“Save the Blogs!” Progress Report

On April 23, the Save the Blogs Campaign turned a new corner. It decided to jump the shark and then jump it again. It decided that there were no limits to the number of times that a shark could be jumped over. Because, quite frankly, in Terre Haute, sharks were hard to find, while maggots were in plentiful supply.

Here is a list of notable developments over the past few weeks:

*I’m in Terre Haute, Motherfucker posted a disturbing JPEG of Richard Schickel in the nude. Geeks are currently attempting to confirm whether the dick in question matches up with Schickel’s.
*Maggot, Proud Maggot cut its staff of contributors to the bone. The one man contributing to the blog has been sacked and has been replaced with a logarithm fond of scratching its belly. There are no longer any human contributors at MPM.
*The Save the Blogs campaign has discovered YouTube five years after everybody else has. Great plans are afoot.
*Fan fiction involving Shannon Byrne, maggots and a naughty episode involving thermal underwear has been uploaded to Usenet.
*The Indiana State University has initiated a special journalism class concerning car parts. Dan Wickett is scheduled to guest lecture in November.

We will report more pedantic episodes as they come in. We never leave the house.

The “Waiting for the Phone Guy” Roundup

Roundup

  • If cursory glances at MSNBC headline tickers on the flight over are anything to go by, the Judeo-Christian world seems to be up in arms with Rosie O’Donnell and Cindy Sheehan. Given the relatively ridiculous nature of both figures, I hope you’ll pardon my own similarly pedantic concerns with Giants pitcher Armando Benitez, who deserves a serious reaming for last night’s abysmal performance. The man blew a potential twelfth inning victory over the Mets by serving up not one, but two balks. I watched this game, wondering if I might be easily converted from the Giants to the Mets through this rather uncanny propinquity of two teams playing for two towns I’m currently more or less in between. Alas, I learned that a Giants partisanship is a difficult personal persuasion to shake. The median arrogance expressed by certain Mets players, which outdid even Barry Bonds’ strut and swagger, dissuaded me, as did the Giants’ fantastic field work. If one is to choose a relatively trivial topic to become obsessed with, well then I choose baseball. Bluster from the likes of Rosie O’Donnell is predictably and unfathomably one-note. When one considers that Rosie O’Donnell’s career has essentially been predicated upon a shaky talent for chatting and bluster, one wonders why anyone would pay millions of dollars to provide such “entertainment” to the masses. It’s almost as bad as paying out a few million to a hothead kid who wants to play ball.
  • Carolyn Kellogg cracks the LATBR.
  • The Best Novels You’ve Never Read. My own picks (if we’re talking the last ten years) is Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish and Rupert Thomson’s The Book of Revelation.
  • If you can get past Silverblatt, he’s talked with John Banville.
  • Speaking of literary interview craziness, the Segundo backlog stands at around fourteen, including a special two-parter and all the APE nonsense. And I haven’t even started with BEA. Please bear with me. I sent off the last of about thirty boxes to FedEx yesterday.
  • I guess nobody told Gabriel Garcia Marquez that you can’t go home again.
  • I could care less whether Peter Carey’s Theft is a thinly veiled attack on his wife or not. Shouldn’t the bigger question be whether or not it’s a good book?
  • Lots of Pessl discussion at Callie’s.
  • Also, far too much information for me to sort through. Will try for another roundup later. BEA reports are forthcoming tomorrow!

Attention BEA Bloggers!

I am currently watching a child in Park Slope cry over his Boggle board, while his mother stares into her laptop. Presumably, she’s searching for L. Ron Hubbard. The boy, as far as I can tell, is looking for someone to play Boggle and he’s surrounded by austere and humorless adults, all of them looking into laptops with similar degrees of intensity. (And just as I was preparing to engage the kid, he ran outside, presumably because he’ll have a better response from various automobiles crawling up and down 7th Avenue. Park Slope mothers. While not what a baser life form might call MILF material, you gotta love ‘em.)

Don’t ask what I’m doing in Park Slope right now. I only hope the kid’s interest in words receives greater attention.

A roundup is forthcoming. But if you are a blogger at BEA, please email me your contact information. I’m assembling a master cell phone list. So let me know and I’ll get you on the list. (Incidentally, the email is ed AT edrants.com.)

Howard Junker’s Streetcred

Ladies and gentlemen. I finally met Howard Junker. My last night in San Francisco. Two men. Pabst Blue Ribbon. It doesn’t get any sillier than that.

I am here to tell you that Mr. Junker imbibed Pabst Blue Ribbon with me. How many editors of literary journals would drink PBR? Would Wendy Lesser drink PBR? Or David Remnick? No! But Howard Junker did!

The only reason I was imbibing the stuff was because I am trying to acclimatize to Manhattan cocktail prices. Although it would appear that certain establishments in San Francisco are charging equally ridiculous prices. So perhaps I can return to better ales.

There will be more later. A lengthy post on leaving San Francisco. Another post, if I can find the time, on Richard Cheese and the remarkably dim audience at the Red Devil Lounge. But I suspect that BEA will trump all of this. Bear with me. I am now in transition!

I’d Buy That For a Dollar

[To understand this entry, you must first read this entry. I originally posted this on my own blog, so keep in mind that it’s written from that perspective.]

My dad—briefly discussed in my entry I’m Not Counterculture beneath an excellent photo of Allen Ginsberg—happened to visit my blog Thursday afternoon. He mentioned this when he called at 7pm Thursday night and criticized the entry. He felt it was too personal for the Internet, and that by the end it became muddled and confusing. I thought about what he said all night.

