I just finished…

…”Back,” by Henry Green. Green, whose admirers included W.H. Auden, Terry Southern and Eudora Welty, was the first author I heard referred to as “a writer’s writer’s writer.” He wrote nine novels, of which I’ve now read five, though none in more than a decade, when I tripped over this one in Half-Price Books. “Back” concerns a partial amputee, just returned from a German POW camp, seemingly before VE Day, adjusting to a life thrown further off-balance by the death, while he was away, of the married woman by whom he may have fathered a child.

Green writes terrific dialogue, tellingly rendering its halts & stumbles & circumambulations and the “accuracy” these inaccuracies communicate. He penetrates characters deeply and painfully. He captures light with painterly skill. In fact, like an English Lit professor of mine once said of writers he admired, he is at all times a conscious artist, adding each word to a page as a painter applies each pigment. (If you pick this one up, just look at how he uses the word “rose.”)

“Loving” was Green’s most highly regarded — and most successful book — but I recommend all — and any — of them.

I finished…

…”The Burglary,” by Betty Medsger, an account of the 1971 break-in of the FBI office in Media, PA, by a team of anti-war activists, who made away with suitcases full of documents, which they release — before Ellsberg, before Snowden — to members of the press. These documents led to the discovery of the FBI’s secret, decades-long, illegal, nay, felonious — arguably (on occasion) murderous — campaign against those of whom its untouchable, though megalomaniacal — arguably insane — director J. Edgar Hoover disapproved. The burglars were never caught, not for want of effort on the part of the FBI, which went to massive — if frequently inept — efforts to do so. And until Medsger’s book, there identities were never known.

They turned out to be ordinary people — just like you and me — only, in unfathomable ways — better.

I wish Medsger had spent more of her time “fathoming,” but that wasn’t in her game plan. I could have done with more focus on the subject of the book’s title — the burglary — and the burglars and less on the subsequent history of the FBI and government surveillance, which I can just hear some editor or marketing specialist suggesting should be tacked on for “relevance’; but that’s just me and my preferences. It’s a great story about people before whom one stands in awe.

Adventures in Media Baronhood (con.)

It’s officially over between me and Lulu. The “Executives” didn’t call me Monday, as promised, or Tuesday or Wednesday, for that matter, so I called my Publishing and Marketing Consultant. “You were on my list of people to call today,” he said. It was make-the-changes-or-else, he said. “Else,” I said. My refund will be “processed” within 30 business days. We shall then see how much it is. Now if someone knows a site where I can review the quality of Lulu’s services…

Meanwhile, I have been learning about cover choices — gloss and high glass and mattee and fold-overs. I have also familiarized myself with warehousing fees for stock I don’t want to stuff in my garage. That is fun. (I will do “Cheesesteak” myself, once “The Schiz” is done.)

Several cartoonists have asked for more information about the characters who appear in the chapters they are providing and illustration for. That seems fair, so I have provided it.

And with sales of one copy of “The Pirates & Mouse” apiece to (a) the Brigham Young University library (ordered by the English department) and (b) Joe the Banker, my web site has, I believe, moved into the black.

Adventures in Media Baronhood (con.)

It’s been eight days and I’m still waiting to hear from Lulu.
Only now I’m not waiting to hear from a Content Evaluation Specialist. I’m waiting to hear from “Executives.”
“When should I expect their call?” I asked my Customer Service Representative, who had given me the good news.
“Yesterday,” he said. “Any day now. Monday.”
I thought, Usually, with publishers, you hear, “I loved your book, but…” Here, I’d heard, “…but…”
It’s Monday, and soon, in Indiana, Lulu will be breaking for lunch.

