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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Fifty Shades of Green

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Fifty Shades of Envy: The movie Fifty Shades of Grey is out, eliciting criticism on the literary merits of the book. The Huffington Post’s Fifty Shades too Hot for Audiences had vitriol in the thread. Example:

“How nice. I write a novel with substance, but agents won’t touch it with a 100-foot pole. E.L. James puts out a trilogy about a woman who gets her posterior whupped for love, and she makes enough money that she never has to write another word in her life. ‘No justice’ doesn’t begin to describe it…” Jeffrey Baer

Fifty Shades of Cash: The commenters seasoned envy with an attack on the publishers:

“Plenty of mediocre or less than mediocre writers being published like EL James and Stephanie Meyers (sic). Publishers don’t care if its unaduletrated (sic) crap as long as it sells.” Fran Jaime

Envy: Sorry, writers, the reason you’re not published is probably because you’re not marketable AND you’re mediocre. There are a few decent published writers, many more decent unpublished writers, but for every decent unpublished writer there are hundreds of crappy writers. And when crappy writers (jocks, pop stars) get published, they have a platform and ghostwriter. When an E.L. James, J.K. Rowling, or Stephanie Meyer sells, do not think this:

” It’s time the writers took back control of the artform…Publishers only give a damn about making a buck. They do not care about putting out good books.” Jennifer Burnham

Money: Why get enraged when a crappy book makes money? I’ve written failures, and rather than curse the market, I try to recognize my faults. My point is not to defend E.L. James, but to defend publishers. “Taking control” of your future means paying vanity presses, whose only purpose is profit over quality. Read Create Space self-published book samples on Amazon. Most are horrible. Self-publishing more tripe is not the answer.

Publishers care: Consider these fine publishers: Grove/Atlantic, Soft Skull, Tin House, Hawthorne, Graywolf, Coffee House, Farrar Straus Giroux, or Knopf. Do you really think they only care about money? Of course they care, and that’s legitimate, they want to stay in business. But they also love literature.

When a Da Vinci Code/50 Shades/Girl with Dragon Tattoo/Harry Potter/Twilight genre book sells, writers should cheer. Never disrespect publishing houses because of their successes in other genres. Publishers take on books knowing up front the possibility of breaking even or losing money. The success of E.L. James’ trilogy helps Random House take chances on more books of literary quality, and that’s good for writers.

Related: What Fifty Shades of Grey Taught Us about Publishing

Written by Caleb Powell

July 31, 2014 at 10:53 am

An Interview with Jervey Tervalon

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Los Angeles writer and founder of Lit for Life, Jervey Tervalon, in June came to Seattle’s Third Place Books to read from his just released Monster’s Chef. Our interview below:

Jervey and I in Edmonds, WA

Jervey and I in Edmonds, WA

Interview at Los Angeles Review of Books:  JERVEY TERVALON, LA Times bestselling author of Understand This (1994) and Dead Above Ground (2000), has taken on an icon in his latest, Monster’s Chef (Amistad: 224 pp., $24.99). William Gibson, chef and ex-con drug addict, begins working for Lamont “Monster” Stiles, a pop music star who bleaches his skin white, has a “Lair” populated by young boys, his mute wife Rita, and Thug the gay bodyguard, intimidating anyone who wants to delve into the specifics. Take Michael Jackson’s anxiety and hypersensitivity, insert a little bit of the sinister pathologies of Jim Jones and Phil Spector, and the result is one chilling character to mirror the attention given to the celebrity and pop culture of our current age.

Recently Jervey and I conversed over Skype, exploring his novel’s themes of abuse, stereotypes, power, and the obsessions society has with celebrity…

From the LA Times:  Jervey Tervalon has a taste for observation in “Monster’s Chef”

“The novelist Jervey Tervalon likes to share this interesting fun fact about his life: He was born in the same year as Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince. Tervalon, 55, is a professional teller and gatherer of stories and also a busy literary networker. He grew up in Los Angeles, where celebrity culture can feel like a huge planet whose gravity is constantly sucking him in. The collision between the stars of movie, television and music industries, and the lives of ordinary…”

Written by Caleb Powell

July 13, 2014 at 7:15 am

Redployment vs. The Corpse Exhibition

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Thanks to William Vollman’s piece at Bookforum for directing me to the following two collections of stories about Iraq, one from a U.S. perspective, the other from an Iraqi. Below are two excerpts indicative of the power of story:

