Numbers, which are a human invention, exist in their own dimension independent of human understanding. . . . → Read More: Obsessed With Obsessions
Numbers, which are a human invention, exist in their own dimension independent of human understanding. . . . → Read More: Obsessed With Obsessions
Here’s my latest place to waste time: The Meth Minute.
Combine James Brown, cyborgs, and a touch of Sibelius, and you’ve got genius, of a sort.
I’m going to get back to blogging regularly, and visiting blogs, and writing, just after my son grows up and I retire from this time-sucking job. Someone should pay me to blog, I say.
I had avoided being tagged for lo these many years, probably because most bloggers find me an irritating, ingratiating, and generally masturbating presence on their sites . . . → Read More: The Memeing of Life
Can I call you “Mike”? I’ve really never written a star athlete before, and I would hate to alienate you with forced familiarity. But “Michael” doesn’t seem to fit, either, so let’s just call you what you should be called, “Sick Fuck,” as in “Sick Fuck Vick.”
Oh, today you apologized and asked for forgiveness for your “mistake,” though I don’t think your dog-fighting enterprise, “Bad Newz Kennels,” was truly a mistake. The only mistakes you made were choosing the wrong accomplices, who gladly rolled on you when the going got tough, and that you weren’t more discreet in setting up your matches. Those are mistakes. But what you did was a way of life (you ran the dogfighting ring for six years), and if you hadn’t been caught, you’d still be torturing and executing animals for fun.
This really is piling on after the whistle, I realize. You’ve been castigated and humiliated plenty of other places in the media and on the Internet, and you are looking at a year in the Big House — and I don’t mean Michigan Stadium. Your career is in tatters and people are sending your jersey to the Atlanta Humane Society to line kennels and mop up after accidents.
Sure, you have your defenders, many of whom you did not have to pay to do so. Those who say that at least you didn’t kill somebody. Those who say that you’re being persecuted because you’re black. And those who say that you can do what you want with your dogs, as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody.
Of course, these defenses entail a moral universe far removed from anything mere mortals like myself inhabit. The implication is that just about anything short of physically hurting a human being shouldn’t be criminal, which would be a great relief to our overtaxed criminal justice system, since they could then ignore about 90 percent of the things now illegal.
I gotta hand it to, Mr. Sick Fuck. You’ve given the phrase “dog days of summer” new meaning — I mean, all I could come up with was some pathetic paragraphs on bedbugs for the past few weeks. But when I heard about your press conference earlier today, in which you asked for forgiveness and invoked Jesus, I knew what I had to do.
Offer my services as a writer, of course.
Though I am not a Christian, I do believe in some of Jesus Christ’s teachings, such as “He who has not sinned, let him cast the first stone,” embracing and helping society’s outcasts, and giving a Swanson’s Turkey TV dinner for the downtrodden on his birthday. Like Jesus offered forgiveness, you’d like some forgiveness from the public and (most importantly) the NFL, so you can go back to doing what you do best: being an exciting but mediocre football player. This is where Bookfraud can help.
It’s a simple matter of you being able to tell “your side of the story,” and do it in a way that evokes sympathy rather than condescension. We can pen your autobiography, or write a screenplay of your ordeal. There are so many ways in which to do this.
That Son of Sam thing happened to me. Instead of dogs telling me to kill people, other people told . . . → Read More: Vick’s Fucked Up Moral Universe — Rehabilitated by a Writer!
Yes, observant reader, I’ve changed the header and layout, and if I can decipher the HTML code for my template, I might actually make the page look half decent, in about six years.
But enjoy the all-new photo of myself at rest, and take the poll!
In the era before the Internet, PDAs, cell phones, and iPods, I bought a Filofax in one of my many futile attempts to “get organized.” The chunk of plastic and paper collected dust following my few attempts to actually use it.
It was then that I’ve had my life’s major epiphany: in order to be organized, you have to be organized.
I had hoped that the Filofax would magically transform the mess then known as my life. The Filofax would help me with appointments, phone numbers, birthdays, and the other assorted minutiae that make up the grist of living.
It did not do much good, since I never entered my appointments and friends’ birthdays, while I barely consulted it for telephone numbers and addresses. In order for the Filofax to transform my life into a streamlined, efficient machine, I would have to do the things that would make my life into a streamlined, efficient machine – whether I owned a stupid $30 phonebook-calendar or not.
Several electronic devices and computer calendars later, I still struggle to keep appointments, remember birthdays, and generally keep organized. My desk is a testament to mounds of paper needing to be filed. Unfinished and un-started projects litter the roadway of my literary endeavors. Things are so bad that when everything is “organized,” I grow suspicious, for it means that I have spent my time in cleaning up rather than actually doing the tasks for which being organized would make such a snap.
Now, comes my worst nightmare.
I have about eight writing projects somewhere between larval and butterfly. They range from the “novel” to short stories to a non-fiction book to a magazine piece on outsourcing. Some of these projects are smashingly good ideas, if I say so myself, while others are limper than month-old lettuce. But deciding which ones I should pursue has proven more difficult than a chick-lit heroine deciding between a pair of Jimmy Choos and Malono Blahniks (or the uber-dick-lit hero choosing between Honey Ryder and Pussy Galore).
In the past, this would not have been an issue — I would have simply done all of them with various degrees of enthusiasm (and success). Things would have panned themselves out: I would drop one or two things completely, aggressively pursue one or two others, and hold the rest in limbo. Then, once I finished a story, I would try to get it published, contemplate suicide as the rejection notes piled up, then brush the dirt off my jacket and start anew.
You know what I’m going to say next: since Baby arrived, I have no time to engage in such narcissistic dallying, though dally I do. This is an organizational crisis for me, as I can’t decide what I should pursue in the limited minutes allotted to me when I’m not changing Baby, burping Baby, bathing Baby, taking Baby off Wife’s hands, wiping Baby’s spit off my face, etc.
Now, I know of Super Moms and Dads who manage to take care of their children’s (plural) . . . → Read More: Organization Man
Phone rings, at about 7 p.m. It’s one of Wife’s friends.
“Hey Bookfraud, just checking in to see how Wife is doing,” the friend says. “See how she’s feeling.”
I say that Wife is feeling as well as can be expected, given she’s going to give birth in a week or two. She’s in the bathroom, can’t talk.
“Great! Just have her give me a call.”
Phone rings again, at about 7:30. We’re eating dinner and let the voicemail pick up. “Hi! It’s Wife’s Friend Number 2! How are you guys? You must be so excited now! I just wanted to check in and see how Wife is doing? Is there anything I can do to help? Anyway, give me a call! Bye!”
Phone rings again, at about 7:45. Fully knowing what is coming, I hand the receiver to Wife. “Oh, hi!” she says to Friend Number 3. “Things are fine! We’re getting pretty excited. Me? I’m feeling fine.”
And so it goes as we hurdle towards our final day as a married, childless couple. The phone rings (and rings and rings), and it inevitably will be someone asking about Wife. Her friends, her family; my friends, my family. They don’t ask, “Hey, Bookfraud, how are you doing?” They don’t ask, “Hey Bookfraud, are you feeling OK?” And they don’t say, “Bookfraud, are you sick of everybody ignoring you? Just wait. It’s going to get a hell of a lot worse.”