But “The Schiz” is cooking.
True, the family-owned printing company did consider the sample chapter I’d sent “not suitable” and withdrew its bid. But that meant we could unleash the advertising campaign Milo had proposed. “Too Hot For Aberdeen, South Dakota!” And one contender had already said it was unconcerned about the content, and one had said the prose would not be a problem, though it was concerned about genitalia in the illustrations. (I was concerned if I should mention this to the cartoonists and have it enflame them.)
But we have filled our last remaining slot and sent out chapter assignments. (Responses have ranged form “Cool!” to “I can work with this.” to silence — and one reply rough sketch!) Milo landed five of the seven cartoonists he asked, plus the cover artist he desired. I went 14 for 19. (We were also shut out by several neither of us had a personal connection to but had taken a flyer on.) A few explained they were too busy; more ignored us; and Robert Crumb sent a lengthy, blistering, hilarious response calling me a “skinflint” when he read what I was offering. Given that, I was touched by those who considered it an “honor” to have been asked to contribute — and most picqued by the refusal of the cartoonist who had previously solicited me to do things to promote him.
Our contributors span seventy years of comic history, and everyone in the know, who’s heard our line-up, is as stoked as we are.

Texas in My Rearview Mirror

My latest piece is up at http://www.tcj.com/texas-in-my-rearview-mirror/ (Faithful readers will recognize it as an expansion of something I wrote here a couple months ago.)

It begins like this:
Jack Jackson, aka “Jaxon, was a first-generation underground cartoonist. (In fact, with “God Nose,” which he self-published in 1964, he may have been the first UG cartoonist.) He was a fifth-generation Texan, born May 15, 1941, in Pandora (est. pop. 125). He died from a self-inflicted gunshot, on June 8, 2006, atop his parents’ grave in Stockdale (est. pop. 1519). He had diabetes, prostate cancer, and a neural disease which had left his hands too shaky to draw.

I just finished…

…”My Brilliant Friend,” by Elena Ferrante. Our friend Marilyn often asks about novels, “Is it a boys’ book or a girls’ book?” I know what she means, though this is not a question that occurs to me. However, when the action shifted from childhood to adolescence, about, say, when the narrator began menstruating, I thought, Hey, this is a girls’ book. That through me off for a while, but then I got back into it, and I thought the most outstanding passage in the book occurred later, when the narrator reflected upon what a friend’s wedding night would be like. (The one quibble that stuck with me all the way through was that I wished Ferrante had done a better job individualizing her minor characters. Right to the end, I was skimming back to remind myself who Antonio and Pasquale and some of the others were.

Still, I will read Volume Two.

Reflections on Media Baronhood (cont.)

Annual Report to Stockholders:

Here is how things stand, project-wise:
1.)Heart: Adele is finishing her final portion of Draft One. I am just short of finishing mine — but am over half thru editing what we have so far. No publisher is in sight.
2.) Collection of Comic-Related Writing: Complete. Query letters rejected by two publishers and ignored by a third. It rests with a one-man publisher of commix, who likes my stuff but has never done anything like my book. I should hear from him in a month or two about a spot in his 2016 line-up.
3.) Cheesesteak. Lulu, coincident with my outraged howl — see a couple blogs ago — has adopted “less strenuous” guidelines for the objectionable and a new “content evaluation specialist will be reaching out to (me) Monday or Tuesday at the latest.”
4.) The Schiz: One of the three top printing companies has provided a bid for our revised (upward) page count. (One seems to still be considering if the sample chapter sent it is too racy; one seems still to be crunching numbers.) We have seventeen of the eighteen cartoonists we need aboard and are beginning to assign chapters for illustration. (This one is going to be way-cool!)
May a rising tide lift all boatd.

I just finished…

…”All the Light You Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr. We had been looking for a used copy for a long time. Finally we scored one — not only used, but a softcover — Canadian — right after it had hit the Just In shelves at Pegasus. “We had wondered who would grab that,” the sales clerk said.

It was very good. From the start, it seemed like something you could enjoy in junior high school and beyond. Like Dickens, maybe. Certainly not Hardy, or anyone after him. “A bit too precious,” Adele said, but still… It had a gripping story line, appealing central characters, a suitable villain. It was beautifully written, was compellingly paced; and you felt pretty sure a happy ending was in store. I wasn’t 100% sure about the sister and father, but otherwise… “The Princess Bride,” both Adele and I, independenty, compared it to.


So much so that when one of the principals met fate, I instinctively expected a reversal, like with Wesley. The darkness that followed, I suppose, raised my estimate of the book it some ways. But it lowered my mood in others. I am not positive the trade-off was worth it.

