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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 There are a few decent published writers, many more decent unpublished writers, but for every decent unpublished writer there are hundreds of crappy writers.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

Holland: The Psychopath Sanctuary – Herman Koch’s The Dinner and the Murder of Greg Halman

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“In the Netherlands, for beating to death a fellow human, you might receive eight years, I figured. It wasn’t much. With a little good behavior, a little raking around the prison grounds, you could be out the gates within five.” – Herman Koch, from The Dinner

On November 21, 2011, in Rotterdam, Jason Halman killed his brother Greg. The tragedy of Greg Halman, a Seattle Mariner and one of a few Dutch nationals to play in the Major Leagues, parallels Dutch novelist Herman Koch’s The Dinner. Both show how psychopathy and mental illness can flourish.

Eddy Halman, Patriarch and Perpetrator of Domestic Violence:  The Halman family trials, told by ESPN, detail violence, envy, and restrictive family ties. Papa Halman played professional baseball. He became derailed by alcoholism, a virulent temper, and a penchant for violence, especially towards his wife. One son, Greg Halman, had special talent. He eventually was signed by the Mariners and made his MLB debut in September of 2010. The other son, Jason, took after his father.

Trouble in Holland: Greg Halman showed promise, and in 2011 had 91 At Bats and hit .230 with two homers. His power, speed, and defensive prowess looked to help the Mariners in 2012. After the 2011 season ended he returned to Holland. There, his brother stabbed him to death in an argument over loud music. Jason Halman was released less than a year later  because he suffered from a “psychoses” that was “exacerbated by marijuana use.” There’s more, as the ESPN link shows, but what a gruesome legal and medical system that gives criminally inclined psychopaths treatment with the aim of freeing them.

The Dinner:  Herman Koch’s The Dinner examines two brothers, Paul and Serge, and their wives, Claire and Babette. Serge is a prominent politician and Paul is an educator on leave. Paul and Claire have a son; Serge and Babette have a son, an adopted African son, and a daughter. The four adults dine at a very expensive restaurant in Amsterdam, where they will discuss the fact their three sons are complicit in the murder of a homeless person, fuzzy and ambiguous footage of their crime is caught on security camera. The African son did not commit the murder, but has evidence on his brother and cousin, and thus is  blackmailing them.

Psychopath Patriarch Number Two:  Paul has a past. He assaulted his brother, his superior at school, and received a “punishment” of paid administrative leave, counseling, and psychotropic drugs. Paul believes the elimination of “scum” improves society, and knows the Dutch penal system favors the criminal at expense of society and the victim. He almost obliquely coaches his son not to feel remorse or compassion. By dessert Claire also proves herself nuts. The finale’s disturbing message:  Most sociopaths, despite their craziness, are sane enough to take advantage of the system.

US vs. Holland: This is tangential, but some people may ask, what about the US? In a previous post, A Mexican Foreign Worker vs. Lila Abu-Lughod, a Mexican criticized Algerian culture. In the comments section a friend, rather than engaging, noted that Mexico had similar problems. This is counter productive. When pointing out violence, sexism, racism, and other societal problems, groups tend to look at others rather than themselves. This is especially egregious when a member of one country or religion feels attacked. They misread an attack on misogyny or other injustice as an attack on them. A pan-humanitarian philosophy can avoid this. No matter how different cultures are, humans are humans. What’s wrong in Holland is also wrong in the USA. Example:  Former Angel Lyman Bostock’s Tragic Death, Ethan Couch, ‘Affluenza’ Teen Who Killed 4 In Crash, Given No Jail Time. and Judge lets Spoiled Teen Killer Off. And so?

Freeing sociopaths is bad, period:  Sending the rich and/or insane messages that you can kill with minimum impunity damages everyone in society.

