Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sad addendum...

Alfred Knopf died recently apparently. :(

My thoughts on the responsibility of the publishing industry to change.

Jaysus. I just read the NY Mag article written back in Sept about the state of the publishing industry for the first time. Don't know how I missed it before, although I was dealing with a lot. Since then, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Scary.

I have some thoughts about this based upon the little I know about the industry. It seems to me that as a business model, it is just FLAWED. It's a mistake to take something like publishing - which originated originally to create "art" back in the day - and try to make it into a big business playing by the rules of capitalism. It's not a money-making venture, not at least, if you have the values of creating quality work in mind. Think about the idea of getting art galleries to become huge conglomerates, feeding artists big bucks and asking them to churn out 5 mediocre pieces of art per year or something, and then hoping that those pieces will sell big and return on your investment. Simply not possible. The creation of quality literature does not mesh well with your big business plan of pumping 7 figure advances into one dude and leaving everybody else out to flounder. It doesn't foster the creation of writers. It certainly doesn't help foster a relationship between writers and editors and publishers. So what happens when the Updikes and the McCarthys of our generation die? Who's left to replace them as the writers of our time? Nobody. Why? Because literary fiction is dying a slow death. The moral being sold is simple: write us the next big blockbuster shitty hit, and write it fast, otherwise don't bother. Literary fictionists need not apply.

This, is of course, a catch-22 in many ways as well. Readers dictate what's being sold (because publishers subscribe to the capitlist nature of business), and right now readers want fast-paced commercial fiction of whatever milieu happens to be hip at the moment. Publishers cater to this in order to keep sales up, and churn out more and more, losing big on gambles sometimes, but also making it big. In the meanwhile pushing out the guys who are steady and quiet and producing books with more modest sales. On the other hand though, the publishing industry holds sway over what is being produced and marketed to readers. They make certain types of literature available to people. They put it in the front display. They tell people what they should be excited about and they encourage people to want and expect the crap they often read.

I don't know about other writers, but the few I know all really seem to love and appreciate quality fiction. Yes, we all want to make it in, of course, and the current model seems like well, you have a shot at making it BIG, maybe, though who or what seems entirely a crapshoot (nobody knows. How do you know if you're going to be the next Stephenie Meyer? Quality of writing, content, genre - it all seems completely random). But on the other hand, we all equally lament the fact that the industry as it stands has seem to have lost its purpose. When I read this article, I thought, how nice, once upon a time, publishers existed because they cared about literature. Because they wanted to help great writers contribue something to society. They did it because it was important. Now it's near impossible to hold onto that mentality and still turn a profit it seems. There's SO MUCH on the bookshelves, and yes, as a lover of books I think that's nice. But on the other hand, I wonder how much of it is actually good. And how do I FIND the good stuff?

I kinda feel like the bubble is bursting here. For everyone in the world, publishing included. I hope that maybe this forces people to look hard again what the values of such an industry exists for. As a low-profit margin industry, I think it's a fallacy to be caught up in blockbusters that exist for half a NY minute. There's no way around being low-profit, then you might as well reinvent your business model to achieve the original purpose of publishing as it was in its purist form.

Easier said then done, I know. And it's already happened, so I don't see how it can be undone. As a writer, of course I love this idea that I can maybe make some dream advance of 7 figures (ha) and make it my career. But that's not why I got into it. And so, as a reader, I'd ask - no, PLEAD - with the industry to change the way it operates. I'm afraid that the way it's going, it's erasing literature as we know it. And pretty soon, we're going to be Hollywood in print, where everyone just awaits the next Adam Sandler movie and forgets that once upon a time, people went to the movies because it was an art form.

I don't know if that makes sense. It's just that the fate of publishing I think is bigger than just about a capital venture. It's about the masses. It's about the art we put out there. It's about what will endure, 100 years after we're gone? If Twilight is hailed as the best of our century, I might as well quit now. I got into this mess because literature is art. And I suspect that, for a lot of editors and agents, they did too. But the business model of publishing is killing that, and I just can't stand to see that happen.

Also: boycott the Kindle. That's just book blasphemy.

Sensory overload

I just finished Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for class. Jesus.

First of all, I started this book all thinking it was this fictional novel, until I read the back flap and saw it was classified as nonfiction/journalism. Um. Really? I think it's supposedly based on real events, but it's so wild that I don't see how this is JOURNALISM... I don't KNOW....

The only other thing I can say is that while the book was really funny at times, overall, the consistent barrage of sensory overload and craziness was hard to stomach, even for only 200 pages. I mean I guess that's the point, given that it's a book about an INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF DRUGS but omg, by the time I got to page 100, reading the book was making me anxious. I was fine with the first half, but the more I read, the more tense I became, and not in a good way, but in a omg, this is just too much kind of way. Now I need to go like.. meditate to calm my nerves. That book itself was like a drug trip.

Um yeah. That's all. Geez.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Update on the WiP.

My new strategy is: pound out shitty, completely unfleshed out, unstyled scenes. In almost screenplay style. Just to get general dialogue, location and action down so I know what the hell is going on in my novel. I figure the sooner I have a collection of scenes to work with, the sooner I can go back, piece them together skillfully, and then rewrite them with the tone and attention to detail I usually give my writing.

No, I'm not adding any of this to my word count. I don't think this kind of crap deserves to be in the word count. Word count only counts my nice, thoughtful sequential chapter writing.

The thing is, I'm not a great outliner for creative writing. I rarely know exactly what's going to happen when or where until I'm about to write it. So I pretty much write on the fly and figure it out as I go along.

The problem with this is that when I'm working with three different interwoven points in time, it's really hard to put it together nicely. It's like a puzzle to me, the placement and juxtaposition of a backstory with a present story. And I can't do it when I don't know all the pieces I'm working with.

I'm also leaving out a HUGE element of uncanniness that I mean to insert at some point.

Things I'm trying to consciously avoid doing:
- Use adverbs
- Use my commas to control people's breathing.

God, I'm churning out absolute shit here, but it's the only way I know how this story turns out. Trying to let loose.


Wow, that exercise really worked. 3500 "shit" words. I wrote out an entire line of my story (sort of), and honestly, it broke my heart so much, I cried while writing it. Hahahhaa. Yay!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How romantic.

PaperCuts just posted this: Customizable erotic novels! Woohoo!!!!

Free books? All over that.

I just saw this listing in DailyCandy:

You or the Invention of Memory
A delusional narrator relays his story in one long, obsessive love letter to a woman addressed only as “you.”
Why: For the honorable, uber-modern, and interactive publicity campaign called The New You Project.
When: Live reading, Sun., 7 p.m.
Where: KGB Bar, 85 E. 4th St., b/t Second & Third Aves.

Intrigued, I hopped over to the link. And, if you email the publicist between now and Vday, she'll send you a free book! Dude, I emailed her! I want to read a free book!

Also, I'm interested to see how this campaign works out. The publicist in me wants to know how a word of mouth campaign pans out for this book. So my interest in this is definitely two-fold.

I hope she sends me a book!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Blue is the color people turn in the dark.

Okay, just finished Edinburgh.

This book is really beautiful and lyrical, in a way I didn't expect. I'm glancing over the back of the book now, and the word "arresting" from a review catches my eye. It's an appropriate assessment, I think. The language is mesmerizing, washes over you. I think it's appropriate that there's an entire section called "Blue", that there is an entire metaphor to be had about the color, that the cover is blue, because the feeling that came across me as I read this book was this feeling of being washed in a deep blue. I don't know what that means, but sometimes I feel and think and sense in colors, and this book was blue - not in the sense of "being sad" but just the hue, if that makes any sense at all.

This book is not an easy read. The content is difficult, makes one squirm. Issues of pedophilia and self-mutilation and suicide are dealt with earnestly, starkly, to a point where it sits uneasily with you. And yet, the story is told with such a compelling voice that you can't help but want to keep reading. I felt urged to go on, not in the way you want to watch a trainwreck, but in the way you want to hear the story of a trainwreck, gory details and all. Fee's story, and his telling of it, never made me feel overly sentimental or grief or anything particularly heartwrenching in a big way. And what I mean by that is that it was never cathartic sort of deep aching that was released with tears. Instead it is subtle, quiet, in the way it affects you. It's so intesnely horrifying that you, like Fee, feel almost detached from it, aware only of an uneasiness that spreads through your stomach. I squirmed a lot reading this book, felt traumatized from the very beginning. But maybe that's what's great about it. You live the trauma. You want that resolution.

The thing about this book is that, well, there is no resolution. Just like kids who live with this kinda thing in real life, there is no easy fix. You get to the end, and it's not that it feels unfulfilling - it's where it should be - but there's no ending with a shiny bow at the end. You take a deep breath and you move on. This is the best there is for now. I'm not sure how I feel about the ending to be honest - I'm still trying to process it and understand it. But it is what it is, and I accept it as the only way it could be.

The other thing I enjoyed about the book, especially in the earlier sections, was its love of music. As a person who, once upon a time, sang in a classical choir, was voice trained, and loves music, I thought the love affair with music and the power one's voice can have, was stunning and accurate, very fresh in paralleling a boy's sadness and insecurity and guilt.

I had a few issues here and there with Chee's choices. For one, I felt that Warden's section in his voice felt too similar to Fee's. There was little differentiation. I mean, I love Chee's voice, but once teenage Warden appears, it becomes apparent to me that this is Chee's voice, not his characters. I was fine with the voice being Fee's - an eccentric boy who has turned into a thoughtful man - but for Warden I wanted something different. It didn't sit well with me that he sounded too mature for his years, even if he has all that history and confusion. It didn't seem right.

Another issue (and forgive me if this offends anyone, as it's not my intention) I had was that it seemed a bit overloaded on the homosexuality in almost every boy that appears. I mean, I understand that Fee's world is surrounded by confused boys who have been molested (or not), but it began to seem strange to me that every boy Fee encountered in his life pretty much was or became gay. Or that even Warden himself would turn out to be gay. It seemed a strange coincidence to me that, especially in Warden's case, asked too much of me. This affinity Warden immediately feels for Fee (and vice versa) asked me to set aside too much. I can buy they end up in the same school, but this recognition of souls immediately? I don't know. It's not that I mind that the book was filled with mostly homosexual boys and men trying to deal with their issues, but it also seemed... easy, for lack of a better word. Too pat.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book quite a bit and I couldn't put it down. It's one of those books that should be enjoyed slowly and yet I found myself speeding through it (though it took me much longer than a book of 200+ pages would normally take me to read), despite its dense pages. At times I went back and reread certain portions of his text to absorb his words. I'm sure I missed a few good ones because I was going through it too fast (as I'm prone to do), but even then, there were so many passages I tabbed because they caught me. So here they are:

Tammamo, I decide, is mightier. For the man she loves lived to die a natural death, and the Greeks always kill the mortals they love, through design or accident. None of these gods would renounce their godhood.
--[pg. 25, Edinburgh]

I see as I watch, her comparison of our voices is a false one: a woman's voice is different, so very different, and hers, ridged by vibrato, cuts like a serrated blade, where we boys stab like swords - our voices tremble not at all. Knowledge, specifically knowledge of passion, makes you shake, apparently. As you answer for it before God, singing for your short, beautiful life to inch forward even by another minute. Even in the agony of loss is passion, is love, and measured against death this sort of pain is a feast, also, and requires a knife to carve it.
--[pg. 53, Edinburgh]

Under his instructions, I am to speak with him when I arrive, after school at four, and when I leave, at six. At no other time, unless, of course, he comes to find me. But these restrictions leave me feeling free inside the silence, which, inside his house, is as thick as the drapes that protect his dark house from the light that would bleach the color from the chairs and yellow all the books. Even in their pristine cases. The relief of nothing to say. I'd always prized silence for being the absence of other noises. In this house I come to see how one can prize silence for being articulate, as well.
--[pg. 81, Edinburgh]

Sex is asking someone to touch you where your skin is thinnest.
--[pg. 110, Edinburgh]

Hate is love on fire, set out to burn like a flare on the side of the road. It says, stop here. Something terrible has happened. Envy is like, the skin you're in burns. And the salve is someone else's skin.
--[pg. 152, Edinburgh]

Blue. Blue because it's the color people turn in the dark. Because it's the color of the sky, of the center of the flame, of a diamond hit by an X ray. Blue is the knife edge of lightning. Blue is the color, a rose grower tells you, that a rose never reaches.
--[pg. 191, Edinburgh]

Metal is like love, it takes its temperature from touch.
--[pg. 202, Edinburgh]

There were a lot of other passages that I thought were great, or observations, or metaphors, or turns of phrases, but I can't exactly go around typing out the whole book... In any case, I think this is a terrific read, if not exactly a heartwarming pick me up. It's a thoughtful book. And it makes me want to meet Alexander Chee, because he seems like a thoughtful kind of person.

Also, something else I wanted to mention (I keep thinking of more things!) - I really appreciated how Fee's being half-Korean in this story wasn't an overarching THEME in his book. Like, it was but only as it related to Fee himself and the main story he was telling. It's so refreshing to see a protagonist who is Asian (or half, rather) because he is and not because this is some Asian American/Hapa identity story. It was woven in effortlessly, and was an integral part of who Fee is as a person and how he views the world and the things he thinks about, but it was never a political issue in it of itself. As an Asian writer who is always trying to avoid becoming Amy Tan, I think that is so freaking AWESOME.

One last thing that just occurred to me as I looked over the cover. The cover shows the word "EDIN" and then "BURGH" typeset slightly below it. Which then made me think about it. And how really clever it is. Edin-burgh = Eden Burrow. Maybe I'm reading too much into it (but given Chee's consistent interest in words and wordplay, I don't think I am), but take that with all the underground tunnels and digging. And the fall from innocence. And the religious singing (Kyrie eleison). What an inherently clever little title that is so freaking perfect it actually floors me. I could never have come up with this. And of course, it gives the whole thing about tunnels that much more weight. Brilliant.

Okay I'm done. I'm off to google Alexander Chee. =D

A nice little writer's moment.

I'm reading Alexander Chee's Edinburgh, courtesy of Moonie, who lent me her copy since I couldn't find it in Barnes. I stayed up late last night reading about 2/3 of it, and will be done before the day's end, with things to say about it and passages to quote. In the mean time, I thought this was a neat little writerly meta moment:

At the low edge of the sky, a bright smear. The slow burning, light pealing like struck bells at the speed of its passing. A bright tear in the night's dark belly.

Did you ever notice, I tell Alyssa, shortly before we leave the comet's company. How tear, as in to cry, and tear, as into rip or pull, how they're spelled the same? You could write them and someone reading would not know if you were crying or separating.

You'd know, she tells me. You would know.
--[pgs. 146-147, Edinburgh]

Interesting because after I read that, I went back to the first paragraph and re-examined the sentence, and realized I couldn't tell which tear he meant. It struck me. What a neat little moment, where Chee steps in and makes you notice his writing for a second, makes you think twice about what you thought you knew about what he was describing, and how the imagery is so different for both, and yet a little bit of both.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Understated prose

I finished Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion for class a couple days ago. The only thing I've read of Didion before this was A Year of Magical Thinking, which I loved. Of course, knowing all of that, I was very curious to find out what kind of fiction writer she is.

Play It As It Lays is really accessible. Written with deceptively simple, sparse prose, it was a quick read. But I must say, the detached way it deals with some of the nitty gritty was simply cringe-worthy. But in a good way.

For instance, there's a scene where the protagonist gets an abortion. It's done in this horrible, detached way, where Maria is trying to focus on other things, other thoughts and this "scraping" noise and the doctor says something like, "Don't scream, Maria, people will hear you, it's not that bad". You don't even get from the narrator (a 3rd person close) that she's screaming, so that kind of outside detail totally hits you. In fact, any evidence of emotion is never disclosed by the third person narration, even though it very well could. Which struck me as interesting.

