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bruce bauman

Roundtable: 8 authors discuss the business.

I have a roundtable discussion today, so grab a cup of coffee and meet some amazing writers as they discuss the pros and cons of the business. All of their bios are listed below, and I hope you’ll click on their links and get to know them better. After reading these answers, may you feel comforted, alive, inspired.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What’s the most difficult part about this profession for you?

Kate Gale:

The most rewarding part is when you’ve been sitting a long time writing and you read it over and you feel the room vibrating.

The most difficult part about writing, in the immortal words of Stephen King is connecting your ass with the chair.

Seth Greenland:

The most rewarding thing about being a writer is the knowledge that you escaped a life of doing something you weren’t passionate about. The writer’s existence is such a gamble and certainly isn’t the kind of thing anyone with your interests at heart encourages you to do, so when it works out, it’s like rolling lucky sevens. And that’s very satisfying, if not always terribly remunerative.

Susan Straight:

The best thing about being a writer – this week, the week I’m just back from a long trip into a rainy East Coast to sell books in what seems a totally antiquated way by reading and talking to people in great bookstores – is finding out how passionate and loyal readers are to novels. When you write, alone and for me, at night, in isolation and often ignorance about where your narrative is headed, you cannot wonder who will love the book, and then when you are finished, after a year or five years, you have to wonder who will love the book. Meeting readers and booksellers who say they stayed up very late and couldn’t put down the book because they had to find out what happened is wonderful, because that’s the way I feel when I read a novel I love, and it’s like being drunk, I guess.

(Don’t know – don’t drink at all, since my friends and I did all our serious drinking when I was twelve and thirteen.)

The most difficult part is the wondering, though.

Rachel Resnick:

Once upon a time, there was a stepfather with two missing fingers. He shot them off to avoid going to Vietnam. The marriage didn’t last long. Before it ended, he chopped up my dollhouse with an ax. Maybe that’s why I dig Kafka’s line: “A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.” That’s how I go at writing, swinging my ax. Infinitely rewarding. Chop chop.

But most of all, I’m blown away when a stranger is moved by something I wrote.

Most difficult? After penury, the blank page. Digging deeper, way down to my inner China. Getting it up every day. Why I start my day on my knees not performing fellatio, but praying. Praying and meditating. For faith. For flow. To write bigger than myself. To be of service.

Amy Wilentz:

The most rewarding thing about being a writer? (I can certainly think of the least rewarding: financial return!)

Taking your own experience and making it visible and even valuable to your readers.

Getting your own emotions and experience out of you and onto the page, so that they are at a remove from your own internal mess and more controllable – that’s a therapeutic aspect; one I don’t often think about but that I think is part of the good side of writing.

Making characters whom I love.

Writing something funny.

Most of all, making something beautiful. That’s when the act of writing is almost endurable, when you can see something of beauty emerging. It’s rare – so much, especially in a novel, is more a cobbling together of workable pieces, with the desperate hope that the final product sewn together will be beautiful. But there are those sections that really move, where writing feels transcendent, like passion and art, instead of dull and painful, like duty and obligation.

The most difficult part is sitting down and writing every day, filling out the idea; if you’re lucky enough to have one. Plotting – I hate making plots, yet I believe that plot is what really seduces the human mind. Plots are like math, awful and inexorable, the underlying structure.

Joy Nicholson:

The writing part of writing – that is, creating and fully entering an imaginary world, then describing it – is wonderful and gives the writer a great connection to living and love. The publishing part – ‘how many books didja sell’ , ‘how can we best market you’, ‘does Barnes and Noble like your book?’ – is awful. Just heinous. Sick-making.

Bruce Bauman:

That I can live in my own reality, create my own world and no one cares or will lock me up in the funny farm. Though this might be changing in Bushie’s America and the America of the future no matter who is president.

Most of what I’ve written I haven’t published and won’t- and I like that. There’s something very freeing in knowing it is just for me.

I don’t have to go to an office job every day – I did that for a while and I was so depressed and thought about suicide quite frequently – and I am not joking. But that’s when I knew I was doing the wrong thing cause lots of my coworkers loved their jobs.

That I don’t have to leave my house very often – I’m becoming more and more of an agoraphobe.

As I said in the earlier Q&A, the letters and emails from people who have been touched in some way by my work seem to make much of the bs worthwhile.

When it goes from being a creative life to a “profession” it is all difficult. Ya know, rejection and being demeaned, it’s what I live for . . . .

