Thursday, January 29, 2009

Updike, RIP

Some good interviews here.

I haven't stayed current with Updike, but the early Rabbit novels set the bar very high and were a powerful influence. Lyrical, sexy as hell, real people trapped in a very dramatic, vividly depicted middle-class world that resonated deeply. I saw my parents in his novels. The struggle between conformity and rebelliousness in their generation--the greatest generation. My baby boom generation had it easy by comparison. We rebelled early, then caved, turned materialistic and didn't look back. But my parents like Rabbit fought this battle all their lives. Doing the right thing, the safe thing, the responsible thing vs. Being free, daring and bold. Eisenhower vs. Kennedy. Gray flannel vs. buckskin. Staying home vs. setting forth. That was at the heart of Updike's work and it's a thematic tension that still ripples through the best writing of today.

Updike was a funny, poetic, incredibly smart man. Another one gone.

More Dust Biting

Another one bites the dust.

At one point, ten years ago or so, I used to write an occasional review for the Washington Post Book World. My books were frequently reviewed there and I'm sure the strong interest in books within our nation's capital was given a boost, as were my books, by this lively section of a lively newspaper.

As more and more of the print culture migrates to the Internet, I feel a sense of nostalgia mixed with dread. Just as established publishing houses act as "filters" for literary works, deciding which books get published and which get rejected, the prominent reviewing newspapers worked as a kind of propellant to this process. Gathering up a host of good reviews from Boston, Chicago, Washington, New York, LA, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas and Atlanta and Miami could move an unknown writer into the limelight and good reviews could get the book into the hands of hungry readers who would otherwise be lost in the vast chaos of choices.

Obviously, these filters could also dismiss, snub and otherwise diminish writers' careers as well. But without them, without the book reviewing institutions participating in a discussion of books, I see a very murky future. Throwing a book out into the vast and choppy seas of the Internet to be reviewed by people with no other credentials than a keyboard is a scary proposition.

Personally I've enjoyed and learned from reviews written on Amazon and and other amateur reviewing sites, but I've also seen the level of discussion at times drift downward into silliness. Newspaper reviewers can be as silly and irrelevant as anyone, and sometimes they can be susceptible to the influence of a clever marketing campaign from the publishers or they might yield to pressure from publicity people within the big houses.

Anonymous, amateur readers aren't subject to the same barage of emails and hype put out by publishers. On the other hand, established reviewers 'earned' their jobs and are held up to editorial scrutiny. They have editors who oversee their work and provide feedback. The lone wolf reviewer on Amazon, smashes out his review, and presses send and that's the end of it. And for better or worse that review will be attached to that book as long as the Internet lasts. Some reviewers for Amazon write so many reviews that it is physically impossible for them to have read the book they're reviewing with any care. Some books, some writing do require thoughtfulness and patient reconsideration to do them justice. Dashing off a first-impression with the "my opinion is equal to anyone else's opinion" arrogance often marks these Amazon reviews as superficial and intellectually immature.

All in all the changes the literary/reviewing world are undergoing strike me as exciting. A kind of democratization and liveliness of discussion that energizes and opens up the book world to everyone. But with the loss of so many smart, gifted and highly sophisticated reader/reviewers who wrote for the newspaper book pages, the discussion overall will suffer. I didn't always agree with the major book reviewers, but their often provocative reviews of my books and others I was interested in left me energized.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

A lot of fascinating stuff about publishing in this article from Time Magazine.

He makes a case for self-publishing that is founded on a handful of success stories. Though it strikes me that self-publishing still has a very high failure rate. But then so do novels published in the ordinary way. The problem is finding an audience. Getting the books distributed widely enough that an audience is at least possible.

But there are some excellent observations here about the publishing world at the moment. Problems aplenty.

Also in today's New York Times, a similar report appears with this quote from a bookseller that echoes what I said above:

“For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published,” said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, who said she had been inundated by requests from self-published authors to sell their books. “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”

And the other view.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Pay attention. This will be on the test later. A year or so from now you'll be reading about these creatures in my new one, Silencer. These are just a couple who got silenced.

Quite a Day

That's Maggie, our youngest Cavalier. She's our redneck, trailer trash girl, got all her papers, and all that, but lived her early days in a double-wide in Georgia. She's been sitting beside me all day watching TV. Watching history. Watching this guy with a funny name take over from the guy with no brain.

Praise the lord and good luck, President O.

Nature Photography

I've mentioned Michael Stern's photos before, and posted a few, but if you haven't already taken a look at his work, you really should. He's got an incredible array of Florida birds and other critters, as well as landscape shots that are simply gorgeous. You can find his website here.

I particularly like some of the landscape shots below because they show a part of Florida that I feature in my next novel. Just finished it, by the way, so I'll be spending a little more time here bogged down in the blogosphere;

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Glimpse

Here's a glimpse of my last graduate workshop ater 40 years of doing this. This one was great. Great students, great location on Key Biscayne, and some really fine fish sandwiches. This is Sarah, Jamie, David Parga, David Gonzalez, and Robert Busby. A wonderful crew.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Heading out for some great Vietnamese food

Les Standiford and his wife Kimberly and our old friends Chuck and Mary Jane Elkins who now live in Ft. Collins came over for some vino before heading out for some glorious Vietnamese fare at Miss Saigon. A wonderful evening. The handsome kid on the couch is Andrew Elkins, Chuck and MJ's son. I remember the day he was born.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I'm Baaaaack

I'm baaaack. Well, almost. Still got some loose ends to snip, but Thorn is about to save the world again.

Or maybe not.

I'm waffling.

Meanwhile, here's Stella, watching TV, and very well aware that I'm video-taping her.