IT IS WHAT IT IS: KID LIT
a MobyLives guest column
by Jackie Corley
22 November 2004 When Caren Lissner's column about the lack of a Gen Y "literary spokesman" came out on MobyLives last December, a rabid little debate cropped up in the literary community. Why was there no definitive voice for these 20yearolds? Should there be? What role could that inexperienced voice possibly serve?
As one of these oddball 20somethings of the literary community, the debate hit close to home. Through my experience with my small press, Word Riot, I'd buddied up with a number of young litsters and, after college, was taking regular trips into New York to attend and participate in readings.
It was strangely fascinating: here were these fine creatures my age who had book deals, did press and interviews and didn't have dayjobs. Me? I had to sober up on the 12:37 a.m. train to Jersey to work my localreporter beat the next day.
But I liked being on the periphery of this scene, of being a part of it without attempting to surrender my youth and my necessary growing pains and experiences to fullon professional writer status.
Publishing companies have taken to becoming youth fetishists as part of their halfcocked schemes of revitalizing fiction. Never mind that by dropping sixfigures on a 20something novelist which any firsttime novelist doesn't have a crack shot in the dark of making back in sales you've effectively killed that writer's chances of a fulfilling longterm career. And never mind that the last thing anybody over 30 wants to read is an untried 20something's treatise on his or her reality. Keep trying to plug away at that youth market. Keep dropping ads in Publisher's Weekly and Poets & Writers and expecting youth culture to jump all over a $25apop hardcover. That trend is really going to catch on one of these days.
One of my friends, 21yearold Marty Beckerman (Generation S.L.U.T.), teased me for my wariness about writers getting published young, my concern about what it does to your psyche and how it would effect your future writing. "I don't wanna read any Jackie Corley book before she's 30," he joked on my blog.
Maybe I was being too cynical about the "curse" of being published young. I asked 23yearold Ned Vizzini (Be More Chill) what he had lost or gained by being published at such a young age. "What I've gained is a dunking into the professional (as opposed to the pseudointellectual/collegiate) world," Vizzini said. "What I've lost is the element of surprise. You only get one shot in this weird business of art and you only have one career to build on. If you build your career around youth, you're going to lose out very quickly. By being published young I've lost the luster of the unpublished."
Young writers are also inevitably beholden to whatever shtick or image they've launched their careers on. It seems like a minor enough burden to bear whatever label has been stitched into your skin could easily be overcome by the substance of your work, couldn't it?
I never thought much about "projecting an image" until a New York Daily News gossip writer for Lloyd Grove's "Lowdown" column came tapping on my email; he was contacting me regarding a reading I was doing with Vizzini and Beckerman called "Feed the Young Writers 2004." Some anonymous tipster imagined a literary feud between fellowparticipant David Amsden (Important Things That Don't Matter) and me that had initially kept me off the reading.
So there I was, a Jersey nobody chainsmoking into a damp, sleepless night, paranoid that my first introduction into some moreesteemed social realm would be as "belligerent, unpublished young writer." And to be recognized for what some nonexistent tiff? The fact that something so inconsequential could wind up characterizing me before I'd even tried to make a jump into authordom left my empty, nervous stomach churning.
The gossip story died on the vine, fortunately, but in one respect, it left me more determined. The kid novel, the one that had been eating away my time, energy and computer disk space it was time to get that thing done. The only way to leave behind the recklessness, doubts and insecure selfabsorption of the young writer and the kid novel would be to expunge that.
Worrying about a nonexistent image? That was selfabsorption. Watching other writers' lives both young and old as a means of honing my craft? That was reckless. Stalling on the kid novel for fear it would reflect the tone and tenor of my actual age? That was me choking on the doubt.
The kid novel, if worthless otherwise, is a practice field. Yes, I'll trip and stumble on an awkward paragraph. I'll probably reveal my own greenness with an unrealistic scene between two characters. But learning how to be a writer isn't so different from learning how to be an adult: you need to fail and fail often for the chance to fail better one day.