What is writing—fiction or non-fiction, blog entry or not—without confession and revelation? I don’t necessarily mean confessions of past trauma, e.g. A CHILD CALLED IT or A MAN CALLED DAVE. I mean saying, ‘This is what I think about and who I am.’ Should I be a drone and JUST link to other sites, expressing myself by proxy, or should I be explicit? If a piece of writing isn’t to some extent personal, then I believe it’s merit-less, processed like SPIDER-MAN 3 through a billion people and corrupted by financial interests. Processed cheese, inorganic and cow pus-filled. Continue reading →

The Outlaw Vern

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Since there has been some confusion on the subject, and I feel embarrassed that Patrick’s hard work is being attributed to me, please note that this post was authored by the fantastic Patrick Stephenson and NOT, repeat NOT, Edward Champion, who is a literary interloper of the first order. Thank you.]

Outlaw Vern

I feel I should let you in on The Outlaw Vern, an ex-convict film-reviewing genius whose site is here, whose reviews are here. Vern’s site is called THEN FUCK YOU JACK: THE LIFE & ART OF VERN. Vern has one book out, and another in the works. The first is 5 ON THE OUTSIDE, the second is SEAGALOGY, a collection of academic analyses of Steven Seagal films. I interviewed Vern by e-mail in March, for an article I’ve submitted to THE BELIEVER that I hope finds its way from that journal’s e-slush pile into print.

Vern isn’t only my favorite film critic, he’s one of my favorite writers. Everything expository I have to say about him I included in my introduction to the interview I submitted, so I’m duplicating that introduction here. Get ready!

****

“Few good writers come out of prison,” wrote Norman Mailer in his 2003 hodgepodge, THE SPOOKY ART. “Only the best survive to write once they get out.” The Outlaw Vern—ex-convict film critic, champion of Badass Cinema—is among those: the best, the strongest, who not only survived prison but channeled the experience into a creative endeavor. Actually, the Outlaw Vern’s aspirations were inspired, not deadened by prison. After his release in 1999, he turned toward writing as an outlet for his criminality, as a salve to his violent urges, alcoholism, drug habits, etc. Now, having dedicated his life to movie-reviewing (primarily genre films [aka Outlaw Cinema] and Steven Seagal DTV releases), The Outlaw Vern is crime-free and sober.

“As an armed robber and criminal, I was an ‘outlaw’ in the classic sense of the Old West,” wrote Vern in 1999. “Motherfuckers like billy the kid, bonnie and clyde, eddie the splayer, etc. That is NOT what I am about anymore although I do like a good cowboy movie now and then.” — “Now that I’m smarter and especially older,” he continued, explaining how, despite reforming, he has retained his outlaw status, “I am a different type of outlaw in my opinion, which is a man against the system and the status quo… a man against the system of rules that is the English language and sentences.”

During the late ‘90s, Vern described his prison time unprompted. “[This reminds] me of… a few Christmases ago when I was inside,” he wrote of one experience in his first column. “This was WAY before I was clean and sober and I would smoke or shoot anything I could get my hands on. At the time believe it or not some of the screws were under investigation so for almost a month there was virtually no blow or anything going around. This was a vicious drought and everybody was hungry big time. Things were REAL fucking tense in the yard, people getting in fights, arguing, two dudes getting shanked in one day a couple times, people getting nervous, paranoid from withdrawal, and just wanting some kind of buzz.”

“The Cage,” a poem Vern wrote in 1999, also describes his prison life: “Metal bars and ce-ment floors / Heavy locks upon the doors / Spoons are sharpened into knives / Buildings filled with ruined lives / Empty eyes give icy looks / Lifting weights, ignoring books / Angry cons, no-thing to lose / Picking fights with bitter screws / Taken, locked inside a pit / By yourself you cry and sit.” Since then, The Outlaw Vern’s been shrouded in a Pynchonian secrecy, refusing to discuss his past or current life. What does he look like? What, outside of his film-reviewing, does he do for a living? Both mysteries, both apart of the Vern mystique, etc. Like Pynchon, all we have of Vern is his writing. Unlike Thomas Pynchon, Vern’ll submit to the occasional interview. Continue reading →

Excerpts from a 30-year-old diary: Bread Loaf 1977 Part Two


It’s pathetic how little encouragement I need to keep going on. Of course that is also the secret of how modestly-talented writers keep at it in a world where discouragement is far more common. (
Por ejemplo, not three hours ago a certain octogenarian of my acquaintance finished reading A.M. Homes’ recent memoir and felt the need to ask why I could never write a book that good, and I had to bite my tongue rather than attribute my failure to the unfortunate circumstance that I had never been given up for adoption by my birth parents.) Anyway, the concluding part of my 1977 Bread Loaf diary excerpts follows. (For part one, go here.)

First, I want to express deep gratitude to Ed for allowing someone who cannot for the life of him figure out how “more” works in WordPress to post screensful of verbiage on his very impressive piece of digital real estate. Ed, you are the best, and I owe you a ride on the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island.

Thanks so much too, to my fellow guest bloggers; it was really enjoyable to read your posts and I will try to learn something about brevity being the soul of wit.

But not yet:

Sunday, August 21, 1977

11 p.m. I’m a bit paranoid about staying in my room after spotting the mouse last night. I had a hard time falling asleep and now the slightest sound makes me jump. Oh well, I suppose the mice have to live, too.

I’ve been talking in the parlor, by the fire, with Ron Carlson, whose first novel, Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was favorably reviewed in the Times the day of the blackout when there were few copies; but it’s actually selling quite well. He talked about teaching at Hotchkiss and how ideal it is from him and how removed it is from the outside world. I think I might like a job like that, teaching brilliant 11th graders. But he found my stories about LIU interesting.

I met with Tim O’Brien this morning. He didn’t really offer any criticism of my work, which was good. He, of course, didn’t like the kinds of things I like and he tried to convince me to join his side, as it were. Tim said I do what I do very well but I’m capable of writing his kind of stories, filled with characters people can identify with and dealing with big themes like courage.

