"Where's the kinkiest place you've ever had sex?" I'm asked, on a live radio broadcast. I'm sitting in my living room in Michigan, talking to a talk-show host in Denver.
He must be kidding, I think to myself, as I scramble in my mind for a real answer, a witty answer, any answer...believing I'm supposed to dutifully respond to every question asked. After all, my publisher paid for this radio-book tour.
But my mind stalls. I say nothing. Did he really just ask that? Maybe I misunderstood. I'm supposed to be promoting my new memoir, "Love Sick: One Woman's Journey through Sexual Addiction," a book not about sex, not about positions or locations, but about recovering from an addiction. Now, several years later, I no longer even remember my answer.
Nor do I remember what I said to some crackpot on a radio call-in show based in Los Angeles. In the distance, through the phone receiver, I hear the sound of car tires, and I know, at 2 in the morning, that some pervert, wanting to know the details of my sex life, is aimlessly driving L. A. freeways, a sticky cell phone gripped to his ear.
One by one, radio talk show hosts, from all around the country, none of whom have read my book, call me, phone lines and air waves silently humming with all that I never wrote in my book.
Sue William Silverman's new book, "Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir," will be out in June, 2009. She is the author of two memoirs: "Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You" and "Love Sick: One Woman's Journey through Sexual Addiction," made into a Lifetime TV movie. She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 24, 2009 8:54 AM
"My tour for In the River Sweet (2002) was a prolonged disaster. I visited 19 cities in five weeks. The best events, of course, were on college campuses where my esteemed friends and colleagues had arranged for audiences to be present. But, for starters, the book was a Border's Original Voices selection, yet I was not booked into a single Border's. Instead, I was sent to Barnes & Noble stores. In my editor's words: "Barnes & Noble did not get behind the book." I'd find waist-high stacks of The Lovely Bones and two or three copies of my novel.
But the capstone was my Boston experience. My escort was a hapless woman who confided a bit too much of her own real-life disasters as we headed to a feminist bookstore in Cambridge. She decided to park in a muffler shop parking lot, after hours, even though a sign gave explicit instructions not to park there. Towing threatened. We scuttled around the corner to the bookstore where a sandwich board about my reading/signing was up on the sidewalk. One glance into the bookstore made me long to return to the hotel and watch TV and order room service. The shelves were awry, and there were no books. We were met by a clerk/volunteer who told us that the store was going out of business, was, in fact, out of business. But the show must go on. We were given a tour of the defunct bookstore. Then the wait. One man came in off the street. I read to him, the clerk, and my escort. Good, feeble, cheer all around. When we went out to the blustery street, her car was up on the business end of a tow truck. We begged the guy to let it down. He resisted. She offered him money. He waited. She fiddled with her purse and looked up expectantly to me. I gave her $20 and the tow truck driver was satisfied with that. He let the car down and we drove off into the night . . ."
Patricia Henley's first novel, Hummingbird House, was a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award and the New Yorker Fiction Prize (2000). Her second novel, In the River Sweet, was named a Best Fall Book by the St. Louis Dispatch, the Chicago Tribune, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She has also published three collections of stories (Friday Night at Silver Star, The Secret of Cartwheels, and Worship of the Common Heart). Friday Night at Silver Star won the 1985 Montana Arts Council First Book Award. Her work has been anthologized in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best American Short Stories, Love Stories for the Rest of Us, and Circle of Women. Patricia has taught in the MFA Program at Purdue University for twenty-two years.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 23, 2009 10:00 AM
"My very first book-signing was at a small library near where I work. Six weeks ahead of time I'd ordered a box of books from my publisher, just for this event. The box arrived in plenty of time. I didn't open the box, ! just stored it with my book cover posters, easel, bookmarks, etc. About twenty minutes before we were to leave, I decided to cut open the box of books there at my office, instead of having to take a knife or scissors with me to the library. A minute later, I was standing there in the parking lot, knife in hand, looking down into the trunk of my car at the opened box of books. My publisher had mistakenly sent me 30 copies of another author's books. My first thought was, 'I haven't even read this book, how will I talk about it for 30 minutes?' My second thought was not one that can be printed. But everything turned out okay. My secretary went around the office and confiscated all the copies I had previously sold to co-workers."
