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Archives: July 2005


Online playthings for the bookish set:

Less Fun with Numbers

beauty.jpgWhat are the odds of making a living off your writing?

According to author and engineer Greg Slominski, 1 in 380. “Or, if you tweak the numbers to allow for a range of error, 1 in 200 to 1 in 500″ — worse than the odds for “Division 1 college football players vying for slots in the pros,” and “way worse” than the odds for a Miss America contestant.

(Slominksi “has those calculations, too,” writes columnist Patti Thorn of his Miss America statistics. “But don’t ask me to double-check his work,” she adds — confirming, once again, that our schools need to teach girls better self-esteem in math class. Last we checked, the odds were simply 1 in 51 — as in, the number of states plus Washington D.C.)

“Lynn Freed, you are a piece of shit.”

gulag.jpgThat’s the title — as well as an effective summary — of “Iowa mafia” blog Babies are Fireproof‘s response to Lynn Freed’s “Doing Time: My years in the creative-writing gulag,” an essay on teaching vs. writing that appears in this month’s Harper’s. Its “gist,” according to Babies, is this: “Ms. Freed hates teaching, doesn’t think it’s worth her time, makes fun of her students … and can’t wait to get out of the gig altogether.” The blog continues: “K and I read it aloud [... and ... ] I nearly puked right there on the kitchen floor.” Culture blog Long Sunday posts a similar reaction, made more block-quotable by its lack of vomit(-as-literary-device):

[Freed's essay] is the usual diatribe against creative-writing programs–these [diatribes] are of course entirely justifiable, but it’s getting old as a topic–and also participates in a genre I don’t like, which is the one where the teacher complains about the stupidity of his or her students. What’s remarkable about the essay is that it too languishes in the captivity of the creative-writing gulag [...] It’s the product of creative-writing hegemony and sounds like the texts produced by the very students Freed complains about, sixth-generation renderings of Chekhov.

Other responses to Freed’s piece range from the triumphantly humorless

First off: gulag?!? Are you that self-absorbed, are you that oblivious to this and this and this, that you can seriously apply the term “gulag” to your life as a creative-writing instructor? I hate you, Lynn Freed…

–to the fatigued and dispirited:

My plan was to post the letter I sent to Harper’s in response to Lynn Freed’s essay on spending, excuse me, “doing time” in the creative writing gulag. But posting that letter is pointless. Writing it was pointless. Lynn Freed’s writing is pointless as well. All writing is pointless…

Most memorable, however, is the response that exceeds a post to become a blog — incidentally, the best blog I’ve read in weeks.

From The Secret Diary of a Prisoner in the Creative Writing Gulag:

September 6, 1983

Beginning of the first week of torture sessions, also known as grading my students’ papers. One writes a science fiction fantasy obviously lifted from American television; another a ridiculous romance more suited for a scandalous tabloid, and a third a thinly-veiled tale of his first sexual experiences.

Red liquid runs off the table where I am being tortured. I suppose it was a mistake to actually use red ink in a fountain pen. Note to self: get red pencil.

November 14, 1983

The grounds are a sea of orange, less from any autumn foliage — there seems to be no real autumn in this accursed place — than from supporters of the University’s American football team. Football, as it is practiced here, seems not merely an athletic contest, but a collection of crypto-fascist symbols and roles that recall preparations for war. I thought the United States got itself into enough wars without having to re-enact them, but apparently they do it to keep in fighting psychological trim.

Even my cellmates are caught up in the excitement. One of them — a callow blonde girl who appeared today in an orange-and-white sweater set, orange trousers, and cowgirl boots — took it upon herself to explain the rivalry between the University of T____ and their arch-enemies, called “Aggies.” Later, a marching band trooped past our window, but I could only hear, not see, them. The window is high up to discourage escape attempts.

May 20, 1984

Exams are over. I toss them all, ungraded, in the trash outside the Mathematics Building and go back to my cell to compose grades. Long ago I decided these would be strictly based on attendance. Perfect attendance gets a C.

August 8, 1984

If the University of T____ was a concentration camp, and Yaddo a minimum security facility, what do I call the Napa Valley Writers Workshop? A sort of temporary jail. Every morning, a two-hour session with the would-be writers: housewives, delivery truck drivers, high school teachers, pesticide salesmen, insurance agents, all under the false impression that they can write.

What do they know of Talent? (I’ve taken to capitalizing it when speaking of my own gift, the better to distinguish it from other so-called talents such as juggling or putting on makeup — the latter being something one girl at the University of T____ claimed was her great gift. Perhaps — if she were about to go on camera to read the weather.) They know how to cook a roast, or how to amortize a mortgage, but they know nothing of writing, literature, and great art.

I know about all those things. But I can’t teach them. It’s unthinkable.

Eldest‘s Numbers

eldest.jpgHere’s the WSJ‘s (sub req’d) rundown of notable numbers for Random House’s upcoming Eldest, the second in Christopher Paolini’s YA fantasy trilogy: the publicity budget is $500,000; the print run is one million (John Irving’s Until I Find You: 350,000); Paolini is 21 (Irving’s age minus 42); and Eragon, the first in Paolini’s series, already has two million-plus hardcovers and paperbacks in print in the U.S.

The remainder of the article credits “the online community” for much of Eragon‘s success: “Fansites and message boards built tremendous word-of-mouth, effectively establishing Eragon as a book that many teens and young adults felt they had to read.” If that’s true, though, it pushes some of Random House’s self-congratulations into the realm of parody. From the article’s last graf:

All of the marketing and advertising for “Eldest” has been produced in-house. “We didn’t feel we needed the expertise of Madison Avenue,” [marketing VP Daisy] Kline says. “You have to think out of the box.”