He was glad I wasn’t very dogmatic about experimental fiction (my philosophy is pretty much live and let live) and he thought it was good that I came to Bread Loaf to get the view of the other side.

We talked in general for a while. He’s 30, a Vietnam veteran (his first book, a war story, If I Die in a Combat Zone, is already taught in colleges) and a doctoral student in government at Harvard (he said he’ll never write his dissertation). Tim told me he makes a living from his writing; I told him that was something I never expected to do, and he said that was good, because with my stuff I sure couldn’t do it.

He said I should be over at Treman Cottage all the time, getting to know the big name writers; that’s why I’m here as a Scholar. I like Tim a lot though I’m not sure his work would interest me; I’ll have to get it.

Today was almost warm, and I enjoyed it. I talked with Alice Rogoff, who’s going to S.F. State for her M.A. in Creative Writing; she’s cute and I enjoyed being with her. I lunched and had dinner with several interesting people, including a woman whose next book will be about her travels to the Soviet Union and an older woman who wrote a young adult novel that Gardner told her is publishable.

Every one of the Contributors takes their conferences much more seriously than I. Kevin met with Meredith and was a bit down from that. As I suspected, most of the people here aren’t and will never be very good writers; Tim confirmed this. But he also said that they’re the nicest people that you’ll ever run across, and that’s true.

I went to a nonfiction panel on doing research and heard Geoffrey Wolff read a moving essay about his father, a con man. The Bread Loaf librarian told me there’s a “new spririt” at the Conference; Sandy and Bob and people like Toni Morrison have changed it from a wild circus of sex and drinking to a quiet place where people discuss and share mutual interests.

Monday, August 22, 1977

I’m alone in the house now, sitting by the crackling fire. Charles estimated that this house and property around it would be worth as much as $30,000 on the open market. It’s strange to be here, lying on this sofa, the breeze from the open door startling my leg.

This week at Bread Loaf has been good for me, I think. Perhaps I haven’t exploited the Conference staff and my position as a scholar to “make connections.” I have barely spoken to John Gardner or Stanley Elkin (who’s dying of multiple sclerosis, like the character in his latest novel) or Mark Strand or Charles Simic (who told me he just got a card from Jon Baumbach in England). And my work hasn’t really been critiqued by anyone.

But still, I’ve taken advantage of other things that Bread Loaf has to offer. The multiplicity of writers, good and bad, published and unpublished, young and old, male and female, has made me aware that I’m certainly not alone. That is both a relief and discomfort.

The relief comes from knowing all these wonderful, sensitive people who are struggling, as I am, to express themselves and to perfect their craft. But the fact that my quest is shared by many makes me feel less unique, and invariably, less special. My voice is my own, true, but there are so many here who are just as good or better than I am that I despair of ever gaining any recognition.

So what if I’ve published 30 stories in literary magazines? Tim O’Brien published a novel when he was younger than me, and the novel was reviewed well and made money and is taught. Still, who is Tim O’Brien? I just passed him on a narrow trail in the woods. He was sitting on a plank over a stream making out with that witty divorced teacher from Plymouth.

Tim is not great; even John Gardner isn’t a great writer, and Tim told me he shared my view on that. But I can’t believe that one has to be great or one fails. If I believe that, I will end up being frustrated and bitter. I will settle for little successes and try to be the best writer of whatever it is that I write that I am capable of being. Probably some people’s dreams of literary stardom have been shattered here; I heard that Gardner told some people to just give up writing.

I never expected to be a superstar, though I’ve wished for it, and while it troubled me an hour ago when the agent Richard Marek told his audience that short story collections are impossible to sell, it was no surprise to me, not even when he said that the stories “must have appeared in The New Yorker, Harpers and Playboy and not in places like the Transatlantic Review.” Ha, that’s my most prestigious publication.

Hilma Wolitzer’s lecture was quite useful to me. She started “late,” at 35, and she’s lived a very quiet and ordinary middle-class Jewish life in Brooklyn and Long Island, a life that must be similar to the sedate life I’ve led. But she said one did not have to experience the unusual to write about it; we are all unique and some of us have great imaginations. The important thing, she said, is to be the kind of person whom nothing gets by, on whom nothing is lost.

Maxine Kumin lectured on workshops and exercises in poetry – that was useful to me, too, I think. I feel like I’m storing up psychic energy here that will be released in the stories I write when I get back to Brooklyn and resume my routines.

Tuesday, August 23, 1977

I’m starting to get anxious to get back to New York. I’ve decided to leave on Friday so I can spend just a little time with Elise and Herbert before they go back to Germany. I miss them already, and it will be hard not being able to see them for a long time. I miss people I didn’t think I’d miss. I miss Dad most of all.

Robert Pack read a maxim last night: “When the father dies, the son becomes mortal.” And: “When the father feeds the son, they both laugh. When the son feeds the father, even the sea shudders.” I cried at Pack’s reading, the only one which affected me that way.

I was sitting in front of Tom Nevins, the waiter who’s also from Brooklyn, whom I have a terrible crush on. Because I have a crush on him, it’s harder for me to approach him than anybody else. He’s cute and boyish and has a sensitive slender face. Today I learned that he just graduated from the College of Staten Island, so I asked him if he knew Herb Leibowitz. He said that’s how he got here, that Herb recommended him.

Pack’s reading, as I said, was quite good. He’ll never be a great poet, I think, but he’s sincere and witty and seems to be a happy man. Mark Strand’s poetry, in contrast, is superior in every respect but there is no warmth in it.

This morning, after breakfast, I went to Elkin’s workshop. Elkin is an intelligent man and the workshop was interesting, but I found the stories so palpably amateurish – full not only of weak plots and dull characters but choked by imprecise, sloppy prose – that I really couldn’t get into it.

I’ve read most of the guys’ poetry and most of it is on a very early level. Of course, they are young, but many of the older people here have no conception of sophisticated writing.

