Honoring World Book and Copyright Day

Don’t you hate it when an important day sneaks up on you? Like those birthdays, anniversaries and holidays that you almost forget about until they are nearly on top of you? Well, today an important date almost streaked right past me. I must say that I would have been quite embarrassed if I’d let today, April 23rd, pass without informing both of my EEOTPB readers that today is, in fact, “World Book and Copyright Day”. Wow, how could I have missed that one on my calendar? Ok, it’s hardly up there with Christmas, Easter, and my wife’s birthday, but it is important nonetheless.

World Book and Copyright Day (how about WBACD from hereon), is now in its fourteenth year and comes to us courtesy of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization). The goal of WBACD is, in the words of UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova:

“Our goal is clear – to encourage authors and artists and to ensure that more women and men benefit from literacy and accessible formats, because books are our most powerful forces of poverty eradication and peace building. ”

Interestingly, the April 23rd date was selected because of the great number of literary icons who were either born on this date, or died on this date. In what can only be described as an astounding coincidence, this date in the year 1616 saw the death of William Shakespeare (April 23rd also being the dayof the great Bard’s birth as well); the great Incan chronicler and writer, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega; and the renowned Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes (although his date of death is officially listed as being on April 22nd).

In more recent times, April 23rd is the date of either the birth, or of death, of a number of other famous writers, notably French novelist Maurice Druon, who was born on this day in 1918; Icelandic author, and 1955 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Halldor Laxness, who was born on April 23rd back in 1902. The great Russian novelist Vladmir Nabakov narrowly missed the April 23rd distinction by being born a day earlier on April 22nd, while Spanish journalist and author, Josep Pla died on this date back in 1981.

Each year UNESCO, in conjunction with the International Publishers Association and the International Federation Of Libraries and Institutions, selects a World Book Capital, which for 2014 is the Nigerian delta city, of Port Harcourt, capital of River State, Nigeria.

So there you have it. Head on over to Port Harcourt if you wish, or just crack one open right where you are and drink a toast to “World Book and Copyright Day”.

Now, back to work on the poetry book…

In which I discuss the demise of books and then shamelessly promote my own

I have written about this in previous posts, but a recent Washington Post blog by Matt McFarland set me off again, so here I go. In a post titled “Books are losing the war for our attention. Here’s how they could fight back”, Mr. McFarland notes that while it is true that we are all reading more and more, we are not reading books, or at least not conventional books, and he includes e-books in this assessment. Interestingly, e-book sales have declined by 3% during the sales period measured between August 2012 and August 2013. McFarland also cites the fact that the number of people who do NOT read books has tripled since 1978. All of which leaves me to wonder, if so few people are reading books, why then are so many people writing them. With upwards of 10,000 e-books hitting the electronic shelves each day…yes, I said each day…one is left to wonder when the number of authors writing books will surpass the number of readers available to read them. Apparently, we are all spending far, far too much time on social media, reading Facebook posts, participating in Linkedin discussion threads, wading through email and monitoring Twitter feeds to crack an e-book, let alone a conventional book with real pages. In the words of, Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Amazon Kindle content, “Most people walk around with some kind of device or have access to some kind of device that allows them to choose how to use their time.” [my emphasis].

So there you have it…we are choosing do other things rather than to read books. So don’t go blaming the death of books on all that social media stuff – we aren’t reading books because we don’t WANT to…so there.

There are numerous solutions to our book reading problem (or lack thereof) being suggested. One suggested answer to the problem is to simply increase the number of words that we can absorb into our overloaded brains per minute. This is done by eliminating traditional left-to-right scanning of a page or display.

New software being developed by a Boston company, Spritz Inc. hopes to reinvent reading by “compact text streaming”. Freed from the burden of having to turn paper pages, or to swipe displays from page to page, we will be able to focus on a stream of information without moving our eyes, thus allowing us to plow through once formidable tomes in record time.

An example cited in Mr. McFarland’s blog post suggests that a properly focused reader using such a device might be able to read “The Catcher in the Rye” in a bit over three hours.

I wish them well with this. I am so behind on my reading.

*

Perhaps those of you who visit here often think it odd that I have nearly let the first third of the month of April go by without mentioning that April is National Poetry Month. Well, the fact is, I have been busy with my own poetry project lately. My collection of poems, “Traveling Light (and taking the back roads out of town)” is well under way and should be available in electronic format, and hopefully print format before the end of the month. Look for it advertised right here on EEOTPB — I mean really, where else. Download it to your Spritz app and you should be able to rip through it in about 48 seconds.