- Rhonda Dossett, (who writes with Marian Edelman Borden as "Evelyn David") author of "Murder Takes the Cake"
With thanks to Wendy Burt-Thomas for contacting Rhonda to share this anecdote with me.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 22, 2009 5:49 PM
One feature common to a number of great book tour disaster stories is what we might call "The Visitation," an odd member of the audience, a crackpot, an insistent or obnoxious audience member . . . Such is the case in the following anecdote of Xu Xi.
"Okay so when is the worst possible time to begin a book tour? Try right after 9-11, which is what happened for my last novel THE UNWALLED CITY (a novel of Hong Kong). This was worse than even my next book launch for an anthology of Hong Kong writing two years later, right when SARS hit our fair city (the publisher canceled the book party, we all took our masks, went home and I accepted a travel writing assignment to Hainan Island instead where there at least was no SARS, the promise of one US dollar a word and a new luxury hotel).
But back to the post 9-11 era where I arrive in Seattle at Elliot Bay Books on the heels of Jonathan Franzen who, the weekend prior, drew a crowd of some 200 people. My crowd was somewhat more modest, and I knew at least four people in the audience of twenty or so. 20% friends & family isn't too bad as bookstore audiences go (better than 100% in Orlando of the audience of 2, and the bookstore forgot I was coming . . .;)
But to make this long story shorter there I was reading, keeping up spirits, trying to forget my Chelsea neighborhood I'd left behind where police barricades cordoned off life. The Q&A began, my friends asked the good questions to get things going, a couple of other typical reading questions followed (q: Where do you get your inspiration? a: Would you believe the city of Hong Kong? q: Do you write in Chinese? a: No)
And then the man in the middle - you know the one, intense eyes, frown of concentration, bad hair, bursting to speak - he raised his hand. What he wanted to know, what he desperately wanted to know, was what could I tell him about Chinese art? The old kind you know. All those scroll paintings in museums around the world? What could I tell him? Please?
To begin with, not a lot. I know as much about traditional Chinese art as I know about hydraulics. Hills. Water. Flowers. Birds. Bloated goldfish. Much Mist. I mean, I'm not much better with the traditions of Western Art either; my obsessions begin with the Surrealists. So I told him, honestly I thought, I'm not an expert. Next?
But he was the man in the middle, the one who doesn't give up. Surely there was something I could tell him, something about all this great Chinese art I could say?
My novel is about contemporary Hong Kong shortly before its return to China. Ambivalent characters. Sex. Miscommunication. Divorce. More sex. Advertising. The Inconsequence of politics in an apolitical city. It is not about art. There isn't even an art dealer, or a Chinese painter, although there is one modern Chinese opera scene (Tan Dun's "Marco Polo") and an American Sinophile who probably does know more about traditional Chinese art than I do (she definitely knows more about marriage to a Chinese businessman with a Harvard MBA than I care to). But she's fictional. I made her up. She's not the one at Elliot Bay Books trying to re-direct a mis-directed question.
By now one of my friends in the front row is making throat-slitting signs. My face pleads with the audience, quick someone ask me something, anything. Perhaps now is the time to burst into song, "The East is Red" anyone?
And fortunately someone does ask a question, what I forget, and then, mercifully, time's up, I soon get to go for a drink and dinner with my friends, which is the best part of all this travel, when you end up in places where your friends are, the people who rally round when it matters, despite the man in the middle, the one who, after the reading, still tries to corner you and demand satisfaction about Chinese art. Read a book, you want to say, but you don't, because he isn't there for you, your reading, or even the bookstore. He's there because he has nowhere else to go and this leg of your book tour was as good a place as any for him to perch for an hour or two, before heading off into that wild blue and all the Chinese art in his dreams.
It could have been worse. He could have asked about kung fu fighting, grasshopper."