Written by Caleb Powell

March 6, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Mr. Destructo vs. Mr. Powell

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A little more than a week after Christopher Hitchens died, this: “Burn in Hell, Christopher Hitchens” (6,300+ words). The site’s (Mr. Destructo) author, no Voltaire, evidently hatefucked Hitchens for years but conveniently waited until death. Had the article addressed a live Hitchens, with a title like  “Dear Cancer, Take Hitchens Now!” well, THAT would have shown risk. But cowards do as cowards do. Thus I commented:

“Anonymity makes sense if you’re a Chinese dissident or a Syrian activist, but not if you’re an armchair blogger. If you guys want to be wiseguys, well, fair enough. But why not change your IDs, add your real names, keep your nicknames, and show your balls.”

 – Caleb “Henry Kissing-and-Fucking-her” Powell

Bring it on:  And so I received an Internet roast:  Amazing Gaze: The Western Eyes of Soulful Scribbler Caleb Powell. Funny stuff from the Mr. Destructos, though they ramble long after point (6,000+ word essays containing 1,000 salient words the norm). Of the two (if they’re indeed two), “Mobutu Sese Seko” has shed anonymity (he’s lovable but a quasi-zero, not sure why he hid in the first place), but “General Rehavam ‘Gandhi’ Ze’evi” keeps his pseudonym, wielding pabulum such as “There is a Powellful discovery.” Here’s Ze’evi’s diatribe:

Ze’evi –  “The holidays are long over. Liquor sales have stabilized; few of the year-end suicides remain undiscovered, and, if you are like me, you have a major haul of gifted books. Stacked on my bedside table, towering over my bloated, holly-jolly frame, the books are a leering accusation: “You’re like all the others,” sniffs The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. “Just direct me to the bookshelf best situated to intimidate your landlord.”

As I limply cast aside the hose of my opium huqqa, ash sprinkling the datemaki sash of my authentic silken Nipponese kimono, I despair: literature is dead. Then suddenly, there is a change. There is a Powellful discovery. Who is Caleb Powell? A question I pondered not two weeks ago — now I have some sense of the answer, of an author who asserted himself in my mind’s eye. Thus far, his vision has been inscribed only within a few brave avant garde presses, like Prick of the Spindle, Yankee Pot Roast, and ZYZZYVA. I aim to change this…” (read all 2,400 words here)

Well played, Ze’evi, despite or because of the corny elements. I look forward to worthier challenges going forward.


UPDATE:  I forwarded to Mr. Destructo via Facebook. Here’s his response.

Mr. Destructo:  This guy Bro_Pair wrote about in 2012 (with one or two lines of mine thrown in) is still real mad and apparently finally found that great zinger. I’d leave them up, but apparently he keeps posting these and deleting them over and over.

You be the judge:  “Bro_Pair” or Mobutu/Ze’evi/Mr. Destructo = same dorkbag. Check out Dorkstructo’s FB page for teenagesque LMAO-usage w/o restraint. The guy seems baffled (as “baffled” as I am “mad”) that a guy could cache a draft for two years and post, or GADZOOKS, write a comment and take it down. His self-indulgent glorified blog vs mine replicates “vast chunk of time” vs. “hobby.” Destructo used to write 100+ posts a year, now hasn’t written in almost two months. His latest on Rob Ford, “Let Them Eat Pussy,” ironically, has five comments, all anonymous. Mr. Destructo wasn’t exactly destined to go straight to the top and stay there.

Written by Caleb Powell

January 4, 2014 at 7:57 am

Lionel Shriver’s “Humblebrag” Needs to Be Talked About

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Two authors on writing:

Lionel Shriver:  “If you really want to write, the last thing you want to be is a success.”

Cheryl Strayed:  “Write like a motherfucker.”

