Sunday, February 5, 2012

Soup and Salad: Super Bowl Books, "The greatest blog post about blurbs in the history of publishing," Dani Shapiro: Get Out of the Way, Stay the F*ck Awake, Sundays With Nathan Englander, The Greatest Books of All Time, Hierarchy of Book Publishing, Why You'll Never Find a Title like "Sucky Book," When Mommy and Daddy are Writers

On today's menu:

She should be holding a book in her other hand

1.  Are you ready for some football...novels?!  You’ve got your chips and Ro-Tel-and-Velveeta dip prepped.  You’ve painted your face blue and red.  You’re wearing your best pizza-stained jersey and you and your best buds are already clinking beer bottles in a pre-coin-toss toast to victory.  You are ready for the Big Game.  But have you done your literary football homework?  Today at Book Riot, I go into a huddle about the quintessential Super Bowl XXLVI novel: Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes.  (Last year, I kicked off Super Bowl Sunday with a look at the classic Chip Hilton books.)  And while you're at Book Riot, check out Victor Wishna's list of The Best Football Books That Aren't Really About Football.

2.  Galleys of my novel Fobbit went out to about a dozen authors this past week in hopes they'd say nice things about the book which Grove/Atlantic could then use in its publicity campaign.  I'd already gotten one nice blurb from Aaron Gwyn (author of The World Beneath) who called Fobbit "the first major work of fiction about America's war for Iraq."  But....does anybody care about blurbs, those endorsements which sometimes border on over-the-top enthusiasm?  Nicole Krauss took a good deal of ribbing for her operatic praise of a novel by David Grossman: "Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude."  At The Millions, Alan Levinovitz delivers a robust history of blurbs (stretching back to ancient Rome and moving forward to Rebecca Skloot with a stop along the way to visit Ralph Waldo Emerson's blurb for Walt Whitman: "I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career").  It is, bar none, the best review of blurbs you'll read all year.  And you can quote me on that.

3.  At her blog, Dani Shapiro has some very inspiring words about "getting out of our own way," which apply not just to writers but anyone who goes around practicing self-sabotage.  Here's how it begins:
      Here's the way an ideal writing day goes: I wake up early and do the knapsack/lunchbox/breakfast/off-to-school thing and my family toodles down the driveway while I still have a clear, unperturbed mind. I make my second cappuccino of the morning and climb the stairs to my office where I do a quick email check, find nothing aggravating, then a scan of the news, and by eight a.m. I have settled in to work. I turn the software program "Freedom" on, disabling the Internet on my computer, in the event that the lure of checking Facebook or Twitter proves too much for me. I work, uninterrupted, for a couple of hours. I head back downstairs, take the dogs out for some air, then throw ingredients for a stew into the slow cooker. Back upstairs I go. Another hour or two of work on my book. A one-hour yoga break at lunchtime. Revision, and the business of writing in the afternoon. By the time four o'clock rolls around, I'm spent, feel good about the work I've done that day (not to mention the dinner in the slow cooker, the yoga) and I drive to my son's school to pick him up, cheerful and available for quality family time.
      How often does a day like this happen? Well, I had one yesterday, which is why this description is so fresh in my mind. But really--how often? Probably about once every two weeks, if I'm completely honest. Something usually gives. I struggle with getting to the page in the morning, and it's noon before I begin to accomplish anything. I get sidetracked by a disappointing email, or an exciting email. It almost doesn't matter what the content, a full in-box is always over-stimulating. I don't get to the yoga mat. I don't make dinner. My work suffers. Four o'clock rolls around and my head feels like it's about to pop off my shoulders, and when I pick my son up at school, I am in a fog, emotionally unavailable and hating myself for it.

4.  It was only a matter of time before Mad Magazine got around to parodying bestselling children's literature: Stay the F*ck Awake.

5.  The New York Times gives us Nathan Englander's Sunday Routine (Note: puppy-dog alert!):
I’m a workaholic. So I really tried this year to take off that week between Christmas and New Year’s. I enjoy working. I like to write; that’s what I do. So inevitably I want to work some in the afternoon....Not that many writers really have a good grasp on sanity, but the only way to aspire toward sanity is to build a routine.

6.  The Atlantic tabulates The Greatest Books of All Time, as Voted by 125 Famous Authors based on responses found in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.  The usual suspects show up--no huge surprises--but it's still fun to take a look at rankings like these if you are list-obsessed (which I am).

7.  Speaking of lists, Paul Bogaards' "Hierarchy of Book Publishing" had me laughing and nodding in agreement.  Brand-name authors like Stephen King and Jodi Picoult are on the top rung.  Others farther down the chain include George R. R. Martin (#5), Literary Agents (#11), Laura Miller when she is cranky (#46), Laura Miller when she is not cranky (#47), the Steig Larsson estate (#75), 12-year-old in Iceland operating BitTorrent site and netting 50 grand a day selling pirated editions of Stieg Larsson (#87), book publicists (#98) and You (#100).

8.  My agent was allergic to the title of my novel.  This threw me into a tailspin and I spent several days fretting about "Fobbit"and wondering if I was too close to it after a six-year relationship to ever give it up.  I even went so far as to put it out to Quivering Pen readers for alternate title suggestions.  Thankfully, Grove/Atlantic seems to like "Fobbit" and it's stuck to the cover as we go to press.  Other authors, however, haven't had as much luck with their titles.  At Beyond the Margins, Randy Susan Meyers tells us that in her "unscientific study," only 17 percent of authors got to keep their original title:
Robin Black wrote, “My original title was YESTERDAY’S NEWS. Random House rejected it on the theory that you never give reviewers a title they could, if so disposed, use against you. (Which is why you don’t see more books out there called things like, “SUCKY BOOK.”)  And then there are the titles you didn’t know were taken: Cathy Marie Buchanan: “The original title for THE DAY THE FALLS STOOD STILL was THE RIVER WIFE. Sadly, my agent let me know Jonis Agree had just published using the title. Broke my heart for a hundred years.”

9.  At his blog Many Thrones, One Pretender, Michael Magras has this nice reflection on what it's like for a child to grow up with parents who are both writers (Magras' wife also writes fiction):
      Our son is one of a handful of five-year-olds in Maine with writers for parents. He has spent much of his childhood listening to Mommy and Daddy discuss their respective manuscripts, offer suggestions for improvements to each other’s work, and wonder aloud whether anyone other than two or three trusted readers will ever see the novels we spend months and even years crafting. More than most children, he is aware of the joys and frustrations that are a part of creating fiction—the thrill one feels when moribund passages come to life, and the hours of sleep lost when one, two, three months’s writing and rewriting has to be discarded, and self-doubt is all that’s left.
      Actually, he doesn’t see the insomnia. But he does see the stacks of printouts and the backed-up files and the ideas for future stories scribbled on legal pads. We write when he’s at school or asleep, but occasionally we need to edit when he’s around. That means he’s been a witness to Daddy’s mad dashes toward his laptop to type up a good idea before the idea disappears forever, and Mommy revising her ninth draft during his bath time.

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