Friday, June 08, 2007

Grumpy Old Bookman Proves Me Wrong

Was it only three years ago that I had an ego about the size of Prince Edward Island?

Here is what I wrote to the daughter of trhe Grumpy Old Bookman when she rose to the occasion of defending her father after I'd made some fun of his fiction writing.


I thoroughly sympathise and emphathise i with your father's labours these past forty years, myself having had a similar string of good/bad luck.

Enough that no worse person can really hurt a better and if I appear flippant and glib in my comments to the Grumpy Old Bookman then all the worse for me.

Though something of a professional tragedian without having all that much to do with theatre, I realize that I have led a rather charmed life. My family, and I with them, have been repeatedly bombed and shelled in the course of World War Two. This has given me a gallows humour when it comes to other people's tragedies. I guess I have become somewhat inured and possibly insensitive to the plight of others, certainly the sick, and those good people to whom terrible things happen for apparently no reason.

But I have had the good fortune of having had the best teachers in the world, notably at the Toronto Star, and success came rather early, when I was barely thirty at which point I published, through Ryerson Institute, Toronto, some poetry and one short story. I later wrote about my war experience as a child and somehow succeeded in serializing my Black Icon in a provincial magazine hereabouts.

But after that, I pretty well your father's luck. My last publisher was Vince Ricci, a sports bar owner in Newmarket, Ontario; that's how bad things gotten. Published by a bar owner, with RICCI'S SPORTS BAR ads all over the book.

Very recently, I have been dragged, kicking and screaming into the 21st century, whereupon I somehow "got" the knack of email anyway and some blogging technique.

Throughout my travails as a fiction writer, I have been variously employed by newspapers and magazines, notably the Canadian Star Weekly, Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail and (God help us!) The Reader's Digest.

But I have entirely missed the boat on hardcover book publishing. I have received writing awards, grants, fellowships, various kudos, including being call a "town treasure" by the mayor of Newmarket, Ontario--this after I ran against him for office! But still the dream of hardcover book publishing has eluded me completely.

So I suppose we're all in the same boat.

Still, when it comes to judging the writing of others, I am an absolute martinet and a complete perfectionistwhen I look at a writer's style. Nowhere will I tolerate the copula verb "to be" in commercial copy nor will I read any further if I sense the writing comes from the "between you and I" crowd.
Present company excluded, I hold that most literary blogs on the net are amateurish, glaringly illiterate, even though the writer may have swallowed both dictionary and thesaurus-- and there are webhosts who I swear should be hauled up on charges of imitating real, hardworking writers. It is not enought to have the desire. You need the talent, a rare, volatile and sometimes destructive thing.

So while it is so nice to imitate the actions of the tiger, you have to be that tiger, and if you're not, you face the tragedy of the little engine that thought it could, while it actually couldn't.
Of all things, this is the most difficult.

I will probably give up blogging, but not before posting my Black Icon, my original novella. It is the book I started out with, and quite frankly, I have wasted three million (sic) words of commercial print to try to match that very first effort. Better, I think, to have tried the lottery or some brainless job in a factory.

The daemon is still there. It will always be there. It is never really over.

But as with sensitive people who are intelligent, it is really hard to fail and somehow still keep oneself in the game. The agony of professional failure!
The sensitive ones who are not intelligent face the greatest tragedy, for they know not what they attempt --those who digest miles of not-very-good historical fiction to feed a talent that is not really there --and ending up baying at the wind.

I have some Newfoundland friends and they say amusing things like "If at first you don't succeed, give up; no use making a fool of yourself." I frankly wish a lot of literary bloggers would do just that: give up. It is my feeling that
a lot of scripts are rejected because of plain incompetence and all the creative writing classes in the world will not help.

Creators create.

Doers do.

And shame on you if, after forty years, you have not learned the shorthand, the insider's method, had not learned in plain, how to write.

It takes some time, but you should be a writer by forty. If you hadn't learned your trade properly, have had bad teachers, well it just gets more difficult.

Meanwhile, I strongly respect bloggers who have actually taken the time, the years to learn how to write.

But poseurs (present company again excepted) drive me to paroxysms. Unskilled violinists at a symphony, and what could be more embarrasssing than that.


Well, lookee here: The Grumpy Old Bookman is writing really well these days.

Here is what he has to say about The Angry Young Men, a group of British writers I have long admired, from a very early age.

