Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hemingway's Last Interview

(Interviewed by, Jimmy, a seven-year-old:)

“My mom said that you said writing is hard. I get tired sometimes when I write. Do you get tired?”

“Sometimes I do. We all get tired of doing things we like to do. What do you write about in school?”


“What kind of things? Things is a big subject, Jimmy.”

“I wrote about a smelly bird once.”

“A smelly bird, huh?”


“Okay, I’ll bite. What’d it smell like?”

“Like poop. It was dead.”

“Oh, I see.”

“My mom says you can’t write at all.”

“She said that, huh?”


“Well you tell your mom there’s millions out there who would agree with her. Most days, I think I would agree with her.”

“What’s a drunking sot?”

“You mean a drunken sot.”


“Why do you ask?”

“Cause my mom says you’re a drinking sot.”

“I see. I presume your mother doesn’t want me to sign a book for her.”

“Nope. She says she wouldn’t wipe her butt with your book.”

“Tell me Jimmy, does your mother, by chance, write reviews for the New York Times?”

“I dunno.”

“Well, when you go home, you tell your mother I have the greatest sympathy for her children.”


“Never mind. Any more questions?”

“What’s your boys names?”

“My boys?”


“Jack, Patrick, and Gregory. Why?”

“My mom says your sons hate you cause you’re a drinking sot.”

“I—I—don’t know what to say to that, Jimmy. I really don’t.”

The author wiped his eyes with his shirtsleeve and stood.

“Maybe you better go now, Jimmy.”

“Okay, Mr. Hemingway,” Jimmy said. The large bearded author nudged the young interviewer out the front door.

 Then Hemingway turned away, massaged his forehead, and sighed deeply at the shotgun in the corner of the room.

(Note:Yes, I made this up. Literary licence and all that.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Gone with the Wind wouldn't get published nowadays

Recently there was a controversy in my neck of the woods when our local library banned Fifty Shades of Grey for its sexual content. After a huge uproar, mostly by those who hadn't read it, the library capitulated and put it back on the shelves. I thought they made the right decision, but maybe they could restrict check-out of the book to thirteen and older. A kid that age doesn't need to obtain sexual knowledge from anything as primitive as a book nowadays, anyway. They have a whole Internet filled with porn to enlighten or frighten them, depending on the site they choose.
It was much simpler when I first experienced the horrors of puberty. My friends and I would spend hours in the library flipping through Ian Fleming novels looking for the sex scenes. The Bond movies didn't do justice to the libido like the novels did.

But banning popular books in the library is nothing new. I always thought it odd they would ban Lady Chatterley's Lover and yet have National Geographics with naked natives on the cover lying around the magazine racks. Many classics have been banned by libraries over the years, including The Great Gatsby and Ulysses. Also included in the most frequently requested books to be banned and challenged  is the perennial favorite, Gone with the Wind. (See the ALA list)
The most common challenge to GWTW is of course the use of the N word, which Margaret Mitchell managed to use in almost every other paragraph as either a noun or adjective. I would think the prudish had an argument for its subject matter about abortion and sex also. At least it would have been risque in 1937 when the novel was published. Rhett wanted the baby and Scarlett wanted to keep her figure. Both had a valid argument.
But even in the 30s and 40s one could argue that both GWTW with its glorification of the Klu Klux Klan and Herbert Warren Penn's, All the King's Men with its condemnation of African Americans, were racist in tone. It wasn't just the times or the era but also the authors' personal prejudices showing through and a good editor would pick up on that and tell them to tone it down a bit. Still, GWTW sold over thirty million copies so I guess not too many readers let it bother them.
Of course none of the classics should be banned. Hell, there's more sex and violence in the bible than there is in A Clockwork Orange. How far do you go before it leans toward fascism?
Now, back to my original subject, GWTW, at 1037 pages would have a hard time getting by a literary agent and an editor in these times of punch-a-book-out-a-week mentality. A lot of the crap Margaret Mitchell had in the novel could have been edited down to a readable and comprehensive 500 pages and still have kept its Southern charm and compelling love story. She should have let David Selznick edit it. He did a great job of taking a 41 hour novel and compressing it into a four-hour movie. Selznick didn't even include Will Benteen and Archie in the movie. Taking them out of the novel would have saved 200 pages and they weren't needed anyway to move the story along.
Anyway, let's say Margaret Mitchell just finished GWTW and sent a query letter to a literary agent. Like us poor and unpublished she would get her share of heartless and insensitive rejection letters but let's see what one from one of those high-falutin' Yankee literary agents in New York would look like:

