-like fans personally distasteful, though, much to his discredit, Eastwood kept taking the paychecks.

In fact, if I were to encounter Frank today, I wouldn't bother arguing with his racist, anti-Semitic worldview. It's just not worth the breath. But he was at least worth a blog entry. The first in a month…

LeBron James, Saul Bellow, and the Siren Call

dr.x

I had written this about a week ago, in my pathetic attempts to be "current" and link the current news o' the larger world to perspectives on the smaller literary community I pretend I'm a member of. To wit, I just ended a sentence with "of." And I was too busy to actually publish this when it had more than three iotas of cultural relevance.  Naturally.

It is not without some irony that one of the top Google searches to turn up both "LeBron James" and "Saul Bellow" are a news page with Bellow's obituary coupled with an item regarding James' desire to be a billionaire. 

As Mr. James takes his act from the cold warrens of Cleveland to South Beach, and Cavaliers fans are burning his jersey in effigy, the literary world takes little notice. Perhaps we should, as this episode reminded me of nothing save for Saul Bellow.

You must obviously see the connection.

Mr. Bellow, a Canadian, Quebec-born–Quebec, that not-so-somber province–and who went at things as he taught himself, free-style, and made himself one of the preeminent American novelists of the 20th Century. A genius, author of one of my favorite novels, and a Nobel Prize winner.

Mr. James, an American, Akron-born–that extremely somber city–and who has also gone at things as he taught himself, free-style, and has fashioned himself one of the world's great professional basketball players (though whether that office is one worth occupying is debatable). An amazing athlete, not one of my favorites, and two-time NBA MVP.

See how they're connected, don't you?

OK, let's start from the start. For those of you currently living in a tree or without any connection to the wider world, LeBron James left the Cavaliers to play for something called the Miami "Heat." Any objective reader can see the mistake in this, for while you can envision a Cavalier, a "Heat" is beggars the imagination. How does a "Heat" dribble, pass or shoot? Is it a bonfire with arms? A female dog at that time of the month? A crappy movie?

You can say, "I'm a Celtic" or "I'm a Sooner" or such, but will anyone ever say, "I'm a Heat"? (Or "I'm a Magic," for that matter?)

I'm a Heat! Douse me with a fire extinguisher, damnit!

The opprobrium aside, I could not give a flip about where or for whom anybody chooses to ply his or her profession, and the nation writ large could show show the same passion about for jobs being sent abroad as Clevelanders had for LeBron leaving, perhaps we would still consider Ohio's largest city a bustling metropolis instead of The Mistake on the Lake.

What James did that was less-than-savory, according to people who write about these things, was that he took what should have been a routine (ok, not "routine") job change and turned into a media circus worthy of Lindsey Lohan, except lacking the interesting bits.

To his credit, James was forthright about his narcissism, and apparently did not leave Cleveland because he dislikes the town or that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located there, while anybody with more than six brain cells knows it should be in Memphis.

Yet Saul Bellow did a similar thing in 1993–he decamped the University of Chicago, his long-time employer and base, for Boston University.

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James: Witness this

I remember reading an interview when it all went down. The thing that struck me, and reminded me of this LeBron James foolishness, was that Bellow basically said he was leaving Chicago because it wasn't literary enough. While ostensibly leaving because he was "tired of passing all the houses of my dead friends," he bemoaned the fact people in his adopted hometown did not recognize him: here he was, already a Nobel laureate, and yet when he ventured around Hyde Park to a 7-11 or perhaps to the North Side to hang out at Kingston Mines or Buddy Guy's, people didn't say, "Hey, it's Saul Bellow, the brilliant, amazing, award-winning novelist!" but instead, "What's this old guy doing at a blues club?"

I have written enough times about Saul Bellow to make it obvious that I have a love-hate relationship with him: I love his work but am not the greatest fan of his personal behavior. And I am not in a position to judge anyone's motives for leaving one university employer to another.

But even that he would admit that he was miffed that he wasn't famous enough in Chicago was jolting. It just shows that no matter how brilliant of mind an artist may be, it offers no protection against rot of the soul. Not that I would know about being brilliant.

Two Popeye’s Value Meals for the Person Who Can Solve My Goddamn Blog Tech Problems

If you can tell me why my normal theme isn't loading and how to fix it, and tell me why this   seems to be permanently pasted to the left of my header, not only will you win my eternal gratitude, but also a cash prize that will allow you to feed yourself and one person at Popeye's. Value meals only..

Just think about all that fried chicken goodness…

Please, I'm dying here.

In Which I Become a Character in a Walker Percy Novel

sawyer loves walker percy

I knew there was a problem when I couldn't read. 

It was not a matter of recognizing letters, making them words, and stringing them into sentences. That I could do just fine. But a certain book, "The Boat," a collection of short stories by Nam Le, threw me into a funk so unfortunate that I, like Will Barrett in "The Second Coming," might as well have fallen into a sand trap off the 15th green and not understood why.

