Thursday, March 31, 2011

idealism

If you're looking for some long, lost idealism to add to your working week, here's a healthy dollop served up by Queensborough Community College Professor Charles Neuman. Because he teaches physics and astronomy it is indeed tempting to suggest that this young man has his head stuck in the clouds.

But it's good to know he can at least temper his positive vibrations with a little departmental conflict, or at least tension:

"I am starting to see that idealism is a threat. My colleagues’ simple expressions of idealism invoke disproportionate responses of vitriol. There’s something primal about this hatred. I posit that idealism represents youth, and those who feel they have lost it, or never had it, are so pained they can only respond with fury. It’s sad, really."

To continue Charles's thought, I've noticed that sometimes my collegues' simple expressions of vitriol invoke disproportionate responses of idealism. It's probably just all the headache and disagreement associated with any kind of faculty, and yet another reason to avoid extensive communication with teachers--they always have a minor quibble, ancillary thought, competing notion, neurotic twist, or other intriguing consideration that can make discourse among them positively exhausting. I've heard that lecturers can be the worst.

Educators of the World Disagree!

But may you stay forever young, Charles, Clark Hall, and teaching, that most noble and paradoxical of all the professions.

Charles and I shared an old building during our "frosh" year of college, and reading his words and being reminded of Clark Hall have successfully "youthened" my own working day.

And now, alas, it's back to grading.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

rare books

Over spring break in sunny Philadelphia, I did have opportunity to drive over the glorious Ben Franklin Bridge to scenic South Jersey for a tour of the school house where Between the Covers now stashes thousands and thousands of rare books along with a dozen plus employees, functional urinals in the Boys bathroom, and memories of the second grade.

Over lunch at Five Guys, a first for me and where I winced at the fact that burgers, fries, and cokes can run over $20 for two, I learned of a letter from Melville retailing for $35,000 as well as an original copy of Walker's Appeal that sold to the University of Virginia for close to three times that amount. The history behind David Walker's early nineteenth century publishing is amazing, something we were never taught in American history as best I remember it, and yet it was the Melville letter five inches from my face that kept my attention. In it, he is writing to his publisher later in life when commercial houses have become much more reluctant to publish his writing. And yes, this would be the writing after Moby Dick, "the good stuff," at least from the perspective of how Melville is taught today--Pierre to Benito Cereno to Billy Budd left for dead in a desk drawer.

Well, I suppose as e-books continue to gain market share and paper quality continues to decline and physical books and stores continue to disappear, books currently considered "rare" will become increasingly so by some definitions of the word.

Here's some history of how Between the Covers has evolved as a successful book business over the past twenty-five years. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

yes, lawrence, i know i shoot myself in the foot. . .

Yes, Lawrence, I wish I could book readings in all of the hip independent bookstores all over the country, and it does seem like the natural alliance could or should be between indy publishers and indy stores. And sure, why we're at it, I could or should also wish I were you, Mr. Ferlinghetti, and I guess the lone drawback here is that you're quite a bit older than me, and so perhaps destined to leave this life sooner. Of couse, one could easily twist that into a positive as well.

But my limited experience as a "published author," so far, has shown me that the Indy bookstores in cities don't have a lot of space for a small-press title like Fight for Your Long Day. The shops are small, and they have to stock a lot of mainstream, established stuff they know they can sell, and then they already have their allegiances in place and must help their loyal local author friends and customers, too. And of course, there are just too many millions of books to choose from, so I'm incredibly naive to think any store would put a big stack of my novel near the front door.

In one indy in Philly, I thought I was doing a favor by signing the single copy of my novel in the store, and then I thought I was having a great, engaging conversation with the clerk that would lead to an Ingram order of all Atticus titles in print, at least a single copy of each. But when I returned a few hours later, I was told that they would not be able to commit to such an order or to anything more for my Philly novel. I was disappointed, and even felt some regret that I had signed the copy they had (I know that sounds bad, but it's true). Of course, later in the visit, at another independent, the friendly store owner didn't want me to sign the single copy in case it had to be returned.

Meanwhile, one franchise in Philly that is part of a smaller chain has displayed and already sold 23 copies of Fight for Your Long Day, and in general, the chains are ordering multiple copies--from 5 to 36--and moving them. And they had space for me to sign and read and discuss, and, well, I felt welcome at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and Faber, and I'm very grateful for everything they did for me last week.

