“Help! My Family Hates My Pen Name!” – The Result!

I’ve been running this blog for over a year (recently we ran through the best of the best and the worst of the worst) and I have to say this is one of the most fun things I’ve done. Let’s recap:

First, I posted a note from a Wonderful Reader who is struggling with a tough issue: her family does not like her pen name! In fact, it’s interfering with some of her familial relationships, and it might be affecting her writing:

I have a question. My pen name is my grandmother’s name. It took a long time and a lot of thought to chose that name, but now various members of the family (grandchildren and great-grandchildren of all things — she’s been dead for over 60 years and I never knew her) are offended that I’m publishing, even daring to blog in her name. Should I change to make them all happy? Should I write only “nice” things under that name? I’d love to know how you came to your name and what you think.

I posted my own response and opened the comments for additional feedback. And it was awesome! You guys had some empathetic, hilarious, and wise advice for our struggling Wonderful Reader.

Even after reading your comments, I generally felt pretty good about my response. I couldn’t compete with the many personal stories about choosing a pen name or dealing with family. But I think I got the important themes right. In short, my advice was to break down the decision into three options: keep it, drop it, or discuss it with your family so you all are on the same page about what you’re doing and why. The main point I wanted to make was that there are probably larger issues of self-esteem and control – issues that could be due to writing (or even life, really) and might arise no matter what pen name the reader is using. Does the reader feel like her family doesn’t respect her and the things that are important to her? That’s a larger issue that should be considered as part of the resolution.

There’s one thing that bothered me about this. I never really like those advice columnist that boil everything down to two things: 1) seek professional help, or 2) communicate better. Thank you, Captain Obvious! While that may be fine advice, even the BEST advice, it doesn’t really solve every problem. Not everyone wants to head to a professional to deal with each and every problem. (Some no doubt do want to and/or should – I’m not trying to say there aren’t serious problems people have!) And communicating better is often impossible. We deal with people all the time who don’t listen to us! That’s probably the reader’s problem in the first place! There are WHOLE SOCIETIES that are uncomfortable talking through issues. Do we really think the reader is going to solve her problems that way? Maybe. But it might not be practical.

I’m reminded of a story about Bill Murray when he was directing his first movie. He was asked to describe the kind of advice he gave to actors, and he said he tried to be practical. A Method Actor might come up to him and say, “I’m supposed to look like I’m in pain in this scene. What should I be thinking about? What do I need to know in order to get the sense of pain to come across in the scene?” And Bill Murray would shrug and roll his eyes, and then look at one of the crew and say, “Somebody go find a rock to put in this guy’s shoe.”

Practical advice! A few of you pointed out what I thought would be a great option. Not communication, not choosing between two bad options, but another way out. Here it is: Continue reading

Writers Laughing: Gabriel García Márquez

Another big smiler – like Alice Munro, there are a million pictures of him smiling. And smiling broadly, with his eyes crinkly and his mouth slightly open. But laughing? You just know he had to laugh all the time – but whether those were captured in the pre-cell phone era is another question.

I found a few where he and Fidel are laughing, which I decided not to use. Instead, I’ll go with this one:

Gabriel García Márquez 1

And then this one, which I love (“writers laughing with small children” is a good sub-category):

Gabriel-García-Márquez-GM-Family-Archive

Staged for a photographer? Possibly. Do I care? Not at all!

Image credits: GM Family Archive

Ten Bold Predictions for 2014: An Analysis

Digital Book World has a list of ten bold predictions for ebooks digital publishing in 2014. Some of them delve into brave new world territory, but for those of us who have been around for a while, who can remember the days before you could carry a device in your pocket that can make phone calls, take pictures, and immediately provide the name of the closest Five Guys as well as the actor who played Joey Pants in the Sopranos – well, every year seems like a brave new world.

While the article is somewhat pitched toward folks in the industry who make a living off of these sorts of developments (or who are afraid of losing their jobs), I find myself drawn, as always, to the impact on readers and writers, the only two communities I really care about. (Sorry, investors and publishers and agents and distributors!)  And in that spirit, it’s prediction number six that interests me the most:

6. More publishers will endorse the subscription ebook model by doing business with Oyster, Scribd and other similar services.

Continue reading

Jacke Wilson News: What’s Up for 2014

Readers, I’m working hard. Here are some new things I hope to roll out in the first half of 2014:

The Race: A Novella

  • New Cover (already finished!)
  • International links (scheduled for next Monday)
  • Epub version and wider distribution (finally!)
  • Print version (yes! at last!)