Or maybe it was more like Binx Bolling, the protagonist of Percy's justly famous "The Moviegoer," a man who can only find emotional connection in films or wandering around New Orleans. That's what's happened to me–I seem to have lost the ability to emote save for a few precious things, like movies, or certain books, or my family. So now I'm living in a Walker Percy novel.

There was something about "The Boat" that threw me into immediate despair after reading just a couple of pages, a deep, existential funk Sarte or Kierkegaard would have been proud to have emoted. It was not Le's lyricism or penetrating insight into the human condition that made me shed tears of nihilism inside my soul. To be prosaic about it, the fact Le is talented, young, and actually writing fiction dropped me into a spiral of self-loathing from which sex or drugs or any of the pleasures of the flesh could not be the most addictive of lifelines.

Fortunately, instead I started reading "Revolutionary Road," a novel painfully beautiful on its surface and so corrosive that the pages seem to shed acid. Of course, this immediately lifted my spirits and made me want to write once again. Its author, Richard Yates, writes sentences so immaculate that they could double as English gardens, yet the protagonists, Frank and April Wheeler, are in such an awful state of existence they really could be…in a Walker Percy novel, if they were Catholic, Southern, unable to love or even express emotions.

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And you thought your life sucked

So to recap: about three pages into a book by a successful writer turns me into a semi-suicidal mess while a novel by a successful writer turns me back into a writer.

The difference, besides tone, subject matter, and ethnic background of the writers is that Nam Le is alive, while Richard Yates shuffled off this mortal coil about, oh, 30 years ago.

Yes, it's come to whether or not a writer is alive if I'm jealous of him or her. Also, reading writers who are among the living (and, to be fair, only under 40 years old), makes me a nauseated mess of nerve endings ready for a quick hibernation to the psych ward.

Know what I mean?

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Let’s Get a Few Things Straight

glenn gould

I had a terrible dream about attending a summer writers' conference, which I've been contemplating doing again. After last night, now I'm not so enthusiastic.

In the dream, I walked into a workshop, and the teacher, a paunchy fellow in his mid-forties with a goatee, looked around the room, and without as much introducing himself, said the following:

Before we start, let's get a few things straight. First of all, I'm not going to be your buddy, I'm not going to hang out with you, and most of all, I'm not going to help your whale-turd of a novel get publishedI only have so much of that kind of capital with my agent and publisher, and I'm not going to waste it by submitting to them your cruddy book.

So don't come to me with your manuscripts, because I'm throwing them away as soon as you're out the door. If I do read them, it's for my own amusement. With the emphasis on "amuse."

That leads into my next point. About 98 percent of you are not, I repeat, not going to publish your novel. About the same number of you are not going to publish a collection of stories or have a play produced. Why? Because there's thousands and thousands of more talented people ahead of you in line, with better books, better agents, and more marketing synergy.

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Somehow, I feel like I've seen this before

Yes, you heard me, marketing synergy. If you think publishing is unlike any other business, you've been watching too many reruns of "Fantasy Island." If you're well-known already, you've just increased your chances exponentially of getting your book published. What, do you think celebrities can write more than their own name on a contract? Do you think Madonnna or Ethan Hawke or Bill O'Reilly would have gotten published if they weren't on television and in films?

But let's just sayoh, for the hell of itlet's just say that you do manage to get your novel published. And, for the sake of argument, let's say it's a brilliant book, though if you had that much talent, I promise you wouldn't be begging the likes of me for help. Are you delusional enough to think you can make a career out of it?

Look at meI've published collections of stories and a novel, all to great acclaim. Yet I'm still teaching at Northwest Bubba State Tech, pulling down a massive $35,000 a year and no tenure ahead. Why do you think I'm teaching here this summer? Because some of you will throw yourselves at me for some easy sex? I get plenty of that from undergraduates who think that bedding this hairy, corpulent body will increase their self-esteem or make it as a writer. It's because they're throwing a few grand my way to stand here and bloviate about the meaning of the writer's life.

I mean, if you've taken a week off of work to come here, or if you're a housefrau working on your sixth unpublished book, you've really just wasted your time. Of course your husband or wife wanted you to spend a week here, because that's a week they get to spend unfettered with their girlfriend or boyfriend.

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Do not try this at home

So, if you're smart, you'll just sit back, relax, and listen to me say puffed up shite about writers I like, which means you'll get to hear me reading from my collection (which I highly recommend you go out and buy; don't worry, I've got copies in my briefcase now I'll sell you for $5less than the remaindering pile you'll usually find them).

Maybe you're here for practical writing advice. Just don't worry. I'll dispense lots of gems you could read about in any decent writing book.  "Never start a story with dialog" or "Never describe a lesbian sex scene 'lezzin' out.'" 

But I will say one thing, right now, an ironclad rule you must never, ever, ever use dream sequences. Not in your novel, short story or even your blog. Especially your fuck-ass, suck-ass "blog," Bookfraud!

And then when I woke up.

