Monday, August 15, 2016

Publishing Can Break Your Heart, But Don't Commit Suicide

Christian Lorentzen wrote in her New York profile,"Publishing Can Break Your Heart",
that Helen DeWitt's stances that "Many, many writers are chronically broke. Many have a long list of grievances with the publishing industry" are "counterfactuals"; however, I would agree with DeWitt that there are many writers who are resentful towards the publishing industry and there are a number of writers who are penniless. For instance, DeWitt "donated $130 to the Bernie Sanders campaign. As he gained momentum, she tried to make another donation, but her credit card was refused."

Lorentzen's wrote that DeWitt's "The Last Samurai was a sensation even before it appeared. The toast of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1999, with rights sold to more than a dozen countries, the novel came out in 2000 to wide acclaim, sold in excess of 100,000 copies in English, and was nominated for several prizes. But for DeWitt, this was the beginning of a long phase of turmoil that still hasn’t abated. The book’s success was marred by an epic battle with a copy editor involving large amounts of Wite-Out; typesetting nightmares having to do with the book’s use of foreign scripts; what she describes as “an accounting error” that resulted in her owing the publisher $75,000 when she thought the publisher owed her $80,000; the agonies of obtaining permissions for the many outside works quoted in the novel, including Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai — which was the title of The Last Samurai until it was deemed legally impossible. Her second novel, Lightning Rods, finished in July 1999, was then stuck in limbo after her publisher, Talk Miramax, folded. When it did finally appear, from New Directions in 2011, it garnered a legion of devoted readers too young to have read The Last Samurai before it went out of print."

DeWitt compared the publishing industry to the pharmaceutical trade. "The way drug companies suppress negative trial results in her view is similar to the way agents’ and editors’ failed deals are never reported, nor the way they stifle literary talent in the cradle. “There could be all these people out there having these ideas and being told, ‘No, no, no, no.’”

But DeWitt has taken her troubles with the publishing industry too far by having suicidal ideations. For example, "Once, after a book deal that she negotiated herself fell apart, she took a sedative and put a plastic bag over her head, but she couldn’t fall asleep. She sent an email to a lawyer asking that she ignore the previous email about disposing of her corpse. She went to Niagara Falls, but by the time she got there Reuters had reported her disappearance and a policeman picked her up on the street and took her to a hospital. Six years later, after the agent Bill Clegg failed to sell Lightning Rods to about a dozen publishers and resigned as her agent, she sent him a suicide email and set out to throw herself off a cliff near Brighton. She halted the plan after her ex-husband wrote saying he was expecting his first child with his second wife."

And DeWitt opined that editors may not be necessary. “Plato did not have an editor,” she said. “Plenty of writers that we admire struggled along somehow without the help of Michael Pietsch [the editor of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest].

DeWitt is correct that most full-time writers will never reach the net worth of J. K. Rowling and will have literary agents and publishers attempt to crush their dreams, but that's no reason to consider suicide. And having an editor look at your piece may not be a bad idea either.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Proust and the Subjective Nature of Art

I started reading Proust's In Search of Lost Time (Volume 1), but I put it down after seventy-nine pages for Haddawy's translation of The Arabian Nights. Proust's classic, unlike the Arab classic, didn't make my heart beat heavier, it didn't make my eyes dilate nor did it increase my pulse rate. 

But this reminded of the subjective nature of art. Nabokov opined that, "The first half [of In Search of Lost Time] is the fourth-greatest masterpiece of 20th-century prose." And it appears that Martin Amis would agree with Nabokov, but Amis couldn't get through Nabokov's Adawhich I found enthralling. 

And reading Proust reminded me of an email I got six years ago from Debbie Carter, an agent with Muse Literary Management. Debbie wrote after reading a bit of the MS for Katie, "You have a very appealing style and [sic] I liked the writing’s sense of fun but [sic] I found the plot too jumpy."

Saturday, July 9, 2016

New (Poetry) Books

After over five years in the making, my two poetry books are finally "done" and are available for the Kindle and Kindle Android and Apple apps. 