Angry young men and a bitter old one
Ooh. Ooh. It makes you wince, even to observe from a distance.
Once upon a time, back in the 1950s, there was a media construct in the UK known as the Angry Young Men. This was a label stuck on to a group of writers by some newspaper columnist or critic, or both, and the AYMs became, briefly, the talk of the town. (The US equivalent was, I suppose, the Beat Generation.)
These young Englishmen (they were all young, and men) had virtually nothing in common, beyond the fact that they wrote stuff, and disliked -- nay, hated and despised -- many aspects of England as it then was. And with good reason. Their number included John Osborne, John Wain, John Braine, and Colin Wilson. (And, apparently, a good few more -- I had forgotten. Time is merciful in many respects, and growing old does have hidden benefits.)
The angries hardly knew each other, much less formed a deliberate movement to achieve something or other. And they were all, I suspect, deeply jealous of each other's success.
Now the first three of the ones I named are dead. So are most of the others. And Colin Wilson, at the end of a career for which the word chequered might have been invented, has written a book about them. Roger Lewis reviews it in the Telegraph, and the review makes painful reading.
The various angries all came to unpleasant ends, cheered on their way, it seems, by Wilson. And Roger Lewis seems to feel a deep-seated contempt for the author of this summary of a long-dead age (which was barely alive at the time, if truth be told). As I say, it makes you wince just to read about both the age and the book, not to mention Wilson's feelings as he discovers what the Telegraph really thinks of him. Wilson, by the way, says of himself that 'I had taken it for granted that I was a man of genius since I was about 13.' And he made no secret of that in the '50s. My, how we all laughed. But it's painful to contemplate such silliness and delusion.
I found all this, by the way, courtesy of Savannah, who left a comment on one of last week's posts, and led me to Dick Headley, where there's a staggering piece of video about beautiful women. Stunners, Mr Swinburne used to call them. And they are. Every one.

Well, in blog form anyway, Grumpy Old Bookman writes very well.

Here is what is on top of his blog.

Grumpy Old Bookman
A blog about books and publishing, aimed at both readers and writers. Listed by the Guardian in 2005 as one of the top ten literary blogs.
--And here I was, disparaging Grumpy's work!
Come on Manchester Guardian!
I am feeling very insecure these days.


EA Monroe said...

Ivan, thanks for the link to the amazing video. The images and the music are hypnotic.

I hope you never give up blogging! I know I'm not one of the "best" writers in the world, but you know, for all your perfectionism about writing (and I'm the same way!), that you've shown interest in the piddly little things I thrown up on my blog means a lot to me.

I'm still a work in progress; still learning; still experimenting. Maybe I'll never be published in hardback (or paperpack!), but it's been a fun, learning journey. I'm not sure where I fit in though. I'm just me.

Never give up! One of these days, we'll see your hardback book on the shelf, or maybe even on the big screen! ~Liz

islandgrovepress said...

I like your work, because when you write about your youth in Oklahoma, the work has depth, breadth, maturity.
Whether it is or isn't clear to you, you've come a long way, baby.


islandgrovepress said...

p.s. to Liz,

The Dick Headley video with music and images of beautiful women in paintings--is really quite an experience, certainly for the artistically inclined. It is an incredible set of montages on Headley's YouTube.
Betcha Josie will really appreciate it if she clicks onto Dick Headley in the Grumpy Old Bookman blog sample I offered at the bottom of my current blog.


Dick Headley? Great blog, but, uh, Poof!


Anonymous said...

From Aaron Braaten. Ivan: Dude! You loaded tonight? I'm gettin' gunned on some Gibson's ....

islandgrovbepress said...


I am confused.

You said you'd drive down all the way from Philly on a road trip so we could share the Gibson's.

I sent an email, but no reply.

Guess you're not coming this weekend...Maybe it's because I'd said I'd be broke?...And you're the guy with the super executive job? :)


jmb said...

Hi Ivan,
I thought I would come to visit Josie's "fiance". I enjoyed reading this post. I empathize with your desire to make it into hardcover, not because I am in a similar situation. But to have had that hope engendered in you by your early success and to not have had it fulfilled is rather sad. But it has given you a goal and one that it seems you still are trying to fulfill.
Because I love to read and admire a good wordsmith, I too would like to have written a book, but sadly lack the talent and that inner drive. If the ability to write well rubbed off from the books one reads I would have it in spades, because I have been a lifelong reader.

I will call again to explore further.

jmb said...

Excuse the split infinitive I just noticed as the comment popped up. I meant "not to have had". I changed the wording there so did not notice. I don't want to be classed with the "between you and I" crowd.

Josie said...

Ivan, don't you dare stop blogging. The Quarks will hunt you down. I know you feel a bit "down" sometimes, but you are a big part of the blogging community, and you have one of the best blogs out there. And you get more readers all the time.

I enjoyed the video, but the faces morphed a bit too quickly. They should have kept each face a bit longer. But it was beautiful.

My computer is working again. Apparently the signal to my modem is not very good, so the Shaw technicians are coming in to fix it.

("Between you and I" is like fingernails on a blackboard to me, and even TV news announcers use it now. Ugh.)

islandgrovepress said...


Thanks for calling in.