I know what they are saying. For though I am capable of great acts of self-delusion — it’s what keeps me writing — I am not blind to the fact that from now until the baby is born and several weeks afterwards, I am just an appendage, a barrier to be overcome. Everyone cares about the woman carrying the baby, for it is she who ultimately holds the hopes and desires of everyone around her; i.e. grandparents to be.
Lewis: doesn’t look like a carrot
Nobody really cares about the baby seeder. My job is essentially done and the worthiness for the rest of my life depends upon my performance as a provider, father, and fellow who just doesn’t get in the way.
My cousin, who has two children of his own, put it well when he said that my mother and my in-laws will suddenly have a Whole Lotta Love for this infant, who, as he put it, is substitute for the infant stolen from them when I grew up.
Michael Lewis, the author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, and several other amazing tomes of non-fiction, wrote how once his wife (Tabitha Soren, the former MTV talking head) entered the hospital in labor, his job was, essentially, to get the hell out of the way. No matter how many times he told dear Tabs that she could do this, the pain was going away, or that she could make it through this, the world of nurses and doctors and relatives treated him like an elevator operator.
He was there, helping people get on their way, but he really wasn’t necessary:
[U]p until the moment the child is born, the husband in the delivery room is in an odd predicament. He’s been admitted to the scene of the crisis but given no serious purpose. He’s the Frenchman after the war resolution has passed.
Or, . . . → Read More: Mr. Irrelevant
“It’ll go north of $800 million, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it went for more than $1 billion,” says Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports industry consultant.
“It” is the Chicago Cubs. “It” is up for sale. And “it” is less a baseball team than marketing juggernaut, and has been for some time.
The Tribune Co., erstwhile owners of the Cubs, are selling their media empire to a Chicago real estate magnate while jettisoning the team at season’s end. Given their roster and wise moves to boost the payroll, it appears the 2007 Cubs are on track to win 36 games, and the smart money says that volatile manager Lou Pinella will register more burst aneurysms than destroyed water coolers this season.
It’s not that my beloved Cubbies aren’t worth a lot of money, in a business sense: Tribune owns the stadium, part of a cable network, and the team generates over 3 million loyal sheep-fans every year. Perhaps shelling out $1 billion for the team will be a good return on capital. (It certainly will be for Tribune, which bought the Cubs for $20 million in 1983.)
But no amount of fiscal reasoning can hide the fact that the idea itself is galling. Paying $1 billion for the Cubs? This is like paying $1 billion for a company that recycles used toilet paper. This is like paying $1 billion to masturbate before a live television audience. This is like paying $1 billion for the Bad News Bears.
Curse my ass
For someone like myself, it is a double insult. Not only have the Cubs constantly ripped out my heart and treated it like a clay pigeon, but think of what good the money could have done in the world of fiction.
$1 billion will get you 10,000 book advances of $100,000 each, or 20,000 advances of $50,000. Now let’s do some analysis here.
Out of 20,000 novels, about 80 percent will sell for shit, 15 percent will do a fair business, and perhaps five percent will be hits, with 0.5 percent being blockbusters. That means 100 books will be major sellers, and if one does not recoup the $1 billion investment, at least there is the satisfaction of launching a young or (middle-aged) writer (like me) on his road to retirement.
Now, let’s look at the Cubs. While you’d get 100 blockbuster novels from $1 billion, that same amount is buying a team that hasn’t won the World Series in 100 years. It hasn’t even won a pennant in 62. You can get 20,000 books or a single, sorry franchise that proudly markets the Curse of the Billy Goat.
This penchant to wildly overpay for an asset is what is formally known in the business world as “fucking insane.”
If it seems that I am passionate and angry about this topic, you would be right. And it doesn’t even have to do with the fact the Cubs have disappointed me more than a stereotypical Jewish son disappoints his mother.
A columnist recently noted that back in the early 1980s — when I was a high-schooler living in the Chicago suburbs and frequent attendee of Cubs games — Wrigley Field and its surrounding environs were considered eyesores at best, slum-like at worst. There was nothing hip or cool about going to a game, . . . → Read More: $1 Billion for Each World Series Win
I promised that I would post something every day until Baby Raoul is born. This could be any day now, but it could be two or three weeks.
The post below got sidelined for reasons as picayune as they are dull.
What to say? I’m reading banal baby books, and my brain has turned to mush.
My eyes waver when open up something substantial.
Wife is reading “Special Topics in Calamity Physics,” which makes me want to throw up. (The author’s success, that is).
I still despise George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Republicans in general.
Some things never change.
There is another type of outsourcing that the United States is suffering, one that nobody talks about but is costing us lots of high-profile, high-paying jobs.
This rant all started when I was flipping around last evening during commercial breaks of WWE RAW (a boy’s gotta have his entertainments, right?) when I encountered another disturbing manifestation of a trend threatening our great creative nation.
A television show called “The Riches.” The program is not evil in and of itself, but consider what I witnessed last night. Minnie Driver, an English actress, and Eddie Izzard, an English comedian, are the stars of this show.
“The Riches,” as far as I can tell, is set in the American South. And in the brief scenes that I witnessed, the characters of Ms. Driver and Mr. Izzard, who are con artists, were Southerners pretending to be English to an unsuspecting sucker.
In other words, you had two actors from England pretending to be people from the South pretending to be people from England. There is something inherently wrong about this. It is like Robert DeNiro playing King Lear in Italian.
It is globalization — out of control. I’m amazed Lou Dobbs hasn’t done a special on it.
In essence, there are an alarming number of Englishmen, Aussies, and Kiwis playing Americans on stage and screen. The list is shockingly long.
Beckinsdale: Ava she’s not
Just in the past few years, you had Jude Law and Kate Winslet as old school bayou families (!) in “All the King’s Men.” Gary Oldman as a tough cop in “Batman Begins.” Daniel-Day Lewis as a gang tough (with the bizarre-est accent ever) in “The Gangs of New York.”
Kate Beckinsdale as Ava Gartner in “The Aviator.” Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fienes, and Bob Hoskins. Even Elizabeth Taylor is English (officially, at least).
When will this madness stop?
But this is nothing compared to the jobs we have outsourced to Down Under.
From Australia — a nation of 20 million, less than in Texas — there are the following actors whose job is to play Americans in movies: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pierce, Hugo Weaving, Eric Bana, Toni Colette, Judy Davis, Rachel Griffiths, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, and Anthony LaPaglia. Hell, you even had Heath Ledger playing a vocabulary-challenged gay cowboy from Montana.
There’s even Rick Springfield, taking valuable soap opera time from deserving Americans.
There must be something about the desert heat that turns Australians into fame-seeking whores who take American jobs that American actors could play as American characters. There ought to be a law.
I liked Australia better when their biggest entertainment exports were AC/DC, Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan, Yahoo Serious, and Jacko. (Yes, Jacko, the former Australian rules football star and battery commercial guy above). They didn’t try to be Yanks: they were as Aussie as a pint of Foster’s and didn’t try to be anything else.
