— John McPhee for The New Yorker
It’s a week of literary transparency! First was Neal Pollack with his book sales numbers, now it’s Patrick Wensink, talking about the results of a recent boost in sales due to his being on the receiving end of a cease-and-desist from Jack Daniels:
This is what it’s like, financially, to have the indie book publicity story of the year and be near the top of the bestseller list.
What’d he do with the money?
In the end, I bought my wife a pretty dress to say thank you for putting up with me and my fiscally idiotic quest to write books. I also did the most rock star thing imaginable for a stay-at-home-dad/recipient-of-a-famous-cease-and-desist: I used the money to send my kid to daycare two days a week so I can have more time to write.
It’s like Walt Disney said: “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”
— Ira Glass
— Mark Leyner, http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/
The point is not to produce lyrical perfection—that’s what rewriting is for. The point is to sit your ass in your chair and write, even if all you write is a paragraph about what a lazy cretin you are.
Writer’s block is a myth. Get to work.”
“The lesson he learned was the thing he sensed all those years ago in Sumatra, reading but not fully grasping Vonnegut. “I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters,” Saunders wrote in an essay on Vonnegut. “He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what’s inside the box bears some linear resemblance to ‘real life’ — he can put whatever he wants in there. What’s important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit… . In fact, ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ seemed to be saying that our most profound experiences may require this artistic uncoupling from the actual. The black box is meant to change us. If the change will be greater via the use of invented, absurd material, so be it.”
““I admired him so much,” he said about Wallace. “His on-the-spot capabilities were just incredible. And I thought, Yeah, we’re a lot alike. We’re similar, nervous guys. And then when he died, I thought [of myself], Wait a minute, you’re not like that. You don’t have chronic, killing depression. I’m sad sometimes, but I’m not depressed. And I also have a mawkish, natural enthusiasm for things. I like being alive in a way that’s a little bit cheerleaderish, and I always felt that around Dave. When he died, I saw how unnegotiable it was, that kind of depression. And it led to my being a little more honest about one’s natural disposition. If you have a negative tendency and you deny it, then you’ve doubled it. If you have a negative tendency and you look at it” — which is, in part, what the process of writing allows — “then the possibility exists that you can convert it.”
(Source: The New York Times)
“Since there are eighty of you, and since I do not wish to go blind or kill somebody, about twenty pages from each of you should do neatly. Do not bubble. Do not spin your wheels. Use words I know.”
Via Slate, regarding a term paper Kurt Vonnegut assigned his students at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop:
I should like them to be both cynical and religious. I want you to adore the Universe, to be easily delighted, but to be prompt as well with impatience with those artists who offend your own deep notions of what the Universe is or should be. “This above all …”
Read the whole thing here and wish you, too, could have a teacher like this.
Image credit Marty Reichenthal/AP
I’m doing NaShStoWriMo—National Short Story Writing Month. If you want to participate as well you should follow these steps each night for a month:
1. Drink one glass of wine but, for God’s sake, use your self control to keep from pouring a second one. You’re not a drunk.
2. Write 400 words—they don’t have to be related to any other 400 words you’ve ever written in your life.
3. Feed yourself a donut.
4. Pour yourself a half glass of wine. You need something to shake loose a few more words, but do not pour a full glass due to that sturdy self control of yours.
5. Write 200 words hopefully related to the first 400.
6. Pour another half glass of wine. Actually, 3/4ths sounds like it would be more helpful. Say to yourself, “The first glass I poured really wasn’t that full.”
7. Write 150 more words.
8. Stare at your story while eating another donut. Laugh at the funny part. Marvel at your talent. You made that; you deserve that donut.
9. Then edit: Chop off the first 50 and last 50 words. Submit it to literary journals. You have a story!
Replace wine with whiskey.
“I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”
I managed, “It’s too late, sir. There’s no turning back. I’m in.”
Four years ago I moved to a little house between Laurel Canyon and the valley. After we got the keys, but before we rolled in all of the stuff that I now sort of resent as it sits in piles of boxes stacked in some new hallway, we would go over there with a bottle of wine (and always forgot the corkscrew, so we would use a regular screw and a pair of pliers) and a bag of Cheetos or some cookies and sit on the swing in front and stare out at the sprinklers shooting water onto the flagstones. I would walk the dog to a little rectangle of grass that was up two flights of concrete stairs and watch her as she ran in circles in the dark. We bought a tortoise on election day. He dug a hole under the fence and plodded away into the canyon, never to be seen again.
