Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Midweek miscellany

Language Log

Michael Schaub at Bookslut tells me two things. One, there is a blog called Language Log, which is for those who are very interested in the finer points of the English language, including the origin of pseudo-Chinese proverbs and matters of that sort. And two, that there is now a book based on excerpts from the blog and called Far From the Madding Gerund.

I used to know what a gerund was, once, before my brain went. And a gerundive. Because they're different. I think.

The Frontlist

The Frontlist is a brand-new UK-based web site which offers a service to writers who are in search of a publisher or agent. Basically, the idea is that you submit a sample of your novel. Then you are asked to write critiques of the work of several other authors who have done the same. And finally, if your own novel (extract) proves to be highly popular with your peers, and gets to the top of the hit parade, so to speak, it will be considered by a publisher or agent.

The service is free, in principle, but if you want to have sight of the critiques of your work by other would-be novelists then you are asked to pay a one-off fee of £10. So it isn't going to break the bank.

Theoretically, this vetting process offers a kind of slush-pile filter which might well be attractive to hard-pressed editors and agents. The first editor to agree to look at work which has been vetted in this way is Jason Cooper at Picador (part of Pan Macmillan). Simon Trewin, an agent at PFD, has also said some kind words about the project.

Some unpublished writers will think that this is a wonderful idea, and will rush to submit. Others won't. I myself would need some persuading that a community of unpublished novelists is the group best qualified to assess either the commercial or literary value of my work. I am profoundly unenthusiastic about the whole critique-by-your-peers process, whether on creative-writing courses or anywhere else.

However, it is quite clear that this entire operation is being run by thoughtful and well-intentioned people -- idealists, even -- who are going to be doing a great deal of work for close to zero money, and it would therefore be churlish to be unkind about it. Suck it and see, is my advice. Maybe it will work for you.

Future of the media

The Creative Commons blog announces that the Future Exploration Network has just published a report on the future of the media. There's a chart which makes it all perfectly simple.

Mickey Spillane is dead

Mickey Spillane has died. At one time he was thought of as the crudest and most vulgar and most violent of the writers of hard-nosed thrillers, even before the fear of prosecution for four-letter words went out of the window.

I once heard a British TV interview with Spillane in which he said that he never rewrote anything, and no one ever needed to edit his stuff. Except once, when he had his hero machine-gun some 44 commies. Apparently the editor thought that figure of 44 was a bit too high to be credible: 34, possibly...

All those statements were probably the purest bullshit, designed to impress the viewers. Anyway, I could never get on with the books, but the Robert Aldrich-directed version (1955) of Kiss Me Deadly is one hell of a film. See it if you get the chance.

Wayne goes sleepy-bye-byes

Wayne Rooney, as UK readers will know, is a footballer of some note. He has a £5 million contract to 'write' five books, a deal which defies all comment, but I keep an eye on what he is up to.

Wayne has a perfectly charming live-in girl friend -- sorry, fiancee -- called Colleen. This week the newspapers say that he feels so guilty about this habit of visiting brothels that he has told Colleen that she can spend as much money as she likes. But the bit that caught my eye was in the Times.

There it says that Wayne can't get off to sleep unless there is some soporific noise in the background: television, hair-dryer, hoover... I wonder -- do you think the sound of Colleen's vibrator has the same effect?

Kevin Curtis Barr

Kevin Curtis Barr is an artist who has a presence on Digitalconsciousness.com, along with many other artists, and he sent me an email with some of his work attached. Interesting enough in its way, but quite frankly it took me a hell of a time to figure out what, if anything, it had to do with books.

Turns out, if you read Kevin's biography closely enough (and I have to say that some wouldn't bother), that he is the author of Welcome To The Graphic Design Age.

'This book features art and poetry; within it's (sic) pages are poems about Mother Teresa, Oprah Winfrey, Princess Diana and legendary songstress Chaka Khan. The art centers around Hollywood stars like Tina Turner, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez and Vin Diesel to name but a few.'