Lionel Shriver, author of the compelling We Need to Talk About Kevin, has written an essay at The New Republic:  How to Succeed as an Author: Give Up on Writing – The rancid smell of 21st century literary success. Lionel Shriver has won the Orange Prize, was a finalist for a National Book Award, and her landmark novel was made into a film starring Tilda Swinton. But in her essay she finds success “rancid” as she “humblebrags”  about hotels and travel and how “prizes are a particularly destructive time and emotion suck, since in most cases you don’t win.” Imagine the grueling nightmare of receiving a nomination and, gadzooks, attending the ceremony and not winning. I’m not sure whom she intends to enlighten, but for most writers the greater the lack of publication, usually, the greater the pain. I’m not saying her aggravations are not legitimate, tangible migraines come with success and the related celebrity, but c’mon, Ms. Shriver, thou doth condescend.

An unpublished writer who whines is tedious, but not nearly as tedious as a published whiner. On both ends of success or failure, the “it’s tough to be me” schtick plops into a mushy puddle of wrong. Writing has frustrations and rewards, just like life. Vanity, lack of self awareness, narcissism, respect, graciousness, they apply to all walks. Look at the single mother of two who has to work as a waitress not to mention that same person writing a novel. The woe of the elite is way different than every day suffering, but the latter deserves more empathy. How we handle success and failure is a personal statement.

Most if not all writers cram art between responsibility. I’m a full-time father of three and find time to write/read – half hour blips during soccer practice, guerrilla visits to coffee shops to open the laptop for ten minutes of production, books in the car, by the toilet etc., at night or early in the morning. Hotels? That’s a writing retreat. Long flights? To me it’d be 1-5 hours uninterrupted reading and writing. With success time crunches but with compensations.

Cheryl Strayed on the other hand has similar “problems” as Ms. Shriver, rare and hard earned success, a movie, etc. These perks allow her to enjoy a professional writing career. And she glows in gratitude.

So why does one writer derive inspiration from  success and the other degradation?

Two authors on their success:

“I have grown perversely nostalgic for my previous commercial failure,” Lionel Shriver

“A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They’ve taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too.”– Cheryl Strayed

Written by Caleb Powell

November 5, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Firoozeh Bazrafkan Convicted of Insulting Islam…in Denmark?

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“I refuse to sign petitions for that book of his…”- Germaine Greer referring to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses

One person said he wanted to chop me up and feed me to his dogs. I reported it to the police but they didn’t charge him because the threats weren’t threatening enough.” – Firoozeh Bazrafkan

According to The Copenhagen Post, artist Firoozeh Bazrafkan was fined 5,000 Kroner for “violating anti-racism legislation” after her blog entry was published in the Jyllands-Posten newpaper: “I am very convinced that Muslim men around the world rape, abuse and kill their daughters. This is, according to my understanding as a Danish-Iranian, due to a defective and inhumane culture – if you can even call it a culture at all. But you can say, I think, that it is a defective and inhumane religion whose textbook, the Koran, is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined.”

Bazrafkan’s statement is problematic because of its lack of quantifiers; she types all Muslim men as one entity. Watch the Academy Award winning film A Separation, not the over rated caricature laden Argo, to get a more accurate picture of Iranian society. Most Iranian men are decent folk, and it’s poor art to focus on extremes as if they are the rule. But poor art is not racism.

The fact the Aarhus Police have found that she has committed racism worthy of a fine is by far more problematic. Islam is not a race. Racism is the belief in the inferiority and superiority of specific ethnic groups. Bazrafkan is criticizing culture and that’s different. Furthermore, criticizing culture, religion or nationalism is arguably legitimate free speech. Calls for violence are the exception and not “free” speech.

Michel Focault, in his admiration of Khomeini’s Revolution, set the stage for liberals like Germaine Greer to misread the dangers of fundamentalism. This conflict exploded after Salman Rushdie’s fatwa, andsignaled the start of a new battle over what ideas can be tolerated. From 1989 to the present the polemics have intensified, and the cowering thought police has created a new form of European chauvinism, patronizing Moroccans, Persians, Afghans, Pakistanis and other minorities by not considering them worthy of secular government, women’s rights, and Western liberty.

