Thursday, August 19, 2010

Imitating the actions of the literary tigers

Re, "Norman Mailer's letter to Ernest Hemingway after his novel, The Deer Park was rejected by eight publishers and finally taken by Putnam's" (Ivan's blog, Sunday Aug. 15, 2010).

Frankly it strikes me as childish. "Give me what I want or I'll never talk to you again!" Kinda sad to see that from one of the luminaries. But, of course, the luminaries are/were human.

Ivan, I thought you might find this article of interest: Perhaps another option for distribution of your work.

--Chris Benjamin

(Chris Benjamin is the Sustainable City Columnist for The Coast ( In 2006/2007 he worked as a journalist in Ghana. His first novel, Drive-by Saviours, will be published by Roseway in Fall 2010. His first book of nonfiction, Green Souls, will be published by Nimbus in Fall 2011. He shared an honourable mention in the 2009 National Magazine Awards. Chris has written fiction and features for The Toronto Star, VoicePrint Canada, This Magazine, Now Magazine, Descant, Third Person Press, Nashwaak Review, Pottersfield Press, Rattling Books, The Society, University of Waterloo Press, Z Magazine, Briarpatch Magazine, The Chronicle Herald, Coastlands, Progress Magazine, and many others.

Ivan answers:

Yes, Benji.

And sometimes we neophytes imitate the actions of a petulant tiger.

When I was writing for Starweek, Toronto, I was on a Hemingway kick, as I was using the very desks and typewriters of The Great Man when he had been with The Star.

Said the editor,
"You seem to come on like six-foot-four in the body of a guy five-foot-eight. Tough guy. Boss...And you write like a tough guy. But you're not, you're really not."
But he did, oddly, send me on the same kind of assignment they once sent Hemingway, whom Harry Hindmarsh, his editor hated.
"Take the longest streetcar ride in Town, Queen Street-- fifteen miles. Give me your impressions."

Hemingway had come back with a crackerjack story, the ride somehow reminding him of taking the Staten Island Ferry in New York; the ferry seemed to go everywhere...And so did the Queen Street streetcar in Toronto.
...Well, I came back having intereviwed the streetcar conductor, whose passion in life was to be a railroad engineer...Well, he was. Kinda.
The story worked. Made the front page, especially when I made it plain that the United Arab Emirates wanted all our streetcars, which the TTC in its wisdom, had decided to replace by trolley buses. Shortly after my story ran, the TTC changed its mind and decided to keep all the streetcars, whose new modern versions can still be seen today.
I tried to find THE LONGEST STREETCAR RIDE IN TORONTO in Star files but Google doesn't seem to have that old story from 1972...And if I went into Star files, I would have to pay, big time. Anyway the story was my stab at bigtime journalism...I had made it, but not for long. They promoted me to editor, and then, egad, fired me.

I'll check out the links you provided. Thanks.


benjibopper said...

First, nasty timing by the TTC. That just blows. Timing is even tougher writing for a weekly - between your copy and publication 100 new details break on Twitter.

Second, newspapers were so much cooler back then. What a fantastic assignment. Bet those Metro Daily kids don't get assignments like that. Sounds like a really good story.

Third, I once had a story in The Star, about a rally for a dead cyclist. That was about 2004. Also not available online. I think The Star judiciously archives, probably saving server space or something, or yes, sucking a little cash from journalists needing old clips ;-)

Fourth, thanks for your thoughtful response to my quick comment, Ivan.

Fifth, I'm not sure why I've enumerated my points. I just did.

the walking man said...

Chris give my writing toy your agent or I will never talk to Ivan again!!!
Ivan if you don't like my writing go to Europe before you send it back stamped in Spanish or I'll never talk to Chris again.

Charles will you read my new book and tell me how good it is and if you don't like it will you send it to Ivan in Europe or my agent who;s name and number Chris can give to you.

Did that cover all of it? said...


JR's Thumbprints said...

Once again I'm left out of the loop. Hell, I might as well go to a teachers conference and listen to all those educators talking smack.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm kinda with JR. I'd hate to play poker with you guys. said...


The killer instinct takes strange forms, but you'd probably beat us all at chess. The field is full of word freaks and connivers. Mostly straw men.

TomCat said...

It amazes me that Hemingway couldn't get something published. Just the mention of his name makes me want to rwead him again.

ivan said...


I think you mean the stellar Norman Mailer being rejected after great success with his The Naked and the Dead, though Hemingway had his share, especially in the newspaper business.

