#writering: Don the Bomb

#writering is a random blog blathering on about writers, books and publishing

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by Beth Wareham of Lisa Hagan Books, an Indy publisher.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of a “literary gathering,” you do not know the wonder of a room of fashion victims trying to beat one another over the heads with words. I listened to two New York Times critics go down for the count over whether France was on the uptick, culturally-speaking, or not.  I got bored, wandered away, and there was Michi, describing a performance piece where monkey brains were consumed. (You should have been around when Art Garfunkel asked Michi out. What a to-do.) It was a party, Michi, and you just made my cheese spread and cracker look unappetizing.  Nothing has more “literary” pathology for study than one of these events. The war is always on and it’s all words.

Enter the man above. When he walks in a room, even those that have not stopped taking for decades shut up.  The very definition of “walk softly and carry a big stick”, “don’t open your mouth unless you have something to say,” and “outsider artist” ooze from this man.  He’s not your plaything or your patsy; he doesn’t perform for the mob. He’s in a leather bomber amongst the bad tweed and sensible shoes. He works his way across the room and all the posers and nattering nabobs part. They know the King of the Jungle when they see him.

Random facts:

*Don DeLillo has never gone online. He sees it as a complete assault on his individuality and his life: He does not know there are ebooks of his work. He may know now, but he didn’t for years.

*He was obsessed with the image of a man falling through space many years before he wrote Falling Man. (He wrote that book using a simple chronology, didn’t like it, and rewrote it starting in the future and backtracking to 9/11. Don’t try that at home, kids.)

*When Underworld was first published, critics received no additional information about the book. How could you capture the 20th Century with a press release? The book, however, is the finest novel about that most violent 100 years in human history.  The last word of the book is very famous.

*His editor and publicist almost came to blows over what kind of condiments Don liked on his sandwich. Silly? You bet. But that’s how ridiculous it gets around this great American novelist. Everyone wants to please him because he is great. Oblivious to all of these machinations, Don DeLillo lives in a part of the atmosphere where we can’t get.

*DeLillo is obsessed with the 1951 MLB playoffs when outfielder Andy Pafko ran to the left field wall and watched Bobby Thomson’s 3-run homer fly over his head. DeLillo opened Underworld with this scene, wrote about the event for Harpers Magazine, and published a novella entitled Pafko at the Wall in 2001.

If you haven’t read the great man’s books, I humbly offer my reading list: White Noise (the first book I read and simply the best with its “airborne toxic event”); Libra, a novel imaging Lee Harvey Oswald on his journey toward a world-shattering act; Falling Man, his novel of 9/11; and finally, a sweeping look at the 20th Century, Underworld.

“A writer’s writer” does not describe him. DeLillo is a law onto himself and will remain so forever.  DeLillo is the consummate individual, a term I think he would like.

Do right by Don DeLillo. Turn off all the gadgets that allow you to read this and sit down with one of his books. Don’t read criticism or look to the opinions of others. Don’t natter with nabobs about him, ever. This read is for you, the one thing that cannot be replicated. Let your particular arrangement of molecules collide with DeLillo’s story and see what comes about.

Because all truth must reside in one individual before it spreads, DeLillo wants you to step up, quit bullshitting and walk the walk. He wants you to read and think, activities in short supply these days. (See references to “the base” in mainstream reporting…)

Yup. That guy is the real damn deal and he’s not letting anyone off the hook. Think for yourself, folks. Read. Stop acting like cows. We are individuals responsible for ourselves and our actions. Anything else is just nattering and nonsense, a series of “literary gatherings” filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Ask DeLillo, he knows.

 

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#writering: Meeting Jeannette Walls

#writering is a periodic posting of blather about writers, books and publishing by Beth Wareham of Lisa Hagan Books.

 

Jeannette Walls

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I met Jeannette a long time ago (a decade ago!) in a tiny room in the center of an airless midtown tower. She was with a young colleague signing stacks of her first memoir, The Glass Castle which would remain on the bestseller list for 7 years.  A childhood remembered, it is by turns delightful and horrifying as her family bounced from desert shack to a dilapidated mountain shanty.  Jeannette and her siblings slept in cardboard boxes rather than beds. Her father – often drunk – and her mother –  depressed and refusing to get out of bed – seemed unable to care for their children. And just when you believe you can’t take it any more, Jeannette takes you to her father’s boyhood home, examines his mother, and this hell makes more sense. Jeannette’s love for her family is unwavering, even to this day. All of Jeannette’s childhood is bearable to us because it was bearable to her: She emerged full of human grace.

