Tag Archives: F. Scott Fitzgerald

You Can Judge A Man by His Book Covers

Image result for man reading hemingway

“No, seriously, Ernie, what’s the book really about?”

Okay, this is pretty freaking funny. Helena Fitzgerald (love her self-description: “non-fiction, fiction, public crying. blah blah internet. taller in person“) has her finger on the pulse of literature. She’s also penned a fantastic piece in @ElectricLit titled “20 Authors I Don’t Have to Read Because I’ve Dated Men for 16 Years: If you’ve spent enough time around dudes, you’ve BASICALLY read these.

My only critique would be that the list is missing F. Scott Fitzgerald and that I’d put Jonathan Safran Foer on the opposite list: “20 Authors I Don’t Have to Read Because I’ve Dated Women for 16 Years.”

Aside from that one tiny blemish, the above piece is literary/dating gold.

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The Good Ol’ Social Media/Toxicity Conundrum

 Image result for another place you've never been

Author of Another Place You’ve Never Been (the prequel to I Know This Much is True?), debut novelist Rebecca Kauffman posted a thought-provoking piece on publishersweekly.com called “Is Social Media Toxic to Writing?” Ms. Kauffman explores an issue that I wrangled with for years, ever since publishing my first book way back in the Stone Ages of 2003 (hard to believe, but in that year there were no such things as Facebook [2004], Twitter [2006], Tumblr [2007], or Instagram [2010]): Do I succumb to the pressure and become a social media who**? For many years, I resisted. Social media platforms were dumb, fake (goddamn phonies, to quote Holden C.), pointless, and a waste of the space-time continuum.

Then, in 2013, I published my first novel and reality hit me like a stinky fish from Tsukiji Market across the face –>  No social media presence = No chance of building a core audience = No chance of landing an agent = No chance of signing with a respectable publisher = No chance of turning my dream into a full-time career. So what did I do?

Well, I think the answer is obvious by now. Perhaps Nick Carraway would be disappointed in my decision to sell out, but then again maybe Jay Gatsby would have seen it like Carraway described in Fitzgerald’s classic novel:

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.”

Although Ms. Kauffman looks at literary superhero Murakami Haruki as a case in point as to whether one should  spend hours on social media daily, exposing intimate parts of yourself and your inner-workings to the public (the Japanese literary superhero is notorious for giving very few interviews or public readings, let alone using social media on a regular basis), I think it’s dangerous to seek guidance in this area from a writer such as Murakami; for anyone who started a career in writing after 2004, the rules of engagement are forever changed.

I believe it was Jonathan Franzen, celebrated author of The Corrections and Freedom, who said it best when he expressed his sorrow for young writers trying to make a go of it in today’s publishing world because they are so pressured to spend time Tweeting and Facebooking, for example, that it takes time away from their craft. Franzen is especially irked by Twitter, telling all those who gathered for a talk of his at Tulane University in 2012:

“Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose. It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”

Ultimately, I think Ms. Kauffman would agree with Franzen when she ends her Publishers Weekly piece by stating:

“For me, the best way to work, the only way to work, really, is to create a space for myself in which the reader’s perception of me (as a person) does not exist. It’s only after I have squashed down all awareness of myself that I’m able to access another world and explore it freely and truthfully.”

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The Beauty of Anonymity

Jeff Goins wrote an interesting piece on medium.com about anonymity and the price of fame, especially in an era when people have become obsessed with it, called “Nobody’s Heard of You and That’s Okay.”

Before launching into all the reasons why it’s alright to be anonymous as a writer in this day and age, he details the story of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a heartbreaking story in and of itself. Inevitably, one of the fundamental questions he raises is this: If fame more often than not directly or indirectly crushes us professionally/emotionally/spiritually, why do so many of us constantly pursue it?

Four quotes he highlights concerning this subject that I thought were right on the money are the following:

We all love the idea of getting what we want now without realizing the negative implications of success.

Fast fame is the quickest to fade.

Successful people fail just as much as unsuccessful people. The difference is in how they interpret failure.

There are special privileges reserved for the unlikely and overlooked.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more success with my literary career, but Goins is right to point out that there are certain advantages to being Joe Nobody. For example, there’s definitely something to be said about the fearlessness in experimentation because you’re not afraid of the blowback from society. That being said, it’s always tempting to consider whether it’s possible to reap all the positive rewards from fame (wealth and status) without taking on the negative (greed and insecurity). I don’t have the answer to that one, but I’ll certainly come back to it later in life if I ever hit the big time!

 

 

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Does Alcohol + Writing = Genius x Calamity ÷ The X Factor?

What do Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Hunter S. Thompson, Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Chandler, and O. Henry all share in common?

They were all alcoholics at one time, many of them for life, some of whom actually died as a direct result of their affliction.

Frighteningly enough, the above list only represents some of the greatest names in English literature over the past 150 years. This raises another alarming question: Is a grossly unhealthy dependence on alcohol necessary to become a great and prolific writer? Should writers follow Hemingway’s advice when he once mused, “Write drunk; edit sober”? While a humorous, pithy, and catchy suggestion, was Papa onto something?

Fortunately, the answer is a resounding NO!

Just ask Stephen King, who since quitting drugs and drinking has produced arguably his best work; David Mitchell, who’s an insanely responsible person and health nut; Murakami Haruki, who quit smoking and left his heavy whiskey-drinking days behind long ago at his former Tokyo bar and now takes solace in jogging, not the bottle. I’m pretty sure Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje are on the straight and narrow, too. Then there’s Isaac Asimov, Anne Rice, and Stephenie Meyer, each famous as a writer for different reasons, but all of whom are teetotalers (abstinent from alcohol).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been binge-watching Intervention Canada, an intense documentary that spends a few days following drug and/or alcohol addicts (and by “addict” I mean so far gone in most cases that it’s actually difficult to watch sometimes) before facilitating an intervention and offering treatment at many of Canada’s top treatment facilities. (Sidebar here: is it just me or are all the best rehab centres in Canada located in British Columbia?)

While watching an episode of IC a few days ago, I was struck by the courage one young woman summoned up when coming to grips with her demons, so I decided to write it down:

“I do not know what it is to be brave. And I do not know what the word bravery means to other people. What I do know is that strength is brought about by confidence. What I do know is that hardship fosters understanding. I believe kindness and thoughtfulness are the keys to ensuring a successful life. As I move forward, and embark on a new life, a life free of alcohol, free of pain, a life free of poison, I take to heart what the word bravery might actually mean.”

Scientists and philosophers have long tried to determine what exactly leads to genius. I think the only thing people can agree upon is that there is most definitely a biological factor; some people are simply blessed with a formidable brain. But it’s not all nature, I think. There is most certainly a nurture component – hard work, dedication, and a passion for a particular field of knowledge. At the same time, I feel equally confident saying that crutches like OxyCoton, meth, heroin, crack, whiskey, gin, beer, etc. (ad infinitum) will get a person nowhere, especially an artist like a writer, who already spends enough time alone and possibly dredging up memories and emotions that could sink even the strongest person if not handled with extreme cerebral care.

So if you’re interested in getting started on that story you know you have in you, or perhaps you’re brash enough to want to become a professional writer (ha ha ha ha ha…that’s just dumb and dumbly), do so with a cup of Joe or a mug of herbal tea, preferably in the hours before the sun rises, and you (and your liver) will be grateful for the decision in the years to come.

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