Samantha Dunn:

Books and what I took from them saved my life, shaped my life, in no small way. I find it incredibly gratifying to enter the larger conversation; what I mean is that I am continually humbled and inspired to realize that something I write essentially just for myself, alone in a room (because I always write alone in a room), will, at some undeterminable point in the future, be read by people I don’t know, in places I’ve never been. I hope those readers will be turned on by what they read, but even if they’re not, even if they hate what I’ve done, they will be provoked and spurred to consider their own opinions, maybe even to reflect on their own experiences. So, we are, in essence, in conversation with each other.

There is also the enviable wardrobe of a writer, namely the coffee-stained pajama bottoms and T-shirt, which comprise my winter and fall uniforms. For summer, I opt for a wife-beater over the aforementioned PJ bottoms.

The beauty of our “metier” almost makes up for the suck-ass way writers are paid, or should I say not paid. And yes I’m whining.

When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered as a writer?

Rachel Resnick:

For being a Big Blonde.

Joy Nicholson:

I don’t think people really remember much about writers. Or much about anything, really.

Bruce Bauman:

Paul Elouard, the French poet, is another one of my heroes. He was a great poet and it seems, from what I’ve read, a greater person. So I’d like to be remembered as someone like that, someone who was esteemed by his peers, was generous to as many people as I could be without being an ass kisser or an asshole, and wrote and spoke the truth and confronted the hard questions of life to the best of my abilities. So basically, I’d like to be remembered as a better person than a writer.

Susan Straight:

I’d like to be remembered as a great regional writer. I love Ernest Gaines and Tim Gautreaux out of Louisiana, and Manette Ansay’s earlier Wisconsin work, and Chris Offutt and Gary Soto and Toni Morrison’s Lorain, Ohio, from her early novels. I think American novelists capture our different landscapes like no one else. I want to be remembered as showing everyone my postage stamp of Faulknerian soil – Riverside, California.

Amy Wilentz:

One: I would simply like to be remembered as a writer! Hard enough to make people notice your work while you’re alive and kicking.

Two: As someone who cared about humanity and was not trivial.

Samantha Dunn:

Truly, not to be difficult, but if I thought about this kind of thing I would be an even bigger nut job than I am now. It’s hard enough just to make it to the computer in the morning (and at night; personally I don’t work much in the afternoons…).

Seth Greenland:

I recently discovered a writer called Ludwig Lewisohn, a German – American who wrote some brilliant books in the ’20s and ’30s. Today, he is forgotten and his books are all out of print. For me, being remembered at all would be an accomplishment.

Kate Gale:

The story I told was raw, true and spoke to the human condition like looking in a fragmented mirror and seeing some slice of oneself and imagining oneself whole.

In a perfect world, writers would have fame, riches, and immortality. But if you had to choose, what would it be?

Kate Gale:

Immortality. Because I have already learned to live well without fame and riches, but I want the work like my children, to survive when I am gone, walking forward on feet without shoes, learning to run.

Amy Wilentz:

Fame.

Immortality second, because all art is produced in the face of death, as a kind of defiance.

BUT on the other hand, you can’t enjoy your own artistic immortality. What good is immortality doing for Charles Dickens, the actual man?? Still lies a-mouldering in the grave…

So fame is better.

Joy Nicholson:

Fame would be fun if it could get a person free plane tickets and nice, tasty food. The rest wouldn’t be very good, though.

Riches would be great because they provide free time and a sense of not fearing for survival.

Immortality doesn’t really matter to me, I guess.

So – I’d have to choose riches.
Rachel Resnick:

In Bangkok, you can eat Immortality Soup. I did. I would like to eat more of that. So I’d pick riches. That way I could fly back to Bangkok, eat more soup and maybe get two-for-one.

Samantha Dunn:

Oh, that “riches” thing is looking good right now, as I sit here at the computer eating my yogurt bought from the 99 Cent Store (true). But, honestly, I think the idea of having my work read after I’m dead is the biggest, the most exciting prospect – going back to that idea of being part of a larger, ongoing conversation that is part of the human experience. Fame in one’s own lifetime, from what I have seen, pretty much guarantees you’ll transform into some degree of asshole, so better to skip that one. Besides, we have to put “fame” as a writer on the relative scale of current culture – even Stephen King can walk down the street without the paparazzi stalking him; I’m pretty sure that were John Updike to ever walk into a Denny’s he’d have to wait for a table just like the family of four.

Seth Greenland:

Given what can happen posthumously, I would choose immortality, since it’s the one I have a real shot at now.

Susan Straight:

And I’d pick immortality, because I’m a single mother in a crazy neighborhood, with three kids, three chickens, ten rabbits, and two jobs, so all the other stuff, as they say in my neighborhood, is not hardly happenin noway.