Lisa paints

Lisa paints

like I want to write

passionately

colorfully

in imaginative detail

with soul bearing confidence

with bittersweet honesty

and when she stands

before the canvas

with Haydn playing

in the background

it is then you know

that there’s no turning back

she takes no prisoners

or so I think, as I watch her

on this particular day

when it is raining outside

and we are stuck

in that tiny apartment in Miami

the one we rented out of desperation

after the foreclosure

and she’s wearing the smock

that I bought for her at Target

for Christmas

the powder blue one

with the four big pockets

for her artist stuff

but it is smattered now

with misplaced paint:

Titanium White

Burt Rose

Radiant Violet

Tree Sap Green

Bee sting Yellow

“don’t move” she says coldly

as she adjusts the blinds

I’m drinking bourbon in the nude

tired and tortured in an ugly little room

in a miserable part of town

Prussian Green

Cobalt Tourquoise

Winsor Emerald

Vandyke Brown

she snaps on a light

I soak in its radiance

I’m grateful for the heat

the minutes crawl by

while

Lisa paints.

So you call yourself a writer

“The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.”

—Pico Iyer

In thumbing through my writer’s notebook, I came across the above quote by the British essayist and novelist of Indian descent, Pico Iyer. The quote has been hanging out in the coffee stained margins of my writer’s notebook for months now. Then as now, I am not sure what to make of it. At first the quote did not resonate with me. Were these words the overindulgent musings of a man who is already a successful writer? Or was it perhaps some form of backhanded condescension to the obscure and struggling writers of the world (of whom I count myself a member).   After all, what would a writer be if not a writer?  Would he or she be a plumber – a dietician – NSA analyst?

“What did you do all day dear?” asks my wife.

“Well sweetheart, I completed the final chapter of that novel I have labored over for the past fourteen months.”

“That’s wonderful,” she says.

“No biggie,” I reply. “That’s what a good electrician does – write novels.”

Of course I am being facetious here, but I have to ask myself if I could work on a piece of fiction, non-fiction, poem, or even a technical document and not think of myself as a writer? In fact such thinking flies in the face of everything that I’ve heard about how we should view ourselves in order to achieve success. Remember the “so you think, so you shall be” philosophy, popularized in self-help books, tapes, DVDs and infomercials? Whatever happened to visualization? We all remember that, right? Close your eyes and imagine yourself wealthy, a non-smoker, twenty pounds slimmer, a confident speaker, the life of the party. Whatever you want to be, just make it happen by believing it so much it happens.

A number of months ago, I attended a lecture by a moderately successful writer, not a writer in Mr. Iyer’s league, but certainly a writer who has achieved a modicum of literary success. This writer suggested that to achieve success we should begin to think of ourselves as ‘writers’. He suggested that writer wannabes have business cards printed, websites published, and at all times think of themselves as ‘writers’ no matter what their profession. He said that writers not writing but are working at non-writing jobs, are simply miscast, and like starving actors waiting tables, they are simply waiting for the world to realize their talent.

And so, Mr. Iyer’s words rang hollow with me and I did push them aside for awhile, until I happened across them again recently. Then it occurred to me that perhaps Iyer is referring to the writer’s ego, and not the actual writing profession. Perhaps by putting aside the ego, a writer can more fully concentrate upon the writing. In any case, that is where I am with this now…if you have any thoughts, please feel free to comment here.

Thoughts on: 2014

W.B. Yeats“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric;
out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”

–W.B. Yeats

My readers who notice such things will know that I have been (largely) absent from this blog for a couple of weeks.  During this time, I traveled to the Northeastern part of the United States to spend the holidays with family and friends. In so doing,  I found myself far too busy with holiday revelry to compose a coherent blog post. The rigors of air travel, climatological changes (freezing cold), combined with the festive, and sometimes not so festive, interaction with family members, proved too much for me, and I had to put off blogging for another day, and consequently another year. But now it is suddenly 2014, and apart from the poem “White curtains” that I posted on January 3rd (but wrote months ago), I have been very silent here. But that shan’t last long.

