Archive | January, 2013

Writing Wednesday: Publication Therapy

30 Jan

The other day I was updating my submissions spreadsheet. Yes, I’m that big of a nerd. The spreadsheet tracks the articles, essays, and other creative works I’ve written, so at a quick glance I can tell what I have to pitch, where I’ve submitted it, and when—if at all—I’ve heard back from a publication.

There are a lot of blank rectangles on the spreadsheet.

In the past, the blank rectangles used to indicate that I had yet to submit my work. Rejections seemed scary so I wouldn’t even submit to journals because I was so worried the editors wouldn’t be interested in my work. This meant my work had zero chance of getting published. When I became an editor myself I realized how much editors depend on writers. It’s not this terrible power struggle I’d imagined. Editors really want to like writers’ work. They want to publish us. Getting a rejection doesn’t mean they hate us. If you want to have your work published, you have to send it out.

After a while, though, it was the “accepted” column that had the blank rectangles. I carefully sent queries or unsolicited manuscripts out and then suffered to hear from someone—anyone! Opening my mailbox and refreshing my inbox became subtle forms of self-torture, as I never knew when I’d hear back from a publication and what the news would be.

But more frequently I’ve been getting rejections. This is not a bad thing! I’ve come to realize that the greatest writers have gotten rejections. Jack Kerouac couldn’t get On the Road published for years. Stephen King nailed all his rejection letters to the wall, the stack growing larger and larger before he found fame.

I just read an article in Bloomsberg Businessweek about a guy named Jia Jiang who is doing a project called 100 Days of Rejection Therapy, in which he opens himself up to rejection at least once a day in order to desensitize himself to the pain of rejection so that he can go after his dream. The concept is attention-grabbing, and I think there are some valuable lessons to learn from it about courage and perseverance. There are also fundamental flaws to this approach, though. It’s easier to not get hung up on a rejection when you’re not invested, and in this case the rejections Jiang is receiving have nothing to do with his real dream. Furthermore, the project title itself suggests and attracts self-defeat. Although Jiang hasn’t gotten rejected from everything he’s tried, he believes he will be rejected. Although his rejection therapy is supposed to give him the courage to not let fear of rejection keep him from pursuing his dream, it essentially is saying that he thinks he will get rejected. Otherwise, why not call it Achievement Therapy? Or Success Therapy? Or Acceptance Therapy?

Also, as the article itself points out, there are valid reasons for rejection and we can learn from them:

But career coach Nemko suggests Jiang focus on what made the initial investor balk. “I have clients who apply for a number of jobs [and] who get rejected a bunch. They like to brush it off, like, ‘Oh, it’s the economy,’ but I say: ‘Take a look at yourself. Do you need more skills? What’s your employment track record? Are you obnoxious?’”

Back in 2011, I blogged about how Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was rejected sixty times. Here was someone who was truly invested in her work, and yet she didn’t start asking donut makers to do strange things to her donuts in an effort to build her confidence in her writing abilities and achieve success. She actually took a good long look at why she was getting rejected and revised her work accordingly.

Sometimes you need criticism, even if it comes in the form of a rejection, to improve your work. Other times, there may be nothing wrong with your work, but it’s just not the right fit for that publication at that time. It happens. It’s worth being part of a writing group and getting honest feedback on your work from more than one person who is not your mom.

Lately, the rejections I’ve been getting have come with personalized notes that say things like “great story but it’s not timely enough” or “great writing but it’s not for us. Feel free to submit again in the future.” I don’t like getting rejections, but I have learned from them. I’ve taken the comments I’ve received from editors and revised my works. I’ve grown as a writer, and even when my work isn’t what the editor wants, I know it’s getting closer to hitting the mark.

The other day when I was updating my spreadsheet, I smirked at the callousness with which I treated my rejections. There was a time when I would’ve taken them so personally, but now I realize that rejections come with the territory.

This applies to life too. No one ever did anything great in life without taking a risk.

Anne Waldman Speaks on How Beat Poets Selling Out Helped Naropa

28 Jan

If you have about an hour to spare, this interview with poet Anne Waldman at the University of Texas at Austin touches on Jack Kerouac’s awareness of the arts world at the time, the New York School poets and Black Mountain poets, Beatnik-inspired clothing and selling out, how the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa got its name and why it’s not named after Gertrude Stein, the passing of Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs’ cut-up techniques, women of the Beat Generation, the Bowery Poetry Club, and her mother’s time in Greece. It’s a thoughtful interview that’s well worth listening to.

The interview was in conjunction with the Harry Ransom Center’s 2008 exhibit On the Road with the Beats.