The Corpse Exhibition, stories within stories:  “The man with the beard was a teacher who went to the police to report on a neighbor who was trading in antiquities stolen from the National Museum. The police thanked him for his cooperation. The teacher, his conscience relieved, went back to his school. The police submitted a report to the Ministry of Defense that the teacher’s house was an al Qaeda hideout. The police were in partnership with the antiquities smuggler. The Ministry of Defense sent the report to the U.S. Army, who bombed the teacher’s house by helicopter. His wife, four children, and his elderly mother were killed. The teacher escaped with his life, but he suffered brain damage and lost his arms.”

Redployment, one sentence:  “She spent all his combat pay before he got back, and she was five months pregnant, which, for a Marine coming back from a seven-month deployment, is not pregnant enough.”

Whether legend or reality, the stories confront corruption, indifference, misplaced justice, and lack of responsibility, always a consequence of war. These two books are about how war exacerbates pain. To enter into war we must be certain the net result will surpass the human cost.

Written by Caleb Powell

June 19, 2014 at 6:06 am

Murder or Suicide? Caleb Powell Interviews Poe Ballantine at The Sun Magazine

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My interview with Poe Ballantine is out at The Sun Magazine:  We discuss Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere (Hawthorne Books, September 2013), a combo of true crime and literary memoir, and also the subject of a forthcoming documentary by Dave Jannetta.

Literary True Crime Memoir? Poe accidentally fell into a genre that includes compelling books like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil , In Cold Blood, and Kathryn Harrison’s While They Slept.

Murder or Suicide?  Poe was searching for material when Steven Haataja’s corpse was discovered. Poe said off page that Haataja’s death brought to mind another similar case in Poe’s hometown of San Diego that involved the death of Medicis CEO Jonah Shacknai’s girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau. Zahau  had a rag in her mouth, she was found naked and bound, hanging from a balcony, but this was ruled a suicide.

Parallels with Steven Haataja: We segued from Zahua to how Steven Haataja’s tortured and burned corpse came, also, to be viewed by the investigating detectives as a “suicide.” As Poe told me, “The suicide scenario, after you pour in all the supporting evidence, weighs about two grams. Murder weighs about eighteen pounds.”

Small Town America:  Poe weaves settling in Chadron, Nebraska, with his wife he brought back from a teaching stint in Mexico, the birth of a son, and the wacky ordinariness of life in America with this puzzling mystery for a highly entertaining and thoughtful read.

The Sun Magazine excerpt:   Poe Ballantine calls himself a “whiskey-drinking, floor-mopping, gourmet-cooking, wildly prolific writer with a penchant for social commentary.” For nearly three decades he…(full excerpt here)

David Shields vs. Caleb Powell: I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel

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Publishers Marketplace
New deals for April 26, 2013

Art?

Art?

Caleb Powell: You excoriate the traditional novel and fiction in Reality Hunger, yet you began writing fiction. It turned out not to be your forte. Why the attack? Isn’t it like an impotent man vowing abstinence?

David Shields: That’s a funny analogy. And I’d be a fool to think that type of criticism won’t emerge… (from The Rumpus)

David Shields and I, at antipodes since the UW, headed into the Cascades for a few days and threw down. The focus? Art vs. life. The result was announced 4/26/13 at Publishers Marketplace:

Life?

Life?

NONFICTION General/OtherNYT bestselling author David Shields’s I THINK YOU’RE TOTALLY WRONG: A QUARREL, a debate about life versus art, in which Shields’s co-author, Caleb Powell, always wanted to become an artist, but overcommitted to life (stay-at-home dad to three young girls), whereas Shields has overcommitted to art and forgotten to become a human being, to Ann Close at Knopf, by PJ Mark at Janklow & Nesbit (NA).

“Twenty years ago, another undergraduate, Caleb Powell, was in my novel-writing course; we’ve stayed in touch. I’ve read and critiqued his stories and essays. A stay-at-home-dad and freelance journalist, he’s interviewed me occasionally when a new book came out. We disagree about nearly everything. I’ve sacrifice my life for art; Caleb, vice versa. He’s one of the most contrary people I’ve ever met…” David Shields, from How Literature Saved My Life

Caleb:  …that opening of our interview in the Rumpus, when I asked, “You began writing fiction; it turned out not to be your forte. Why the attack? Isn’t it like an impotent man vowing abstinence?”