XU XI is the author or editor of ten books, most recently a collection of personal essays Evanescent Isles: from my city-village and Overleaf Hong Kong: Stories & Essays of the Chinese, Overseas. She teaches on the prose faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing. A Chinese-Indonesian native of Hong Kong, she now inhabits the flight path connecting New York, Hong Kong and the South Island of New Zealand. Visit www.xuxiwriter.com
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 21, 2009 2:23 PM
This great contribution from best-selling author, Michael Malone:
"On a snowy, slushy, sleeting New York winter night, I made my way to a Barnes and Noble bookstore on the upper West Side, where I was to give a reading from First Lady, the third in my trilogy of "Hillston" novels. A clerk thoughtfully waited at the doors, studying a flyer with my picture on it. I gave her my name.
As I did so, a fierce overweight man near us, bundled in a blue parka with a ratty fake-fur hood, shoved a wet Shop Rite bag at me. "Sign these!" he ordered. "I collect you. I drove in from Newark."
Despite the sleet, I started to reach for the bag, right there on the sidewalk, but the young clerk-- flushed with what? enthusiasm for my fiction?--pulled me away and whisked me inside and onto the escalator.
She smiled uneasily. "There's a, unfortunately, a problem."
It was only then that I looked over to the signing area. Around the otherwise depressingly empty cluster of chairs, facing a podium where a small banner looked to read "Michael alone," there stood milling about at least half-a-dozen men with NYPD on their enormous yellow slickers.
Despite her relatively petite size, the young clerk had so a firm grip on my elbow that I wondered if she was charged with turning me over to an IRS agent at the top of the stairs, someone who'd come to arrest me for some inadvertent claim I'd made about having an office in the home.
But then I noticed twisting yellow police tape snaking around the room and out the doors. Behind it, paramedics were lifting onto a gurney the corpse of a very elderly woman whose feet, encased in pink sneakers, stuck up stiff with rigor mortis.
At the landing, the clerk turned me over with relief to a harried bookstore manager. He and I watched the crowd below as they stepped back solemnly to make room for the medics. They bounced their gurney along with a cheerful nonchalance.
The manager apologized. "We had to cancel your reading. Someone died, waiting in a back row where no one noticed her."
"Waiting for me? I wasn't even late."
"No. Not for you."
This was oddly a disappointment. Not even the dead woman had come to hear me read.
He explained, "It's old homeless people. They sit in our signing areas to get out of the cold. They fall asleep. We try not to bothe r them."
He waved his arm at the nooks and crannies of bookshelves below. "Especially in the snow."
"It's kind of you," I agreed.
"I don't think we'll do it anymore probably. This is a total downer."
I tried to cheer him up. "She looked like she could have been in her nineties."
"At least she died surrounded by books."
"Ha." I wasn't sure what he meant by his sharp laugh.
He took me back down to the entrance and said goodbye. In front of the store, cops blocked off sightseers while the medics hoisted the woman into the back of the city ambulance.
"Just sign these books!" shouted the man in the parka, still out there, now skirting around the barricade. "I drove all the way from Newark!"
He hurled his soaked shopping bag onto the hood of the ambulance; it burst open and my first three novels slid into the slush of the gutter.
Suddenly the ambulance lurched forward with a shriek of its siren, astonishingly loud; louder than the man from New Jersey, who endeared himself to me forever by his wail of grief. His still unsigned books had been run over by huge ice-crusted tires, both front and back.
I signed them, wet as they were, against the bookstore window, on which the young clerk was posting a sign. 'MICHAEL MALONE READING CANCELED.'"