Gardner, in his workshop, had us write beginnings, middles and ends to novels and had us read them aloud. I wrote about a guy who can’t stop pissing and will have to stay in the bathroom for years, the end a riff on the end of A Man of Property: “He might piss and piss and never get it – the beauty and the loving in the world.”

Wednesday, August 24, 1977

It’s been raining and bone-chillingly cold, more like the end of November than the end of August. I really would like to get on a bus to New York tomorrow. I’m bored by now, and after today I feel I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to at Bread Loaf.

Yesterday afternoon I fell asleep on the couch downstairs and later Charles came in and we bullshitted for a while. He says he’d like to work on a fashion magazine and he told me that the trouble with Vietnam was that we didn’t go in there to win.

I imagine a lot of young people are pretty conservative today. In 1969, when I was subject to the draft and marching against the war, guys like Charles and Kevin were only 11 or 12, and there’s a big difference between us. I don’t think they perceive me as an older person, though they kid me about it.

Actually, I’m at a peculiar age. I don’t quite have all the trappings of adulthood around me, but I’m far from being a college kid. If I teach again this fall – I hope to – doubtless I’ll find that my students have gotten still younger than they were last year and the year before. But white, upper-middle-class kids like Charles and Kevin are pretty different from my students at LIU.

After dinner last night I met some old lady from Brooklyn, a retired high school teacher who was once a short story writer – she got honorable mention in a ‘40s Story Magazine contest that Norman Mailer won – and now is working on her poetry, which is probably bad.

She gave me the password “Sholom Alecheim,” and when I responded warmly, she said, “A landsman, eh?” I’m almost ashamed to say how pleased I was to meet another Brooklyn Jew. It shouldn’t be that Jews are sort of a secret club with its own password and special handshake like the Phi Beta Kappa one Prof. Fife taught me, but I like the sound of Yiddish.

And Hilma Wolitzer’s reading – from her novel about middle-class New York Jews – also made me feel good. Hearing about lifestyles and characters familiar to me got me thinking about my parents and grandparents and friends and Brooklyn stuff.

We went to the Barn afterwards, to an Elvis Memorial Pre-‘60s Dance, but I was a little too tired to get into it, though I did get pleasure out of watching Alice and David rock-‘n-roll together.

After French toast this morning, I went to John Irving’s workshop, which was fairly interesting, and then to Geoffrey Wolff’s, a nonfiction one, which also was pretty good. Richard Marek, the literary agent, was leaving for New York, and I had to restrain myself from shouting “Take me with you!” as he got in his car.

Miriam from Texas and I sat outside the Inn and sang, “I wanna go home” and played with Dudley, a cute little boy who assured me that I would not melt in the rain. After lunch, I went back to the Barn with Marie Flagg, another fiction writer, and Leslea Newman, who’s really cool.

So far there’s been only one nervous breakdown here, but he came back and is now rooming with the staff psychologist. This afternoon Tim O’Brien read, as did two other Fellows, and I caught a lift back in Greg’s Jeep. I’m definitely going to leave tomorrow. There’s nothing more for me to do here. I’ve gotten way more than my $135 worth and I’ve enjoyed it, but enough’s enough.

Thursday, August 25, 1977

It’s strange to be back in my room. I miss Bread Loaf, and I didn’t know I would, and if I had known that yesterday, I would have stayed till Sunday. I feel I should be listening to Charles moan, “I’m not a well man,” or watching Kevin go crazy when someone mentions Stanford, or driving fast and crazy down the mountain with David, listening to James Taylor and smoking a joint.

I miss that terrible uphill walk on the dirt road and the stars and the green mountains with the clouds going through them and those terrible meals we would complain about and knowing that the next few hours were scheduled with readings, lectures, and workshops. I loved Bread Loaf and it has changed me in a way I don’t believe I can realize yet.

Sick of the food, Charles drove me, Bob and Kevin to A&W for burgers last night; we ate in the car. I love driving fast on those sharp curves. We got stoned in Charles’ and Kevin’s room and bullshitted for a while and exchanged addresses. I really want to keep in touch with them and hope they’ll visit me in New York.

William Meredith’s reading was pretty good. He’s a fine narrative poet but a bit too formalistic for me. After hanging out in the Barn for an hour afterwards, I got a lift home with Ron Carlson. “It’s winter,” Ron said, and there were actual snow flurries – in August!

I got up early, and not wanting to disturb anyone, I lugged my suitcase the ¾ mile to the Inn. I hate to say goodbye so I didn’t; I just left.

At home, I had a pile of mail, nearly all rejections, but also letters from Michael Lally and George Myers Jr., a magazine called Buckle which contained my poem “The Erosion of the Beaches,” and a letter from an editor at Houghton Mifflin who was very impressed by my Epoch story and wonders if I have a novel. She urges me to respond and send the novel she assumes I’m working on. Of course there is none. All I’ve got are short stories.

…and now, the end is near…

…and so we face the final curtain, ha ha ha…

Thanks, Ed, for having us over. Send my people the clean-up bill.

Everyone else: Have a nice Memorial Day weekend, take a moment to remember the military dead, and why and how they got that way, and for what.

“In these bones you see what war is like. I know war now. I’ll tell you what it is. War is young men killing other young men they do not know on the orders of old men who know one another too well.”

Antoine Wilson out.

Preparation

In the middle of two wars and coming up on Memorial Day, here is Milosz’s great poem.

PREPARATION

Still one more year of preparation.
Tomorrow at the latest I’ll start working on a great book
In which my century will appear as it really was.
The sun will rise over the righteous and the wicked.
Srpings and autumns will unerringly return,
In a wet thicket a thrush will build his nest lined with clay
And foxes will learn their foxy natures.

And that will be the subject, with addenda. Thus: armies
Running across frozen plains, shouting a curse
In a many-voiced chorus; the cannon of a tank
Growing immense at the corner of a street; the ride at dusk
Into a camp with watchtowers and barbed wire.