Bruce Bauman:

As a young person you have to believe in yourself and that these are all possibilities. Of course you learn that they are near impossibilities.

I remember this line from Fitzgerald to his daughter when she was contemplating becoming a writer, “The conclusion is: it will not win you financial independence or immortality.” In an earlier letter he’d talked about fame, and how he was famous at 27 and forgotten at 40. In the end, despite his books being out of print when he died and getting royalties of under 20 bucks his last year of life, he has gotten immortality, but his life is not one I would want and I believe he wrote the truth.

I realize that 99 and 9/10f all writers will not attain immortality. As smart as my students are, I bet only a tiny handful could name one great writer from each decade of the last century. And although I’d love to be in that select group, well -that’s out as a reality.

I might’ve taken fame if I were 25 and single. Now, I don’t even like being recognized by my neighbors.

So, I would take wealth – with the full knowledge it wouldn’t last – though we’d never worry about how to pay the next month’s bills, we’d buy art and help other artists and political causes. But that’s a kind of wealth that can’t be quantified.

Two last things, I want to thank everyone who participated – may you receive the accolades and rewards you so deserve.

And thanks so much to Sue who has been so
supportive of my work, even if she did tell the world I was watching Britney, but hey, I was also watching the baseball game.

Thank you, wonderful writers. Your answers gave me goosebumps.

My roundtable guests were so humble, I had to brag for them in their BIOs:

Bruce Bauman, my guest on this week’s blog, is a senior editor at Black Clock and author of And the Word Was.

Samantha Dunn is the author of Failing Paris, a finalist for the PEN West Fiction Award in 2000, and the memoir, Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life, a BookSense 76 pick. Her most recent memoir, Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex and Salvation, is published by Henry Holt & Co.

Kate Gale is President of PEN USA, Editor of Red Hen Press, Editor of The Los Angeles Review, Director of the Los Angeles Summer Institute, author of five books of poetry, one novel, one bilingual children’s book, editor of four anthologies, and has recently completed the libretto for the opera “Rio de Sangre” by Don Davis.

Seth Greenland‘s play Jungle Rot won the Kennedy Center Fund For New American Plays Award and the American Theatre Critics Association Award. His first novel, The Bones, was just published by Bloomsbury. Movie rights have been sold to Sony, and he is currently writing the screenplay. He also writes for The Huffington Post.

Joy Nicholson is the author of two novels: The Road to Esmeralda was chosen as a Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of 2005, and The Tribes of Palos Verdes was an L.A. Times bestseller. Her website, One Dog At A Time describes her mission to rescue dogs from euthanasia in animal shelters all over Los Angeles. Time permitting, she is currently working on her third novel.

Rachel Resnick, a writer based in Topanga Canyon, California, is the author of Go West Young F*cked-Up Chick : A Novel of Separation. Her fiction, essays and interviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, BlackBook, Women’s Health, Tin House, The Best American Erotica 2004, The Dictionary of Failed Relationships and Women On The Edge: Writing from Los Angeles, among others. She recently completed the mod-noir novel SWAY, with a forthcoming excerpt in Black Clock. A graduate of Yale and a former private detective, she has taught writing at CalArts and the UCLA Extension Writers Program, and owns a homicidal scarlet macaw named Ajax (and has the scars to prove it.)

Susan Straight, professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, is the author of the newly-released A Million Nightingales , Highwire Moon, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, I Been In Sorrows Kitchen And Licked Out All the Pots, Aquaboogie, for which she won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, Blacker Than A Thousand Midnights, The Gettin Place. She received the prestigious Lannan Foundation Award in 1999 and a 1997 Guggenheim Fellowship. Click here to read her work in Salon.

Amy Wilentz won the PEN/Martha Albrand Prize for nonfiction and the Whiting Writers Award, and was a nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1990. She is the author of Martyrs’ Crossing and The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier, and has written for The Nation, The New Republic and The New York Times. She was the Jerusalem correspondent for The New Yorker from 1995 to 1997.

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Bruce Bauman

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

Bruce Bauman: Why I’m the First Candidate for My Guillotine.

I met the writer Bruce Bauman a couple of years ago as we both waited for the slowest elevator in history. Bruce is sharp, well-read, outspoken, and absolutely hysterical. I didn’t know at the time that he was also an outstanding writer and editor. He was just a very entertaining, kind of cranky guy in a Yankees cap.

Bruce is a senior editor (along with Dwayne Moser and editor-in-chief Steve Erickson) at Black Clock, a literary magazine put out by Cal Arts which has featured such notable writers as Aimee Bender, Jonathan Lethem, Ben Marcus, Greil Marcus, Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace.

