TriQuarterly Online faculty editor Gina Frangello's new book, Slut Lullabies, was reviewed in the Chicago Tribune yesterday. Lynna Williams says, "The major strength of 'Slut Lullabies' is its acute understanding of lives lived on the emotional and sexual margins of contemporary life," and that it "showcases a writer able to write about sex with authority, but just as able to write about longing, life changing and dangerous."
Gina will also be appearing at the Printer's Row Lit Fest on Saturday, June 12 at 10:30 am, moderating a panel with with Stacey Ballis, Maureen Gibbon, Maureen Lipinski and Kris Radish, then on Sunday at 4:30 pm on a panel with Cris Mazza, Davis Schneiderman, Zoe Zolbrod, and Jonathan Messinger. More details here.
This story from the Philadelphia Inquirer might qualify as one of Jack Shafer's "bogus trend stories of the week" because it's entirely based on anecdotes from a handful of interview subjects, but it reminds me of a good point about e-books and e-book readers.
The book lovers in the story describe their relationships with their Kindle/iPad/what-have-you, and how they are using them to read more books than ever. What struck me when I started reading e-books was how often it gave me the opportunity to read a book where I wouldn't have otherwise, like waiting in lines, on a crowded bus, watching my kids (okay, don't tell my wife that). For me, reading is about momentum; the more often I dip into a book, even for a few pages, the more I want to keep going and finish it. The e-books let me do that. I don't have a Kindle or iPad though, I read with the Kindle app on my iPhone. This may have a lot to do with it because it was easier to read one-handed and fend off toddlers around my kneecaps. I also didn't have to remember to pack a separate device with me, it was always in my pocket.
So more anecdotal evidence to back up an already flimsy newspaper article. But there may be something to it.
Garrison Keillor's get-off-my-lawn lament for the "death" of the publishing industry (or at least the fancy New York elite version he reveres) elicited a lot of responses yesterday, but Roxane Gay's version at HTMLGIANT is by far the most entertaining. Her translation of Keillor's rant nails it:
People who are younger than me, listen up! Back in the day, I wrote books on a typewriter. I am the only writer who ever managed this. I made my own paper out of the trees on my farm. I called up the Pony Express and had them deliver my precious words to that fancy New York City and my words were so brilliant I got a book deal and I gloated about it and guess what? I’M RICH! I’m sad other people might now get rich too.
I had an unexpected day off yesterday (I spent it running errands, in case you're wondering what kind of dashing, cosmopolitan life I lead) and didn't spend much time in front of the computer. But here are a few interesting items from my severely overburdened feed reader this morning:
- The sheer number of books in a home has as much to do with a child's education as the parents' own level of eduction (though I'm not sure why this is news; I remember reading this in Freakonomics four years ago)
- Maud Newton finds a new way to take notes on her iPad, but wonders if it was worth it.
- The Poetry Foundation released a fully-searchable iPhone app with hundreds of classic poems for reading verse on the go.
- The Canadian literary magazine Taddle Creek is outsourcing its fact-checking. Readers who find mistakes will get a free two-year subscription. Readers of this blog who spot mistakes will receive a hand-painted, sandalwood backscratcher carved by yours truly.
In an interview with the Guardian, author Cory Doctorow talks about why he gives away all his books for free online:
I give away all of my books. [The publisher] Tim O'Reilly once said that the problem for artists isn't piracy – it's obscurity. I think that's true. A lot of people have commented: "You can't eat page views, so how does being well-known help you earn a living as a writer?" It's true; however, it's very hard to monetise fame, but impossible to monetise obscurity. It doesn't really matter how great your work is; if no one's ever heard of it, you'll never make any money from it. That's not to say that if everyone's heard of it, you'll make a fortune, but it is a necessary precursor that your work be well-known to earn you a living.
Doctorow got his wish. He is well-known—on the internet at least. The fact that he isn't more well-known in larger literary circles may be because he writes in the genre ghetto of science fiction, but he has made a career entirely on the internet and I'm certain he's satisfied with that. The question is how soon this will become the normal career trajectory for a writer and not be seen as a geeky aberration.
Where should an aspiring writer focus his energy today? Are print publications still the gold standard, or will more take Doctorow's path and work only online? The journalist may not have a choice in a few years, but there will always be a thriving, if small, community of literary magazines that cater to creative work. So what's the best outlet?
I started writing online. I read all of my news, opinion, and long-form journalism online. With the exception of books and literary journals (which I treat as books, simply because of the form factor), if it's not online it may as well not exist. And maybe my peer group is self-selecting, but every creative person I know operates the same way. Yet when I attend writing conferences and seminars, publishing online is still seen as a compromise, a choice to be made only when you've exhausted your options for print.
