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…”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 77

No sales.
But encounters with the public continue.
1.) “Bob!” excitedly exclaims my former accountant. But our reunion ends with her “Maybe some other time” and me wondering how many thousands of dollars I had paid her without one workable off-shore tax shelter resulting.
2.) S, a graduate student in polymer chemistry (“Metal organic framework,” he explained, as if that would help) wanted to know if my books were Kindle-ready (“Nope.”) and asked for my card.
3.) I, a young fellow in a grey crewneck sweater, asked, “Can I take a look?”
“Be my guest. You a writer?”
“No. But I like to read.”
He picks up “Cheesesteak.” It turns out that, when he was at Syracuse, he would visit his brother at Penn and they would eat them. I did not suggest he chop mine up, dice some onion, and toss it on the griddle.
4.) And finally A, a woman with wild, mid-back length, white hair, sits across from me, slides over a “Schiz” and leafs through it while enjoying her pastry and coffee.
“You think I’m a fucking library?” I do not say.
It turns out she worked for Richard North Patterson. We discuss the literary matters and the business thereof. “It looks like something I’ve never seen before,” she says as she puts my book down.
I take that as a compliment.
[Bob’s books are available from this very web site.]

Adventures in Marketing: Week 76

Sold four “Cheesesteak”s.
[NOTE: Only about a dozen remain. While a second printing is imminent, if you want Mint Condition, semi-priceless, signed first edition… ACT NOW.]
They went to the formerly-of-Overbrook-Park, now Sacramento-residing civil rights attorney (See: “Adventure of a couple weeks ago), who intends them as gifts for family members, and represents my largest bulk-sale since I was happened upon by that bi-polar woman who was having a manic episode. (See: “Adventure” of a couple weeks before that.)
In other news…

“You’re (Name of Noted Berkeley Author)?” I inquired of the fellow on the adjoining health club treadmill.
“I am,” he said.
“I’m Bob Levin,” I said. He registered the anticipated not-a-farthing’s-glimmer-of-recognition-or-interest, but I was sporting my “Poets & Writers” t-shirt, so… “Do you do book blurbs?”
“I don’t. I used to, but I got so many requests, I didn’t have time to read the books.”
“Ahh. Understood.”
The vigor of my workout failed equally to raise any curiosity about me or my work. Neither did the man-of-the-people quality I demonstrated in my banter within his earshot with the Laotian locker room attendant.
Not to mention my adroitly locking myself out of my locker requiring assistance from the same Laotian.

I just read…

…Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (second time), the novel (as you well know) upon which “Blade Runner” was based, a film which (faithful FB readers will know) I only recently saw. The Comments that followed were the reason for my re-reading.

It seems the movie’s entire visual tone, the darkness, the teeming streets, the multitude of Asians, was Ridley Scott’s. (Kudus to him there.) His other major contribution was to strip away the contents to, basically, Hunt and Slaughter. He eliminated (or drastically reduced) the nuclear holocaust backstory, Deckard’s wife Iran, the characters Rench and Garland (and the cool potential parallel universe story), the entire deal with animals (super-cool), the sex with Rachel (and the kinkiness thereof), kipple (also cool), Hannibal Sloat, Buster Friendly, and Mercerism which, I would bet, Dick would have considered the central part of the whole shebang (even if I would have needed one of the smarter kids in the class to explain it to me.)

He also curiously changed some names. J.R. Isidore became J.F. Sebastian (oh yeah, the toys were new) and Rosen Industries and Rachel Rosen became Tyrell Industries and Rachel Tyrell. Wazzup with that? Too Jewish?

Adventures in Marketing: Week 75 (The Peacock’s Feathers)

Gave away one “Cheesesteak.”
“Are you Bob Levin?”
The young woman had black hair, wore black, was attractive and almond complected. Indian? I though. But her accent was not that and she pronounced my name with a familiarity that exceeded the degree of its likely recognition in Delhi or Bombay.
This familiarity, it turned out, was because my surname was hers – and her accent was French, in fact Parisian. She was part of a 14-person troupe performing a play by Camus at Zellerbach this weekend as part of a cross-country tour.
We discussed pronunciations. (There are no LE-vins in France, I learned, just LEV-ins.)
She learned I had been to France (“Once. Before you were born) and I that she had been to the states (“Once. With my parents.”) The troupe had visited Sausalito and San Francisco, at whose homelessness and drugs she shook her head and touched her heart. (“We have drugs, but mostly the a-sheesh, not…”) Their next stop was Telegraph Avenue, for which I did not offer much hope. (“Good used book store,” I said.) At this point the Rwandan panhandler who made my cafes part of his morning rounds arrived. When I introduced them, they conversed in French. (“Un bon American,” he called me. “A good American,” she translated, though my three years with Madam Malecot could have handled that.)
“You know Camus?” she asked me.
“Of course.”
“‘La Pestilance?”’
“‘The Plague?’ Yes.”
“You should come to our show.”
“Can you get us in for free?”
She had not expected that question. “I’ll try.”
So I gave her my book for the promise.
Isn’t that what this writing thing is all about?