The End of Excuses

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but for 2012 as a whole it is. E-books have been emerging for a while, and what with the publishing industry meltdown, self-publishing is the place to be for serious writers frustrated by the only creativity the major pub biz seems capable of – – ever new reasons for turning down good writing that readers are begging for.

 

on-dublin-street-200x300Writers, you’re in charge of the process now – – take it seriously. We want to read you!

Happy New Year to all you readers and writers out there!

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Cinema’s New Artistic Statements

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Strange to have a movie season replete with flicks the missus and I consider”must-sees.” One we saw the day after Christmas was, for me, a long awaited one: Les Misérables. The story is famous enough that I needn’t depict the plot. Suffice it to say that for the most part the movie clung closely to the book. There were a number of subplots barely touched on, of course, but in essence Victor Hugo’s story was there.

So a few comments on the cinematic aspects of this version of the book:

I hadn’t expected it to be completely sung, but it was. And I hadn’t expected to like that once I realized hardly a word was spoken without music. But I loved it. However, some will hate it. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s songs were less than musically imaginative, repeating one of three motifs I noted over and over. All actors were required to sing – not in the studio, but live. Some carried this off well, some not. Hugh Jackman’s (Jean Valjean) singing was spotty, Russell Crowe’s (Javert) was, well, bad. However, Anne Hathaway (Fantine) melded a surprising ability to sing with some deeply touching acting, as did Samantha Barks (Eponine). I could go on, but you get the idea here. The place in which the singing rose to epic proportions was at the end, as director Tom Hooper allowed Fantine and Valjean to dream of a completed French (and human) Revolution, on the Parisian ramparts. But clearly the songs weren’t to exercise musical muscles as much as to depict Hugo’s story, and I found this imaginative and inventive. I have to think Hugo would have approved.

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The settings seemed unreal, portraying Paris and other places in an almost cartoonish manner, but in an odd way, it worked. Perhaps because Hooper was presenting the story as an opera of sorts, and in that context the sets worked.

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And Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thénardiers were to me the acting hits of the movie.

All this makes me think about the state of high-end movie making these days. This movie and this season’s version of Anna Karenina were done stylistically, attempting to present their stories in a stage format – a very    high-end risk, that. Perhaps Hollywood, which is having to compete with cable’s rising quality made-for-TV movies, has decided to cast its lot with adventurous, risky artistic statements. In both cases, I think the risks worked. We’ll find out in a few weeks whether those risks bore fruit with the public and the critics.

Inspiring and Educating In A New Literary World

Poets & Writers, Jan/Feb 2013

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It’s a bitch trying to advise writers these days, and P&W knows it. Ten years ago it was only necessary to offer tips on good writing and something here and there to clue aspiring or emerging writers in on support systems, such as conferences, workshops, markets, and the like. But with MFA programs spawning writers like cockroaches and a publishing industry that doesn’t know its ass from, well, some alternative aperture, where does a good writer’s magazine turn?

In one sense, P&W soldiers on with writerly advice, as in this issue, on highly effective writing habits (somewhat useful, I should think, to the undisciplined among us), and the physiology/psychology of writer’s block and putting emotion into description (the former probably not all that relevant to working writers, more so to academics).

Where P&W’s rubber is meeting reality’s road is in attempting to parse the realities of today’s publishing world, and here I’ll name names. An excellent article by Ron Tanner, The DIY Author Tour, tells how Tanner orchestrated a forty-state, sixty-city book tour on his own. As a writer anticipating something similar, this article was most welcome and revealing.

Another, similar article, is more for poets, Reality check – A Simple Self-Publishing Plan, by Reagan Upshaw. Upshaw nudges poets toward eschewing litmags and contests in order to self-publish their own work. Here, says Upshaw, publishing chapbooks can be done for the cost of a couple of contests or magazine subscriptions. What Upshaw doesn’t tell poets is how to market these publications – always a problem for all but a few well-known poets.

 

 

 

A Monthly Liberal Arts Education

 

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Harper’s Monthly, January, 2013

 

My modus operandi when it comes to blogging about magazines is slowly morphing, and this post will evince possibly another evolutionary step. I don’t know whether I’ll return to posting about specific articles and stories, but this issue yearns for a few pithy words of summary.

