Friday, September 21, 2007

Writing the unwritable--again


Stop me if you think I'm going over the line, but there are times I get a redneck notion that I'm a straight guy working in a gay medium.

I had the spookiest sense, after meeting my first editor of an influencial house, that this guy was gayer than Richard Simmons at a sportswear promotion, and what the hell was he going to teach me about writing was fey sensibility and experimental, retrograde attemps at fiction. For this was an arty house and I was not necessarily an arty guy--more along the lines of Mickey Spillane.

So although my script was not necessarily "X's kind of book, he could not totally ignore me, and that is why I was here.
He soon stopped the "sophisticted" act and we began to talk of real matters, his articles in Harpers, beautiful books about aboriginal girls growing up in terrible reservations and the fact he was in Canada to dodge the draft.
Guy was for real.

But there were, here and there sly accusations that I had "sold out" because of my commercial success, that there wasn't any money, really, to print my book--"it's the money, you know. Always the money. Getting the money."

What he was talking abou was the granting structure in Canada. Book sales hardly mattered. There was the $100,000 Canada Council grant, sixty per cent to the writer and forty for the publisher. Seemed to me writing in Canada was politics.
And within that politics, you had to lobby for women's rights, gay marriage, rights of the handicapped and the Canadian Cancer Society.

I wondered what all this had to do with literature.

"Don't wonder," I almost heard the editor saying. "You write great adventure, but you can't write fiction."

Ooof.

We would have these meetings often. But we never became friends.

And that particular novel was not published by that house.

I went elsewhere, saw the years go by and observed that this particular house was into the usual chi-chi poo-poo issues, the political correctness, the feminist revolution, the poor oppressed gays, the AIDS crowd and the braggario by one author in that house that you had to be gay to be any good. I saw them all move to government
and computer technology after a spate of really sleep-arousing books, like the Engllsh Patient.
"We produce good books," says the company letterhead, but they don't, oh Lord they don't.
They produce good politics, and politics today seems a furthering of a cultural rot that has been going on since the days of Bob Dylan.

"There was a wicked mesenger
From Eli he did come
With a mind that muliplied the smallest matter
And when they went and sent for him
He answered with his thumb
For his tongue it could not speak
Bu only flatter."

I am fast developing the belief that Canadian, literature, like American literature, should stand on its own.
This is difficult to achieve in Canada, since a besseller here is about 16,000 copies.

But other, smaller nations have achieved excellence, government granting or not, notably Denmark and just about every Latin American republic.

Yes, yes, we are all on the right side of things in Canadian publishing, the trendiness, the attack against puritanism. How many are left, really? Five? Perhaps three.

And to be gay doesn't necessarily equate with piety.

Traditionally married people who happen to write books are now considered puritan. And weird.

Talk about sturm und drang!

##

47 comments:

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Morning Ivan.

Now I do not know much about publishing, only had a few grace the pages and lately I am more interested in writing from my heart than choosing what is "wanted" in the writing world. I suppose with that attitude I will never be famous, eh? Well, maybe famous isn't what I want, instead I think I just want people feel, when they read, whatever I am writing.

I will agree with you that one seems to have to be in the edge of whatever is popular to get noticed. ::shakes head:: Just ridiculous. They have no idea on how much great writing they are missing out on. Hell, I can name a few just from blogs that I would buy and read everyday. But then who listens to me anyway?

Oh Ivan, your best is still within, in that I have no doubt. You just need to find the right publisher, of course that is a job in itself.

Tara

benjibopper said...

My creative writing tends to be very political, but it isn't necessarily the kind of politics that work in this market. And my personal demographics are very traditional.

Yet, these issues you highlight tend to generate the best stories. As you recently pointed out, when a culture is oppressed, that culture produces more and better material. Gays, women, people of colour, all write from a a place of oppression.

I'm not saying a white man in a traditional marriage can't also write from that position. They can and do, often with great success. We all have our burdens to bear. The struggles from these burdens tend to make the best stories. And that's exactly why Latin America, has produced so many amazing writers, as have other brutally oppressed geographical and politcal places.

I agree with you, though, that placing politics over great literature is tragic. But what is even worse is allowing market economics to crush so many great aspiring writers.

Last night I watched a whole slew of spoken word artists at an open mic night. The level of talent was impressive. Most of them were saying exactly the kind of things that are publishable in Canada. Yet most of them will never be published in that sense, because we let the market push a few big names to the fore and there just isn't room enough for all that diverse talent on Canada's little literary stage.

How to fix this? Many of those Latin American poets would say overthrow capitalism. I say build a more from-the-ground-up, do-it-yourself approach to publishing. Here in Halifax we have a zine library, which is brilliantly subversive. What we lack is much in the way of independent press with circulation, and what we do have could be better.