Somehow in that sad little book-filled room, Jeannette looked like she does in the photograph above, a yearling at the edge of a field, sun back-lighting her . Maybe it’s that  mane-like hair. Or it’s the eyes that have that equine ability to be look deep while scanning the perimeter for potential predators.  She gave an impression of being vulnerable and she was very kind. Her gaze was direct and strong: In retrospect I’d even describe it as unbroken. In fact her third book was called Half-Broke Horses.

I remember thinking, she’s no gossip reporter.  She’s already a writer, a philosopher, something quiet, dignified, not reporting on Beyonce or Justin Timberlake. I don’t know how long she kept at that job, but I can’t think of a more improbable pairing. I see Jeannette in that sunny pasture walking among her horses, blending into the sunlight.

I am hoping the movie version of Glass Castle remains true to the book; the trailer makes it appear like happy Hollywood malarky. It’s the darkness of that book that makes the story so amazing: Those two deeply flawed parents raised remarkable children.

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Get Your Freak on with Nick Redfern and Reddit

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Lisa Hagan Books

On Monday night, June 26, UFOlogist, monster hunter and conspiracy-buster Nick Redfern will take answer questions about aliens, spooky lights, flying dragons, and military cover-ups on a Reddit “Ask Me Anything”

Details are here:

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YOU ARE THE ANSWER

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LISA HAGAN BOOKS

Big institutions are in some doubt. Wall Street crashed America, the Russians have infiltrated our election systems, and Intelligence leaders are stonewalling the United States Senate. If you work in an institution, there’s no telling what goes on. I learned that in time inside the walls of a corporation.   It’s funny and it’s not.

Three books changed the way I thought about institutions. The first is Build the Fort, a simple and completely effective book on startups, by Chris Heivly. He presents 5 steps to begin a tech-based business and my partner and I used the book to start Lisa Hagan Books. It works, completely.  Nan Russell, a management consultant and author of It’s Not About the Time, talked about arranging the arc of your life by passion, not minutes on the clock.  In The Coming Financial Crisis, John Truman Wolfe writes of another bankster invasion like the 2008 crash and a way to protect your assets.

I took 5 pieces of wisdom about institutions from these books:

  1. An institution/corporation speaks the methods of an industry and the culture of that company. Work there, acquire the discipline but don’t internalize the company. It is not a person (despite the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling) and doesn’t have a conscious, so don’t hold on. It won’t. Leave.
  2. The clock tells you more about passion than time. If you are watching it often, best to make some big adjustments. Use that same formula on your personal life.
  3. The United States government will fail you. Be extremely conscientious with your wealth. Diversify. If a bank goes belly-up, you will be on the line for anything over $100,000. Doink!
  4. Your primary focus is to acquire skills that speak to your talents. Use institutions – rather than letting them use you – to learn as much as possible.  Take your developed talents and build the work you want.
  5. Institutions are now hiring in waves and will no doubt be shedding in the near future. Hire, fire seems to be the norm. It’s a bad trip on the merry go-round and if you want to get off, you can. (Institutions suffer as well in the hire-fire model as they reinvent wheels wildly… but that’s their problem.) In your mind, isolate your passion and talent and figure out your business. Start it. Work hard. Put the money in gold or land.

You are the answer. As our trust in institutions hits a new low, a new model might be in order. Maybe as trust slowly returns (and everyone hopes it will!), the promise of #tech – the freedom from cubicle life – will finally be realized. That would be YUuuuge.

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ALIENS AND TRUMP

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Donald Trump has a hotline where you can report illegal aliens. Here’s a big news report on the new phone system: dumb alien phone line.  Now, you and I know that ALL of the little green men are illegal, but how can you prove it?  No papers, no luggage, nothing. Squat. Just a bunch of shiny metal, contrails and blinking red lights. Those guys are small, bug-eyed, and bendy. Illegal aliens go everywhere and fit in many places Donald Trump cannot.

So The Donald got that part of the alien equation wrong.  But, he got another part right: LAUNCH A COUNTER-NARRATIVE TO COVER THE TRUTH, a truth, Nick Redfern says, that is far from what many choose to believe. In The Roswell UFO Conspiracy: Exposing a Shocking and Sinister Secret, Redfern finishes the research he began in 2005’s Body Snatchers in the Desert, just in time for the 70th anniversary of that famous – and infamous – crash in the desert in New Mexico.  His findings? Well, no spoiler alert here. You’ll just have to read it.

