Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Soup and Salad: Afghanistan: Our Undescribed War, Writers and Their Day Jobs, Small Presses and Their Authors, 50 Best Films About Writers, Weird and Wonderful Bookstores

On today's menu:

1.  At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brian Castner (author of The Long Walk) wonders where he can find the poetry and fiction coming out of the war in Afghanistan:
If World War II is the Good War, Korea the Forgotten War, Vietnam the Bad War, and Iraq the New Bad War, then Afghanistan, it would seem, is the Lonely War. Or maybe the Ignored War. It is, at least, the Undescribed War.
He's got a valid point.  Two of the novels he cites, Elliot Ackerman's Green on Blue and John Renehan's The Valley, are in my To-Be-Read queue, but there are scarcely any other recent or forthcoming titles by Afghanistan veterans on my shelves.  (Two other novels by non-veterans, Wynne's War by Aaron Gwyn and The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, are also on that same TBR list.)  Castner's article is well worth the read for anyone even remotely interested in war literature.

2.  Ah, the dreaded, necessary and (occasionally) beloved Day Job.  Nearly every "working" writer has one, whether they like it or not.  I've had a few over the years: cook, dishwasher, soldier, pizza delivery driver, janitor, clerk at a video-rental store (remember those?), tutor at a community college, storage yard caretaker, and, currently, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management.  So, I can really relate to this article, which talks to writers like Catherine Lacey (Nobody is Ever Missing) and Shane Jones (Crystal Eaters), who works as "a writer/event planner/logistics person.  It's a pretty standard desk job, I think.  I answer phones and emails and print signs and banners."  Jones' advice in what to look for in a Day Job is pretty much what I'd say:
I don't want to take my work home or work extra hours. I look for a day job that pays well and doesn't tax me mentally. If you want to produce creative work look for a job that doesn't burn you out mentally and allows you to daydream a little. Bookstore clerk, parking lot attendant, late night security patrol at a college, lifeguard at the YMCA, things like that are good.

3.  Shane Jones pops up again in this feature about small presses at Poets & Writers.  Jones describes the feeling of going small with Two Dollar Radio:
      After publishing two novels with Penguin I was told by my editor that if sales didn’t increase it would be difficult to proceed with a third book. The following year was a brutal time of stagnation—e-mails to my agent on where to submit next that went unanswered, erratic editing on my book, and fits of jealously over friends’ publishing deals. I would gladly have this time mind-erased.
      I had been a fan of Two Dollar Radio for more than a year when I submitted Crystal Eaters on a Thursday afternoon. I had become frustrated being at a large literary agency and a major publishing house—an experience that at its worst resembled answering office e-mail. I occasionally felt like I was doing something wrong when it was impossible to be doing something wrong. My time spent with independent presses in the past (Publishing Genius, for example) was more akin to building a tree house in the dark by candlelight, hoping you create something to stand on. Crystal Eaters was accepted Monday morning and a contract came days later.
      What appealed to me about Two Dollar Radio was a combination of things: from its dedication to publishing outsider voices all with a cohesive aesthetic (I’m still not sure how they pull this off) to a publishing philosophy that mixes family closeness and punk aesthetics (think of a record label like Drag City). I wanted to be there. I wanted to go back to the tree-house feeling. When Eric Obenauf sent me an acceptance letter just under a thousand words long (keep in mind, this is four days after submitting a book I had sat with for more than a year) I was excited again. It felt raw and dangerous to be publishing a book like this again. Not only did Eric have a vision for Crystal Eaters (which he would help expand fifteen thousand words and cut thousands more), but there was also a close, loose, “let’s just do this” vibe. Things felt fun again, and if it doesn’t feel fun, why do it at all?
Indeed, indeed.  The rest of the article highlights presses like Red Hen Press (and author Pete Fromm), Black Balloon Publishing (and author Kevin Clouther), A Strange Object (and author Kelly Luce), and several others.

4.  Flavorwire ranks the 50 Best Films About Writers.  My favorites on the list: Manhattan, My Left Foot, The Royal Tenenbaums, Julia, Midnight in Paris, Iris, Misery, The Shining, Sunset Boulevard, Adaptation, and Barton Fink.  And, yes, there are some glaring omissions--most notably the movie that perfectly nails the relationship between writer and creation: Stranger Than Fiction.  Maybe you can think of some others they missed?

5.  Are you sitting at a desk in your windowless office cubicle (perhaps at your Day Job--see above) and wishing you could just get away from it all?  Well, I can't whisk you off to Finland or take you on a shopping spree along the Champs Elysee, but I can offer this refreshing tour of "weird and wonderful bookstores" around the world, like Atlantis Books in Greece:

I love the caption for this one: "In 2004, two Oxford students were on holiday in Santorini, got drunk and decided to open a bookshop.  Despite niggling doubts once they sobered up, after graduating they filled up a van and drove back.  They run a small printing press in the back room and have signs saying you can ‘rent a cat’ while you read."

1 comment:

  1. I always feel a little awed by people who have served in the military – whether they’ve gone to war or not – because I have to acknowledge that they’ve made sacrifices and acquired discipline that is totally absent from my own personal experience, and I think a lot of us feel that way. One person who doesn’t, and can’t, is a principal here, Halifax Corderoy, whose best friend Mickey Montauk is about to ship out for Iraq as the story begins.