Perhaps we bloggers should unite and create a cooperative publishing house.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Good morning, Tara, and thank you.

Every so often I get drunk with my artist friend who reminds me that the genius Van Gogh sold only one painting in his entrie life...And even here, he had to lean on his brother, Theo.
I am not Van Gogh (Maybe crazy enough and I have that, at least, in commone with the flying Dutchman!).

Ah well. I am getting nibbles.

...Now if I coud only fill out forms without leaving out a whole whack of stuff. Simple things are hard to do! Separation will do that to yer!

Uh -oh. Back come the forms the relevant house has fired back to me. :)

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Point well taken, Benji.

And a pretty good example of writing at that.

Ivan

TomCat said...

Ivan, a most interesting article. If I could write anything other than politics, I'd never make it there. Although I tend to support the correct issues, Ive never been one to take part in the petty politics of the workplace. While I see nothing wrong with grant supported writing, obtaining the grants should be based solely on the quality of the writing.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Yes, and yes again, Tomcat.

If only it were true that quality alone should rule.

It is my opiniion that the last twenty years have produced Canadian novels so flat that they may as well have been written on a wafer--all of them...and plagiarized flatness on top of that, usually from American or Latin American sources.
(Okay, I try to emulate Chekhov--but you may as well go first class. :)

Ivan

Ivan

Josie said...

Ian, Van Gogh didn't sell any paintings in his lifetime. Not one. It wasn't until after his death that Theor's wife who was named (ahem) Johanna sold some of Van Gogh's paintings and promoted him.

I'm going to get really, really drunk this weekend. Do you have lots of vodka? I'm a giant sap, a dope and an idiot.

Josie said...

I mean Ivan. Typo. But you knew that.

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Hello Ivan....


Now now Josie, do not get too drunk, remember I am calling you... chit chat chit chat... Tonight? or Tomorrow? You choose.

::snuggles into Ivan's loveseat::

Trevor Record said...

Shucks, howdy, Ivan.

I read an article about the writing community has "lost its teeth" recently. Or North American popular culture in general, anyhow. Main points included a lack of Norman Mailer threatening to punch perceived commies in the kisser, and Patti Smith losing her phantom testicles.

I have noticed that Canadian books getting passed out in my English classes have a lot of themes in common. You, perhaps, need certain things in your books to be considered "literature" rather that whatever it is the rest of us toiling away in obscurity are writing here in Canada. Some of these include:
1. A youth protagonist (teenage or younger) that comes from a troubled home and has a dull life (although possibly peppered with casual drug use and sex).
2. A protagonist (usually female) that has some sort of psychological illness.
3. A small town, possibly religious group, or native community.

Although perhaps it is just the teachers I am getting. (I notice they also make a lot of jokes about American politics despite being Canadian teachers of English.)

What does being gay or Haida have to do with writing well? Politicking well, you say. Hmm, maybe I should claim allegiance to a trendy minority.

Donnetta Lee said...

Well, at least you haven't cut off your ear yet.

Interesting thoughts. What is write anyway?

Donnetta

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Trevor,

I guess English teachers are going by what their own English teachers told them about Canadian writing.

Ignored, probably would be Wyndham Lewis' rewrite of a man called Reid
in a truly innovative book called "Self Condemned". You would dig it. It has a lot of bar scenes and maybe even a polar bear or two
threatening New Toronto.
I doubt if Wyndham Lewis (the famous artist pal of T.S. Eliot) is even mentioned.
What we have settled on are the themes you have offered as examples.
In my opinion, it is really bad YA, and it is retrograde. There is no take-off point from Reid-Lewis.

About the best example of anybody really ploughing new ground is my friend Graeme Gibson's FIVE LEGS, which I found excellent. Graeme is married to The Famous One and I fear he hasn't produced anything too exciting since LEGS.
Wouldn't the fiery F.W. Nietzche have fun with our era. The elevation of the f*cked up and incompetent and the pulling down of the able.
I got a first hand taste of this when I tried to reapply for my old teaching job.

I just looked too much like a golfer. And a Whitebread address.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Josie,

Ooh. What did you do, Baloo?

...Couldn't haved embarrassed yourself more than me this week...I skinned my elbows on the dumpster. My sometime girlfriend fell right in.

Yes, yes, I just happen to have some vodka.
I think we could both use a drink.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Donnetta and Josie,

Ah well, at least he lent the chick an ear--or a good part of it.

I didn't know that Van Gogh's sale was posthumous.

Heh. Try and buy a painting today!

But the guy was a genius who fought photography iself and won--in spades!

EA Monroe said...

