30 March 2009

Crudely speaking, it seems a “good” time to be a writer of color.  Cross-cultural and transnational narratives are, dare I say, popular these days.  The perspective of the “other” creeps its way into the mainstream cultural psyche little by little.  Consider the obvious example of President Obama’s best-selling memoir Dreams From My Father, and the even more obvious point that we elected Mr. Obama to the Presidency with a 52% popular majority. Other literary examples abound (Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, et alia).

Today, I face the issue of Korean-language anglicization in the manuscript of Long For This World.  John the copyeditor, with his Irish-Scottish surname, seems to know more about this than I do, oddly — or maybe not so oddly — enough.  He writes:

There are two systems currently in use: the official Korean one introduced in 2000; and the more familiar but less accurate McCune-Reischauer from the 1930s, which is still used by ALA and the Library of Congress. 

I consider two primary issues here, which needn’t necessarily be in opposition, but which might well be:  1) ease of reading for the average English-speaker, and 2) fidelity to pronunciation.  Protocol of systems, as stated above, matter less to me personally.

Re: 1) — hyphens are not typically used in either of the accepted systems, but I can’t help but wonder if they would help to break up the visual jumble of words like, say, jeonbokjuk (abalone stew) or sinseollo (an elaborate hotpot dish made for royalty).  Jeon-bok-juk?  Sin-seol-lo?  Latin-based-language speakers, your thoughts most welcome.

Re: 2) — a friend recently complained to me about the anglicization of our shared surname, i.e. “Chung,” which, in Korean, is really “Jung” or even “Jhung,” with a soft, aspirated lead consonant.  (“Chung” makes us Chinese, which is a whole political-history ball of wax in itself.)  Thus daenjang chigae (stinky soy bean stew), as it’s often anglicized, really should be daenjang jjigae.  Similarly, panchan (all those little appetizer plates that you get before the main course at a Korean restaurant) would be banchan.

I’m just about ready to break for lunch here, now that I’ve whetted my appetite; but before I do, another case in point regarding the ever-globalizing world: the NY Times online today offers in the header the option of switching from the “US Edition” to the “Global Edition,” which I’ve just done for my home page.  The major difference, today, is the headline, “Gunmen Storm School in Pakistan” (and a “Global Spotlight” box in the upper-right corner) vs. “Obama Issues Ultimatum to Carmakers.”  These days, I guess it’s mostly a matter of whose bad news you want first.

26 March 2009

Click here for a story from NPR’s “All Things Considered” about Digital Rights Management (DRM) issues in the e-book industry.  

The question is whether DRM protects authors and publishers, or if it limits potential audiences. In the music industry, some argue, laxness about DRM is what crippled record companies and kept artists from making money.  Others argue that the more widely and easily available an artist’s work, the more likely the word will spread and sales will increase.

Everything topsy turvy, the commerce of books in flux.

23 March 2009

My dear editor Alexis Gargagliano is featured in a “Q&A With Four Young Editors” article in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.  

On the topic of self-promotion, Alexis says this:

I think there’s a stigma that it’s a negative thing. It’s really an extension of that deep involvement we were talking about earlier [in the conversation]. It’s about being really passionate about your book. It’s a way to figure out how to make the world of your book bigger, and to give other people access to it. I think it’s helpful if authors can wrap their heads around looking at it from a different perspective. I have a lot of authors who are afraid to go out there. They think it’s about them. It’s actually about the book. It’s about the writing. It’s not about you personally.

Get yourself out of the way, so that the book can have a life, she seems to be saying.  Maybe analogous to parents and their budding teenagers.  Except in this case, getting out of the way means that the writer must actually get more involved.   Wyatt Mason  has it right — a weird little business, indeed.

20 March 20009

In approaching a few writers to read the manuscript of Long For This World and possibly provide blurbs, I’ve been surprised by a more-than-once response, which goes something like: I’d be happy to read it, but you should know that I will only blurb it if I absolutely love it.

My first (inner) response is, Well, of course; why would you praise something falsely? Followed by Hmm, I suppose that response implies that it is not uncommon for writers to praise work falsely.

“Falsely” is too strong.  The common practice, I believe, is for writers to praise what they love about the work of writers in whom they believe.  In other words, the commitment is personal, rather than work-specific.

Wyatt Mason of Harper’s writes this week in his blog about the role of friendship in the making of literary careers.  Quoting T.S. Eliot in a letter to the benefactor John Quinn:

I am sorry to say that I have found it uphill and exasperating work trying to impose [James] Joyce on such “intellectual” people, or people whose opinion carries weight as I know, in London. He is far from being accepted, yet. I only know two or three people, besides my wife and myself, who are really carried away by him. 