Well, if nothing else, this shows you that self-publishers can now publish a heavily illustrated full-colour book for a tiny fraction of what it would have cost even ten years ago. And that's worth knowing about.

Reading on Writing

There's another Kevin in town, Kevin Allison, and this one has a blog on The Editorial Department, where there's lots and lots of stuff about writing and editing and publishing. Subject of the blog is mainly short stories and how they work. It's a wee bit lit'ry for me, but then you know by now but that I am a convicted philistine. How else would I know about Mickey Spillane? Flannery O'Connor he wasn't.

Book-blog has moved

Debra Hamel has moved the Book Blog from blogspot.com to Typepad, and you can now find it here. Result is a sleeker, more easily navigable site. Latest post is about Marilyn Johnson's book on the great obituarists.

I would have thought that obituary writing was fairly modest-level journalism, but I've noticed before that Americans seem to give the obituary editor of a paper rather more prestige than do the English. Some years ago, Esquire magazine ran a profile of the senior obit man at the NYT, which puzzled me somewhat.

Here in the UK we tend to commission an obit from a distinguished person's peers, usually well before the VIP's death, and get it updated from time to time if the individual insists on surviving. I've never actually written an obit for the Times, but I've known a couple of people who have. Going rate about £100 (ten years ago).

Bulwer-Lytton revisited

Mention here, last Friday, of the annual Bulwer-Lytton prize, prompts m'learned friend C.E. Petit Esq to point out that, a couple of years ago, irked by the fact that the prize is awarded for awful fiction only, he dashed off a non-fiction example of the joys of legalese.

What is terrifying, he says, is that his parodic effort is actually shorter and less convoluted than a lot of real legal writing. And he's absolutely right; here in England we specialise in that kind of thing. It's beyond parody.

Writers FM

Speaking of videos and podcasts, which we have been recently, you really need to know that there is a radio station for writers which broadcasts on the web, 24/7: Writers FM. Seems hard to believe, but there it is. Just click here - and make sure that you have the speakers of your computer switched on; mine are usually off.

When I tuned in, there was a Brit (judging by his accent) talking to Nick Daws (another Brit, I deduce) about his method for writing a book. Apparently the book-writing business is really simple! How could I have failed to understand this?

Sandi Thom

The other day I turned on my car radio, something I seldom do, and quite by accident I happened to hear 'I wish I was a punk rocker' by the internet-famous Sandi Thom. And you know what? This girl can actually sing! Not only that, but even a deaf old man like me can hear the words. I was so surprised and grateful I very nearly blubbed.

This girl could go far. If you want to hear her for yourself, visit her web site, and click on the Now Playing link.


Susan Hill said...

Re- THE FRONTLIST. You are absolutely right - what on earth is the point of having someone`s novel reviewed by other people who are trying to get their novel published and probably failing ? No one is going to tell the truth, even their judgment is decent.. if what they are reviewing is dreadful, really, truly dreadful, then are they going to say so honestly unless they are pretty unkind ? Of course not.
What has not dawned on anyone is that every agent and publisher in the land is hungry, RAVENOUS, for good new books to be sent to them.. trouble is we all get sent the other sort. Except for once in a while and then the party starts.

Hameeduddin said...

And what if each author turned in a bad review of other people's work jus hopin to make it to the top themselves?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Susan. Agents and publishers are divine. If only someone had told me.

So, let’s get this straight in case I go making an arse of myself again. All I have to do is send a 'good' book instead of 'the other kind' and the party starts?

Here I am, bloody dimwit, sending off 'the other kind' instead of the kind that starts the party. How silly is that?

Well, as you say, it obviously hadn't dawned on 'anyone' that publishers are RAVENOUS (sforzando?) for good books but now that we know, I expect publishers and agents will be drowning in good books.

For now I now there is no such thing as a 'good', rejected book, I will make my way to the nearest window ledge and do my solemn duty to the gods of literature.

Hey, but what about all the agents with good books? Shouldn't they be passing them on for publication?