There are some noble actors who hew to a minimal code of conduct. Judi Dench sounds like a limey, and doesn’t have pretensions of being, say, a farm girl from Mississippi. Could you ever picture Alec Guiness, Richard Burton, or Richard Harris even trying to be an American? I know Lawrence Olivier played a sadistic Nazi dentist who decamped to the United States, but that was a . . . → Read More: Globalization Out of Control
You can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family. I’d like to add a codicil to this rule: you can choose where you work, but not the person who sits next to you at work.
I am sure that certain aspects of my personality grate on my co-workers: the incessant swearing at my computer, the frowning, pissy face I make when things don’t go my way, and bringing an semi-automatic weapon to the workplace.
Two things I am not known for are a harsh, grating voice that could split an airborne 747 into several pieces, and a cellphone ring with the volume turned up to 11 and that goes off most frequently when its owner is not at her desk. The cellphone plays “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
Also, when I am making a noise that puts the whoop in whooping cough while blowing out an average of 3 liters of phlegm each day, I stay at home.
Sadly, this person I describe is real.
Normally, talk of my job is verboten in this space. My employers would be none-too-happy given the content here, and there are about 14 million other bloggers relating their day-to-day hell known as their job, in any case. It’s like Jennifer Anniston in “Office Space”: I don’t want to talk about my pieces of flair.
But since this person who is lodged near me (and fortunately, does not work with me) threatens to steal the last remaining threads of my sanity, today I will make an exception.
Of all the cube farms in all the towns in all the world, she walks into in mine
In short, I find this woman revolting. I hate her.
I hate her voice, I hate her endless, stupid conversations on the phone, I hate her germ warfare that she seems intent on waging on the rest of us. I hate her frequent laugh that could shatter glass; I hate hearing all about her personal problems. She is a life-support system for pointlessness.
There, I said it. Now, what to do about it?
That’s where you come in.
If living well is the best revenge, then writing about one’s tormentors is even better.
I may just write a story about this officemate, but I can’t really decide what will happen. I’ve come up with five possible scenarios, or at least five fantasy scenarios that I’ve rolled over in my mind with the frequency of an obsessive washing his hands:
1) An enormous asteroid emerges from the heavens and stomps on her.
2) An enormous foot emerges from the heavens and stomps on her.
3) She is fired from her job and arrested for embezzlement, sentenced to 25 to life in the Sing Sing.
4) She begs to make mad, passionate love to me, but I reject her in disgust, and she jumps out the window.
5) Nothing changes except that the volume of her voice increases, she changes her cellphone ring to “My Humps,” and I end up working for her, then, for reasons unknown, I divorce Wife and marry this other woman. I jump out the window.
I’m going to allow you to determine which one of these storylines to follow.
I would prefer not to
But if you come up with something better — which shouldn’t be . . . → Read More: Interactive Fiction
“They” say that you shouldn’t immerse yourself too deeply in fiction while writing the same, lest you end up mimicking too closely the author you’re reading, which might be a good thing if it’s reading Muriel Spark but not so great if it’s Nicholas Sparks.
I can’t say if there is a corollary in non-fiction. When I read David Sedaris, my blog doesn’t suddenly morph into wacky but acutely observed tales of wacky but interesting people. Or when I’ve read Adam Gopnik, I my blog doesn’t devolve into, uh, tales of Paris and Manhattan and whatever Adam Gopnik is known for.
This is not necessarily a good thing, and as I find myself in funk, I am wondering if I should be reading fiction at this stressful and unproductive point in my writing life, in which I seem to know more about meconium and colostrum than what’s happening in the literary “scene.”
To wit, here’s the most-read books currently on my nightstand:
1. The Happiest Baby on the Block2. Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child3. Waiting for Birdy: a Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family4. What to Expect When You Are Expecting and Insane4a. Some Other Title Involving Pre-Natal Care, Early Childhood Care, or Interpreting the Color of Your Child’s Feces
You may imagine I don’t find this stuff particularly inspiring. If my blog began to resemble what I read, it would be a dull, little-read, school-marmish collections of cliché and banalities, which, I suspect, it might be already.
Another type of self-absorption
I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a non-fiction book involving personal experiences, none of which involve losing weight, recovering from abuse, or making my first billion on Wall Street. But I can’t really seem to find a corollary tome as a model, or, truth be known, to rip off.
“You should write the book like your blog,” Wife is fond of saying, and while this is a flattering thing indeed, I doubt a reader could stand this semi-snarky, fully gloomy pose for more than 50 pages. Or five.
The only thing I will reveal about the topic of this book is that it concerns a waste of time, and my attempts to give it up (not Sudoku. Or WWE. Or blogging.) This appears as if it’s a natural parallel with a diary, but I have never been a fan of diarists, either my own or others. A good diary is the ultimate solipsism, existing nowhere but within its own universe.
I mean, a blog is good for self-absorption, but I’m not writing down the day’s events here:
I woke up, and took a piss. Showered, shaved, dressed, went to work. Got to work, had coffee, crapped out a lung. We’re talking nuclear warheads here. Grown men ran in horror. Went back to desk, and worked five minutes. Co-worker comes to bother me to talk about NASCAR. Doesn’t seem to realize my eyes are glazing over. Shooed him away and surfed the ‘Net three hours, until it was time for lunch.
Had a bacon double cheeseburger and snuck under a desk for a nap. Was busted because I hadn’t taken my Beano. Damn busybodies. Went outside and wasted a couple of hours with Samuel Adams before going back to desk and pretending . . . → Read More: Diary Straits
Anybody who knows me will say, “That Bookfraud despises pretentious people, writing, and art. That’s probably why he can’t sit through a ballet, video installations, and ‘Jackass 2.’”
Those people would be right. I hate pretense, for the simple reason that most of the time, I don’t get what the bugger is trying to say, making me look stupid. I’d rather be hit with a sharply hit line drive in the face than look stupid. So I’ll just ignore the whole thing altogether.
Hand-in-hand with pretense goes snobbery. If you don’t understand a work of art, thinks the snob, you must be uncivilized or just plain dumb.
I’ve been cogitating on this ever since I started seeing raves for Joanna Newsom’s “Ys,” a 2006 CD full of long, digressive tracks filled with heavy orchestration, harps and oblique but poetic verse.
Wondering what the fuss was about — “Ys” seemed to be on every “Best of 2006” list out there — I downloaded a couple of tracks.
To say this was difficult to listen to is like saying it’s hard to listen to the screams in a psych ward. Newsom is undeniably talented with the harp, but her compositions head towards atonal, her lyrics are digressive, and she has a voice that sounds as if it was born from the unholy union of Kate Bush and a hillbilly. It’s like listening to Schoenberg while a train screeches to a stop.
It’s pretense personified. Only snobs (i.e. critics) could get into this crap.
Ah, but you’ve probably spotted my hypocrisy. Only someone who is a snob would even mention Schoenberg (see extremely constipated-looking man, below), and only a person with amazing pretense would even compare Newsom to a classically trained composer. That’s my weakness. When it comes to music, I’m a snob. And I hate myself for it.
Twelve tones and 1,000 broken eardrums
I was one of those insufferable teenage boys who defined his friends by what graced their turntables. If you hated The Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, or the Clash, I probably would not have been your friend. You just didn’t have taste.