Mason goes on to comment:

Quality is the key to any serious literary endurance, yes, but friendship is underrated as a critical tool. Anyone can write a blurb extolling, adverbially, the “fearlessly brilliant” and “daringly brave” (?) qualities of some someone’s latest something. But not everyone will write and circulate defenses of under-known works and undervalued artists, try to raise cash for the strapped genius, advocate in public and push in private for the virtues of the great but obscure… We forget, now and again, in the careerist whirl of the weird little business that is made of writing, how much altruism there is among those who do this sort of work.

Of course we’d rather believe in a pure meritocracy, but as Mason points out, it’s not so either/or.  As in any field of work or path to success, there’s some element of luck/good fortune that comes into it.  And the magic of the altruistic personal touch is still alive and well.

My editor and I will hope for some good fortune, but as far as blurbs go, we may just have to do this the old-fashioned way.  In the words of the late John Houseman: we’ll have to earn it.

18 March 2009

Denis Johnson is among the most talented writers alive.  He is one of those writers whose prose is so good, reading it often makes me want to quit.  But in a good way.

Since I’m currently writing a politician-character (Frederick of my novel-in-progress Sebastian & Frederick), I have my eye out for interesting political fiction.  Johnson’s character Mike Reed in The Name of the World once worked for a US Senator.  Another character asks Reed about the experience:

In D.C. I experienced what I once heard called ‘the temptation to be good.’ It’s a curse.  As soon as it hit me I got confused.  I still don’t know if, by quitting, I gave in to a bad temptation, or managed to resist a good one… There’s a perfect stillness at the center of Washington…It’s natural to talk about it in paradoxes…Everything in the world is going on there, but nothing’s happening.  It’s all essential, but it’s all completely pointless.  The motives are virtuous, but whatever you do just stinks. And then you retire with great praise.

I’m only about halfway through The Name of the World — a slim little book which is my warm-up to Tree of Smoke.  But already it has me threatening (to myself) to pack it in.

16 March 2009

Follow-up to March 8 post….

It’s over-stating to use the word “sin” in regards to Facebook, of course — but the notion of Facebook (as a symbolic stand-in for social networking in general) as a social “good” going “bad,” in a way that calls for a break — a veritable spiritual cleansing — gives one pause.

(Another FB friend reports “taking a break from the Internet” in her Facebook status update. “Call me,” she writes.)

In the NYTimes Sunday Mag this week, Peggy Orenstein writes about the generational  dynamics of Facebook.  For 30-and-40-and 50-somethings, Facebook has become a way of  reconnecting — for better or for worse — with past selves, via old friends and acquaintances from youth.  For today’s youth, Facebook might end up being the way in which one never loses touch with that self — or those youth-associated relations — in the first place.  Facebook’s “most profound impact,” she writes,

“may be to alter, even obliterate, conventional notions of the past, to change the way young people become adults… college was my big chance to doff the roles in my family and community that I had outgrown, to reinvent myself, to get busy with the embarrassing, exciting, muddy, wonderful work of creating an adult identity. Can you really do that with your 450 closest friends watching, all tweeting to affirm ad nauseam your present self?”

My guess is that for us older folk, the novelty of Facebook wears off after the initial surge of participation — exploring features, finding old friends, satiating that hunger for instant social gratification.  Hence the need for a “break.”  A bit of binge-and-purge, then hopefully a leveling off to a more reasonable and managed and individualized participation.  

One of the great and profound hallmarks of adulthood is the capacity to both pursue and experience “difficult pleasures” — reading a book that requires some intellectual effort, for example.  The concern might be that Facebook, for the younger generations, would encourage perpetual adolescence; that instead of serving as a kind of fun side-story to a fully-realized adult life, it will in fact supplant adult life, will become the very architecture of a life, and preclude the possibilities of more difficult pleasures.

Today, I’m going with an optimistic outlook (spring is in the air, after all).  Social networking is evolving so quickly (remember Friendster? Orenstein writes), it’s certainly possible that Facebook will simply “grow up” along side its users.  Interestingly, the status update has just recently changed from the default “Mary is…” (What are you doing right now?) to a blank box with a new header question: 

“What’s on your mind?”

Be thoughtful human beings, the Facebook people seem to be saying.  Take a moment to think about what you want to report.

12 March 2009

I’m stealing this from themillionsblog.com, click here for the originating post.

Click here for my original post on a recent profile of the late David Foster Wallace.


cover   cover

People I trust (men, mostly, though) love both these books.  I’ve not read either. One does wonder about the conversation at that marketing meeting, where the Netherland paperback design was decided. Not much of an attempt at all to veil the strategy, it seems to me.  Or is this another sausage/laws situation?