Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Soup and Salad: Michel Faber's Last (?) Novel, The All Things Oz Museum, Karen Russell's Talk-Talk Solution, The Hemingwrite, Jennifer Weiner on Writers vs. Reviewers, The Writing Life in 1991, Writers' Sheds, Writing on the Rails (U.S. and French versions), Slow-and-Steady-Wins-the-Race Authors

On today's menu:

1.  “I wanted this to be the saddest thing I’d ever written,” the writer Michel Faber said over coffee last month in Midtown Manhattan, looking tired and disoriented.  That’s from an article in the New York Times in which Faber (author of Under the Skin and The Crimson Petal and the White) says his latest novel, The Book of Strange New Things, will be his last.  As a fan of The Crimson Petal and the White, I hope this isn’t true, that these are only words spoken in the emotion of the moment--which, as it turns out, come from the bottom of a well of sorrow:
     Those who work closely with Mr. Faber say that his decision to stop writing novels may be a manifestation of grief for Eva Youren, his companion of 26 years and his wife since 2004.
     “Eva was the one he wrote for, and he was blessed in having someone of her intelligence and judgment be his constant sounding board,” said Jamie Byng, the publisher of Canongate, which has published Mr. Faber’s books in Britain for 16 years. “In terms of his creative process, she was the absolute center of it.”
     Mr. Byng said that Mr. Faber’s decision to end with a novel that eulogizes his wife was fitting.
     “It’s such an extraordinary novel about grief and loss and people being forced apart, and the emotional integrity and power comes from the very heartbreaking things that he was going through when he was writing it,” he said. “If it’s the last novel that he ever writes, so be it.”

2.  The All Things Oz museum is housed in a square, green (natch!) building on Genesee Street in downtown Chittenango, New York.  “You could easily drive past the building without being aware of the cultural treasures housed inside,” Francis DiClemente writes at Narratively.  The yellow-brick sidewalks lining both sides of the street might be a giveaway, though.
Visitors to All Things Oz enter a small gift shop up front, dubbed “Baum’s Bazaar,” in reference to the name of a fine china and gift store L. Frank Baum and Maud owned in Aberdeen, South Dakota, on the western frontier. It failed, however, as Marc Baum (museum volunteer and no relation to Frank L.) explains. “People on the western frontier didn’t need china. So it was an utter failure. He always had kind of lofty aspirations and they didn’t always work out.”

And where did the name of Baum’s kingdom come from?
      One day L. Frank Baum was sitting in his parlor, telling his stories to some neighborhood children.
      “And one of the kids said, ‘Mr. Baum, Mr. Baum, what is this magical place with the Wizard and Dorothy, and where is this?’ And he said, ‘Oh it’s a magical place.’ And they said, ‘Does it have a name?’ And he said, ‘Of course it has a name.’”
      Marc Baum says the writer noticed a filing cabinet with two drawers in a nearby room. He says the top drawer was labeled “A to N” and the bottom one “O to Z.”
      “And he said, ‘Of course it’s Oz.’”

3a.  From the Dept. of Oil and Water: Karen Russell vs. Cell Phones:
“Ninety-nine percent of people have no issue using this kind of phone,” she said, holding her iPhone overhead. “Um, I can’t do it. I can’t hear or be heard. The shape of my face is either wrong, or when I smile I turn it off. And poor Adam, the first name in my phonebook, fifty times a day.”
As Nick Fuller Googins reports at The Story Prize blog, Russell’s solution is a device known as Talk-Talk (pictured above), “a bright pink cell phone plug-in made to resemble a land line handset that she found at a Portland, Oregon, gag store.”  Which reminds me....

3b.  ....I'm looking forward to checking out the Hemingwrite when it’s finally released onto the market.

4.  Should writers respond to bad reviews?  Jennifer Weiner has a few words on the subject at New Republic:  “Clearly, there are people who believe that readers and writers—at least the right kind of readers and writers—are special snowflakes, existing on a more exalted plane than mere mortals.”

5.  As Weiner notes, a lot has changed since the advent of the Internet.  At the Powell’s blog, novelist Karen Karbo (The Diamond Lane) further illuminates the differences in writers’ lives between 1991 and 2014:
      The Diamond Lane, published in May 1991, was my second novel, and what is most striking about the difference between the publishing process 23 years ago and now is not that the book was written on a Kaypro, Xeroxed at Kinko's, and sent overnight in a FedEx box to G. P. Putnam's Sons, but that after the manuscript was accepted and given a pub date, I asked my esteemed editor, "What should I do now?" and she said, "Just write the next one."
      Before I get too far down the road extolling the good old days, let me say that I'm not particularly nostalgic by nature, that Xeroxing manuscripts and sending them FedEx was a pain in the ass, as was hanging around the house waiting for your editor to call, which felt exactly like waiting for a boy to call in 8th grade; that I love my Kindle, enjoy a lively love/hate relationship with social media, admire the pioneering souls that have forged the way for quality self-publishing, and have no desire to hop in the way-back machine.
      That said, in 1991, the main job of a writer was to just write the next one. Publicity-wise, you were expected to be able to show up to a reading (arranged by your more charming publicist) and read from your own work in a manner that didn't put people to sleep. You were expected to be socially awkward, possibly unkempt, and a little wild-eyed — bonus points awarded for not being falling down drunk. After your book tour, whether large or small, you were expected to disappear into your scribe-cave.

6.  While you're getting down to the business of "just writing the next one," maybe you're doing it in a shed like the ones used by Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, Philip Pullman, or (most famously) Henry David Thoreau.

Roald Dahl's chair, preserved right down to the ashtray with his cigarette butts.

7.  Or maybe you're doing it on a train.  Amtrak's first writer-in-residence, Bill Willingham, offers a few tips for writing on the rails:
  • Bring pajamas (there being a shared corridor between your bed and the bathroom)
  • Bring a power strip or charging outlet; there's only one outlet in the Roomette
  • Stock up on small bills (tipping is on you)
  • Bring shampoo and conditioner (soap and towels are supplied, hair stuff is not)
  • Don't put anything on the shelf above the bed that might spill on you while you're sleeping (like, say, a glass of water)

8.  Better yet, maybe your railroad writing residency is on a trip from Paris to the Côte d’Azur.  Sigh.

9.  At Huffington Post, Louise Disalvo reminds us that it's the journey, not the arrival, that matters:
When I meet with writers who want to rush through their work, so eager are they to finish, so imbued are they with the "hurriedness" of our times, I tell them what I've learned. That many famous writers work slowly. That it takes many writers five or ten years to pen their works. That when Virginia Woolf was writing To the Lighthouse, for example, she often penned no more than 460 or so words a day. Learning this -- they, too, can let themselves work slowly and take all the time they need to complete a work.
Disalvo offers up the slow-and-steady example of writers like Michael Chabon, Henry Miller, Jeffrey Eugenides, Elizabeth Gilbert and others.