Does that mean every kid novel should be published or, at least, published at the rate that they have been these past years? I still don't believe so. Youthful "career" success at an age when nobody in their right mind should refer to themselves as having a "career" denies you the pretty essential feelings of failure, frustration and helplessness that come with first being ordained into the adult world. That type of success can be dangerous in the future, whatever "career path" you choose.
That's not to say that the kid novel shouldn't be written or even published; it just needs to be recognized for what it is: necessary preparation.
I'm confident that I have an adult novel in me I have the workings of it weaving through my mind and the strange experiences to deal with it honestly one of these days. But any adult novel needs patience, selfreflection and an unselfish work ethic, and at 22yearsold and still living in my parents' house, I know I'm not there yet.
And until any 20something writer is able to growup and deal with their own place in the world objectively and with humility, your 20s are a time of failure, practice and painful education, both in your writing and your life. In the mean time, you keep your eyes open: you watch, you work and you wait.
Jackie Corley is the proprietor Word Riot, a webzine, and the Word Riot Press, an independent publishing house. Her writing has appeared at SerialText.com, and is forthcoming in BOOM! For Real, and (Better Non Sequiter. Corley was born in 1982 and lives outside Philadelphia.
Link to this column.
©2004 Jackie Corely
Previous column; THE FICTION OF THE DEMISE OF THE WOMEN'S REVIEW OF BOOKS ... What's the significance of the demise of The Women's Review of Books? Former editor Lynn Walterick talks about it in a MobyLives guest column.
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Thursday 25 November 2004
MobyRests . . .
The MobyLives news digest will be off for the Thanksgiving holiday, Thursday 25 November Friday, 26 November. The digest will return on Monday, 29 November. Honest. Happy holiday.
Wednesday 24 November 2004
Human rights group calls for investigation into Dantica death . . .
At its website, Human Rights First has posted a call for "an immediate investigation" into the "deplorable" treatment of Reverand Joseph Dantica by the US Department of Homeland Security. The 81yearold Dantica died while in the Department's custody, and his family claims it was because his medication was withheld. The organization is urging people to "Write to Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and call for an immediate investigation into this case and the Department of Homeland Security's broader policy of targeting Haitian nationals for immigration." The site provides a form letter that users can send automatically, demanding an investigation.
Iris Chang and "compassion fatigue" . . .
Psychiatric clinical nurse Laurie Barkin observes that "Iris Chang illuminated the lives of many people, but in the process, she lost the light of life within herself. Like the firefighters at ground zero after the Sept. 11 attacks, she sifted through the remains of tragedy without a break, without concern for her own mental health." In a commentary for The San Francisco Chronicle, Barkin says, Chang suffered from "compassion fatigue," or "vicarious traumatization" traumas that happen to "people like Chang who lose their way home after bearing witness to stories of man's inhumanity to man." Says Barkin, "We need to nurture people like her who have dedicated their lives to seeking truth and in so doing, risk losing their way home."
In newest development in B&N's neverending identity crisis, it shoves aside Godiva chocolates and music CDs to sell some damn thing that it really doesn't explain very well . . .
Although all the reports, such as this wire story from The Dallas Business Journal, follow corporate press releases so closely that they are riddled with too much jargon to be comprehensible, it seems Barnes & Nobel will be partnering with the SBC Communications company and with Avis Rent A Car to expand SBC's "FreedomLink WiFi service more widely available." According to the report, WiFi "enables mobile professionals and consumers to use laptop computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) to wirelessly connect to the Internet at speeds 50 to 100 times as fast as a dialup connection. Customers can sign up for a single two-hour session for $3.95 or they can buy an annual membership which provides unlimited access to all of SBC's WiFi hotspots for $19.95 per month." The service is now available at over 600 B&Ns. The report fails to say how the new deal will expand from that already significant coverage.
