27 May 2010

The long weekend seems to start earlier and earlier every year.  Or at least the traffic does.  Before you take off for the shore or the woods, here’s the scoop on where I’ll be, virtually, this weekend:

Saturday, May 29th @ 2:30
Interview on the Catskills Review of Books w/Ian Williams
WJFF 90.5 FM (Catskills public radio)
You can stream live online, or catch the mp3 on the Web site in a week or two after it airs

Monday, May 31
A piece at The Millions about books left half-read, called “It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breaking Up With Books.”  [Correction: this will run later next week.]

Have a great weekend, and welcome to summer.


25 May 2010

My interview with Bethanne Patrick of WETA’s (DC public television) author interview program The Book Studio.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Sonya Chung at The Book Studio“, posted with vodpod

23 May 2010

Bronte Sisters Power Dolls!

“All forced to fight evil publishers to get their books into print!”

22 May 2010

… for shelving Long for This World face-out in Syosset, and at the Madison Square Garden store.

(Thanks to Sarah and Sophie for this pic)


(These copies at Mad Square are now signed)


As I’ve been saying (probably too often), it’s a jungle out there for debut novelists; so every bit of support means a lot!

14 May 2010

“The First Person” course syllabus reading list is taking shape.  It’s really fun to assemble this, thanks for all your suggestions. So far:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud
King by John Berger
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter
Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price
Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

One or two more will be added, possibly some of these exchanged.  The working list is four times this length!  Difficult, but fun, to choose.

13 May 2010

Today, I step up onto the soap box for a moment — hopefully we can all bear it and emerge the better for it.

The thing about “waiting for the paperback” is that, if you knew what I know about the state of literary fiction in the marketplace right now — “It’s a damn shitty time for literary fiction,” an agent said to me recently — you’d recognize the folly of that position.  (A “hot” writer’s novel — someone who’s everywhere in the press the last few months, who’s work has been critically lauded everywhere you turn — has sold somewhere around 7,000 copies.  That’s not a big number, commercially speaking, in case you were wondering.)

Here’s the zinger, folks: if you “wait for the paperback,” there is a pretty good chance there won’t be one.  And if a publisher decides not to issue a paperback, this becomes an X-mark in the “no publish next novel” column for that writer.

“It’s too expensive” is something that’s begun to grate on my ears as of late.  I hear this most often, about hard covers, from middle class people.  I think to myself, “Seriously?  It’s too expensive?”  I follow the e-book pricing wars — $12.99 vs $9.99 — and I hear readers weigh in on it — educated, middle-class people — and I think, “Seriously?  The three bucks is a deal breaker?”

Let’s talk about what healthy, middle-class people spend three bucks on, without even thinking about it:

a cup of coffee
a protein bar
a transit ticket (instead of, say, walking)
a $10 bottle of wine instead of a $7 bottle of wine
anything at Bed Bath & Beyond (which is overpriced)
one day of heating your house at 71 degrees instead of 69 degrees

Ok — now I’m getting too personal and mean. But let’s move on to what you might spend the 6 bucks you’ll save by “waiting for the paperback” on (I’m not here even going into the support-your-indie-bookstore argument; most hard covers can be purchased at Amazon for $16.50):

two ice cream cones
three Vitamin Waters or bottled waters
a matinee movie
an $11 bottle of wine instead of a $5 bottle of wine
a fruit smoothie
a full tank of the middle-grade gasoline instead of regular
a fast-food meal
pretty much name-brand anything over the generic

We spend money in this way, regularly, without a second thought. But a hard cover is “too expensive”?

At a high-ranking major state university in California, a new policy has been instated, whereby instructors are forbidden from requiring students to purchase hard covers.  Many students are funding their own educations, acquiring debt that will follow them for years into adulthood; I get this.  Still, I question this institutional message about priorities.  Food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health care.  No arguments here.  But what comes next?  And doesn’t it matter?

I am a middle-class person who has, at times, made a decent living and at other times made almost no living at all.  I’ve done this with a partner and alone.  I’m not someone who doesn’t understand that every dollar counts.

And I’m not — let me be clear, since I’m someone who’s just published a novel — arguing for the pity purchase. I’m not saying buy the hard cover of a book you don’t really care about because the writer needs you to. I’m also not trying to convince anyone of the value of literature; I’m addressing this to the people who already claim to value literature. I’m saying, if you know this is a book you want to own, and that this is a writer whose long-term career you want to support, because you believe in the beauty and/or importance of this writer’s work and care about his ability to continue producing it; then buy the hard cover. For God’s sake. “Every vote counts,” I swear it does.

11 May 2010

Dear Elizabeth Bachner:

I’ve been reading your feature essays over at Bookslut for some time now, so I’m writing you this fan letter.  I’ve tried seeking you out in the typical web-stalking ways — Facebook, at Bookslut, etc. — to no avail.  Good for you for minding your online privacy!  I even sent a review copy of Long for This World to you at Bookslut, care of Michael Schaub, which perhaps you received; no offense taken that it may be buried in a pile somewhere.

When I first started blogging, I posted some thoughts about a certain well-known writer’s Twitter essay, and shortly thereafter was contacted by that author.  It seemed a fluke, but then a few months later I posted about another writer’s online essay, and that writer contacted me as well.  I realized, hmm, maybe this is how it works; posting about someone is a little like waving at them from across a crowded bar?  So here’s a try at contacting you…

Your March essay about Marilyn Monroe, play writing, Oscar Wilde, Jillian Weise, and David Mamet is terrific.  I wanted to thank you for, essentially, reinventing the book review.  I’ve always thought that the veneer of “objectivity” in book reviewing seemed odd, and unnecessary; I love that your “reviews” indulge your very personal experience of books, putting your responses and reactions into the context of a person’s (yours) life and literary journey, and synthesizing your thoughts and questions about a number of works at once.  How else could it be?  How else, after all, do we read?

It must be strange to be an icon, even if that’s what you’ve chosen for yourself. Although, I guess in this world, of branding, of Facebook, of photo-retouching and plastic surgery and cybersex and virtual everything, we’re all icons, things instead of people, things instead of artists, and our art, if we have any, is a product, like our lives and bodies. Maybe the difference is that some people are good at being icons, and others mediocre. I don’t really need to be a famous playwright. But, I don’t want to be an image, or a thing. If you have to be a thing, instead of a full person, maybe it’s best to be a famous icon?

This passage struck me as so insightful.  To be a mediocre “brand” or icon just seems like a waste of time, and perhaps a recipe for unhappiness for an artist. With all the self-promotion we’re expected to do, one can fall into this trap.  If you can make the branding work for you, at a high level, that seems probably worth it; otherwise… probably best to just get to work on the art itself.

“Things” versus humans, the multiple-selves existence of artists (wonderful quote from Borges), mid-life reinvention, engaging in art with your whole body, solitary art-making versus collaboration — all ideas that swim around for me constantly.  Thanks so much for exploring and synthesizing so compellingly.

Good luck with your play writing.  It’s a goal of mine as well — to write a stage play, but also to work on a project that has a collaborative element to it.  I do think, however, that novels can be whole-body experiences, both for the writer and reader.  The best fiction engages all the senses, I think; minds, spirits, and bodies, all cylinders firing.

My best regards,
Sonya Chung

p.s.  Haven’t yet read your piece on The Ecco Anthology, but look forward to it.

p.p.s.  You are the third person this month to mention/recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray; I’ll be getting on that this summer.