Finishing up this story, a love story of sorts, between a dying man and a ghost. At the same time it’s a story about adolescence, daydreaming, sex and longing. The ending is multiple and ambiguous. As they say, It is what it is. I’m not sure I’m going to stick with the title. The story re-purposes some characters from earlier stories (Raisinheart, Death Ray Butterfly, Zombie Nights). There are definite inconsistencies but that doesn’t bother me. These are fictitious characters after all. In a sense, it’s fan fiction, except in this case the fan is also the author of the previous versions. (title font – HIghway to Heck)
I wonder how many of you (who are writers) approach your writing with your readers in mind, in the sense that you are fashioning a product for that consumer. Personally, that doesn’t work for me, but I imagine it does for many. When I read some of the reviews my stories have received online, I can only think that a lot of those people really shouldn’t be reading those stories! Yesterday on Amazon someone left a review about Tiddlywink the Mouse complaining that she couldn’t follow the plot. Maybe that’s because there is no plot! It’s a collection of silly stories about a mouse who likes to play with his friends, and frequently runs smack into gooey chocolate clouds. Maybe it’s that many English Lit classes have given people a really warped sense of expectations. They’ve been trained to believe that every piece of scribbling they encounter is going to follow certain rules, and provide them with appropriate arcs, sufficient back stories and happy endings, hopefully including either a wedding or a romantic murder-suicide pact. On that basis they go around acting like English Lit teachers grading homework assignments and doling out their carefully considered apportion of stars. When I write with such readers in mind, I want to mess with their heads. I really do. I want to let them know that an ending is just that, where something ends. We are all of us facing an ending in this life, and it’s an ending we are not going to like very much, so I’d like suggest that they might as well get used to it. Of course, I’m not trying to sell something to these readers – or to any readers. It’s one of the (many) reasons I give away my stories for free, so that I can be free, free to write without any readers in mind. As usual, I am only speaking for myself.
This post was originally going to be about the relationship between daydreaming and writing. It recently occurred to me that daydreaming is where writing began for me, not in contact, but in the practice of the voice inside my head.
“I am so mysterious that even I don’t understand myself.” CL
I am currently reading Agua Viva by the great Clarice Lispector, translated by Stefan Tobler. There are lamentably few of Lispectors works translated into English - hopefully this will change as her popularity here increases as in her native Brazil.
I’ll review Auga Viva soon. I’m on my second reading.
I always wanted to publish a magazine called “Cashier World”, full of news, photos, tips’n'tricks (counting change for dummies), fashions (the chic cashier), advice (how to say “thank you” in eleven languages!!), stories, ads, classifieds, etc … like a real magazine. Of course it’s an astoundingly stupid idea, but there you go. That’s how I roll.
Thanks to Flipboard, the iOS and Android app, my dream has come partially true. My Flipboard magazine, “Cashier World” is where I’m stashing the interesting and peculiar articles I come across online.
At a company meeting I heard an executive talking about the need to “got after every white space in the market”. After mocking this turn of phrase, I later thought of one such white space – in the book market. There has been a wave of independent authors, buoyed by the technological trends in smartphones and e-readers. At the same time there has been a decline in the business of supersized bookstores. The chains are not doing well, and smaller independent bookstores have an opportunity to stake out new territories, and may find some success if they are well-situated and innovative enough. One such junction might be the marketing of independently published books. Many of these are breaking through the e-bestseller lists, so they are proven to be desirable commodities. How to get these books into bookstores is a different matter.
On the one hand, there have been independent distributors in the past, companies that aggregated small press books and had some salesforce and warehousing to funnel these through to independent bookstores. Such distributors found it difficult enough to survive, especially during the rise of the superstores, but right now there may be an opportunity to build on that model with independently published books as well as small presses. It may be only viable, in the beginning, for very localized success, in such markets as New , the Boston Area, Northern California, etc … but some enterprising entrepeneur could take it on. They could work with Smashwords, perhaps, to identify and contact those bestselling – and other worthy – independent writers, and with Lulu, even with Amazon’s CreateSpace to find their way in (bookstores apparently loathe CreateSpace so this part might not fly). It would take some legwork and effort, but they could possibly convince the independent bookstores to set aside a special section for local, independent authors. The problem here is profitability (and tangled issues like returns and many individual relationships)
Another idea combines the advantages of bookstores and web publishing. One of the great things about bookstores is browsing. One of the great things about online offerings is free excerpts. Why not put them together? Print-on-demand machines could produce pamphlet-like versions of books – front and back covers and the first 5-10 pages. Bookstores could display this in racks the way that maps are displayed, or like travel brochures in hotels and rental agencies. The cost up front is low (indie authors may need to contribute a small amount to that, to help defray the cost and also perhaps serve a barrier to entry that would serve to thin the herd, so to speak).