Michael Malone is the author of ten internationally acclaimed novels, including the classic "Handling Sin" "Uncivil Seasons," "The Last Noel," and the NYT bestseller "The Killing Club." His newest novel "The Four Corners of the Sky" appears on May 1. Currently at work on a sequel to his "Hillston" series of novels, he has also written plays, television programs, a collection of short stories and two books of non-fiction, one on film, as well as innumerable essays for such magazines and journals as Harper's, the New York Times, Playboy, Partisan Review and the Wilson Quarterly. Among his prizes are the O Henry, the Edgar, the Writers Guild Award and an Emmy as head writer of ABC's "One Life to Live." He has taught at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore and is now a professor in the Theater Studies Department at Duke University.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 20, 2009 4:07 PM
Here's a tidbit from the wonderfully inventive and always wry writer, Michael Martone. Michael has reminded me that he includes a story of a reading gone awry in his self-titled book, MICHAEL MARTONE:
"In Michael Martone Michael Martone writes of a bad reading event. He was teaching at Harvard and giving his first reading after getting the job and the audience was filled with writers who did not get the job and were rather wishing he would fail. And fail he did. He always always checks before he starts to read that the pages are in order but in this case he forgot to check to make sure all the pages were there. And the last page of the 15 page story was not. And so at the climatic moment he turned the page and had to announce that the page was missing and that the story goes something like this, just winging it and confirming to the writers in the audience that they of course should have gotten the job."
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 18, 2009 12:15 PM
Most writers I know have wonderful Disastrous Book Tour stories to tell. I guess it's a misery-loves-company kind of thing, but they're often pretty funny.
One of the funniest I've heard has almost achieved urban myth status among writers. It involves a writer who has been invited to a college to give a reading from his new book. But when he arrives he's met by a rather harried department chair who tells him he's really sorry, but there's a meeting that he has to go to that conflicts with the writer's reading. It's one of those last minute emergency meetings that can't be avoided. So he leads the writer to the room where he'll be reading and tells him he can start at 4. There are only two people in the audience, a couple of students sitting in the front row. But he figures he's been invited to read so he's going to read - if it's only to two people, fine. At four, he gets up on stage, introduces himself, and says he's going to read from his new novel, but since it's an intimate audience, he tells the two guys in front that they can interrupt him if they have any questions. He starts to read and he thinks it's going pretty well - he gives it his all, just as he did in the writing of the book - and after about ten minutes he looks up and there's one of the guys with his hand in the air.
The writer stops reading and says, "Yes, you have a question?"
The kid in the front row clears his throat and says, "Yeah, we were wondering if you would mind keeping it down? We're trying to study for a test."
I have a story that's almost as bad.
When my book TURNING LIFE INTO FICTION first appeared, I gave a reading from it at Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle. At the time, I was a new professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, having been hired to replace someone who hadn't been let go. That person was now suing the university and oddly enough had named my new book in the lawsuit, though I had never met this person. It was odd, but I forgot about it.
Usually, I love to give readings, but this was a how-to book basically, and I made the mistake of trying to read from it rather than simply answer questions. I guess I was inexperienced, but even so, halfway through the reading, I was boring myself to tears. When the reading was over, the audience fled, all except for one woman, who smiled and asked if she could chat with me.
I smiled. Well, I had one admirer at least. The day wasn't a complete waste. She smiled and handed me a piece of paper, not a book to sign. It was a subpoena. This was the lawyer of the person who was suing the university. She had read in the paper that I was visiting Seattle where she was based and she thought she'd save herself a trip by serving me the subpoena at my reading.
And she didn't even buy the book.
Okay, I've thrown down the gauntlet. Fellow writer friends: if you have any good anecdotes of terrible book signings or readings from the dim past (of course, you're too successful now to ever have fewer than five hundred at your signings!), please e-mail me at Robinfirstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to read them and post as many as I can.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 16, 2009 8:55 PM
First time authors always want to go on tour, but that's not always the case with seasoned writers. I love going on tour though I've had a few rocky book signings in the past. When my first book appeared, a collection of stories titled ALL YOU CAN EAT, a bookstore in Charlotte, NC decided to set me up in the middle of the mall in roughly the same place you'd expect to see Santa around Christmas time. I was an unknown writer with a collection of stories sitting at a table with perhaps three hundred copies of my book. I looked as though I had been put in Author Detention. People passed by quickly. Curious children stole glances while their parents tugged them along. Finally, a woman stopped by and gingerly opened the book. After glancing at it for ten seconds at the title, she looked up at me.
"Will this help me lose weight?" she asked.