The depiction of the abortion made me, as a woman, cringe. I'm very strongly pro-choice, but this idea of a forced abortion was something that I could very easily identify with as being a traumatic experience. That was one of the hardest scenes to get through for me. Though, honestly, there's a ton of sections that are easy to read but HARD to get through if you know what I mean. I sometimes couldn't bear it. Not because it was over the top painful, but because it was so understated that it made me squirm, knowing what lay beneath.

The near-ending is sad. So sad, in fact, that my professor, who was reading it out loud to us today in class, teared up and got all choked up. But again, it's understated, and that's what makes it so powerful.

I enjoy Didion's prose, I really do. I wasn't sure how I'd like this book since stories about starlets living in the whole sex and drugs industry isn't really my thing. But Didion somehow makes it accessible and gritty while still maintaining a sense of sad beauty.

I liked this.

A book to revisit much later.

I just finished The Maytrees, Annie Dillard's supposed last novel. (Right under the midnight mark!) I started it back in January before I went back to NY and then didn't finish it for a long time. In fact, I stopped right around when the novel takes a turn, so you could say I read it in two separate parts.

The book is slow, thoughtful, beautiful. I sometimes have trouble with books written the way Dillard has written hers - there is a lot of detail and beautiful abstraction that I don't quite grasp, mostly because I'm used to speeding through my books without taking time to digest individual sentences. However, I found that once I slowed down, I began to appreciate the book a lot more. This book is actually extremely touching and poignant, in a very quiet, understated way. And (and tell me what it is about these New England writers that they're able to do this so well!) the whole thing felt like a beautiful trip to the seaside, with the remorse that goes with it when the sun finally gives way to night.

The book is about love and life. No, really it is. The quietness of the book balances well with the scope of it. The interesting thing to me is that I understood the earlier sections of the book better, because they were things I could relate to. But towards the end, as we get to the twilight of their years, I found myself more and more lost - not that the writing became confusing or anything - but that the metaphors and descriptions used became more and more unfamiliar to me. And I suspect that these are themes that, because I can only imagine at, and have barely thought about myself, don't touch me nearly as deeply, and so the more abstract moments are harder for me to connect with. I do think this is a book I'll want to revisit in a few years, when I'm older perhaps.

I had a bit of trouble reconciling that the major dramatic event of the husband running off with the friend, was dealt with in such a quiet manner, and ultimately forgiven easily. But I also suspect that this is because in my short short life, I cannot fathom the kind of peace one might be able to develop over 20 years. While the angry me wanted some sort of justice met, it seemed appropriate that this love was complex enough that it allowed for quiet forgiveness. And I can only hope that I mature in such a graceful way.

There are quite a few passages I read that I felt were worth noting - however, in my first half of reading, I didn't have flags with me (and I don't write or dogear my books), so now I've forgotten. But a few from the second half:

What gave adults the cheer to tolerate their hypocrisy? Even his mother praised generosity and hoarded; she preached industry and barely worked. Perhaps every generation passes to the next, to hand down to yet more children, an untouched trunk of virtues. The adults describe the trunk's contents to the young and never open it.
--[pg. 96, The Maytrees]

Early with Lou , then with Deary, and again now, he returned to this: Why can love, love apparently absolute, recur? And recur? Why does love feel it is - know for certain it is - eternal and absolute, every time?
--[pg. 127, The Maytrees]

And forgiveness had nothing to do with it. They were both whole people, he and Lou. Whole old people. At their age forgiveness could be child's play if you knew the ropes, and so could be the nod that accepted forgiveness of course and moved on. Young, he would have thought any end, even dying, beat being forgiven, let alone by a woman, and beat asking for help, too, let alone asking the wife he left for help. Now he and Lou - if Lou was like Pete, whom he more wronged - could meet as equals. His asking would honor her goodness. His willingness to ask was part of what he now knew best: to think well of those you have wronged, let alone those who have wronged you. He hoped Lou's thinking had brought her there, too. He really hoped. Just till Deary died.
--[pg. 152, The Maytrees]

I did quite enjoy this book and would recommend it for people who can be patient and slowly absorb the richness of this book. I definitely want to revisit it again at a later point too, when hopefully some of the later text will resonate with me stronger.

