Creating Dangerously

My article, “Creating Dangerously,” about the fine artist/UG cartoonist Guy Colwell is in the latest issue (#2) of FULL BLEED magazine. It begins:

On Thursday, May 20, 2004, readers of the San Francisco Examiner learned that, two days earlier, Lori Capobianco Haigh, the owner of a one-room art gallery in North Beach, a neighborhood that even within that proudly liberal city had long been known for its tolerance of dissent, had found the entrance littered with broken glass, smashed eggs, and the contents of several trash cans. This defacement had apparently been in response to the gallery’s display of a thirty-nine-by-thirty-inch acrylic-on-canvas painting entitled “The Abuse.”
Haigh, was thirty-nine. She was a twice-divorced mother of two children, aged fourteen and four. She had opened her Capobianco Gallery, on Powell, near Columbus, across from a Catholic elementary school, a year-and-a-half before. Since May 1, she had been showing the work of Guy Colwell, a fifty-nine-year-old, white bearded, round-faced Berkeley resident, whom the media would characterize as an “established artist… (of) realistic and quasi-abstract oils, known for their keen social observation and technical proficiency.” (He had also, it would point out, served seventeen months in federal prison for draft resistance during the Vietnam War and authored Inner City Romance (1972 – 78), a five-issue underground comic about drugs, revolution, prison and the ghetto.)
The story of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison had broken on April 29. On May 16, Colwell had placed his newly completed work in the Capobianco’s front window. It depicted three frontally nude males standing on over-turned buckets, their faces covered by hoods and electricity-conducting wires running to their fingers and toes. Two soldiers stand in the foreground, gloating. One holds an electrically charged baton. In the doorway, another soldier leads a blindfolded and handcuffed woman into the room. The painting is entirely grey and black and white, except for the red American flag patches on the upper arm of the two dominant soldiers and drops of blood on one of the soldiers and running down the chest of one of the nude men.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 112

Adventures in Marketing: Week 112
Sold one “Cheesesteak” – and nearly sold a second.
The buyer was an older fellow, who had given up on stand-up comedy to become an MFCC. We had a “Hi!-How-are-you?” relationship, built from my friendship with his ex-wife. He came into the café, looking for someone else, and saw by books and sign. He offered a not-unfamiliar response, which, in his case, was nine other books waiting to be read, plus 16 “New Yorkers” and 60 NYT magazines. But curiosity got the better of him. “Support the arts,” he said, a sentiment with which I heartily agreed.
The “almost” was the fellow whose father went to West Catholic. (He was surprised I remembered, but I told him I took notes of all encounters as part of this very project.) We had a nice chat about steaks, hoagies and language specific to particular places. (He told me there is a web site where, if you answer its questions, can, like Henry Higgins, practically nail you to your block of origin.) Again, he had no money with him. “Getcha next time,” he said.
(In a less sanguine moment, a plump, smiley, white-haired woman, seated at the next table, took me and my wares in with a glance and said, “Cute.”)

In other news, “Weighty Tomes” received such a glowing response from a musician/writer reader at “First of the Month” that its editor assumed we had to be good friends. “Nope,” I said. “Just a fellow of fine taste.”
And Adele and I have connected with a potential publicist for “Heart.” She is perusing it this weekend to make certain its style and substance are matters she can work with. I told her for “Oprah,” we would be willing to leave Berkeley. She told me, “These days, Oprah is someone you have to pay.”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 111

Sold one “Best Ride.”
The buyer, a manager of IT projects at UC, in lavender button-down shirt and dress slacks, while curious, was initially disinclined to purchase. But my charm (and the price) won him over.

In other news, “Heart” is moving forward toward publication. Formatted, while still being tweaked, it runs 192 pp. The catalog copy has been submitted. The price is within sight. A cover comes next, though a promotional blurb I thought I had lined up from a prominent cardiologist in return for a (purely voluntary) contribution to his foundation fell through after his hospital frowned at our arrangement. Now to decide about hiring a proofreader and/or publicist.
Milo says, “An author who is his own proofreader has a foll for a client.” On the other hand, don’t the blemishes, the errors, and the bone-headed stupidities more accurately reflect actual artistic vision?
As for a publicist… Some can cost more than I have earned in royalties from all my books combined. Thinking like this, these publicists’ web sites say, represents penny-wise thinking. Authors should not think in terms of one book but of an entire career. But I am 75 with a bum ticker. I don’t have a career. I have a bunch of quirky books. All I want for this one are some reviews, so people will read it. And I’ll do interviews, if I don’t have to leave Berkeley, except by BART.

