Writer’s Desk: Good for Nothing

artweek1There’s an old joke about how in Irish families, the boy who can’t throw a ball, well, he’s the priest.

A similar weeding-out procedure is suggested by this line from Rachel Kushner’s brilliant 2013 novel The Flamethrowers:

That’s what artists are, his father said, those who are useless for anything else. That might seem like an insult, he said, but it wasn’t.

So, in other words, run with it.

Weekend Reading: May 29, 2015

reading1

Screening Room: ‘Gueros’ – French New Wave in Mexico City

'Gueros' (Kino Lorber)
‘Gueros’ (Kino Lorber)
Style doesn’t go out of style. That’s why directors around the world are still aping the French New Wave, in good and bad ways.

Güeros is a grab-bag of the right and wrong ways to appropriate the Nouvelle Vague’s stream-of-conscious plotting and jazzy rhythms. It did the festival circuit last year and is now getting a limited release. My review from the Tribeca Film Festival is at PopMatters:

[Güeros] gets a lot of traction from its mainly directionless young protagonists. They wander through Mexico City through a couple formless days backgrounded by worries about the future and uncertainty about their place and purpose in the present. It’s a film riddled and with questions and switchbacks, circling in on itself time and again…

Here’s the trailer.

Bookmark: Neal Stephenson’s ‘Seveneves’

In 'Seveneves,' this blows up ... and everything changes. (NASA)
In ‘Seveneves,’ this blows up … and everything changes. (NASA)
Last week, Neal Stephenson released his latest novel, a big-thinking plot about the end of the world and a possible new start for the human race. Seveneves is another doorstopper of a piece, so in that sense right in line with just about everything he’s written since the 1990s. In many other ways, however—particularly in being a return to full-fledged science fiction and also curiously (for him) devoid of humor—this is an entirely new direction for the author of Snow Crash.

seveneves-coverMy take on the book and the arc of Stephenson’s career can be read at The Millions.

You can read the first couple dozen pages of Seveneves at Stephenson’s site here. This is how it starts:

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. It was waxing, only one day short of full. The time was 05:03:12 UTC. Later it would be designated A+0.0.0, or simply Zero…

Quote of the Day: Memorial Day Edition

A casualty is ready for transport from the front line during the battle for Guadalcanal. (Library of Congress)
A casualty is readied for transport from the front line during the battle for Guadalcanal. (Library of Congress)

For this Memorial Day, a reminder from one of our great novelists of warfare and what it does to the men who take part in it, willingly or not:

This book is cheerfully dedicated to those greatest and most heroic of all human endeavors, WAR and WARFARE; may they never cease to give us the pleasure, excitement and adrenal stimulation that we need, or provide us with the heroes, the presidents and leaders, the monuments and museums which we erect to them in the name of PEACE.

That’s from James Jones’ The Thin Red Line (1963) which follows the battle for a fictitious Pacific island and draws heavily upon Jones’ combat experience during World War II. Although his dedication shows a tongue planted firmly in cheek, the novel that follows is one of the deepest felt, most bruising things a man ever put to page.

Writer’s Desk: Going Your Own Way

So, your book is done. Awesome. Now you’ve got to make sure it gets sold. It’s not an easy thing these days, with thinner marketing budgets, digital clamor, and thousands upon thousands of books blooding the marketplace every year. As many authors have discovered, getting your book noticed often falls on their shoulders, even if they were lucky enough to be picked up by a real publisher.

blackmile1Social media marketing helps, among other things. But all that time spent marketing your way takes away from the job at hand: writing. As Jay McGregor writes for Forbes, self-published author Mark Dawson decided to risk doing the thing that is often recommended but is nevertheless hard to do: Give it away. That’s just what he did with The Black Mile, a heavily researched historical thriller.

There was the good news. He “sold” tens of thousand of copies over a weekend.

But:

… he was immediately presented with two problems. The first was that he’d made no money whatsoever from The Black Mile, a book he’d poured hours of research and travel into. The second was that he had no follow-up book for his new fanbase to dig in to.

Now, Dawson is a self-publishing machine, making a living writing, selling, and promoting his work. Of course, a lot of that is possible due to exciting new self-publishing technologies available from a host of companies.

But it still boils down to writing a good book to begin with. You know, the kind of thing that people snap up 50,000 copies of over a weekend. Next, be prolific. Very, very prolific.

Reader’s Corner: Speakeasy Bookstore is No More

Once upon a time, you could stroll to 84th Street on the Upper East Side, ring the right doorbell at the right hour of day, and find yourself in a magical little place: Michael Seidenberg’s Brazenhead Books. Technically a rent-controlled apartment, Seidenberg ran the secretive book-stuffed space as a hybrid literary hangout, multipurpose salon, and (occasional) bookstore.

Like all such ephemeral joys, Brazenhead is coming to an end, a victim of its increasing popularity and an itchy landlord.

Jessica Loudis wrote about hanging out at Brazenhead for Aesop:

It’s not mandatory to bring a bottle of whiskey to Brazenhead Books … but failing to do so could be considered bad form. That, however, is as far as formalities extend … Business comes through word of mouth. After being greeted at the door, strangers strike up conversations that trail off once a desirable acquisition is spotted and then stay for hours, squeezing into narrow rooms teeming with classic paperbacks and pristine first editions. Seidenberg is former puppeteer and street book salesman. Last time I went to Brazenhead—having visited only once, a year earlier—he told me he had been expecting my visit, as I had made a cameo in his dream the night before.