David:  Only about fifty other reviewers used the same trope. I’d say I’m more like a man in love pointing out to the man on Viagra that he’s fucking a sex doll. (from I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel)

Update:  I Think You’re Totally Wrong – The Movie

“Riding a Mower” vs. Reality Hunger:

Written by Caleb Powell

May 2, 2013 at 8:48 am

Two Thoughts on the State of Books

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Here are two statements worth considering. One from director John Waters, the other from Canadian writer Stan Persky at dooneyscafe.com.

The Decline of Reading: QED

The American NBC nightly newscast for Aug. 9, 2011 offered a minute-and-twenty-second analysis of the London riots under the Dickensian heading “A Tale of Two Cities.” The network’s London correspondent, Martin Fletcher, concluded his report with this voice-over on top of visuals of shattered glass: “A final thought that may say a lot about our times: in this shopping centre every store had been looted but one – the bookstore.” Closing shot: a pristine Waterstone’s window display in otherwise trashed shopping centre. Nuff said. – August 9, 2011 by  (Related at The Atlantic: London Rioters Are Leaving Bookstores Untouched)

Written by Caleb Powell

September 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction

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 At The Nervous Breakdown I write about Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction, a rock ‘n’ roll anthology edited by Roland Goity and John Ottey and published by Vagabondage Press, that combines memoir, journalism, and short story. The writers are Jim DeRogatis, Fred de Vries, Sean Ennis, Laurel Gilbert, Brian Goetz, James Greer, Ed Hamilton, Harold Jaffe, Brad Kava, David Menconi, Adam Moorad, Corey Mesler, Scott Nicholson, Carl Peel, J.T. Townley, and Timothy Weed.

“…The anthology fits my world. I’ve tasted more embarassment than “fame” as a bass player in a Seattle band whose accomplishments were a write-up in The Stranger, some college radio air time (both due to having contacts), and gigs at a couple decent clubs, one or two where strangers outnumbered friends. Anyone who loves music can understand the pull of this world of fantasy and reality; Experienced revisits and expands this dream.

James Greer opens with “Hunting Accidents”, a foray into the two years he played bass for cult group Guided By Voices, and the book he subsequently wrote, Guided By Voices: A Brief History….(Read entire article here)

DISCLOSURE: Caleb Powell has been published by Roland Goity and was solicited for this review.

Review: Stella at the Quarterly Conversation

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I review Stella (The Other Press), by German literary master Siegfried Lenz, at The Quarterly Conversation. A quiet, sad, and well-told tale:

A Minute of Silence

Stella opens with a memory that compels: ‘Here we sit down in tears and grief,’ sang our school choir at the beginning of the hour of remembrance. By the end of the paragraph we know the narrator, Christian, lost his beloved Stella Petersen to an accident. Why read on? Because death, as cliché as this may sound, forms life, and those still engaged in the mortal dance must examine, post-mortem, the nascent creation of love as an element of life. The author, octogenarian Siegfried Lenz, is one of German’s oldest living men of letters. In what may be the last work of the master, the succinct and sparsely woven Stella succeeds in conveying sorrow…” (Entire review here)

DISCLOSER: Caleb Powell has no relationship with the author or The Other Press.

Written by Caleb Powell

January 31, 2011 at 6:02 am

Frank Meeink at The Nervous Breakdown

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Hockey nut Frank watching his Flyers during the Stanley Cup

Earlier this year I met Frank Meeink, and reviewed his book, Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as told to Jody M. Roy, M.D, at The Rumpus. My interview with Frank Meeink is now at The Nervous Breakdown. Thanks to everyone who helped, including Erika & Brad at TNB, and Frank, Jody M. Roy, and the crew at Hawthorne Books, especially Liz Crain and Rhonda Hughes. 

Frank and I at Elliot Bay Books

No Swastika!