If you love New York and appreciate the poetry of Frederick Seidel, Bukowski and Nabokov, you may relish New York, NY and The Poet

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

WIRED TO CREATE: 10 Things Great Writers Do Differently

I often see the Epoch Times around Manhattan, but I never thought to read the free independent newspaper instead of or in addition to the amNY. But intriguing excerpts were texted to me from Linda Wiegenfeld’s review of  Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind from the June 17-23, 2016 Art’s & Style section. The authors, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, related “10 Things Great Artists, Writers, and Innovators Do Differently.”

Here are six habits that resonated with me from Wiegenfeld’s review:

1. Passion

Creative people have passion for their work, which helps them feel motivated and inspired. Without this passion, they would soon lose interest when faced with a difficult task.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” —Steve Jobs

2. Solitude

Creative people enjoy solitude because it lets them slow down long enough to hear their own ideas. Then they can take time to reflect and make new connections. Being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely.

“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” —Henry David Thoreau

3. Intuition

Creative people listen to that inner voice, that gut feeling, which we all have. Creative people are able to tap into their intuition, a form of unconscious reasoning. 

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” —Albert Einstein

4. Open to New Experiences

Creative people want to broaden their horizons so they can make connections in a new way. Curiosity replaces fear of the unknown, allowing more possibilities to exist for innovative thinking.

According to the authors, “Leonardo da Vinci, the renaissance man, tried his hand at painting, sculpting, architecture, math, inventing, music, anatomy, cartography, botany, writing, and more.”

5. Sensitivity

Highly creative people often have an unusual depth of feeling. They often pick up on the little things in the environment that others miss. They engage in life with greater depth than others.

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.” —Pearl S. Buck

6. Turning Adversity Into Advantage

People who experience traumatic events often strive to make sense of their emotional state. Creativity can become a positive coping mechanism after a difficult experience. 

“An artist must be nourished by his passions and by his despairs.” —Francis Bacon

Monday, June 13, 2016

How An Aesthete Documents His Aesthetics

Walter Pater writes in the preface to The Renaissance Studies in Art and Poetry that “To define beauty [...] is the aim of the true student of aesthetics.” 

“What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a correct abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects.”

That one should ask questions like “What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me? What effect does it really produce on me? How is my nature modified by its presence, and under its influence? [...] one must realize such primary data for one’s self, or not at all.”

“The aesthetic critic, then, regards all objects [...], all works of art, and the fairer forms of nature and human life, as powers or forces producing pleasurable sensations [...].” 

The aesthete should strive “[...] to indicate what the source of the impression is, and under what conditions it is experienced. His end is reached when he had disengaged that virtue, and noted it, as a chemist notes some nature element [...]”

So the next time you hear a piece like Treuting’s “Extremes” (2009), see a piece like Venus Callipyge, read a piece like Nabokov’s “Lilith” and\or bite into a Burger Joint well-down cheeseburger with the works, note like a chemist the effect it has on you, how you’re being moved, how your nature is being modified and the pleasurable sensations being produced. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Problem Solved in a Flash

I was walking towards a building this morning trying to think of good way to describe it in writing but I drew a blank. However, while I was sitting on a wooden bench after having a banana for lunch a clear description of the building flashed into my mind. 

This evening, while I was looking for a reference that Nassim Taleb made about Balzac's Lost Illusions, I stumbled upon this excerpt that I had highlighted in The Black Swan back in 2007.

Furthermore, we think that if, say, two variables are causally linked, then a steady input in one variable should always yield a result in the other one. Our emotional apparatus is designed for linear causality. For instance, if you study every day, you expect to learn something in proportion to your studies. If you feel that you are not going anywhere, your emotions will cause you to become demoralized. But modern reality rarely gives us the privilege of a satisfying, linear, positive progression: you may think about a problem for a year and learn nothing; then, unless you are disheartened by the emptiness of the results and give up, something will come to you in a flash.

