Being A Writer
1. Lint, a novel by Steve Aylett about a famous but nonexistent writer that we told you about a few years ago, is now a movie! The trailer features supportive words from the legendary Alan Moore (Watchmen), Jeff Vandermeer, Mitzi Szereto and our own Bill Ectric, so you know there must be something special going on here.
2. Marty Beckerman has written a book inspired by Ernest Hemingway called The Heming Way: How to Unleash the Booze-Inhaling, Animal-Slaughtering, War-Glorifying, Hairy-Chested, Retro-Sexual Legend Within... Just Like Papa!.
(It's been a long time since we've heard from Jamelah Earle on this blog. Here's what she's been up to. -- Levi)
A couple of weeks ago, I flew across the country to hang out with an old friend (one I actually met on Litkicks about a decade ago), and on my return journey, I stopped at a kiosk in the airport (Seattle-Tacoma: you know you’re in Seattle when you walk past four Starbucks on your way to your gate) and picked up a book: Medium Raw, by Anthony Bourdain. I started the book on the miserable final leg of my trip home, the flight from St. Louis to Detroit, while sat next to a guy who kept staring at me. He may have had BO, or it may have been the onion rings from the airport Burger King; it’s amazing how similar those two smells are, which is something I never noticed before being trapped near a bag of them in the compressed-air, confined tube of an airplane. Be that as it may, I like Bourdain, and I like his book. The editing leaves something to be desired (Gnarls Barclay? Really?), but even though I don’t always agree with him, Bourdain is blunt and funny and he swears a lot, which is always aces in my book.
I’m not going to review the book (I haven’t actually finished it yet; since getting home, I’ve only managed to get in a few pages at a time while on my lunch breaks – it’s been busy here), but there’s something in it that caught my eye, and I’ve thought about it off and on since I saw it. At the end of the book, there’s a Q & A with Bourdain, and he said something interesting about writers and writing:
I've played poker all my life. I learned five card draw as a kid, and moved up to seven card stud in college. During the late 1990s, I started to hear about Texas Hold 'Em from my older brother Gary, a serious player who won a few tournaments around Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and Atlantic City. I quickly became obsessed with the game myself.
My best-ever tournament showing is third place, unfortunately, but I do pretty well at table play. There's a misconception that poker is unsavory in some way, or that players risk losing a lot of money; this is only true on The Sopranos or among clueless tourists, because skillful and experienced poker players are responsible and careful, never risk more than they can spend, and come out ahead as often as not. The average suburban Joe spends more money on golf or fishing than I will ever lose at poker.
I raised all three of my kids to play Texas Hold 'Em, and they're all excellent at the game. I'm sure the experience builds character; it trains important life skills like patience, awareness. subtlety. I think there's tremendous psychological and literary significance to poker, and that's why I occasionally write articles about the game here on Literary Kicks.
Last month I announced my new
obsession project: Literary Kicks will be publishing one e-book a month for the next year. The new book is now out! It's a literary book about poker, and it's called The Cards I'm Playing: Poker and Postmodern Literature.
I'm going to write about the book tomorrow, but today I want to share some lessons I've learned during my quick education as an e-book publisher. Part of the fun of e-book publishing in 2011 is a sense of community, innovation and adventure, and I hope the points below will help others who are launching their own e-book ventures.
1. Cover Art: I began this project with one absolute principle: any e-book published by Literary Kicks is going to look good. I don't understand why other e-book publishers put out such shabby-looking product. For the cover of The Cards I'm Playing, I'm proud to present a design by Vince Larue, an up-and-coming graphic artist from France. Working with Vince was a pleasure: I told him what I wanted, he sent a couple of quick sketches, and within 36 hours I had the final draft that you see on this page. I love this cover -- merci beaucoup Vince!
"It's about persevering." These words appear in a funny short video about the life of a writer starring Kristen J. Tsetsi, who proudly lives up to that spirit. Her novel Pretty Much True ..., scheduled for publication in September, tells the story of a young couple separated by a military deployment to Iraq. This is the story she is most eager to tell, and I first wrote about Pretty Much True ... in 2007 when it was a self-published book called Homefront. Kristen has also published a Kindle collection called Carol's Aquarium, and edited the anthology American Fiction, Volume 11: The Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Authors. I got a chance to ask Kristen a few questions about the life she has chosen and the work she devotes herself to.
Levi: Your novel Pretty Much True ..., previously published as "Homefront", is about soul mates separated by military deployment: the narrator is at home while her lover fights in Iraq. According to your author bio, your husband went to Iraq with the 101st Airborne. How did you handle the boundaries between fiction and autobiography when you wrote about this obviously personal subject?
Kristen: Everything I've ever written creatively (not counting a couple of essays) has been fiction, but -- and this is probably true for most writers -- based on personal experience in one way or another. Non-fiction storytelling has always been a problem for me. I get too hung up on the details, and I forget the feeling.
