Wait for it, please

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The late Stanley Kunitz, poet and two-time poet laureate, was recently quoted in The Writer’s Almanac:  “It is out of the dailiness of life that one is driven into the deepest recesses of the self.”

The quote appeared to refer to the source of his poetry, and it stopped me cold. Statements like that are so compelling, so authoritative that one is often inclined to believe them, to accept them as truths without carefully considering the content and who’s making the statement. The bright light of talent or celebrity or love can dazzle us enough to make us uncritical of the meaning of such sweeping generalities.

(Wait for it, please.)

It seemed to me that what Kunitz meant was that the dailiness of his life drove him into the deepest recesses of himself.  His assertion might or might not be true for other writers.  A writer might be driven deep by almost anything–politics, sex, music, marriage, parenthood, tragedy, nature, friendship, or any of a hundred other ideas or experiences.

So I thought I’d write about being cautious: Don’t take sweeping generalities about writing too seriously. Don’t believe them too readily. Think carefully before you accept whatever writing advice is being handed out.

And then it occurred to me that I wasn’t being very cautious myself. Had Stanley Kunitz really made that definitive statement? So I looked it up. And yes, he did, sort of, but it was presented to Almanac readers out of context. Context is important.

Here’s what Kunitz actually said, in an interview called “Openhearted: Stanley Kunitz and Mark Wunderlich in Conversation,” printed on the website of the Academy of American Poets. Kunitz, who lived to be 100, was ninety-five at the time of the interview.

It’s hard to speak about one’s self while still in process. Certainly through the years I’ve tried to simplify the surface of my poems. I’ve tried to write more intimately than I did, in a more conversational tone. I have fewer conflicts, perhaps; yet the ones that remain are central to my existence. Since I came to realize, in my middle years, that I was occupying two worlds at once, that of my living and that of my dying, my poems have tended to hover between them. More recently I expressed a desire to write poems that are natural, luminous, deep, spare, “so transparent that one can look through and see the world.” That’s pretty much what I still feel. I recognize that there is a great area of unknowing within me. I try to reach into that chaos of the inner life, to touch those words and images that will help me face the ultimate reality. Such existential concerns tend to make me rather impatient with the particulars of the day. At the same time I am aware that it is out of the dailiness of life that one is driven into the deepest recesses of the self. There is a transportation, to and fro, between these two worlds. The moment that flow stops, one stops being a poet.

Not a sweeping generality at all, but an exquisitely personal statement.

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 FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Three Lives & Company, New York, NY

bbgb, Richmond, VA

Cherry Street Books, Alexandria, MN

 

Faster isn’t necessarily better

IMG_0240Over the years, years ago, I heard Delia Ephron repeat this sentence many times: Getting there faster isn’t necessarily better. I thought then, as I do now, that it was an important life lesson–and perhaps one might call it an important warning, where writing is concerned.

On May 19 I wrote this paragraph in a post called “Cutting, or not,” which was about the issue of whether and when to trim your own work and how much and why:

I get worried around the Culture of Brevity, as if shorter is intrinsically better, and faster (even in arriving at the end of a sentence) is an indisputable virtue. Short and fast have their places (like at the dentist), but I’d rather read smart and original.

Short, long, fast, slow: what a tangle of worries for too many writers. Quantity of pages, amount of words, number of months and years–all of this counting can get in your way and will surely add confusion to your assessment of yourself as a writer.

  • If you get a lot of pages written in a short time, then you’re a Good Writer.
  • If you set yourself a daily goal and you don’t meet it, then you’re a Bad Writer.
  • If you allot the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. for writing and you write for those hours, you’re a Good Writer.
  • If you can’t point to a pile of pages, you’re a Bad Writer.
  • If you can announce that your novel is almost finished, you’re a Good Writer.

But what does any of that have to do with the quality of your work? You have a growing stack of pages, but are any of them any good? Did faster equal better?

Rules are tools to be used if they help you focus and help you write, but they’re not goals in themselves. Some days are better spent walking in the woods (or on a city street) and thinking. There are a million kinds of writers and some of them are going to write well when they’re working fast and producing a lot. But for the most part, speed and word count don’t come easily and they never substitute for ideas or imagination, invention or intelligence.

There was a paragraph in The Writer’s Almanac a while ago about historian David McCullough asking novelist Harry Sinclair Drago (who wrote over a hundred westerns you’ve never read, like Decision at Broken Butte and Buckskin Affair) how he got so much writing done. Drago apparently wrote four pages per day, no excuses, and McCullough considered this to be the best advice a young writer could receive.

To me that’s like saying everyone should wear red. Red? What if you don’t look good in red? What works for your best friend or your brother or your mother might not work for you. The same is true of writers’ rules: what works for me may not work for you and vice versa. Half the battle of being a writer is figuring out what process works for you and sustaining whatever that process is.

