Saturday, August 31, 2013

Soup and Salad: Craig Lancaster Hits 100K, Wiley Cash's This Dark Road to Mercy,"The Grinning Fish" by Peter Benchley, A Naked Singularity Takes a PEN Prize, The "Discoverability Problem," 10 Forgotten Classics You Need to Discover, 50 of the Best Books You Haven't Read by Authors You Already Love, 17 Problems Only Book Lovers Will Understand, Veterans Writing Workshop, Etgar Keret's First Story, One-Sentence Journal, Remembering Elmore Leonard, Remembering Seamus Heaney, Lessons From an Eleven-City Book Tour

On today's menu:

1.  Novelist and short-story writer Craig Lancaster is celebrating a milestone: the 100,000th sale of his books.  Though that kind of number has all the weight of an eyelash for someone like E. L. James, it's a really, really, really big deal for writers like Craig Lancaster and 99.3% of his fellow pen-pushers.  Lord knows I couldn't see the 100,000th sold of copy of Fobbit even if I had a pair of binoculars.  So, way to go, Craig!  If you'd like to help boost his sales to 100,001 and beyond, you should check out 600 Hours of Edward, The Summer Son, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, or (my personal favorite) Edward Adrift.  Craig creates some engaging, flawed characters who struggle to make sense of a nonsensical world.  The books are mostly set in Montana and the West and they're all gems, in my humble opinion.  To celebrate the sales milestone and to say thanks to the readers who helped him reach 100K, Craig is offering a nifty giveaway.  He explains the prizes thusly:
      1. A chance for the winner to lend his/her name to a character in my current novel project, tentatively titled The Seasons of Hugo Hunter.  I will also send the winner a signed first draft of the novel (once it’s done).
      2. Signed copies of my four published books.
      3. A coffee date with me.  (If you’re not in Billings or Montana or somewhere I visit with regularity, we’ll have to work out some alternative—maybe I send you a coffee card and chat with you via Skype.  Or maybe just the coffee card.  I suspect that the alternative with more coffee and less me is probably the better prize.)
To enter, simply go leave a comment on Craig's author page on Facebook.  Easy-peasy.  (And while you're there, go ahead and "like" Craig.  Cuz, really, he's a likable guy.)

1a.  Novelist Wiley Cash (A Land More Kind Than Home) is also expressing his thanks to readers and to independent bookstores.  If you pre-order Wiley's forthcoming novel This Dark Road to Mercy from an indie bookstore and send him a scan or photo of your receipt, he'll send you an exclusive excerpt from the novel as well as an unpublished scene from A Land More Kind Than Home.  Full details can be found at Wiley's website.  This, lads and lassies, is a good deal.  I'm lucky to have had a sneak peek of This Dark Road to Mercy and I'm here to testify that it's a good 'un.

2.  Of Men and Marshmallows.  The Smog of War.  Soft Men, Hard Bullets.  Those were just a few of the titles I semi-seriously tossed around when it came to naming Fobbit.  Thank God I had a reasonable editor at Grove/Atlantic who insisted on keeping the book's original title.  Back in 1974, Peter Benchley and his publisher were sitting around trying to come up with a name for his novel, too.  Squam Head, Maw, Pisces Redux, Evil Infinite, and (my favorite) The Grinning Fish--those were just some of the proposed titles for the book we now know and love as Jaws.  See the complete list here.

3.  Congratulations to Sergio De La Pava for winning the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for his debut novel A Naked Singularity, which weighs in at a whopping 688 pages.  Paul Ford, in a review at Slate, said it is "the sort of book you write if you're not sure anyone will ever let you write another one."

4.  Over at the Dead White Guys blog, Amanda says "Discoverability problem?  What discoverability problem?  We ain't got not steenking discoverability problems!"  And by "discoverability," she means:
....publishers lamenting about how hard it is to get readers to "discover" (re: buy) certain books.  This is, of course, ridiculous, and if it is a real problem, it's the publishers' and not the readers'.  All you have to do is look at the world's top earning authors for 2013 to see that people are still buying books by the truckload--just maybe not the books publishers want us to.  Fact is, no reader that I know has a problem discovering what book to read next.  There are thousands of years of classics to catch up on, not to mention last year's best seller or whoever-you're-obsessed-with-right-now's-backlist.  I might not get around to paying $25 (or whatever) for the new Dave Eggers while it's in hardback, but that doesn't mean I have a discoverability problem.  It means publishers should stop pushing the same old shiz and expecting the reading world to suddenly develop more publisher-guided reading taste.
I'm with Amanda--all I have to do to "discover" books is walk down to my basement where approximately 8,900 choices await me.

5.  But, on the other hand, chances are good you've never heard of some of the books on HuffPo's "10 Forgotten Classics You Need to Read" list.  I, for instance, had never discovered Simplicissimus by Hans Grimmelshausen (1668), but now I'm intrigued:
Set during the Thirty Years' War, this is the first anti-war novel, depicting the horrors of war in gruesome detail while following the fortunes of an uneducated peasant who yo-yos around a phantasmagorical Germany until, disgusted by everything he sees, he becomes a religious hermit.  The 400-page novel is a boisterous Oktoberfest of genres bumping bellies, and exerted a lasting influence on the German novel.  Simplicissimus belongs to the same subordinate platoon as The Tin Drum, Catch-22, and Gravity's Rainbow.

