See also "The Complete Angler" by Donavan Hall (@theangler)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Filmmaking for novelists?

Over weekend I was talking with Alice about “my writing career.”  Dr Pasavento, my therapist, insists that writing is just a hobby and I should just do it “for fun” rather than weighting the activity down with tedious add-ons like goals and aspirations.  “Don’t be so serious about everything,” he says.

Now that I’ve written a stack of novels, I feel like I should face the next challenge, that of finding someone willing to read what I’ve written.  Not all of it, of course, but at least some of it.  “I’m living at the wrong time in history,” I said to Alice, alluding to the trope that people aren’t reading as much as people did in the 50s and 60s.  Alice, ever connected to reality, countered with, “Nonsense.  You’re living at the best possible time to be a writer.  Publishing used to be difficult and expensive.  Now you can publish with a click of the button.”

While the problem of publication might have been solved with the Internet and the World Wide Web, the even thornier problem of cultivating an audience is now something that an artist (content creator?) has to deal with.  It’s not sufficient to post your novel on your web site and then tweet about it.

After I finished writing my first novel, Goodbye Green Day, I briefly flirted with adapting it myself into a film.  The concept was simple.  Since the action of Goodbye Green Day is set in New York City, I’d spent a day in New York recording video on the streets.  Then I’d take that video, edit it, add a voice-over soundtrack of the narrator telling his story and voila! I’d have a homemade movie of my novel.  My guess is that I could get more people to watch my film, than I would find people willing to read the book.

I was reminded of this seemingly elegant plan when I read recently an article in the Guardian.  The article is about filmmaker Mark Duplass who said (basically): if you want to make a film, just do it.

“The first step is the $3 short film,” he said. “We’re in a place now where technology is so cheap that there’s no excuse for you not to be making films on the weekends with your friends, shot on your iPhone – we had a feature film at Sundance this year that was shot entirely on iPhones and it did really well.”

So this morning I got my old digital camera out of the basement, dusted it off, and then located a tripod that had been thrust in the back corner of the closet in my studio.  I set up the camera on the tripod and I did three takes of a possible introduction to a short documentary, a “making of...” style documentary which will tell the story of how I came to write one of my novels.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


In case you missed it, here's the transcript of the interview I did for Alamo TV on my recent trip to San Antonio.  Several times during my interview I referenced an interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard which appeared in The Independent recently.

What drives you to write?

Writing is a way of thinking.  If I didn’t write then, not only would I be an irritable bastard, I wouldn’t know what I thought.  Just ask my wife.  On the days when (for some reason, and these days are rare) I can’t write, I become extremely short tempered and confused.  Even though my condition hasn’t been officially diagnosed, I’m driven to write by some sort of psychosis.  The act of writing itself isn’t an expression of the mania, but an antidote.  If I didn’t write, I’d be an insufferable wreck and would probably have to take up smoking and drinking heavily.

You’ve never submitted any of your novels for publication.  But your contemporary, the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard, has become a literary rockstar.  How does that make you feel?

How do you think it makes me feel?  I’m already in therapy because I can barely deal with my feelings of overwhelming inadequacy.  Every morning when I wake up I don’t even turn on the lights because I can’t look myself in the mirror knowing what I mediocrity I am.  All those dreams I had in my youth of writing a truly great multivolume novel have come to nothing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m happy for Karl Ove, but the fiction which consoles me is that there’s still hope that there’s a reading public out there who will be interested in the meandering drivel that I write.

What’s on your bedside table?

A book light and a package of condoms.

What’s your desert island book?

That show-off, Karl Ove, went with Finnegan’s Wake.  The bastard!  That was my answer.  But seriously, recently I was talking with my colleagues at Phaneron about the article by Stephen Marche in the Guardian about centireading, that is the act of reading the same book one hundred times.  Marche, by his own account has read Hamlet and PG Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves one hundred times.  There’s a pretty good discussion of Marche’s piece on Scott Esposito’s blog too if you are interested.

Anyway, I’m guessing that a desert island book has to be a book that would stand up to centireading.  While I don’t have any plans to read Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow a hundred times, it might be a good candidate for a desert island book, and it’s in a similar vein as Finnegan’s Wake.  But on second thought, screw Pynchon and forget Joyce.  I’d pack the Mammoth Book of Erotic Photography (Volume 4) for reasons which I’ll leave you to work out for yourself.

What’s the most overrated book in the literary canon?

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.  You thought I was going to say My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, didn’t you?

Do you listen to music while writing?

No.  My ability to concentrate is so feeble that the slightest noise will derail my train of thought.

What song would you have played at your funeral?

“If You Were Here” by The Thompson Twins.

Your relationship with your father is central to your own unpublished multivolume fictional memoir.  You have a son.  How are you doing as a father?

I thought my father did a pretty good job at being a dad, but I still ended up in therapy and have had to experiment with prescription mood-altering medication for years to deal with the emotional trauma I didn’t even know I was suffering growing up.  Mostly, as a father, my motto is “do no harm.”

Are you optimistic about the world your son is growing up into?


Can you elaborate?

I could, but if you’re really interested in my answer to this question then you should read The Golden Marshmallow Dream.  In that novel I think I do a pretty good job articulating my pessimism about the world’s present course.  Nothing short of global catastrophe is going to save us.

Is The Golden Marshmallow Dream one of your unpublished novels?


What’s your most cherished memory?

The day when I won the school spelling bee in fifth grade.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Stream of consciousness

Probably the first time I ever heard anyone use the phrase “stream of consciousness” it was in an attempt to describe the writing of James Joyce, especially Ulysses.  Since then I read (I’m unable to lay my hand on the source at the moment) somewhere that what we find in the pages of Ulysses isn’t properly “stream of consciousness”, at least not in the way that William James conceived of it in his essay, “The Stream of Thought” where he writes that “[c]onciousness from our natal day, is of a teeming multiplicity of objects and relations, and what we call simple sensations are results of discriminative attention, pushed often to a very high degree.”