Adventures in Media Baronhood (con.)

“Are these people lawyers?” I asked my personal customer service representative at Lulu about his company’s content evaluators who declared my book defamatory and an invader of privacy.

I did not get a “Yes” or “No.” I got a “They follow protocols designed by attorneys.”

I said I wanted my money back. He said I was entitled to a partial refund but that perhaps there was another solution. He suggested I call my book a novel.

“It’s not a novel,” I said. “it’s a memoir. Besides, if it’s defamatory, calling it a novel won’t solve your problem.” Then I told him about Gwen Davis and “Touching.” Davis was sued for writing a novel by a psychologist who claimed she had based her central character on him. He collected $75,000 — and then Doubleday, Davis’s publisher, sued her to recover that, plus attorney fees and interest.

“What about “Roots”?” he said.

Well, there, Alex Haley was sued for plagiarism, not defamation or invasion of privacy, and he was also attacked for saying things were true which, in fact, weren’t.

He promised a Content Evaluation Specialist would get back to me within 24 hours.

That was two days ago.

In other news, my New York Times has not been delivered four of the last ten mornings.

Civilization is collapsing.

Oh, Happy New Year.

Adventures in Media Baronhood (con.)

So I decided to go with Lulu for “Cheesesteak: The West Philadelphia Years,” a collection of reminiscences that took me from childhood through law school. Once I had formatted it to fit Lulu’s specifications, my m.s. was routed to its “content evaluation department.” “Issues,” I learned, had to be “resolved” before my book could “move forward.”

The first issue was that they had “found text that is copyrighted by someone else.” They “found” this because I had acknowledged that most of my collection had been published previously. My understanding was that these publications left me my copyright and only needed acknowledged t be republished by me. How Lulu determined otherwise was not explained, but no matter. Go along to get along, I figured.

The content evaluators offered me seven remedies. Three applied to work created before January 1, 1923. Since, as my text made clear, I was not born until 1942, these seemed of unlikely relevance. (They also made me curious about the attention and thought my m.s. had received.) One applied to texts of over 5000 words, which none of my pieces were. One applied to texts of under 5000 words, which all of my previously published ones were. I could satisfy the content evaluators by (a) removing these pieces, which would leave me a 20 page book, or (b) reducing them by 90%, which would give me 30. Or I could get permission to publish them from the previous publishers. This would be a pain in the ass, but doable.

Issue two was my text that libeled and/or invaded the privacy of others. How I had managed this puzzled me since, as I had disclosed, I had, at least, changed everyone’s name, if not other identifying factors.) The evaluators provided three examples, leaving open the possibility there were more. One was a reference to “Chuckie Tusk,” an ex-cop, in whose restaurant and on whose liquor license two of my Penn Law social circle ran a bar. How I had libeled or embarrassed “Mr. Tusk” by this reference mystified me. One was a reference to a “Laurel Plotkin,” who had been identified as my college’s “nymphomaniac.” No other description of “Ms. Plotkin” was provided, and since Brandeis had about 800 female undergraduates in 1964, and the youngest of whom would not be 70, I could not examine how it could be feared that one of these grandmothers would now come forward and declare she recognized herself in my description. (It was like, I thought, I had written “A girl at Brandeis was a nymphomaniac” or “…never brushed her teeth” or “…killed her mother and slept with her father.”)

The third example was more problematic. I had written of my freshman English Comp instructor, a wrist-tattooed Holocaust survivor, who, while married to one department head, was rumored to be having an affair with a junior member of another. I had portrayed her in all other ways heroically, and she would be about 80 now and had not sued when the piece had previously run; but I, gallantly, offered to remove the tattoo — and make her an ex-junkie if that would make Lulu feel better.

It wouldn’t. In fact, its corrective “MUST”s included the following. I could not use my real name anywhere in the book or on its cover. I could not use the real name of any business or educational establishment I mentioned. I had to change the locale where the action occurred. In other words, I would be writing a memoir, “Cheesesteak: The West Philadelphia Years,” in which I did not appear, nor did any place where I actually spent time; and all the activities described took place in, I don’t know, Bismark, North Dakota.