 

Jack Kerouac Dropped Out of College. So What?

27 Jan

Is genius born or created?  By now everyone has read, or at least heard, about how Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College and went on to become the cofounder of Apple and one of the most important entrepreneurs of our time.  Perhaps less known is the fact that Jobs continued to audit classes at Reed.  He actually credited a calligraphy course he took as having a major impact on the Mac.  When I was taking a shuttle from the San Francisco airport to my hotel out in Walnut Creek, I had a midnight conversation with a businessman who had read the biography on Jobs and told me about how the computer genius’ interest in art was fundamental to his vision for building a successful brand.

Back in September, Flavorwire posted an article called “10 Famous Authors Who Dropped Out of School.”  This is what they wrote about Jack Kerouac:

In high school, Beat hero Jack Kerouac was no poet — he was a jock, star of the football team. His athletic skills won him a scholarship to Columbia University, but he and the coach didn’t get along. The two argued constantly and Kerouac was benched for most of his freshman year. Then, he cracked his tibia and, his already tenuous football career over, dropped out of school.

I love Flavorwire, and I understand that the writer was trying to keep the text short and irreverent, but I think it’s worth dissecting the often repeated line that Kerouac dropped out of Columbia University.  Implicit in remarks about his football scholarship and dropping out is the suggestion that Kerouac was neither intelligent nor studious—the same way that many critics like to point to how quickly he supposedly wrote his novels.  If he were a computer genius, like Steve Jobs, perhaps his craft would not be questioned, but because the arts are subjective, Kerouac’s dropping out of college is often reported more as a jab than as evidence toward his natural gifts.

To say that Kerouac was a jock and not a poet in high school undermines his academic achievements.  In reality, Kerouac, who didn’t even feel completely comfortable speaking English when he went off to school (he spoke his parents’ French Canadian dialect), did so well in school that he skipped a grade.  He spent a lot of time at the public library in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, voraciously reading the classics.  When he was not on the football field, Kerouac was part of a roundtable discussion group on philosophy and literature.  His father was a printer, and so even at a young age, Kerouac produced his own writing.  Like Jobs, Kerouac did not come from money, and the scholarship he earned helped him attend the university, where he studied English under the tuition of great professors.

Kerouac left Columbia, then he returned to resume his studies, and then dropped out for good.  However, like Steve Jobs, Kerouac continued his studies even after he dropped out of college.  He enrolled at The New School, where he studied literature.

 

After Kerouac moved to Ozone Park, Queens, and holed himself up writing, his friends jokingly referred to him as “The Wizard of Ozone Park.”  Do you know “The Wizard of Menlo Park” (New Jersey) was?  Thomas Edison, who after only three months of formal schooling, dropped out.

 

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This post has been updated. I wrote “college” when I meant to write “school,” when referring to Kerouac’s ease with English.

 

 

92-Year-Old Greek Diner Shut Its Doors in Literary Neighborhood

24 Jan

Ninety-two-year-old Greek diner St. Clair has closed down, reports Grub Street, after learning the news from Brownstoner.

Owned by five Cypriot brothers, according to New York magazine, offered various Greek dishes such as the Greek Delight Platter, Corfu Salad, and Greek Moussaka alongside classic American dishes like The Best Baked Meatloaf and 14 Oz. new York Cut Sirloin Steak Sandwich. Brooklyn Daily provided a little history that when the diner was revamped in 1967 it was opened up as the New St. Clair by the Costa family. In 2007, they sold it to Spiro Katehis, who also owns the Carroll Gardens Classic Diner. The Greek diner was at the corner of Smith and Atlantic in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn.

In The Town and the City, Jack Kerouac housed the parents of his main character in Brooklyn and mentioned the Boerum Hill neighborhood. Of course back then, the neighborhood hadn’t gone through its yuppie gentrification—Kerri Russell and Michelle Williams have called it home—and was known as South Brooklyn or North Gowanus.

Considering the establishment had already opened in 1920 and Kerouac was in the area in the 1940s and ‘50s, it’s possible—though not proven—that he could have stopped in the St. Clair Diner.

The neighborhood is famously home to another writer: Jonathan Lethem, who told the New York Sun,  “’My image of the writer came from people like Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac.’” When he was younger, Letham hitchhiked to California and worked at used bookstores. In 2011, he was the Roy E. Disney Professor in Creative Writing at Pomona College, where I studied literature and Classical Greek.