No, it won’t happen tomorrow. In five or ten years.
I still think too much about the mothers
And ask what is man born of woman.
He curls himself up and protects his head
While he is kicked by heavy boots; on fire and running,
He burns with a bright flame; a bulldozer sweeps him into a clay pit.
Her child. Embracing a teddy bear. Conceived in ecstasy.

I haven’t learned yet to speak as I should, calmly.

And so it ends

Or does it begin?

Yeah, I have no idea what that means.

I want to thank Ed for giving me the chance to play around here. I didn’t piss anyone off, too much, I don’t think. But I hope you all enjoyed it.

Be sure to check me out here.

And remember the old adage of sports talk radio, it doesn’t matter the logic of your argument. Only how loud and stubborn you are. Loud enough and stubborn enough means you’re always right.

Get Stewed

I’m not quite done yet, so this isn’t my closing post, but I—like Tao—will post a poem. Okay, two poems, one of which you’ve read a thousand times before but that I [heart]. Deal with it!

First poem:

A STUDY OF READING HABITS

When getting my nose in a book
Cured most things short of school,
It was worth ruining my eyes
To know I could still keep cool,
And deal out the old right hook
To dirty dogs twice my size.

Later, with inch-thick specs,
Evil was just my lark:
Me and my coat and fangs
Had ripping times in the dark.
The women I clubbed with sex!
I broke them up like meringues.

Don’t read much now: the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who’s yellow and keeps the store
Seem far too familiar. Get stewed:
Books are a load of crap.

Philip Larkin

Second poem:

THE LEADEN ECHO

How to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there’s none, there’s none, O no there’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there’s none; no no no there ’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

My last two posts’ll be up today and that’ll be adieu.

The party’s over

But what a party it was, Ed.

After a blow-out like that, I’m sure everyone’s ready for a laid back weekend. I know I am. Why not read a book? This one is pretty good. This gentleman thought so. And so did this fellow. A bunch of others did I too, but let’s not get redundant.

Hey! I just jumped over to that Amazon page! You’d better hurry up and order! There’s only one left in stock! Oh … wait a minute … there’s more on the way. Everyone can relax. But whew, that was close!

(I used five exclamation points in that last graph!)

Some people don’t like the cover of that book. Hell of a thing when some chick fools around for years writing and rewriting a cool little book and people sniff at the picture on the cover and don’t even give it a chance. It’s sort of like taking a thousand dance lessons, getting pretty good at the mambo, then being forced to wear a dress someone else picked out for the ball that ain’t so great and spending the evening wandering around the punch bowl.

I know. How about this: I’ll give you a sample–just like the lady with the tray of little paper cups at the grocery store. But instead of a tiny hot dog piece (sorry Tao), here’s a taste of what’s inside of the book.

I guess that’s all for now. I loved spending time with all of you. Ed, you throw one hell of a bash.

Thanks.

Now if anyone finds my undies (the ones with the zipper) please send them here.

Love,

Erin

POETRY

I am going to blog about poetry and then post a poem. There is some poetry that I like.

I like poetry by Matthew Rohrer, Michael Earl Craig, Ben Lerner, and Ellen Kennedy.

All those people have poetry on BEAR PARADE except Ben Lerner.

Gene Morgan and I solicited Ben Lerner for BEAR PARADE before he was nominated for the National Book Award for ANGLE OF YAW, his second poetry book, but he said he did not have anything for BEAR PARADE.

ORGANIC COLD-PRESSED VIRGIN COCONUT OIL

Coconut oil is the only oil that can be heated and remain non-toxic in its unrefined state.
Coconut oil stimulates the thyroid which promotes an appetite
that is socially responsible and not out of control.
In the 1970’s people started to say to eat less fats
which caused people to eat more carbohydrates

in the form of bread, cake, soda, and other low-fat foods.
There is no such thing as an obese wild animal.
There is also no such thing in the wild habitats as bread, cake, soda, refined sugar,
muffins, or any kind of baked goods. A diet high in fat and protein and raw vegan foods
will make you feel better, look better, and also reduce pain and suffering in the world.
Eating meat or dairy for one year is equivalent to dumping 500 pounds of toxic shit
into the ocean, choosing to inflict severe pain onto hundreds of animals, both human
and non-human, and voting 20 times for the presidential candidate
you talk shit about for over 200 hours each year.

Since we are alive right now and not killing ourselves
our philosophy of life must be that life is worth living.

I know that all meaning is arbitrary. All goals are arbitrary.
But conscious existence is impossible without meaning and goals
however temporary or inconstant those meanings and goals are.
To think beyond what I just said will make a person go insane.
Therefore I think like the answer to a math question
the correct thing for me to do sometimes is to lecture you about eating meat and dairy.

Excerpts from a 30-year-old diary: Bread Loaf 1977

I’ve kept a daily diary since the summer of 1969, just before I started college, and I haven’t missed a day in almost 38 years. I thought, to totally humiliate myself, I’d present some excerpts from my diary from about 30 years ago when I went to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. I generally wrote 700-1200 words a day, so this is just sections, which hopefully will not be too boring. I’m trying to present material that I think might be of at least minimal interest to others because it mentions some writers of note. It also exhibits my hilarious utter lack of sophisticated reflection on what I experienced.

Thursday, August 16, 1977

The bus left Port Authority at 9:30 a.m. and we made pretty good time up the Thruway, getting to Albany in 3 hours. My phobias didn’t bother me, but I was very tense. I chatted with Barbara Unger, a 35ish poet and teacher at Rockland County Community College.

We really are in the middle of nowhere, especially where they stuck me, in Gilmore, which is ¾ of a mile from the rest of the Bread Loaf buildings. I do have a room all to myself and I suppose I should be grateful for that. I’ve met so many people I’ll never be able to remember all their names.