This is the kind of thing that independent bookstores can excel at, and it could work to bridge the gulf between e-publishing and p-publishing, There is no inherent contradiction. Many people prefer paperbacks to e-readers. The same books can find their way to everyone. It would take a group effort – on both sides. Independent bookseller organizations could be working together with independent self-publishers for mutual benefit
- Reports of the Bookstore’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated (teleread.com)
- The Business Rusch: The Year of The Bookstore (kriswrites.com)
- Independent Bookstores (bookwormyyc.wordpress.com)
- Indie Book Store and Indie Author Team Up – Burien Books Hosts Book Signing with Local Author T.M. Franklin (prweb.com)
- 5 Ways to Get Your Book into Bookstores (bookmarketingmaven.typepad.com)
- Should We Save Bookstores from the Internet? (misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com)
- INDIES: How Independent Publishers & Bookstores are Surviving & Thriving in Today’s Market (laurenmbarrett.com)
I have several ideas percolating in the old grey matter right now, trying to come together to form some semblance of a solid. Failure is more likely. I might get to the point where I realize the kind of thing I had in mind has been done much better than ever I could, so that would be that, This one began with a dream – in which I had already written the story, and the title had already been chosen, and the plot pretty much as well. It was a love story, which is surprising because I’ve never written a love story. This romance blossoms between a dying man and the ghost of a woman he knew as a child. They had not seen each other in decades, or ever knew what became of one another. Only in the hospital, as he lies, mostly abandoned on a gurney in a hallway, do they reconnect, through some kind of mold in the walls which act like a sort of conduit, a ‘facebook for souls’, if you will.
It should go without saying that I believe in ghosts exactly the same amount as I believe in souls, which is to say not a measurable amount, but who knew that underground fungus can act as a channel between plant root systems, allowing information about aphids to flow between neighboring weeds? It’s a mighty strange world after all. (Afterthought: crows are severely under-appreciated creatures. They’re not the biggest or the fastest or the cutest or make the prettiest noises, but they are certainly quite capable, and under-rated).
That man once lay beside me in a hospital hallway as he was dying one night and I right next to him on another portable bed, gratefully saved by emergency room nurses. His nephew was also there, complaining about what a pain in the ass it was for him, to have to navigate through a maze of buses and subways after midnight on his way back to Hoboken. It was going to be a nightmare, but no one else in the family had any consideration whatsoever. Periodically a nurse would ask the old man if he knew his own name. He was never able to respond with more than a gasp. I imagined that each time they asked him, he came up with a new one in his mind. The nephew had transportation issues. Meanwhile, the uncle died. No more transportation issues for him.
The old man was definitely dreaming during those several hours we were neighbors. Every now and then he turned his head toward me and his eyes were somewhere else entirely. Maybe he was seeing the ghost of that girl who’d given him a nickname back in the seventh grade, and was nice to him when nobody else was, and about whom he’d heard rumors and stories in the years since then, but never found out if they were true, or what really happened to her. Maybe now, this was the mystery he’d like cleared up before he passed on forever, not his own life flashing before his eyes, but hers.
So this is the fabric I had in mind, the structure, the scaffold on which a number of related tales could dangle. Thinking about it reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five‘, which I’m about to read again (this time out loud to my son). Billy Pilgrim was able to experience his entire life as if it were all one and the same moment. (I’m sorry, but people are really really picky if they don’t give that book five stars on Goodreads!). I’m also reminded of the Jim Jarmusch movie ‘Dead Man‘, in which the main character only begins to truly live the moment he receives a mortal wound.
Some questions. Do ghosts sleep? What are the rules of ghosts? Besides the obvious (“haunting”). Can they also love? I might have to make up some new guidelines.
So there are the many stories of the man and the woman, their time together and all the time since, plus those of the nephew, of the hospital staff and other visitors and patients, the throngs of comers and goers in a busy New York City emergency room in the middle of a Saturday night. There’s no way I can guess right now if I’ll get around to writing this one, or putting it back in the oven, maybe keep it warm for some other time.
Curious story of a musical media hoax
Tom Lichtenberg is an independent writer and blogger, and I am personally a big fan of his work. His blog is Pigeon Weather Productions, where he ruminates on a wide variety of subjects, and also promotes his extensive catalog of books. A few months ago he interviewed me, and I so I asked him if he'd let me interview him.
Bartleby & Co, a book of short essays about writers who stopped writing, and why, has given me the longest “must read” list of other books I’ve ever gleaned from a single source. It helps that so many of his favorite writers are also mine. From Walser to Musil to Melville to Kafka to Calvino to Felipe Alfau and Henry Roth and so many others, Vila-Maltas tells the stories of writers faced with the immpossibility of writing, the insufficiency of words to properly express what they wanted so much that they simply had to stop, sometimes for decades on end. He begins with the great character Bartleby the Scrivener from Melville’s wonderful story (perhaps my favorite short story of all time), the office clerk who “prefers not to” do anything whatsoever. Vila-Maltas scours the annals of literature to find all sorts of variants and variations of this attitude and theme with an abundance of charm and wit and humor. This is not about ordinary writer’s block but rather the tales of those who continue to produce, though perhaps only in their minds! The dreams and fantasies and imaginations live on, but deliberately and consciously uncommitted to paper. There are so many interesting bits in this book. I’m glad the author himself did not suffer from Bartleby syndrome, or at least not yet!
Unfortunately it’s not available as an ebook, but the public library came to my rescue once again.