Also, how antichain could I possibly be when just after college I worked at a Borders as a seasonal temp. It was the only job I could get in a bad economy years ago, and I then even managed a seasonal remainders-only store a couple years after that. It was part of a smaller chain, National Book Warehouse I believe, and that $8.50 per hour manager's job existed temporarily due to recession (dollar books moved well that holiday season), and it's a sad week because the Borders I worked in is closing and a friend who stayed on there and helped sell books for 20 years could be out of work and of course, the focus there has been on reducing inventory so the store I worked in has never carried my book and never will. In fact, the store will become just another empty husk in another American downtown until another chain, with another kind of product, is crazy enough to try to operate at a profit despite the gigantic overhead, city taxes, etc.

Indy bookstores, and independent brick and mortar stores and restaurants in general, are wonderful, and I wish I could afford to patronize them regularly. Regardless, my saying or not saying this has not helped me gain much shelf space in these stores. I'd love for that to change.

Fight for Your Long Day, Lawrence Ferlinghetti!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

a lost novel

Yes, I'm reading the "lost novel" of Roberto Bolano, or at least the first quarter of it, as published and translated in The Paris Review, Number 196. Because I purchased this single copy in a bookstore along with the latest issue of Boulevard, I'm somehow reminded of Bolano's "Vagabond in France and Belgium" from Last Evenings On Earth, a story in part about searching for the only author listed in an old issue of a literary journal whose name B does not immediately recognize. It nags at him and leads to something of a quest but also the classic sad Bolano story. What is it about that man's writing that is so intoxicating?

In the issue of Boulevard, there is a scathing Anis Shivani piece about the MFA programs. He basically destroys them with ridiculous generalizations which are also at times entertaining and rather clever. Although I'm hardly an insider at AWP (I have been a member for the past few years, but I don't have an MFA, and I teach business writing and contemporary literature, not fiction writing), it seems worth noting that his main argument about MFA program writing as mediocre and "standardized" (he uses the term "house style") is an unoriginal one, and also that there are some writers who teach and learn in these programs who are absolutely amazing. Would John Gardner or Irving be better writers without advanced degrees in creative writing?

One of Shivani's main points is that the "guild" of creative writing programs prohibits extroverted political display in fiction although I'm not sure this is accurate. Or, rather, I suspect common teachings could include "showing" one's politics as opposed to "telling" of them. Another point he makes, seemingly to disparage writers earning their living from teaching, is that they have withdrawn from the marketplace. It seems worth noting that although some great writers were commericial successes at the height of their literary careers, many others were not (Melville, Kafka, Svevo, Nietzsche, and so on).

But I like some of the international writers Shivani wants to recognize as superior; Joseph O'Neill and Chinua Achebe are two he names, for example, and I suspect many professors of fiction writing might fess up to enjoying these two and many more. And yet in recognizing his preferences, Shivani feels a need to bash the programs in one fell swoop. He creates a binarism, a false one, and that's far too easy for any of us. Silly, really. And yet Shivani's invective is fun to read, and I suspect most of us who will read the essay in Boulevard are somehow attached to the programs. I've also read his attack on the "Kirby poet" in the South Carolina Review, and I must say he can draw you in and aggressively lead you to his conclusions.

Ecrasez l'infame, Shivani! I have a feeling that Anis would enjoy Fight for Your Long Day.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Virginia Festival of the Book

The Virginia Festival of the Book's Annual Vendor Fair was held in the sun-drenched lobby of the Omni Hotel in historic downtown Charlottesville. I drove all morning, sat at the Atticus Books table for a couple hours, took a walk in search of carbohydrates and caffeine, and then drove on. In the car, I listened amost exclusively to FM pop stations, so the "boom boom boom" and other dance songs have now permanently scarred my brain and left me speechless.

In Europe, sales offers of Fight for Your Long  Day expand almost exponentially (on amazon.fr and amazon.de, at least as the optimistic quintile of my imagination allows me to believe), but for my two-hour drive stoppage, no one in Charleslottesville took me up on my signed-book offer or anything else. A number of browsers were willing to take a look, but it seems Cyrus's life was not the must-have I told the guy down the street serving espresso it ought to be seen as.