This snobbery got worse through college, as I learned more about music, proving that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I went so far as to write embarrassing letters to friends why they had to listen to the DKs and surrounding oneself with bad music was a living death.
As I expanded my horizons, my sense of superiority grew with it. You don’t like Coltrane? You don’t even own any Coltrane? Or even any Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, or Dizzy Gillespie? You troglodyte!
But it wasn’t until started going to the symphony in my mid-20s that my snootiness grew completely out of control. I signed up for a concert subscription, bought CD after CD, and really listened to them.
Today, classical music is the only kind I ever attend in concert — about five to ten times a year, on average. I’ve probably been to the symphony or recitals about 50 or 60 times.
Of course, I would never mention such a number gratuitously in order to show how cultured and intellectually superior I am over knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who wouldn’t know a concerto from a symphony from a Paris Hilton album.
This is pretty strong stuff from a . . . → Read More: Whence Thou Art a Snob
If you can’t go home again, you can watch it on cable.
I had such an experience recently when I saw “The Guns of Navarone” over the weekend. For those unfamiliar, “Guns” is a 1961 movie about an Allied mission to knock out two massive cannons that are blasting the British fleet out of the Aegean. It has an all-star cast: Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony “I Was Zorba the Greek” Quinn.
I remember viewing it several times on the ABC Movie of the Week and the CBS Movie! and such, between the ages of 8 and 12. But I hadn’t seen it for about 30 years.
The verdict on watching “Guns”? It’s bad. Reaaaaaaaaaly bad. It’s not just the cheap-looking special effects, which might have represented the apotheosis of cinematic achievement 46 years ago, replete with bathtub renditions of sinking ships and model-ready fake artillery falling down a Styrofoam mountain into a fake sea. It’s not just the performances, straight outta the 19th Century School of Crappy Stage Acting. It’s not just the stupid love scenes (yes) or the dialog, which features gems like, “If we don’t get the explosives, then the Germans will find them first. That will mean that the mission has failed.”
No, these things I could abide. What put me over the edge was the blood.
As a bullet pierced flesh, it looked like someone had dropped a pot of red ink on the victim’s wound. Splotch, splotch.
Of course, the blood is indicative of something larger. When one of the heroes throws a grenade, every German soldier within a five-mile radius collapses. When somebody is shot — even with a single bullet — they fall to the floor dead, silent. No groaning, moaning, no screaming in agony, much less severed limbs and heads being blown apart. You know, the things that happen in combat.
Give this man a cuppa joe
“The Guns of Navarone” also reminded me of “Sands of Iwo Jima,” staring John Wayne. When one man is blodlessly shot in combat, he has the presence of mind to say a shema before dying. (Glad to know that someone in Hollywood thought of the Jews.)
Forrest Tucker, the dude from “F-Troop,” also starred in “Sands,” accounting for the most risible scene ever in the history of war movies. He leaves his foxhole to get ammo for two other soldiers, who are pinned by Japanese snipers. But instead of running back with ammunition, Tucker stops and gets coffee. Yes, he drops by the Iwo Jima Starbucks and gets a grande skim latte while his fellow G.I.s are getting their asses shot off.
“Man, that’s great coffee!” he says, getting a refill (he gets a seconds!). “Here, put some joe in the canteen so I can bring ‘em back to my buddies!” The buddies are dead, of course, because Forrest didn’t get the ammo back to them in time, because he was drinking coffee.
Dereliction of duty never tasted so good.
This is not to dismiss childhood pleasures, or that I should have expected “Guns” to be as gripping as I had envisioned. Things are never as good or bad as one remembers, of course, and I imagine reviewing all of my childhood television and movie consumption would be to simply open a treasure trove . . . → Read More: The Bums of Navarone
I thought about calling this post “Illness as Metaphor.” However, that would represent a kind of intellectual plagiarism, as well as skirting the matter, and I have read about as much Susan Sontag as I have Vladimir Polensk Isneninov (out of print).
There’s no gentle or cerebral way to put it: I suffer from frequent illnesses of the bacterial variety, and I will probably not be relieved of this condition for the rest of my years.
These colds— attacks of sinusitis, to be precise — have plagued me for most of my adulthood. Though one can take preventive steps to avoid contracting them, once I get sick, it’s Mucous City, Exhaustionville, City of Slug.
When I get sick, it’s also a great excuse not to write, not to blog, not to visit other’s blogs. And I they can help me ignore world poverty, the war in Iraq, global warming or any other inconvenient truths that my mess up my fragile psyche.
As Wife heads down the road to delivery and I down the road to impending happiness and responsibility, I realize how much this tendency to become ill makes me rather melancholy. I’ve been able to attend work, and been managing to post to the blog, but the rest of blogworld has been a void — no visits, no comments, nothing.
I catch sinus infections at predictable times: changes in the weather, lack of sleep, time spent in arid places (after four days in Las Vegas without a humidifier, I came back ill. So much for what happens there staying there. Does that slogan also mean VD?).
Sinusitis will turn you into this man
The latest such incident comes after a trip to visit my wife’s family over the holidays. I awaited at a gate full of screaming children and rode in an airplane with recirculated air. I slept in dry apartment and would wake up feeling as if someone had an extremely large finger up my nose. I ate a lot of food saturated in fat and drank at least one too many beers each night.
By the time we returned, I couldn’t breathe out of my nose. Each night I slept with open mouth, and I often I awoke with the sensation that somebody had been dumping sand down my throat.
For those uninitiated with sinus infections, they are a beast of a particular nature. Not really a “cold,” but not the flu, either, they are marked by heavy congestion, exhaustion, and massive amounts of mucous (of such a particular green-brown-yellow tint that trying to describe it would do it no justice).
The thing that sucks about getting a sinus infection is that it lays you low for a couple of weeks, but not badly enough to miss work. It makes you unproductive, listless, and stupid, which makes for a great imitation of the incompetent managerial class. One is essentially transformed into a life-support system for a snot factory.
About a dozen years ago, things had gotten so bad that I was getting sick every month. I had been to doctors – many doctors, each who had his own, incorrect theory about the source of my misery. I had allergies. Asthma. Chronic fatigue syndrome. I probably would have been diagnosed with mad cow had it been in vogue.
Finally, it . . . → Read More: It Makes Me Sick
I am sitting in an airport terminal, stoked on Diet Coke With Lime, feverishly trying to get my thoughts online before the stroke of midnight.
Because if this is dated Dec. 31, I figure that I will qualify for the “Best American Essays 2006,” forcing a massive recall of the already-published volume; the publishers will then reissue the collection to include the very essay that now sits before your hung over, bloodshot eyes.
It’s not that this “essay” is better than everything in “Best American Essays,” but I know that it’s better than something in the book, certainly better than a few I’ve already read. It’s not that the writing is pedestrian or bad, as everything in this collection is competent and sensible.
But that’s just it. Many of what’s in there is merely competent: either the ideas or writing is interesting, but never both. It only gets halfway there. It’s like a doctor who makes a proper diagnosis and then prescribes “Doc Bonar’s Miracle Elixir” as the cure.
