Friday, February 29, 2008

I Get Strangely Lucky

Teo Macero was a composer and musician, but is best known for producing Miles Davis' classic albums -- hands-on. By cutting (with a razor blade) and splicing tapes, Macero turned the recording studio into a creative instrument. He was invited to St. Louis in 1996 and I took his picture on black-and-white film, and not very good pix at that, just making a businesslike visual record of the luminaries at the first Miles Davis Conference.

I didn't capture the man's genius. He looks like your Italian granddad or grocer taking an afternoon off to play bocce ball.

Somehow a halftone of one of those photos, printed in an obscure newsletter, got scanned into the Internet. It has been online at the music site for years, with my name on it as a credit. Mr. Macero died on Feb. 20 and I got emails from as far away as Germany from jazz fans and obituary writers wanting permission to reprint the Macero photo. Like I care! I wish my name weren't on it! I retrieved 7 original b&w glossies of Macero out of an archive and scanned them at 300 dpi (better than the halftone dots) and put them online at, licensing them for public noncommercial use through Creative Commons. (I also use CC's free license system to copyright this blog. And you should use it for anything you put on the Internet.)

With a digital camera I would have made much better pictures, in color, without the flash, which doubled the difficulty of any photo assignment. But in 1996 those things were science fiction. (At left you see the Sony Cybershot, 1997 -- with its floppy-disk storage.) It's odd that this one obscure photo I made, justly forgotten, should interest anyone 12 years later. Let that be a lesson to us all: Published is forever.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

News: Now You Can Rent Books!

A company like Netflix but for books: Paperspine. Decide what kind of plan you want (certain number of books at a time, per month), and choose from 150,000 titles. Very good idea for those books you SECRETLY want to read, but wouldn't be caught dead actually owning or borrowing from the library, like Skinny Bitch in the Kitch (a cookbook) and The Yoga Facelift. List includes numerous thrillers, romances, self-helps. In the poetry category you can get Gilgamesh, Beowulf (Seamus Heaney translation), The Odyssey, and Howl, among others. Have a browse! Plans start at $9.95 a month. Currently in beta.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Anne Sexton Told Erica Jong

In the '70s Erica Jong, about to publish her second book of poetry, told Anne Sexton she feared that the critics would hammer it. Sexton wrote back:

Don't dwell on the book's reception. The point is to get on with it--you have a life's work ahead of you--no point in dallying around waiting for approval. We all want it, I know, but the point is to reach out honestly--that's the whole point. I keep feeling that there isn't one poem being written by any of us--or a book or anything like that. The whole life of us writers, the whole product I guess I mean, is the one long poem--a community effort if you will. It's all the same poem. It doesn't belong to any one writer--it's God's poem perhaps. Or God's people's poem. You have the gift--and with it comes responsibility--you mustn't neglect or be mean to that gift--you must let it do its work. It has more rights than the ego wants approval.

I'm wondering whether Sexton was right, or if it's "Writer, Keep the Faith While Society Flays You" feel-good wishful thinking that Sexton herself did not believe -- which would explain why she wrote this using so many qualifiers -- and that she herself could not use.

Quoted from: Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, by Erica Jong. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Marianne Moore Would Hate the Internet

I hope you agree that Marianne Moore looked like a dork in that tricorn she affected later in life. Oh, and how she would simply hate the Internet! Wouldn't she? She would say:

1. “I’ve googled myself and what’s on the Net is fragmentary and totally inaccurate!”

2. “Why have an email address and get bothersome letters from every Tom, Dick and Harry?”

3. “I’ve found my poems online – used without my permission!”

4. “Call me old-fashioned, but I favor the printed page.”

5. “On the Internet, people can get directions to my home; it’s appalling!”

Miss Moore, you once wrote, Patient or impatient repudiating of life just repudiates itself. There is no point to it....

Repudiating the Internet won't make it go away. Here are some facts:

  1. You can post correct information about yourself and your books, anytime, and quite easily, on Or ask your publishers to do it.
  1. Seems to me that you did your share of letter-writing, sometimes 50 letters a day, but, that aside -- fewer people want to contact you than you think. Out of 350 million people in the U.S., only about 10,000 have heard of you, 150 would like to talk to you, and 100 of those are too polite to bother you. Of the remaining 50, 30 are too lazy to send an email, leaving 15 grad students who want to email you about your poems, and 5 professors of English interested not in your poems or even your sex life, but in The Dial or why you were snide to Sylvia Plath. These are the people who have always sent you letters.
  1. Be flattered! Some stranger liked your poems enough to type them out and post them online. Readers now needn't travel miles to a library or pay $18.95 to savor one. English teachers can instantly show your poems to their classes. Your works are being read, admired, shared and talked about, far more so than when they were first published! Isn't that why you wrote them? Perhaps you wrote them for the money? All this online chat about your "illegally" published poems will only sell more of your books.
  1. You got to like the printed page when you were admitted to its exclusive club of "legitimately" published writers. Before then, The Dial and The Egoist, not "legitimate" outlets, helped you amass poetic street cred and friends, published your first book, and got you the "legitimacy" you are now stuck on. Books will always exist and you can enjoy them. But no literary revolutionary should plume herself on being "old-fashioned" -- unless she's doing it to hide her fears about the new.
  1. Directions and maps to anyplace are available on GoogleMaps and Mapquest, so the Internet isn't picking on you. Besides, you never hid the fact that you lived in Brooklyn – as embarrassing as that must be for a native of fine Kirkwood, MO.