5a.  Similarly, here are 50 of the Best Books You Haven't Read by Authors You Already Love.  (That really should be probably haven't read since--*cough cough*--some of us have happily devoured the likes of The Violent Bear It Away.  Many times.)

6.  Thanks to my wife Jean (aka She Who Puts Up With Me, aka The Book Widow) for posting this on my Facebook wall: 17 Problems Only Book Lovers Will Understand.   You like that?  Yeah, I thought you'd understand.

7.  If you are a veteran living in the New York City area (or know someone who is), you might want to check out the free writing workshop sponsored by Voices From War and taught by Kara Krauze and Jake Siegel.  Did I mention it's free?  This is the kind of thing that could change your life.  And it's free.

8.  If you do nothing else today, you should read this short, powerful piece by a war veteran--who also happens to be one of the best short-story writers at work today: Etgar Keret.  In an essay for Tablet, Keret talks about writing his first story when he was a soldier in the Israeli Army:
      I wrote my first story 26 years ago in one of the most heavily guarded army bases in Israel.  I was 19 then, a terrible, depressed soldier who was counting the days to the end of his compulsory service.  I wrote the story during an especially long shift in an isolated, windowless computer room deep in the bowels of the earth.  I stood in the middle of that freezing room and stared at the page of print.  I couldn’t explain to myself why I wrote it and exactly what purpose it was supposed to serve.  The fact that I had typed all those made-up sentences was exciting, but also frightening.  I felt as if I had to find someone to read the story right away, and even if he didn’t like or understand it, he could calm me down and tell me that writing it was perfectly all right, and not just another step on my road to insanity.
      The first potential reader didn’t arrive until 14 hours later.  He was the pockmarked sergeant who was supposed to relieve me and take the next shift.  In a voice trying to sound calm, I told him that I’d written a short story and wanted him to read it.  He took off his sunglasses and said indifferently, “No way.  Fuck off.”

9.  If you're not reading Missoula, Montana writer Chris LaTray's weekly "One-Sentence Journal" blog posts, then you are missing out on some gems.  Like this one for July 24: "Had an interesting moment reading Young Men and Fire, where Norman Maclean is at the mill my dad worked at in 1977, looking for one of the survivors of Mann Gulch, and I wondered if Dad knew him."  Or this from July 12: "Camping and fly fishing eighteen miles or so up Rock Creek, I do my part to drag five trout from the stream, release them, then return to camp and be reminded there is no better place to sit than beside a fire."  Chris really knows how to whittle the day down to a single beautiful sentence.

10.  Over at The Huffington Post, screenwriter Rick Cleveland (Nurse Jackie, House of Cards) has a wonderful tribute to the late great Elmore Leonard:
      I got my first job in television after Miramax bought a film I wrote after it appeared at the Sundance Film Festival, in 1998.  One of the reviews for Jerry and Tom called my script for the movie "Elmore Leonard-esque."  To me, that was and still is about as high a compliment as you can get.
      I have loved Elmore Leonard's writing for as long as I can remember.  There isn't a book of his I haven't read, including his early westerns.  Leonard's flare for dialogue is unparalleled.  Poetic and spare, with rhythms that easily compare with and often surpass the best dialogue written for the stage, including the plays of that guy from Chicago who smokes cigars and sometimes wears a beret.  In fact, I much prefer Leonard's dialogue.  It's less self-conscious and seems to reflect more accurately the way people really talk, especially inarticulate people.  In plays, even in my own, characters oftentimes sound too goddamned articulate.  I just love the way Elmore's dialogue reads, sometimes so much that I will go back and re-read passages out loud to myself.

11.  Speaking of late and great, I was sad to hear Seamus Heaney had passed away earlier this week.  The world has certainly lost a singularly rich poetic voice.  At the Writer With a Day Job blog, Aine Greaney has a tribute to the Irish poet which focuses on his poem "Digging."  Greaney said she wrote the blog post almost exactly a year ago in observance of Labor Day, little thinking it would end up serving as an elegy for a man who knew the value of good, hard work.  Here's just one stanza from "Digging":
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper.  He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf.  Digging.

12.  At The Paris Review blog, Toby Barlow (Sharp Teeth, Babayaga) shares "Lessons From an Eleven-City Book Tour."  Toby puts me to shame.  I'm sure I hit at least 11 cities on the Fobbit tour last year and I wasn't half as observant as he was.  To wit:
      I learned that ravens are multicolored, like cockatoos, only their plumage radiates out far beyond what our spectrum can see.
      I learned that the waxing moon sliver comes in the shape of a comma, hinting at more to come.
      I learned that s’mores can be improved with Reese’s.
      I learned that the museum guard at the Milwaukee Art Museum is changing his strategy for buying lottery tickets, he’s just going to stick with the same numbers for a few months and see what happens.
      I learned that the legendary Hiawatha, the train running between Milwaukee and Chicago, is better in every measurable way than flying.

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