New Releases

  • The Promotion: A Novella – Takes a look at the insanity of biglaw recruiting and hiring.
  • The Blow: A Novella –  Ever wonder what it’s like to work next to a billionaire? What do you become? Wonder no more!
  • The Biglaw Trilogy – I hope to bundle all three novellas into one easy-to-read package.

Blogging Etc.

  • Continued service to my loyal readers at jackewilson.com.
  • Other avenues to reach my audience – Goodreads, Amazon.com author page, Facebook, Twitter, and more.
  • Doing my best to bring you the news and keep spirits high.

And of course (and as always): Onward and Upward!

Fighting Discouragement: You Are New!

In an interview with Tinhouse’s J.C. Hallman, Walter Kirn refers to a common anxiety among writers:

J.C. Hallman: Do creative writers have an obligation to act as critics, to offer up alternatives to traditional critical methodologies and assumptions?

Walter Kirn: Creative writers have no obligation do anything, including their own creative work.  That’s what makes them “creative” in the first place, not merely productive.  That being said, a novel or a short story is an implicit piece of criticism.  It suggests that the job – some job; that of telling a story, say, or representing reality with language, or torturing reality with language – can be done better, or at least differently, than it has been done before.

Kirn’s right, of course – but at the same time, we all know how paralyzing this can be. There have been so many authors! Every story has been told! Everything’s been said! Blogging’s one thing, but who am I to presume that I can enter the world of writing a book that belongs on a bookshelf with all those authors I love and respect and admire?

Even the great Dr. Johnson suffered from a version of this internal narrative, giving up on writing poetry out of a belief that Alexander Pope had perfected the art, not to be surpassed.

Continue reading

A Self-Interview with the Author, Jacke Wilson

Today’s self-interview is with the author and sole proprietor of this blog, Jacke Wilson. Jacke’s novella The Race is available now at Amazon.com.

Q: Thank you for sitting down with me today.

A: It was no trouble at all.

Q: How long have you been writing fiction?

A: As a serious endeavor, approximately 18 years.

Q: Wow that’s a long time. How come no success?

A: Great question. I would give at least three reasons –

Q: I actually don’t think our readers will be interested in any of them.

A: Oh. Um… Do you still want me to answer?

Q: Listen, I’ll ask the questions, Jacke.

A: Right, got it.

Q: Your first book The Race was about politics in America. It uses the phrase “wayward pecker” to describe the body part of a Wisconsin governor who was caught up in a sex scandal and is now running for Congress. Did you ever think about calling the book Wayward Pecker?

A:  Yes.

Q: How about Wayward Peckerhead?

A: No, never.

Q: Governor Peckerhead

A: Is that a question?

Q: You missed a chance with peckerhead. It could have been a tribute to the Richard Pryor routine where he – 

A: I’ll check it out.

Q: How about Members of Congress? Get it? Get it?

A: You’re making me glad I stuck to my original title.

Q: Because you don’t like selling books?

A: Are we almost done?

Q: I said I’ll ask the questions!

A: Sorry.

Q: We’re done.

A: Thanks.

Q: You’re welcome.

Readers, check out Jacke’s book The Race: The Ballad of Governor Peckerhead at Amazon.com. Free samples available. Jacke also has free review copies available for distribution and is seeking beta readers for his work in progress The Promotion: Peckerhead Goes to Biglaw. Contact him at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by visiting this page.

The Race: A Novella

Available Now at Amazon.com

Inmates, Asylums, Etc.

Noreen Malone provides a fascinating look at Simon & Schuster’s Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, The King of Trash Publishing:

He was the very picture of civilized, a quality less abundant in the books he acquires. Ruby-Strauss had just come from the set of the “Today” show, where he’d shepherded three new authors, the young women behind the satirical website Betches Love This, through an appearance to promote their foray into publishing, Nice Is Just a Place in France. His editing portfolio also includes the literary efforts of the “Jersey Shore”‘s Snooki and a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills. The title that made his career was Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

“It’s offensive, it’s gross, it’s mean, it’s scatological,” Ruby-Strauss said of that book, not unproudly. We were eating lunch at the Upper West Side apartment of Max’s agent, Byrd Leavell. Leavell, a thirtysomething University of Virginia grad of Winklevossian coloring and proportions, also represents such Internet-to-book sensations as Cat Marnell (this generation’s culturally savvy blonde drug addict) and the creators of a somewhat self-explanatory website called Total Frat Move. “Tucker Max is offensive because he broke though,” Leavell said, spooning out an impressive homemade pasta primavera while his baby slept in the other room. “It’s like the Snooki haters, too,” said Ruby-Strauss. “I got my MFA from wherever …”