Dear Ms. Mitchell,
I normally send no reply when rejecting queries, but I felt I had to give you some advice that might help you find a publisher for Gone with the Wind. I must first say you write very well, with a polished style of prose, but if you ever wish to publish, I suggest you remove the eight hundred or so references to African Americans as the N word. One or two would suffice.
Also, I suggest you edit your novel to 400 or 500 pages while still stressing the O'Hara-Butler love-hate relationship. Three hundred pages of reflection in the mind of your protagonist is absolutely unnecessary. On that point, another suggestion, SHOW don't TELL!!!!! A great, no, the largest portion of your novel is telling, sometimes from the character's POV and sometimes from an omniscient narrator. NO NARRATORS!!!. I can't stress that enough. You are not Charles Dickens and this is not the 19th century.
Perhaps you should put the GWTW manuscript away and work on something a bit more contemporary with a better chance to sell, say a paranormal romance with werewolf teenagers set in post-civil war Atlanta.
Just a suggestion though and remember Ms. Mitchell, there's always tomorrow.
Cruella De Ville
De Ville Literary, Inc.
New York, NY 10013

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Give it up, you'll never publish your poetry. (If it rhymes)

Poetry is obviously not the sexiest form of written entertainment. That honor goes to novels, followed by non-fiction, then short stories, then flash fiction, then novellas, and then finally, poetry. You doubt me? How dare you. I shall validate the lowly status of poetry. All right, let's see a show of hands. How many of you know the name of our nation's poet laureate? That's what I thought. Well, for your information, she is Natasha Trethewey. Yeah, I don't know who the hell she is, either. Now, how many of you know who wrote Twilight? I rest my case.
Let's face it, for the last seventy years or so poetry has really sucked wind. Why is that, JJ? you ask on bated breath. I'll give you my opinion. Since the 1940s, or so, poets have been afraid to write with rhyme and scared shitless to tell a story. They're afraid their peers with their M.F.As, who were taught in the universities by professors with M.F.As, will make fun of them and castigate them in the academia and literary worlds. To prove my point, how many of you invisible readers can recite a stanza from a poem written in the last seventy years? None of you can because free verse as well as non-rhyming verse just don't stick in your tiny brain. 
Now here's a few lines of verse for you from poems of bygone days when the bards weren't afraid to use moon and spoon. See if you recognize them.

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward.

I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree.

And so on and so on. Those are the poems you commit to memory, the ones that tell a story and make you think. But it is the contemporary non-rhyming poems that are published and win all the prizes now. How can you make absolutely sure you win with your poetry? Elementary. Your poem must, 1. Not rhyme. 2. Make absolutely no sense, and 3. Not tell a story. So get on the bandwagon and change your poetry style to the modern crap of the last seventy years so you can achieve that apex of your literary skill, and get your poem published, while scarfing a tasty Poet-in-Residence appointment at some Joe Schmo college in Ohio or wherever.
Okay, I've actually won a prize for poetry and was published, albeit in a small college literary review. And it was a non-rhyming poem, I'm ashamed to say. But I needed the money and I have since changed my ways and write only with rhyme now. The following is a poem about a cat, who shall remain anonymous, that I published online in a competition. It was soundly trounced by other feel-good sentimental poems written to idolize said cats. Apparently cat owners lack a sense of humor or maybe my poem made too much sense. Anyway, here it is. You cat lovers may want to look away.

That Goddamn Cat

All damn day it sits about,

And sleeps and shits and stinks the house.

Cat litter here.

Cat litter there.

Cat litter there and everywhere.

It thinks it owns the frickin’ place.

It parks it’s ass against my face.

Cat dander here.

Cat dander there.

Cat dander there and everywhere.

I hate that cat.

I hate that cat.

I hate, I hate that goddamn cat.

It’s days are marked with calm ennui,

And moods of equanimity.

Cat urine here.

Cat urine there.

Cat urine there and everywhere.

It wails at night, indelicate.

And woos and fights to procreate.

