Wednesday, November 24, 2010


And now the viral video taking the world by storm.

The Food Court Hallelujah chorus. Can I get a witness? Can something similar to this be done for literature?

The Frey

I’ve been afraid of jumping into the fray or rather Frey. Mostly because I don’t want to give the bum any more media attention. But then I realized the kind of attention I might afford James Frey would be minimal compared to the hell the NY Times gave him.
Okay we already know he is a liar, but it seems as if the “author” of A Million Little Pieces is now a crook and a liar—and he’s not even a politician (at least not yet). I use the term author loosely. I guess he is an author, he wrote the above mentioned book and now a few others—but it’s how he got published and rose to fame that is the most galling. He lied.

First he tried to publish his ms as fiction and when that didn’t work he merely tried to pass it off as memoir. And OMG it worked! He got picked up by Nan Talese who sold him and got big bucks and Oprah and more big bucks and visibility (something by the way that big bucks can’t always get you). I saw people on the train reading his book. Wow to reach a critical mass to where your book is read on a train. If only, I lust and yearn, and ultimately despair of ever getting published again.

But then I remind myself, he tricked people!! It was all a sham. Yes, I trade exchanges with myself, but it worked. And that’s how it goes.

That covers the liar liar pants on fire part of this entry, now onto the crook part. As covered in the above NY Times link, Frey has started a writing factory enterprise. Listservs have lit up about this now for a couple of weeks, so for some of you, dear readers, this is OLD news. But the ethics is so so sticky.

Listen. It is a win-win situation. The underpaid anonymous author gets published. (We all know the lure of that, to see your name in lights, or maybe not YOUR name, but an affiliation with the guy who stole your work). Anyway, to see the work of your hands, the fruit of your labor out there and being read and hopefully enjoyed. It’s why many of us work so hard for little to no recognition. It’s a win-win for Frey and his writing factory Full Fathom Five. He makes money. The publishing house and subsequent movie people, script writers, etc—they’re all getting a cut. And isn’t this what it is all about?: fueling the economy, getting people back to work??

Yeah but . . . .

All those good intentions, the fruit of the labor, the work of the hands, is now simply considered content. That’s right. Even as I sit here I’m creating content or as journalists refer to them “clips.” Or maybe what Frey likes to call “product.”

Yet . . . there is a nagging naïve thought echoing in the hollows of my brain, a question really. What about art? Not content, or filler, or the stuff Frey needs to fulfill his contract. What about that driving passion, that subtle feeling that can’t be produced on demand, that thing which rises up involuntarily inside of me at the end of a story—either one I’ve read or one I’ve written—that thing that says Whoa, Wow, or YESSS. The Holy Ghost Goosebumps of Literature.

I’m gonna miss that feeling when all that gets published is packaged, propaganda, or commercial James Frey do-do.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Memoirs this Past Weekend

This past weekend I perused and read a couple of memoirs picked up on a whim from the library. One was the third memoir from Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, and a screenwriter, most recently for Brokeback Mountain for which he won an Oscar.

I was impressed with his memoir called Hollywood because one) he came off as a very likeable, balanced kind of guy, whose fame never went to his head. And two) he learned a lot about screenwriting that eventually influenced his novels. The book jacket said he was the author of thirty. He talked about the importance of an establishing shot, a quick pan that gives the reader an idea of location, a hint of the tension or conflict, and at least a cursory outline of the main characters. An establishing shot isn’t about backstory or setting up narrative, rather it is just that ESTABLISHING.

For example: The camera starts wide on a school yard, comes in closer so that we can see we’re at the E.L. Stanley High School and then shifts to the side of the building where 2 boys are sneaking a smoke and where we hear one talking to the other. Everybody’s acting funny lately. Yeah, it’s creeping me out. Like they’re under a spell or something.

WHOOSH. Establishing shot.