And why bother with agents anyway? If you've written a good book can't you just pop it in the post and wait for an invitation to the party by return?

I think the poor unpublishables have to put up with a lot in this world. For my own part, I must live in purgatory for I've been published many hundreds of times but nobody will publish my novel; thus denying me a cushy number at a university where I too might tell spotty kids not to use adverbs, be paid handsomely, and enjoy the warm glow of approbation afforded the writer who has three people who all work at the same place and like his work.

My truth is that nobody with the power to publish my novel will read my novel. I've been scanned and skimmed and judged and shat on but every single person, in this actual universe, who read the thing from cover to cover, enjoyed it. I have a ton of blurbs that publishers could use and I have decent 'user' reviews (and someone on this very blog gave it a good review). I've sold many hundreds to complete strangers, many of whom wrote to tell me of their enjoyment.

But, fir fuck's sake, that was with one of those 'other kinds' of which you speak. Imagine what I could do if I wrote a good book instead of the other kind?

What gives with all this gloating masquerading as professional expertise? I had no idea the publishing world was so cruel. I can take any number of rejections. I do not expect anyone to do me any favours. But please knock the 'if it were good...' horseshit on the head.

No. No. No. Missus. It is shite that you talk, and nothing I could say could be half as insulting as your post is to many thousands of souls who work hard all day and come home to work some more. And even though most of them are fooling themselves, you have no right to damn them all with such a flimsy, unfounded and transparently cruel conclusion.

You do know that your post doesn't say a thing about writers or agents or publishers or good books or bad books or publishable books or unpublishable books? It talks only of the perceived infallibity of publishers.

No one is going to tell the truth? Even if their judgement is 'decent'? Do you mean 'decent' like yours? Or is the unpublished caste forever damned to lesser sensibilities?

You think unpublished authors won't trash each other? Why, only five minutes ago I read a post wherein a published author trashed all of the unpublished authors in the world without apparently even being aware that she had done so.

If this were fifty years back and you were talking about pickaninnies, people might have thought you had a right to your opinion without being attacked by someone with an obvious axe to grind.

Agents and publishers are divine. Rejected authors are delusional. And the lord said: Go forth and write ye a decent novel. One which doth not bore the tits off publishers, and verily if thoust can cool it with the shitty bits, the kingdom, and the parties, shall be delivered unto thee.

And if you really want to know what 'the point is'. The point is to be read. The point is to be seen. The point is to be noticed. The point is to attract, by whatever means available, that sliver of humanity that must exist in this business somewhere so that people such as yourself might one day adjudge to be 'good' that which is perennially adjudged, without basis in reality, to be 'the other kind'.

I don't mean to be rude lady, but I have eyes that can see.

To top it all. You're dead wrong. I'd take an unpublished author's review over a bloated, self-indulgent lazy bastard of a professional review. Professional reviewers get paid about tupence for a review, so when they review an unknown, they spend most of the time talking about themselves rather than the book. And even if they like the book there are probably less than three or four professional reviewers in this country who have the balls to suggest that an unknown wrote a good book. (Thank you, S.B. Kelly. I love you more now than I could ever have known was possible. Kiss me TLS. Vector magazine, I want to have your babies.)

There is life outside heaven.

Anonymous said...

Sandi Thom. Yes, Your Senilityness has a good ear. She has a strong voice and command of her songs, unlike the breathless airheads topping the charts...indeed, a bit reminiscent of the late great Janis Joplin.

Her talent is enough to insure she'll go absolutely nowhere in today's 'entertainment world.'

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, Francis Ellen, you could say what's the point of getting crits on unpublished work if you refuse to believe it's anything other than a work of genius.

I have dabbled in the behind the scenes world of writing and in my experience the biggest problem with wannabe writers is the refusal to believe there's room for improvement.

A musician, or a dancer, or an artist practices over and over and refines their craft. It seems that writers all too often just assume they are already perfect and swear at those who dare to suggest otherwise.