Vollman on editing himself

From Michael Wood's review of Europe Central and Expelled from Eden, in the December 15, 2005, "New York Review of Books."

Vollmann, born in 1959, has published eight novels (four of which are part of his Seven Dreams series, a historicofictional account of the settlement of North America), three collections of stories (including The Atlas), a memoir about his experiences in Afghanistan, and an extraordinary seven-volume, two-thousand-plus-page meditation on violence called Rising Up and Rising Down (2003). In 2004, he produced an abridgment of this last work (just 726 pages, not including the acknowledgments) and the tone of his preface makes clear why it is so easy to like him and also why you might not want his company all the time. "The longer version of Rising Up and Rising Down," he says, "took me twenty-three years, counting editorial errands. The abridgment took me half an hour." And:

"The single justification which I can offer [for the length of the original version] is that I believe it needed to be that long. This abridgment likewise has only one justification: I did it for the money. In other words, I can't pretend (although you may disagree) that a one-volume reduction is any improvement upon the full version. All the same, it's not necessarily worse. For one thing, the possibility now exists that someone might read it."

The complete review, which I didn't finish, is here.

Black Sabbath finally inducted into Rock Hall of Fame

Ozzy, though, couldn't give a flying fuck, as he finds the R&RHoF "totally irrelevant."

I knew something was up with Sabbath. This weekend we signed up for iTunes, and the first song I downloaded for our hearthside jukebox was "Heaven and Hell," from their majestic post-Ozzy release Heaven and Hell, which I hadn't heard in more than 20 years due to it was Gwarbot's vinyl. I must say, it held up admirably, Dio or no.


"Unresistant and frothy"

The Guardian has the complete excerpts of the nominees for this year's Bad Sex in literary fiction award. I was shocked to see Updike nominated. Shouldn't he have won a Lifetime Achievement Award by now? Anyway, do read. I'm rooting for Marlon Brando, or the one about the lobster.

Buy blue

If you haven't found Buy Blue, check it out next time you're thinking about holiday shopping. It keeps a database on which companies are naughty, which are nice. Just go to the site and type in a company name.

For example, if you're thinking of buying books, I noticed that Powell's gives 100% of its political contributions to Democrats, and Barnes and Noble gives 92% to Democrats. Amazon, which made the Buy Blue naughty list last year for giving 61% of its contributions to Republicans, has lately turned that around (58% to Democrats, via the Open Secrets Web site).

Apple and Gateway lean donkey, whereas Dell and HP have noticeable trunks.

Some others that lifted my eyelids:

Wendy's: 94% Republican
Burger King: 70% Republican
Arby's: 62% Democrat
McDonald's: 95% Republican
British Petroleum: 62% Republican
Chevron: 89% Republican
Exxon: 95% Republican
Anheuser Busch: 64% Republican

And if it's between Jack Daniels and Canadian Club for your Diet Coke, you'll want the Jack.


A Thanksgiving Prayer

by William Burroughs

"To John Dillinger and hope he is still alive.
Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986"

Thanks for the wild turkey and
the passenger pigeon, destined
to be shit out through wholesome
American guts.

Thanks for a continent to despoil
and poison.
Thanks for Indians to provide a
modicum of challenge and

Thanks for vast herds of bison to
kill and skin, leaving the
carcasses to rot. Thanks for bounties on wolves
and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen,
feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women,
with their mean, pinched, bitter,
evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for
Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the
war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where
nobody's allowed to mind his
own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the
memories -- all right, let's see
your arms!

You always were a headache and
you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams.


The few, the proud

And by that I mean those who stick to their convictions, even at great personal cost. My friend Dave Awl, performance artist extraordinaire, alarmingly between writing/editing projects in Chicago, just sent me the following email:
Just wanted to share a war story from the job hunt. Literally, as it turns out.

I got a call on Friday afternoon from one of the SEVEN staffing agencies I have now listed myself with. I was out running an errand when the call came, so the rep left a message and said she had a three-day position at an ad agency writing banner ads for Web sites, and I just needed to call and confirm that I was still available.

I'm saved! I thought. Finally a way to pay my rent this month. Whatever it is, wherever I have to go, I'll take it, I thought.

She did say in the message that I would need to be able to write in a "tough guy" tone of voice. That gave me a little pause, me being me, but I've had to do it a couple of times before. In August I had to write copy about Sears Craftsman tools for a NASCAR tie-in, so it was all this "winners never quit" stuff and I'd logged some experience trying to fake the sound of testosterone.

So I called the rep as quick as I could dial and told her I was still available.

