Re(re)vising Agee

Interesting how the “best of intentions” usually means that the author’s wishes get ignored.
This article discusses how a book has been re-edited, following the authors notes and letters, to reclaim what the author intended. When James Agee died in 1955 he left behind a family that needed help. Enter editor David McDowell:

Friend and editor David McDowell, who was searching for income for Agee’s widow, Mia, and three children, cobbled together and published the book as “A Death in the Family” in 1957 to critical raves and popular appeal. It won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1958, won a second Pulitzer in 1961 for Tad Mosel’s adapted play “All the Way Home” and was turned into at least three major TV productions, including a PBS “Masterpiece Theatre” presentation in 2002.

Here’s where the “best intentions” comes in. McDowell edited the book, taking out chapters and even copy editors had a hand in changing the work, taking out the dialect that some of it had been written in. There is no way, of course, to know what Agee would eventually have done. Hell, if he’d lived to be 1000 he may never have published the thing. But the truth is that when work is published in this way, outside the author’s control, it’s always the authors choices that get ignored.
Ain’t that the way.
I think the really damning part is that if it hadn’t been for McDowell it may not have seen the light of day, so he can’t be blamed for reworking it. He saved some literature, the only way he knew how. He’s to be congratulated. It makes me, as an author, feel that if my wishes are to be ignored, I hope they’re ignored by someone as passionate and talented as McDowell.

eMusic Q&A: Charles Bock – eMusic Spotlight

This interview with debut novelist Charles Bock should make everyone feel abundantly lazy:

Truth is I worked on this novel for 10 years. Not ten years of watching Seinfeld at 11 PM. Ten years of a high priority in my life. When I was dating the woman who is now my wife, I would only go out with her two nights a week because I couldn’t give more time to that. She didn’t like it, but now she’s in grad school and understands things a little more.
Truth is I actually find that rather motivational. If I can only turn away from the idiot box tonight and do some work, I’ll be on my way to doing some work. I can’t worry about tomorrow, or what I did yesterday. Only tonight.


Today, over 300 bloggers, including bestsellers, Emmy winners, movie makers, and publishing houses have come together to talk about THE LIAR’S DIARY by Patry Francis [Click to launch this SmartLink] . Why? To give the book the attention it deserves on its release day while Patry takes the time she needs to heal from cancer… Read more here.

Mass Effect

Maybe I’m naive, but the idea of going on national television, even FOX NEWS, and blasting the content of something I had never seen sounds like one of the most potentially embarrassing things I could do.
I guess Cooper Lawrence would agree with me. Now. She recently got blasted by gamers for her review of the “(s)exploitation in the game Mass Effect.” The problem. She’d never played the game. Or seen it played. And there is no exploitive sex in the game (unfortunately).
Ah, I look forward to the day when something I write gets undeserved criticism from people who’ve never even touched the book. That’s when I’ll know I’ve made it.


king.jpgThis NYTimes article, which reveals an investigation into steroid use by not only athletes but performers like 50 Cent and Timberland, got me thinking. What’s the relationship between writers and “performance enhancement?” A friend of mine, when confronted with the hip-hop-steroids connection laid out in the NYTimes replied with, “Yeah, but so what?”
“Well, they are illegal.”
“Yeah, but so are a lot of things that famous people do. I’m supposed to not like a performer because he juices?”
As I thought about it I realized that an athlete running down a field gains unfair advantage over others if he/she uses steroids, but what if a singer does? What if we find out that a big name Hollywood actor, someone not obviously ripped but in very good shape for their age, turns out to be using steroids? Other than the fact that the steroids are illegal, is there an unfair advantage gained? Is a better posterior helping them in a way that’s unfair to the other beautiful people?
pynchon.jpgAnd what of writers? At what point does something become “unfair performance enhancement?” Stephen King (see above) has written a lot of words for a lot of books. Does he juice? What about Thomas Pynchon (left)? He writes awful heavy books. Maybe too heavy if you catch my drift. How does he lift those manuscripts.
Okay, they don’t juice. I know that. But what amounts to an unfair advantage? Wealth? The ability to not have to work? Typing 100-plus words a minute? I just bought speech-to-text software (no, not the garbage one I wrote about last week). Does my using it to transcribe my work amount to “unfair advantage?” Should we all limit ourselves to a common playing field? Do writers have a playing field? Are we even in competition with one another, or is it more like golf where the real effort is beating yourself?