His novel, AND THE WORD WAS, is the story of a New York City doctor who loses his son in a Columbine-like school shooting and – in the resulting turmoil – flees his wife and current life for India, where he hopes to become lost. I enjoyed and admired this book so much, and last year, I reviewed it on Laila Lalami’s Moorishgirl.com.

Bruce Bauman’s AND THE WORD WAS

Now that it’s out in paperback, I called up Bruce and asked if he’d do a week on my blog.

Yes!

Now, he knows I don’t like to run anything ordinary on my blog. So I asked him if he’d take a photo of himself in a tutu just for a little fun with a few thousand of my friends here. “No.” I asked if I could interview his mom. “What would you ask? Wait. F*ck no.” Well, I wasn’t going to be content with a straight interview. I mean, Bruce is a multi-faceted guy. He’s not just some intellectual who knows his art and politics. This is also a guy who – before our reading together in California – was watching none other than the Britney Spears reality show, CHAOTIC. (Oh, he might kill me for disclosing that one.)

So do a Cranky Guy piece for me, I said. Give me something fit for Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect”.

Yes!

So here is the rascally Bruce Bauman with . . . .

33 Thoughtdreams on Why I’m the First Candidate for My Guillotine:

For accepting an invitation to do this blog when I should be working on my new novel.

For not having taken photos the night at the Gramercy Park Hotel when The Shrub and I snorted cocaine together.

For being such a little prick that Mrs. Rubin had to throw me out of the class over a hundred times in fifth and sixth grades.

Because I don’t have the courage to expose the frauds and blowhards that pollute art and literature.

For not being able to abolish all the religions of the world with a kiss from god.

For blaming myself for so long because I couldn’t control myself when my ulcerative colitis was at its worst.

For missing the moment in Rio to sleep with the real ‘girl from Ipanema.’

For not knowing how to appreciate the beauty of a sunset.

Because I don’t know how to tell you that my wife, Suzan Woodruff is now one of the great painters in America without having you think that I’m prejudiced.

For not being able to stare into space until time stops and I am no longer afraid to fall asleep.

Because I’m haunted by screaming nightmares that tell of sins I don’t remember committing.

Because I did not stop Lt . Calley that afternoon and I could have.

Because I know what Dick Cheney imagines when he masturbates but I am sworn to secrecy– and I do not break my word.

Because, as a five year old kid, I watched the black lady who lived next door get pushed off the roof by her white husband and I never told anyone what I saw.

Because I did not keep Mark David Chapman in that coffee shop on 72nd Street another two hours that night.

Because I yelled “Kill him, kill him,” to Lawrence Taylor as he crushed quarterbacks.

Because I can’t stop people from saying that mean spirited mediocrities like Bill Parcells, Phil Jackson and Coach K are geniuses.

That I can’t remember the name of the true genius who invented the internet.

Because I can’t make Woody Allen see what a schmuck he’s become.

Because when Allen Ginsberg wanted to lick my reality sandwich, and Gregory Corso wanted to fuck my girlfriend, I ran away instead of chanting their songs in my head.

For the thousands of small cruelties that have escaped my mouth and which I relive over and over again because I am trapped in the exitless hell of my mind.

For being so nasty to Mr. Hershkowitz, my Hebrew school teacher because I did not comprehend the meaning of the numbers on his arm or the sighs from his lips.

For having sex with my married German friend in the parking lot at Dachau.

For having affairs, before I got married, with women who were married or who had boyfriends and never thinking I was doing anything wrong.

For not telling Mick Jagger he was a cheap bastard the night he stiffed the waitress at CBGBs.

For not having enough clout to vote Patti Smith into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

Because Kafka understood how to wait and I don’t.

Because I can control my ambition.

That I can close my eyes to the pain and poverty all around me because, like you, in my heart, I believe I am too good to be poor.

That I cannot make the Israelis and Palestinians see that they are the same person.

That I was not kinder to my parents sooner.

That America is dying and I can’t save it.

That I will never write a sentence so beautiful that it will change the world.

You can see more of Bruce at www.Mad-as-Hell-Club.net. Mad-as-Hell launches September 1, 2006, and Bruce will have a regular column there.

P.S. Inventors of the internet were Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. Their boss: my dad.

P.P.S. If you’re in the New York area tonight (Monday, May 15), I’ll be reading at The Back Room, 7:30pm. I’ll be reading with Pasha Malla (from Canada), Roy Kesey (from China), Pia Z. Ehrhardt (from New Orleans), Todd Zuniga (from NYC), Jeff Landon (from Virginia), Claudia Smith (from Texas), Kim Chinquee (from Michigan), Darlin’ Neal (from California), Gail Siegel (from Chicago), Grant Bailie (from Cleveland), Lindsay Brandon Hunter (from NYC), Jim Nichols (from Maine) and Kevin Dolgin (from France).