Weighty Tomes i-iii

My latest piece, a trypitch of book reviews is available at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/weighty-tomes-bob-levin-reviews-monography-blood-on-the-water-the-dying-grass/

I’ve already blogged the first two, but the third begins…

General Oliver Otis Howard (1830 – 1909) was a devout Christian and ardent foe of slavery. After the Civil War, in which his service to the Union cost him an arm at the Battle of Seven Pines, he headed the Freedmen’s Bureau and founded and was the first president of Howard University.
But throughout the summer and fall of 1887, Howard led 1500-2000 well-supplied, heavily armed troops 1100 miles, across what-is-now Oregon into what-is-now Montana, in pursuit of 250 less well-equipped Nez Perce warriors, half of whom his soldiers killed, and 500 women and children, many of whom they also slew, in order to heard them onto a reservation designed to extinguish their way of life and culture.
Howard also warred, with the same end in mind, against the Apache, Bannock, Modoc, Paiute, and Seminole peoples, and, reading William T. Vollman’s knock-out novel “The Dying Grass” (Viking. 2015), I wondered when Native Americans would demand his university remove his name.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 110

No café sales.
But the construction worker who’s bought a “Cheesesteak” stopped by my table to say he was enjoying it, and the woman from the bicycle shop to whom I give the Datebook section of the paper, when I haven’t given it to the octogenarian aerobics instructor said, “Are those your books? I’ll have to pick one up sometime.”

In other news, I finally learned how the distributor did with “The Schiz.” The rumored 900 “pre-sales” seem to have turned into 548 actual orders, of which 280 (so far) have been returned. That looks like 268 copies sold, which seems pretty grim; but when you figure this was a book whose own back cover boldly declared it “much rejected” and “much reviled” and which had no advertising, no publicist, no reviews, and an author whose own former publisher had declared him someone “no one has never heard of,” it is somewhat astonishing it sold any copies at all. Then when you add the 80 or so books I sold myself, with no one else taking a cut, I am left less than a grand in the hole, which I can lose a hellova lot more than from my IRA in the blink of a tweet from the c**ksucker-in-chief, it’s pretty much “Pick yourself up; brush yourself off; and start all over again.” Besides, as my friend Robert the Glass Artist says, “That’s not the point, is it?”
Of course, it’s not. I know that. Yet the availability and convenience of numerical measures – sales, gross – even amidst others of more spiritual gradient, enables them to persistently weigh upon me.
Time to step up the meditation.

Gratitude

I recently received information from my distributor about sales of THE SCHIZ. Included was a list of stores which ordered it. This information was confusing since some of the buyers seemed themselves to be distributors (Ingram, Diamond) and some (Baker & Taylor, Bookazine) I didn’t know what they were. But some were clearly independent stores and I wanted to thank them for taking a chance on my book. If you live near any of these stores, I hope you patronize them. Those in the Bay Area are Books, Inc., City Lights, Dark Carnival, Green Apple, and Moe’s. Elsewhere, A Room of Ones Own (Madison), Atomic Books (Baltimore), Book Cellar and Quimby’s (Chicago), Changing Hands (Phoenix), Common Good (Saint Paul), Escape Pod (Huntington, NY), Forbidden Planet and Kinokuniya (NYC), Moon Palace (Minneapolis), Politics & Prose (D.C.), Tattered Cover (Denver), and Yankee Book Peddlar (Contocock, NH).

Adventures in Marketing: Week 109

No further word from the friend’s friend with Alzheimer’s.
More surprisingly, no word from the son of the West Catholic father. He even was at the café once without acknowledging me or my books.
And no responses to inquiries about (1) a promised cover blurb for “Heart”; (2) the fate of a submitted article about Andy Kaufman and his biographers; (3) the sales figures for and royalties on “The Schiz.”
On the other hand, a reference to “Cheesesteak” in an e-mail led a woman I met in elementary school to say it “should be required reading for all 50s, 60s alums. You wrote the memory lane experiences beautifully with your personal enduring style of musical prose.” (She writes pretty good herself, don’t you think?) I sent her words to all my (surviving) high school classmates but did not check Amazon to see if sales had spiked.
One afternoon, when the noise from the World Cup on the café’s wall screen café was too distracting (Mexico was playing), I moved my books and sign and self outside. The only person who stoppedf was a poet of my acquaintance. “Selling anything?” he said.
“It’s all performance art,” I said.
I told him I had bought his latest collection.
He told me if he had money, he would buy a book of mine.
Watch the parade, I thought. See your thoughts.
I am both performer and audience.