Friday, March 25, 2016

James Franco's Rigorous Work Ethic

I've given a number of mentees and colleagues copies of Sam Anderson's "The James Franco Project" which was a 2010 New York magazine profile on the polymath, because I was impressed by Franco's uncompromising work ethic. Here are some highlights from the piece:

He’s just flown back from Berlin this afternoon, he says, and he has a 35-page paper due tomorrow. Next weekend he has to shoot a student film, because in two weeks he’ll be flying out to Salt Lake City to start acting in a movie called 127 Hours

Revisions are due soon on his book of short stories, which will be published in October by Scribner. He’s trying to nail down the details of an art show that will be based, somehow, on his recent performance on the soap opera General Hospital. Also, he has class every day, which—since he’s enrolled in four graduate programs at once—requires commuting among Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, Morningside Heights, and occasionally North Carolina.

He persuaded his advisers [at UCLA] to let him exceed the maximum course load, then proceeded to take 62 credits a quarter, roughly three times the normal limit. When he had to work—to fly to San Francisco, for instance, to film Milk—he’d ask classmates to record lectures for him, then listen to them at night in his trailer. He graduated in two years with a degree in English and a GPA over 3.5. He wrote a novel as his honors thesis.

As soon as Franco finished at UCLA, he moved to New York and enrolled in four of them: NYU for filmmaking, Columbia for fiction writing, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and—just for good measure—a low-residency poetry program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. This fall, at 32, before he’s even done with all of these, he’ll be starting at Yale, for a Ph.D. in English, and also at the Rhode Island School of Design.

According to everyone I spoke with, Franco has an unusually high metabolism for productivity. He seems to suffer, or to benefit, from the opposite of ADHD: a superhuman ability to focus that allows him to shuttle quickly between projects and to read happily in the midst of chaos. He hates wasting time—a category that includes, for him, sleeping. (He’ll get a few hours a night, then survive on catnaps, which he can fall into at any second, sometimes even in the middle of a conversation.) He doesn’t drink or smoke or—despite his convincingness in Pineapple Express—do drugs. He’s engineered his life so he can spend all his time either making or learning about art. 

Vince Jolivette, Franco’s roommate and general right-hand man (he runs Franco’s production company and plays bit parts in many of his films), met Franco in acting class in 1996. “Our teacher made us rehearse at least once a day outside of class,” he told me. “James would get eight or nine rehearsals. Everyone else would do, at most, one. If we didn’t rehearse, or if I had to cancel, he’d be pissed.”

According to his mother, Betsy, Franco has been this way since he was born. In kindergarten, he wouldn’t just build regular little block towers—he’d build structures that used every single block in the playroom. At night, he would organize his Star Wars toys before he slept. When Franco was 4 years old, a friend of the family died. Betsy gave him the standard Mortality Talk: no longer with us, just a part of life—yes, but hopefully not for a very long time. Little James burst into tears. He was inconsolable. Eventually, he managed to choke out, between sobs, “But I don’t want to die! I have so much to do!”

One of Franco’s most serious productivity advantages is his personal assistant, Dana Morgan. “I tease him when people say, ‘How do you do it?’ ” she tells me. “ ‘You don’t! You do all the things they know about, but you don’t do the normal human-being things.’ ” Morgan [...] makes sure he wakes up, gets dressed, eats. “I guarantee you he would not eat unless I fed him.” 

And here are some excerpts from Rolling Stones' 2016 cover story "The Mystery of James Franco: Inside His Manic Days and Sleepless Nights" (I feel compelled to warn that the reference to "G_d's p_ssy" by Seth Rogan and Franco is possibly the absolute worst form of blasphemy I've ever heard!):

The Cranston fight in Why Him? involves a ton of choreography performed by stunt doubles, which translates to a ton of sitting around for Franco. Since he hates wasting time, the result is an absurd tableau: As the stuntmen scuffle right in front of him, he sits cross-legged in a canvas folding chair, calmly sips coffee and reads not one but two different paperbacks at once – a Jackson Pollock biography and Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Franco takes in several pages from one, then switches to the other, paying no mind to the cacophony mere feet away. "On comedies, usually everybody's fucking around between takes, but that's not James' process," Hamburg says. "He's making use of every single moment. The other day he was in hair and makeup, typing on a laptop. I said, 'What are you doing, writing a novel?' He said, 'Yep.' And he actually was!"