We discovered that that house had been foreclosed some time around Christmas, when the mortgage people showed up at our door as we were stringing lights on the tree. Months of light/moderate despair followed: sometimes I think I thought we would live there forever, in its tiny bright-painted rooms, opening its creaky windows to hear a neighbor play Jimmy Buffet on his guitar (poorly). By July, our air conditioner had broken and it was regularly ninety degrees inside our house. We were not as sad to pack as I had feared we would be. I left handprints of sweat on the cardboard boxes when I wrote on them in Sharpie: living room, Tess books, mostly garbage, fleece men for pets, bowls, records. (When we moved into the place that followed that house, we didn’t hang pictures for years. It seemed as though we wouldn’t be staying long, though in fact we were there for three times as long as we had been in the little house in the canyon. The faucets leaked. The coyotes hung out in the dusty outdoor space. The dog liked to stay inside until after noon, holding her pee in fear. It felt like a parenthetical three years.)
I used to walk to the Starbucks on Ventura a block west of Laurel Canyon and eavesdrop. I never wore the right shoes and my feet would blister on the long ramble home. I usually ended up buying stupid, heavy items like cat litter or a big Rubbermaid bin and then found myself leaning against some prickly hedge or another with one shoe off and the item on the ground attracting ants while I wondered if I should call for a ride the rest of the way back. When we moved a few weeks ago, the first thing we put in the house was a corkscrew. We sat outside and watched the sprinklers and the dog and I wondered what it is that a place does to a person: maybe for other people, it doesn’t do very much (and these are the people who stay anchored with exercise or weird protein-heavy diets, or for whom the main thing is stock-market watching, or rugs, or managing their money, or collecting staplers or competitive dating). Maybe it’s a hygge gene, or maybe it’s something that happens to kids whose lives change with every move to a new state — eventually you come to think that any kind of emotional affliction can be solved by a change of scenery; each new bedroom’s blank walls and each new first day of school in a different zip code gives you the chance to reinvent yourself, and as an adult you channel that into becoming a different person whenever you first put the dishes away in foreign drawers. You feel a sense of control over your destiny because you’ve disassociated from whatever bogeymen lurked in the old closets.
Unfortunately (or…?), a side effect of this fun reinvention is that for at least a month after you move, you have “The Old Apartment” stuck in your head (Jason Priestley directed the music video; did you forget that BNL played the “Peach Pit After Dark”?). Why did you keep the dish rack? You should have just bought a new dish rack, they aren’t expensive and your old one is gross. I think it’s partially to do with how satisfying it is to indulge in the illusion that one distinct portion of your life has been completed. You can look at it, turn it around in your hands and examine it from all sides to try to divine some sort of meaning out of it in ways you never could when you still had the old keys on your keychain. Looking at your own old artifacts — especially the weird stuff, the things you don’t even use but that you, for some reason, have decided to bring along with you — is like walking through a museum of whoever you were before, even if before was just a few weeks ago. Man, that’s a dirty dish rack. What kind of person would let a dish rack get this disgusting? I suppose it was you. Can you imagine being the kind of person who would put dishes on this thing? It’s vainly, endlessly fascinating: all of the people you’ve been, suddenly objectified like your childhood photos you don’t remember having been in.
D.T. Max’s Every Love Story is a Ghost Short: A Life of David Foster Wallace charts the prodigious rise, numerous breakdowns and sad end of one of the foremost writers of his generation. Here Wallace’s biographer talks about why ‘David always wanted to be one David’, the solace he found in twelve-step programmes and what his use of wiper-fluid, on a car ride with Jonathan Franzen, reveals about his prose style.
A really interesting listen. I need to prioritize some time to read Max’s book. Wallace is such an important figure for me. I’m intrigued by Max’s exploration of the “why” behind Wallace’s intense following, as I myself have been unable to pinpont the “why” behind my own strong feelings about his work and life.
‘There isn’t enough genuine talent’
‘Frenetic and scrambling’
‘Impossible to sell animal stories’
JORGE LUIS BORGES
ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER
‘It’s Poland and the rich Jews again’
‘No commercial advantage in acquiring her’