DIY bookstore . . .
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, on "the lower level of the Westside's Cottonwood Mall, in a small storefront next to J.C. Penney, an enterprising band of writers and publishers is opening its own cooperative" after meeting during a New Mexican book convention and realizing that "one of the biigest problems" they all shared was "the difficulty in getting New Mexican books with New Mexican themes into New Mexican bookstores." As Steve Robert Allen reports in a story for The Alibi (scroll down), "New Mexico Books & More is the brainchild of Barbe Awalt and Paul Rhetts, the owners of LPD Press, a small, independent New Mexico publisher." About 120 people from the local publishing scene have signed on to "a simple arrangement that would practically guarantee financial success," as Rhetts describes it. "Everyone who wants to participate, pays a small fee to cover costs. They also agree to volunteer at the store." The coop, "an overwhelming success" so far, according to Rhetts, will run for six weeks during the holiday season, and will feature 90 book signings and events, including an official ribbon cutting at which it is rumored Governor Bill Richardson will show up. Says Rhetts, "It just goes to show you that the book business in New Mexico is very strong, and the people involved are more than willing to partner with each other to make it even stronger."
So much plot so far from home . . .
A new movie based on the Raymond Carver story "So Much Water, So Close to Home" is to star American actress Laura Linney and be called Jindabyne. As an Agence France Press story explains, the story is "set in Australia" and "it tells the story of a group of men who discover the body of an Aborigine girl in the water while fishing. But instead of notifying authorities of the murder immediately, they decide to proceed with their fishing trip, igniting a tremendous scandal in their town." Of course, the Carver story was set in California, had nothing to do with Aborigines, and never took the men to a town.
Striving to preserve Tolkien's blandness . . .
A "preservation order" has been issued in England to protect the house where Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien lived and worked in while writing his famous fantasy series. According to a Reuters wire story, Tolkien lived in the house at 20 Northmoor Road in Oxford for 17 years but "it's just an ordinary house in the heart of England's suburbia." Heritage Minister Andrew McIntosh admitted that "Buildings are usually listed because of their fine architecture or unique design. But we can also give protection to buildings that have historical association with nationally important people or events. Professor Tolkien's house in Oxford is a fine example of this." However, the report notes, the Minister did note "the house's relative blandness."
NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.
Tuesday 23 November 2004
Not knowing what was to come, Danticat writes about her family in America . . .
In an essay submitted to the New York Times before the death of her uncle, Joseph Dantica, while in the custody of US Immigration and the Department of Homeland Security (see yesterday's MobyLives news digest), Edwidge Danticat talks about her family's hopes for life in America. "As my Uncle Joseph liked to say," she writes, "for people like us, the malere, the poor, the future was not a given. It was something to be clawed from the edge of despair with sweat and blood."
Were NBA selections a response to Stephen King medal? . . .
Were this year's controversial choices for the National Book Awards "payback from the literary community for Stephen King's recognition" at last year's award ceremony? Pittsburgh PostGazette book editor Bob Hoover poses the question in his most recent column. Plus, he says, "While this controversy will probably have no impact on changing mainstream American fiction, it does briefly shine some light on the wide range of authors trying their luck in the marketplace." Not only that, "I also suspect it offers some encouragement to all of those students in creative writing programs."
Inside a horse, it's too dark to read . . .
"French scientists and historians are trying to unravel the secrets behind a cache of documents hidden nearly two centuries ago inside one of Paris's bestknown equestrian statues," reports an Agence France Press wire story. "The documents were found when the bronze statue of King Henri IV on the PontNeuf bridge by the IledelaCite was dismantled for renovation." The original statue was destroyed during the French Revolution, then restored from the original cast by order of Louis XVIII after the overthrow of Napoleon. The theory is that a disgruntled follower of Napoleon working on the restoration "secreted tracts extolling his hero and denouncing the monarcy." The documents were found in cylinders "in the horse's foot, in the king's arm and in his head." Specialists say it will take a while to unwrap and decipher them.