Memoirs of Addiction, Addiction to Memoirs

dr.x

I remember once, a long time ago, sitting in a library and thumbing through a first-person expose of the medical profession, written in the late 1950s. The author apparently had done some pretty scummy things, and so "Dr. X" wrote anonymously. So when I say "Dr. X" was the name of the author, it was literally "by Dr. X."

Dr. X posed on the cover wearing scrubs and a hood, back to the camera. The not-so-good doctor was not about to be outed for his sins.

Fast forward about 60 years to 2010, when an excerpt of a memoir, "Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man,"*  appears online. If the catty comments are to be believed, the last thing the reading public wants is yet another memoir of a white, upper-class addict. But there it is. 

The excerpt left me less-than-interested, not because it was poorly written, that I lacked sympathy for the writer, or even because I never wondered what a literary agent goes through when he trades his life for some crack (though I always felt my former one had done something similar). The problem is that I feel like I already know what it's like to be a crack addict — because it's been written a million times over already.

It used to be chronicling tawdry excess was not only shocking, but gave a first-person view of a world many of us would rather read about than witness. 

But we have seen the bazillion and one memoirs of addiction, be it addiction to booze, coke, heroin, crack, meth, painkillers, gambling, or sex. We have seen those that are fake or horribly narcissistic (then again, what memoir isn't?), and even those that actually have a greater purpose than mere solipsism. Though any memoir may be superior than those that walked before it, the ground has been covered by a million little semis filled with wet cement.

That the usual compulsive behaviors haven't stopped the memoir industry, which publishers happily embrace as the reading public can't get enough of it. So since running out of topics about the usual compulsive behaviors, there memoirs about addiction insomnia, or to sexual acts depicted in movies with titles such as "Butt Sluts Go Nuts (Vols. 1-34)." 

Dr. X's masterwork did not detail an unquenchable lust for morphine or golf, but was unflinching in its honesty. Today, that won't cut it. As one critic put it, "Candor is surely too epidemic in the popular culture, these days, to qualify any longer as courageous." 

Instead, there are two constants in addiction memoirs: 

1. The author must describe his or her spiral to the bottom, in gory, graphic detail.

2. The author must describe his or her recovery, in gory, graphic detail.

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And for this, you get a book contract

The latter condition is important because, face it, if there wasn't a recovery, there wasn't gonna be a book. When was the last time you read a memoir of an addict in the midst of his illness? Who just ain't gonna make it? Probably never (Amy Winehouse or Linsey Lohan, here's your chance!). One senses recovering addicts write their memoirs because it's part of their recovery. 

What all this means, as a writer, is that no longer is it important to say something new or repeat old verities in an interesting manner. Because, once you get past the details, every addiction memoir is pretty much like all the rest: bad childhood, turn to drugs, ruin one's life, recover, write.

I wonder what Bill Wilson would think of all this. A taciturn New Englander and the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, "Bill W." viewed recovery as being uncompromisingly honest in examining one's motives. He would have appreciated that all these crack or heroin or booger-eating addicts got help, but I am sure he would have cast a gimlet eye upon their motivations.

Why did they really need to share their tales of debauchery in print–with their faces plastered on the cover–instead of simply in a roomful of fellow addicts puffing Camel Lights and throwing down black coffee?

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Winehouse: words cannot do justice

I think he would hit upon the reason quite quickly: yet another compulsive behavior, the need to write and be noticed. Which, let's face it, is the reason why any of us wretches are doing this writing thing, anyway. At least me.

*Weird coincidence: the person writing the memoir is a literary agent who once contacted Wife, not long before the events described took place. Small world.

Hawaii Five-No!

The greatest television theme song and opening credits sequence has been ruined–ruined!–with the following remake, to match the new version of the show:

Compare that processed, digitized, lump o' donkey dung to the awesome, kick-ass perfection of the original:

Book 'em, Danno, for murdering the most totally awesome TV music ever.

It's fucking Hawaii Five-0, goddamnit!  The theme song has to kick ass! The new tune makes it sound like CSI: Honolulu.

Now excuse me while I watch another part of my childhood crawl off to die.

Ni hao, Kai lan: One Man’s Insanity

harold

There comes a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance, that imitation is suicide, that he must take himself for better, or for worse as his portion. And that "Ni hao kai lan" is the most goddamn awful thing ever in the history of children’s television.

It is the very definition of "animated excrement." Worse than the Mr T. cartoon show. Worse than "Hong Kong Phooey." Even worse than "Wonder Pets."

If China does surpass the United States economically, militarily, or culturally, it won’t be for the obvious reasons. It won’t be the trillions in debt we’re in hock to the Chinese government, China’s increasing nationalism, or a stupid, Glen Beck-esque plot to infuse the kung pao chicken at Mr. Wong’s takeout with enough MSG to kill the entire cast and crew of "The Biggest Loser."

No, it will be "Ni hao Kai lan."

Little Boy is obsessed with this seemingly innocuous show, which features a little Chinese girl named Kai lan and her friends prancing across the countryside. Her friends are a tiger, panda bear, monkey, pink rhino and other assorted cute ‘ums that make me want to take up big game hunting.