Oh wait. I found a couple passages from the earlier part of the book I want to add:

He fell in love with Lou again and again. Walking, he held her hand. She seemed, then and now, to roll or float over the world evenly, acting and giving and taking, never accelerating, never slowing, wearing a slip of red or blue scarf. Her mental energy and endurance matched his. She neither competed nor rebelled. Her freedom strengthened him, as did her immeasurable reserve. Often she seemed the elder. She opened their house to everyone. Actively, she accepted what came to her, like a well-sailed sloop with sea room. Her face was an organ of silence. That he did not possess her childhood drove him wild. Who was this imposter she sang with in college - how dare he?

Their intimacy flooded. Love like a tide either advances or retreats, Maytree opined into a recent notebook. Their awarenesses rode waves paired like outriggers. Maytree thought Plato wrong: physical senses and wordless realms neither diverge or oppose; they meet as nearest neighbors in the darkness of personality and embrace.
--[pg. 46, The Maytrees]

-Until you have a baby, her mohter had said, you don't know what love is! Her mother volunteered this on the day of Lou's one and only wedding. -Oh, Lou wanted to say, go soak your head. After Lou brought forth Petie, she at once recalled her mother's words, forgave, and endorsed them. That her mother was so often right no longer irked her. As she would never irk Petie, now joyful in her arms. He sucked her nose. Later his pointy fingers made faces with her face. She never put him down. She must feel his skin on her, feel his cranium in her arm's crook, his belly on her belly, and smell his breath, his scalp, etc., etc. He obviously felt the same way. They were pieces of each other foully parted. When they had to separate, she took ever-deeper breaths as if air had no use. Her sternum and her ventral torso and arms ached. Maytree had some horseshoe magnets in the kitchen. She gave each a wrench to hold.
--[pg. 49, The Maytrees]

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How age changes your perspective...

I just finished reading The Tower Treasure which is the first in the classic Hardy Boys series. It was tons of fun to read (for class), but I have to say:

1. I don't remember this stuff being so cheesy/campy. I guess it's like watching the Brady Bunch. It's all gosh darnit, swell.

2. The Hardy brothers get along a little too well. Don't boys like.. fight or something?

3. I love the depiction of dating. They think some girl is awesome and they "date her a lot" and that's about it. By the way they describe it, you'd think they were just friends hanging out. Where's the romance? The spark? The boys treat the girls the way I treat... well... boys I'm only sort of friends with!

4. The mysteries state the obvious. I guess that's good for the kids reading, but for me I was like um.. is it that hard?

5. They don't really seem to go to school at all. Their dad even wrote them a note to excuse them from homework since they were solving mysteries!

6. I love how the depiction of family life is so ... traditional. Dad works, Mom makes picnic sandwiches...

7. I always thought the Hardy boys were like... 13. But they're actually like 18!

8. Women are depicted so funnily. One lady faints and needs smelling salts. I seriously never understood the whole fainting stereotype with women. How many women do you actually know who have actually fainted from some shocking bit of news?

That being said, it's terrific fun. Next I get to read Nancy Drew!

So I'm just not a fan of beat...

After last semester's debacle with Kerouac's Visions of Cody which turned me off from Kerouac FOREVER, I just read Howl for one of my other classes. I know it's like a masterpiece or whatever, and everyone loves it. But seriously? I've decided that I JUST DON'T LIKE BEAT GENERATION STUFF. I'm sorry. I just don't.

I know it's a work of poetry, and it's a tiny little book, but it's a BOOK! And therefore I feel allowed to put it on this list. =P Even if I don't appreciate it.