In all my conversations with Franco, he seemed locked in – fully present to what I was saying, pressing me for clarification and nuance even when it was small talk. Other collaborators attest to his powers of concentration amid the feverish multitasking [...]"Other producers and directors would praise the talent in one breath and then tell you a story about him falling asleep between camera setups with some annotated copy of a Faulkner novel in his lap. But then he came to work, and he had both of his characters surrounded. He didn't let slip a line or a gesture."

If you're having trouble completing your projects you may want to use Franco's work ethic as motivation to sleep less, work longer but smarter too (i.e., Don't waste time. e.g., You can read while you're waiting on line at Trader Joe's.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Henry Miller’s 12 Commandments for Writers

My Desk Circa 2010

Approximately six years ago a black hardcover library copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (above near upper left hand corner) was stolen from my "desk". 

In the lower right hand corner is a stack of manuscripts for, Yes Dear!, a children's book that I wrote that were waiting to be mailed. The book was never published, but an eerily similar book, Yes Day!, was published. 

Last Tuesday I left my tattered and copious notes filled copy of Miller's Plexus in the bathroom of the same establishment in Manhattan. I was planning to add additional points from Plexus to the second edition of The Allure of Nymphets. However, the novel was gone when I returned the next morning. The janitor said that he saw Plexus, but that he had left it in the john.

I ordered a non-Prime used copy from Amazon\Free States Books today and until it arrives I will benefit from Miller’s 12 Commandments for Writers:

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring."

3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!

5. When you can't create you can work.

6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

7. Keep human! See people, go places [...].

8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.

9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day.

10. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

11. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

12. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Inspiring Films for Writers?

Something in the Air (2012)

I did a post on how The Tenants, the novel and the film, can be inspiring for writers. And I would add that, for artists and for creative types in general, Something in the Air (2012) [French: Apr├Ęs mai] is just as inspiring. The inspirational key appears to be that both films actually show that artists creating and discussing the strife that accompanies the push to create. 

In The Tenants, Lester and Bill are repeatedly shown typing while struggling to complete their novels. And in Something in the Air, Gilles is regularly shown painting, drawing and reading.
However, I haven't been able to find any other films with artists as the protagonists that are actually shown creating anything i.e., that are inspiring. A far third on my list would be La belle Noiseuse (1991) which is about Frenhofer, a former famous painter, who restarts a neglected project after discovering an exhilarating younger muse. But that's about it.

What films have you found to be inspiring?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Undo Button Inventor(s) for the Nobel Prize

I'm convinced that the inventor(s) of the Undo button should receive a Nobel Prize. Can you imagine how much pain, sorrow and frustration the God given Undo button has prevented for writers? 

Join me in starting a petition to have the name(s) of the inventor(s) be nominated for the prestigious award. In the meantime, here's an excerpt from Undo's Wikipedia entry:


The Xerox PARC Bravo text editor had an Undo command in 1974.[1] Behavioral Issues in the Use of Interactive Systems, a 1976 research report by Lance A. Miller and John C. Thomas of IBM, noted that "It would be quite useful to permit users to 'take back' at least the immediately preceding command (by issuing some special 'undo' command)."[2] The programmers at the Xerox PARC research center assigned the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Z to the undo command, which became a crucial feature of text editors and word processors in the personal computer era.[3]
Multi-level undo commands were introduced in the 1980s, allowing the users to take back a series of actions, not just the most recent one.[3] AtariWriter, a word-processing application introduced in 1982, featured undo. NewWord, another word-processing program released by NewStar in 1984, had an unerase command.[3] IBM's VisiWord also had an undelete command.