On December 8, 1984, south of Coupeville on Whidbey Island, the FBI surrounded Robert Mathews’ Greenbank farm house. Mathews had founded The Order, a white supremacist group connected to twelve armed robberies …

Caleb Powell: What did skinheads offer you that was lacking in your life?                                                                                      Frank Meeink: I would definitely say it started with the security…(Read interview here)

Tao Lin vs. Albert Camus

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Comparing Tao Lin to Albert Camus is like comparing apples and orangutans. Not apples and oranges, my friends, as two sweet round fruits aren’t really that different. Would Camus spoof a cover of Time Magazine (or the French equivalent) and parody the article? Would Camus solicit a James Frey type boob to blurb his book? Would Camus host a contest, and then enter the contest under another name, win the contest, and pocket the money (Tao Lin Wins His Own Contest Refuses to Refund Money). No way, Albert Camus was too busy cursing human darkness, opposing the Nazi invasion of France, and trying to decipher war and horror in the twentieth century. Tao Lin is no idiot, but he gears down. Some call him an existentialist. Existentialist my ass, Tao Lin has created a new form: narcissentialism. And contrary to this JMWW reviewer’s opinion, Tao Lin ain’t no Camus.

Let’s compare two versions of The Stranger. First, the parody written by Tao Lin:

He’s not the richest or most famous. His characters don’t solve mysteries, have magical powers, or live in the future. But in his new novel, Richard Yates, Tao Lin shows us the way we live now.” “Early readers of Richard Yates have found that the book has a narcotic quality.” “(Lin) likes megamouth sharks, toy poodles and, somewhat jarringly, that ‘ocean sunfish are like hamsters but fish and a lot bigger.”

Ha ha ho ho. Now, here’s L’Étranger:

“I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained was to hope that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”

Albert Camus: Smokes, helped originate existentialism, and is a Nobel Prize winning author. He thought and wrote about 20th century guilt, war, capital punishment, and how to face a world without god. He compressed volumes of thought into novels such as The Fall and The Stranger.

Tao Lin and Camus both use short sentences and few words, but Tao Lin is not really a minimalist. Ten pages of thought hidden in 202 pages of Richard Yates does not qualify.The existentialist hallmark is uncertainty in context of larger ideas, not simple uncertainty. Lin’s blog, persona, publicity stunts (he offered investors a percentage of future royalties for $2,000), all spur many young authors in North America to read, and this is good.  He has an affect, as “Taolicophants” love to imitate his prose, though his books are tedious.

Let’s contrast: Albert Camus was French but grew up in Algeria, his formative childhood memory is of his father’s reaction to attending an execution. He witnessed French colonialism in Algeria and the Nazi Occupation in France, and was a contemporary of Sartre. When Camus began to question Sartre’s leftist views regarding communism their friendship began to deteriorate, but Camus’s doubts about Marxism have been validated by history.  After a time as a journalist Camus devoted himself to literary pursuits, including drama, where he sought moral solutions within an indifferent universe. His death in 1960 by car accident cut short an important life.

Tao Lin = Narcissentialist. Shoplifts, eats delicious vegan food, writes about hamsters, preoccupied with self-marketing, drops names of Nobel Prize winning authors like the vile pro-Nazi Knut Hamsun, wrote a review of himself in The Stranger.

Tao Lin, born of Taiwanese parents, grew up on the East Coast of the USA, and makes his home in New York City. He writes about the dislocated confused suburban/urban dysfunctional pseudo-suffering of today’s youth, but probably has never suffered, and I’m talking the living-in-the-Sudan-suffering orbeaten-and-violated-by-your-stepfather suffering. Though Tao Lin’s fictional alter-egos irreverently mention they may as well commit suicide…there’s no evidence that Tao will die anytime soon.

Tao Lin ain’t Camus. There’s no parallel, it’s all perpendicular. Sure, Tao Lin drops names or provides Cliffs Notes summaries of Camus and other authors such as Beckett, Bukowski, and Sartre. Though it must be pointed out, as far as I know, only Taolicophants and not Tao Lin make the comparison.

Bottom line, Richard Yates reads like two hundred pages of nothing but conjunctions, prepositions, and punctuation marks peppered with celebrity names (Tao Lin’s next book?). Tao Lin will, in the end, get what he wants, attention. Nothing wrong with that, all writers crave attention, but my taste is more grooved to a writer who displays consideration for the reader and doesn’t pander to the superficial side of his fans…in other words, a writer who is not so goringly effin’ boring.

Related:  Tao Lin: American Dork – book review at dooneyscafe.com

Tao Lin’s Richard Yates vs. the 2006 Dodge Caravan’s Owner’s Manual – at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Caleb Powell

October 25, 2010 at 11:34 am