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I Can See All Obstacles in My Way

Finished the fucker last week. Hold your applause. But, yes, thank you. Any toe over any finishing line is worth celebrating. I had a plate of spaghetti.Image result for spaghetti in red sauce

What do you do to celebrate finishing a book?

You Are My Love and My Life You are My Inspiration

 I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe in compulsion. Anything I’ve ever written, including when I wrote poetry, came from self-loathing. I never saw any light, angels, symmetry, never heard a muse, never lit a candle, saw Jesus in the tapestry or golden scroll unfurl with a string of notes only God could hear. I wrote out of pain, loneliness, confusion and desperation. I needed to keep diaries. I never said, “I really should write every day.” I wrote every day and it was a cross between a school girl’s cry and a banshee’s screech. I was compelled to write as surely as a leech needs to suck blood from a dying man. I was compelled to write because I was depressed and it was how, bucket by bucket, I pulled myself out, if only for the time I was actually writing. No halo effect. No resonance. No satisfaction. No after glow. In this way writing, for me, is like a contact sport, a staring contest, a long and exquisitely held grudge, a splinter. That’s what writing is like for me.

And for you, Boo boo?

God Save Your Mad Parade

“Life is a racket. Writing is a racket. Sincerity is a racket. Everything’s a racket,” as spoken by none other than the late, great Nick Tosches (1949-2019). I have to admit, this quote comes about as close to my life philosophy as anything I’ve ever seen. Insincerity is also a racket. Love is a racket. Friendliness is a racket. Hopes and dreams: big racket. Being nice, gossip, NYC, racket, racket, racket. Nature is not a racket. Good self-esteem may seem like a racket, but it isn’t. Your book advance, your number of followers, the idea of following is a racket. Publishing is a racket. Believing that you can make a difference is not a racket, though it often gets dressed up as a racket. Rachel Maddow, Starbucks, Netflix, New Yorker, the guy on the home page of Chase on-line.

What’s your racket?

 

You Take a Piece of Me With You

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What exactly does it mean to be in love with the sound of your own voice and why is that a bad thing, apart from the fact that it’s bad a thing. How does it manifest? Cleverness, for sure. Overwriting. Showing off. Maybe ascending to the second highest rung of the ladder is more canny or effective than going all the way to the top. False humility is also a form of it. Skipping down the keyboard like Lolita. It’s one of those things: I know it when I see it.

Are you in love with your own voice?

Hey There You With the Stars in Your Eyes

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I’m thinking about subtitles and jackets and promotional copy and blurbs. I’m thinking about how hard we try to get it right, get the book “positioned” in the marketplace. I like to stalk people in bookstores and observe what books they pick up, linger over, leave or buy. Do they read the blurbs on the back cover? Read the first line or paragraph. A book is like a guy at a bar. Sure, I might like how he looks but do I want to take him home? What makes a person whip our their Visa? Even after 32 years in the book business, I feel I am a student of book packaging. I once worked for someone who always said we were “overthinking” things when we went around in circles trying to come up with the best title and subtitle. He was also fond of saying that life was too short when it was taking too long to agree on a jacket image. So what? Settle? I guess the way I feel is this: when I stop giving a shit about all this stuff it’s time turn in my blue pencil. 

 

When do you turn in your pencil?

 

 

When your day is long And the night, the night is yours alone When you’re sure you’ve had enough Of this life, well hang on

Here is my eulogy from last night’s memorial for my friend George Hodgman. His life was filled with literary highs: bestseller, critical acclaim, meeting hundreds of people who turned out for his readings. And a film in the works. But as with many writers, depression settled in and boxed out hope. I share this with the hope that any fellow sufferers get the help they need.