But it doesn’t stop there…

Ruby-Strauss and Leavell brought up a University of Maryland student infamous for a viral e-mail in which she informed her sorority sisters that she was inclined to—in New York Times-ese—enact a fourth-down kick on their most private regions. (It rhymes. Someday, or at least in Phyllis Schlafly’s worst nightmares, it will be a crossword clue.) Leavell was shopping the Maryland student’s novel, to be co-written by the women responsible for a site called White Girl Problems, which sounded like a formidable partnership. “It’s a shit-ton of fun,” said Leavell. “There’s a number of books that have pubbed that just say, you know, I had too many drinks, I banged him, I kicked him out of bed, and I went to work. Like, it’s out there, but I think there’s room for more.”

Huh. Not exactly what the Laura Millers of the world have in mind when they defend the role of publishing houses in filtering books for their readers. And indeed, not everyone at the publishing house wants to engage in the cognitive dissonance that allows you to a) view yourself as a Great Arbiter of Taste, and b) recognize that in the end, you’re just as ruled by the roar of the mob and the temptation of filthy lucre as anyone else.

The higher-minded members of the publishing business keep their distance from the precincts Ruby-Strauss trawls. The president of Simon and Schuster’s title imprint, Jonathan Karp,* maintains a studied ignorance of his colleague’s portfolio: “I haven’t read many of these books. It’s entirely possible I haven’t read any of them,” he says. Random House President Gina Centrello is supposed to have declared that, as long as she’s in charge, no imprint of hers will go near anything written by Max. “I don’t do those sorts of trendy Internet books,” said a vice president at another major publishing house. “We do writers, professional writers.”

Hmmm. Is this the Gatekeeper we so long for? Is this the bulwark against the rise of the Slushpile? What’s going on over there?

Publishing has always depended on having smart people willing to do its down-market work; what’s changed is how those people go about it. Historically, even editors of tasteless books still played a taste-making role, relying on their guts to decide what self-help manual or true-crime thriller would be a hit, not unlike the way their colleagues specializing in debut literary fiction placed their bets. Today, the public has already indicated what interests it, via the Internet, and the editor just has to be savvy enough and shameless enough to give the rabble what it wants.

Okay, so they’re better at identifying what the rabble wants.  They don’t decide – the Internet does. And then they… try to give the public more of it? And take a cut for doing so? What kind of gatekeeper is this? Where’s the filtering mechanism?

If what you have is trash, who needs a king?

And what if the rabble gives itself what it wants – both trash and high-quality books alike? What if the public isn’t dependent on what the publishers pick out of the trash and force upon them? 

“It shouldn’t be about the book but the money you can make from the book,” said Ruby-Strauss’s boss, Jennifer Bergstrom.

What does a vampire drink on a sunny day?

On Digitization, Democracy, and Dignity

Several times now we’ve referred to the dignity of small audiences in arguing for self-publishing as a worthy endeavor, which should be celebrated rather than stigmatized. I’m glad to see the great Jeremy Waldron (incidentally a former professor of mine, and one of my favorites) has come out with a new book on the subject. As Samuel Moyn of The Nation summarizes:

In Dignity, Rank, and Rights, Jeremy Waldron—perhaps the leading legal and political philosopher of our day—argues that the notion of human dignity originated in the democratization of the high social status once reserved for the well-born.

Here we go! Self-publishing is not discussed in Moyn’s long article tracing the origins and development of dignity, but it’s easy to draw the parallel, especially when you connect dignity with democracy. In citing a particularly rousing passage from Moby-Dick, Moyn gets a little tangled up in his arguments and, in my opinion, misses Melville’s point:

Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meagre faces, but man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes…. [T]his august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. [It is] that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!

Moyn finds these references to kings and God as “strange,” since Ishmael has previously mocked the godly dignity of kings and their coronations.

But as someone who has gone on the record taking the side of the slushpile against the smelling-salts crowd, the contradiction does not strike me as strange at all. Publishing books is a great thing. That’s why it should be more widespread.

(Too bad for Melville I read this a few weeks too late. Might have given him a plus two in the Great Novella Tournament of Champions.)

Independent Publishing: What Would Stéphane Mallarmé Do?