Cat spraying here.

Cat spraying there.

Cat spraying there and everywhere.

I hate that cat.

I hate that cat.

I hate, I hate that goddamn cat. 

My foot is down, I draw the line.

The cat or me, I do opine.

Cat mewing here.

Cat mewing there.

Cat mewing there and everywhere.

She takes some time to mete it out.

Points to the door and turns about.

Cat smirking here

Cat smirking there

Cat smirking there and everywhere.

I hate that cat.

I hate that cat.

Someday I'll kill that goddamn cat.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What I Miss:

Driving without a seatbelt.

Driving without a seatbelt in a car with bench seats.

Driving without a seatbelt in a car with bench seats and a metal dash.

Driving without a seatbelt in a car with bench seats and a metal dash with your date beside you.

Following the Mosquito Man on my bicycle.

Chasing down the ice cream man and pounding on the side of the truck to get him to stop.

Watching the movie projector light through a smoky haze.

Attending a rock concert where the crowd uses lighters instead of cell phones during ballads.

Nurses in tight fitting white uniforms and those silly hats.

Stewardesses in tight fitting uniforms.

A&W waitresses delivering food to your car in tight fitting uniforms.

Miniskirts. (I see a pattern here.)

Delivering 86 newspapers on a bicycle that has two baskets on the side and one in the front.

Catching blowfish off the bridge using frozen shrimp as bait.

Popping blowfish with my foot after they puff up.

Crabbing at 2 AM off Mather’s Bridge.

Lying on the warm hood of a ’56 Cadillac in 10 degree weather and watching the Northern Lights dance across the night sky . (Vermont)

Al’s French Frys with white vinegar. (Yes it’s Frys) (Vermont again)

The smell of A&W hotdogs and fries when they place the tray on the driver’s side window.

A&W root beer in those wax megaphone containers. (My kids are asking, “What the heck is he talking about?”)

Royal Castle Hamburgers. (Mystery Meat)

Salisbury Steak Day at school. (More Mystery Meat)

The smell of the incense in a Catholic Church.

A new litter of Labrador puppies in a cardboard box.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Argument for Paper Books over Kindle

I don't like reading from a screen whether it's a document on a monitor or an e-book on a Kindle. I also write everything by hand and can't type, but that's beside the point, I need that tactile pleasure of crinkling real paper in my hand when I read. Paper is a good thing. I don't mind them chopping wood, Ma, after all, them trees are God's recyclables. So cut a tree down for me, boys, but make sure you plant one in its place. Green, indeed. I need my paper books, hardbound or paperback. When I'm finished writing a chapter or a short story and my wife has typed it, I like to print it out and read it, not lean in close to the monitor and fumble with the scroll bar.
Kindles are cute and look cool on planes but they have lots of disadvantages. A few examples:
  • They're expensive. You're not only buying the book, you're buying a costly container.
  • They have batteries that will need replacing and you buy the electricity to charge them, money that could be spent on a frozen daquiry to partake while you read a cheap paperback instead.
  • It makes you look like a geek.
  • Best -selling authors can't sign them.
  • Since you download e-books, everybody and their brother will write and self-publish a book for you to buy, lowering the average quality of literature to even a lower level.
  • By the time you buy one the model is obsolete.
Now the advantages of paper books. Okay, I admit I'm from a generation that grew up with only paper books but then---
  • Nothing smells as good as old books lining library shelves. That sweet odor of decaying paper brings out nostalgic yearnings of ,as a child, secretly reading dirty e. e. cummings poems at an isolated desk in the back of the biography section.
  • Without paper books what would you fill those shelves with at home?
  • You can use children's picture books to level a table leg.
  • You can fold back the pages of a paperback like you did at summer camp and make a neat doorstop for your mother.

  • You can use the pages for toilet paper in an emergency at the campground.
  • You can hollow out the middle and hide money in it.
  • You can kill cockroaches with it in the gararge.

Here's what a Kindle looks like after you use it to kill a cockroach:

  • You can hide Fifty Shades of Grey underneath the mattress where the kids can't find it and it doesn't shatter after a wild weekend.
  • You can throw a book, hardbound or paperback, at a cat or dog without hurting the book or the pet.
  • And my favorite: You can animate a car crash on a paper book. Let's see you do this on a Kindle.