That's great, she said. So, it starts on Monday. It's on-site work, writing banner ads for Web sites, and the client is ... wait for it ... the U.S. Marines.

Long pause while I beat my head against the desk. Then I explained as diplomatically as I could that I wasn't a good fit for this particular job, and thanks for thinking of me, etc.

And that's the only concrete offer of work I've had since we last talked.

I do have the consolation of knowing I'm not the only one who has turned this gig down. Yesterday I interviewed at yet another staffing agency, and the rep and I clicked pretty well, so we had a nice conversation. And I wound up telling her the story about the Marines job.

As soon as I said the words, "tough-guy tone of voice," her eyes got wide and she said, "I have that exact same posting!" She said that the ad agency hadn't been able to fill the position because no one would take it.

So at least it's nice to know that right now there aren't a lot of Chicago writers who want to convince teenagers to go get shot at in Iraq.

What a long way we've come since Sept. 11.
If you or anyone you know is looking for freelance writing, editing, or proofreading, check out his portfolio site. We go back a long way. He is a hilarious poet, raconteur, and real professional.


"The Year of Spaghetti" by Haruki Murakami

New Yorker fiction -- November 21, 2005 issue

red light
What in the hell is up with this "story"? Now, I have liked some of Murakami's New Yorker stories in the past -- they are at least always interesting -- but this is nothing more than a sketch, some ghost of an idea for a theme for something. Spaghetti as obsession, as loneliness, spaghetti as symbol of alienation and despair, spaghetti as the unruly mass of chaos it is better to swallow than face. Give me a break.

The narrator can't handle human interaction anymore. People disappear "into the shadows," but there is always spaghetti! A pleading phone call from the ex-girlfriend of a B team friend is the only action here, and our narrator begs off to cook some imaginary spaghetti, then regrets it later, pointedly invoking spaghetti as the stand-in for his loneliness. Curtain.

Come on! Boooo! And I don't blame Murakami. I mean, if I wrote a short sketch about, say, Hostess Cupcakes as a symbol for my shallowness, and my agent sold it to the New Yorker (stop laughing! this is theoretical), what am I going to say? No? Not unless I'm an idiot. "Nineteen eighty-three was the Year of Hostess Cupcakes..." Why the hell not! Print it, you magnificent bastards! Print thousands and thousands of copies, mwa haa haaa!

Or it could be I'm missing something. If so, please elighten me.


Before language there was still swearing

I don't know how much to trust a linguistics site unfamiliar with "interjection" (no "Schoolhouse Rock" in England, I'm afraid). Still, "infixes" was new to me. Are swear words really the only ones that get infixed?


Austin Wild Party 2006!!!

It's almost time! Come rock the casbah at the AWP conference in Austin TX. It's March 8-12, and beyond the plethora of poets and fiction writers from across the land, early headliners include Walter Mosley, the uber-tag team of Robert Boswell and Mrs. Boswell/Antonya Nelson, Kevin Clouther, Dagoberto Gilb, Hugh Ferrer, Chita Divakaruni, Tim O'Brien, Sarah Rogers, Denis Johnson, and your own El Gordo de Amore. An all-star group of Baby and Goat mafia assassins will discuss, fittingly, The Death of the American Novel, after which they will adjourn once, twice, and yes, three times!!! to warm desert nights brightened by Texan tequila concoctions and an epic throw-down set to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" against the MFA kids at both Texas State and UTexas (with El Gordo slaying on the axe!!!).

Register now and prepare to kick literary butt, mafia-ninja-style! We'll be hitting the mattresses at the Omni Austin Hotel Downtown (1800THEOMNI, mention conference for cheap rate), so bring your pens and Thompson guns.

Shareef he do like it!

Vollman, Merwin, Didion win NBAs

I'm shocked, shocked that an 800-page novel with footnotes has won for fiction. This will probably force me to seek out his shortest book and fearfully crack it open (anybody read him? El Gordo? Dunkeys?). But it's about time for Didion and Merwin, it seems. Here is the NYT take.


Submission stories

Suddenly realizing that I have dozens of stories just snoozing on my hard disk, I've started sending them out. The last time I did this was in 2003, with no acceptance, and once in 2004 which resulted in success. I looked over my Excel spreadsheet and realized more than half of the ones I sent out got personal rejections. This should have encouraged me, but instead I laid low for two years, maybe because of the hassle, or my own laziness, or maybe out of sullen, grumbling spite, I dunno, but in practical terms, it was stupid. Editors are not going to knock on my door and say, "Whaddya got?"