Oh, and, Miss Moore, until we meet again: Think of the Internet as an imaginary toad with a real garden in it!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Harvard's Doing It, Too. . .

Do look now: Harvard Arts & Sciences faculty want to give their scholarly research papers away for free -- online! A trend, maybe? (Big smile; see previous blog!) I love this.

FOLLOW UP: The faculty voted YES on Feb. 12 and plan to create an access interface by April 1.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Harper's Choice: Evolve or Go Broke

What did I write here a month ago (Jan. 17) about a pair of successful authors saying, to everyone's shock, that Sure they'd show free chapters on their website, sure they'd give freebie advice on their blogs, sure they will. . . and do. . .and "You can't give too much away". . .

Now read this from today's NYT: Harper Collins is Giving Away Free Books on their website! This is the way of the 21st century. All writers waiting for Maxwell Perkins to rise from the dead, discover you, believe in you, cultivate your talent line by line, and publish all your work in The Atlantic and then your books through Scribner's. . . . it's time to evolve.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Query Letters Are of the Devil

Today realized that queries are icky because they must be masterpieces of artifice. Show me all five writers who can do this flawlessly:

1. Find a potential publisher. (This is rather more involved than it sounds, like Step One of installing a new sink: "Remove old sink.")
2. Direct your query to the appropriate editor, using gender-appropriate salutation for any editor named "Kelly," "Tracey," "Casey," "Cameron," "Willie," "Micah," or "Kim." Phone if you must. Get it wrong and your butt is grass.
3. In the first paragraph, entice the editor with your proposal, hooking him/her within a sentence or two, but without giving too much away. Also give the editor a sense of what your writing is like.
4. Next paragraph, tell the editor in great detail why your idea is just right for his or her magazine or publishing firm. Be convincing.
5. Next, tell the editor what qualifies you as an author. Be convincing.
6. Do this all on a single page, with flawless format, spelling and punctuation.
7. Please don't mention payment!!! Only amateurs mention money!!!
8. Expect a rejection -- plan on it -- and when it comes, take it like a man, gird yourself up and do this all over again.

Writers, it's not us, but the system! Unite to overthrow it!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Please, Query Letter, Write and Send Yourself!

Realized I'm avoiding querying the last of 4 publishers who might consider my interview book. I have "outed" my reasons for stalling, and here they are in all their glory:

1. Mercury is retrograde; I'll write the query after Feb. 19 when Mercury goes direct.
2. That's the last press on my list. I'm afraid I'll get torpedoed and won't recover.
3. Their manuscript review process can take up to a year -- they said so. Who wants to wait for a year to hear yes or no? Better to have the manuscript sit for a year in a file drawer.
4. They might say no to the query, as the last 3 publishers did, and I am not in the mood (in mid-winter) to hear "no" right now.
5. I'll have to research and find more publishers and that is dull, hard work that no one appreciates.
6. If it's accepted, I don't have another book manuscript ready and will have to work on one.
7. I'm having to face facts and I just hate that.
8. Why risk failure by trying?

This query is haunting me. Seems my creativity is going into making up excuses, so I'd better just write it and get it over with.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Talking with: Rockwell Gray

We talk so well together, we writers, almost as if we were a distinct race of people. Yesterday I met with Rockwell Gray of the Department of English, who throws off brilliant observations and great quotations the way a spinning star throws off planets. He studied at the U. of Chicago when its four-year curriculum consisted of Great Books.

We discussed aging and our worries, but more important than what he said was his honesty and directness. Honesty is the most exciting quality in the world: it ignites everything. An honest writer is never dull. Usually I feel self-conscious in such a presence, but we could have talked for hours. He said that his 70th birthday approaches, he is both awed and shy of it: What to do with it? How to fit oneself into it? How to spend the days that are left? How to accept the totality of one's life?

And he referenced Robert Frost, quoting a poem written by David Ray, titled "Thanks, Robert Frost" (here's the first lines):

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
something that in the end we can bear.

This is the treasure Rockwell left me yesterday. It helped. And it also led me to another writer, which you know is like discovering a new planet.