I don’t want competent. I don’t want merely engaging. I want transporting. I want power. I want Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, or Uma Thurman. (Any one will do! Though Uma would be tops.)
I’ve always found that these books are more of a point of comparison rather than inspiration, as in, “I can’t believe that this whale turd of a story even got published in the first place.” This sentiment always followed completion of a particularly lame entry in “Best American Short Stories of 20__” (Or of “19__”).
The reason I’m even reading “BAE 2006” is that I’m trying to work on another “project” as I watch my most recent book sink like Captain Ahab attached to the Great White Whale (Turd), that Whale (Turd) being my unpublished novel. This yet-as-fleshed-out work of non-fiction is about my addiction to ________, and figured “Best American Essays” would help kick start the project.
It hasn’t worked. I’ve read barely half of this collection, but it feels like I’m reading the same old shit again and again. Some of the pieces follow a well-worn template, the Voyage of Discovery under the guise of a Larger Issue: Racism, Human Sexuality, Addiction & Recovery, The Length of My Armpit Hair. Those types of essays are the Doc Bonars of the group, the ones I’ve read so far and prompted me to put pen to paper as I await Accidentally On-Time Airlines to get a damn plane to the damn gate.
Didion: the real deal
The fully accredited surgeons in this group are the usual suspects: Adam Gopnik, Susan Orlean, Oliver Sacks, otherwise known as 2006’s Traveling All-Stars of The New Yorker. I haven’t read the latter three’s entries as of yet, but I know that they will be interesting and well-written, and have nothing to do with Armpit Hair. (Even before I peruse them I know Gopnik’s will be a first-person account of a personal matter like fatherhood or life in Paris; Orlean’s will be about a person far more unusual than we meet in daily life; and Dr. Sacks will regale us with a medical condition dealing with the brain, like the Dude who Mistook His Weiner for a Cadillac Escalade SUV).
This is all good but hardly a inspiration to write about my addiction to _________. Perhaps . . . → Read More: Best American Whatever
I was fully prepared to devote an entry to a topic utterly revolting, infantile, and repulsive, but I thought, ah, what the hell, let’s try something different.
It has been a well-repeated (if not proven) factoid that the longer a couple is together, the more they look alike. This is probably why Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock are now Splitsville, though I not know if Pam dumped him because she worried about morphing into her husband one day, or if Kid Rock had nightmares that enormous mountains of silicone would one day form on his chest.
Also, if one does tend to look like their partner over time, I imagine that all the 22-yearold Russian supermodels with 80-year-old millionaire boyfriends are headed for a bad ending, though Viagra has already made their pretty lives pretty miserable.
If Wife started looking like me, but I would not leave her, although our sex life would be kaput, for I might start thinking I was making love to myself, and you shouldn’t make love to someone you hate.
Although our physical appearances are in no threat of converging, of late our creative states are similar, and sadly for the worst. I’m uninspired, she’s uninspired, and this makes for a lot of bad writing. Wife is in the desperate race to finish her novel before she gives birth in a few months, and I am in the desperate race to figure out what to do with my novel before I die, which may happen any day between now and 2060.
It’s not just that we’re unhappy with our respective output; it’s that we’re just not feeling the urge to create. Nothing I read is inspiring me, ditto for Wife, and about the only thing that moves either of us is music. Which we don’t compose.
(Wife can write circles around yours truly. For her, a slump means her writing is merely excellent; for me, merely excrement.)
This lack of creativity can come across in other unpleasant manifestations. Wife is angry at me for some supposed household infractions, including (but not limited to) lack of initiative in cleaning, cooking, conducting “research” for forthcoming baby, and other imagined and real offenses that all have to do with domesticity.
I can get rather pissy at Wife for her getting pissy at me, and the cycle of love-anger-love begins anew. Much of this anguish concerns the onset of Wife’s pregnancy, and the natural fears that motherhood will extinguish her career — if I don’t help out, she’ll be swamped and depressed, unable to ever write again.*
By all accounts of friends who have experienced the miracle of birth, writing fiction does not exactly take precedence when Junior is projectile vomiting while soiling through several thousand diapers a day. A parent’s free time is when baby is napping, and if you are lucky, you’ll be napping as well. When it comes to writing, the first six months — well, fuggitaboutit.
It is this certainty that should make both Wife and I writing fiends instead of neurotic masses of indecisive chum. Of course, we’ll get back into the swing of things, perhaps before retirement age.
Already, well before my child is born, I am envisioning a fatherly talk I’ll have with my son (ultrasound confirmed it’s a wiener). Such a talk often entails . . . → Read More: Altered States
I have just completed something that, for most people, would be a cause for celebration, or at least relief: I finished rewriting my novel, making it certifiable for resubmission.
But I’m not like most people, and in this case, the difference is not for the better. For while I restructured and rewrote and re-everything, I came away cutting 30 pages. Only 30 pages. For a 380-page book, that’s less than 8 percent. That works out to about 1 percent a month.
Wife, far wiser and pregnant than I shall ever be, noted quite correctly that size doesn’t always matter—even when less is more—and that 30 pages consigned to the dumpster, of itself, is not bad.
But if the dumpster is not full, the author is then sure constipated still. My expectations were cut about 50 or more pages: a lean mean fiction machine. In rejecting the novel, almost all the editors said what held them back was that they’d lost interest by the end—the plot was too confusing, and while they dug the characterizations and writing, it wasn’t enough to ultimately win them over.
(It is creepy to read letters that are about you but are addressed to someone else, in this case, my agent. You’re referred to in the third person — “Bookfraud left me a little cold”—as if you were a corpse being examined by medical examiners. )
I am missing the point, of course, which is if was the right 30 pages, I done well. Streamling is not my natural course of action: when in doubt, I’ll lard on characters, description, action, and exposition.
A lean mean writing machine
What is ironic about this was when I first sat down to write the novel, I feared that the premise was too vaporous upon which to build a book. Unconsciously, I went over the top in some places, as if filler would somehow confer “weightiness” to my labors. It’s always better to overwrite than underwrite, and if this was not a rationalization, it certainly gave me the thinnest of reasons to stack word upon word, building a tower that would surely fall if I were to remove a single sentence.
So I came away with an unwieldy door-stopper, some 450 pages of this novel, of which, I’d gather, at least 200 pages were crap. I rewrote and rewrote, until I got it down to the 330-page, sorta-kinda-perhaps streamlined machine of fiction that resides on my hard drive.
Mind you, I’m not expecting miracles. The book has been turned down about 20 times, and even though many of the rejection letters said the same thing, my agent was steadfast in insisting that I shouldn’t rewrite it. “It’s like giving Christmas gifts,” he said. “You have to find the right present for the right person.”
Sears probably had fewer returns on Dec. 26. To make matters worse, I’ve been given advice from another agent, who told me, in so many words, that I’m fucked. He told me that agents hate taking previously rejected work, don’t want to look like they’re “stealing” clients, and don’t resend work to editors who have rejected books in the first place.
Fair enough. But he told me directly that I should probably stick with my current agent, because nobody else is going to want to take me.