Ivan and Josie, I am in good company with you two! Someone needs to tell me to stop climbing trees and seven foot wooden fences. I even had the urge the other day (while sitting in the glider outside watching the clouds) to run across the yard and turn a few cartwheels. The urge passed or I hadn't had enough vodka to drink. ;-) I twisted my knee and I don't know how I did that.

I'm tempted to write a post and let Donnetta "publish" it on her blog!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Liz,

Every time I do those things I twist an ankle. But I do do them.

By all means "publish" the blog on this sudden being twelve again.
Do it on your blog. You can do cartwheels celebrating a new post.

Ivan

eric1313 said...

That was quite good, Ivan.

Makes me want to send out just toi get rejetion notices to wallpaper my room with...

Ever see Richard Simmons get kicked off the David Letterman show? Everytime he goes on the show, he wears these seventies basketball shorts, sits cross legged indian-style and exposes himself. Dave gets furious and statrs yelling, "Go, get off my show! You know what you're doing you do this everytime!" Which is true. He's been kicked off Letterman numerous times. I don't know about the last few years, though. Dave is too much of an assh--- for me to watch.

Paul Schaffer's a three dollar bill, too. And proud, I understand. Good for him for not exposing his junk on TV.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Eric,

Yeah. Don't they go on and on.

Myself I'm into cable, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, though these Emmy winners too sometimes lay an egg. But do they ever give you a different approach to humour.

Like on the subject of gay marriage.

Stephen Colbert:

"As a gentleman, I applaud the courageous decision of you two.

"But as a Christian, I am saying you are going straight to hell."

Ivan

eric1313 said...

I like Colbert's mock-conservative approach to comedy, too. And Stewart.

Like I said, Letterman's too much of a toolbag for me to like. He's kind of bitter about something deep down. Whatever it is, he acts like an ass to some people, for no real reason. But the Richard Simmons incident, that was like ten years ago. You never forget seeing somebody get kicked off a TV show and it not get edited out.

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Hey Hey everyone,

I am back. I know I know... anyway... Nice to see you Eric. I am in a mood. I went out to dinner just a bit ago, IHOP of all places. Plus I got to talk to Josie... that was quite nice and now I am ready to dance and if I can not dance read or maybe write.

How is everyone?

Tara

ivan@creeativewriting.ca said...

I guess in the Seventies, Letterman had already developed this "hipper than thou" persona.
After the heart bypass surgery he seemed to be even more hip than thou. Cafights with Paul and all.
"Shut up or I'll suspend you."

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

The doormouse has had too much cheese and his enrapturement over Tara Mouse has drained all the blook from his funny-shaped head.

You still out there Eric?

eric1313 said...

Tara and Ivan

I'm still here. How are you, Tara? Hope the writing goes well. IHOP is OK. I love a good Monte Cristo. When in the mood for such rare delicacies.

Hope the door mouse will roar a bit. I find him to be a fascinating individual.

eric1313 said...

Oh, by the way, I forgot. I have been published one time. In an anthology called Invoking the Muse. A poem called Luna that I thought was kinda on the nicer side of tripe. I wrote it on the spot and sent it out just to send out. I couldn't believe it was accepted.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Ivan,
Thanks for the tip. Perhaps I'll attend a few seminars on involving grants. What I can never understand is why Rick Moody, with all his wealth, receives grant money? I've always thought they should award grant money to the poor little guy (or gal) who could write.

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

::curls up on Ivans love seat:::

Ahh yes Eric, I knew someone beyond us loved your work. Writing? Well, I wrote a new piece. Seems love is still capturing my muse and writing for me.

All I need now is a roaring fire and a man to read to me. ::hip shake::

Tara

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Ha! Jr. They actually do. The problem is one must know where to look and anyone is eligble given the right grant. Wealthy or not, though I agree that somehow that does not seem fair.

Tara

eric1313 said...

Tara

You always do that ::hip shake:: well. seems that love has been busy through your pen.

Hope you are well. Like I said, Ivan's blog is comfortable. A love seat, for certain. Always know where to find you.


JR
I need the same grants, too, but never know where to look. Hopefully, we can find something to help support us. Imagine that: being comfortable and writing! It's like a dream of flying with only willpower holding one aloft.

eric1313 said...

Have a good night Ivan.

And thanks for the comments on my blog, as well as the conversation.

Glad I told you Nina's story. She feared where she was going and what would happen, and yet was able to clear all that away to wait for that one second opportunity that she would be able to escape and retain control over her life.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Oh. Have I been away long?

Good night Eric.

Sorry to be kinda loggy tonight, but all the disco lights have temporarily dimmed and I was left with a feeling of not being terribly impressed with myself. I join Josie in the "why did I do that" deparment, but in a different way. There was a lesson I needed to learn about 40 years ago, and It came back to haunt me.
Gumption trap, really. Need more gumption.