What must secular and/or ex-Muslims think when they see that criticism of religion, a crime under their own governments, faces similar restrictions in the governments of liberal dominated Europe? The Danish government’s message to oppressed Muslims reads that they are not worthy of the same freedoms. Denmark has joined Bazrafkan’s home country of Iran in censoring free speech, and this is a shame.

Naguib Mahfouz: “No blasphemy harms Islam and Muslims so much as the call for murdering a writer.”

UPDATE:  Denmark did it again, charging another Muslim – Danish Muslim Apostate Faces Hate Speech Charges

Written by Caleb Powell

September 26, 2013 at 6:59 am

Why Tolerate/Support/Buy Literary Magazines?

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 “We’re four years old. Give us some money.” – Subject line of Email received from “The Desperate Review.”

Writers benefit from the existence of literary magazines. That editors publish such and work for little or no money deserves respect. Most editors understand that writers spend more than they earn, partly because editors double as writers. But not all. Here’s a solicitation with nothing changed but the review’s name:

Some of my literary magazines

Dear Readers, The Desperate Review is four years old. For our birthday we’d like some money.

Oh—was that too forward? Did we mention that we’re FOUR YEARS OLD?  Four-year-olds are forward. Now please give us some money.

What do we need money for? Well, in addition to keeping all issues of the magazine free to read and paying our writers, we’re redesigning our website to make it phone and tablet compatible (and easier to read on all platforms). This will cost money. Won’t you give us some? Even just a little bit?

What’s in it for you, other than making a four-year-old happy on its birthday? We’re sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, meaning if you do give us some money, your donation is tax deductible.


Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to jump in an inflatable castle until we barf.

Happy Birthday to Us, The Desperate Review

Dear Desperate Review:  Many editors respect the business and art of writing. They don’t exploit or solicit writers. I realize you’re on the inside, but it seems you’re oblivious to the turn offs that derive from unearned solicitations. Are you Editors-with-Agendas – editors self-promoting on other people’s dimes? Who are you to ask for money? University or government grant (VQR) supported lit mags are another topic. But no matter where funds originate, good editors understand that writers implicitly know they should support literature.

Do not become a vile rag that scrounges up dollars to publish established literary figures. Of these, Narrative Magazine the most egregious, existing so their editors-with-agendas can make contact with Sherman Alexie-types while taking advantage of unpublished clueless writers for financial help. How? Narrative charges upwards of $15 just to submit. Really. Sherman Alexie has been published six times by Narrative, others include Margaret Atwood, Ann Beattie, Robert Olen Butler, Junot Diaz, Mary Gaitskill, Charles Johnson, Jhumpa Lahiri, Joyce Carol Oates, James Salter, and Tobias Wolff. To lay on some necessary redundancy, Narrative doesn’t pay these writers, poor suckers hoping to be discovered, through submission and contest fees, pay them.

Why would anyone buy a literary magazine? To participate in the conversation, to read familiar writers, and to support literature. Successful writers should throw money back at places who have published their work and helped said writer attain their goals. Your self-conscious “barf” comment does not save you. You should feel nauseous. As lit mag editors and writers your struggles and glory double, namely, you pay twice unless your material is so desired that people will buy mad volume of your product.


Caleb Powell


On Getting Paid: Literary Magazines and Remuneration – The Millions

Give Money to the Arts? – An Exchange with Tim Jones-Yelvington at The Rumpus

Dear Zoetrope: Your Submission Guidelines Are Fucked Up – at The Nervous Breakdown

A Radical Idea:  Pay the Writer  – The Saturday Morning Post

Written by Caleb Powell

May 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Amina & Femen’s “Topless Jihad” vs. Shazida Khatun & the Muslimah