Big Sur Debuts Today at Sundance Film Festival

23 Jan

Big Sur debuts today at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah:

When I first saw the trailer for Big Sur I felt a sense of relief. While I enjoyed the film adaptation of On the Road, the Sal Paradise character (based on Jack Kerouac and played by Sam Riley) fell flat for me. Jean-Marc Barr plays the Kerouac character in Big Sur and at least from the trailer seems to embody him much better.

The film is directed by Michael Polish and the cinematography is by M. David Mullen, who worked together on Stay Cool and The Astronaut Farmer, and it is gorgeously lush.

The story of Big Sur is in many ways On the Road‘s opposite. On the Road brings to life Kerouac’s early adventures roadtripping across the country. His zeal for life explodes across the page. Big Sur, on the other hand, shows the writer in the later years of his life, after fame and alcohol had taken a toll on his life.

The first time I read Big Sur it depressed me greatly, reading how Kerouac struggled and obsessed over death, but I read it again last fall when I was roadtripping down the California coast and saw how Kerouac really was a master at style. There’s a repetition and rhythm of the book that echoes the cyclical nature of the ocean.

This isn’t the first time Kerouac’s time in Big Sur has been the subject of a film. In 2008 there was One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur.

Here’s a synopsis of Polish’ Big Sur from the Sundance website:

Big Sur focuses on a moment in Jack Kerouac’s life when, overwhelmed by the success of his opus On the Road and struggling with alcoholism, he retreats to his publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in the small, coastal California town of Big Sur, which eventually inspires his 1962 novel of the same name. Kerouac’s time begins with quiet moments of solitude and communing with nature. But, struck by loneliness, he hightails it to San Francisco, where he resumes drinking heavily and gets pushed into a relationship with his best friend Neal Cassady’s mistress, Billie.

While writer/director Michael Polish (Twin Falls Idaho) explores a less glamorous moment in Kerouac’s legacy—one of alienation and mental breakdown—Big Sur equally examines the beauty of this time in the writer’s life, witnessed in the romance of friendship and the purity of nature. Jean-Marc Barr embodies Kerouac’s intelligence and masculinity, but also portrays him at his most contemplative and vulnerable. Luscious and breathtaking, Big Surapproaches a religious cinematic experience.

Director: Michael Polish

Screenwriter: Michael Polish

Executive Producers: Mark Roberts, Eddie Vaisman, Jim Sampas

Producers: Ross Jacobson, Orian Williams, Adam Kassen, Michael Polish

Cinematographer: M. David Mullen

Production Designer: Max Biscoe

Sound Designer: Chris Sheldon

Costume Designer: Bic Owen

Principal Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Radha Mitchell, Anthony Edwards, Henry Thomas

 

A Ginsberg Love Fest at First Blues

22 Jan

 

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Oh, I am still on cloud 9 after the First Blues event to celebrate Allen Ginsberg’s recording!! I got there a bit late, and it was jam-packed with white-haired men who’d probably known various beat poets back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and earnest, young, bearded hipsters, and girls in leggings and berets. I spotted the incredible poet Steve Dalachinsky and poet-painter Yuko Otomo, whom I’d met at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, in the crowd. I got to talk with poet Christopher Barry. I had heard another author I know was supposed to be there but there were so many people I couldn’t find him to say hi.

 

David Amram was his usual self: inspiring. The way he transmutes cultures into music and bends the “rules” of how to play instruments floors me every time. Watching him teaches me that Art is creative and fun, which is something after years of schooling and rule enforcing I often forget. He talked about how the best university is “hangoutology,” that we learn through other people and that we too should always generously teach others.

Kevin Twigg played glockenspiel with Amram. I’d normally heard him play in a full band, but hearing just him and Amram play was special. Twigg’s music sounded like magic!

Anne Waldman, who with Allen Ginsberg founded Naropa University, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, gave an intense reading. Back in undergrad at Scripps in my 1950s Core class, I heard a recording of Ginsberg reading Howl that forever changed my understanding of the poem because of its moaning intensity. After singing a Blake poem, Waldman did a “Howl” that was transfixing. Hearing her howl live was a glimpse of what it must’ve been like to hear Ginsberg first read “Howl” at the now infamous Gallery Six reading.

Hettie Jones, who is a fantastic and generous writer, read, and I wish she would’ve read longer because it went by too, too quickly.