Picky, picky, picky . . .
The recent publication in Russia of a collection of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's early work, The Path, has "confirmed his status as a living classic," says Victor Sonkin in this Moscow Times review. "The collection reveals sides of the Nobel Prizewinning novelist and memoirist little known before," notes Sonkin, "most notably, his early attempts at poetry. As it turns out, Solzhenitsyn's reasons for composing verse in his youth were quite prosaic. Confined to labor camps and exile in the 1940s and 1950s, the author dared not write his ideas down, and so composed them in his mind instead. Naturally, poems were easier to memorize." Of course, there's one little problem, notes Sonkin: "His poetry is sometimes painfully bad."
Faulkner's revenge . . .
"William Faulkner has, by now, become a classic, one of those rare authors who never goes out of style, in part because he enjoys an exalted place on the syllabus of any selfrespecting class in American literature," obsserves Jay Parini. All of which "fascinates" Parini because, as he notes in this Chronicle essay, "Faulkner, a huge beneficiary of the academy's loving attention, was himself almost phobic when it came to universities and schools, at least until his later years . . . For the most part, Faulkner shunned academe. He was selfeducated, like Ernest Hemingway and so many writers of his generation."
In fact, they could kill you . . .
As a member of the U.K.'s famed special forces, the SAS, Andy McNab "shot dead a member of the IRA" at the age of 19 and, before the first Gulf War, "led an SAS patrol behind Iraqi lines" in a daring mission that became the subject of a "staggeringly succesful" book it sold 1.7 million copies in the UK alone. Now, as Robert Hanks observes in a profile for The Independent, McNab has "parlayed that success into a new career as a writer of gritty contemporary thrillers, and last year was declared the topselling UK thriller writer." Yet because of his background, he has to keep his anonymity, with his image obscured on book jackets. And "McNab" isn't his real name. Yet, as he himself admits, he is a celebrity like many others. "I've sold beer, watches," he observes. And as for the reasons for keeping his anonymity: "The way it was portrayed 'Oh, the Iraqis are after him' it's a load of old crap. What it is, it's domestic terrorism." So why continue it? Perhaps because it contributes to his success. As Hanks notes of McNab's newest book, Deep Black, "The plot strains credibility, and the terse, slangy prose is sometimes repetitive . . . ." But what sells his books is "the implicit promise that, though they may be fiction, they are at some level, in some way, real."
O joy, o rapture . . .
In Great Britain, the second Pop Lit Idol is getting underway, according to a BBC News wire story. Aspirants must submit "up to 10,000 words from the opening chapters of their novels and a synopsis," a shortlist will be selectd, and five finalists will read from their work before a panel of juudges. A public vote also takes place, and the winner is announced at the London Book Fair. "The winner gets a deal with literary agency Curtis Brown." Last year's winner, Paul Cavanagh, got a book deal with HarperColins. Also announced: The host for this year's event is writer Tony Cowell, brother of the host of the original Pop Idol, Simon Cowell. Tony Cowell, however, says "he will be more pleasant than brother Simon." "I'm not going to be the Mr. Nasty of books," he says.
NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.
Monday 22 November 2004
Uncle of Edwidge Danticat dies in custody of Homeland Security after seeking asylum; family says medication denied to 81yearold man . . .