. . . → Read More: Size Matters
Over Thankgiving at the family home, I was exposed to a major problem that threatens households across our nation. It has nothing to do with breast feeding, reasonable day care, or the price of Huggies. Nor is it about affordable health care or killing several innocent adults to get your hands on a PlayStation 3. It is something more sinister.
The rot to which I refer is called “Thomas the Tank Engine.” And we have literature to blame.
For the uninitiated—that is, for those without children—this Thomas plague looks like just another innocent juvenile obsession. “Thomas” is a series of children’s books featuring a steam train engine with round eyes and moon face. He and his train “friends” reside on the island of Sodor (insert joke here), and have adventures about hauling freight, people, and farm animals (another joke here).
Humans and other anthropomorphized vehicles also reside on Sodor, which, upon close inspection, is quite like the island known as Great Britain, from where Thomas originated.
You can pee out of his face
This British Invasion is as bad as the War of 1812, and not nearly as entertaining as the Beatles. It has taken over the hearts and minds of children across the United States, infiltrating their souls with annoying songs and consumer lust to make Imelda Marcos blush. Specifically, it has taken over the life of my young nephew, who has been thick in the Heart of Darkness known as Sodor Island for at least half of his 42 months on earth. He plays with the trains, he watches the show, he hides in his Thomas the Tank Engine tent—it’s all Thomas, all the time.
You see, the books spawned a television show, first in England, and now in the U.S., along with Thomas train sets, which involve hundreds of miniature trains. Thousands of trains. Not to mention tracks, buildings, and other model-train-esque apparitions, both in wood and metal versions (Twice the Cost! Twice the Fun!). This ignores Thomas kiddie wear, bed sets, clocks, temporary tattoos, toenail clippers, and enema kits.
Google “Thomas the Tank Engine” and you are confronted with 1.36 million hits, many for buying Thomas the Tank Engines and Friends Craptastic Crap. (Personally, in the name of verisimilitude, I think they should have Thomas-brand anthracite coal, a three-fingered, one-eyed engineer action figure, and a soot-covered boiler doll that sings, “I’ve been working on the fucking railroad, all my fucking days.”)
“I transform into a wallet-sucking monster”
This didn’t happen in a vacuum. An Englishman by the name of Rev. W. Awdry started the book series in 1945. Since then, “a generation of children have grown to love the cheeky engine and friends on the Island of Sodor,” proclaims the Random House Web site. Apparently, the books just weren’t enough. Somebody named Britt Allcroft turned “Thomas the Tank Engine” into a television show in the 1980s, which, Random House says without a shred of irony, “can now be seen in over 120 countries and inspired a multimillion dollar ancillary entertainment empire.”
That’s it. It’s not about literature, it’s about maintaining the multimillion dollar ancillary entertainment empire! Rule Britannia!
This rant probably stems from the fact that I will soon be a father, and I am already making plans to keep this smoke-blowing monstrosity as far away from my child as . . . → Read More: Thomas the Money-Making Engine
Like most any man crashing into middle age, yours truly could afford to shed a few pounds, especially considering that my knees and back are slowly disintegrating into a fine powder-like substance one associates with ground chalk.
Of course, I want to be in good health when Wife gives birth next year, so it would pay for me to lose weight. As an exacting, thorough researcher, I have discovered the following fool-proof, scientifically proven, guaranteed-not-to-fail weight-loss techniques: the Palm Beach Diet, the Akins Diet, the Ultra Lipo Lean diet, the Laze Diet System, the Phat Predator diet, the Loose the Bums Diet, and, my favorite, something called “Zumba by Beto,” which has the distinction of sounding like the name of an Orc in the Slavic-language version of “The Lord of the Rings.”
I imagine that in this pantheon of diets is the idea that if one expends more calories than one consumes, weight will indeed be lost. The simple plan for me would be to lay off the nightly six-packs of Schlitz Special Reserve.
Research apparently posits that low-calorie diets will help prolong life, with some adherents to this philosophy eating 1,500 calories a day, though most people on such limited nourishment are so weak that they can’t think of anything except their next meal, have stopped paying attention to the world at large, and will be hit by a bus.
(And if it turns out tomorrow morning that the bad guys keep control of Congress, I’ll put on 10 pounds this week, cashing in my Dunkin’ Donuts gift certificates.)
She never went to Taco Taco Taco Bell
Diet plans generally do not inspire great literature—Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” aside—but food and drink does, all the way back to Eve pulling that damn apple off the tree, continuing through that first Roman who said “in vino veritas,” through Rabelais, that fine master of excess, and so on.
But “food writing”—non-fiction about the “art of eating” and other such swill—that’s another rodeo altogether. I’ve always thought that food and wine reviewing must be one of the hardest of all critical pursuits. You can only describe how something tastes in so many ways until fresh adjectives become scarcer than truffles; I would get stuck after “hot and spicy,” “spicy like,” and “spicy spice.”
I imagine there are great sentences in describing the joys of food, but while I love to eat and drink, I am no connoisseur of food and wine writing. If something tastes good, I like it, if it tastes bad, I hate it, and no amount of verbal bullying is going to make me enjoy olive paste or curried tomato chutney.
There was a time when I met in succession several comely women who said they wanted to quit their professional job and become a food writer, “like M.F.K. Fisher,” who wrote several memorable tomes on food. I hadn’t read the estimable Ms. Fisher, but this “I wanna write like M.F.K.” mania, which seemed to have peaked in the early 1990s, was replaced with “I wanna write a screenplay” craze, then “I wanna write children’s books,” and finally “I wanna write a blog (and get a book deal),” all of which were elaborate ways of saying “I wanna do anything but spend one more fucking day as a lawyer.”
One detects the faintest whiff . . . → Read More: Up With Food, Down With Foodies
Deadly fear. Self-sabotage of the highest order. A vicious circle of procrastination, inaction, frustration; then, more procrastination.
Any one of the above describes how the writing life is treating me—or rather, how I’ve been treating the writing life in recent weeks.
It goes beyond mere output. Instead of writing fiction, penning my blog, watching television, downloading porn, brewing beer, bungee jumping, moving to an ashram, or even reading a book that consists of more than 1,000 words, all of my time, energy, and precious little mental health has been spent in a futile pursuit, a destructive and banal effort that threatens my livelihood.
Every evening, I retire to my study (the “man room,” as Wife calls it, citing the beer cans and issues of “Bonerama Monthly” on the floor), fire up the ol’ iMac, and let my fingers clack away on the keyboard. If one was eavesdropping—I might play some Bach or Schubert to confuse a snooper—he or she might assume I was happily typing my way to a best seller, untold riches, and a spot on the U.S. National Figure Skating Team.
Unfortunately, as all the taps are simply my fingers entering numbers, all the clicks are my mouse moving over the grid of an online sudoku puzzle. This particular Web site allows yourself to rank yourself against others, and I will work on puzzle after puzzle to “beat” the average time.
I try the “Hard” puzzles and pride myself when I complete them under 10 minutes. Like an addict, however, this high is simply temporary, and I must continuously push the edge of sanity to get a buzz. I move on to the “Evil” puzzle and try to finish it under than 15 minutes.
This is not exactly shooting heroin, but still.
