Saturday, September 6, 2014

Soup and Salad: Writers' Day Jobs, A Bro-Mancy Book Tour, The Nixon Tapes, Flaherty-Dunnan Shortlist, Margaret Atwood's Future Novel, Voices From War, Burgers With Cara Hoffman, Burgers With Hemingway

On today's menu:

1.  Like 97 percent* of my bretheren and sisteren, I'm a writer who supports himself with a Day Job.  In fact, I've always supported myself with non-fiction-related employment.  I currently work as a public affairs specialist for a government agency in Montana** but in the past, I've balanced writing novels and short stories with work as an elementary school janitor, pizza delivery driver, video store clerk, newspaper editor, stage actor, short-order cook, and soldier (for twenty long, hard years).  Over the course of those thirty-two years, the amount of money I made through my writing would probably keep me comfortably afloat for about twelve months--and that's assuming the money came in regularly during that year, which it never does, of course.  And so I beat on, a writer against his bank account, borne back ceaselessly into the Day Job.  As a recent Huffington Post article reminds me, I am not alone.  The Bizarre Day Jobs Of 20 Famous Authors aren't always bizarre (what's so strange about being a teacher or a bank teller?), but they are interesting.  At the very least, I'd imagine laboring as an exterminator, blacksmith's apprentice and oyster pirate would provide some good fodder for what we writers consider our "real" job.

2.  Josh Weil and Mike Harvkey have filed their second dispatch from their cross-country tour promoting their new novels (The Great Glass Sea and In the Course of Human Events, respectively).  This new report is every bit as smart, engaging and bro-mancy as the first one, which I linked to here.  At Salon, the two novelists talk about the Then vs. Now of book tours:
      This is what book tour used to be like: The publisher flew the writer around the country. On the plane, the writer smoked Camels, drank whiskey. At the airport, the writer was met by a guy holding a little sign. He was the writer’s driver, and drove him to the hotel the publisher had secured for the writer’s enjoyment. After the writer had freshened up, he stood at a podium and read from his book. People ate it up. The writer was a kind of god. After the reading, the publisher took the writer and his friends to dinner. It was expensive. It went late. A lot of drinks were drunk. Near dawn, the writer succumbed to a few hours sleep. The next day was much the same.
      It looked like this:

      Or this:

      Or this:

      This is what a book tour looks like today:

3.  When I was browsing the new release section at Country Bookshelf a couple of weeks ago, a book with a lemon-yellow dustjacket caught my eye.  Though I don't generally gravitate toward political history, something about The Nixon Tapes drew me in.  The ginormous (784 pages) book edited and annotated by Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter is essentially a transcript*** of more than 3,000 hours of recordings made between 1971 and 1972 at the White House and Camp David.  This is the period just before the Watergate break-in and while it's no doubt possible to hear the hiss of that scandal in the background of the tapes, the book primarily focuses on the year Nixon opened relations with China, negotiated the SALT I arms agreement with the Soviet Union, and won a landslide reelection victory.  While The Nixon Tapes fell outside my budget for that particular Country Bookshelf shopping spree (I already had three other books tucked under my arm), the book continued to tantalize me over the next week.  I finally broke down and bought the e-book version (saving myself some valuable shelf real estate and wrist fatigue), and I'm glad I did because one extra-bookular feature is a series of embedded audio clips which you can play while reading the conversation in the book, beginning with this exchange between Nixon and Alexander Butterfield, his Deputy Assistant, about sound-activated recording equipment which had just been installed in the Oval Office:
Butterfield: You’re wearing the locator right now and you’re in the office....It depends on voice activation—
Nixon: Right.
Butterfield: —so you don’t have to turn it on and off.
Nixon: Oh, this is good. Is there any chance to get two? You see, the purpose of this is to have the whole thing on the file—
Butterfield: Yes, sir.
Nixon: —for professional reasons.

4.  Congratulations to the debut novelists who made the Flaherty-Dunnan shortlist (including the above-mentioned Josh Weil).  So many of these books are on my own shortlist to read (a list which, unfortunately, grows longer with every new book that arrives on my front porch).

Margaret Atwood's next novel (photo by MJC)
5.  Here's a novel that will never be on my To-Be-Read list, or the list of anyone else who's alive today: Margaret Atwood's untitled novel...which will not be published until 2114.  The Canadian author is the first to participate in the Future Library project.  The Guardian explains:
      The Future Library project, conceived by the award-winning young Scottish artist Katie Paterson, began, quietly, this summer, with the planting of a forest of 1,000 trees in Nordmarka, just outside Oslo. It will slowly unfold over the next century. Every year until 2114, one writer will be invited to contribute a new text to the collection, and in 2114, the trees will be cut down to provide the paper for the texts to be printed–and, finally, read.
      "It is the kind of thing you either immediately say yes or no to. You don't think about it for very long," said Atwood, speaking from Copenhagen. "I think it goes right back to that phase of our childhood when we used to bury little things in the backyard, hoping that someone would dig them up, long in the future, and say, 'How interesting, this rusty old piece of tin, this little sack of marbles is. I wonder who put it there?'"

6.  Please give a like to the Voices From War Facebook page; they do good work for veterans, and for literature in general.

7.  Cara Hoffman (Be Safe I Love You) had burgers with George Stephanopoulos at Strip House in New York City.  Among other things, they talked about the role of females in the military and how Hoffman's brother influenced and inspired her writing.  You can eavesdrop on their conversation here.

8.  Now that we're on the subject of ground beef and it's lunchtime in my time zone, I'll leave you with this recipe for Ernest Hemingway's Favorite Wild West Hamburger.  The ingredients include wine, capers, apples, carrots, sage and one teaspoon of minced chest hair.

*A non-scientific statistic I pulled out of my ass.
**The Bureau of Land Management, if you must know.
***In one of the first Oval Office recordings, Nixon said: "Mum's the whole word.  I will not be transcribed."

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