Archive for February, 2012

February 24, 2012

Consider the Legacy of David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace would have been 50 years old on Tuesday, had he not taken his life in 2008. The esteemed writer penned three novels and three short story collections in his short lifetime, Infinite Jest, being the most famous. He was a MacArthur Fellow and won a boatload of prizes including Time Magazines’ Best Book of the Year and the O. Henry Prize.

Jonathan Lethem said of his friend and colleague (they both taught at Panoma College): “His footprint as a colleague, the extraordinary impression he left on the whole series of English majors who’ve now floated out into the world. … The idea that I might be part of the moving-on seemed very like an honor.”

Wallace was an alumni of the MFA program at the University of Arizona, where I earned the same degree, While I’ve never been nearly as successful as Wallace  (or even successful at all as a writer), I’ve always felt an affinity to him for that reason.

McSweeney’s reprinted an old interview with him while he had a teaching fellowship at the U of A.  In the piece, he gives the undergraduate class he’s teaching a memorable piece of advice:

When you write fiction, you are telling a lie. It’s a game, but you must get the facts straight. The reader doesn’t want to reminded that it’s a lie. It must be convincing, or the story will never take off in the reader’s mind.

He obviously took his own advice considering his stories have taken off in readers’ minds all over the world.

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February 22, 2012

The Enigma of a Best Seller

What makes a book a best seller? The answer still alludes literary agents and publishing houses alike. An article in The New York Times, titled The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller, looks at what makes a book a best seller. In the end, the experts are still scratching their heads.

According to the article, many times a book is predicted to be a big hit and goes to auction, it falls flat; and many times a book is predicted to have low sales, it rises to best seller status. Literary agent, Brian DeFiore asks: “Is it the cover? The title? The buzz wasn’t there? Timing? It wasn’t that good?”

William Strachen, editor in chief at Carrol & Graff Publishers says: “It’s an accidental profession, most of the time. . . If you had the key, you’d be very wealthy. Nobody has the key.

Once a book is picked up by a publisher, it generally gets a marketing makeover, but before a book is picked up, much of the time, publishers rely on their gut feeling about how a book will sell. The article points to the fact that, unlike other industries such as gaming and television, publishers don’t have enough contact with their customers to know what they buy and what they want to see more of.

Susan Rabiner, agent and former editorial director says: “Before Amazon, we didn’t even know what people thought of the books.

Okay, get it together publishing people. What’s wrong with a little marketing research?

February 18, 2012

Cats as Fonts

Buzzfeed published a very clever post called 20 Cats as Fonts.  (thanks, Cat!)

My favorite? Times New Roman, of course!

February 12, 2012

Steffie Can’t Come out to Play Because She’s Hooking on a Street Corner

I posted a while back that, after years of searching, I found a book I loved as a kid. The book is called Steffie Can’t Come out to Play by Fran Arrick. It’s about a fourteen-year-old girl who runs away from the doldrums of her life in small-town Pennsylvania and winds up in NYC hooking for a smooth-talking pimp named “Favor”. As a kid I was completely engrossed and felt Steffie’s plight. (Who doesn’t want to run away at some point when they’re a tween?)

I’m reading the book now, and as an adult, it reads much differently than it did when I was twelve. It’s kind of disgusting. The girl is fourteen and the things she does for her “Favor” are disturbing. I want to shake her and say, “Are you crazy? The guy wears gold chains and calls you ‘sweet face’ and wants to watch you put on pantyhose!”

But it’s hard to put down. The book is well-written and captures early-80s New York so well: the seedy hangouts, the run-down hotels, the discos, the bad furnishings in Favor’s apartment (“The bedroom had mirrors with black streaks like marble running through them. And there was also a tiny fountain built into the floor that had real water running through it.”) And it completely satisfies my love of anything hooker-related. I’m almost done reading it, but I’m slowing down because I don’t want it to end.

On Retrobookshop.com it says the book “springs from [Fran Arrick’s] concern for the fates each year of thousands of young American runaways.” Let this be a warning to any young girls who want to run away into the arms of a guy who has a fountain in his bedroom.

February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens would have turned 200 years old today if he were alive. The cherished writer was a legend in his time and continues to influence the literary world today.

NPR has a great peice on Dickens’s life, his writing process, and information on the Dickens bicentennial celebration at the Morgan Library in New York, which has the world’s largest collection (outside of England) of Dickens’s documents, letters, illustrations and artifacts. You can read it here.