Their names are, Rintoo, Tolee, Hoho, and Lulu, respectively. That I know their names without having to consult Wikipedia or Little Boy himself scares the living crap out of me.

Before anyone starts accusing me of being racist or trying to poison Sino-American relations, I realize nobody in China actually knows about this show, or is using it as a means to destroy America (we’re doing a great job of that on our own). I also realize that there’s nothing about a show with Chinese characters that inherently is intended to turn little children anti-American (that’s for The New York Times, damnit!).

But in this global market, children watching "Ni hao" become stifled, uncreative, non-competitive robots. They are junkies, unable to tear themselves away for more productive endeavors, like, say, reading. For evidence of this, see below:

 

The decline of America in 52 seconds

Is your average three-year-old in China or India watching this drek? I think not! They’re translating the "Decameron" from Italian into Esperanto into Sanskrit! They’re doing differential calculus! They’re reading "Bookfraud"!

"Ni hao" is a traditional greeting in Mandarin, and one must hear it repeated approximately 8,403 times an episode. Not to mention hearing the same songs with the same lyrics and same cloying cuteness that would make Hello Kitty herself toss her Tender Vittles.

Alsoand worst of alllittle ol’ Kai lan says the exact same thing to close every single episode: "You make my heart feel super happy!" as she cups a heart shape around her chest and a giant valentine floats into the air.

Feel free to get sick yourself.

Children of all ethnicities (and both genders) are fanatical about "Ni hao Kai lan." This is about as welcome a development as when Barney the Dinosaur crawled out of his prehistoric time machine and into the hearts of millions of now-mentally disturbed children.

One knows that that Kai lan has cultural currency (among parents of young children, at least) when Anthony Bordain referenced it in his "No Reservations" television show, telling a befuddled Chinese guide in a restaurant how the dumplings resembled those featured in an episode of Kai lan when Hoho urinated on Tolee’s face or something like that.

Of course, my missive in the great tradition of fathers slamming some part of their children’s youth.  In my youth, more than one parent probably thought "Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood" was vile, and "Fat Albert" represented a problem as pressing as Watergate or SALT II talks. And I realize that I come across as a major league asshole curmudgeon in complaining.

But, yes, like Barney before it, "Ni hao Kai lan" is less about teaching our children valuable lessons about life than being as addictive as heroin or crack; turn "Ni hao" off in the middle of an episoide, and Little Boy turns into Raging Maniac. It’s twice as bad when he doesn’t get to see, say, five episodes in a row.

Consider that after visiting Chinatown of a certain city, Little Boy started wailing. And why?

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Banality of evil

"Because I didn’t get to see Kai lan," he said, tears running down his face. Even I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.

Then again, perhaps I’m wrong. He’s always thrilled to see it. There’s no sex or violence. We don’t have to hear about Justin Bieber. 

"Why do you like Kai lan so much?" I finally asked him, threatening to shut the show off forevermore.

"Because she’s happy!" he said, literally jumping off the couch.

I put the remote down, marveling at the purity of his joy.

Boy wins, Dad loses. Again.

The Blog That Ate Me

glenn gouldThis blog entry is about me, or the lack of me, or the unfathomable reasons that I have not existed the past six months–Bookfraud, the blogger, not Me, the Man Behind Bookfraud Who Wants to Believe He Looks Like and Gets as Much Action as George Clooney But Looks and Acts Closer to Richard Dawson After a 72-Hour Bender.

It starts like this: When I think of something being "perfect," in the Platonic sense of the word, in that representation is the enemy of the real, in that nothing that can be written, sung, painted, or performed on stage can ever match the Form in which it imperfectly represents, I think of Bach and Glenn Gould.

(Stick with me here.)

I am of limited intellectual capacity and lesser patience, but if a recording of Glenn Gould playing "The Goldberg Variations" was playing in a car, and that car was speeding at 100 miles per hour about to run off a cliff, and if you were to drop me in the driver’s seat, the car would surely dive over the cliff unimpeded because I was thus transfixed. My favorite composer is Beethoven, my favorite pianist is probably Vladimir Horowitz, my favorite rock singer probably Joey Ramone, but if I had to pick one recording that puts me into a state of hypnosis, it’s Glenn Gould playing Bach.  

Now, the last time I wrote regularly in this space, I had a different job, lived in a different city, did not suffer from pestilence or pain. And when I actually wrote in this space at all–that being in August–Tiger Woods was still known as a golfer, when Jay and Conan were still friendly, the Supreme Court had not officially put plutocrats in charge of the United States, and we associated Haiti with a simply terrible history, overwhelming poverty, and helplessness.

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For this golfer, perfection no longer entails making a hole in one

I consider those (relatively) stress-free days of 2008 in which I would check four or five blogs each day, usually at the office, without fear of prying eyes or corporate overlords, the latter of which was spending most of its time trying to figure out how avoid government indictments which I can happy testify was not on account of my actions.

