Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Acknowledgments

 “Thanks to Robert Gottlieb for the encouraging drinks and for keeping me from the razors that night at Plimpton’s.”

“. . . the nearly all-red room on Koitobos Road, the back garden on Eleventh Street, the low table in Dar-es-Salaam . . .”

If this isn’t enough to make you squirm with their private idiosyncrasy, try reading the acknowledgments by authors who thank the shack they once happened to write a chapter of their book in; they thank their hairdresser for making their life whole, which helps restore their self-esteem; they thank their editor for being a genius (God knows why); they thank somebody who’d given them the moral support during their writing, because “Without you I am a quivering bowl of Jell–O.” And if they express their gratitude to their agents, it’s because their agents’ names suggest clout and fame that they as author lack.

But every action in life has a counteraction. Not all authors write acknowledgments. Why? Ask Olin Shiver.

“Who should I thank?” he asked. “My so-called ‘colleagues,’ who laugh at me behind my back, all the while becoming famous on my work? My worthless graduate students, whose computer skills appear to be limited to downloading bitmaps off of netnews? My parents, who are still waiting for me to quit fooling around with computers, go to med school, and become a radiologist? My department chairman, a manager who gives one new insight into and sympathy for disgruntled postal workers? ”

Then something must have dawned on him.

“Oh, yes, the acknowledgments,” he said.I think not. I did it. I did it all, by myself.”

I think when my book is published, I’ll borrow a line from Dennis Loy Johnson for my acknowledgments: “But first I'd like to thank my heartthrob, Petunia, for having the wisdom to love me, my parents, for giving me birth and all the people who just exist in my world. Oh yes, and Binky Urban just for the hell of it.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Late Night People

I met a woman
during one of my book signings
She came to the table where I sat with
two stacks of hardcover copies
She picked up one copy and said,
What is it about?
I’m never good at summarizing my work
in a nutshell
for something that had taken me
two, three years to write
Well, I said, it’s on the jacket flap
where she could read what the copywriter
had done
as part of the cosmetic surgery
so the work looks more like a movie actress
than a whore
The woman nodded, but
didn’t read a word of it
where I hoped she might have caught
the advance praises
full of superlatives
that sometimes you thought they must’ve been
copied and pasted in
from another work
But she just wanted to talk
A soft-spoken woman
straw-yellow hair
no makeup
like she’d just got out of bed and
wandered into this place
full of books
like Alice in Wonderland
We talked about pets
and, in the name of God,
she owed at least a dozen cats
some of them neutered
for overpopulation purpose
and pet fish
whose names I forgot
expensive though
She said one of them cost a hundred dollars
And I learned that she worked part time
somewhere in a graphics shop
It was a quiet evening
with no more than three interested readers
who dropped by at my table
but none bought any copy
only she did
without any idea of what the book
was about
When I left she had gone to an in-store coffee shop
sitting on a high stool with a cup of coffee
reading a day-old newspaper
I had to run an errand that evening after
the book signing and when I was done
it was half past midnight
I was driving down a cross-street
two blocks from the bookstore where
earlier I had my book signing
Stopping at the intersection on a red light
I looked over at a donut shop
on a corner
well lit,  near empty
I saw the woman who bought a copy
of my book
sitting by herself
close to the glass
a Styrofoam cup of coffee
in front of her
She wasn’t reading anything
just sitting and staring ahead
I wondered
where my book was
For certain it wouldn’t have fit in her purse
unless she had returned it after I left
for a full refund.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Novelist at Work

My new novel has taken up most of my time now, and I’m called to duty.

Writing a novel, to me, is not only more time consuming than blogging, it also burns a lot more brain cells. Blogging is closer to writing a diary. You blog about your personal thoughts, feelings, experiences and observations of life. You can express them in any free form that serves you best; but once you’re done writing a post, that’s it. You are done. Not with writing a novel. You’ll never get done writing it till you write THE END. And that can be many, many moons away.

So here I am, a novelist at work, who enjoys each creative moment to the fullest, just for the sheer joy of writing. In fact, I never care much for what’s called ‘word count’ or ‘quota’ for each day’s writing progress. Many writers do that because they want to enforce a rule on themselves, which they call discipline. I for one believe in discipline only when it means a self-imposed measure to get the work done. So I’m true to that. I write every day. Yet I don’t care how much I can write. I ask myself, ‘Can you write a thousand words each day and make it your daily writing quota?” I say, yes. You can write a thousand or two thousand words a day, if you must. Only to see that you scrap two-thirds of them the next day when you reread them. No, you can’t force yourself to write when you’ve run out of juice. So, just write!

Another thing is I read a lot between writing. Reading while you’re at work on a novel recharges your battery every day. So I read voraciously while I work on a novel. This time around I will be blogging occasionally whenever my brain, between writing my novel, isn’t so depleted with ideas.

So, I’ll send up a smoke signal now and then—not a SOS, but more like a campfire smoke: Time for a campfire story.