Before I went away, I intended to compose a carefully crafted end of the year blog post, to thank everyone who took the time to stop by EEOTPB in 2013, to read and to comment. I also intended to say in that post that I have enjoyed reading your work too. I even had a great quote and a paragraph or two composed in my head about the great quote but it is all gone now, and even the post it note with the great quote is gone.  So learn from this fellow bloggers – when you find a great quote, put it in your writer’s notebook, or where ever you store your ideas for future reference, but never, ever, leave it scrawled on a sticky note attached to your computer monitor at work, lest an overly zealous corporate cleaning crew descend upon your not-so-sacred workspace and sweep it into the trash. Ah well…

Fortunately, I am not so careless with other quotes and I found the one above scrawled in the coffee stained margins of my notebook. No matter what one thinks of Yeats, any man rejected by the same woman four times (as was Yeats) must know something of quarrelling and its resultant impact upon the writing of poetry.  In any case, it seems to resonate with how I feel today.

Again, thanks to all who have read this blog. I hope to see many of you back in the coming year.

Tight lines,

-Ed

Hate the sin

Once I rented a room

in a house in St. Paul

from a lady

named Madge

who used to bang on the radiator

with her shoe

when I came home drunk

late at night, after playing cards

with guys from the Pioneer Press

I’d turn up my radio

tuned to the country station

and play Ferlin Husky

at full volume

at 4:30 AM

bang, bang comes the shoe

“Keep it down Cowboy” she shouts

next day she’d squeeze

fresh grapefruit juice

and put it in front of me

with black coffee

and a fried egg

and toast with orange marmalade jam

and she’d ask if I’d met any nice girls last night

and I’d say no, just

card drunks

daytime reporters

nightime gamblers

a fallen preacher

and an old curmudgeon

named Stew

who hasn’t held a job in twenty years

who hasn’t changed his shirt in three weeks

and is easily angered

and becomes profane when provoked

and was recently arrested in Albert Lea

on charges of one hundred sixteen

parking violations

but who’s on a hot poker run

Madge says you hate the sin

but love the sinner

she wishes me well on my new job

selling vacuum cleaners door to door.

In Pursuit of Completion – Reflections on NaNoWriMo

Ernest Hemingway

You just  have to go on when it is worst and most helpless–there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight to the end of the damn thing.

–Ernest Hemingway

I was not going to write anything about NaNoWriMo this year. I told myself that a month ago, as the November 1st kickoff date for the event loomed. After all, the blogosphere is filled with commentary about NaNoWriMo, which for those of you who don’t know of it, is an acronym that refers (awkwardly) to National Novel Writing Month, and it takes place in November of each year – all 30 days of it. I was all set to move on to other topics, ignoring NaNoWriMo entirely, until I ran across the above quote from Hemingway. The quote is an excerpt from a letter that Old Hem wrote to Scott Fitzgerald back in 1929, presumably to prod his friend on to literary success (it obviously worked). And, since nothing inspires me to put fingers to keyboard more than a quote from Papa, and this one seems so perfectly tailored as an intro to a NaNoWriMo blog, here goes…

First off, NaNoWriMo is a challenge in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. To get some idea of the size of a 50,000 word novel, think The Great Gatsby at 47,180 words, or Slaughterhouse-Five which clocks in at some 49,459 words. In both cases, Fitzgerald and Vonnegut (respectively), would have needed to beef up a couple of chapters in order to complete NaNoWriMo successfully. Conversely, Faulkner would have handily picked up his NaNoWriMo award had he uploaded his 56,787 word manuscript, As I Lay Dying, to the NaNoWriMo server prior to the November 30th midnight deadline.

So, considering how large a 50,000 word manuscript really is, it is easy to see why completing such a large amount of work in such a short time period is a daunting task to say the least. It requires dedication, perseverance, and above all, hours of hard damned work. But the world has no shortage of aspiring writers. According to the NaNoWriMo website, the 2012 competition attracted 341,375 participants, and since its humble beginnings in 1999, 250 novels, birthed in NaNoWriMo have been traditionally published. I would venture to say that many, most, or all, of these novels would have found their way to publication without NaNoWriMo, but I can’t say for sure. Most were probably planned well before November, fleshed out during the competition, and then subjected to endless edits post-NaNoWriMo. But that’s just my feeling, so if you have taken a novel all the way to traditional publication and attribute your success entirely to NaNoWriMo (Jeez, one blogger is right, that acronym is damned annoying to type), then please feel free to comment here and flame the hell out of me.

There you have it. If you are ready to get your novel down on paper, or in the electronic can, head on over and sign up – just be aware that in order to complete NaNoWriMo, you’ll have to write a consistent minimum of 1667 words per day – 7 days per week, each day of the entire month. So what could possibly be controversial about a quarter million people or more, spending time writing novels? Seems like an innocent pursuit, right. Well, there are a good many people out there who do not share the love when it comes to NaNoWriMo.