It is my belief that if you read enough, the adeptness will come.

I don't think you were splitting any infinitives. OK in ordinary conversation.

Where I have trouble is between the subjunctive and the indicative.
...Probably my crummy French which just serves to confuse me.


islandgrovepress said...


Thanks for the chin-up.

So glad you are back on the air, albeit with a little chicken wire and tape.
Gotta watch that activity signal on your modem. Mine gets a little
jammed up sometimes...Darn Mother Bell!
I used to complain about G.O.B.'s fiction writing.
But what he's got up these days is erudite, bigod!
Maddening thoroughness.


jmb said...

Well Ivan, luckily the subjunctive has almost disappeared in English. But "if I were a rich man" and a few other examples still exist but are mostly ignored it seems, especially in speech. Still some subjunctive left in French but not as much as in Italian where it flourishes in many tenses and even more in Spanish.
In case you think I speak all the languages, no, only English and Italian but my daughter teaches French (also speaks Italian so can compare)and tells me this is so. My Spanish friends tell me about that language.

islandgrovepresss said...

I kind of get it.
As it were.


Donnetta Lee said...

Writers write.

Thank goodness. I'm a student and hopefully

Students learn.

At least, my fingers are crossed.

Donnetta said...

Ah, Donetta,

We are all students of somebody.

I am trying to get it together for a blog on staying at Ft. Myers Beach--story, actually.

I might have to go to John Updike for style.

Seems I had been fired as editor of a large metropolitan daily and had taken a job as an assistant construction superintendent.
Holy cow! Crashing failure.

...But just then, my Jewish mother-in-law decided she needed a mother-sitter in her dotage, and what better Ladies' Home Companions were there than old Ivan and his poor wife and kids.
We got into the station wagon at once, with MIL in the back seat. Drove lazily, with frequent motel stops, down 75. Mommy footed the entire bill and Daddy-in-law got us the brand new station wagon.

Magnificent failure!
Mother-in-law had big bucks, I had just recovered from my gloom in getting a major article published in the Canadian edition of the Reader's Digest, l973, and after the trauma of job loss, almost jumped up to catch my own tail with the sudden good luck!

How quickly can southwest Florida make short work of depression!

Seemed like I had effed-up, but had actually effed-in.

Just thinking of you there at Ft. Myers, those big air conditioners going, everything white and green, and the aquamarine pools.
Jesus, it's hard to get bummed out in Florida!
...Unless you're maybe in Boca Raton :-)


Josie said...

Ivan, I just popped over to say hello, briefly. My computer crashed and burned again, but it's running for a few moments. I guess I have to go and crank the generator again.

I'm curled up with Einstein.

Josie said...

Gotta crank her, Josie.
Energy is mass times the speed of ligh squared.
I can just see old Albert in his tattered cardigan, yelling in a high voice, heavily inflected in German.
Nu. Must elektrekeit gemachen!
Schnell! :)

Sorry to hear of all those glitches.
What is happening to my blogging "grannies"?
I know what has happened to me is the result of some kind of karma.
But you guys haven't done anything to deserved half the crud that descends upon you.
Into each life a little scheisse must fall?
I think I'm going to get out my rattles and don my witch doctor dance gear.
Got to join my Hopi Indian friends in believing all this weltschmerz is just a state of mind.

Egad. You come back from Mexico changed; you come back from a cross-country road trip through America changed.
I think the prairie writer Willa Cather pretty well nailed it. Seemed to be coming from the mystery of Mesa Verde, some sort of aboriginal mythos.
Remember the movie, Billy Jack?
I think they got a piece of it there.
Old hippie here going to find Don Juan, the Yaqui sorcerer.

Gotta stop drinking this tequila.
Makes you sort of mystical.
Kickapoo joy juice, as in Al Capp.
What a talented little pederast was that Al Capp.!
Developed this freakiestof mythologies for the country.
Damn, I miss that strip.
But not so much Pogo.
That little possum was right out to cypress tree lunch.
I loved what MAD Magazine did in a lampoon of Pogo...Called him Gopo Possum--right out to lunch too.

Sometimes Saturday Night Live still hits the nail on the head, like last night's rerun of Kristen Wiig doing Nancy Polosi, showing all Democrats to be basically pervs, no animals were hurt in their group sex activities and Nancy Polosi had to take time from voting on a bill so she could have an abortion, another dear Democrat tenet.
Gallows humour.
Seems like only humour will save us. Go ask John Stewart or Stephen Colbert. There is hope.
Laughing lions will come, says old Voltaire somewhere (While running off with somebody elses wife).

Don't you ever get the spookiest notion that the artist, despite his
bending of the commandments sometimes, seems to be the last civilizing force?
I don't know who writes Kristen Wiig's skits, probably a Canadian.
Well,we Canadians used to know things!


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