No, looking back, I can see when the decent into non-blogging began: when I got laid off last year. I didn’t succumb to depression, nor did I lack subject material or desire, but it was time, that evil crook, which took everything away from me. That, and perennial, pathetic exhaustion.

After our fun-filled trek across this great nation of ours to relocate for a new job, I find myself somewhat settled in. My job keeps me busy, not that I’m complaining, and I am dutifully going to the pool to stave off the knee implants at least until age 60. Totster is entering daycare, Wife is complaining about my fill-in-the-blank fuckup but just every other day, and I have grown bored with surfing the Web for scantily clad ladies. Or naked ones, for that matter.

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You talkin’ to me?

What has been hampering me–nay, crippling me–has been this nagging sense of imperfection in all of my deeds. I sit down, intending to write or blog or tap out a sentence of some coherence, and nothing happens. Call it what you like: writer’s block, primal fear, general neurosis, knowing that my words will lack meaning or the likelihood that I will be overwhelmingly imperfect  (see Plato, Glenn Gould).

The best advice I ever got (and the only advice I remember from graduate school) was from a fellow scribe, who said in response to a mediocre story, "You can’t be afraid to suck." And that’s been me–scared to suck.

So here I sit, doing what is the last refuge of writing scoundrels in our Internet age: blogging about blogging.

I promise to all of you to get off my proverbial ass and animate the being once known as the blogger "Bookfraud" once again.

Fortunately, I doubt anybody will bother to read the entire thing. Here’s to negativism!

And here’s the truth about writing, by a non-writer.

 

 

 

 

Where I’ve Been (If You Actually Care)

overload Oh fatal ambition!

This is what happens when you decide to better yourself following that pleasantly boring interregnum called "unemployment," get a job and move cross country. You drop off the face of the Internet for several months, lose Internet service altogether, lose the four readers of your blog, and lose contact with the rest of the world.

Right now, our new apartment is a disaster. Little Boy (formerly “Baby” and “Baby-Tot”) insists he lives in his previous city and demands to visit the playgrounds of our former home. Wife is running around like a madwoman and I’m not far behind. I may turn into a woman at this rate.

So, in order to pretend that I still have a “blog” and that I’m a “writer,” I’m posting this “down n’ dirty” entry for now.  Thus I bring you…

Five Hard-Earned Lessons Learned From My Moving Trip

1. If one must attache suitcases to the roof of the rental car, make sure that they are firmly tied down so they don’t fly off on to the Interstate, making Wife nearly have a breakdown, almost causing an accident, forcing the assistance of two state troopers with crewcuts and dour demeanors, and causing you to find the nearest post office where you must mail your suitcase to your new home. Yes, you really can mail a suitcase.

2. Little Boy, now two years old (Now Two! Now Able to Answer "No!" to Everything!), does not like sleeping in hotel rooms with his parents and makes his displeasure known through not sleeping. And making copious noise punctuated by tears.

In addition, the $3.18 Disney TV show (about a talking bear who can drive a car but needs help to learn how to brush his teeth) one orders in the hotel room to pacify Little Boy will only make him go insane with lust for more craptastic $3.18 Disney TV shows and make him cry all evening in withdrawal.

3. DSL is one of the worst technical innovations of the last 400 years and should be put out of its misery with an extremely large-caliber weapon. Also, I cannot think of a suitable acronym for what DSL should stand for, though “Dong Sucking Lousiness” or “Defintely Shitty Linkage” come to mind.

4. Bad moving companies are very, very bad, but good ones are very, very good. We were lucky to have the latter. (Added so you don’t think everything was awful.)

5. No matter how many boxes you’ve opened, there’s more to follow.

If only I could say the same about my blog entries.

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My new best friend

Everybody’s a Critic

harold

Recently seen on the citizens review board of Amazon.com, regarding three different volumes:

The popularity of this book stupifies me—do people like it because they think they are supposed to?

This book was a peice [sic] o’… you know and wasn’t worth the time or effort to read.

Classic or not, I don’t care for this book.

These reviews are for major, major bestsellers, and so perhaps you were thinking they refered to the latest Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, or Harold Robbins, even though the old cokehead died a few years ago.

But no. These (real) reviews are for Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Babar, respectively. Yes, classic children’s books. These reviewer-parents say the books are of inferior literary quality and are not appropriate for our nation’s youth—I kid you not.

Things only get better from there. Curious George is panned because it promotes cruelty to animals. Other experts slam The Very Hungry Caterpillar because it teaches children to overeat and telling kids that butterflies emerge from cocoons (as opposed to moths) teaches bad science.

Worst of all, my all-time favorite children’s book is taken to the woodshed because it 1) promotes anarchy; 2) will scare children because animals in the book talk and are human-sized; and 3) isn’t about promoting imagination or literacy but is instead a subtle examination of id versus superego and the dynamism of the ego.

I’m sure you realize I’m talking about The Cat in the Hat.