I have refered to this Japanese-bourne illness in the past, and if I were a conspiracy theorist or racist, I would posit that sudoku was invented to destroy American capitalism, reducing us to robot junkies whose productivity is spent on filling in a box with numbers. (Not unlike anime, the PlayStation, toilets with cameras, or the ultimate weapon, Hello Kitty.)
This photo has no bearing on anything
What makes sudoku doubly evil is one can rationalize that it is not a waste of time. Unlike watching pro wrestling or Fox News, sudoku operates on the premise that you are doing something “smart.”
Make no mistake about it, sudoku is addictive, at least to a geek like myself. Why bother with grappling with yet another underwritten and disliked story that won’t see the light of publication when you can smoke a puzzle in less than 10 minutes? Why try to rewrite a particularly nasty passage in the novel when you’ve got this harmonic convergence of numbers, calling my name, awaiting my pen?
If you are saying, “Enough with the blogs about how you waste your time, because I can procrastinate and waste the precious minutes remaining in the hourglass of our pitifully short existences on earth in ways you can only dream about, you stupid neurotic writer,” I [heart] your pain. If there’s something I do better than writing about writing, it’s writing about ways not to write.
But, as an old editor of mine used to say at length, if you don’t have a reason for . . . → Read More: Daddy Sudoku
I had initially titled this posting “I Suck,” but it is such an obvious fact to that there’s really no reason in reiterating it in lights.
Self-loathing is the cheapest trick in the writer’s bag of rhetoric, but it is also part-and-parcel of an artistic temperament. Those who write or paint or compose and have the facade of supreme confidence are to be avoided at all costs.
You know the type. They’ve got the novel published. They’ve gotten the great reviews. They’ve got money, fame, and literary esteem. But they hate themselves.
It’s not just that such folk are Holden Caulfield phonies, but I daresay that a suicide attempt has rained on their past, or soon will. A hyper-confident facade is overcompensation, and for all the psycho-babble in our culture about self-esteem, it may not do well for writers. If you had perfect self-esteem, you would believe that you were incapable of doing wrong. You know, like the Nazis or George Bush. Not that I’m comparing the two.
Though they may have their own pools of self-doubt, however, most the successful artists I know don’t hate themselves. But I do. At least on October 18, 2006.
Avoid phonies — in any language
You see, there’s a reason why I’m not looking at other blogs or posting on my own save for the most lengthy of intervals. My stories are getting turned down. My novel rewrite is on the road to nowhere. I see rejection everywhere I look.
As this translates itself to the art of fiction, every word becomes leaden, every session at the computer is exquisite torture. I haven’t put up any blog posts lately because every time I start writing one, it gets deleted after a couple of pained, strained, drained, maimed, lame, tamed sentences filled with ridiculous adjectives.
My writing feels like an amalgam of juvenile poetry and adult schlock.
This hasn’t been helped by certain problems at work, which have put me into a deep funk for reasons you don’t need to know, except a certain individual is making me miserable.
Of late, certain developments in my life should, on the surface, make me very happy. And the course of my existence is good, by all possible measures. But there’s one area in which I feel inadequate, and that is in the written word.
It’s funny how one can be humming right along, and then a harmonic convergence blows one’s confidence to shreds. To wit: I get a rejection letter, I sulk, I’ll watch football on TV, then feel guilty about not writing, try to write, give it up, and watch football on TV. It’s like being roasted on one of those sterno weenie burners.
One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m not reading a book that is making me want to write. I’ve just started Christopher Isherwood two-novel set of “The Berlin Stories,” as I figure since I have seen the musical and the movie, I might as well be familiar with the source material. The book is interesting for its anachronistic tone and writing, but so far, Mr. Isherwood, I’m Just Not That Into You. (But we’ll go out on a couple of more dates.)
See the movie, read the book
Is there anyone I hate more than myself? Let’s consider the possibilities:
Bookfraud: inability to publish . . . → Read More: Who Do I Hate?
Ever see this card trick, available at a Website near you?
You may have been alerted to it by an e-mail forwarded from your uncle’s best friend’s sister’s dogsitter’s third cousin. (It’s been floating around for years.) Simply pick one of the cards below:
Concentrate on that card. Really hard! Don’t look at anything else for 15 minutes! Then click to a new screen, and viola! Your card has disappeared!
Of course, the card you picked disappeared because all the cards have disappeared. Though they resemble each other, the cards on each screen are different. The trick is predicated on the fact that you can’t remember all the cards from the first screen to the second, because you weren’t paying attention. Showing all the cards on one screen makes it obvious.
When I lined up the cards next to each other, as above, and, remembering how this trick fooled me, I thought, “I shouldn’t have put lead paint chips on my baloney sandwiches growing up, even though the chips gave it that pure crunchy goodness.”
While people pay copious sums to Ricky Jay and Penn and Teller to dazzle them, for absent-minded folks like myself, this attention deficit disorder can be a killer in the fiction game.
When we are writing fiction — really in a groove, riding that caffeinated buzz or just high on life — our attention is so sharply focused that we could cut a frozen steak with it.
If only I could keep that going. I get up to pace. I get interrupted by a phone call. I need to eat something. And so on.
Perhaps more importantly, we are constantly reminded as writers to read fiction for more than entertainment: examine the structure, characterization, symbolism, and language. Learn from Moby-Dick rather than simply enjoying it, though most people enjoy getting their thumb staple-gunned to a wall than reading Moby-Dick.
Wife is particularly good at this kind of reading, because she has reservoirs of discipline that never welled up in me, much less evaporated over the years. For instance, when we’re discussing books we’ve both read, wife will say something like, “The narrative voice in Ragtime is unlike anything else, and the plotting remarkable, in how the connective tissue of the historical characters all fit perfectly.
“And Doctorow can get away with so much because he has the perfect voice — the prose just flows off the page. I’ve learned so much from that book that I can use in my own writing.”
“Yes, I agree” I say, thinking, “Well, I know I liked it.”
I can blame this propensity on my abject, dissolute inability to concentrate on anything for more than six minutes, which in turn I can blame on being brought up on the television farm. I can hum the theme song from “The Price Is Right,” but I can’t verbalize what I learned from reading “Invisible Man,” one of my favorite books, other than “In order to be a great writer like Ralph Ellison, you have to write really, really great.”
(It’s unclear to me what would have happened had I been born in the era before television, particularly in the 19th Century. Ignoring the fact that I would have been a peasant in The Pale, I may have been more focused. . . . → Read More: Pay Attention
Dear Bookfraud: My agent has run out of publishers to send my novel. I’m afraid that if I rewrite and try with a new agent, the editors will recognize my book and won’t bother to read it. But I don’t to change agents. What should I do? —I Want to Be Published
Dear And I Want to Play Centerfield for the Cubs: Take the book, burn it, and do the same with your computer. Then quit your job, move to another town, and go into witness protection. It’s the only way.
Dear Bookfraud: Help! I keep switching the voice from first to third person in my book. What should I do?—Really Confused!
Dear Hearing Voices: Most people would say you should pick one and stick with it. But why don’t you do something different? Combine the two, and go to fourth person. Or maybe you can also add the second-person plural with the first-person singular, and you can write it in the seventh person.