As an added bonus, I’m going to plug my Etsy jewelry. My Dickens necklace was featured in a lovely little treasury posted in honor of Mr. Dickens today. Thanks, Chuck!

February 6, 2012

F. Scott Fitz is Still all the Rage

Robert McCrumb over at The Guardian has written a fabulous piece on F. Scott Fitzgerald reflecting on his tenacity in our culture. Taking into account all the recent Fitzgerald-inspired works, including the play Gatz, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and the upcoming film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, starring Leo DeCaprio, it’s proof that Fitzgerald is still on our minds.

He was on my mind a couple weeks ago when I was reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.  Fitzgerald was featured a lot, driving around with Hemingway, and being a general pain in the ass.  I had no idea just how unstable Fitzgerald was. Of course, this could have been Hemingway’s interpretation of him.  I haven’t read up much on what Fitzgerald was like otherwise, but if Hemingway’s descriptions of him were any indication, bless Hemingway for putting up with him. Of course, I’ve heard some not-so-nice stuff about Hemingway as well. It’s all relative, I suppose.

But don’t get me wrong, I love Fitzgerald and think his stories are a work of art. He’s my mother’s favorite author so I’ve always had a soft spot for him. She and I even visited his gravesite together (see below). I am, however, very interested in knowing more about him and Zelda and the whole shebang now that Hemingway has whetted my appetite.

February 4, 2012

Paper Trails

Robert McCrumb of The Guardian posted an article about the power of paper in a digital era. The article focuses on the perseverance of the written word and looks at writers who save paper drafts of their manuscripts:

Ink and paper lives on in countless surprising ways. I see that the University of East Anglia has just announced the acquisition of a manuscript archive: more than 50 boxes of typed manuscripts, short stories, pencil drafts, notes and re-workings by the Yorkshire-based novelist Robert Edric. A self-proclaimed “hoarder” of his own work, the archive shows in fantastic detail the creative writing process.

Edric has more than 20 novels under his belt and his archive of manuscript drafts, which were handwritten or typed, goes back 30 some years. In the article, he reflects on saving drafts:

 “I mostly write in pencil on paper and I’ve kept everything. I never throw anything away and I don’t write on a computer so there is no ‘delete’ option. You never normally know how a writer works. It takes an enormous amount of energy, but if you work on a computer there’s no way of showing someone the process because you end up deleting things, re-writing parts.

 “You don’t ever see the scribbles and revisions from 20 years ago – how you reworked and reworked the text. I only really use a computer to finish the process. The vast part of the archive has never seen the light of day. Four or five of my early novels were never published – but they were the foundations of my career and I was learning to work hard.”

Personally, I write on paper when I’m not near my computer or I print off old drafts and save those. I’ve also saved old, old writing in notebooks and things I’ve typed in the past. As a result, there is a large amount of paper in piles and in boxes around the house, which makes my husband crazy.

I also save drafts on my computer, but I’m sure there are plenty of drafts I haven’t saved because I’ve edited and re-edited without renaming the files. I like to think I’m saving some trees, and besides only I’m going to see those old shitty drafts anyway.

But Edric brings up some important questions:  How important is it for a writer to save every draft of every piece he has ever written?  Will he ever look at those drafts again to see his process or will the drafts just gather dust?  Will the writer delete something he should have saved?

February 2, 2012

Put up the Red Flag: February is Letter Writing Month

Sick of email? Miss getting letters in the mail? I do. My friends and I still send cards, but I miss the days I would get a letter from my grandmother every week. Sometimes my best friend and I send letters back and forth and we get to draw little pictures in the margins of the paper and make lists and decorate the envelopes with our unique handwriting. It’s so much more personal than shooting off an email, even though that’s how I do most of my correspondence these days, like most people.

Letter writing is definitely a lost art, but not this month. Today, Mary Robinette Kowal launched “The Month of Letters Challenge“. On her website, Kowal writes:

I have a simple challenge for you.

  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs.  Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

All you are committing to is to mail 24 items.  Why 24? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 24 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month. You might enjoy going to the mail box again.

I love my mailbox and putting up the little red flag. Hell, I even love my mailman. He waves to me from his mailtruck and smiles from beneath his grandfatherly mustache every time he sees me like he’s driven right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. And I just bought a new sheet of stamps today. I guess I have no excuses. .  .

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