I chanced upon this gems of critical insight after searching for a training potty for Baby-Tot, being that he keeps saying things like "made a poo-poo" and "I’ve got a wee-wee! I’ve got a wee-wee!" Modern parent and writer that I am, I also bought several "how-to" books on helping kids learn how to take a proper dump, and ultimately landed upon the reviews mentioned above. 

What is perhaps more odd than the reviews themselves—hating Dr. Seuss is like hating ice cream—is why anyone would bother. Does one really think their review will stop people from buying (and their children loving) Cars and Trucks and Things That Go? In my earlier, feckless days of youth (I was in my mid-thirties), I would post an occasional review on Amazon, mostly of music and movies. I once slammed a well-known music album that I likened to the vomitus that emerges after doing battle with a bad batch of raw seafood.

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This is your id on drugs

Why did I embark on this endeavor of nastiness, full well knowing that it would not make one iota of difference in the greater artistic consciousness of the world? I can’t say for sure, but I remember feeling a distinct sense of self-righteousness when considering the work in question: These people love a total piece of donkey dung! They are deluded! They are wrong! I am right!  But at least I had reasons for these (admittedly) juvenile criticisms.

The beauty of the Internet is that it gives a voice to all, and the horror of the Internet is that it gives a voice to all. You don’t have to go farther than the comments section of most news Web sites to see the bile; if you really want to feel the hate, go to a sports Web site, scroll the comments section, and see why fans of a certain sports team are inherently inferior to fans of a competing sports team based on the fact the former fans were born in Chicago and the latter in St. Louis.

I carry no brief against the amateur critic, but when some nimrod weighs in and slams, say Great Expectations ("The fool author made it up as he went along") or One Hundred Years of Solitude ("Don’t waste your time or money"), it brings the death of literary fiction that much closer. These claims are in the minority, of course, but that somebody felt their empty thoughts were even worth writing down shows some serious hostility to some of the greatest works of literature, like, ever.

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That was exquisitely awful

This is not a grad student expounding on a blog or a well-read civilian actually having insights into the book in question. This is like Rush Limbaugh saying waterboarding is not torture or Wall Street bankers don’t earn enough. Or, more to the point, this is just like Rush Limbaugh.

So if you don’t have anything intelligent to say, just shut the fuck up. Which I really, really wish I could make happen to Rush Limbaugh.

Back Up the Van

moving

Bookfraud, I miss you. Blog again please!

When the lovely and fetching (and brilliant) Voix asks me to blog, how can I say no? Even if she wrote this, like, six months ago.

There’s some good reasons I haven’t  blogged, and some not-so-good ones as well, and I will dispense of the latter before getting to the good stuff.

Bad reasons for not blogging: I haven’t blogged because the Cubs are the Cubs, because I’m still mad about Bernie Madoff, because I’m being disappointed in advance for President Obama, because Republicans still suck ass, because I’m really unhappy with my keyboard, and, finally, I haven’t blogged because a Irish wolfhound looked me in the face and told me if I ever blogged again, he would have to kill me.

Real reason for not blogging: For the first time in my life, I have a Blackberry.

This came with my new job, which I was fortunate enough to land in February and start full-time in March. I will not go into more detail about it save to say it is an excellent position, they’re working me harder than a Marine grunt in basic training, and I’m grateful to be working, as grateful a man who has regained the ability to walk.

So there’s that. Also, we have to move 800 miles away in July as part of my new employment. "We" being me, Wife, and Baby-Tot (ne Baby). We were in my new city of employment a couple of weeks ago and signed a lease for an apartment, thus "sealing" "the deal." 

(Anybody in the market for an overpriced, underloved, and never-will-be-purchased-in-time place to live? Mention Bookfraud.com to the realtor and I’ll give you a 3 percent discount. That’s three-fucking-percent! Off a place nobody is ever going to buy!

My vote for Obama is paying off already!)

Also, my mother was visiting us in April, took a spill and her temple introduced itself to the sidewalk, ended up going to the ER, got stitches, had trouble breathing later that night, went back to the hospital at 2 a.m. in an ambulance that got lost, got a buttload of chest scans, found out that she had pneumonia, and ended up extending her stay a week. A week in an out-of-town hospital, in isolation, no less.

(Did I ever mention that pneumonia was what felled my father? You might imagine I had a little stress no-sleep thing going there.)

After I started my new job—I’m really grateful to have it, did I mention that?—I became just a mite scared of blogging, if only of my new bosses discovering it. (Why they would suddenly discover it is beyond me, but I still had the fear.) Also, a minor point: I’ve been working nights, weekends, and sections of the morning marked by hours lower than "6."

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Waldman: Loves Michael Chabon this much

And if it was not just my inability to find the hours to sleep, not to mention blog, I was about as active in the blogosphere overall as Ayelet Waldman is withdrawn and sane, which is to say, not at all.