Thinking that perhaps this debunking of Ulysses as “stream of consciousness” is found in the pages of Anthony Burgess’ book ReJoyce I opened that book up and flipped through the pages until I found this: “The mind naturally strays and wanders, holding to nothing very long, coming back frequently to the same point again and again but rarely staying there.  A naturalistic representation of the human mind monologuising to itself may be of scientific interest, but it has nothing to do with art.  Themes must be imposed... and these themes must move in towards each other, suggesting purposeful movement and the unity proper to a work of literature.”  [ReJoyce by Anthony Burgess, p. 85]

Let’s file that away for a future post.  Burgess’ notion of themes and unity as being necessary to a work of art will be important ideas when I come to the intended point of this ramble: which is the fictional memoir by the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard.

The term “stream of consciousness” (evidently) was first applied in 1918 to a work of literature by May Sinclair in a review published in The Egoist of the first three volumes of Dorothy Miller Richardson’s autobiographical novel, Pilgrimage.  I chanced across this tidbit of trivia in an article by Amy Shearn in Dame Magazine comparing Dorothy Miller Richardson’s novel with Knausgaard’s My Struggle.

What May Sinclair meant when describing Richardson’s Pilgrimage as stream of consciousness was that in the books “...there is no drama, no situation, no set scene. Nothing happens. It is just life going on and on…”  Which pretty much describes Knausgaard’s My Struggle doesn’t it?  What marks Knausgaard’s novel is he appears to make no choices about what to include in the narrative.  Anything goes.  Whatever comes to him, he writes it down without judging it.  William Deresiewicz called My Struggle “artless.”  But that, according to Knausgaard, was the point.  No more art.  No more tricks.  No more authorial slight of hand.  What he wants to give the reader is raw text, uncooked writing, unpretentious, and by extension, words that are pure and connect us what the real.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

We are not capitalists

One of our new brewing partners, Dave, says that capitalism doesn't exist.  Of course, it exists, I said. But it's not a system, he said.  It's not like taxes or the Islanders hockey team.

I wasn't sure where this line of reasoning would take us, but later I wondered if Dave was thinking about the "invisible hand" that guides collective human action.  Was Dave saying that the hand doesn't exist?  Did he conflate the hand with capitalism?

Early in Josep Pla's The Grey Notebook one of the characters insists that capitalism is not moral or immoral.  It's akin to a force of nature.  It is nature! the character declares at one point.  While it may seem like it sometimes, there's nothing inevitable or natural about capitalism.

So yes, Dave, there is a capitalism.

But sometimes it doesn't seem like it because what we mean when we say the word capitalism is so ill-defined.  Most people (it seems) define capitalism to be whatever it is we do to make money.  This is so broad an idea that it's not terribly useful.

Even the dictionary definition of capitalism doesn't get it right.  My dictionary defines capitalism in such as way that it is restricted to private individuals or owners who engage in trade and industry for a profit.  The problem with this definition is that it leaves out two key components, and misleadingly excludes trade and industry engaged in by a state for profit.  I've heard people label state run trade and industry as socialism.  Is that correct?  I don't think so.  Not if we are talking about gaining profit from the labor of people employed by whoever the owner might be, be it a private individual, a corporation, or a state.  The most important part of the definition of capitalism has to do with the exploitation of the labor of one person for the benefit of another person.  That, boys and girls, is the what we mean when we talk about capitalism.  Not some nebulous, vague idea about what we do to earn a living.  That's the first key component missing from the dictionary definition.  The second key part that's missing is the emphasis that the owner controls the means of production.  It's this control that makes it possible to exploit labor for a profit.

So next time I see Dave at the brewery, I'll be sure to ask him if there are private individuals, corporations, or states who control the means of production and who are profiting from the labor of others and see how he answers that question.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Saga

Recently, I traveled to San Antonio.  Just a short trip, two days of travel, a flight down and a flight back sandwiching two days in the birthplace of the Republic of Texas.  Even for a short trip like this, I have to decide carefully which books to bring along.  I narrowed the selection down to three books. One to read on the flight down.  One to read while in San Antonio.  And one more to read on the flight back.  But the day before I was to travel, the New York Times Magazine published the first part of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Saga.

Reading Knausgaard has become a rite of spring.  For the last three years in late March or early April I’ve been reading the next volume of Knausgaard’s sprawling autobiographical novel, My Struggle.  In a few weeks, the fourth volume will be released in the United States.  It’s already available in England and I’ve been treating myself to reading the reviews about this account of Karl Ove’s sexually frustrated teenage years.

On the airplane to San Antonio I read the first part of My Saga, a work commissioned by the New York Time Magazine were it will be serialized over the coming weeks (months?).  Most of this first part of My Saga is classic Knausgaard, self-effacing, self-indulgent, self-centered... it’s Knausgaard writing about what it’s like to be Knausgaard.  There was one moment (maybe it was because the flight was so bumpy and I thought this might be the last thing I ever read) when I could see why some critics think Knausgaard’s writing is crap (how incredibly dull, I thought, I could write stuff like this).  But just saying that his writing is dull and uninteresting is to miss out on an opportunity.  It’s too easy to dismiss Knausgaard, too easy to say his sentences are flat, that his subject matter is mundane and boring.  To throw out Knausgaard in this fashion would be like kicking a dog in the stomach after it’s already rolled over and put its paws in the air.  Such criticism would be a gratuitous act of cruelty.