Which brings me to an odd phenomenon called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s called by its devotees. And it has a lot of devotees. This event–actually a contest–takes place annually, and the goal of the participants is to write a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30. The site has lots of explanations and lots of encouragement: “We just want you to be excited about writing.” But the plain fact is that this group is endorsing–facilitating–writers who dash madly through a manuscript for the purpose of getting to the end in a mere thirty days.

Is this a constructive goal for a writer? I think not. In fact it’s a questionable concept on every level except self-indulgence. I enjoy a nice piece of self-indulgence (like marble pound cake) as much as anyone else, but I don’t extend the concept to include writing. No, let me revise: it may be entirely self-indulgent to be a writer at all, but producing a 50K-word novel in thirty days isn’t writing. No, let me revise again: producing 50,000 words in thirty days may be writing, but it’s not writing anyone is going to rush to read. Faster is unlikely to be better here.

Take a few minutes to read a hilariously pissed-off and on-the-nose piece by Laura Miller, “Better yet, DON’T write that novel/Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy,” in the November 2010 issue of Salon. Ms. Miller skewers the contest neatly. I love this: “…it’s clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they’ll shortly receive.”

And that is just where the preoccupation with speed and quantity will take you, with rare (and I do mean rare) exceptions: to a surfeit of undigested, unconsidered, unrewritten pages or kilobytes that shouldn’t be shared, much less published. YET. Go back and take another eleven months to rethink, reshape, and rewrite what you disgorged in a month. And remind yourself frequently that faster isn’t necessarily better.

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 FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Penguin Bookshop, Sewickley, PA

Chop Suey Books, Richmond, VA

Book Den, Santa Barbara, CA

 

Girls? Did you say GIRLS?

It’s going to come up again and again: the Girl Group. This is a reference to the group of women writers in the writers’ workshop I lead and teach.

I’m a product of the Women’s Movement–a time during which my friends and I would go ballistic if anyone called any of us a girl. So if the term “Girl Group” bothers you, take a breath, trust me, and please follow this link to the very first post on The Book Under Her Bed. Or read the paragraph below, taken from that post.

The Book Under Her Bed is dedicated to the members, past and present, of the Wednesday afternoon writers’ workshop, which I have always called–behind their backs–the Girl Group.  I call it that not because these wonderful women are girlish, but because they always make me think of the Motown girl groups: they have style, courage, determination, and sass.  Above all, they have voices.

Geralyn Lucas : Ali Morra-Pearlman Barbara S. Ginsberg Lynda Myles Melissa Miles Jennifer Christman Ngan Nguyen Shulman Robin Stratton Rivera

 

Tales of the Girl Group: giving up the pink blankie

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Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out what’s going not-quite-right in the Girl Group. In this case, the problem was a perfectly ordinary notebook computer sitting on the table in front of one of the members at each meeting. That computer always looked a bit wrong to me, like a rocket ship in a flower garden.  We have a “no cell phones on the table” rule that guarantees we won’t get distracted by messages, but we had never discussed the use–or nonuse–of any other sort of technology.

It seemed a little too bossy to ask the writer taking notes on her computer to stop.  Maybe, I thought, I was just being techno-silly; after all, I write on a MacBook Pro and a MacBook AirWhy shouldn’t this writer use her favorite piece of equipment if it worked for her?

But the longer I watched what happened when she was getting critique from the group and taking notes on her computer, the surer I was that the computer was a problem. So the week before her next at-bat I wrote her a short e-mail, something I do frequently with the writers in the Girl Group.

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I have an idea I’d like you to try this week: when you take notes during your critique, forgo your notebook computer and take those notes by hand. A writer who types on her tablet or notebook or laptop during a class, even for note-taking, is distancing herself from what’s going on in the moment. You’re putting a thin wall of protection between yourself and the critique you’re getting.

Until now the computer hasn’t been an issue: I figured that you’re the most tech-savvy and the computer worked best for you. But I’ve changed my mind. Or to put it differently, you are the techiest–but now I’m pretty sure that the computer note-taking approach isn’t serving you well in terms of becoming a better writer.

So I think it’s time for you to put the computer aside in favor of being fully in the group when you’re receiving comments on your work. No hiding behind a screen. No wall. No looking at the keyboard instead of looking at the faces around the table. Get yourself a pretty paper notepad or something else nice to write in, if that will help. Geralyn scribbles notes on the back of her manuscript; so does Ali. Jennifer uses a stack of 8 1/2 by 11 paper. When I’m getting critique in my own writers’ workshop, I use my favorite pen and take notes on the first and last pages of my manuscript.

The best thing to do when being critiqued is to listen and breathe. Hear what’s being said. Most of the comments you’ll get will already be written on the copies of your manuscript that we hand back to you when your critique is finished; still, you’ll probably want to continue to make a few additional notes, to catch the nuances and to be sure you don’t lose any gold.