I don’t know how much more of this I can take, honestly. If I loved Wife more than Baby-Tot, like a certain writer currently in the news, then I guess I could put the little bugger up for adoption, which would have the copasetic effect of giving me time to shower, cut down on the number of communicable diseases I contract, and save expontentially on the food bill. But when I entertain such ideas, Baby-Tot will do something like say "Delicious!" when eating dinner, will ask to hear Yo-Yo Ma, or runs up and gives me a hug, his arms wrapped around my knees.

Plan B it is, then. Baby-Tot will stay.

Maybe I’ll write something in another week, or another six months, or something. Don’t stay up for me.

25 Random Things About Me (All True!) You Would Just as Rather Not Know

chuckecheeze

There it goes again.

The blight known as Facebook has now foisted upon us the "25 Random Things" chain letter, in which people post 25 random factoids about themselves, and tag other Facebook friends to do the same. That bloggers have been doing this type of thing for the last five years appears not to have impeded the popularity of of "25 Random Things."

Being that a) I was tagged,  b) I try to avoid Facebook like light beer and Republicans, and c) I think everyone is getting sick of this, I post my own list, all things that are bad, humiliating, or have other negative connotations. Except for two, one of which involves the greatest TV theme song ever played.

25 RANDOM THINGS ABOUT ME (ALL TRUE) YOU WOULD JUST AS RATHER NOT KNOW

1. The first time I got high, I urinated on something, but I can’t remember what it was.

2. I used to listen to Simon & Garfunkle’s "Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine" on my parent’s turntable and imagine I was on television singing it, dancing and gesticulating to my imagined, adoring life studio audience.  I continued this behavior from age eight until sometime last year. 

3. I’ve gotten in three car accidents, but only two were my fault, and one was when I was 18, so it doesn’t count.

4. My sister made fun of my lousy efforts me during my quixotic quest to be a soccer goalie in high school. In anger, I threw a piece of chicken at her. Like most of my athletic endeavors, it missed the mark.

5. The closest I’ve come to dying, metaphorically speaking, was when a friend and I were driving to a basketball game in high school when a cop pulled us over—my friend was about to light up a joint in the car. The cop, enraged we did not stop immediately, searched the car, padded me down, and gave me three tickets. He didn’t find my friend’s pot. But I saw my life crumbling before my eyes.

6. When I was a teenager, I was a total loser when it came to asking girls out on dates.

7. When I became an adult, I remained a total loser when it came to asking women out on dates.

8. Codicil to #6: Masturbation.

9. Codicil to #7: Masturbation.

10. The number of inappropriate women I’ve slept with far exceeds the number who were actually appropriate. If you’re reading this, and I’ve had sex with you, that means you were definitely appropriate.

11. Once, when The Who were on tour back in the 1980s, they tried to make a stop in a city I was living, but the only night they could play, Billy Joel had booked a concert at the only suitable arena. Joel, who could have moved his concert a day, refused, making 12,000+ wieners happy in the metropolitan area. So if you think Billy Joel is better than The Who, I can’t be friends with you, and I think you suck.

joel
Joel: don’t get me started

12. I have urinated on the basin of my toilet in order to clean it. Try it some time—the remove the blackish buildup from three months of not cleaning, aim right for the heart of the stain.

13. You’ve entered middle age when you have to trim your ear hair. Not that I would know.

14. Next to deaths in my family, the worst two days of my life was when I was eight and my puppy ran away. I cried non-stop over a weekend. I’ll never forget opening the front door and seeing a person in the neighborhood holding my dog. That was probably the happiest moment of my life. The following year, she had puppies, and she lived another 16 years.

15. If you try to tell me about the superiority of cats to dogs, not only will I question your judgment, but your sanity.

16. Jobs that I’ve had include: horse-carriage driver, costumed pizza parlor mascot, pizza delivery driver, McDonald’s indentured servant, camp counsellor, civil servant, cafeteria worker, window washer, hospital policy manual writer, the guy who tries to sell you an apartment when you walk into the front office, pseudo-software writer (fired), twice a busboy for a day (fired from first place, didn’t show up for my second day of work at the latter), survey taker, and temp office worker (I tested out at 90 wpm). Amazingly, none of the jobs panned out as a career.

17. I would tell you the time I was most humiliated, but there are far too many candidates to choose from.

18. There are people in my extended family I don’t like very much. You know who you are, except that I don’t talk to you and you don’t know Bookfraud exists.

19. I have nicknames for bowel movements, including Thunderdump; All-Star Crapathon; Human Shitstorm; Laying a Lincoln Log; Tossing the Whole Bakery, not Just a Loaf.

My favorite, however, has a literary pedigree: Turdgantua.

20. My formula for life: (Times Having Sex*Number of Partners2)+Money When You Die+Number of Children Who Don’t Hate You5/(Number of Major Disappointments Involving Women, Money and Publishing+Hospital Visits3)+(Years in Therapy*Money Spent on Therapy). If your number is > 1 when you die, you’ve had a successful life.