Deer Boofraud: Im in a MF.A program near NYxity. In workshop everybodytells me; my novel about a dairy farmer and his lover in Spottsville, Wis. I’m going to take a tripthere next month!) set in the 1930:s is “grate (workshop really are a nurtring, caring warm p;lace) and the only criticizms are minr, like my spelling an stuff. But when I send to agents they say,
Were not interest,”
But my teachrs and class friends loves it. What amI doing rong!? —helpme!
Dear MF.A student: You’re writing.
Dear Bookfraud: The first stories I ever wrote were published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and I have several offers to publish my first novel. But I’m 22, and still confused about what to do next. Should I take the one-book deal for $450,000, or the two-book deal at $800,000? Also, how do I deal with all the attention? I do readings all over the country, and women are all over me!—Young and Successful
Dear Mr. Big: You should take the two-book deal, shag all the gals you can, and get all the attention you deserve!
Too bad your first novel will bomb, you won’t be able to finish the second, the publisher will take your advance back, and you will catch a variety of sexually transmitted diseases that will result in oozing green pustules on your genitalia.
Bad idea? I dunno
Dear Bookfraud: As the head of a literary agency and blogger, I get dozens of queries and e-mail a day. I have to hand off many of these to my Harvard-educated assistant, who is young but, like me, has impeccable taste. But when word got out about my assistant, many of my readers were upset — shocked, even. What can I tell them to calm them down?—Miss Agent
Dear Agent Provocateur: Of course, you’re swamped and you need help. But you didn’t need to advertise it. You’ve crossed the Rubicon and your readers want blood. Fire your Harvard-educated assistant, read my book, and get me a serious advance like the dickweed 22-year old.
Dear Bookfraud: My 900-page debut novel, Killing Hearts, Killing Minds, was published to great acclaim. I came in third at the 1977 Toronto Book Fair contest, and I received teaching gigs at several community colleges as a result. But I haven’t published anything in the . . . → Read More: Dear Bookfraud
Unsurprising to anyone who knows me, there have been times when I feel the urge to kill someone. Not to the point of actually doing it, of course, though with my neighbors, I’ve come close.
You may wonder just what it is about the couple upstairs (and the two ill-tempered brat-monsters they call “children”) that makes me want to toss them into Mount St. Helens. Without getting into too much detail, they are rude, selfish, loud, insane, and utterly unconcerned about the welfare of anyone else in the apartment building in which Wife and I reside.
If it isn’t clear, I despise these loathsome excuses for humanity, and that makes me want to kill them. I’m sure you know the feeling.
But what about killing those you love? If you write fiction, your answer is, Been there, done that.
A recent article in a reputable publication chronicled the inability of a prominent author to kill off his characters, even those who should be 293 years old. Being that I have had similar struggles — and, as I streamline my novel and remove sections with as much delicacy as a farmhand wielding a scythe — I wonder how much difficulty other writers have with this, even the really good ones. (Especially the really good ones.)
Rinse and repeat
The old writing saw about “giving away your children” is sadly true. Writers tend to fall in love with sections of their work that really has no business being in a particular piece. This is true for both scenes and characters. The reasoning is that because it entertains us, the writers, it’s got to be good, no?
When you have to cut out something that is well-written, it’s like admitting to your partner that she was right about any domestic matter. Humiliating, yes, but necessary to keep the peace.
For instance, there was one scene in my novel that chronicled a meeting between the teen-age narrator and his (much older) tormentor, taking place at the latter’s house, a faux-Graceland, complete with gates and jungle room. The older man was a professional wrestler who had graduated magna cum laude from Yale and had one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary Jesus art.
I have to admit: the scene had real drama, snappy dialog, and (dare I say it) some evocative writing. The house is rendered in fine detail, and the characters are full and flawed. The scene just rocks, in my humble opinion.
So of course, I had to nuke it, because the scene had absolutely nothing to do with the story. Ostensibly a plot device, this meeting turned out to be a nice set piece to show off my chops and nothing more. It was hard to pull the trigger, but I had to rid myself of about 2,000 words that were pretty durn good.
If you write fiction long enough, you will end up offing more characters than a serial killer. I know of one writer who doesn’t rewrite — a brilliant talent, to be sure — who simply starts from scratch when a story isn’t working out. Us mere mortals can’t indulge in such luxuries. We revise and revise and revise (and sometimes, it still sucks).
More killing needed
I’ve ruined perfectly good short stories with extraneous crap, which to some might be the natural . . . → Read More: If You Love Someone, Kill Them (Metaphorically Speaking)
Anyone can be nice, but sincerity is a gift.
I discovered this many years ago when I was a single. Too introverted to be the pick-up artist yet too horny not to try, I discovered a fool-proof method to start conversations with ladies: ask about their shoes.
I commented to a lady on the bus about her pink suede loafers, and got her phone number. I got a date when a woman spotted me staring at her shiny green heels. “Sorry, not to be rude,” I said, “but I couldn’t help but notice your shoes. They’re really cool.”
This comment was able to complete three objectives without coming off as craven. First, I got a response — always. Second, I was able to flatter them; noticing the shoes shows one’s attention to detail. Third, I got a boner. I mean telephone number.
And if I didn’t get phone numbers from all these women, I was able to gain their interest. But there was a caveat: I had to mean it. I really had to think they had cool shoes. Women can spot false flattery a mile away, at least in those of us who are not sociopaths.
If I were to ask some comely lass about her Nikes, she would think, “That pathetic horndog.” Or she would just say it. Wife certainly does.
You could also say that sincerity — footwear related or not — is an attractive feature in a man, because it shows genuine interest in the other person. You don’t have to fake it.
My pitiful advice on skirt-chasing is not without a lesson in the realm of writing, that activity for which millions of loyal readers tune in to this space twice weekly. Sincerity is one of the hardest thing for me to convey in my writing, and at its worst, characters come off as plot devices or stand-ins for emotion or symbols.
Nice shoe, babe
You have have sincerity in your characters to make them whole, to make them believable. Readers can smell half-assed attempts at sincerity better than that really, really, beautiful redhead who nearly slapped me on the “L” when I said I thought her shoes were interesting. (Perhaps I shouldn’t have called them “fuck me pumps.”)
One of the main characters in my novel, the narrator’s maternal grandfather, is a brilliant, deceitful, manic, petty, and downright evil tyrant who also happens to be one of the world’s greatest cotton traders and a bowling aficionado, the intersection of which fuels much of the book’s plot. My agent loves this character, who he calls “almost Biblical” (I took it as a compliment).
The easy part of the old codger are his tics and madness; with a few strokes, one can illustrate the grandfather’s insanity. You show him having a breakdown, or committing a particularly cruel act upon his issue, or paying retail for that suit that my Uncle Izzy on the Lower East Side could have gotten him for wholesale! It’s crazy to pay retail!
But the hard part, the stuff that makes me crazy, is creating a character sincere enough to be believable. The best characters have lives completely divorced from the page, independent of the person creating them. They laugh, they cry, they eat Sphincter McNuggets and spend long hours in the bathroom, etc. And that . . . → Read More: How to Pick Up Women or Write Like You Do