The prominently published writer Jenny White, a professor of anthropology at Boston University, took a considerable peruse through the pages of the novel, but she didn't say a word about it. Perhaps she'll work the adjunct angle into her bestselling detective fiction about Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire. I just read the description of her Winter Thief, and it looks like the kind of book every educated, overworked person loves--well written, suspenseful, with intrigue, a chance to learn about a different culture or historical period (significantly more affordable than a direct flight to Constantinople), and not concerning a here and now that is just too "problematic" or painful to think about. While she was looking at the book, I read her name tag, knew that I knew that name, and twenty minutes later passed her stack of books near the front. I didn't get an autograph or anything else, and the person I thought could be Dorothy Allison turned out not to be.

The publisher of Jaimy Gordan's National Book Award winner, Lord of Misrule, was also present and stopped by the Atticus table after a few hours to say he hadn't sold a single copy of the small press novel that roared. Well, we could chalk this up to Charlottesville's monied snobbery and its unwillingness to look a West Virginia horse in the mouth although the larger truth is that it was just too much of an amazing sunny day to waste too much time indoors on browsing and buying books.

Friday, March 18, 2011

more reviews

It was a good week for reviews of Fight for Your Long Day from people I don't know. I think this solid one from Author's Exposure makes some valid points about the (mostly) pros and cons. I understand the lack of "logic" he speaks of, and yet, possibly there is some literary misfiring, so to speak, at play in the ending that is.

And then, Aaron at goodreads gave it 3 stars but called it a 3.5 star book. I noticed that he's stingier with the stars than I am, and he even has some 2-star ratings for books seen as respectable to great by just about everyone (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, for example, although admittedly that's no Independence Day).

And finally, I got the 1-star special from a "reader" who stops on page 75, calls the author "racist," "classist," and then proves doctoral credentials by using the word "problematic" and the phrase "socially structured privilege and oppression." Well, "I'm returning this," why yes, as a matter fact, I am about to enjoy some scrumptious, finger-licking fried chicken on my subway ride back to work. And truth be told, one star is on the mark here, as it was the fried chicken fumes and advertisements all over Seoul, South Korea, where I was writing the first draft, that no doubt led to this inclusion in a Philadelphia story. Anyone with eyes or nose or stomach can clearly see that in a perfectly polished final draft, the fried chicken would of course be chicken cheesesteaks and the kisses Cyrus then procures from the bottom of his satchel in fact would be frayed remnants of salty soft pretzel marooned at the bottom of the bag. Everyday, I know more and more why some "real novelists" never read customer reviews or return to their books that are already in print.

Well, if you're out there "I'm returning this," to be fair, I could reimburse you personally if the book has been such a burden. Alas, as you know or surmise, I can't offer you fair compensation for the contract labor you are about to embark upon, but I could send you up to $14.95. This would not be a problem although I'd prefer you give Fight for Your Long Day a few more hours of your precious time. It is a novel worth reflecting upon, or at least that's what the vast majority of reviewers seem to indicate. The Robert Watts review on amazon could be a good place to start.

And years from now, one star, when we are both safely ensconced among the forgotten millions, and with time on our hands, we can sit down and break biscuits and grumble about white meat, wings, legs, and thighs, and all else beyond the plate.

Peace.

And good luck.

And, well, fight for your long day!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Virginia Festival of the Book, Saturday afternoon

Thanks to big, bad Dan Cafaro of Atticus Books, Cyrus Duffleman will be making a surprise, guest appearance at the Annual Book Fair at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Look for Cyrus in the Omni Hotel, 235 W. Main Street in Charlottesville, Virginia. If he stays on task, he'll be pounding doughnuts and moving product off the Atticus table into your satchel, book bag, brief case, or hands. If not, who knows where he'll find himself?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

shelve your debut novel now, City Lights!

Hey, if you want to help get some cool debut novels find safe harbor in San Francisco's famous City Lights Bookstore, follow this link http://www.citylights.com/bookstore/ and e-mail about a title or just write to this address:

City Lights Bookstore
Att. Book Buyer
261 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco,  CA  94133

And guess what?

I have a list of novels for you to choose from:

Andy Breslin's Mother's Milk
Steve Himmer's The Bee Loud Glade
Nadia Kalman's The Cosmopolitans
Alex Kudera's Fight for Your Long Day (never heard of it)
Kate Ledger's Remedies

Mark SaFranko's Hating Olivia (could be there already)
Ben Tanzer's You Can Make Him Like You
Charles Dodd White's Lambs of Men
Joe Zeppetello's Daring to Eat a Peach
Tommy Zurhellen's Nazareth, North Dakota

OK. Except for Ben and Charles, these are all debut novels, and they are all from new novelist-publisher partnerships. I'm sure any help is appreciated. Tap me on the keyboard if I missed you, and I'll be sure to add you to the list (new novelists or indy book buyers).

Note: for Mark, several novels have already been published in Europe in English and French translation.

What an amazing blogger! What a weirdo.

Wah (translated as "wow" in both Korean and exhausted English).

Monday, March 14, 2011

small press librarian

I had one of those teaching days that begins with exhaustion, coffee, and thirty thesis paragraphs that could all improve, and then slowly winds its way through everything else--guilt, mozzarella, angst, various pains (most acute in the joints, brain, and lower back), active verbs (for chronological resume), dijon mustard (for, well, what else?), nuclear disaster, oatmeal raisin, more coffee, god's silence (you tell me), and staying late at work.

But then, as if rescued by the world of hope and possibility, Joel Thomas reviewed Fight for Your Long Day at Karen Lillis's Karen the Small Press Librarian blog.

Thank you!

But I'm not sure if I should tell him the "x-ray specs" double entendre was not intended. As best I remember.

Alas.

Friday, March 11, 2011

joshua spodek

And I forgot to thank Joshua Spodek (and others, and you, too, for reading this), but when he includes me in a blog with his other writer friends who just happen to be Zadie Smith, well, frankly, I feel like I'm still more of a busboy, and we're back in the flat, a seven-floor walk up near Gare du Nord, working crap jobs, eating cereal, throwing the frisbee, and wondering what we will be.

the brother k

The Sixers beat Boston, and then minutes later I learn that an Australian gentleman named Robert Tulip, a guy I don't know, gives The Betrayal of Times of Peace and Prosperity five stars on amazon and compares my writing to Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Well, no one could ever live up to that, but by strange coincidence, the protag had plenty of buds but was short on paper, so it was mass market pages of The Brothers Karamazov that fictional John and Jake were smoking in the expurgated scenes.

Mr. Tulip wrote:

Wow, what a superb ten thousand words. I'm not sure if it just because I am reading The Brothers Karamazov at the moment, but this short story reminds me so much of Dostoyevksy in its biting social satire, its acute political insight, its ability to paint pictures in words, and its foreboding of a society that has lost its way and is on a trajectory to catastrophe. The drugs are the anaesthetic for the emotional pain of a fascistic existence in denial, enabling a crazy-brave creative prophetic vision. The description of undergraduate life is realistic if exaggerrated [sic] in a hallucinatory direction for effect, and casts a lens upon wider social trends.

Thank you, Robert. And Isaac Sweeney. And Christina at The Strand. And Kate Ledger, author of Remedies. And new acquaintance Don Ray Pollock, from Knockemstiff, Ohio. And Dan Cafaro especially. All of you brought me some good book vibrations this week and made me feel like the impossible was possible if not right around the bend.

PS--Betrayal is available for free through March 12 at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/40939

Thursday, March 10, 2011

exley is still on

So imagine how annoyed Fred Exley might be if he learned that writers in 2011 don't spend Sunday mornings reading multiple thick print newspapers--sports and book reviews on top--while properly administering the right dosage of foamy pale ale in anticipation of an afternoon spent with pro football on television. Alas, times have changed. The author as honest, smart, drunken sports enthusiast has seen some reversals. This much is true.

But we're still talking about him, at least upon occasion. Dan Cafaro of Atticus Books was kind enough to primp and polish my latest Exley interview here. In it, we meet Atticus author Joe Zeppetello, who in fact grew up near Exley's hometown of Watertown, New York. Although Daring to Eat a Peach is his first published novel, Joe is a seasoned literary veteran, so our exchange nicely complements the first Exley interview with Eleanor Henderson.

And, soon, folks, John Warner, will share his take on A Fan's Notes, a book he has called one that he wished he had written. Warner's The Funny Man sounds like a promising debut and will be available from Soho this September. And John has also braved the waters of courtside analysis, but in the killing fields of literary competition, perhaps not unlike Dennis Miller's year or two on Monday Night Football although Dennis will have to beg for it if he wants in on the Exley action chez Kudera. Well, for now, Warner's interview is mostly written, and all B.L.G. has to do is get off his lazy rump and post.

So, if you are a published novelist who is on the down low, or the up high, or in any other way all about the Exley, please do get in touch. I'll e-mail you a few cyber shots of the good stuff, and we'll compare our notes from northern country.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

back in beige

i'm back in beige and ready to take on the world in my new sartorial display! only vague, neurotic nagging doubts about looking up "sartorial" before i reveal this post. okay. don't try this at home, kids, but let's just [redacted] dictionary.com and "publish post." at some other time, i'll compose a short list of words i never doubt. a very short list.

and alas, i cheated, and googled, and came upon this blog for clothing enthusiasts: http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com/

i don't feel like The Only Southern Kudera, but I kind of like the O.S.K. We'll see how long this lasts.

Not very long: I edited out O.S.K. in favor of B.L.G. why, of course, for Big Lao Gu (kind of southern, kind of chinese, and what my daughter has been yelling when i get to the other apartment).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

cyrus is stranded

I've been told I have low standards, but not by my students, not to my face anyway, and it's also been implied that my expectations are too high, in the worse kind of nonhallucinogenic way.

So, low or high, goofy or no, I should say I am positively peachy over the fact, that Cyrus Duffleman has infiltrated the greatest used bookstore of all (with apologies to all the other greatest used bookstores), and he rests snug on shelf, in good condition, at a rather nimble price point of $7.45.

What will be this copy's fate? Will it survive and persist at The Strand until the final disaster for all print media, whereupon the amazing store closes down and the e-world takes over?

Well, I had the good fortune to visit The Strand this past winter, a fine cold, slushy day with dirty piles of ice at every intersection and all manner of Manhattannite traipsing about. What I saw were hundreds of browsers and buyers looking for new and used and used used and other there. Truth be told, the store seemed like a dynamic site for literate commerce.

Alas, I didn't fill out an application, no courage, and I couldn't tell you if Duffy did although the website has no qualms about noting his financial pain.

And so we trudge on.

Monday, March 7, 2011

man with a manuscript

i did want to add, as a PS of sorts from my previous "content that doesn't suck" hyperlink, that to the best of my knowledge, the esteemed ghost of elberry, whose name i could provide if called upon although i hardly know the chap (as in, we've never met), is not only a transient laborer in the teaching field of Business English, but also a man with an unpublished novel.

So, hey, check out his blog, publishers, and see if this isn't the kind of intellectual morbidity that you've secretly craved despite your Harry-Potter wannabeism and power-of-positive-thinking front and back lists.

Here's an excerpt to get you started:

"i contemplate the prospect of another Kiel-like ordeal with weary resignation. If i go to X-burg i predict i will fall foul of the Director of Studies, a wizened power woman on speed, a type i have met many a time in office work – they instinctively loathe me. i will probably be fired or just given the worst jobs, teaching Business English to 19-year-old engineering apprentices, etc. i’m not sure i can take any more of this. i feel dangerously close to snapping in half; though, then again, it is surprising how much one can take, when one has no other choice. And it is certainly a mistake to suppose life is essentially enjoyable, or that it is arranged for one’s own convenience.


"i should welcome unemployment and destitution and debt, since Kiel was a valuable time, spiritually speaking – forced back on yourself, rejected by the world, you must consider matters without niceties. But in truth i just want a half-way decent job and a flat i don’t have to share with a retarded hippy. However, lacking any worthwhile skills or qualifications (or money), i must make do with what i am given. In spite of everything i am still alive, aged 35, and that seems so improbable as to suggest things might work out, improbably."

and follow this for more from the aske man.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

content

I graded a lot of papers of this week. Fretted. About most of it. Yeah. And sorry I haven't written in a while, but I just don't know what to say to you anymore. And I'm censoring myself at every turn. Of course, it wasn't really worth hearing about anyway.

Alas, I'd tell you I've taken a corporate turn, but in fact, this post has no sponsorship whatsoever.

But thank you for allowing this content into your life. Have a nice day.

PS--On second thought, I thought I'd share someone else's content. Content that doesn't suck. In a best case scenario, it might get Elberry a record deal.