Call 1-800-273-8255

 

I’m Betsy Lerner, George’s literary agent. He was also one of my first friends in publishing. George was a copy writer when I met him at Simon and Schuster over 30 years ago. I knew from his catalogue copy that he was a gifted writer and always pushed him to do his own work. When George gave me the first pages to Bettyville, I knew they were amazing, but I’m also a pragmatist and I felt the need to tell him that we had some challenges. First, that gay memoirs were still difficult to sell and that books about dementia were even more difficult. Fine, he snapped, I’ll go to Binky. George knew how to push my buttons and enjoyed doing so with relish. For the record, he continued to threaten me with going to Binky whenever I told him something he didn’t like.

Some of you know that the last months of my life have been filled with loss. My mother died in April, my beloved niece Ruby and nephew Hart were killed by a drunk driver in June, and then my dear friend took his life in July. There are days when I can hardly keep my head above water. My family has sadly had a crash course in grieving, and tonight I want to share four things I’ve learned. I apologize in advance for bringing you down.

1) Please don’t say that George is in a better place. A better place is sitting next to me at the National Book Critics Circle Award. A better place is sitting between me and Carole at the Discover Prize and watching George give his acceptance speech. A better place is watching him take Raj off leash in a wide field in Paris, Missouri and clapping while his dog cantered through the open air, filled with love for this magnificent beast more horse than dog in that moment, or sharing a ciggie after on his mom’s stoop and pulling a few dead petals from the fading roses. And better place is certainly having his lemon chicken at Il Cantinori with his publishing friends dishing up the best and latest gossip in town.

2) Please don’t say you wish there was something you can do. You can support the George Hodgman scholarship or any organization that you believe in. When a new assistant editor joins your publishing house, you can take him or her to lunch and make them feel less anxious and more welcome. George always did that. He arranged a reader for a friend going blind to read to him twice a week. He’d give a homeless person a twenty, or a sandwich or a cup of coffee. I always said George was the most wicked and the kindest person I knew. We can all be more kind. I can be more kind.

3) Please don’t say George is no longer suffering. Suffering is life. Suffering means you can go to one more meeting at Perry Street. Suffering means you can go to a movie. Suffering means I can drive you to rehab again and you can work on recovery because no matter how much a person wishes to die, life also beckons if only in a quiet voice. Life wants you at least as much as death. By the way, when I drove George to rehab, he had heard that Liza had been a patient there and when he wasn’t sleeping or eating powdered donuts, he was singing every Minelli song he could remember at the top of his lungs. Later he dubbed our journey Driving Miss Crazy

4) Last, please don’t say there aren’t any words. We are the people of the book. Words are exactly what we have. Words meant everything to George and he approached every book he worked on with the same expectation: excellence. He wouldn’t rest until everything was right: the structure, the prose, the narrative arc, the emotional impact. He always had a vision and cajoled and prodded and nurtured his writers until they got it. He put many writers on the map and on the bestseller list. Even when publishing bounced him out, a legacy of the books he acquired continued to win accolades and land on the list. George was deeply serious about his books, but he also knew about razzle dazzle, how to make it sparkle. He made everything more sparkly. When it came to Bettyville, George had the courage to find his own words, his own voice. When George found the words they were everything you might expect: kind, loving, beautifully observed, hilarious, heartbreaking. When my mother was failing, George had shown me the way in Bettyville. It’s a playbook on how to care for our aging and dying parents with patience and love. He gave us those words.

What is your experience with suicidal ideation in yourself or others?

How Can a Loser Ever Win?

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Whenever a writer asks me if he or she should quit working on a manuscript that has stalled out, I feel like I’m being set up. It’s like asking someone if you’re pretty. Of course, I’m sympathetic with anyone who is getting royally fucked by the writing process. But I want to say: Yes! Quit!  Do not pass Go. Trash the whole fucking thing! Liberate yourself. Move on! Move on! But of course I don’t say that. I suggest putting it aside for a while, or making an outline, or using index cards. Trust me friends, index cards are a euphemism for dead on arrival. Sometimes it’s a mercy to put a manuscript down. That’s what desk drawers are for! But the reality is you can’t tell anyone when to quit. Nor should you. Writing, at best, is folly. So what difference, really, does is make? If you’re miserable you could be on to something really amazing.

When do you put a piece of writing out of its misery?