"Definitely," I said. And I made my first book sale.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 16, 2009 9:04 AM
I've been passing signs for The House on the Rock for years, driving between Iowa City and Grafton, Wisconsin to pick up my daughters from my first marriage. As with "Rock City" in Tennessee, the signs for the attraction simply seem a part of the landscape, blending in and easily ignored. But today, I decided to stop and I coaxed Olivia and Isabel, at first reluctant, to see exactly what the House on the Rock is. I thought it might be some precariously balanced piece of architecture, worth little more than a glance. We thought we'd spend ten minutes in the place, but spent more than two hours. It's filled with eccentric museum quality collections: Faberge eggs, antique cash registers, Asian memorabilia, carousel horses, Titanic and other shipwreck ephemera, and the world's largest carousel. But the most amazing collections were the calliopes and mammoth mechanical orchestras, at least a dozen, playing Ravel's Bolero, selections from the Nutcracker, and Beatles songs. I've probably never seen a more astounding collection of collections. And the mechanical fortune tellers seemed pretty accurate, too. One ancient machine told both my daughters they were "hot stuff" while another machine declared me a "hopeless dreamer" and the machine testing one's sense of humor labeled me "brain dead." A little mean-spirited those mechanical gods, kind of Greek in their petulance, but then who can blame them? They're not on Olympus but in a house on a rock in southern Wisconsin.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 12, 2009 1:25 AM
Tonight at the mall, I went into the gadget store, Brookstone, with my older daughters, Olivia, 17, and Isabel, 15. I love gadgets, always have, and I can't resist taking a peek at the latest in IPOD holders, massage chairs, and globes that spin in imitation of the earth's rotation. As I was looking at the wallets (too expensive) and the pens (nice, but I inevitably lose them), Izzy and Olivia plunked down in the massage chairs. The clerk approached me.
"Are you shopping for your bride?" he asked.
My bride? I laughed. "I'm just looking," I said.
"Well, okay then."
Afterwards, I told Olivia and Isabel what the clerk had said and they laughed, too. Hopefully, neither of my daughters look like my brides, and what an odd word, too. Maybe I misheard him.
In any case, I've felt awkward with my older daughters three times. Once was several years ago when we all went to Las Vegas and everyone wanted to go on the gondola rides at the Bellagio. Izzy was paired with my wife, Margie, and I was paired with Olivia. Our gondolier, who swore she was Italian serenaded us as she steered us through the canals of the fake Venice. As we approached a faux "Bridge of Sighs," she told us that this is where couples traditionally kiss, "except in some cases, it would be very scandalosa!" Olivia and I both sat stock still and I blushed deeply because I've always been quite easy to fluster.
Then about a year ago, shortly after my youngest, Naomi was born, we all were eating in a Thai restaurant in Iowa City. Isabel, who was thirteen at the time, was holding Naomi. Halfway through the meal, we noticed some people at a nearby table looking at us and whispering. I knew they thought that the baby was Isabel's. It turned out that one of the people at the table was an acquaintance of ours who hadn't recognized me (I had my back to him). He came over and chatted and admitted that yes, that's exactly what he'd thought.
Then, around Christmas time this year, Olivia and Isabel visited us in the Philippines. One day, I needed to go to a nearby mall to get something and Izzy wanted to come along with me. She also wanted to bring Naomi. After the experience in the Thai restaurant, I didn't really feel comfortable going to the mall with Izzy holding Naomi, but I decided to tough it out. To me, Izzy will always be five or six years old, but she's 5'7" and maybe to some Filipinos she looked older than fifteen, though not much.
As we entered the mall, I felt everyone staring at us. We get a lot of stares anyway in Manila because there aren't a whole lot of white foreigners, certainly not a lot of teenage foreign girls. Fewer holding babies and accompanying men old enough to be their fathers.
I AM her father!! I wanted to shout, but that wouldn't have done any good. I would have seemed like a loon.
So I finally, I gave in. "Do you know your way back to the condo from here?" I asked.."