Upnote was seeing an old PBS chesnut, featuring Merle Haggard (Merle Haggard?) Willia Nelson and Ray Price. Something called "The Last of the Breed."
Ray Price is now the spit image of Walter Cronkite, down to the dignity but Old Merle can still be the proud Okie from Muskogee.
And Willie, of course...marvellous.
The guy can pick like Django sometimes, but with a Tex-Mex inflection. I think both these old bastards would really rather be playing jazz, they's so adept--and they're older than I am, which is very.
Still, Willie Nelson on TV has always supplied kind of a soundrack of old Ivan's life and I know, just know that something good is in the landscape.

So, good night Eric, but I know you'll still be drinking innumerable cups of coffee and ideating like crazy till the wee hours.
Whoops. I see the Quarks are piping up in the emails.
Josie thinks we should do a story on all these correspondences and squibs and she's probably right.
Anyway, I guess we'll all be reportin' for "work" in the marnin'.
Cheers,

Ivan

ivan@creeativewriting.ca said...

JR,

I'll have more to say on grants later, but I know from personal experience thee are young women in government who have to spend their entire budget on authors, good or bad so as to ensure a budget for next year. They got to spend it all...Trick is to find them, be at the right place at the right time, like when these chicks go to their government jobs in the morning.

Ivan

ivan@creaetivewriting.ca said...

Tara,

One should not be so fidgety and keep getting up from the love seat to pace, and then pace again.
In the old days, someone would say, let's just go to bed and get rid of all this piss and vinegar, but I am hardly changed from that time.
Fact is, I should be drunk instead of typing all this drivel.
...Oh. I see you have your sox on still.

Ah, showing my cowboy roots.
Homer and Jethro in a parody of an old standard.

"Still
Oh I wish I had a still..."

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Alright now... I am feeling mixed up.

Who moved the loveseat?

Ivan, I do not see any drivel. Sometimes one must have fun in order to move forward. And yes my socks are still on....I lost my blanket.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Gotta have that blanket.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

morning note to eric1313

I'd like to see you Luna poem.
Maybe you'd like to leave it in comment...?

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Ivan, Did you take it? I am very thristy... what is in the frig?

Tara

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Eggs.

Ain't nothin' to heat but haiggs.

But there are large green tomatoes in the balcony garden.
And beautiful artichoke flowers that look like baby sunflowers. They are, strangely, in festoons, clumps, of them, and they bloom a bright yellow.

"Perhaps she's a flower
A Distant flower
That blooms along the wall
of the house."

Ahh, deeper into the fridge, behind the eggs. Hints of children, for there is peanut butter and jam.

There. At the very bock (you have just jiggled the lightbulb). Ah, one has been preparing for this time.
Chicken broth. The cure for all ills.
That and green tomatoes, which can be fried. I am told green fried tomatoes will knock any ailment you've got.
So it shall be green tomatoes sauteed. And eggs benedict of a sort.
Breakfast. Almost of champions.

the walking man said...

And you have so eloquently diagnosed my disease of anti-publishing. Fuck 'em I ain't begging nobody or kissing anymore ass to have them make money off my work. I ain't the grateful dead but whoever wants it can have it for free.

Peace

mark

Tara; the no blanket and only socks looks like a new (or maybe an old) fashion trend beginning. ::mouth agape::

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Mark,
Yep. And I've got more to say about this in the current blog.

..........

Heh,

What say you, Tara?

Ivan

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Umm ::grabs blanket and hikes up socks:::

Oh and by the way, I'll have some of those fried green tomoatoes!

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Hey Big Brother (TWM),

Now who said there were only socks... I am not a piece of meat just lying around you know... smiles. You are not suppose to wear shoes in the blog!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Tara,

Don't you ever sleep?
And now you are busy keeping this blog spic and span. Sock only. :).

Anyway here's what's from brunch:

Elegant eggs Benedict makes a wonderful special breakfast or brunch.
INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup butter
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup boiling water
dash salt
dash ground cayenne pepper
3 tomatoes, ends removed and halved
12 thin slices cooked ham
6 eggs
6 English muffins, split, toasted, and buttered

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Smiles, I sleep Ivan. Just my mind and heart are full and so I do not need to sleep. I just need to feel. Breakfast sounds wonderful.

It is 3:06 here so, maybe it will be dinner since you have graciously given me the recipe. I have never had them before.

How are you?

ivan@creativewriing.ca said...

Tara,

I am ho-kay, thanks.

I hope you like the brunch.


Ivan

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

I loved the brunch and even more the company.

Tara

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

so nice

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

truth