Right, then. It just so happens that they’re thinking so far outside their box, it’s no longer their thinking.

One More Reason Publishers Don’t Like Bad Writing

In case you didn’t catch GC’s update below, Gawker’s tracked down the fired blogger.

From the July 8 post on bluegirl24ny‘s blog:

I was fired from my job on Tuesday morning. Yes, fired – just like that. Within 20 minutes I was confronted by my boss, sent to HR, packed up my desk and was on an 11 AM train back home for the last time. Apparently, my former employer has a zero tolerance for voicing discontent with the company. Unfortunately, while I was writing my blogs and expressing my many times extreme unhappiness in my job – my computer was being monitored (for what reason or how long I was never told) and my blogs came to their attention. Yeah, all of the”I hate my job and co workers” blogs… Needless to say, when I made the mistake last week of actually naming the company I worked for – that was grounds for termination. It got back to my boss and that was pretty much it.

… I wanted to leave anyway – but never in a million years would I ever think it would be in that manner. Everyone I talk to about it says it was a witch hunt – that I couldn’t be managed out on performance because we never had reviews – and this, although a low blow, was a viable reason and the only legal way to get rid of me.

Whether or not that’s true, the blog contains, sans irony, sentences like these: “Grandma always loved a good party, and Lord knows she loved her gin,” and “The stretch and snug fit of the fabric seemed to embrace my body in a whispery sigh of contentment.” In short, the blog doesn’t establish bluegirl24ny as someone we should ever leave alone with other people’s writing.

Related Reading: Blogging at Work: How independent is a blogger from her workplace?

Gossip from the Heartland

marcus.jpgAccording to an in-the-know Iowa MFA-er, new Workshop Director Lan Samantha Chang owes her job to faculty member Marilynne Robinson. Students and alumni overwhelmingly preferred finalist Ben Marcus (pictured left), as did the search committee saddled with the task of finding Frank Conroy’s replacement. But Robinson, winner of the Pulitzer and the NBCC prize in fiction for last year’s Gilead, threatened to quit if Marcus was selected for the job.

Both Robinson and Marcus attended Brown University, where they received their BA and MFA degrees, respectively. But the ideological distance between them couldn’t be greater: Robinson, also a biblical scholar, is adamantly anti-theory; Marcus, on the other hand, is the author of such semiotically-minded books as The Age of Wire and String and Notable American Women, of which The Onion A.V. wrote, “[it] plies the stony poetics of postmodern figureheads like Donald Barthelme and William H. Gass.”

In Trivial Pursuit of Rowling

halfblood.jpg“The only British television interview with JK Rowling on the launch of the sixth Harry Potter book” has gone to Owen Jones, 14 — whom the Guardian, somewhat redundantly, calls “a completely inexperienced interviewer.”

But, then again, every author who’s learned — to his heart’s dismay — that his interviewer has never read him, will have to envy Rowling’s selection process:

Owen beat three other contestants who like him spent months rereading every word of the first five books [...] and scouring the internet for Harry Potter arcana. “I was nervous when I realised just how good all the other contestants were,” he said. “Some of the questions were really hard. I feel ecstatic to have won. It’s brilliant.”

Win a Blind Date with GC and Gawky Love from Gawker

We’re having a very hard time coming up with possible matches for this intriguing (double-)blind item from Gawker:

Just Asking (A Blindish Item of Our Very Own)

WHAT BLOG, full of catty commentary on her publishing-world coworkers, recently got the junior employee who was writing it fired from a major house?

Seriously, what blog? We know it happened, but we don’t know the where to get our hands on the hot copy. First to give us the right URL is promised a weekend full of Gawky love.

Help us win Gawky love. We didn’t get enough of it as a teenager. (No, seriously: GC went to prom stag.) Send your guesses to galleycat at mediabistro dot com, and we’ll share the spoils (gawkward hand-holding, late night phone calls, oily cheek-to-cheek dancing, blowjobs with braces, whatever).

UPDATE: Blogger revealed. “We would have fired her anyway,” writes Gawker. “She uses emoticons, constantly.”

Did the NYT Just Rip Us Off?

After reading the first three paragraphs of “With Covers, Publishers Take More Than Page From Rivals”, I coded this table in an indignation-frenzy:

GalleyCat New York Times
“Because Much More Than a Book’s Content is Prone to Unoriginality” “With Covers, Publishers Take More Than Page From Rivals”
Dec. 16, 2004 – April 29, 2005 July 7, 2005
Entry no. 1, Dec. 16: GC compares covers of The Task of This Translator and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Paragraph no.s 2-3: The NYT compares covers of The Task of This Translator and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

But, as the intact TKs demonstrate, the Times piece isn’t the play-for-play rip-off I expected. Following the opening grafs are explanations of what we, at GC, have been content to just make fun of:

Sometimes the photographs on book covers are not just similar, but exact duplicates. Rather than pay photographers’ day rates, most book designers turn to stock-photography agencies. Top agencies charge $1,200 to $1,500 a photograph, and twice that for exclusive rights, a premium publishers are loath to pay.

That’s where the trouble starts.

Still, given that webloggers *were* consulted and quoted, we’re downgrading our indignation just one notch, to resentment and displeasure.

Books Sold per Hour: Most Authors Suspect Their Rate is Negative

But then there’s Harry Potter:

Steve Riggio, the chief executive of Barnes & Noble, said the company expected to sell 50,000 of the new Harry Potter book per hour in the first 24 hours after its release. “Less than 1 percent of all books published sell that many copies in a lifetime,” he said.