I normally try to divine connections between pieces in an issue, but this time I’m reaching a bit deeper – probably at my peril – and searching for Harper’s Monthly’s bedrock ethos. And I think this issue is a good one to use in that way. Particularly since this monthly magazine week contains both the December 2012 and the January 2013 issues,

That the magazine is overtly political – left of center – is without question, and that’s one reason I subscribe. As much as the term “liberal media” is thrown out as a epithet (a pervasive cancer, some call it), there is a diminishing number of publications from that perspective. The editors exhort readers, politicians, and possibly think tanks, to consider that perspective, and that’s worth doing because – again – we get little of it.

But beyond that, Harper’s is a regularly recurring intellectual exercise, and that’s not just limited to political pieces that sometimes turn into screeds. In fact, we get something of a liberal arts education from the magazine. Or to put it simply, we’re challenged to think critically.

In this issue, we read an explanation of why people of all educational bases fear vaccines. We read a well thought out perspective on how and why sexual abuse must be confronted. We get art in its many forms, and articles on modern American cultural phenomena, from books to sports.

This is why I cling to the magazine. It’s as uncompromising in informing us as it is in providing entertaining possibilities.

 

The New World Comin’ Atcha

 

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The Atlantic, December 2012

Much talk transpired in the just-over election here in the U.S. about jobs, and James Fallows and Charles Fishman take up the post-election slack in this issue. Manufacturing jobs are returning to the U.S. for a handful of reasons, say these two. One being that the haul distance between raw materials and manufacturing plants has gotten long – and expensive. Too, there’s a lot lost in such outsourcing: inventiveness and efficiency. Jobs were originally outsourced largely for a single reason: lower pay for workers located elsewhere. But having the whole ball of wax near enough to home base more than makes up for the ensuing complications. And just to prove the point, I notice that Apple is moving some manufacturing back to the U.S.

Poor Jeffrey Goldberg. He can’t buy respect without taking on some Archie Bunker-like political positions. In this case that we’d be safer if everyone had more (and supposedly, even more) guns.

Another bit of election year fallout is the renewed social and political clout of women. Alexis Madrigal thinks women are at the technological forefront, that they use and adapt to technology quicker than men. And Ann Patchett, who some might see as a throwback after reading her article, The Bookstore Strikes Back, chronicles her attempts to bring indie bookstores back to her Nashville hometown.

It’s great that The Atlantic has begun to print regular fiction again, and it’s interesting that the editors seem to be favoring genre writers such as Walter Mosley, who has a story, Reply To A Dead Man, in this issue. I’ve been rather disappointed in this tack, since I’ve been expecting quality, readable literary fiction, but I certainly can’t quibble with giving U.S.-based writers their shot at such a magazine, even if they are genre writers. Mosley’s story seems a bit predictable, but it’s also a heart-warmer, and I guess that’s a good thing in this year-ending issue.

Altogether a stalwart, if not exceptional issue. But The Atlantic does seem to be learning some of the lessons I’ve been saying they should from Harper’s Monthly.

 

 

Oddities

Perhaps Christmas week is the wrong time to blog magazines, but I am left-handed, after all, and tend to pay scant attention to convention. I will, of course, sandwich these around my usual Pogo Christmas greetings.

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Harper’s Magazine, December 2012

I suppose a year-end issue of a magazine like Harper’s will draw on the finest of the odd pieces from the year, and I suppose that’s what’s happened here. Or could it be the effect of the Mayan calendar’s end? hmmm. Among the most significant pieces:

Alan Lightman’s  article, “Our Place in the Universe,” in which he doles out little known and probably misunderstood factoids science had found out about the structure and nature of our universe, most of which would seem tantamount to the infinite when explained successfully to us of less exalted scientific minds. Oddly, Lightman seems to feel more in touch with the infinite on Earth’s open seas.

Another odd piece is one written by  one Hilton Als, “I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love.” about the musician Prince and how some black men are apparently attracted to the dapper guy, supposedly because he’s “pretty.” Nuff said ‘cause I don’t get it.

A book review by Wes Enzinna, “Man Underwater – The Democratic Fiction of Richard Brautigan,” gives a rather long journey through the novelist/poet’s life, his struggle to have his odd-for-the-times work accepted, his intermittent championing of the lesser writers, and, finally, his solitary death. Brautigan was a countercultural icon of the ‘sixties, but he was apparently more conventional than most of his readers thought at the time.

And finally, there’s Russell Banks’ short story, “Christmas Party,” about a divorced husband and wife who show up at the same gathering during the Christmas season. It’s a rather plain story; like many popular novelists, his short stuff doesn’t work as well as the longer fiction. As my mentor Doris Betts once said, “Some people are born novelists, others are born short story writers.” Still, it must be tempting to taste all the literary waters once you’ve found a measure of success in one.