I'm interested in advice on what has worked for people and what hasn't. Who's had success recently, and how did that come about? Is getting published really a statistical proposition? What methods or schedules of sending stuff out have people come up with? How much time should a writer spend per week? How many simultaneous submissions do you feel safe having out at once? What's your cover letter like? What do you mention, what don't you mention? Even something like: do you staple the manuscript pages together or paperclip them? A few Goats edit journals -- what do you look for? What makes you set it aside immediately? Do you even read the cover letter?

Anything, anything ... I keep stumbling by accident on Goat bylines in magazines, and yet I hear over beers that people don't much bother sending stuff out. How can we all get published more?

Addendum: First, I'm kind of surprised just how many stories got written in the workshop years. And when I open them up now, after letting them lay fallow, what's wrong with them literally jumps out at me, and they're easy to edit. Their stems are visible now, when before I believe I was blinded by their foliage. If you haven't looked at your old stuff in a while, take some time and comb through it. You may be pleasantly surprised.


National Book Awards finalists

Any one read any of these? I feel some pull toward the Doctorow.

Unclear on the concept

Reality TV writers bust in on meeting, demand more payment.

Um ... if they are "reality TV" shows, why do they need writers?

While We're on the Subject...

I wonder what Nicole Richie's new novel is about? I'm sure it's sooper.

Who else? I bet Dick Cheney has a great novel of hideous evil lurking within him. Or Condie's hilarious novel--a comedy of manners. And Tyra Banks...the possibilities are endless. Who needs real writers anymore? Ghostwriters will do.

50 Cent, novelist

Need one say more?

p.s. Lapham going? I'm dying inside.

Harper's editor to retire

Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's, thinks it's time for him to begin at least three new writing projects that will take too much energy away from editing the 155-year old magazine. He is 70.


Barbara Boxer, novelist

I have not read this, and I doubt I will. It's just not my kind of book. But add this to Scooter Libby's novel (being hastily reprinted), and we have the makings of a trend, perhaps? Famous people become politicians because of name recognition, and now politicians become writers for the same reason? I keep seeing Newt Gingrich's alternative Civil War History novel at The Book End, too (Lee surrenders two years earlier). Both Boxer and Gingrich used "co-authors" -- at least Libby apparently did it on his own.

I suppose I'm mostly jealous and bitter.


Tony Swofford reading

The workshop grad and Jarhead (343 Amazon reviews?) author will read from his memoir tonight at 7, Prairie Lights. It will not be broadcast (anyone know why?). An interview may whet the appetite.

Let us recall a snippet from Michiko Kakutani's glowing review:
By turns profane and lyrical, swaggering and ruminative, ''Jarhead'' -- referring to the marines' ''high-and-tight'' haircuts, which make their heads look like jars -- is not only the most powerful memoir to emerge thus far from the last gulf war, but also a searing contribution to the literature of combat, a book that combines the black humor of ''Catch-22'' with the savagery of ''Full Metal Jacket'' and the visceral detail of ''The Things They Carried.''
I know at least a few folks are planning to shuffle down to the Atlas basement afterward to convene amid mojitos and, I predict, debate the movie more than the book. Come join us!


Amy Tan lecture

Englert Theater, 8 p.m., admission free. She's on Talk of Iowa this morning as well (AM 910) and will be meeting with workshoplets this afternoon.

Scooter Libby, novelist

Okay, even Scooter Libby found time to write and publish a novel. To those out there, myself included, who complain about not enough writing time . . . the book, called The Apprentice, has surprisingly good cover blurbage from both Washington Post and New York Times. And it's quite steamy, apparently, with "lavish dollops of voyeurism, bestiality, pedophilia and corpse robbery," according to an Amazon reviewer.


John Fowles, RIP

John Fowles, author of The Collector, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and two of my absolute, all-time favorite novels, Daniel Martin and The Magus, has died.

Girlcott prevails, A&F pull controversial shirts

This is actually pretty amazing. A group of teenage girls got together and brought down an Abercrombie & Fitch product line. Not sure where I stand with this. On the one hand, it's hard to rally behind t-shirts that say "Who needs brains when you have these?" and "I make you look fat." On the other hand, I find it hard to support censorship of anything. Surely there are more offensive t-shirts out there? Why stop with these? (Note that A&F pocketed a 31% increase in sales in October -- apparently not all girls were girlcotting -- and then decided to pull the shirts.)


.99/Song, .05/Page

Today's Times discloses that those Mom and Pop operations Google and Amazon are teaming to create the iTunes of the written word. Theoretically, this could mean more money for us, though I wouldn't start buying on credit yet.