"... a boyish, flop-haired moppet strides well-booted onto the stage of Cooper Union’s Great Hall."
There’s a certain kind of author whose cool sneaks up on one so quietly, hastily, and tardily that the only legitimate response for the (otherwise) well-read savant may be to reject this problematic writer, now the ne plus ultra of the literary set, out of hand.
If you’ve been "in" on said raconteur from their fledgling steps into the raw publishing world, it's a different tale. When one's own anointed few break out to the big time, it's like hitting the trifecta on Derby Day. "Ah, yes," you airily proclaim, "I’ve been reading Ian McEwan since The Cement Garden." ("Say what?" retorts the late-to-the-party Atonement fan.) Or "Yes, yes, I saw the NYTBR, but haven’t you read Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist? But you must. It was clear way back when that with a quick wit like that, he’d soon be on to ever more dazzling things."
(This is chapter 16 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
Pathfinder Personal Edition, launched in November 1996, turned out to be the biggest and most expensive debacle in early web history. The dimensions of the failure were immediately obvious to Time Warner management, who cut off all plans to promote or continue the service in early 1997. Now all that was left was to fire everyone responsible for the mess.
It was fascinating for me to watch the machinations and weak attempts at defense that now took place. I observed a desperate rear-guard action by a few Pathfinder executives to blame the whole fiasco on Marie Blue, director of publicity and marketing. It's true that her Personal Edition ads were insipid (they featured a dog who would "fetch your news") and Marie Blue was quickly fired. But Time Warner top management knew Pathfinder's problems went deeper than bad marketing. Other heads would have to roll.
As a middle-manager in the tech team, I was too low on the totem pole to be blamed for anything. The big brass weren't going to fire me; they didn't even know my name. We in the soldiering ranks of the tech team basement knew our jobs were safe, because the Internet was still burning-up hot and Time Warner was clearly committed to succeeding on the web. It was unclear, though, whether or not Time Inc. New Media or Pathfinder.com would continue to exist in their current form. And it was totally clear that most of our bosses were going to get fired.
MT Cozzola is a Chicago-based screenwriter, playwright, and actress, and a native of Oak Park, Illinois (the hometown of Ernest Hemingway). She has written the screenplay for the film Eye of the Sandman, which will appear in theatres in Fall 2009. Eye of the Sandman is adapted from a short story entitled The Sandman by German writer E.T.A Hoffman. I spoke with MT at the Cafe Neo in the shadow of the El tracks on Lincoln Avenue.
(This is chapter 17 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
A box of Coffeehouse: Writings From The Web arrived in Forest Hills, and, yeah, I felt that famous thrill of holding my book in my hand.
I liked the way it looked. I liked the layout and the cover, I liked most of the content, and I was glad it was a paperback original. But Christian and I were both angry about the outrageous price, $24.95 (an indication, we both felt, that our publisher Marjan Bace didn't believe in the book's potential and aimed instead to recoup his costs).
But Marjan did buy us an excellent publicist, Barbara Archer. I've since had the opportunity to meet many delightful book publicists and marketing directors, and I now have a good understanding of what they do. At this earlier point in my life, I didn't know that there was such a creature as a book publicist, and I was baffled by Barbara's cheerful demeanor and cool confidence. She did a great job, getting our book reviewed in many newspapers and magazines including the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. We didn't make the New York Times Book Review. Many of the reviews were short and polite, respectful but not quite enthusiastic.
(This is chapter 18 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
We welcomed the new year 1998 at Walt Disney World, a rare moment in which I stopped working long enough to take a real vacation. It was wonderful to spend many uninterrupted days with my family, and it made me angry that I could not do this more often (though I knew it wasn't just capitalism and the Man to blame; I was clearly a workaholic).
Whenever I felt sorry for myself during these years, I would realize how lucky I was to be the father of my three kids, each so vital and unique. Elizabeth, bright and sophisticated, was into Titanic, Offspring, Green Day and Alanis Morisette in 1998. Daniel, creative and intense, was into Pokemon, causing me to spend lots of money on rare Charizard, Graveler or Gengar cards. Abigail, peaceful and contemplative, was into Teletubbies. Meg and I, meanwhile, had developed increasingly incompatible musical tastes: I was alternating between jam bands and hip-hop, while she had become obsessed with German industrial bands like Einsturzende Neubauten. The only band we liked equally was 4 Non Blondes, who broke up after one great record.
I often felt like I was going crazy during these months. Not literally crazy like I might start flapping my arms and telling people the telephone was on fire, but crazy like pent-up, pissed off, desperate and voiceless. I didn't know any more where I was going with Literary Kicks and the whole web writing scene. Coffeehouse: Writings From The Web was the best idea I'd had, and that ended up a washout. I had enlisted my friend Phil Zampino to act out scenes from Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground, but I had only the vaguest plans for how I would use the bewitching video we were capturing, and I knew that my descent into Dostoevsky's deeply alienating work was an expression of my own troubled feelings at that time.
I've been working hard, and I really need this three-day weekend coming my way. Hell yeah!
Another surprise guest will be writing this weekend's review of the New York Times Book Review. Check back on Sunday for, I hope, a wholly new perspective.
Till then, just a few links for a happy Spring day.
First up, we have David Brooks on Simon Schama's The American Future: A History. Brooks spends several paragraphs on how he has a thing for Brilliant Books. These Brilliant Books are about America and are "written by a big thinker who comes to capture the American spirit while armed only with his own brilliance." It’s like this:
Love As Always, Kurt Vonnegut As I Knew Him by Loree Rackstraw
(This is chapter 19 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
I love Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground because it may be the most honest novel ever written. It begins as a madman's rant -- "two plus two equals five!" -- but the madman soon reveals himself as a mere poseur, an ineffectual urban nobody, not a real madman at all but just a frustrated and lonely adult, confused about his past and starved for attention.
The "Underground Man" looks back at his own history and concludes that human beings must be essentially irrational, because he has tried to live a rational and honorable life, and his good intentions have been blocked at every turn. The climax of this beautiful and rambling narrative is the terrible tale of a dinner party with friends that turns into a disaster, followed by an attempt at a romantic encounter that ends in complete humiliation. Dostoevsky wrote Notes From Underground about himself, but when I read it in the mid-1990s I couldn't help feeling echoes of my own life.
I guess it was Dostoevsky's gift to make many readers feel this kind of personal connection. I got the idea to direct a modern-day Notes From Underground when I found out that Phil Zampino, a fellow computer programmer who'd performed at my Biblio's web writers reading in February 1996, was also a Dostoevsky freak. So I said it as a lark: "Let's make a movie of Notes From Underground. You can be the star and I'll direct."
It was just a wacky idea, nothing more. I did not realize I was beginning a project that would soon consume my life, that would misdirect my career and help to end my marriage, that would also turn into my biggest success so far. I just thought it was a fun idea. Hah.
It's so cool that Book Expo 2009 is taking place, literally, in a crystal palace, otherwise known as Jacob Javits Center in New York City, alongside the Hudson River where only recently a pilot made these words famous:
"We're gonna be in the Hudson."
The second time, in 2007, I got invited to the parties but didn't know what to do at the parties once I got there. I walked the convention floors feeling excluded.