Do a Google search for ‘nanowrimo sucks’, or ‘i hate nanowrimo’ and you will see what I mean. NaNoWriMo has haters. And many of them make very good points, one point being that the competition is totally about word count and finishing the work in the allotted 30 day period with total disregard to quality. Technically, Jack Torrence, Stephen King’s tortured writer in The Shining, could have submitted his ersatz manuscript wherein the words, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” are repeated endlessly, filling each page from margin to margin.  As long as Jack’s manuscript reaches the 50,000 work mark (and he has an electronic copy available for upload), he can walk away with a certificate of NaNoWriMo completion. This rankles some writers who believe that the world needs far fewer bad novels, and far more good novel readers  – a point that I feel has great merit, but not enough for me to come down hard on NaNoWriMo. I think that the advantages of competing in a challenge that encourages finishing a project to be admirable, and I have no unkind words for NaNoWriMo participants.

And will I be participating in this year’s competition?  No, I will not. This year I’ve other priorities. But I shall be thinking of you all as the clock approaches midnight on Thursday evening, and I shall see you in my minds eye with nervous fingers tapping the keyboard waiting for the race to begin…good luck to all.

One more book by Norman Mailer

I should read one more book,

By Norman Mailer – I think,

As I sit in my office perch on floor 19,

In my New York City cubicle,

Doing New York City things,

And I watch the cursor blink,

On a blank computer screen,

At eleven thirty PM –  I say to myself,

What would Norman do?

The fucker would write…

Finally, hands of the desk clock point up,

To twelve midnight, and there is  hell to pay,

I say it out loud – to the thieving bastards.

Not a sound on the floor.

So I think of riding to work on a fall day,

Years before, in my apple picking years,

On an old International bus,

Fifty miles north of Kalamazoo,

To the old Henderson Orchard,

A girl named Kelly is on my bus,

She’s a fellow apple picker from Duluth,

But she hasn’t a talent for apples,

But she wears bib-overalls on her first day.

She tells me that she cut her hair short,

The day that they sent her to Reform School,

And now, she prefers it that way.

At noon I sit in the shade of the bus,

I am reading a book and eating the peach I brought for lunch,

And she comes by and sits down – asks what’s it about,

She points at my book.

A murder I say.

Oh yeah, she says — did they catch the guy?

I tell her the man was executed, shot.

She laughs at me,

Should have been my old man, she says.

Location, location, location

An author friend of mine, an author that has known some success, and knows more about writing than I do, told me that the setting for his latest novel is Long Island, New York. Having lived in Long Island for three years back in the early 80’s, I was intrigued.

“Really,” I said to him, “Nassau, or Suffolk?” He didn’t know how to answer, but he did tell me the name of a town that I recognized. I went on to tell him that I lived for a time in Huntington Station, New York, which is in Suffolk County. Then I pressed him about his regional knowledge of that area – not because I was trying to embarrass him, or impress him with my esoteric knowledge of Long Island, but because I was curious as to why he chose that location as the setting for a novel – especially since his novel did not have to be set in that location for any particular reason.

My author friend finally confessed that he had never been to Long Island, or even New York for that matter, but he told me with great confidence, that with the tools available on the internet, today’s author can set a novel in practically any location they choose. By using MapQuest to locate streets and by using Google Earth and Street View to zoom in on actual locales, one can effectively write a novel set in any particular area without ever having set foot in Westhampton, Shinnecock Hills, or Amagansett.

I retreated from the conversation unconvinced.  I recall an article that I read many years ago in a magazine. I cannot remember who wrote the article, but it was an interview with a successful published author. It was one of those advice type articles, directed at novice writers trying to write their first published work. There was lots of good advice in the article, but I’ve retained only the following:

“Never, ever set a novel in New York City unless you know the town.”

Notice that the writer was quite emphatic about this particular point. While the writer spoke only of New York City, I suspect that the advice might be expanded to include many other large metropolitan areas, like Los Angeles and Chicago.

The author went on to explain that New Yorkers buy lots of books, and since many New Yorkers have lived in the city all of their lives, they will smell a phony in…well…a New York minute. Don’t alienate the New Yorkers!