Behind the scenes: An author describes working with an editor.

Ever wonder what it’s like for an author to work with his editor once the book is sold? Ever wonder how your own experience compares to another’s?

Today I have Bruce Bauman discussing the process of editing his book with Other Press.

I’m interested in the editing process, from having your manuscript accepted to what become the published version. Can you tell me . . . Who was your editor for this book, and how would you describe her style?

I worked on it with Judith, who is the publisher of OP. She was very hands on. She’d read through x amount of pages and then would send her suggestions. We’d talk. I’d make them. She’d then call, we’d talk and mostly of the time agreed. If not, I almost always got her to see my way of thinking on why I didn’t make a change or made it differently than she suggested. We did this for a few times a week for about three months.

Did it get longer or shorter?

Oddly, almost the same number of words but many chapters got added, shortened or deleted. I just wanted to make sure, and I have my reasons, that I had 63 chapters.

What was the primary focus of the editing – tightening the plot, sticking hooks at the ends of the chapters, adding, cutting? Talk to me about this process?

The biggest thing was dealing the Levi “books,” excerpts, whatever you call them which were much longer. Judith wanted more of Levi Furstenblum in Neil’s narrative, which was the best idea she had. I had to explain why each Levi section came where it did. I put every page up on my walls of my studio and then it became like a puzzle. There IS a reason every Levi chapter falls where it does. That forms a different part of the plot than the Neil narrative and storyline.

Judith’s other major input was urging me to give more depth to some of the characters of the characters.

Did editing feel like a collaboration or was it still in your hands?

Very much a collaboration though I had final say on everything. Not once when I said “I do not want to do this,” did she object.

What was the best and worst of this experience?

Worst is just that it is hard. Really hard. Best – when it was over and I felt like the book really worked.

Did you cut anything you wish were still in the book?

Yeah, well, yes and no. Neil’s name was originally Chaim Neil Downs, so I had a joke about “hi i’m kneel downs.” and Chaim means life in Hebrew, which was an ironic name for him. It wasn’t really the right name for him. There are plenty of other bad puns and jokes so . . . .

How do you feel about the final version?

Very satisfied when it was done. Now I wish there were sentences I could change. I asked, when it went from hard to paper, if I could change a few things and I was told that I was insane.

Considering the many reviews and comments you received on the book, what’s stuck with you? What meant the most to you?

Most of the reviews have been excellent. The one where the person got everything wrong, and I mean facts as well as interpretations, and a few lines that were off base always stick with you. Part of the deal.

But aside from the reviews, which are important in one sense, what’s meant the most to me are the letters and emails I’ve received from people I’d never met who loved it. That is so gratifying. I’ve gotten them from Holocaust survivors, other writers, Indian women, members of the clergy – just all kinds of people.

And I treasure one comment I got from the great critic Leslie Fielder before he passed away. He’d been bluntly tough on me and my book at times. But he read a near final version – and he wrote me that I’d finally found a “unique voice and vision.” I called him up to thank him and he said, in his gruff way, “Yeah, but I’m not sure how much that will help you these days.” He was pretty cynical by then.

I’ve become quite close friends with Joy Nicholson, who, many people think I knew before but we only met after she read my book, and wrote about it on Beatrice.com. Then we contacted each other. And then our books were reviewed together in Los Angeles Magazine.

How is it possible that an author born and bred in New York City, writing a story that’s set in NY (when it’s not set in India), did not get reviewed or you interviewed in any NY publications?

I wish I knew the answer to that. Maybe cause there are thousands of books published every year and there’s so many factors involved, including luck. But it’s such a New York book and it’s been most frustrating- I want to go up to some people – not sure who – and just shake them. I think I’m going speak at some libraries in Queens. I can’t wait to go to the one in Flushing where I went all the time as a kid.

I sometimes wonder if it’s cause I left seven years ago for LA – and it’s cosmic payback. In LA the book was received very well. The word of mouth has been good and it’s going west to east.

Other times I think, fuck, even though I lived in Manhattan for 20 years, I remember as a kid I used to climb up on the roof of the building in Flushing and gaze at the skyline in awe and desire and wonder, and think how – and I knew it wasn’t just taking the 7 train – it’s long way from Northern Boulevard to Fifth Avenue.

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Want to hear more from Bruce? He moderated the LitPark Roundtable: 8 Authors Talking about the Business.

And you can meet his wife, the painter Suzan Woodruff, by clicking here.

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