Zazen by Vanessa Veselka is an amazing novel, easily one of the most exciting books of the year.
The story is narrated by Della, a recent college graduate with a degree in paleontology, who kills time learning yoga and working in a vegan restaurant while her country, a slightly twisted mirror reflection of today's United States of America, slips into chaos amidst the failures of War A and War B. Della lives with her brother Credence, with whom she shares the disconcerting memories of extreme hippie parenting, and wanders her city (which resembles Portland, Oregon) wrestling with her anxiety, imagining acts of violence and developing desperate crushes on anyone who reaches out to her with a kind word. She's a wry, sarcastic narrator and a troublemaker, and the best thing about Zazen is the chance to see the world through this funny, brainy character's eyes.
As a bittersweet snapshot of a deeply confused alternative hipster counterculture, Zazen is reminiscent of Justin Taylor's The Gospel of Anarchy, another recent book I liked. But Gospel of Anarchy is about post-collegiate anarchists and punks, while Zazen is about post-collegiate anarchists and vegans, and Zazen is about ten times more manic. The comic prose recalls Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown, while the book's sense of traumatic disorientation and social disconnectedness calls to mind Tom McCarthy's Remainder. With all that said, Zazen is like nothing but itself -- a simply original story, emotionally resonant and crammed with nuggets of delightful observation.
This novel is one of the kickoff publications from a new publishing house, Richard Nash's innovative Red Lemonade, which invites you to read the entire novel online. But you may want to buy a copy of this book, or give one to an anarchist/vegan friend. I was very happy to have had a chance to ask Vanessa Veselka some questions about her brilliant work. Here's the conversation we had.
YES! Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (and Why It Matters), the first Litkicks Kindle book, is generating some heat, climbing up the Amazon Political/Ideologies chart to number 21, which I am thrilled to note is two higher than Mitt Romney's No Apology, clearly a less exciting work.
Thanks to my swell friends who tweeted me up and Facebook'd me up, and to Conversational Reading, Literary Saloon, Lightning Rod's The Poet's Eye and the great Maverick Philosopher for posting blog notices. (If you blogged about the book and I missed it, please send me the link).
One person (who I do not know) has already reviewed the book on Amazon. This is a lukewarm but well-written and thoughtful review, and I'm sorry the reviewer feels I "didn't do my research" because I didn't know that Ayn Rand had addressed the validity of psychological egoism. I know Ayn Rand has addressed this, but I believe she's done so only superficially, and not satisfactorily. Indeed, that is the entire substance of my book: a critique of Ayn Rand's ethics on the basis of her reliance on the (weak) scientific doctrine of pscyhological egoism. However, I do appreciate the fact that this Amazon reviewer named "poem2poes" took the time to read and understand my book, and I am happy to have survived my first Amazon bad review. (May the next one please be better.)
I wrote Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters), a new book now available for Kindle, to fill a vacuum. I'm pretty sure it represents a completely original approach to the works of Ayn Rand.
There are a lot of smart people in the world who value Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, and there are also a lot of smart people who don't. This ought to be the making of a great public debate ... but the two sides don't debate.
Instead, they call each other names. Non-objectivists caricature Ayn Rand as a shrill proto-fascist and mock the enthusiasm of her fans. Her fans circle the wagons and remind each other that the world is full of cowards who can't handle Rand's clear thinking anyway. Both sides seem to just wish the other side would go away. This is how we treat a philosopher who dares to write with strength and originality?
Yeah, I know. I'm the same guy who told you in 2007 that the Kindle was a loser and that e-books were a lousy first date. But the Kindle has gotten much better, and I had a transformative experience after buying one. I'm now going to start publishing e-books of my own, and I'm planning to do this in a major way.
You see, the reason I've been prickly about this whole e-book thing all along is that I've always wanted to publish in electronic formats, and I'm thrilled that the technology is finally good enough to make the dream a reality. The business plan I'm about to begin executing is an aggressive one (I never do things halfway). I'm going to publish one book a month for the next twelve months.
1. Billy Joel had a contract to write a memoir, but got cold feet. Too bad. We know this Long Island boy can write, and I bet he had some stories to tell. The alleged book (my personal guess is that he never began it, though the cover artwork was finished and released) was supposed to have been called The Book of Joel.
2. You know I've been wanting to read this Long Island boy's life story. Jay-Z's recent semi-memoir Decoded had its moments, but Jay hardly dug deep. Good hiphop memoirs or biographies are rare, but I eagerly snapped up Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office, a new unauthorized biography by business writer Zack O'Malley Greenburg, who has covered hip-hop culture and money for Forbes magazine. I suppose it works as a business book, but I found it very disappointing. This white boy, unfortunately, does not know hiphop. The author also seems to think Jay-Z's best years must be right now (naturally, because this is when he's making the most money) which proves, once again, that he doesn't know anything about hiphop.