And once you read it, you’ll have to decide – was the government’s cover-up story more believable than the truth? Maybe. Just invent a plausible counter-narrative and never give in, something that Mr. Trump does so well. Create another chaotic story to cover the first chaotic story you made up to cover something you weren’t supposed to do in the first place. Magicians call it indirection. We call it a big fat lie.

So, the American government is a bit like a teenager who, no matter what the activity, is always telling the parents that they are at a movie at the mall.  Mom and Dad cry foul and, in the case of Trump, so do the American people.  But beware, some made-up stories work too well and steal the past right out from under people.

Enjoy your little green men but keep you eye on story simmering under the story someone is shoving down your throat. Listen for what you don’t hear.

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Failing through Busy-ness? Stop.

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from Nan Russell’s It’s Not About the Time 

There are many types of pain. Feeling overwhelmed, chronically exhausted, or unable to stretch non-elastic time to t what needs doing is one kind. So is wanting to do one thing and having to do another; knowing the people you love most feel low on your priority list; or giving up hope you’ll ever move toward that life dream.

When you believe you can time-manage yourself out of that kind of pain, which is what I tried for years, life tends to offer its version of a wake-up call: head- aches, illness, anger, outbursts, insomnia, overeating or drinking—you name it. If the pain gets bad enough we seek change.

Consider whether you’re ready:
1. Do you want to move away from the pain of over- whelmed and busy-busy-busy?
2. Are you willing to try something other than more time-management techniques that treat only symptoms?
3. You consider with an open mind that your time- problem isn’t about time.
Consider the statements below. If you’ve had enough and want to change it, check it. If it’s out of control sometimes, but more okay for you than not, leave it blank.

  1. I’m tethered to work 24/7/365; people can reach me via cell anytime and they do.
  2. I use at least part of the weekend to catch up on work.
  3. My life and responsibilities are over owing my ability to get everything I want done.
  4. I don’t have any time to think or be creative and that hurts the quality of my work.
  5. I have out-of-control numbers of unopened emails and just ignore some.
  6. I need to delegate more but have no time to train or hire anyone.
  7. My New Year’s resolution was to improve work-life balance and I broke it in weeks.
  8. Significant others in my life complain about my lack of time and attention.
  9. I feel at the end of my rope more days than not.
  10. I can’t remember the last time I unplugged and relaxed, even on vacation.
  11. I feel compelled to check my phone every few minutes to make sure I don’t miss something important.
  12. I know that stress and pressure are affecting my health and well-being.
  13. I keep hoping things at work and home will change.
  14. 14. There are so many things I’d like to do, but I just don’t have time to do them.

Self-scoring: Only you know if something is too much, too little, or just right for you. However, typically if you checked eight or more, i.e. more than half, there’s a consistent problem that time-management alone is unlikely to solve.

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3 Sins of Bullshit Writing

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from Charles Euchner’s KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (click on title to read more)

If you don’t know what your ideas are, if you haven’t flushed out details or set your purpose clearly, you might commit one, two or all three sins of bullshit writing. And that, says Euchner, is when “things get ugly. When we try to bull our way through sentences and paragraphs.”

The 3 deadly sins of bullshit writing are:

•We repeat ourselves.

•We use vague phrasing – adjectives and generalizations – instead of clear crisp logic                and details.

•We ramble, piling words and phrases, with a hope we will discover some telling detail  or concept, but usually moving further and further away from the point.

 

When you feel any of this creeping in, you know you’ve lost the grip somehow. Backtrack and flush the idea, plotting, character development, background research and how you are going to tell you story. We suggest beginners start with the beginning, move on to the middle and then give us the end.

If you see any of those those 3 deadly sins popping up a lot in that book in your hand, you may want to put it down and go get another. Life’s short and there are just too many great books to read.

Join us every Thursday on Twitter with the hashtag

#ThursdayWrites and tell us what you’re working on. 

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NOTHING TO DO BUT…….

SHUT UP AND DANCE 

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“No one today can match the limpid elegance and intellectual precision of his style, which recalls the heyday of Virgil Thomson.”   – The New Yorker 

“Holland has a remarkable ability to conjure up the essence of a composer or a piece of music in a few deftly chosen words. He is, I think, an aphorist of unparalleled virtuosity.”                                                – San Francisco Chronicle

“Perhaps the most important of this town’s arbiters.” – The Independent

Available wherever books are sold and here, online.

