Saturday, September 1, 2012

Soup and Salad: What Not To Say To a Writer, David Foster Wallace Symposium, Book Sculptures, 50 Coolest Book Covers, Best Baby Gift for a Writer, Joseph Heller's Desk, What Writers Can Learn From Charlie Sheen, A Conversation With Ben Fountain and Alan Heathcock, Jennifer Spiegel's Worst Stories, The American Writers Museum, Navigating the World of Literary Agents, Jonathan Evison Trains For His Book Tour

A word of explanation about today's menu: Yes, many of these links direct you to articles which appeared as long ago as April of this year (which is like a decade in Internet years!).  The reason is a simple and pitiful one: my email inbox has spiraled out of control this year and, despite all my best efforts to tame it and weed it on a daily basis, it has overgrown until it resembles something like electronic kudzu.  I've been saving newsletters and book-related links of interest in my inbox, hoping to eventually include them in a Soup and Salad....but, sadly, they've been choked by the e-kudzu.  So, that's a long-winded explanation for "here are some relatively ancient links which are still worthy of your attention."

1.  Leslie Pietrzyk offers these tips to her non-writer friends on what NOT to say to authors.  For instance,
“A writer? Are you published?”
This is a punch to the gut to any writer not published, or not published much. It’s a big, bold step for most of us to call ourselves a “writer.” If we weren’t a “writer,” we would have called ourselves something else. We’re writers, published or not. And what we’re thinking is: You’re a lawyer? Have you won any Supreme Court cases?
Try instead: What do you write?

2.  A. J. Aronstein reports on the David Foster Wallace Symposium at The Millions:
      I guess this is to say that the symposium had its share of characters one might expect to find in a David Foster Wallace novel.
      But thinking back to two days of talking about suicide, love, literary commitment, illness, perfection, and grief, it seems silly to sneer at the earnestness of readers who understand Wallace’s work much more deeply than I could ever hope to. I can’t report feeling any closer to a resolution about how writers should carry forward Wallace’s considerations of the constitutive struggles of ordinary life.
      The symposium did repeatedly drive home the obvious fact that I don’t miss him as badly (and can’t miss him as badly) as the people who knew him personally. Not just as a spectral, textual, complex set of sometimes life-changing ideas about the world, but rather as a fleshy, six-foot-plus, pain in the ass, bandana-ed human dude who once asked Rolling Stone to provide a special caregiver for his dogs with “emotional issues” before covering the McCain campaign in 2000, and who left behind friends and family and a heap of paper that now sits in catalogued boxes for the rest us all to decipher, dissect, and translate.
      More importantly, it revealed something of the motivating force behind our collective desire to discover for ourselves the ordinary humanness of writers we admire, and the ways we go about trying to do it by opening those boxes full of paper.

3.  While I'm never in favor of destroying books, these "carved book landscapes" by Guy Laramee are pretty damn impressive:

4.  I have to agree, these 50 Coolest Book Covers Ever are  I'm so glad they included one of my all-time favorites: Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead:

5.  Click here to find out what novelist and new parent Matthew Dicks (Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend) thought was his "best baby gift so far."

6.  File this under "Oh, What I Wouldn't Give To Be There."  The University of South Carolina library has put on display the desk, typewriter and lamp used by Joseph Heller as he wrote many of his major works.
The well-worn desk is covered with coffee cup rings and other stains. Its veneer is chipped, there’s a hole in the right drawer, and it bears scars at knee height where chairs apparently bashed against it. The small, portable typewriter has dark green keys that respond with a solid “thunk” when struck.

7.  If this doesn't make you cry--or at the very least choke up with a throat-lump--then I don't want to know you.  Novelist Amy Franklin-Willis (The Lost Saints of Tennessee) wrote an absolutely touching piece for Writer's Digest on "What Writers Can Learn From Charlie Sheen."  In it, she describes the moment she sat in her car, caught at an emotional crossroads between the competing urges of wanting to be a good writer and an even better parent:
      Driving home from work one night I made an impulsive detour to the mall, intent on ninety minutes of cinematic therapy. I parked in the garage but found myself unable to get out of the car. My writing journal lay on the passenger’s seat and the weight of never again being able to return to the book in a serious way crashed over me.
      I knew two things for sure. The book needed work, lots of it, and the time to craft it would be impossible to find in my current schedule. I also knew that I wanted to have one more baby. Just one. I loved being a mother and reveled in the noisy chaos of my growing family despite its negative effects on writing production.
      Sitting in the car with [my daughter] Georgia’s car seat looming in the rear view mirror, I decided I had to choose. The babies or the book.

8.  Two of my favorite writers engage in a back-and-forth email exchange about the craft of stories and what makes them tick as writers.  Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk) and Alan Heathcock (Volt) lay it on the line for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers blog.  Ben says at one point: "One of the great things about the writing life is that you can go wherever your interest leads you. I discovered early on that these were the kinds of stories that interested me, though maybe "interest" is a tepid way to put it. These were the necessary stories, at least for me; I couldn't not try to write them."  Click here to read the whole conversation.

9.  It's always refreshing to hear writers talk about their failures.  And when it's Jennifer Spiegel dishing about her "Three Worst Stories--So Far," you can damn well bet it's gonna be funny.
      “Scallop.” I called my fictional town Scallop. I think it was in Upstate New York. This was an assignment by a licensed counselor. Because I was in therapy. Yeah, I’m admitting that. I had been in this near-fatal car accident, which I never like to talk about, and I hated it. I said a lot of B.S. stuff. When she asked me to write her a story since I liked to write stories, I assumed she was patronizing me—but, hey, I thought, I’ll blow her @#%*ing mind with my literary awesomeness!
      I don’t need therapy! I’m a badass writer!
      What happened in the story? I don’t even remember. Something—no doubt—about a vivacious, badass woman ending up in a small town called Scallop, where they square-danced on Friday nights and preserved fruit and sh#t. I remember how the poor therapist said, “I don’t know what it means, but I know I like it.” Patronizing! I flew out of there, and burned “Scallop.”

10.  The American Writers Museum.  Take a minute to let those words sink in and revel in their awesomeness.  A museum devoted to the preservation of writerly artifacts, a place desgined to host readings on a grand scale, a wellspring of education about American books.  I think my mind is officially blown.  Take an hour or two to browse through the Concept Plan (pdf).

11.  The Millions navigates the world of literary agents:
      In the piece, which appears in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers, Folio co-founder Scott Hoffman explains that the agency receives roughly 100,000 unsolicited queries a year, or about 200 a week for each of the nine Folio agents who accept unsolicited queries. Hoffman has taken on four new writers in the last year, only one of whom came in through the slush pile, putting the odds of an author without connections getting Hoffman to take on his or her book at roughly 1 in 11,111. When I sat down with another agent, Michelle Brower, as she read her slush pile, I watched her power through 19 query letters in 14 minutes, rejecting 18 of them and putting one aside for more consideration.
      Now, it may sound heartless to reject 18 query letters in 14 minutes, and every time Brower hit send on a rejection email, my heart sagged a little at the poor writer seeing yet another rejection from an agent, but you have to see it from the agent’s perspective. Literary agents work on commission – typically, an agent takes 15% of a client’s earnings – and every minute an agent spends working on a manuscript that doesn’t sell is a minute that agent is working for free.

12.  And finally, I'll leave you with this video of Jonathan Evison as he trains for his upcoming tour promoting his new novel The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving:

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