Fun with speech to text software

I have done some calculations. If I type at my current pace, every night, I should finish transcribing my handwritten novel in just about three months. This is what I get for learning how to write.
One solution to this problem occurred to me: speech to text software. If I can read my work into my computer it might take me far less time. According to one speech to text software developer’s site my time would be cut to 1/3rd: a month! Worth a try? I think so. But before I invest in a program I should try them out. So, below you will find my first test of one of the handful of speech to text candidates. I’ve pasted the programs transcription of my reading, followed by my typed version of the same text. Enjoy.
pitched been no did he wouldn’t let go of the controls Pulido willed
his death with elements that what happened to happen when he let go of
the controls his blond probably cold sweat and his fingers cramped TTL
BLK so tightly in such need but had noticed until the dough P. had
noticed the pain tilts don I didn’t think he would’ve known I’d park
cared which urchin he was head the day was headed east toward this
island and my stepfather who didn’t know yet that he waited the
engines and enter the engineering center
I know Daed. He would have let go of the controls. He let go and
willed his death. Let what happens happen. When he let go of the
controls his palms were probably cool from sweat, and his fingers
cramped. He’d held the yoke so tightly, in such need, but hadn’t
noticed until letting go. He hadn’t noticed the pain until it stopped.
I don’t think he would have known or cared what direction he was
headed in, but he was headed toward this island and my step-father,
who didn’t know yet that he awaited the engineer-inventor.
What do you think? Worth the money, no?

This Post Was Stolen From Another Blog

Another author gets walloped by the plagiarism police. This time, it’s romance writer Cassie Edwards. She got caught as the result of a joke one woman at Smart Bitches/Trashy Books. She gave a non-Romance Novel-reading friend three books, one being an example of the “worst” that the Romance genre has to offer, and upon reading Ms. Edwards’ book this friend started Googling passages and found that many were lifted from other sources. You can go to Smart Bitches/Trashy Books and see many of the examples. Some of the original sources are rather old (one is from 1907), others not so old. (Sidebar: wouldn’t it blow to get caught copying other’s books? Wouldn’t it be worse if the reason you got caught was because someone used you as an example of “the worst of the genre?” Eek.)
And as the AP article (link above) points out, Ms. Edwards and her husband are claiming she did nothing wrong.
Note to authors: if you find yourself having to use words like “take” in reference to your research, then you are doing something wrong.


It may be a bit redundant to write anything past the image above, but I’m going to anyway because I told Jaye Wells that she could openly mock me on her site if I didn’t post today.*
I’ve felt like the gal from the above image lately. Writing has seemed a bit more painful than it ought to and I think it comes from being pulled in a number of ways by different projects. In short, I spread myself too thin and everything suffered as a result. A teacher once told me of his pursuit for both a career in writing and his calling to the priesthood. As he finished a course in theology his professor, a man who knew of both his interests, gave him a gift of a rare text and wished my teacher well on “both his pursuits.” My teacher, touched by both the gift and the fact that this venerable man knew of his dual interests, thanked his professor who said, after a pause, “You know, you can only have one.” My teacher smiled sadly after telling me this. He had, in fact, left the priesthood in order to focus on writing and to have a family. He obviously felt that his life proved his professor’s warning of not seeking two dreams.
While I have not been pursuing two conflicting goals, I feel like I’ve been living a miniature version of my teacher’s dilemma. I have spread myself rather thin, working on many projects at once, and accomplishing very little in any of them as a result. It’s only in the past couple of days that I feel solid ground beneath my feet. The holidays threw me off, as well. I don’t get much work done (ironically) when I have time off from work. The family tends to gather, food is eaten, and the work falls to the side. This, however, is just proof of what I’ve come to realize so strongly: the writing is my responsibility and I have to do it for me or I lose my freaking mind.
I have not been me lately. I’ve been some weird depressed/depressing guy who pretends everything is fine and who isn’t convincing anyone that it’s actually the case. I’ve got to get some words down every day to feel normal, and even bad words are better than none. Blogging doesn’t count, by the way. I’ve decided that a once-a-week (or maybe twice-a-week) habit is good enough when it comes to the blogging. These are moments I need to be transcribing one work or creating something new. I have too many things inside bursting to get out and if they’re going to come out I prefer it to be onto the pages instead of through moping and grumbling to my wife.
What I’ve got going on right now is my brand new, 2008, plan of action: write a new project in the morning on my way to the office; in the evening I will type up my older projects which are languishing in my journal, land of the handwritten text. Thank god for my new laptop. I have one-and-a-half novels to type out, and a couple of short stories, and then I can say bye-bye to my cursive scribbles. And my new mantra: baby-steps. It’s actually an old mantra of mine, but I forgot it for a while and I just rediscovered it. It’s not about the conclusion, it’s about learning to walk, every day, by simply doing today’s work. Baby-steps, one at a time, moving forward. I’ve put away a lot of side-projects and am focusing on two. Two I can handle.
And there are two books that are helpful in this regard. Both are excellent, and both work well together. Sort of a right-brain left-brain set for the blocked writer:
War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Writing from the Inside Out by Dennis Palumbo
Both are simple, direct and motivating. Both require you to do the work, they offer nothing in the way of formula or “secret tips to make your fiction POP!” Both are effective techniques because both say “Shut up and write.” What makes them great companions is their differences. The former is the muscle through and do it tough papa, the latter is the find your feelings on your place in the world mama. I’ll be rereading them both over the next few days.
*Note: Interesting fun fact: I have now logged twice as many posts this month as I did all of last month! That’s right, January: 2, December: 1! Go January!