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AMAZON REVIEWS: On the Haters Trail

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/Beth Wareham

I own a publishing company (with the magnificent Lisa Hagan, write books, edit books, work on film treatments and develop  television shows. It’s a living, sort of.

I find myself in my first role – that of publisher – checking Amazon reviews and rankings frequently. I build author pages for them. When it comes to amazon, I’m around.

So, imagine my delight when I bumped into the one-star review of the above book by one Barry Burek on amazon. One star?  Almost thirty years of criticism, interviews and reporting in the greatest newspaper on Earth gets one star? What is Mr Burek sniffing?

Unfortunately for him, he was like a cat hiding behind the curtain with his tail sticking out. A quick click on his name showed a trail of meticulous, often mentally-disturbed, reviews of an hilarious range of products.

CONSUMER’S GUIDE ACCORDING TO BARRY BUREK

He gives one star to Bernard Holland’s thirty years at The New York Times because Holland was a “professional leech”. This would be news to his employers who received 4600 reviews from him, including several Pulitzer Prize nominations. Sorry, Barry. No go on that one. He calls Mr Holland a bunch more names, which made Mr Holland laugh. As he  said, “haters mean I’m doing my job right.” So, according to Barry, don’t buy that book. According to Mr Holland, get a Barry Burek and feel like you’ve arrived.

Did I tell you Barry Burek creates an alter ego named “Lola” to answer himself? When he dolls out a single star, Lola backs him up. Barry is picky, and kind of a coward, it seems.

An organic sea salt got a whopping 5 stars from Barry because it tasted good and was EASY TO USE. I worry now that Barry has flippers instead of hands.

Intimately aware of his shoe size after reading his shopping history, the Santa Cruz slip-on-loafers were pretty good – 4 stars – but lost that star because, after arriving on May 20, Barry pushed his big toe through one on July 18. His perforated garden clogs lost one of their stars because they were not the originals, they were way cheaper. (And this is the clogs fault because….?) Barry’s Pali Hawaii Classic Jesus Sandals (brown, 12) take a direct hit of a few stars because Barry is really a 10 1/2 D and the 11 he ordered was TOO SMALL. He then ordered the 12 and it was TOO NARROW. What a world, Barry!

On a book about dementia, Barry let loose in the vein of his diatribe against Holland. (Classical music and deteriorating neural pathways are Barry’s hot spot?) His one star was followed with a cascade of name-calling and vitriol. The sane came out of the bushes and said “You need help, Barry. Please get it now. There is no shame in mental illness.” Predictably, Lola showed up to defend Barry.

Remember the next time you read those heaps and piles of unchecked reviews on amazon, most of them are silly. They are about the emotions and prejudices of the writer and not productive criticism. That is a skill and an art in itself that people like Barry Burek can’t imagine.

But he did like the wine stoppers and cat litter he ordered. Take note.

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I LEARNED IT IN HOLLYWOOD

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I have been editing, writing and publishing for about 25 years in New York City and it took a trip to Hollywood to get my head straight. That’s right: Hollywood. The light came on when I was jamming a giant turkey burger down my wattle at the Warner Brothers’ commissary.  My lunch partner and partner partner said it. It was electrifying.

Continuity.

“The treatment lacks subtext and continuity,” she said, smiling over tiny blanched vegetables.

For some reason, this word “continuity” word blasted through my brain in a way “arc of the narrative” never could.

“Bullshit,” I said.

“No, we’re fixing it,” she said, tiny purple carrot at the edge of her ruby red mouth.

I looked over at George Clooney’s basketball court and squinted.

“You know, I think you’re right,” I said.

You see, the hardest job a writer will EVER have is writing short. I had written a novel that had to be boiled down to a treatment (think beef glace here) and I wasn’t experienced or instinctive enough to achieve that goal. Three hundred pages needed to be thirteen. We got the action compressed but not the detail and back story that make a story a story. It had no ecology. We needed later pages of the treatment to feed off the first pages and I hadn’t put any tiny fish or plankton in and everyone was starving. At least INSIDE the book, I had extra Doritos.

This of your stories as you think of a pond or a meadow. One thing must fit into and feed off the rest. Nothing is separate, ever. (Quantum theory or a hallucinogenic drug trip explains this, you decide which.) This ecology must be intact no matter how short the joke, the paragraph, the chapter, or the book. No one can read your work and still be hungry.

Try writing short. It’s really hard. And because we know that, we’ll soon have something for you that will change your approach to writing forever.

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