Steve Moyer provides a fascinating look at the intersection of technology and publishing in nineteenth-century France. As Moyer observes, Stéphane Mallarmé not only excelled in poetry, essays, and translations, but in reconceptualizing the nature of the book:

He was given to imagining new possibilities for the book, and in the 1870s and 1880s, he worked to define what a book was and, in a utopian world, what it might become. He is known now as one of the innovators, along with Manet, of the livre de peintre, or artist’s book, in which an original text by a poet appeared on a facing page with an original print—often an etching—by a contemporary painter. This may sound fairly tame (especially in an age when books rarely have pictures and “looking at the pictures” is a standard description for reading that is childish), but there was nothing tame about how Mallarmé thought about publishing. He once described the book as “the Orphic explanation of the Earth.”

As we might expect, someone trying to explain the Earth Orphicly would have some opinions about how it should be done, conventional publishing ideas be damned. And here’s where he crashed against technology and the can’t-do spirit of commercial publishers. It was an era when even the great Flaubert needed to fight against publisher control for something as simple as not wanting to have pictures in his books:

From 1820 to 1850 rapid advances in the technology of illustrating books made such work as Paul et Virginie and Grandville’s album possible and increasingly the norm. Publishers continued to exert near total control over the use and selection of illustrations throughout the century. Gustave Flaubert, who had begun publishing during the Romantic era, had to firmly resist publishers’ efforts to illustrate his work.

Enter Mallarmé, whose “bibliophilic fantasies” led to his taking great care in putting out his product:

He involved himself in the minutiae of the publishing process of his own work, choosing the paper and fussing over the typography, which “celebrated the sheer pleasure of reading a beautifully crafted book and the private reveries that such an experience might induce.”

 It’s hard to read passages like this one and not think that Mallarmé might have found some resonance in the ongoing transformation today, as blogs and podcasts and e-books emerge, giving individual authors and artists control over their products that may be at odds with what commercial publishers, voting with their pocketbooks, might be willing to put out:

Manet and Mallarmé collaborated on Le Corbeau (The Raven), by Poe, translated by Mallarmé, and accompanied by Manet’s distinctive etchings. For both Mallarmé and Manet, their collaboration was a way of sidestepping traditional publishers and juries. It was their attempt to reach the public directly. 

While the book was a commercial failure, it served Mallarmé’s ends.

What would he make of today’s publishing scene? His view of the book was largely informed by his reaction to newspapers, and I tend to think he may have continued to find solace in books as a bulwark against the chaos of blogs and the rest of the Internet. Would he have extended this to e-books as well as the printed page? That’s not clear. But I do think part of him at least would have seen the benefits of digitization – not just for writers, but for readers:

Nineteenth-century critics and authors had seen the public in relation to literature as passive admirers, while Mallarmé’s idea was that [as technology advanced], society would become peopled with empowered readers.

Image Credit: Sketch of Stéphane Mallarmé, nineteenth century (pen and ink on paper), Verlaine, Paul (1844–1896) / Private Collection / Archives Charmet / The Bridgeman Art Library (via http://www.neh.gov).

Independent Publishing: What Would Marcel Proust Do?

This is an easy one: we know what Proust would do, because he did it:

Still, for all the brouhaha, many modern readers still find themselves in agreement with the two French publishers who turned down Proust’s manuscript [Swann’s Way] in 1912. A third agreed to publish it, provided that Proust himself cover the expenses.

I agree with Andre Aciman’s assessment:

Proust’s novel is so unusually ambitious, so accomplished, so masterful in cadence and invention that it is impossible to compare it with anyone else’s. He is unabashedly literary and so unapologetic in his encyclopedic range that he remains an exemplar of what literature can be: at once timeless and time bound, universal and elitist, a mix of uncompromising high seriousness with moments of undiminished slapstick. Homer, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Proust—not exactly authors one expects to whiz through or take lightly, but like all works of genius, they are meant to be read out loud and loved.

I also agree with his opinion that Proust had elitist tendencies (but that his artistry overcame them):

As Proust recognized, who we are to the outside world and who we are when we retire into our private space are often two very different individuals. Proust the snob and Proust the artist may share the same address, the same friends, and the same name, even the same habits; but one belongs to society, the other to eternity.

Think about that for a minute. If this snob – and there’s no doubt that Proust was a snob, a world-class one, though I love him dearly – if even this titan of self-regard could overcome his doubts about paying for the publication of his own manuscript, then what are you – you, the lover of democracy, you, the friend of the little guy – waiting for?

Image Credit: http://www.full-stop.net