Dinner was fairly bland but wholesome, and after that we hung around till 8 p.m. when we went into the Little Theater. Bob Pack and Sandy Martin, the directors of the conference, introduced themselves and made short welcoming speeches. Martin said that the average Bread Loafer is 35 and there are many varied people here – kids my age and younger; middle-aged women; even retired septuagenarians.

Maxine Kumin read her poetry, and she was pretty good, and afterwards there was a reception social at the barn…The waiters are all Contributors, and if you miss the first 15 minutes of meals, the doors are slammed in your face.

Wednesday, August 17, 1977

I think I’m getting civilization withdrawal pangs; it was such a shock to see the first page of the New York Times saying Elvis Presley had died. I got a lift this morning with Carl Dennis next door. He teaches at Buffalo, and his poetry books have been published by George Braziller. Several years ago he was a Bread Loaf Fellow and now just comes back to see his old friends.

I went to all 3 morning lectures: Bob Pack, director of the conference, spoke on the importance of words, the particular word in poetry. He used poems by Frost, Robinson, Dickinson and even Paradise Lost to make his points, and he was pretty interesting.

Stanley Elkin came next and he was a disappointment. He played cranky old man and didn’t give a lecture, but just answered questions. I asked him a question that I thought deserved a serious answer, “Does a short story have to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and what order should they be in?” and he just laughed and said that of course they did and anyone who changed the order was just “stunting.”

The audience sensed Elkin’s superiority and they were fairly hostile. At the end he said, “I’m sorry,” and hobbled off on his cane. The next lecturer was Mark Strand, who chose to address the subject of “craft,” but his delivery was so pedantic that my mind was wandering before he’d gotten through a third of his text.

I found a letter in my mailbox. As a Scholar (it says in the leaflet that I won the National Arts Club Scholarship in Prose), I’m invited to the cocktails at Treman House for Staff, Scholars, Fellows and Assorted Visitors. There is a lot of drinking going on here—a hell of a lot.

I had lunch with Carl, David, Debbie and an elderly couple who called each other “Mom” and “Dad.”

Thursday, August 18, 1977

After writing yesterday’s entry, I smoked some hash with Bob and Charles, then fell into a sort of restful semi-sleep. At 5 p.m. David came back, and I persuaded him to drive into town. It was a relief to get back to the real world. I hadn’t realized (how did I miss it?) that we are on the top of a mountain.

Vermonters impress me with their courtesy and their progressiveness—there are no roadside billboards and the soda cans have press-ins, not flip-tops, and there’s a 5-cent
refund on the aluminum.

We made it back to the Little Theater just in time for John Irving’s reading of the start of his forthcoming novel The World According to Garp, which sounds like it will be hilarious; I wasn’t bored for a minute. I walked back in the dark with Kevin, Bob and Charles. Traipsing up the road to Gilmore somehow reminded me of that recurring scene in Buñuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.” I looked up and was amazed –almost intoxicated – by so many bright stars, something I’d never seen before in my life.

Last night I went down to the study with Rick and Greg and David, and we sat by the fire and read each other’s work. I think it’s neat to be living in a house where 12 guys in their 20s are all reading To the Lighthouse. (Idea for story: A dozen guys, each reading a different Virginia Woolf novel, are living in a house in the woods. Title: “Virginia Woolf Is For Lovers.”)

I attended each lecture today. Toni Morrison spoke about a “useable past” in fiction and read from the new Song of Solomon. Marvin Bell gave a brilliant lecture on receptivity being important to creativity and seemed to stress instinct, readiness, and continuous working – he said the more you do something, the better you get at it.

John Gardner got me appropriately riled with his talk of “Moral Fiction,” attacking post-modernist textured fiction (Gass, Barthelme, Sukenick, Barth) for not having any values or philosophy at bottom.

I had a discussion group with John Gardner from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and he was fascinating; I did my share of talking and got him to admit that he was using overkill, that of course texture is important – but only if it’s “in service” (my words, with which he agreed) to character, plot and values.

Gardner is a strange-looking man with that Veronica Lake-like blond hair but he’s sweet and smart, and he’s leading me to rethink some of my preexisting ideas about fiction. And that’s good.

Friday, August 19, 1977

Noon. Kevin and I just walked back to the house after a fantastic lecture by John Irving which was actually a story he wrote. He and his 13-year-old son Colin read it aloud; the point of it was that made-up stories are always better than the true story, that “but it really happened that way” is the worst excuse for unsatisfactory fiction.

I feel that a lot of what’s going on here has been useful to me. Even Stanley Elkin’s bitterness seems justifiable; the man has paid his dues and has been very ill. He looks 20 years older than 47.

John Gardner is more accessible than I thought he would be. He and Bill Gass, he says, like to tramp through the woods and scream at each other, arguing about fiction. I now get the feeling that a lot of what he says is just for effect. For instance, when asked his opinion of Nabokov, Gardner came out with “I think he’s a cheap diabolist,” eliciting shock from the crowd. Right or (probably) wrong, that takes guts.

Mark Strand read from his poetry last evening; the man is icy cold, but as I told Carl Dennis, I guess someone’s got to write poetry for the cold people. And one has to admit he’s good.

I had breakfast in the Barn with Dannye Romine, a fellow Fiction Scholar, a thirtyish woman who’s the book editor of the Charlotte Observer. We missed the first lecture but did go to hear William Meredith’s talk on the uselessness of personal anguish unless it is raised to the universal level; he used Bellow’s Herzog as a starting-off point.

Then came the Irving performance, which was great. I’d better get back to the Inn or I’ll miss lunch.


Saturday, August 20, 1977

After lunch yesterday, I went to a panel discussion on “Getting Started”: Kumin, Bell, Meredith and Irving hit some nerves as they talked about how they write, but I imagine every writer works slightly differently, and the aura, the inspiration, Kumin’s “prickle on the back of the neck” vary with each individual.