I Just Read…

…”The Elementary Particles,” a novel by Michel Houllebecq. It had been recommended by a woman who had come to my high school in 1959 as an exchange student from Germany and who now lives in France. I can not recall ever speaking with her in high school, but over the last couple years, we have become e-mail correspondents. I don’t know how this correspondence began, but she has an inquiring, intelligent, agreeable intelligence about life in Europe and the deplorability of present day America.
I had read enough about Houllebecq to know he was controversial. I knew, for instance, some found his views on Islam “deplorable” too. My friend warned that, while she was “no prude,” she found his sexual scenes discomfiting. I thought, Well, they won’t bother me.
“Particles” is a third-person narrative about two half-brothers. Michel, a molecular biologist, is most comfortable when alone. Bruno, a high school teacher, is most comfortable when connected erotically to someone – or some two – or some three. As their lives and the lives of those around them play out, they tend to end badly: fire, dementia, stroke, bowel cancer, paralysis.
As Houllebecq expresses the views of Michel and Bruno – and, whether called for or not – those of his narrator, readers learn about matters ranging from genetics to the emergence of consciousness, the role of Krause’s corpuscles in orgasm to that of flies in the decomposition of corpses. Houllebecq’s approach allows him to express opinions on nature (“a repulsive cesspool”), the universe (“a battle zone, teeming and bestial”), masculinity (usually capable of being “assuaged… playing tennis” but occasionally requiring “revolution or war”), toddlers (“whose sense of self manifests itself in displays of megalomaniacal histrionics”), Islam (“the most stupid, false and obfuscating of all religiuons”), humanity (“a vile, unhappy race, barely different from the ape”), and life (“(It) always breaks your heart…. In the end there’s just the cold, the silence, and the loneliness. In the end there’s only death.”). (His portrait of Michel’s and Bruno’s mother so infuriated his own, she wrote a 400-page memoir justifying herself and called him “a sorry little prick.”) When asked by an interviewer how he had the nerve to write as he did, Houllebecq replied, “I pretend that I’m already dead.”
If you don’t find any of this amusing – or liberating in its outrageousness – Houllebecq may not be for you. Me, I’ve already bought his next book.

Marcella 2

Finished Season 2 of “Marcella.”
SPOILER ALERT WARNING!
Boy, does it go dark and twisted.
Brit TV does not deliver much sex and nudity, but when it comes to violence and snuffing secondary characters you care about…
Again, (See: Levin “Marcella” supra), there are enough plot holes to drive the Peterbilt that pursued Dennis Weaver through. With all the corpses littering the what-turn-out-to-be branch roads off the central plot line, I recall at least two murderers who seem to have gone unapprehended. There’s the rock guy. And if anybody can tell me who killed Nigel’s girl friend, I’d appreciate it. (She seems to have been the victim of a plot line the serial killer turned out to have nothing to do with, no?) Finally, while it seems the SK did off the truck driver, I’d like some clarification of how this was accomplished.
Shouldn’t script writers have an obligation to dot all “I”s and cross all “T”s? Or is it enough to keep an audience’s nerves jangled and knuckles chewed? Adele, who watched every episode alongside me, said none of this occurred to her or would have bothered her if it had. (She finds it a reflection of how I approach my own writing.) She is more apt to let things just happen, and, when watching shows – or reading books – she immerses herself in the central character’s psychology, emotions and situation. Here, she found herself pondering the implications of a deeply troubled detective wanting to save the world confronting a deeply disturbed killer wanting to do the same, each of them, in their climactic face-off traumatizing a child so that their entire future is in question.
Anyway, we are set up for quite a Season 3. (Not yet picked-up.)

Adventures in Marketing: Week 108

The check arrived for “Best Ride.”
(So did a check for my next article in “Full Bleed.”)
A friend says a friend of hers wants a “Cheesesteak.” (“$10,” I said.) The friend’s friend also wants a “Heart.” But she has early stage Alzheimer’s, and by the time “Heart” is available, she may have forgotten. (She may have forgotten who Adele and I are.)
So would it be bad form to ask for payment now?