Adventures in Marketing: Week 82

No sales.
No reviews.
But my college roommate e-mailed he “loved The Schiz.”
Your college roommate, you may say.
But his taste does not run to mashed potatoes. The last novel he recommended to me was by David Mitchell. And I bet he was the only athletic director in America with a collection of first edition Nabokovs in his office.
True, it was a Div III university, but still…

In other news, a friend in Manhattan has offered to copyedit Cheesesteak before its second edition for a less-than-nominal fee. She has professional credits in this field and, as befits a credited copyeditor, is a tad obsessive, as witnessed by its taking about 40 e-mails and two days to get past p. 1.
But now we are cooking, and have reached 12.

Finally, O, the artist who had been impressed enough by my promotional activities in the café to ask me for tips, invited me to the opening of his show. He gave the address and date.
“What time?” I said.
“9:30,” he said.
“Can’t make it. Too late”
“Don’t you go out at night?”
“We go to Bob Dylan concerts.”
He nodded. He could see that.
“Sometimes we go to house concerts at a friend’s, but we leave by 9:00, after the first set.”
“What time do you go to bed?”
“8:00. Get up at 5:00.”
“Even if I offer inducements. There will be cookies.”
I imagined how that would play with Adele. My expression must not have been encouraging.
“I guess it won’t work. But can you be there in spirit?”
“I can be there in spirit. Sure.”
“That is the important thing.”
I had the date. I had the address. If I woke up around 9:30 to urinate, which was not out of the question, I would give my spirit directions.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 81

My writer-friend Z came into the café. He had bought a “Schiz” two weeks ago. “You’re an excellent writer,” he said. “Those caterpillars. I couldn’t have written that.”
I felt honored by the compliment. Z thrives on literary feuds and back-stabbings. He has been none for not talking to people for months over slights others might have countered with a “Glorioski!”
But not so honored to not say, “That’s on page two.”
“I’ve been skipping around,” he said.
“It’s intricately plotted,” I said.
“Sort of. Yeah.”

Awhile later, Y, my former secretary, came in. She bought a “Cheesesteak” and a “Schiz.” She had been a hold-out for months, but I gave her a deal.
I also gave her too much change for her fifty.
When I called her, she said, “Should I bring it back?”
“No,” I said. She was going to Kenya for a month. “It’s a sign from God. Buy me a bracelet. I have a seven-inch wrist.”

With Reservation

My latest piece is available here:

It begins:
“Wild River,” recently available on pay-per-view, centers around the gang rape-murder of a young Native American woman on a Wyoming reservation.
Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, the film begins with one of those take-notice “Inspired by…” or “Based upon actual events” tags and closes with the chilling notice that no “missing person statistics… exist for Native American women.” Much of what is depicted is extraordinary: the wintery, desolate but beautiful rez; the striking presence of some of the supporting actors. But much is familiar: the damaged, loner male avenger (Jeremy Renner, more appealing than had been Benicia del Toro in Sheridan’s “Sicario), and the in-over-her-depth female (Elizabeth Olson, less traumatized than had been Emily Blunt); and the climactic where-is-Sam-Peckinpah-when-you-need-him shoot-out. So I wondered how much exactly was “actual,” its authenticity deflecting what might otherwise seem cliche.

A Meditation

I had been re-reading Julie Hecht’s book about Andy Kaufman, and every morning, after I had finished the “Times,” I would read a chapter, like a meditation, and, with Julie Hecht’s rhythms in my head, look out the window of the café like I was witnessing an Andy Kaufman show.
I even heard a customer behind me say, “Thank you veddy much,”
I wondered if God was Andy Kaufman.
It would explain a lot.
Like maybe Tony Clifton was president.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 80

No sales in the café, again.
But two of my high school classmates, one of whom lives in North Carolina and one in France, let me know they had taken advantage of The Schiz’s wider availability to order copies – and the Tar Heel had his snatched away by a friend as soon as it arrived.
Word has also reached me that only 29 copies remain in my distributor’s warehouse. I am aware this does not mean they will be sold, but I am flabbergasted. Just that morning I had come away from Stephanie Ruhle and her CNBC panel thinking, Boy, did you pick the wrong time to release your book. (Later, I reassured myself, At least you killed off your predators and didn’t elect them to the U.S. Senate.)
And word reached me that Outlaws, Rebels…, (Fantagraphics. 2005) has sold out. This news surprised both me, who had been trying to restock his supply on hand with a half-dozen copies, and my publisher, who had been promising for months to send them. This was, we agreed, good news, but it made him no more eager to publish my new collection. (Forthcoming, from Spruce Hill Press. 2018).
And finally, the NYC friend, who had arranged six months ago for several of my books to be handled on consignment by a neighborhood book store, advised me that they “have their own south wall counter section.”
“Take a picture,” I said.
“You need the store owner’s permission,” she said. She is a stickler for etiquette and formalities. “Describe the purpose of the photo and how it will be used.”
“The purpose of the picture is so I can look at it,” I said. “You think I’m gonna splash it on a billboard?”
“There should be a business arrangement,” she said. “Confirm if the photo should be printed and sent by U.S. mail at the author’s expense, or via a digital file.”
“I can’t even get this guy to pay me,” I said. (See earlier Adventures.)
So if you’re on the Upper East Side with an I-phone…

This Writing Life (con.)

