Thursday, September 15, 2016

Soup and Salad: Laila Lalami procrastinates, Patrick Ryan’s 15 unpublished novels, The Worst Book Signing Ever, Care Package Kurt Vonnegut, The Sweetest Book Publicist in the World, Help Put the War On Stage, Parnassus Piggies

On today’s menu:

1.  I have tried to come to peace with my demon, Procrastination, but he continues to sit on my shoulder, as he has done for years, and peck the back of my head with his relentless beak. I take comfort (small comfort, but comfort nonetheless) in knowing other writersbetter and more successful writersare also tortured by this devil. Take Laila Lalami, for instance. The author of The Moor’s Account writes in the L. A. Times:
     I berate myself regularly about this waste of time. Imagine how much you could get done, I tell myself, if only you’d quit social media. Imagine all the things you could write!
     But I can’t help my procrastination. And for me, at least, it is intimately connected to self-doubt. The novel I’m envisioning at any moment and the novel I’m actually writing are never the same. One is perfect; the other is imperfect. One is intricate and surprising and beautiful; the other is straightforward and conventional and ugly. So ugly that I can’t bear to look at it just yet. When I try to put the fictional world into real words, the result is often frustrating. Before I’ve even started writing the story in my head, I know it will disappoint me on the page.
     So I log into Facebook instead.
One of these days, I’m gonna write something as brilliant as this. One of these days.

2.  Patrick Ryan (The Dream Life of Astronauts) may or may not be a procrastinator, but he has certainly had his share of “desk-drawer novels.” Earlier this summer, Lit Hub had a great piece by Sophia Efthimiatou charting Patrick’s ups and downs. It begins thusly:
     He was at a meditation retreat in the Catskills, sitting cross-legged on a big flat rock on the side of a lake, eyes closed, pulse steady, surrounded by chipmunks and beavers and deer and newts, when Patrick Ryan decided he would never again try to write a book.
     He had completed seven unpublished novels by then, attempted eight or nine more unfinished ones, all of them shoved away into manuscript boxes that took up as much space in his apartment as a child’s coffin. As he was nearing 40, there was nothing impressive about this activity of his—writing, that is—but a sad compulsion that bordered on the absurd.
As someone who is looking forward to reading The Dream Life of Astronauts, I am so grateful that Patrick never gave up.

3.  Another excellent Lit Hub essay you might have missed when you were busy vacationing at Yosemite or slathering SPF 100 on your winter-pale skin at Atlantic City this summer: Remembering the Worst Book Signing Ever by Lori Jakiela. Her book is called Miss New York Has Everything, a line she took from an episode of the 1970s TV show That Girl, but a title that led to all sorts of hilarious confusion at Sam’s Club. Here’s a snippet of her trials and tribulations:
     Inside Sam’s Club, everything—the signs, the cake, the carts, more Grand Opening balloons—is red white and blue, as if Sam’s is America itself and not just a place where Americans get a bargain on 1,000-count boxes of latex exam gloves.
     People ram by, massive carts stuffed with paper towels and dog-food bags big enough to stash bodies in. Behind me a woman in a motorized scooter with a red balloon tied to the back revs up. She says, “Beep,” extending the vowels into a screech. She waves her arms like propellers. “I’m trying to get through here,” she says. “Jesus Christ.”
     I make my way to the information desk. I’ve brought a copy of my book and hold it up to show the woman at the desk. She’s wearing a regulation Sam’s vest. It’s covered with American flag pins, smiley faces, and buttons that say, “Ask Me! I Can Help!”
     I say, “I’m here for a booksigning? Do you know where I’m supposed to go?”
     “A what?” she says.
     “I’m an author,” I say and point to my book. “I’m supposed to sign some books here?”
      “I don’t know nothing about that,” the woman says and holds up a finger, then reaches for a big red phone that looks like a cartoon.
     Off toward the snack bar, the giant free cake seems mauled by squirrels. The line for free hot dogs stretches back to the entrance. The 300-count bags of roasted pig-ear dog treats are buy-one-get-one, which explains why nearly every cart that rolls by is stocked with them.

4.  Author Odie Lindsey (We Come to Our Senses) was the proverbial “Any Soldier” during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, which meant he was also the recipient of a care package full of Kurt Vonnegut novels, as he writes at The Millions:
     I looked around as if to thwart a setup, then squatted on the sand floor of the tent and went at it. Ripping the tail of packing tape off of the top, I expected a reward of Spaghetti-O’s or Cheerios, or pray-God, Jolly Ranchers.
     There was nothing there. Nothing but books. I read Slapstick out of obligation, and because it sat on top of the stack, and because its cover featured an illustrated clown.
I, too, was the recipient of care packages during my tour in the Middle East nearly 25 years later and transmogrified my experiences into the character of Abe Shrinkle (aka The Care Package King) in Fobbit. Like Abe, my greed knew no bounds. I mean, there’s just something euphoric about the squeal of ripping back that packaging tape....

5.  I can’t remember when I first met Caitlin Hamilton Summie—15 years ago? 20 years?—but I do know she was the first publicist to personally reach out to me, a neophyte book critic and blogger-in-the-rough. Now the owner of her own marketing and publicity company, Caitlin first crossed paths with me when she worked for Unbridled Books. I was always struck by the energy and love she put behind every book she sent my way (including during my year-long deployment to Baghdad in 2005). As I look back over my correspondence with Caitlin, I’m struck by how she never fails to ask about my life—my job, my writing, my kids, the weather outside my window, and so on. I always get the feeling that Caitlin’s words go deeper than the surface of e-mail text—her concern for my well-being rings genuine and true. Oh, did I mention we’ve never met in person? We came close once during an annual Book Expo America when it was held in Washington, D.C., but for whatever reason (probably socially-awkward me chickening out at the last minute), we never connected. So, I appreciated this behind-the-scenes look at Caitlin in her conversation with Sonya Chung (The Loved Ones), which includes this comment from Caitlin: “Every discouraging moment comes with a moment of success or joy—a great and important review, the discovery of a new talent, that perfect pitch to a niche outlet—and so we here in this firm get up and turn the lights on to make certain those voices are heard.” Perhaps the best news of all is the fact that Caitlin will see her own book, a debut collection of short stories, published next spring by Fomite. I can’t wait to start getting the word out about To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts.

6.  Air Force veteran J. A. Moad II wants to put the war on stage and he needs your help. Check out his crowd-funding project to stage his original production Outside Paducah: the Wars at Home this Veterans Day. Please consider sending a few dollars in his direction.

7.  And speaking of People Helping People....A wonderful thing is happening at Parnassus Books (in addition to the awesome bookselling skills on display, yo): authors are rallying around bookseller Stephanie Appell who is facing some steep medical bills. Check out the Parnassus blog post Book People Are the Best People, and then get ready to bid on some custom-designed piggy you can start saving for someone else’s rainy day.

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