Entries from April 2011

Defending Jacob update

We received a couple of very nice blurbs this week. I particularly loved this one from Lee Child:

Waiting for a new Landay novel is like waiting for a guy from Cremona to build a violin: anxious but worth it. Defending Jacob is smart, sophisticated — and suspenseful on more levels than one.

At the moment I am struggling mightily to get my next book started. I feel more like a guy from Hackensack building a ukelele. So thank you, Lee.

Author Stephen White also sent along this endorsement:

Nuanced understanding of the psychology of carefully considered, layered characters makes Defending Jacob more than a terrific legal thrill ride with courtroom scenes that explode off the page. William Landay’s latest is a heartfelt exploration of the unanticipated complications of loyalty among old friends, and an unflinching appraisal of the darkest, most poignant consequences of the love that binds, and blinds, families. Defending Jacob is one of those rare books that calls for contemplation and insight along with every breathtaking surprise. Read it.

I am grateful to both Lee and Stephen. The generosity of established authors never ceases to amaze me. It’s not just the blurbs, which I suppose you could write off as self-interested logrolling. It’s also the warmth and respect these guys consistently show to unknowns like me at the various conferences and events that authors are subjected to. When you are are trying to break in, it is hard to fight off petty jealousy and resentment. Publishing seems to be a zero-sum game: a finite number of books will be sold each year, therefore one writer’s gain is another’s loss. It just isn’t true. The way the best authors constantly help out the “competition” is the proof. In any event, I’ve compiled all the blurbs for Defending Jacob here, if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes my publisher continues the buzz-building effort. Ballantine-Bantam-Dell will be printing early galleys — advance copies, basically — to hand out at BookExpo America, an important publishing-industry conference in New York in May. In fact, Defending Jacob is the only Spring 2010 title that BBD will be printing early galleys for, which is wonderful news except for what it suggests about the reduced resources across the industry for publicizing new books.

The early galleys will also include a call to action to drive people to “like” my Facebook fan page. Facebook could be an important channel for me to reach new readers, so if you haven’t already — not to get all Sally Field on you — like me.

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Write because you feel like writing

All this advice from senior writers to establish a discipline — always to get down a thousand words a day whatever one’s mood — I find an absurdly puritanical and impractical approach. Write, if you must, because you feel like writing, never because you ought to write.

— John Fowles (via Advice to Writers, where you’ll find lots more of this sort of thing)

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Writer’s Block

writers block

J.E. Larson (via nevver)

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Aqua Tower, Chicago

Aqua Tower

Designed by Studio Gang Architects.

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Rilke: “The Man Watching”

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Rainer Maria Rilke. Translation by Robert Bly.

This is how writers grow, too: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater challenges.

Image: detail from Léon Bonnat, “Jacob Wrestling the Angel,” 1876. Pencil and black chalk on paper. 20¾ x 14½ in. (via)

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Three thoughts on starting a new novel

Tomorrow is D-day: I start writing the new novel, ready or not (which is to say: not ready). Fortuitously (I hope) these three quotes cross my path. Maybe they will help. Keep in mind, in no particular order:

“The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.”

— Jonathan Franzen (via)

“I love writing, but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says ‘You may have fooled some of the people some of the time, but those days are over, giftless. I’m not your agent and I’m not your mommy, I’m a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?’ And I really, really don’t. I don’t want any trouble. I’ll go peaceable-like.”

— Aaron Sorkin (via)

“So much of our time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the pith of each man’s genius contracts itself to a very few hours. The history of literature — take the net result of Tiraboschi, Warton, or Schlegel — is a sum of very few ideas and of very few original tales; all the rest being variation on these.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

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Why working people vote Republican

A helpful if unsurprising explanation of a question that vexes liberals: why do ordinary working people consistently seem to vote against their own economic interests by voting for Republicans? At the Edge, psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains:

… the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats “just don’t get it,” this is the “it” to which they refer.