Ernest Hemingway, already famous for his journals of the First World War, was hated by Harry Hindmarsh, who had married his way into the Toronto Star, had a grand mansion, and insisted, whenever reporter Hemingway was around, to be called Sir...Hemingway never mentioned Hindmarsh or a character like him in his novels, "because you can't write about somebody you hate (in turn)."
In Toronto, Hemingway had his coterie of writers and Hindmarsh had his Star.
But yes, even the Master was rejected on his first satirical novel The Torrents of Spring.

Hemingway wrote The Torrents of Spring as means to cause his publisher, Horace Liveright of Boni & Liveright, to refuse publication. Hemingway then switched publishers to Scribner's—who published his work from that time on. said...

Well, JR,

I could write my own Torrents of Spring about Canadian academics.
Enought that one fellow-writer in residence called all academics "slime".

I voiced the same sentiment to trusted literary friends when I taught at a college in King City, ON, which real academics in Toronto called "The King Zoo."

Said another employer, once I left that college, "All academics are slime? Why, you're an academic."


TomCat said...

Thanks for the history lesson, Ivan. My literature education was limited to one term of English Lit, which included no US authors.

eric1313 said...


Lovely reads, the last 3 posts...

And as always the life--the true life of this wonderful webspace--is right here in the comments...

As for Charles' comment, I'd actually love to play some poker with you guys! said...


American literature rocks, of course--Right from the Declaration of Independence?

...Thought you'd like that as a political junkie. :) said...


Hi, stranger. :)

Good to see ya back.

Yes, the comments really help to make the blog.

And thanks to all, and you.

Middle Ditch said...

A newspaper took once a pic of me. Does that count? said...


It seems to count.

Every time it happens to me, people stop at the parking lot to talk about it.

TomCat said...

Now that's a piece of American Literature I know. ;-)

eric1313 said...

Don't take that the wrong way, Ivan. Your writing spurs us on, but the comments are like "the living blog", one can hardly predict what take people will have.

I know i could never predict it. The things I thought were lackluster people love the heck out of, and the things I really liked get a pat on the shoulder stamp of OK-ness.

But from that i learned a lot, at least on my little section of webspace.

eric1313 said...

Heh... "Night of the Living Blog..." said...


I don't especially like the label artist, but it seems to me like one painter told me, "We all need a pat on the back."

You sometimes get your strokes from the strangest places.

I gave my current novel not to a newspaper literary critic, but to a taxidriver...Speedy Mercurial figre, I guess. He said it was so good he coldn't put it down, read it twice and actually missed a couple of calls.
Now that was a pat on the back.

I gave it to another dabbler in literature, himself suffering, poor devil, from advanced diabetes, and understandably in a bad mood." He said, "Hm. I read your original version of The Fire in Bradford before."
And that was all.
Seems I had often had this treatment from editors and fellow-wriers when working at the Sun and Star newspapers. They all sort of scratched their heads and told me they had something to do right then.
I guess, to take up your point, things you thought were brilliant sometimes get a yawn, and the knockoffs that you thought were no good, occasionally get unexpected applause.
Oh dang it all. You do sometimes get the odd intimation that people actually like your stuff. Even the knockoffs.

ivan said...


I thought you'd like that. :)

benjibopper said...

I sometimes think other writers and critics are just too trained to be critical, and have trouble rolling with a new story or style, something different. What works for the cabbie is probably just a good story. said...

I think it's like that, Benji.

Odd though that Robert Fulford, prabably the best critic in Toronto, had trouble getting out of Grade Eleven. But because of his obviously superior writing and TV broadcasting skills, he is now a holder of The Order of Canada, three times honoray PhD and a Provost of Massey College, University of Toronto.

My cabbie is a high school graduate and holds a degree in title searching, Seneca College here.
Talk about topsy-turvy.

But yes, trained critics are sort of hamstrung by the likes of F.R. Leavis and Lionel Trillling...And so they carry on the canon.

eric1313 said...

On another note (that i have noticed), it's funny how sometimes the harder criticisms we receive can push to amazing breakthroughs, and the honey and sugar coated praise is what f*%ks with our heads the most...

To bastardize an old quote:

Life is a strange thing and worth paying minimal attention to...


All aside, I'm very excited for Mr. Bopper's success. I've seen him over the years growing at an amazing pace and it really, truly is something that gives me hope, though we inhabit entirely different levels within our art.

benjibopper said...

Thanks Eric, that's very kind of you. Still honing away, hoping the second is better than the first.

eric1313 said...

Heh.... don't mean to sugar coat it, but it's true... said...

What interesting threads the blog seems to lead down.