by Campbell Geeslin
“An ambitious young writer can’t simply write: he or she must link, tweet, podcast, and brand.” That advice comes from James Wolcott in the April Vanity Fair.
In his column, Wolcott wrote, “The brandmaster of flash is Malcolm Gladwell, who has parlayed his platform as a social-trends reporter for The New Yorker into a series of popularizing bestsellers (Outliers, The Tipping Point) and princely sums on the speakers’ circuit. His face was planted on the sides of New York buses to publicize his latest book, David and Goliath, a fitting place for the Carrie Bradshaw of Starbucks intellectuals.”
One of Wolcott’s suggestions for becoming a brand: “Learn how to wait until Charlie Rose reaches the end of his question before answering, no matter how dusty long it takes.”
KIRN BY KIRN: Walter Kirn, 51, promoted his new book, Blood Will Out, in Sunday’s New York Times by writing in the third person about his preparations for his book tour. He interviewed himself at home in Livingston, Mont., while packing colorful underpants.
The book is about Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter who pretended for many years to be someone named Clark Rockefeller. The self-interview was a winking meta play on identity. After accusing himself of not even reading Blood Will Out, Kirn wrote, “I spell my name for him so he can Google it. ‘Just kidding, I believe you,’ Mr. Kirn responds. ‘I like you. You’re a character. You remind me of myself.’”
A LEGACY: Travel writer Ondine Cohane was the author of an article in Sunday’s The New York Times about the landscapes that inspired some of Dylan Thomas’s greatest poems.
Cohane wrote, “For me, Thomas’s enduring appeal lies not just in his ability to tie nature to our internal world, or in expressing our inability to stop time, but in his articulation of how deeply and delicately binary the human condition remains: life versus death, idyll versus reality, child versus adult, artist versus flawed man.“
NO LIMITS: Johnny Shaw is the author of Plaster City: A Jimmy Veeder Fiasco. This is Shaw’s third novel, a sequel to Dove Season (2011). The writer lives with his wife in Portland, Ore., and has taught at Santa Barbara City College.
Shaw told PW: “I don’t set out to write a comedy or drama. That would be limiting. I need the characters to be allowed to breathe and react. Hopefully, by not setting limits, I can get close to capturing the tonal inconsistency of reality.”
WHAT’S MISSING: “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” was the question asked in paired articles in The New York Times opinion pages by two noted authors of books for children, Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher Myers.
Of the 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people. “Black history is usually depicted as folklore about slavery,” writes Walter Dean Myers, “and then a fast forward to the civil rights movement. Then I’m told that black children, and boys in particular, don’t read. Small wonder.”
Christopher Meyers is both an author and an illustrator. He writes that the children of color he meets “see books less as mirrors and more as maps. They are indeed searching for their place in the world,” he said, but rarely finding it in books. He imagines how he will do his part to change this, “because I can draw a map as well as anybody. I’m talking with a girl. She’s at that age where the edges of the woman she will become are just starting to press against her baby-round face…I will make a fantastic world, a cartography of all the places a girl like her can go and put it in a book.”
A RULE: One of Hilary Mantel’s rules for writing fiction appeared in The Guardian, where she wrote, “Write a book you’d like to read. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anyone else? Don’t write for a perceived audience or market. It may have vanished by the time your book is ready.”
BUSY, BUSY: Lev Grossman wrote in Time magazine about “why you’re too busy to do things like reading books.”
He quoted from a new book: Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte. She is a reporter on the staff of The Washington Post.
Schulte wrote, “This is how it feels to live my life scattered, fragmented and exhausting. I am always behind and always late, with one more thing and one more thing and one more thing to do before rushing out the door.”
Lev Grossman said Schulte is “a detective in a murder mystery: who killed America’s leisure time, and how do we get it back?”
Ask the Scandinavians is Schulte’s suggestion.
JOURNALS: Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose San Francisco bookstore, City Lights, was “seen as the heart of the Beat generation,” is publishing 60 years of journals, The Guardian reported.
Publication will be in September 2015.
REAL QUOTE: Elizabeth McCracken’s collection of stories, Thunderstruck & Other Stories, will be out in April. The author of five books holds the James Michener Chair in fiction at the University of Texas. She and her novelist husband, Edward Carey, have two children.
McCracken, in a PW interview, was asked about what effect her children had on her writing. She said “Ordinarily, I claim that I’d never write directly about my children, but the opening conversation of ‘Peter Elroy’ is a verbatim conversation that my children had that I just loved: morbid, funny, passionate, and obsessed with the truth of things—all material qualities of children that I’d like my work to contain.”
CHILD’S PLAY: Who better to give advice on writing for children than the late E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web (1952)? The following is from his Paris Review interview, republished in Writers at Work (1988).
“Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention. I’m lucky again; my own vocabulary is small, compared to most writers, and I tend to use the short words. So it’s no problem for me to write for children. We have a lot in common.”
TWO WINNERS: The Bancroft Prize in history was established in 1948 by Columbia University. Last week, two books were honored: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson and A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek by Ari Kelman. The award comes with a prize of $10,000.
THE REAL STUFF: Leonard Michaels was a novelist (The Men’s Club, 1981) and short story writer whose work appeared in The New Yorker. He died in 2003 at the age of 70 in Berkeley, Calif.
A teacher and a prominent literary figure in his day, he wrote in Writers Dreaming (1993): “In writing, something has to feel as if it’s happening but you’re guiding it. You’re not imposing your will on the material, you’re allowing its freedom and dream nature to continue to exist, to continue to be felt and respected. That’s the distinctive feature of real writing.”
CUSS IS A PLUS: When Karen Alpert was writing a blog about parenting, she learned that the saltier her language, the better her fans liked it. In a blog she wrote about Christmas gifts for children, she let go. Reaction was new popularity.
Alpert told PW, “I’m not a huge curser, but I cursed a lot in the past and people said, ‘We love it! We curse all the time and it’s great to see someone speaking like that,’ and I said, ‘All right, I’ll deal that up.’”
Alpert shifted her blog material into a self-published book that hit No. 22 on the list of nonfiction e-books.
Agents and publishers noticed, and now HarperCollins will publish the book on April 8. Albert said, “I’m holding in my hand the book I always wanted.” The title: I Heart My Little A-Holes.