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As a Muslim I know what she did and what its (sic) punishment is and she should know better than to do what she is done. we keep these values and you dont (sic) we are proud of who we are and what we believe in, at least we have something to believe in. she has been condemned and punish by stoning. she deserves what she gets.” – Shazida Khatun, commenter and verb-slayer on Amina Tyler: Tunisian Girl Outrages Islamic Authority

What she did:  Amina Tyler, a Tunisian woman, published now iconic topless photos of herself on Facebook with Arabic and English written on her naked torso. Her message challenges the male dominated ideology of her society. Femen, a Ukranian activist group that has targeted European Nationalists and the Pope, launched a Topless Jihad in Amina’s support. There’s more on this at The Atlantic, The New Yorker and The Huffington Post. Tunisian clerics have called for her death.

Femen, in some ways, represents a common sentiment within the West, the rejection of fundamentalist misogyny that hurls stones literally and figuratively at women in religiously oppressed societies. Here’s what Amina wrote (translation):

“I own my body; it’s not the source of anyone’s honor.” – Amina Tyler

Missing the point:  On the other side we have the Muslimah at Al Jazeera, self-described “moderate” Shazid Khatun, and cultural and religious apologists such as Glenn Greenwald (more horrified by Sam Harris than by the Taliban), who seem to think misogyny is wrong only in the West, but when certain cultures oppress women, that is moral relativism and a right. Observe the Muslimah:

“FEMEN can’t tell me what I can and can’t wear!” Muslimah Pride

“Nudity does not liberate me and I DO NOT need saving!” Muslimah Pride

Muslimah Pride,  c’mon, no one is telling you how to dress. Amina’s message implies, “Don’t tell me what to wear, don’t condemn women for their choices.” You choose to dress as society compels you to, fine, but do you really have a choice to dress otherwise? Amina questions this compulsion, that’s all.

Muslimah – Amina has now been threatened by death. I ask the Muslimah, Al Jazeera, and the educated Muslims of the world, where do you stand? Are you with the clerics and the Shazidas who call for her death? Or do you support her right to free speech? Her act may be offensive, and FEMEN’s use of nudity may be offensive, but those are different arguments. What about peaceful expression? You protest her message, but remain silent as clerics demand that she be killed. Is that how you want to be perceived?

You see the girls on the left? In Afghanistan and Pakistan women risk their lives for education. The attempted assasination of Malala Yousafzai evidence. Muslimah, if you have education, use it. The rights Amina Tyler and Femen demand apply to you. If you wish to don hijabis or nikaabis, go for it. But instead of protesting Amina, why not protest forcing rape victims to marry their rapists (Amina Filali), honor killings, and education for women? I think you do incredible harm to your religion when, by your silence and the battles you choose, you prioritize the trivial over the serious. Islam is about peace, ladies, so why not speak for peace by supporting it?

And you can put as many scarves as you want if you are free tomorrow to take it off and to put it back the next day but don’t deny millions of your sisters who have fear behind their scarves, don’t deny that there are million of your sisters who have been raped and killed because they are not following the wish of Allah! We are here to scream about that.” – Inna Shevchenko, Leader of women’s movement FEMEN

Taliban UPDATE: “We lost Afghanistan in 2001 because of 9/11 at a time when we almost controlled 100 percent of Afghanistan,” a Taliban intelligence officer says. “We don’t want these incidents to upset our plans again.” – Comment made after Boston Marathon bombing, confirming how terrorism reflects on Islam.

Update:  “How can you wear your scarf with so much proudness . . . like it’s the hat of Che Guevara? It symbolizes blood and all the crimes that are based on your religion, even if you don’t support them . . . . If you’re a feminist, if you’re for liberation, then be brave [enough] to say that we are against that and take off your scarf until the moment that your scarf will not be a symbol of crime.” Inna Shevchenko from Topless Jihad: Why Femen Is Right – The Atlantic May, 1 2013

Amina Quits Femen – Huff Post

Written by Caleb Powell

April 15, 2013 at 4:13 pm