Isabel, who knows how nervous I am sometimes, just laughed and said, "Oh my gosh." But she went back to the condo, leaving me to worry about the next thing - whether she and Naomi had made it back to the condo safely. I called Margie five minutes later and I heard them all laughing, all except for Naomi who doesn't yet know all my quirks.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 10, 2009 9:14 PM
Do-Over Tip Sheet
1. It's unwise to attempt certain types of do-overs, such as failed marriages and circumcisions.
2. Attempting a do over will not actually turn back the hands of time. You will never be ten or twenty again, so remember this simple fact or else you might simply come across as a creep. You are not allowed to ask actual sixteen year olds to the prom, okay?
3. Nonetheless, there will be moments during your do-overs when you might need to pause and remember your age, such as in art class when all your ten year old classmates' checker boards look nicer than yours, suppress the urge to tell them how much more money you make than them in a year.
4. Bone up on your multiplication tables and quadratic equations. There WILL be tests.
5. When playing Zombie Death Ray at recess, don't worry if the rules are a little more fluid than you're used to at work (where Zombie Death Ray goes by the name of Office Politics). You don't make the rules here. A boy named Glen makes them up as he goes along.
6. If your do over involves a performance, such as reprising your role as the Heavenly Messenger in "The Littlest Angel," understand that you're probably in for more than you bargained. What you remember as a one-line part will magically morph into a dozen, with intricate blocking and musical numbers. Yes, musical numbers. In other words, public humiliation is to a do over what carbon dioxide is to the combustion engine. By the way, this kind of comparison is called a ____________. If you don't know, go back to number 4. There WILL be tests.
7. If your do-over involves calling up someone you haven't seen in thirty years, you might want to take things slow. Best not to start off with, "Hi, Michelle. I'm back!" Be friendly and non-threatening and back off if he/she doesn't want to participate. The subtitle of this book is not, "How to be a Successful Stalker."
8. If you fail a do-over, then that's too bad. You really ARE a loser!
9. Sorry. Let me do over #8
8. You should probably limit do over attempts to one. You don't want to be caught in a perpetual cycle of do-overs for all eternity. The point isn't to succeed necessarily. It's to gain perspective.
9/10. Speaking of perspective, I'm not sure if this should be 9, 10, or maybe a footnote.
10. Learn to let go.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 8, 2009 10:34 PM
On the way back from the Philippines, I saw YES MAN, starring Jim Carey. I was interested mostly because I like Danny Wallace's book, and it's another Immersion Memoir, and I'm always interested to see how Hollywood transforms a novel, memoir, play, etc. I was a film studies major at Indiana University, and took screen writing, though my main interest and the specialty in Film Studies at Indiana University, was Film Crit. So of course, I've seen Psycho about a hundred times, the shower scene in particular slowed down to analyze excruciatingly the technique, the mise en scene, whatever. I've seen Luis Bunel's surrealist masterpiece, Un Chien Andalou at least as many times, and when I was a teaching intern in my teacher Claudia Gorbman's class, I enjoyed the little thrill of watching Freshman squirm as they watched the famous razor blade over the eye shot.
I remember Claudia chiding me for wanting to become a writer. "Film is THE art form," she told me. "Writing is old-fashioned; no one will be reading soon."
I've thought about those words over the years, and at times have thought, Claudia was right. I should have become a film maker.
But seeing YES MAN reaffirms my decision to be a writer. Using my high brow vocabulary as a one-time film critic, I can say that "It's pretty bad." Or to break it down further. Thumbs down.
Of course, I would welcome an equally bad movie made of Do Over, I have to admit. The film option has been purchased, which of course means very little. Few books that are optioned actually make it to the screen, and one thing I learned in college was that film is a translation. That was drilled into me.
I've had one piece made into a film previously, my short story "Dropping the Baby," from my first short story collection, ALL YOU CAN EAT. The person who made the film was a young (at the time) Brit studying at The National Film and Television School, who adapted my story, "Dropping the Baby." It was kind of like my story, but not really. It had some of the same dialogue anyway. But I loved it. Part of me loved it because I felt flattered that someone wanted to make a film of my story, even though it had hardly anything to do with my story, but still RIGHT THERE on the screen after everyone else was given credit, including "Best Boy" and "Fish and Chips Delivery Boy" "A special thanks to Lila and Dad," right there in tiny script were the words, "Based on a story by Robin Hemley."