Stories circulating on the Internet amongst the literatti last week were confirmed by a St. Petersburg Times report by David Adams: The elderly uncle of acclaimed novelist Edwidge Danticat has died while in the custody of US Immigration and the Department of Homeland Security after fleeing Haiti and seeking asylum in the US. Joseph Dantica, 81, a Baptist minister, had become the target of proAristide gangs after Haitian police occupied his church and "took advantage of the church's upper floors to open fire on gang members in the streets below." Gang members subsequently burned the church to the ground and Dantica, who owned a valid US visa, fled to Florida, where he had previously visited family on a regular basis. This time, however, Dantica was detained, along with his son, Maxo, who was travelling with him, when they asked to be granted asylum. According to Adams, "U.S. immigration officials took the Rev. Dantica to jail." There, according to the pastor's family, "Dantica's high blood pressure medication was taken away from him." The government denies this. Adams reports, "The medical details of what happened next are not clear. Dantica was moved to Jackson Memorial Hospital in downtown Miami; Homeland Security officials refused to allow the family to visit him there." Says his niece, "He died alone in a hospital bed."
UPDATE: A Newsday story by Jerome Burdi reports that "a growing group of celebrities and politicians are calling for a federal investigation into Dantica's death." Included in the group are director Jonathan Demme, Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek, and author Walter Mosley. Meanwhile, Edwidge Panticat, "who spells her name differently because of a clerical error on her father's birth certificate, said her uncle had been visiting the United States since the 1970s but 'he always wanted to go back to his work' in Haiti." About 100 people attended his burial in Flatbush on Friday.
People in the US and China say goodbye to Iris Chang . . .
The late Iris Chang was "eulogized in simultaneous ceremonies in northern California, Washington and Nanjing, China" on Friday. The acclaimed author of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, who committed suicide on November 9, "felt other people's suffering so intensely, to the point that it made her suffer," said her friend Barbara Masin in a eulogy delivered at a memorial prior to Chang's burial in Los Altos, California. As an Agence France Press wire story reports, Masin wasn't the only one who thought Chang's writings "may have contributed to the internal anguish that led to her death." The AFP reports hundreds of people attended, including China's Vice Consul General Ciu Xuejun. In a San Francisco Chronicle report Heidi Benson writes that 600 mourners were there, including Chang's husband Brett Douglas and the couple's 2yearold son, Christopher. Douglas described the first time he saw her, when they were in college: "She was a strikingly beautiful girl who carried herself like a queen. I was struck by the intensity of her eyes. I'll remember the way she looked at me forever." Chang's brother, Michael Chang, "expressed his appreciation of the great public outpouring of grief that emerged after news of her death. 'I didn't realize what a beloved figure she was until she passed away,' he said." Meanwhile, another Chronicle story, by Kathleen E. McLaughlin, says "Chang's suicide stunned those she tried so hard to help the survivors of Japan's 'Rape of Nanking.'" Some, reports McLaughlin, "can't help but compare Chang's fate with that of another American, Minnie Vautrin, who lived in Nanjing during the Japanese occupation and led a safe house effort that saved thousands of lives and thousands of Chinese women and girls from systematic rape by Japanese soldiers. In her book, Chang wrote how Vautrin returned to the United States and killed herself a year later, exhausted and haunted by the images of those she could not save."
Later, it was discovered that a dogeared copy of Unfit for Command had mysteriously appeared in Neruda's library . . .
A visit to the former home of Pablo Neruda by US First Lady Laura Bush has angered some in Chile, who considered it "a sleight [sic] to his Communist past." As an Agence France Press wire story explains, the Nobel laureate, who died in 1973 just days after the murder and overthrow of Salvador Allende, was also a senior member of Chile's Communist party. Bush's spokesman "brushed aside the complaint" and insisted she was visitng the house "because of his work as a writer." But the head of the country's Communist Party, Juan Andres Lagos, says the visit is "an offense, not just to us but to the people of this country, the intelligensia and the workers. It is extremely serious, too, that it was organized by the Chilean government."
Luckily, a special law in England allows booksellers to strike customers about the head and neck area with mallets . . .
