Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck's Writing Habits and Thoughts on Writing

Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck became a famous and bestselling writer in the African-American community after spending over twenty years of his life as a pimp. Subsequently, his novels made him the most notorious pimp in America. His most famous novel is Pimp: The Story of My Life. The autobiographical novel was published in 1967 by Holloway House. 

Ian Whitaker's book Iceberg Slim The Lost Interviews shed some very interesting light on Beck's writing habits. Like Nabokov, Beck would visualize his characters in his head, he wrote for long hours  - sometimes up to 18 hours per day, like Proust he was a recluse, and Beck made a compelling analogy between pimping and writing.


  • He writes his books out in longhand, filling thick notebooks with manuscript. 

  • ... I don't want to pimp. I want to be a good writer. I'm coming out of there. And I'm agonizing now with my writing. I'm seeking to do in sentences what it took me paragraphs to do before, and to do in one word what it took me sentences to do in these books. 

  • Writing books is better than pimping. In fact, it's better than being a doctor or a lawyer. I don't have to go to court, I don't have to go to the hospital to perform an operation. I have no equipment...I don't even need paper; I'll write on the walls. All of my equipment [tapping his head] is in my noggin. And another thing; writing has been a wonderful boon for me, psychologically. The vacuum of ego that existed when I could no longer pimp has been filled most adequately.

  • Beck writes up to 18 hours a day...

Q. You have been described as the best-sellingest black author in America. Why is that?

A. ...I would think it's because I've been able to do what any artist must do if he's to rule the greatest possible audience - and that is to bare his emotional structure to the bone. I've noticed the same phenomenon as a speaker. I've been a success as a speaker because I've dared to do that which the audience, collectively, could not do. That is, I have overridden my inhibitions so I can confess. It springs from the soul, brother. So many people are dying and crying out to confess. But they lack the courage. 

Q. Doesn't every writer play [g]od?

A. Yes. But one can't play [g]od if one is also a father. One of the handicaps, of course, in being a writer is that one has large numbers of children, responsibilities. Ideally, a writer should be alone. Most writers - if they're married - inevitably, the wife will soon consider the writing a rival. And no writer can reach his peak with this kind of intramural opposition.

Q. Recently, you wrote an article about the loneliness of a super-pimp...

A. Ah, the loneliness...yes, the loneliness. Because you see, the only comparison I could make, as a matter of fact, with the loneliness of a writer is the loneliness of a pimp. I'm not talking about a would-be pimp. I'm talking about someone who really understands what pimping is. And by that I mean: no matter what problems I ever had as a pimp, I never got confidential with any woman...p 100

Q. Usually a writer tries to do more than merely entertain. He tries to inform and persuade.

A. Oh yes. I don't try to persuade. I used to be political. When I first started writing. Nothing is worse than to write with a tendency like that. You can't be a true artist. That's what hobbled most of the young black writers that came up in the 60s. In other words, one must - if he's black or any ethnic - if he's aware of the inequities of this society, purge himself, have that catharsis, through his writing, in order to approach the pristine peak that the artist, the true artist, knows. 

Q. Haven't you used the term "Pimping the Page?"

A. But you know why I've never been able to do it? Because of the torturous labor that writing is...If it weren't so gaddam hard man, I could make the analogy [between pimping and selling books]. But it's so hard...

Q. Are you a masochist?
A. I think all writers have to be. I'm talking about the serious writers - like yourself. You know you love it. You love the pain, that lonely pain.

Q. Is there any sadism connected to this?
A. Yeah. We inflict that, we often inflict that upon the audience. You know, two sides of a coin. But invariably, we inflict it upon the people around us, like our wives and our children, when we suffer, you know. 

Q. Would you say you've achieved a balance or homeostasis between your inner and the outer realities?
A. Yes. And I've achieved it through what I call "The Overview". The way I interpret "overview" personally is that I will not permit any traumatic event, person or force to deal my writing and my life a fatal blow. I will not gnaw on personal tragedy like some psychotic canine. When the deed has been done to me, whether advertently or inadvertently, I will simply forget that, I don't conduct vendettas against people, objects or circumstances. 

  • There's a lusting, lusting for that feeling, that sensation, because there is no sensation - even the hell of the writer when he's in the throes of creation, as magnificent as that is - that can compare with the the chemical rush of a speed-ball. 

  • ... I write long-hand and I have my work typed up. And when I'm not in the physical process of working, that is with pen in hand on paper, then I'm seeming to be day-dreaming. But I'm not. I'm reading on the ceiling characters for yet another story. And I hallucinate their voices and try to get the texture of their voices so I can become acquainted with them. That's why I can write so fast. When I get ready to go to the page. I've already had this prior association with them. And great snatches of dialogue have been written on the ceiling already. 

Q. You once were a creature of the night. Do you write at night?
A. Ideally, from 2am to 7 in the morning.

Q. Do you make a lot of money from your books?
A. No. When you say "a lot of money," you know to a pauper a hundred-dollar bill is a fortune. And then a John Paul Getty, a hundred-thousand is a pittance. But I'm not a seeker of fortune. All that I aspire to is to have comforts, and to be cushioned so I can have the most magnificent luxury there is. And that is one of privacy, so that I might write. 

Q. Are you satisfied with your progress as a writer so far?
A. No, because I started late. And given the Biblical actuarial estimate, it seems to me that I've got maybe 10 years. And writing being the unconquerable that it is, I wish that I'd started at your age or even younger, so I would at least have some remote chance of becoming the absolute artist. Because every day, every day, is a reminder of how little I know as a writer. 

MISTY: He was a strange guy who used to write on paper plates, on napkins, on anything. He did longhand on note pads but he would write on paper plates and things like that. 
Q. How easy was if for him to get published?
MISTY: ...He was very let down; it took a minute to get someone to look at Pimp

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


I wrote briefly about J.D. Salinger in the first volume of The Allure of Nymphets, and I did a post about him on the The Allure of Nymphets blog, but I watched Salinger (2013), because I hoped that I would uncover some additional material on the reclusive author for volume two of The Allure of Nymphets.

And I did get some more details about the famous ephebophile. For example, I learned that when Salinger was 30, he told 14-year-old Jean Miller, "I'd like to kiss you goodbye, but you know I can't." And he told Miller's mother, "I'm going to marry your daughter." Salinger and Miller reunited in Manhattan after Miller turned 18. Their relationship was platonic until Miller took the initiative to make it sexual. 

The other things I learned about Salinger's ephebophilia I'll save for the book, but I didn't realize that three shootings were associated with the novel e.g., Robert John Bardo's shooting of Rebecca Schaeffer , John Hinckley, Jr.'s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, and Mark David Chapman's shooting of John Lennon. 

To uncover some more clues about Salinger's ephebophilia and to find out why the novel was associated with not one, but three shootings, I decided to re-read A Catcher in the Rye (I'm assuming that I read it in high school, but I have absolutely no recollection of what I read in high school.)

I feel a bit like Nabokov, who was not impressed by Dostoevsky, when I write that I wasn't impressed by A Catcher in the Rye. I'm shocked that the novel has sold over 65 million copies and is listed as one of the best books of the previous century. I found the novel to be very bland and not suspenseful; however, I do have two clues as to why it's so popular and why it was associated with two murders. 

1. From 1961 to 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was widely censored in high schools and libraries. One of the best forms of publicity for a book is to ban it. If it weren't for the banning of Henry Miller's entertaining  Tropic of Capricorn, the novel would probably be obscure. 

2. Robert Greene implied in Mastery that the level of effort, emotion, and intensity that a writer puts into his or her writing will be projected to the reader. Therefore, one can project his mindset even when not in the presence of others through his creations (e.g. poetry, art, etc.). Salinger worked on A Catcher in the Rye during his emotionally grueling World War II tour of duty. The fear and emotion that he experienced on the front lines may have been transferred to his writing and consequently to his readers.

Additionally, I was surprised by the number of grammatical errors in The Catcher in the Rye. Admittedly, no man-made book is free of mistakes. And after my books are praised, the comments are often followed by, "But I did notice some mistakes." Nonetheless, I was surprised that a book of this caliber would have so many mistakes.

Here are some mistakes(?) that I recognized in the novel followed by my corrections:

p. 138
First she told me about some Harvard guy - it probably was a freshman, but she didn't say, naturally - that was rushing hell out of her. 

First she told me about some Harvard guy - [he] probably was a freshman, but she didn't say, naturally - that was rushing [the] hell out of her. 

p. 152
D.B. took Phoebe and I to see it last year.

D.B. took Phoebe and [me] to see it last year.

p. 229
I quick jumped up and ran over and turned off the light over the desk.

I [quickly] jumped up and ran over and turned off the light over the desk.

(When I re-read the sentence, I completely ignored and didn't see the work "quick", which may explain why it eluded the editors and survived all this time. I read "I jumped up and ran over and turned off the light over the desk.")

p. 233
It scared hell out of old Phoebe when I started doing it...

It scared [the] hell out of old Phoebe when I started doing it...

p. 259

... and I didn't have any too much time.

... and I didn't have too much time.

The following aren't mistakes, but I don't recall ever reading a sentence with the words "you" and "in" written twice in a row. Theses sentences would probably be marked as incorrect in a MFA program.

p. 32. "I mean it isn't too nice, naturally, if somebody tells you you don't brush your teeth."
p. 210 "It was all about this play she was in in school."

I'm I missing something here, or is The Catcher in the Rye overrated? 

(By the way, you lovers of Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye, don't try to bash me by pointing out the mistakes in this post and my books. That's not the point.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Was Nabokov a Hebephile\Ephebophile?

Readers of this blog are most likely familiar with Nabokov's Lolita, but they may not be familiar with his four other books that share a similar theme of hebephilia\ephebophilia with Lolita:

Laughter in the Dark 
The Original of Laura
Transparent Things
The Enchanter 

Even some of Nabokov's published poetry contains an hebephilia\ephebophilia theme. In “Lilith”, which can be found in his Selected Poems (2012), he wrote:

Shielding her face and to the sparkling sun
showing a russet armpit, in a doorway
there stood a naked little girl.
She had a water lily in her curls
and was as graceful as a woman. Tenderly
her nipples bloomed, and I recalled
the springtime of my life on earth,
when through the alders on the river brink
so very closely I could watch the miller's youngest daughter as she stepped
out of the water, and she was all golden,
with a wet fleece between her legs 

Thus, was Nabokov a hebephile? Clearly, he was. But did he ever have an age-discrepant relationship? I'm still trying to figure that out. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

#WhatsInYourBag: The Contents of Hugh Person's Knapsack

Hugh Person's Knapsack Contents from Nabokov's Transparent Things

A popular hashtag on Tumblr and Instagram is #whatsinyourbag. For some reason it's fascinating to view the contents of other's bags. And writers may find it very interesting to read about the contents of Hugh Person's knapsack:

  • rough drafts of letters
  • an unfinished short story in a Russian copybook
  • parts of a philosophical essay in a blue cahier purchased in Geneva
  • loose sheets of a rudimentary novel temporarily titled Faust in Moscow
  • portable ink

Person is the protagonist in Nabokov's Transparent Things, which like Lolita contains the themes of hebephilia\ephebophilia

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Writer is a Prince!

I was originally drawn to the March 2014 issue of Vanity Fair due to the subtitle of the article The Prince of Patchin Place:

"... the Harris Tweed-clad modernist [E.E. Cummings], a longtime friend and mentor to her novelist father, rocked her teenage world." 

I thought that I could have used the article as a source for The Allure of Nymphets blog and for the second  volume of the book; however, this quote for E.E. Cummings stood out as well,

 “A writer is a prince!” 

Cummings felt that way despite:

"... he sometimes didn’t make enough money to pay the rent on the ramshackle apartment in Greenwich Village."
"... his last book of poetry had been rejected by every estimable publisher, 
his wife was six months pregnant by her dentist and 
his Aunt Jane had purloined his income ..."

However, Cummings had the "... ability to live elegantly on almost no money." And maybe most importantly, through it all, he maintained a very high level of self-esteem, which according to Cabane in The Charisma Myth would explain his charismatic appeal to the 15-year-old Masters High School sophomore.

E. E. Cummings

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Literature vs. Sleaze

I did a post on The Allure of Nymphets blog about the book Orgy Maid by Robert Silverberg, Don Elliott (pseud.). On page five of the book it states:

In the hill country of Tennessee, where Lonnie Garth was born, they have a quaint little folk saying about virginity. “A virgin,” they say, “is a five-year-old girl who can outrun her daddy and her brothers.”

Lonnie was a fast runner. That’s how come her virginity lasted all the way to the age of twelve. And, at twelve, she was about the oldest virgin in town.

And on page 31 Lonnie was told, "You been getting loved since you were six, I bet. Your brothers and your old man got there first."

It may not be surprising from the above excerpts that the book is considered by some to be in the vintage sleaze genre and that Robert Silverberg, who is a Brooklyn born Ivy League graduate (B.A. in English Literature from Columbia) and multiple winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, used a pseudonym; however, the book, with its teen anal sex and lipstick lesbianism, is no more graphic than some of the other mainstream books that I've reviewed that are considered to be literature. For example, in the Lauren Myracle's TTYL, 15-year-old Margaret, "...ejaculates...she squirts when she comes." 

The question becomes, who determines which books are considered sleaze or literature?

Friday, January 3, 2014

THE GINGER MAN: Solicitous Content vs Writing Mechanics

Here's Amazon description of J.P.Donleavy's The Ginger Man - 

First published in Paris in 1955, and originally banned in the United States, J. P. Donleavy’s first novel is now recognized the world over as a masterpiece and a modern classic of the highest order. Set in Ireland just after World War II, The Ginger Man is J. P. Donleavy’s wildly funny, picaresque classic novel of the misadventures of Sebastian Dangerfield, a young American ne’er-do-well studying at Trinity College in Dublin. He barely has time for his studies and avoids bill collectors, makes love to almost anything in a skirt, and tries to survive without having to descend into the bottomless pit of steady work. Dangerfield’s appetite for women, liquor, and general roguishness is insatiable—and he satisfies it with endless charm.

Despite the fact that the novel was named one of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library in 1998, has sold over 40 million copies, and that Johnny Depp has been trying to adapt the novel into a film, I can understand why a number of reviewers on Amazon weren't able to finish the novel. 

J.P. Donleavy changes narrative mode mid-paragraph from first-person to third-person - from one sentence to the next. There are conversations without quotation marks in the middle of paragraphs. And if you aren't focused a joke or sexual innuendo will pass you like a bicycle messenger in mid-town Manhattan.

The Nation hailed The Ginger Man "A comic masterpiece." However, if this book were written in your typical creative writing workshop or mailed to an editor or agent, it probably would be marked repeatedly with a red pen for errors and rejected. 

Due to the unconventional writing style, sexual content (e.g., anal sex), and the protagonist's adventures in a foreign land, the book reminded me of Henry Miller's writing style and of Tropic of Cancer, which argues the point that books like Tropic of CancerThe Ginger Man and even 50 Shades of Grey wouldn't be as popular as they are if it weren't for the controversial content. Thus, for the common reader, a compelling story can often be more important than "proper" writing mechanics. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Are Book Readings an Effective Marketing Strategy?

I gave a talk last week at Brooklyn College on How to Pull an All-Nighter When You Don't Have To. The talk was about how a number of overachievers like Tesla, Freud, and Balzac didn't restrict their all-nighters like many college students to their university years, but they pulled all-nighters on a regulars basis throughout their careers to maximize the amount of time they devoted to working on their passions.

After a couple of years of doing marketing for my books, I'm not sure that giving readings and talks are good for book sales, which may be the reason why Frederick Seidel never gives readings of his poetry. I even suspect that some authors give readings for pretentious reasons. For example, so they can say things like, "I have reading tonight at _____." or "I just wrapped up my book tour. I went to ___ different cities!"

I may give one more reading at a nearby university - only because I'm passionate about sharing my knowledge of the topic; however, I'm skeptical about the talk's significance on book sales. It may be better to spend those few hours working on the next book or a blog post, which definitely has a positive effect on book sales.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ephebophile Poets and Novelists

I wrote in The Allure of Nymphets and on The Allure of Nymphets' blog that according to Wyatt Mason of the New York Times, a favorite subject of poets for centuries has been man’s attraction to beautiful young women i.e, nymphets. For example, past poets Dante, Petrarch, John Donne and Poe and contemporary poets Frederick Seidel and Charles Bukowski all wrote about nymphets and/or were in age-discrepant relationships. 

And a number of famous novelists are no different. For example, Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, Charles DickensErnest Hemingway, Philip Roth and  J.D. Salinger wrote books with an ephebophile protagonist and/or the authors were in age-discrepant relationships. 

Let's combine the two by looking at a poem about an ephebophile author. 

In a clean, well-lighted place by Charles Bukowski 

the old fart [Ernest Hemingway]. he used his literary reputation

to reel them in one at a time,
each younger than the last.

he liked to meet them for luncheon and
and he’d talk and listen to them
whatever wife or girlfriend he had at the moment
was made to
understand that this sort of thing made him
“young again.”
the young ladies vied to bed down with

in between, he continued to write,
late at night in his favorite bar
liked to talk about writing and his amorous
actually, he was just a drunk
who liked young ladies,
writing itself,
and talking about writing.
wasn't a bad life.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Malcolm Gladwell @ the Union Square Barnes & Noble

After reading Nassim Taleb's post on Facebook about how, "... many many social "scientists" are much worse..." than Gladwell and having read Christopher F. Chabris' Wall Street Journal review of Gladwell's David and Goliath, I was hesitant about going to hear Gladwell speak at the Union Square Barnes & Noble last Thursday night.  However, I'm happy that I went.

Gladwell opened by mentioning that three people came to his very first book signing, and was pleasantly surprised to see such a large crowd awaiting his arrival. I was roped off and segregated with a crowd of people who didn't have a book to be signed behind a larger crowd of people who had hardcovers. (One consequence of the proliferation of ebooks is that a number of them can be downloaded for free. For example, the torrent for the ebook and audio book for David and Goliath is on the Internet.)

After giving the example of the Viet Cong, Gladwell summarized David and Goliath by saying that what is in one's heart is the most important element in winning a battle or overcoming an obstacle i.e., a Goliath. 

Lastly, Gladwell said that a representative from the toothpaste division of Procter & Gamble shared with him that despite the fact that Arm & Hammer's toothpaste is inferior to Procter & Gamble's Crest, people purchase Arm & Hammer's toothpaste because they associate baking soda with a clean kitchen and cleanliness in general. Gladwell went on to say that that false association may be the topic of his next book.