I suppose it depends somewhat upon the breadth of the creative piece that a writer is trying to develop. It would probably be possible to set a short story in say, an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan by doing a bit of internet research, as long as the action doesn’t ‘leave the house’. Move your characters out onto the street, and then you’d better know the lay of the land. If your CIA agent meets her contact at the Feast of San Gennaro, you’d better, at some point in life, have walked Mulberry Street between Houston and Canal (something I have done, but I used the internet to verify that Houston to Canal Street part, thus highlighting my point that the internet is a useful tool for detail, but it does not take the place of the experience).

There are exceptions. Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of the epic Tarzan series of adventure books wrote prolifically about Africa, without ever having set foot on the continent. It is important to note, however, that Burrough’s work was consumed by an early 20th century audience who, like him, knew little of Africa either. Perhaps the more sophisticated the audience, the more regional knowledge the writer needs to effectively create a believable piece (and unless we are writing pure fantasy, we all want to write a believable piece – that’s the goal, right?).

I am wondering how others feel about this very important topic. You have the plot, you have the characters. Now where do you put them? Is it your hometown, a place you visit regularly, or maybe where you vacation? After reading some Nicholas Sparks (trying to find out what that guy is doing right), I suspect that he knows quite a bit about the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and I doubt he learned all he knows by searching the internet. I mean, has Google Street View ever swept through Rodanthe?

Hemingway once reflected that it was difficult for him to set his work in his present physical location. He felt that his 1937 classic novel, To Have and Have Not, a novel set primarily in Cuba and Florida, would have been much better had he not written most of it while living in Key West. He found that he wrote best about places he had left some years before.

In my own work, I am finding that Papa was onto something. As a native Midwesterner, I find it easier to write to mundane cities out on the Plains (The DUI Guy is set in suburban Chicago), than it is to set my characters in Florida, where I currently live – perhaps I shall have to move to New York in order to write the perfect Florida book.

In any case, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Until next post,

Mahalo,

Ed

Quotes we carry

Social media is awash these days in quotes, and I have to admit that I am a sucker for a good quote, be it from a deceased politician, company CEO, famous author, or Hollywood celeb. We used to have to wait for pearls of wisdom to filter down to us through the print media, but now we have quotes that we are free to use, download, send to Facebook friends, Tweet, or incorporate into blogs, as I have here at EEOTPB upon so many occasions.

Quotes lift us up, they make us laugh, and they make us sound worldly when we’re really not. An appropriate quote, delivered with proper timing can make or break you in corporate America.

One afternoon, half dozing through a staff meeting, I was roused from near slumber by a stammering colleague who seemed reluctant to commit to a plan for a product delivery. Waiting for the proper entrance into the fray, I responded with one of my favorite quotes by General George Patton:

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

Of course I attributed the quote to the General before delivery. The response was at first a subtle chuckling that rippled through the room, but my manager smiled and told me he liked my attitude. By the way — my colleague was soon asked to leave the company, and although I can’t say I was fast-tracked to a corner office, I wasn’t dismissed either. If there is ever a quote that shows balls-to-the wall commitment to getting the job done it is that one (depending upon the situation, skip the word ‘violently’, you never know how that is going to be taken). So remember it, oh Corporate Drones.

But there are quotes that hit us where we live, aren’t there? Have you ever printed out a quote, trimmed it neatly, and folded it into your wallet, or pocketbook? Has a particular quote elevated itself to “wallet status” – something you want to keep near you, to refer to when you are not quite sure of the shaky ground upon which you walk, or the future into which you enter, ready or not?

Maybe your personal quote is hand written on a  post-it note, folded five times and tucked behind your drivers license just in case you need it someday, or maybe it is in your pocketbook, written in the margin of your DayTimer, or some such, but you know where it is so you can find it always – that’s the kind of quote I am talking about – one that makes you think about life in a way you always knew that it should be thought of, but that he or she said it so well, and so much better than you could have.

The quote that I carry with me is a quote from the classic 1949 novel by Paul Bowles, “The  Sheltering Sky”. Bowles, if you recall, was the only child of a New York City dentist, a father who, according to reports, was a harsh father who left Paul as an infant to die on a window ledge during a winter storm. Perhaps such harsh treatment as an infant infused young Paul with a unique outlook on life. The stark finality, and reality of this quote, has garnered it a place in my ‘electronic’ wallet and I refer to it daily, although I can recite it by heart:

Because we do not know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really.”

In this passage Paul Bowles goes on to suggest that in a lifetime we only watch the full moon rise perhaps 20 times…

If you have a quote that you carry with you and it means something special to you, please feel free to share it here.

Mahalo,

–Ed