In business since 1879, the bookstore at Oxford University, Blackwell's, is one of the most respected and beloved bookstores in the world, and the flagship for a familyowned chain of 61 stores. But the news on Friday that the owners are "considering selling some or all" of the stores has "dismayed" patrons. In an Associated Press wire story by Jill Lawless, one customer, Peter Schadler, a student working on a Ph.D. about "Christian saints views of Islam," explains, "It would be a real shame if it closed. It's got the most impressive collection of academic books I've seen. One shelf of the Byzantine section has more material than anything I've seen in the States. The guy who works in the Classics section has been working here for 40 years. He know every book you could ever want or need." But Lawless reports, "In recent years, Blackwell's has had to compete with bigger chains like Waterstone's and Borders Group Inc., which have transformed British bookselling with large price reductions and multibuy discounts." Blackwell's has also been hurt, says Lawless, by "the growing popularity of online retailers like Amazon.com." Making the point: customer Schadler admits, "I do use Amazon quite frequently. The sad thing is, I need Blackwell's to find the books I buy on Amazon. It's just so much cheaper on Amazon."
Where French poets go to get romantic . . .
"We are so used to standing at the white cliffs (or at the port of New York) and waving to Englishspeaking writers as they set off for France to sign up for the avant garde Joyce, Hemingway, Pound, HD, Beckett, and after the second world war, Baldwin, Wright and others that we are apt to overlook the traffic coming the other way," writes James Campbell in this Guardian story. But in fact, lots of French writers went to London, not for literary fame but for love. It may have started with Apollinaire, who in 1904 went to London "in a last attempt to win the love of a young Englishwoman named Annie Playden," about whom he subsequently wrote some lovely poems (and a letter to a friend citing her "great tits"). Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, and Stephane Mallaremé went there, too. Says Campbell, "It was the city of fog, industry and repression, but for French poets in the last century the capital held an abiding romantic allure."
Recently added to the President's reading list . . .
A book written by the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has sold a record 500,000 copies in one week. The book, The Story of Tongdaeng, is a "cartoon version" of a book previously released in 2002 a biography of the king's dog. "This is unprecedented in the history of the Thai publishing industry," says a report from Malaysia's The Star. "In the past, a wellknown author would be happy if a book sold 3,000 or 5,000 copies at most." What's making this book so different? The plot, says The Star: "In The Story of Tongdaeng, the king writes about his favourite dog, whose life has been a Cinderellalike fairy tale. Born to a stray mother, Tongdaeng was adopted by the king when he was a puppy. Brought to Far From Worry Palace, Tongdaeng has become the king's favourite pet due to his intelligence, loyalty, sense of gratitude and duty, and charm." Also, the subject's personality: "Tongdaeng is not one of those who, after having become an important personality, treats with contempt someone of lower status who should be the object of gratitude." Also, "The cartoon version is easier to read."
All it takes is one bad apple from Bad Axe and Paffhausen goes nuts . . .
Overdue library books in Bay County, Michigan could get you more than a fine, if the library's new director has his way. An Associated Press wire story says that the director, Frederick J. Paffhausen, "is asking the Bay County Library Board for permission to seek arrest warrants for offenders who ignore repeated notices." Says Paffhausen, "We want to go after some of the people who owe us a lot of money." He cites, for example, "one patron from Bad Axe" who owes $1,190 for 73 overdue science fiction books. "We want to set an example," says Paffhausen.
NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.
This week's fiction:
The International Bestseller
WHO KILLED DANIEL PEARL?
by BernardHenri Lévy
"The Old Greek"
by DEREK ALGER
(from Del Sol Review)
"Stranded at the Top of a Ferris Wheel With Judy Long, County Fairgrounds, April 7, 1982"
by SCOTT YARBROUGH
This week's poetry:
by MARVIN BELL
(from Massachusetts Review)
"stow stay stow stay"
by ANNA JACKSON
POEMS FOR THE TIME
First posted in October, 2001, Alicia Ostriker's anthology of poetry that she turned to after the 9/11 attacks including the work of Stephen Dunn, C.P. Cavafy, Marianne Moore, and others is far and away the most popular link ever posted on MobyLives. Find out why.
This week's fiction: