Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happiness is a Warm Royalty Check

(NOTE: The following is an opinion, not holy writ. This thing has clouded the brain center better known for keeping track of Mr. Detroit’s dalliances with Brazilian debutantes. The screed must be shouted at the keyboard until neural hideaways return to what they are supposed to be doing. Should any opinion be taken seriously? Depends on who does the caterwauling. If the writer is Ann Coulter, forget about it, and right now.)


Fiction is a place of understanding where the thoughts and actions of people are examined, and with luck, judgment is left up to the reader. The great written works of the west are fiction: BEOWULF, Homer’s ILIAD and ODYSSEY, and anything scribbled out by Willie the Shake. Stories are how we learn about other people’s lives. Want to be empathetic? Read a novel.

American publishing knocks out more nonfiction than fiction. Take a look through any publisher’s catalog and you’ll see memoirs, self-help, diet, goddamn cookbooks, history, and biography far outnumber the humble novel. Fiction has a bad reputation as low entertainment, not worth the pulp paper glued inside a cheesy cover. Lonely old men and stay-at-home mothers read fiction, and those of better breeding stick with nonfiction, occasionally dipping into the classic novels vilified on their first publication, like Gustav Flaubert’s MADAME BOVARY and MOLL FLANDERS by Daniel Defoe.

Why anyone would want to write the stuff is a constant question. A writer is hit with an idea, hammers out a first draft and another and another, sends out stacks of inquiry letters to agents until he or she finds one, then sits and waits for a publisher to have as much faith in the manuscript as the writer. The manuscript goes out to lukewarm response on account of no one really cares about story, especially when Dr. Phil has a new book about hugging your inner mugwump and there is money, buckets of money, to be made selling the hardcover junk.

Smart writers crank out reams of material for in-flight magazines and other venues known for paying on time. Only the stubborn write fiction. The most they can expect is an academic position, since earning a decent wage from fiction is near impossible. Still, writers line up with their stories and attend workshops like the Fourth Annual Big Sur Fiction Writing Workshop. They want to learn the craft of fiction writing from those in the field, beg for the big secret of storytelling (there is none), and meet agents who will help them step up to a new tax bracket.

A fiction writer is a clear-eyed observer of the human condition. This cannot be taught, only grammar, and English is such a weird, unwieldy language many of the rules have exceptions, and those also have exceptions. The most important tool for a fiction writer is another source of income. Robert Hough, writer of the swell THE FINAL CONFESSION OF MABEL STARK (buy multiple copies now), takes eighteen months to do his research before whacking out his first draft. Even if film options are offered and the sales brisk in hardcover and paperback, Hough earns below minimum wage for the hours he puts into his work. Why does he pursue storytelling? He’d be miserable and fraudulent doing anything else.

Be kind to fiction writers and buy their books at retail from an independent bookstore. When you meet them socially, pay for the drinks. The novelist you save may write the novel you read.


DOG WALKING AROUND

The Fiction Writer’s Workshop in Big Sur, sponsored by the Henry Miller Library and Andrea Brown Literary Agency, was a success with forty-six participants. Better still was the Henry Miller Library agreeing to carry THE DOG after an unseemly amount of pleading. Contact the library at (831) 667-2574 or www.henrymiller.org. Thanks, Magnus.

Last Gasp is also selling copies of THE DOG to the faithful. This fine San Francisco publisher and distributor of high art and low filth has the book available online at www.lastgasp.com. Be the first to comment on this item!

For Canadians who want to know how ink gets on pages, www.chapters.indigo.ca has copies of THE DOG. Credit cards are preferred over loonies. Be the first to write a review!


HOW SOON IS APRIL?

The San Francisco/Peninsula Writers will meet on April 21 and host “Are You Ready Yet? Drafting Toward Perfection,” with me as the guest speaker. The event will be held from 10am to noon at:
Hobee’s Restaurant
1101 Shoreway Road
Belmont (near Ralston Avenue and Hwy 101)

Cost (includes a continental breakfast):
$15 for California Writers Club members
$18 for non-members
Reservations in advance are advised. Call the club hotline (650) 615-8331 or send an E-mail to reservations chairman, George Jansen, at reservations@sfpeninsulawriters.com
Mail your check to the chairman, or pay at the door.
CWC Reservations
657 Warwick Place
Hayward, CA 94542


NEW BOOK PASSAGE CLASS

“Writing Nonfiction To Publish, Not Perish” is a one-day workshop taught by me and sponsored by Book Passage on Saturday, May 12. The event will be held from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM at:

Book Passage Bookstore in San Francisco’s Ferry Building
1 Ferry Building, #42
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 835-1020

This class is for nonfiction writers who want to learn the basics of book writing and publishing. Sal Glynn is a freelance editor and writer who has edited more than 300 books. Topics include first drafts, writing for clarity, sourcing, research, working with a writers group, writing book proposals, and working with editors. Sal is the author of THE DOG WALKED DOWN THE STREET: AN OUTSPOKEN GUIDE FOR WRITERS WHO WANT TO PUBLISH. The gig costs $95 (an outrageous bargain) and enrollment is through the Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera:

51 Tamal Vista Boulevard
Corte Madera, CA 94925
(415) 927-0960
(800) 999-7909
Fax (415) 924-3838
www.bookpassage.com

CHECK OUT THE DOG IN OTHER PLACES

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NEXT: Fire Plugs and Other Rest Stops

2 Comments:

Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

"Fiction is a place of understanding where the thoughts and actions of people are examined, and with luck, judgment is left up to the reader. The great written works of the west are fiction: BEOWULF, Homer’s ILIAD and ODYSSEY, and anything scribbled out by Willie the Shake. Stories are how we learn about other people’s lives. Want to be empathetic? Read a novel."

Yes, yes and yes...

Muah.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Sal Glynn said...

Golly, you sound like Molly Bloom, except for the "Muah."

7:54 AM  

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