My eighteen-year-old self would never have imagined that not only would I one day ever-so-casually get to hear all these people read and make music and perform in a bookstore but that I’d actually know so many of them. I couldn’t find Jones after the reading, but she had graciously spent time talking to me when I met her in a class at The New School. A few years ago, I was in the same circle of conversation as Waldman at a party. Twigg asked me to sign a book, which he showed me had been signed by pretty much everyone associated with the Beats. Here he is this amazing musician with tons of covet-worth signatures, and he made me feel like a million bucks by asking me to sign too. Amram, always swamped by the masses, still made time for me, and again made me feel like I was the star. I hope that I do that for other people. He introduced me to his daughter, who was really sweet. He also introduced me to Bill Morgan, whose books have been a tremendous resource to me over the years. It’s so surreal to meet someone you’ve footnoted.

There were also other musicians and poets there, including Ambrose Bye, CA Conrad, Steven Taylor, and Arthur’s Landing, whom I’d never heard before and yet who captured my attention, making me want to explore their work.

Amanda Bullock, who plans the events at Housing Works and whom I’d heard speak about social media at the CLMP literary conference at The New School, was there kicking us all out at the end because we all kept mingling and having hurried, beautiful conversations.

I could hardly sleep from all the excitement.

Clip: St. John’s Leads the Nation in Civil Rights

21 Jan

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Burnside Writers Collective published my article “St. John’s Leads the Nation in Civil Rights,” about the civil rights history of the Church of the Presidents. The article includes information on Barack Obama’s inauguration and Martin Luther King Day.

Greek-American Tina Andreadis Promoted to Senior VP of Publicity at HarperCollins

18 Jan

HarperCollins Publishers promoted Tina Andreadis to senior vice-president of publicity, according to Publishers Lunch.  Hired in 2005 as vice president, director of publicity, Andreadis oversees publicity for many of the publishing house’s imprints.

The Greek America Foundation named Andreadis as part of the Class of 2010 winners of the Forty Under 40; she was thirty-nine at the time. They noted:

Andreadis is very involved in philanthropic and media efforts on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. In October 2009 she was a key member of the media team for Patriarch Bartholomew’s historic tour of the United States, working to promote his trip to America. Her influence helped secure an opinion piece by the Patriarch in the Wall Street Journal. Andreadis is an active member of Kimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons. There she is media chair for the future expansion of the church and a committee chairperson for the church’s annual festival in Southampton.

Congratulations to Tina Andreadis on her new role at HarperCollins!

The New York-based publishing house’s origins go as far back as 1817 when Harper & Brothers was founded and is now one of the largest publishing houses in the world. Side note: like most publishing houses, they have a history of publishing Beat Generation-related books, including Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1959 – 1974  and Howl: A Graphic Novel.

Lou Reed, Anne Waldman, Hettie Jones, and Others Celebrate Allen Ginsberg’s FIRST BLUES

16 Jan

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Image via Housing Works

If you’ve never heard Allen Ginsberg read “Howl,” you can’t grasp its full intensity. Ginsberg has one of those voices you can’t shake out of your head, a voice you could hear once and then ten years later still recognize. It’s even but possessive, sucking you into the inner crevices of the poet’s mind and locking you in.

This evening at 7, Housing Works is hosting a musical soiree for the reissue of Ginsberg’s First Blues: Rags, Ballads, Harmonium Songs, Chanteys & Come-All-Ye’s. Ginsberg was a connector, a person who liked to introduce people and make things happen for them. As such, he had many friends and collaborators. Among those who will be celebrating this night of poetry and song include:

Here’s a bit about First Blues from Housing Works:

The work was originally released as a double LP back in 1983, and as a CD in 2006.  Produced by legend John Hammond Sr., this record of songs is a collection of studio sessions from 1971, 1976, and 1981 and included the likes of Bob Dylan, Arthur Russell, David Mansfield, Happy Traum, David Amram, Steven Taylor and Peter Orlovksy. To commemorate this reissue, a limited run of 500 seven track vinyl that mimics the original style down to the newspaper insert will be available that night and online.

Housing Works puts on nerdilcious events.  There was, for instance, the epic reading of Moby-Dick.
They’re also advocates for those living with HIV/AIDS. They’re located at 126 Crosby Street  in Manhattan.

The event is also hosted by Ginsberg Recordings (a collaboration of Ginsberg’s Estate and Esther Creative Group), VitaCoco, and Warby Parker (after all, it’s hard to picture Ginsberg without picturing glasses). 

Liking “On the Road” Makes You Undatable

15 Jan

A while back The Huffington Post, run by Greek American Arianna Huffington, posted an article entitled “9 Books That Make You Undatable.” Among the books was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

The reason?  Well, according to The Huffington Post, liking On the Road signals commitment issues and money woes.

Apparently no one ever reads a book for its literary merits or for pure escapism.

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On the Highway of Love, Jack Kerouac Divides Men and Women