When I finish writing something, my first instinct is to post it somewhere online for the very reasons Doctorow mentioned. How else will anyone see it? I'm grateful for each opportunity to publish my work in print, but each time I did, my contributor's copy arrived in the mail with a telling clunk. That's the last I would ever hear about it. When I post things online the people who matter to me, the friends and family in my Twitter and Facebook circles, read it and comment and pass it around. It's always more rewarding.
So why go to trouble of navigating the gatekeepers of the print world? Because retweets and likes and warm internet fuzzies don't earn beer money. Even an online evangelist like Doctorow is giving away his books online in hopes of selling more of the print version. And with gatekeepers lie editorial selectivity and prestige. Posting to your own blog will never carry the same ring as saying you were published in the New Yorker. But this choice depends on what kind of validation the writer needs. For many, the online option may be enough.
The Illinois Arts Council has started sending out notices to award winners for its arts and literature grants, but with a special notice that the money isn't coming anytime soon. A sample of one such letter above includes an "Important Payment Advisory" advising the winner that "The financial situation of the State of Illinois is dire and payments are continuing to lag" and a reminder that the state can basically skip out on its obligation to fund the grant program.
So congratulations for all your hard work! "Important Payment Advisory" notices are the new contributor's copies.
This essay by Nell Boeschenstein at The Millions captures something about the tension between writing and the work writers have to do to pay the bills, stay sane, or both. After getting fired from her day job as a research assistant, she found herself wondering what it is exactly she wants to do, and where writing fit:
By the time I graduated from college, enough people had told me I couldn’t make a living this way for me to begin trying to jury rig my skills and interests into skills and interests that paid. I worked as an English teacher, a crime reporter, a waitress, a library assistant, and as a research assistant for authors. With each job I told myself it was temporary: just a job until I could forge a writing career. Alas, the most money I’ve ever earned for a piece of writing I’ve written because I wanted to write it is $50, and that was a month ago. Until recently I had—naively—not considered fully demoting my future writing career to past, present, and future hobby, but the reality is that the time has past come.
I learned to accept that writing may always be an avocation rather than a vocation when the Amazing Leveraged Economy forced me back into a non-writing career I thought I'd left safely behind. Fortunately I had a skill set and track record of experience that could still earn a living and I'm grateful for that, but it's not what I want to do. Sometimes I feel like I'm going to great lengths to rationalize that decision, but being practical isn't all that hard to justify. Besides, I'm not sure I would write that much more if I was left alone all day to my own devices (hello Twitter and Facebook).
The comments are as good as the essay itself, so make sure to read all the way to the end.
I'm probably late to weigh in on book trailers, but Jason Boog posted something on eBookNewser that made me think about them again. Recounting an interview he had with WNYC he said:
My hope is that someday the extra interviews and other kooky things that authors are creating to support their books can actually be included inside the book, like DVD extras inside of a digital book.
The comparison to DVD extras is apt, because when was the last time you watched the extra scenes or listened to the director's commentary on a DVD? And why the rush to add this junk to books?
I don't think it's old fashioned to say that I want a book to be a certain thing, a long-form body of text that tells some kind of story. Whether that's on paper or pixels makes no difference, the fundamental piece of art is the same. I've heard people criticize the notion that e-books should be simple digital reproductions of print, that instead we ought to take advantage of the technical possibilities to enhance the medium. But all those bells and whistles have the same relationship to a book that the kiss cam and the mascot shooting hot dogs out of a hydraulic bazooka at a major league stadium have to a baseball game. They might be a good way to market the game to people who might not otherwise be interested, but to the true fan they're annoying, unnecessary distractions.
World War II produced some of the titans (male at least) of American literature, like Bellow, Mailer, and Vonnegut, and writers like Tobias Wolff are products of their service in Vietnam. At the Virginia Quarterly Review, Michael David Lukas asks what effect the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will have on American literature, and ponders how the proliferation of MFA programs will impact the writing of returning veterans:
Whenever this generation of veterans begins writing, many will have to contend with something Hemingway and Heller never did: the MFA workshop. Although graduate creative writing programs have been around since the GI Bill, this generation of veterans will be the first to filter through the MFA workshop en masse.
At the Huffington Post, author Wednesday Martin writes about "writer's drift," the time between projects when writers float along, waiting for the next idea to strike:
Let's be clear: writer's drift is different from writer's block. Writer's block means you can't. Writer's drift means you're not able to, not right now; you have to make a few phone calls and do the crossword puzzle, and maybe meet someone for coffee. Wow, look at the time!
She goes to great lengths to explain that this condition only applies to writers who go from book contract to book contract, not those who also write as journalists, teach, or have some other day job. This makes me think it affects only her and the friends she quotes in the piece. Even though I can't technically suffer from drift by Martin's definition, I'm familiar with the symptoms. The time between even the shortest essays or stories is a guilt-inducing period of self-loathing. But like one of the commenters on the story, I just call it by its more common name, "procrastination."