The other book I looked through, but eventually decided was a slog, slow and too full of minutia was at least good for a wiki. I looked up the author and found out she had been keeping a journal since like 1967. That’s it, she’d been keeping track of her life (she was a cancer survivor and single parent after her first husband walked out on her leaving her in the middle of Hodgkin’s disease with three kids and her second husband ran off after emptying her bank account after her first successful memoir came out—whew!) and had made a living off of her journals. Her approach to life’s problems was whimsical and somewhat simplistic, which I found a bit cloying at first, but came to appreciate as I considered the time period. She was a hippie, a free thinker, a true child of the times. Her journals totally encapsulated the 60s and the prevailing philosophy of that era. So in a way it was like going back and capturing the feel—or vibe! For that I’ll give Walking Through Fire by Laurel Lee a thumb’s up.


Conferences. I’ve been to too many. Here is a small list, in no particular order:

Festival of Faith & Writing—Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI
Pilcrow Literary Festival, Chicago, Lincoln Park neighborhood
Prairie Writers Day, SCBWI-IL regional event
Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, where I worked on waitstaff, which turned out to be a very BIG DEAL, Kevin McIlvoy and Ernesto Quiñonez were my workshop facilitators
Sewanee Writer’s Conference, where I met Cheri Peters who championed me, I’ve always wished for someone to believe in me, thank you Cheri
Green Mountain Writers’ Conference, headed back again to the piney woods of Vermont, and thanks Yvonne Daley to awarding me a scholarship
Wesleyan Writers’ Conference, I attended on the Amanda Davis scholarship, Amanda was a truly gifted writer who had just come out with a YA novel and was beginning a book tour when her small plane crashed and she was killed
Highlights Foundation Writer’s Conference, at Chautauqua, NY (look it up, it’s amazing), full scholarship, where I worked under Helen Hemphill, author of Long Gone Daddy among others)
AWP or Associated Writing Programs, mostly I hung out at the Book Fair where I picked up writer’s guidelines and sample copies, so many that I could barely get home afterwards

I hope I’m not leaving any out.

Now the whole point of attending these conferences is to meet people. Like your future agent, editor, husband/wife/mistress/etc. In a nutshell: I’m horrible at this networking stuff. I loved Breadloaf because it was my first and I didn’t even know then what I know now, that I should be nervous, and also it helped to work. I served meals to faculty and participants in the dining hall. The year I was there another waitstaff person blogged about his experience at Slate. He got a lot right: the drinking, commingling, cohabitating, the readings, and then more readings. But he left out a lot, such as the words, the work, the edgy desire to better oneself. People in my group such as Gloria Estela Gonzalez-Zenteno were writing and revising on up to the day they workshopped and then continued to rewrite afterwards. Some people decide to audit, which I don’t get because what goes on in the workshop is the real conference and where the nitty gritty takes place.

I think a lot goes on after hours also, but I was never awake. Just my take. On Breadloaf—with, of course more to come later, about CONFERENCES.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

National Book Awards

Congratulations Patti!

News of the winners of the National Book Award just came over the wires (a euphemism, since technology today rarely involves wires) and Just Kids, Patti Smith, won for non-fiction.

I read Patti’s memoir this summer and was WOW-ed. I guess in her speech or an interview she said that she wrote it for Robert Mapplethorpe one of the first people she met after leaving home (a dreary small town in NJ) and arriving in New York City. They lived together, were lovers, but mostly they were dedicated friends. She promised him before he died that she would write a book about their relationship. Forty years later she writes it and wins the National Book Award. Aren’t you WOW-ed?

Oh yeah and art. They were both totally dedicated to art. Patti and Robert were young and trying to figure out if they wanted college or a factory job (was there a difference?) or a third way, making art. Coming as outsiders without experience, connections, or even a university degree (let alone an MFA), they jumped in, all the way. They lived in ratty SRO hotels, bummed off friends, and ate at automats. An old couple noticing them one day with their hippy clothes and long hair remarked out loud that they were “just kids.”

JUST KIDS captured perfectly that heart-felt longing for something better. Not money or fame exactly, though they wouldn’t have minded. But, rather, that inner confidence one experiences when you know you have gotten it right. When you’re young and working through the process, wondering what it is that you want to say, the light at the end of the tunnel must seem like death. Or atleast a long long long way off.

So congratulations Patti. All those years you sat in bed because there were no chairs at the Chelsea Hotel and scribble-scrabbled on a pad of paper and Robert walked the streets taking pictures and you both had to put up with BS and naysaying—this one’s for you.

And YOU, too. Go for it. People have the power.