21. I watched so much television growing up that I knew each night’s network schedule. As a result, I do not speak a foreign language, play an instrument, cook,mountain climb or participate in any activity that entails paying any attention for more than 15 seconds. However, I know what "Book ‘em, Danno" means. 

Also, I will say without equivocation: the theme song and title credits from "Hawaii Five-0" are the greatest in television history. I mean, that song totally kicks ass. And the tracking shot when they zoom in on Jack Lord at light speed is totally badass. Totally.

 

I will look for any excuse whatsoever to run this

22. One of my grandmothers was a country Baptist girl who got a nursing degree and made something out of herself. But I was sometimes ashamed of her, and didn’t want her around my friends out of fear she’d say something embarrassing. 

23. I have visited blogs because the subject was sexual. I’ve visited porn sites for the same reason, believe it or not.

24. On more than one occasion, I have reduced someone to tears.

25. All of the above.

Gimme More

olivertwist

Please sir. I want some more.

More? You want more?

Yes, sir.

Ah…just what the hell are you doing here, anyway? Wearin' that fancy suit 'n piece a' silk 'ya neck?

Oh, that. I got my ass fired from the place where I worked for over a decade.

Blimey, I understand. It's just that we don't get too many older 'uns from the 21st Century here. 'Specially those who sound like they come over from the colonies.

The United States hasn't been a colony of England for over 200 years. And I don't understand the dynamics of the space-time continuum myself.

What the 'ell are you talkin' about?

Oh, I meant, "I don't understand the dynamics of the space-time continuum meeself, sir."

That's better, laddie. Oliver Twist, it is?

I've been called worse. Of course, I'm not a fictional character or metaphor for a street urchin.

Stop talkin' in ya' fancy-pants Cambridge talk! Get the feck out of here, you slimy Yank!

Just can I have something to eat? It will serve as a metaphor for feeding my hunger for approval, now that I've been unemployed for several months.

Off with 'ya, I say!

A week later…

You sure have a funny way about you. What's with all the fucked-up dance moves?

Why, I'm the Artful Dodger.

I hate the Dodgers. They swept the Cubs in the playoffs. Get the fuck out of my face.

What? I'm gonna teach you the ways of the streets, m'boy.

Do I look like I need your help?

As a 'atter of fact, you look a bit downtrodden. There's a stain on your scarf.

What is it with you people and ties? And that stain is soup. From the orphanage. But I'm not an orphan. I'm Bookfraud, 21st Century Writer and victim of the financial malaise gripping the world.

Financial crisis, you say? Why, I know just the bloke to help 'ya! He's a Jew!

summerall
Guinness as Obi-Yid Kenobi

Don't tell me—his name is Fagan, he has an enormous schnozz, and he makes Shylock look like Jesus.

Egads, the man reads minds! How ya' know?

I was an English major, what else?

Upstairs in a hidden attic, the Artful Dodger leads Bookfraud to a dark corner where a deformed old man with a nose the size of Queen Victoria's left buttock is counting his money.

Stay back, I say! Stay in the light where I can see ya!

Uh, OK. How come I have a feeling I already know you?

Shat up, ya' pathetic ragamuffin!

I'm 44-years old. Do I look like a "ragamuffin"?

Well, blimey, you are a bit on the old side to be doing this type of work.

I don't steal stuff, if that's what you're talking about. Even if I wanted to pick pockets for you, I've got the manual dexterity of an office chair.

What?

Just forget it, old man. I'm not going to steal for you. I'm a writer and I'm looking for a job.

A writer? No wonder 'ya don't 'ave a job! Nobody knows how to read, everyone knows that. And if you did read, why do you need to hire someone to write for 'ya? It's bloody stupid, I say.

I guess things were the same in the 1850s as in 2009.

You do look like you shouldn't be here. What you same your name was?

Bookfraud—it's a pseudonym.

You do fraud on books? You'll fit just nicely 'round here, just nicely!

No, I—

You a regular 'ookkeeper with a crooked streak to ya? We could make so much more with you 'round.

No, no, I chose the name because…oh, never mind. Let's just say I'm not a crooked bookeeper…crooked bookkeeping…why does that ring a…hey—now I recognize you!

Oh, don't tell me you're with the police? I never done nothing illegal in my life!

You're supposed to be Fagan, Dickens' anti-Semitic character in Oliver Twist!

What are you talkin' about? I don't know any Dickens, but me name is Fagan—

You're not Fagan! You're Bernie Madoff! Shit! You've done more to set back Jews than anyone since Barry Manilow! I hate you! You're the reason I'm going to reattach my foreskin!

Off with 'ya! Get out of my attick, you non-interest-paying traitor!

With pleasure! I hate you, Madoff! You've given anti-Semites around the world more reason to hate me! They hate me even more than I hate me! Thanks a lot, you fucking wanker!

summerall
Bernie sucks

Why, you…people gave me their money, you buffoon! I only took from other Jews! They were just too stupid to question the returns—

Shut the fuck up! I'm outta here. But I have one question.

An' what might that be?

Can you get me Victoria Beckham's autograph?

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