Yeah, well maybe I should have followed Claudia's advice, but is the film industry any better than publishing? I'm not sure. At least four or five times I've had very excited and enthusiastic people call me and say they wanted to make a film of something or other I've written. There was this guy from Star Trek, the Next Generation (forgive me if I can't remember what his role was), who wanted to make a movie of THE LAST STUDEBAKER. He transported to another galaxy after two phone calls. Then there was some guy in Charlotte whose wife was supposedly a bigwig at MGM - he was WILD for the book, except the ending. He had misplaced his copy and asked for mine, so I gave it to him and of course never heard from him again. And on and on . . .
The writer E.L. Doctorow was once convinced by my cousin, then his literary agent, to say yes to a movie deal for his first book., Welcome to Hard Times. Doctorow was reluctant but my cousin Sam said, "Look, they're offering you ten thousand dollars [This was back in the early sixties when ten thousand was a lot] and the house you want to buy in New Rochelle has a down payment of what?"
"Ten grand," Doctorow said.
"There you go!" Sam said. "Take the money and when the movie comes out, just don't see it."
So that's what Doctorow did. He took the ten grand, bought the house, and two years later when the movie came out (starring Henry Fonda), he saw that it was showing in his little town and so he couldn't resist. He walked inside, bought some popcorn, started watching, and nearly choked. As soon as the film was over, he went to a pay phone, dialed my cousin's number, and fired him.
Well, they were still friends. A year or so later, he invited Sam over and asked if he wanted to take a look at his new novel. The novel was based on the house that Sam had urged him to buy. One day, stuck on the novel he was writing, he decided to engage in a little exercise to unblock himself. He thought about the people who had first lived in the house, back at the turn of the century. He wrote and wrote and wrote, forgetting about the novel for which he had a contract and instead writing the "exercise," which became his most famous novel, Ragtime.
So there. But of course, that wasn't such a great movie either.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 7, 2009 5:03 PM
I'm not quite sure why I'm still wearing the friendship bracelet that my 18-year old counselor Snoopy gave me nearly three years ago while I was a camper at Camp Echo for a week. But it's undeniably there and I haven't taken it off for anything since it was put on. It's kind of gray now rather than white, but the letters in blue still state quite clearly, CAMP ECHO. Okay, so letting go is something I definitely have issues with. Most of the time, I don't think people notice it on my wrist or they think it's some kind of solidarity band, worn for a cause. And when they do ask out right, "What IS that?" I kind of hide it, but I tell them, "It's my friendship bracelet." Of course, I add that I am going to take it off just as soon as Do Over is published, but I neglect to say that I HAD planned to remove it when I completed all my do over's, and that was in 2007. Sometimes I tighten it when it's loose, but most of the time I don't even notice it anymore.
I will remove it, right? But when? After the book is finally in my hands? Maybe that will be too soon. If I remove it too soon, maybe the next day sales will plummet.
This is one of the reasons I don't play bingo or gamble. I would need to buy too many good luck charms. At least voices don't tell me to do things . . . often.
But that's the thing about books and everything else. The control we have, finally, is minimal. Still, it's nice to have a backup just in case.
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 6, 2009 11:10 AM
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 3, 2009 11:33 AM
Welcome to my blog. I promise I'll try to make it interesting. Of course, in advance of the May publication of DO-OVER, I will spend some time thinking about DO OVERS in general and particular, but I'll write about other things as well - the Philippines, for instance, where I've just spent the better part of a year on a fellowship as well as the literary life, traveling, family, and friends.
For me, every book I've written feels like a do over of sorts. I've written eight and with each book I feel as though I'm learning to write all over again. I've always tried to challenge myself as a writer, moving from genre to genre as well as different modes within a genre: immersion journalism in INVENTED EDEN, practical criticism in TURNING LIFE INTO FICTION, memoir in NOLA, and what I call "Immersion Memoir" in DO-OVER. So that's part of the reason I feel as though I'm continually learning to write all over again.
Continue reading Immersion Memoir and DO-OVER!
Posted by Robin Hemley on April 2, 2009 12:13 AM