Blog, Books, Fiction

Order More Sackcloth

The touch of malicious joy I expected to feel about this news story didn’t materialize because the whole thing’s so depressing. Kosoko Jackson, who is black and gay, has been freelancing as a “sensitivity reader” at major publishing houses — which means, as you are no doubt aware, working as a member of the imagination police screening manuscripts for things that might trigger offense in any number of identity groups. In what Jennifer Senior in the NYT called a “karmic boomerang,” Jackson’s debut YA novel, A Place for Wolves, has incited the wrath of some of those very groups who’ve come at him like a torpedo of bees, to the point where he has asked to have the book withdrawn. He has presumably been sent somewhere for regrooving, after which I expect he’ll have a tough time writing a sentence for a long time to come.

It does no good to cite oh anyone, E.M. Forster, how we’d have to set fire to A Passage to India to satisfy the inquisitors re who gets to imagine what or whom. I’ll just invoke the cry of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington in 1824, “Publish and be damned,” or I would except I’ve just discovered he was one of the architects of the Raj who wallowed in plunder…. Rats.

Song of the Day: Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Umqombothi


Books, Fiction

Too Misty

Outstanding creative writing advice via Muriel Spark. This is the opening of her novel Finishing School:

“You begin,” he said, “by setting your scene. You have to see your scene, either in reality or in imagination. For instance, from here you can see across the lake. But on a day like this you can’t see across the lake, it’s too misty. You can’t see the other side.” Rowland took off his reading glasses to stare at his creative writing class whose parents’ money was being thus spent: two boys and three girls around sixteen to seventeen years of age, some more, some a little less. “So,” he said, “you must just write, when you set your scene, ‘the other side of the lake was hidden in mist.’ Or if you want to exercise imagination, on a day like today, you can write, ‘The other side of the lake was just visible.’ But as you are setting the scene, don’t make any emphasis as yet. It’s too soon, for instance, for you to write, ‘The other side of the lake was hidden in the fucking mist.’ That will come later. You are setting your scene. You don’t want to make a point as yet.”

Song of the Day: In a Mist, Bix Beiderbecke

Blog, Books, Charlatan

Goat Testicles in Other Hands

I got a check this week from my agent, payment connected to my book Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him and the Age of Flim-Flam. It’s for translation rights: the book’s being translated into Russian and Korean.

Now, there’s been no explanation forthcoming as to exactly why Charlatan, which was published ten years ago, has suddenly attracted the interest of our brothers and sisters over there. On its face, you wouldn’t think the story of a notorious quack of the 1920s and 30s who made millions of dollars implanting goat testicles into impotent men as a virility booster, would be a big draw in those markets. Why would someone who was also a genius media manipulator, who drew massive crowds at political rallies and filled their heads with pernicious nonsense, why would a person like that be of interest to…. Hey, wait a minute….

Personally, I’m just looking forward to seeing the book in two entirely new alphabets.

Song of the Day:  Cyndi Lauper Sings Carey




Blog, Books, Music

The Gone

Yesterday I got in touch with Alicia Mayer, the grandniece of Louis B. Mayer, in connection with some research I’ve been doing on some MGM movies from the 30s. I was having a hard time locating his papers, which I assumed were archived someplace. Not so. According to Ms. Mayer, his papers were all “burnt by his second wife and her lawyer.”

That puts them right up there with Cassandra Austen, Mrs. Stephen Foster and all the other maniacs who have gouged holes in our artistic heritage. But then wonderful stuff has gone missing for so many reasons….

Refused publication, James Joyce threw Stephen Hero into the fire; Nora retrieved 1/5 of it.

From 1856 to 1896 Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann exchanged more than four thousand letters, almost all of which he destroyed just before his death.

Julius Caesar wrote a play called Oedipus — who knew and where is it

Gogol burns Part II of Dead Souls — well-known — rewrites it completely and burns that too — less known

A drawing by Leonardo da Vinci representing Orpheus pursued by the Furies is ruined while being restored in 2001

Emile Zola burns all his letters from Paul Cezanne; Cezanne destroys his portrait of Zola (tiff?)

Check out Henri LeFebvre’s incantatory Missing Pieces for many, many more of the the same. It’s the eeriest book you can imagine.

Song of the Day: Scatman Crothers





Blog, Books


Famous Last Words:

“Mrs. Tope’s care has spread a very neat, clean breakfast ready for her lodger. Before sitting down to it, he opens his corner-cupboard door; takes his bit of chalk from its shelf; adds one thick line to the score, extending from the top of the cupboard door to the bottom; then falls to with an appetite.”

A few hours later, as Victorian novel freaks well know, Charles Dickens stroked out at age 58. He left The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished, and no outline to indicate where the story was going. Edwin (the character) has disappeared, that’s all we know, and like Dickens he’s been missing ever since.

However much this drove the reading public crazy (and it did, and continues to in its quiet way), it caused particular pain to Samuel Luke Fildes, the book’s illustrator, who suddenly lost a really good gig. But then he saw an opportunity:

He called it Empty Chair and it sold like hotcakes.

Artist Robert William Buss took one look and also saw an opportunity. The print inspired him to create a great big painting he called Dickens’s Dream:

Dickens Dream - Robert W. Buss

…The dozing author, as you see, visited by a host of his characters.

Buss died abruptly before he could complete the work, leaving another work of art unfinished. But better this way, don’t you think? Really beautiful and ethereal. In any case, it makes for a super-challenging 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

The pieces are spread on a table in my living room as we speak. So far the puzzle remains unsolved.

Song of the Day: Iris DeMent

Blog, Books


I discover I’m mentioned in Adam Gopnik’s latest memoir, At the Stranger’s Gate, when he describes going to meet photographer Richard Avedon for the first time. Apparently I was there:

“….His name comes back to me as two oddly matched monosyllables, like a title: Pope Brock…”

Well, his name comes back to me as four syllables that sound better read backwards, Kinpog Mada.