Among my favorite reactions to my writing was the guy who launched a thread at the old Comics Journal message board: “Why Do You Keep Publishing Articles By Bob Levin?”
It meant, I realized, that not only had I written something he hated, but that I had written it so distinctively that he could connect it to something I had written months before which he’d also hated.
Which meant I had a style and approach – an identity – going for me.
Now I’ve had another emphatic line drawn.
“Bob Levin is a great finisher,” wrote a First of the Month responder about my recent “Fox and Foes” (Nov. 12, 2017), a piece in which I had reflected upon a 45-year-old, barely-known memoir by Stanley Robinson, a Chicago police officer:“His pieces always end well…,” that responder wrote. “I’ve learned to trust Levin’s process.”
This one made me smile. It recognized that I can sometimes take a circuitous route to arrive at where I’m going, a route which, in this case, began with my musings about literary style and ended, 3000-words later, linking to contemporary headlines which had been nowhere in my original contemplations. In fact, when I’d learned of Robinson’s book, I’d known I wanted to write something about it, but I did not know what that could be. In fact, when I began writing, I still did not know. It was only when I reached the last line, I thought, AHA!
The point is that it does not take much to firm up one’s resolve to keep doing what one believes is worth doing, as both my recent responder and that forgotten poster firmed up me.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 79

Sold a “Schiz” to a writer-friend. His pattern has been to arrive at the café on a morning of errand-running and announce he is out of cash.

But this time I was waiting. “I take credit cards,” I said and ensnared him with my Square and amazing professionalism.

Meanwhile, Google says, “The Schiz,” through its new distributor, has become available in an additional country (Canada). Still no reviews and I have neither pursued, nor been pursued by, any readings/signings. But I used the occasion to re-email those on among my “Contacts” who had not bought the book when it first became available. This led to reported sales to four fellows from my freshman dorm (giving me a majority among those still living), a guy I’ve known since summer camp ’58, a cousin of Adele’s, the widow of a minister I knew in Chicago, a film-maker who interviewed me for a documentary on Dan O’Neill, and another college buddy who wanted copies for his grandchildren. (“If they’re over 18, you have my blessing,” I said.) Plus a secretary and an attorney from a firm I worked at in the ’70s seem to be leaning in the “Submit Order” direction.

Could they all have been waiting for the price to drop?

Anyway, my Amazon ranking may never be this high again.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 78

No sales.

In other news, Google confirms “The Schiz” is now available from sources other than me. Amazon. Target. Thriftbooks. Powell’s, Fresh Comics, Atomic Books, Angus & Robertson and Booktopia (both in Australia), and a place in Sweden.

Now all I need is a reason for people to buy it, given the always-problematic first chapter (despite its wonderful Shary Flenniken illustration) whose off-puttingness may have only been enhanced by the current climes. (If that hooks anyone’s interest, consider it a sentence swell-done — and your triggers well-warned.) We’ve mailed at several dozen review copies without anyone, as far as Google Alerts has told me, rendering an opinion. So if anybody has five stars to spare, or four even…

I don’t even have any readings scheduled. I’d blame my publisher for not arranging them, but then I realized, Hey, you’re your publisher! Maybe I’ll drop into a couple stores and if they have copies, indicate my availability, but I’m afraid I’ll learn, “Sorry. But we’re booked until Mother’s Day.”

Guess the momentum will have to self-generate.

Fox and Foes

My latest piece has gone up here:

It begins:

Imagine that you are writing a book which opens with your central character, “a powerful, 6’2″, finely dressed man of proud stature and handsome face,” leaping “like a lion” from a bus to save a woman from two knife-wielding thugs. Imagine that, within the next page, you have further described your protagonist as “a musician, and artist… quick in mind and step… (with) and unusual grace of movement… magnetic charm,” and a “creamy” skinned Afro-American, bearing a “noteworthy resemblance” to Clark Gable.
Imagine that your book is a first-person narrative, whose central character is describing himself.
Imagine, further, that your narrative is non-fiction, is, in fact, autobiography. Would it not occur to you, unless you were blinded by pathological narcissism, that this description of yourself might weaken your claim to credibility?
And that this lack of credibility might undermine the purpose of your book, which is to convince others that you are innocent of the murders for which you are serving three life sentences in Alcatraz?

I just finished…

…”The Story of the Lost Child,” the final volume in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. I don’t think you should read it if you haven’t read the others, but Adele, who did one-and-a-portion, is giving it a go. I or Wikipedia can fill her in with what she missed, I guess; then maybe she can fill me in on the full implications of what Ferrante has delivered. Otherwise, I will need a course or multiple re-reads, when I would rather move on to the next book in my stack.

Anyway, “Child” is loaded. Births, murders, natural deaths. Relationships come and go, some of great endurance, some within a single sentence. There is politics and sociology, history and the warring demands of career and family. Years can pass within a paragraph; characters with whom you have been embroiled for three volumes may disappear like a loose thread snipped. So much was happening, for much of the book, I wondered if Ferrante had forgotten the question she posed at the beginning of the first volume — and if the “Child” in the title was actual.

I am nowhere near giving these works justice, so let me quote the “Guardian” reviewer: “I am not sure I have read a more frightening account of a friendship, or a more unsentimental view of the use that human beings have for one another…”