We took the jeep back for dinner, and I ended up sitting next to Patti Pack, the director’s wife, who told me that 100 years ago two families owned this inn and operated it as a kind of 19th-century commune. When it was bequeathed to Middlebury College, they thought it was a white elephant and didn’t know what to do with it until Frost came along.

After dinner, Toni Morrison read a beautiful passage from her new novel. She’s a terrific reader and deserved her standing ovation.

Back at the Barn again, I sat with Ron Carlson, who’s 30 and teaches at Hotchkiss and looks it. But he’s incredibly sympathetic. Ron gave me a lift back to the house, where I tried to relax.

At 10 a.m. today, the literary agent Georges Borchardt spoke on first book contracts. I skipped the next two lectures and sat in the Barn (it was freezing outside, the coldest it’s been – and nobody was prepared for it) with Dannye Romine and Raymond Sokolov, the Times food critic and novelist, who’s a Fellow.

I could see John Gardner going over David’s novel with him. David was told that he could be a good writer and have a good novel, but he has to stop thinking about old rules and dig “deeper and deeper and deeper.” I had lunch with Debbie and that nice Gloucester teacher (a blonde divorced poet); we had a long discussion on literary “cuteness,” a big problem for me.

In our discussion group, John Gardner lectured on how to write a novel and he was just so brilliant (even though I disagreed with him) that it was too much for me to take in at once. He believes first in character and that everything stems from that. A good novel should take at least 5 years – work on it till it’s an ecstatic experience, “ex-stasis,” out of yourself, as if God had written it.

But Gardner did say that you can do anything in a short story, so I feel he’s not totally against me. I’ll never be able to write (to sweat out) a novel like Gardner; my temperament makes me basically an artificer, not an artist. I prefer games and play to “serious, big” statements. Maybe that will change, but now I feel I’m so young, I don’t have any big statements to make. However, I do seem to have lots of little statements to make.

I’m going to see Tim O’Brien tomorrow at 11 a.m. for my manuscript conference. I’m not very concerned with what he thinks of my stuff.

The mice are starting to bother me: they got into my cookies. Ugh! At least I didn’t scream like Hilma Wolitzer did the other night (so I heard).

There are about five more entries but this is probably all anyone can stand – if anyone feels otherwise, I’ll post the rest of this moronic diary.

New Authors Guild alert for members on Simon & Schuster power grab

I just got this email from The Authors Guild regarding the Simon & Schuster rights imbroglio:

Simon & Schuster is irked that we went public with our information about their unannounced new contract language. They’ve sent a release (you can read it below) accusing us of “perpetrat[ing] serious misinformation.”

That’s a heavy charge, so we went back and double-checked. We stand by every word of our statement.

Simon & Schuster’s release pretends that the argument concerns “print on demand.” That isn’t the issue. We like print on demand: we encourage publishers to sell books in every permissible way. You wouldn’t know it from reading its release, but Simon & Schuster already has the rights – as they have for years in their standard contract – to take advantage of print on demand and e-book technologies.

The issue is what happens when a book goes out of print, when the publisher is no longer selling it in meaningful numbers. Traditionally, rights then revert at the request of the author, who often is able to give the book a new life elsewhere. Simon & Schuster is trying to change the rules of the industry so that they never have to admit that a book is out of print.

We meant what we said in our press release and our alert to members…

…Simon & Schuster’s new contract would indeed allow it to retain exclusive rights to a book even if it were no longer in print. Simon & Schuster’s contract says, “The Work shall not be deemed out of print as long as it is available in any U.S. trade edition, including electronic editions.” Having a book available for sale in some database – without the obligation to sell a single copy – is not keeping a book “in print” as common sense and the industry have defined that term.

Simon & Schuster would, under its new contract, be empowered to exclusively control your rights even if your books aren’t available for sale through traditional bookstores. E-book availability (read any good e-books lately?) would be enough to fulfill Simon & Schuster’s contractual commitments under its interpretation of “in print.” Roy Blount is plainly right, this contract would allow Simon & Schuster to squirrel away rights…

Simon & Schuster’s efforts to alter the true core deal of a trade book contract – that a publisher controls the right to sell an author’s book only so long as the publisher effectively exploits that right – demanded exposure. Agents reported to us that Simon & Schuster had slipped the change into its contracts without alerting agents to the alteration, which was quite subtle and easily missed. Agents also reported that when they discovered the change and questioned the publisher about it, Simon & Schuster played hardball, saying the clause was non-negotiable and wouldn’t be discussed. In its release, Simon & Schuster seems miffed that we didn’t discuss their new contractual language with them before exposing it to sunlight. Engaging in discussions with a conglomerate playing hardball while authors may have been unwittingly signing rights away would, in our view, have been irresponsible….

In the meantime, if you have an offer from Simon & Schuster, remember that the publisher has now said it will negotiate this clause on a book-by-book basis. If you’re fortunate, Simon & Schuster will offer you a reasonable out-of-print clause. (Feel free to discuss this with us or talk to your agent about the adequacy of the clause.) If not, it’s in your interest to explore your options – other publishers have reaffirmed that they’re not following Simon & Schuster’s example. If you have a manuscript that may be auctioned, it’s in your strong interest to ask your agent to exclude Simon & Schuster imprints unless they agree before the auction to use industry standard terms.

Here’s Simon & Schuster’s release…which we forward to you at the publisher’s request:

TO OUR COLLEAGUES IN THE AUTHOR AND AGENT COMMUNITY

The Authors Guild has recently perpetrated serious misinformation regarding Simon & Schuster, our author contracts and our commitment to making our authors’ books available for sale. Unfortunately, these distortions were released by the Authors Guild without their having undertaken any effort to have a dialogue with Simon & Schuster on this topic.