Check out the discussion of Haidt’s ideas as well.

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Any way but lightly

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair — the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business.

Stephen King (via)

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Why do writers like working in coffee shops?

Writers love to work in coffee shops, and I am no exception. I can’t imagine how many gallons of coffee I have consumed over the years in order to pay the “rent” for a seat at Starbucks. And yes, for writing I prefer Starbucks, in all its antiseptic corporate blandness, to funkier indie coffee shops. Probably I prefer it because of its antiseptic corporate blandness. I feel less distracted, better able to blend in there. I do have a home office but I am not very productive there and I tend to avoid it. So I spend my days traipsing from coffee shops to libraries, usually the Boston Public Library in Copley Square or the Athenaeum on Beacon Hill. I am most productive in coffee shops, though, a fact I am vaguely embarrassed to admit.

But what is it, exactly, about a bustling cafe that is conducive to writing? Conor Friedersdorf rounds up a few theories. Here is my favorite, which Friedersdorf quotes from an academic paper:

…when we are alone in a public place, we have a fear of “having no purpose.” If we are in a public place and it looks like we have no business there, it may not seem socially appropriate. In coffee-shops it is okay to be there to drink coffee but loitering is definitely not allowed by coffee-shop owners, so coffee-shop patrons deploy different methods to look “busy.” Being disengaged is our big social fear, especially in public spaces, and people try to cover their “being there” with an acceptable visible activity.

That is, we writers are such hopeless procrastinators that we will only get down to work when our natural inability to focus is outweighed by something even more unpleasant: the fear of being exposed as a procrastinator, the potential embarrassment of looking like we “have no purpose” — the fear of being exposed as a fraud. We go to coffee shops to work in public because we want to feel those eyes watching us, shaming us into work. The advent of wi-fi at coffee shops largely short-circuits this strategy by allowing writers to look busy from a distance when in fact all we are doing is surfing the web. Still, it gives us a fighting chance in the war against our own worst instincts.

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Lincecum

Tim Lincecum in ultra slow motion. (via)

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Fenway Park, 1925

Fenway Park, ca. 1925

Fenway Park, circa 1925: a Red Sox base runner slides into third as Yankee Joe Dugan applies the tag. From a trove of amazing images from baseball’s golden age by Boston news photographer Leslie Jones. Until their recent publication, most of the images in Jones’s collection have never been available. The Boston Public Library will continue to upload images from the collection as they are digitized. Read more about the collection here.

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Quote of the Day

Every author ought to write every book as if he were going to be beheaded the day he finished it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (via)

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Miller & Monroe, 1957

Monroe and Miller by Avedon (1957)

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, 1957, by Richard Avedon.

Note to my sons: once upon a time it was very, very cool to be a writer.

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Sand Dunes, Oceano, California 1936

Weston - Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes, Oceano, California 1936
Edward Weston

(via MFA Boston)

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Prague, 1924

Sudek

Josef Sudek, Morning Trolley (Prague)
1924
Gelatin silver print
26.4 x 22.9 cm (10⅜ x 9 in.)

(via MFA Boston)

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Quote of the Day

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

Dr. Seuss (possibly a misattribution, but a great quote whoever said it) (via Garr Reynolds)

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Lartigue

Lartigue

Le Grand Prix A.C.F.
Jacques Henri Lartigue
1913
Gelatin silver print
4½ x 6¾ in.

via Art Blart

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Steinbeck

Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

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Boston, 1971

Boston, 1971

Photo by Nick DeWolf (via)

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The end of the shy author?

What usually gets lost in the perpetual refrain about authors becoming their own marketers is that there’s no particular connection between writing talent and a gift for self-promotion.

— Laura Miller, “Writer, Sell Thyself”

In a world where authors are expected to self-promote — and someday, perhaps, self-publish — would Salinger or Harper Lee or Thomas Pynchon, reclusive introverts all, have found an audience? Are we about to lose the writer, however brilliant, whose only gift is writing? Read the article.

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