In recent years, Simon & Schuster has accepted, at the request of some agencies, contract language that specifies a minimum level of activity for print on demand titles. Our experience with the current high quality and accessibility of print on demand titles indicates to us that such minimums are no longer necessary. Our position on reversions for active titles remains unchanged. As always, we are willing to have an open and forthright dialogue on this or any other topic.

When considering this issue, we ask you to please keep in mind these important points:

• Through print on demand technology, publishers now have the ability, for the first time in history, to actually fulfill the promise which is at the core of their contracts with authors – to keep the author’s book available for sale over the term of the license.

• We view this progress as a great opportunity to maximize the sales potential for slow moving titles, and some of the best news for authors and publishers in a long time. The potential benefit for all concerned in incremental income for the publishing partnership far outweighs any imaginary negatives purported by the Authors Guild.

• We and others are investing heavily in digitization so that authors and publishers can reap the maximum benefit of publication over the long term. New technologies including print on demand will extend the life of a book far beyond what has been possible in the past.

• Contrary to the Authors Guild assertion, using technologies like print on demand is not about “squirreling away” rights, nor does it mean that “no copies are available to be ordered by traditional bookstores.” Print on demand is simply a means of manufacturing a book, making it widely available to retailers and consumers….

Most importantly, we hope you know that we view authors and agents as our partners in the publishing process. We have always been open to discussion and negotiated in good faith at every point in the life of a book.

May 21, 2007

AUTHORS: Do You Have What It Takes?

It’s the ultimate reality series, the ultimate game show and the ultimate half-hour of intriguing storylines. The Ultimate Author is an awesome television program packed with entertaining, engaging and interesting events. Each week, contestants go toe-to-toe in a writing competition that tests their ability to develop attention-grabbing content.

Casting Call: June 16, 2007. Fort Lauderdale, FL.

[via gawker.]

Ames et Manson

Jonathan Ames, favorite author of P.S. and writer of such novels as THE EXTRA MAN, I PASS LIKE NIGHT and WAKE UP, SIR!, plus three collections of comedic essays, has interviewed Marilyn Manson for the newest issue of Spin! There’s a preview available on Spin’s website, with the full article available only in print. A preview of the preview:

The door swings open and Manson lopes in, carrying his own goblet of absinthe. He’s wearing a black T-shirt, black leather pants, and gigantic Frankenstein boots. He’s six-foot-three and looks to be all narrow torso and legs. I’m middle-aged and completely bald and immediately assess that Manson’s black hair is beginning to thin, probably from multiple dyeings. [Patrick: This line is so Jonathan Ames.] His face is sweet, and his eyes, without his usual colored contacts, are kindly. [Patrick: As is this one.]

We start to talk, and Manson is sniffling a little. Right away, he starts to tell me about the breakup of his marriage to burlesque queen Dita Von Teese. They were together for six years and then, in their seventh year, they got married. “It’s the old cliché,” he says. “Marriage changes everything.”

The behavior he had manifested for the first six years — such as living like a vampire — became unacceptable to Von Teese, he says. But he wasn’t willing to give up his vampire’s hours. “I’m my most creative between 3 and 5 A.M.,” he says. “That’s the way I’ve always been.”

Going to sleep at dawn and rising at dusk was not the only issue of contention, though. Before they were wed, Manson and Von Teese were never separated for more than five days; after they got married, he wasn’t seeing her three out of every four weeks, due to her own hectic schedule. Manson is very needy, and with Von Teese on the road all the time, he started losing his mind. And he started believing her when she said that the way he lived was wrong.

It’s funny. Marilyn Manson is, if this article depicts him accurately, a very Amesian character. [Via Tiger Beat]

Close Encounters of the Erin Kind or Steven Spielberg walk with me

Most people watch “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and see a pretty good movie about a guy who really wants to get on a space ship.

They are wrong. This movie is about me.

Every day, I see Devil’s Tower in my mind. I see it and I must create it. So I go to my keyboard and start to form it up. The first attempt is a rough sketch, a shape. It is something, but it is not right. I print it out and study it, decide what is working and what is not. The next attempt is closer–not right, just closer.

I must get it right.

“Mom?” says my kid from the doorway of my office.

But I am consumed with the mashed potato model in front of me, the mud model in front of me. I know that I have been summoned to do this, to realize this, that it is a pilgrimage of sorts and that nothing can stop me.

The trained guys in the space suits that are supposed to get onto the spaceship? Those are not trained guys in space suits.

Them’s your book-learned guys.

The book-learned guys really know space ships! They have all the technical capabilities. They can turn out one perfect sentence after another and deconstruct James Joyce and discuss every book the NYT reviewed this week.

But all the book-learning in the world will not give them the calling.

Funny thing about the calling is that when you have it, the book learning is delivered unto you. Because in your quest to realize that which is inside of you, you’re going to need some tools. So with the bottomless obsession and energy that drives you to create, you

“Hey Honey? What about dinner?”

seek out those tools. And at once the word “you” transforms from three simple letters into a tricky device called second person.

Suddenly, the nuance of punctuation is no longer a preposterous assertion.

Really?

Really.

Really!

Suddenly The Overuse Of Capitalization Becomes Really Funny To You. You learn how to SHOUT without uttering one noise.

Yeah, yeah.

And just like in the movie, plenty of people try and stop you and tell you that you are crazy and that the whole thing is stupid. On the journey, you find one or two others as obsessed as you and you immediately understand one another. You fall down. And when the canary dies, you second guess yourself until the compulsion wells up again and thrusts you forward.

The movie is about the quest. The prize is far away, a reverie in Technicolor flying overhead. But the power of wishing upon a star is in the wish, not the star.

It is a good day when you realize this.

Now you will excuse me, dear reader. Despite being hopelessly insufficient, this essay has gone on entirely too long and I have a date with a dozen or so little space men.

Love,

Erin