However, the most important thing for YOU is to lose the fear of being critiqued. You’ve become a fantastic critiquer–1000% improvement since you joined the group, which is exactly what I expected. You give great help, but you have to let down your guard a little more when you’re getting help.  Even if it feels more comfortable to have that computer wall, you’re working against yourself when you put it between you and the group. Why? Because the group’s thoughtful, sensitive comments will help you become a better memoirist and fiction writer.

Therefore, no computer. Paper and pen will make a huge difference in what you take away from the group’s critique. When you see your notes in your own handwriting, you’ll remember much more about your reaction to those notes: Good note? Bad note? Useful note? Irrelevant note? All of this will come back to you in a different way from the way you remembered notes taken on your computer.

Of course I could be completely wrong about all this, but please give it a try anyway, to see if the difference is significant to you.

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SIDEBAR: The writer agreed to try taking notes by hand, and we haven’t seen that computer on the table in many weeks. From my point of view as leader and teacher, this has been a hugely positive change, a writer much more engaged in everything that’s going on in every meeting. Have the other members noticed the absence of the computer? I don’t know. It hasn’t come up.

 

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 FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Willow Books, Acton, MA

The Book Loft, Columbus, OH

Modern Times Bookstore, San Francisco, CA

 

 

On the road: the new airport books

There’s a categoIMG_0194ry of paperback books that’s usually called “airport books.” You know the kind: the latest thrillers, mysteries, and romances–pop novels suitable for keeping a reader occupied for six hours on a plane. As you dashed through JFK or LAX or ATL or MIA, you found these paperbacks not in actual bookstores, but in the newsstand sort of concession, along with magazines, chocolate bars, and tiny packets of aspirin.

The choice of airport books used to be rather narrow: many of us probably wouldn’t have chosen any of them unless we were absolutely desperate for something to read. Which did happen.

But the category has morphed: if you travel by air, you know all about it. Now it includes hardcover books, humor, literary novels, children’s books, best-selling memoirs, and more. (In the old days you’d never have found Hillary Clinton’s memoir in an airport bookstore at all, much less in hardcover.) And the phenomenon is doubly interesting because it’s all about a category of books. Not e-books. Book books.

This week, passing through the Salt Lake City airport on the way to Oregon, I saw this big display (photo above) of “Great Reads,” half hardcover, half paperback. There’s a surprising amount of choice.  The titles and authors are a little hard to read in the photo, so here are a few: Invisible, James Patterson; Identical, Scott Turow; The Matchmaker, Elin Hilderbrand; One Plus One, Jojo Moyes; Conversion, Katherine Howe; Looking for Alaska, John Green; The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri; The Wolves of Midwinter, Anne Rice; Night Film, Marisha Pessl.

The choice still leans toward thrillers and romance, but Jhumpa Lahiri? It’s a little like airport food: concession after concession of sort-of junk food, and here and there a vendor selling something you’d actually like to eat.

I had my e-reader and the New Yorker in my carry-on, but how comforting to know that should the worst happen–should one accidentally leave home with nothing to read–sustenance is possible.

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 FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

WORD, Brooklyn, NY

Secret Garden Books, Seattle, WA

People Called Women, Toledo, OH

 

Guest post: Begin again

Betsy Carter is a wonderful writer and a wonderful friend. She’s the author of three novels–The Puzzle King, Swim to Me, and The Orange Blossom Special–published by Algonquin. Her memoir, Nothing to Fall Back Onwas a national best seller and is now coming out as an e-book. She was editorial director of Esquire, executive editor of Harper’s Bazaar, editor-in chief of New Woman, and to top that she was the founding editor-in-chief of New York Woman.

She wrote this guest post  wearing her novelist’s hat.

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Begin Again

Her name was Lillie Doucet. An actress, known for her quick wit and exuberant personality, she could chew up a comic scene like nobody’s business. Cole Porter wrote songs for her, and Moss Hart, three original sketches. At forty-one, she was pretty enough. Tall, almost ungainly, with curly red hair and bold blue eyes, she had a surprisingly sweet girlish voice. Okay, so she drank a little too much, and threw notorious tantrums–as in weeping, screaming, throwing pillows and smashing perfume bottles–but these were certainly not reasons enough to knock the poor woman off.

Lillie and I shared nearly two years and 175 pages together. I was writing her story, which began at the Ziegfeld Theater on the evening of April 12, 1945. She was starring in a musical revue called The Seven Lively Arts, and was about to step on stage at 8:28…But wait, I’ve already written this part:

The orchestra had played only the first two chords of the glossy little intro to her sketch when Philip Loeb, the show’s director, got up from his front row aisle seat and walked to the center of the proscenium. He knelt down and whispered to the conductor, who signaled for the orchestra to stop playing. Loeb stood up, straightened the creases in his trousers and raised both hands like a traffic cop. “I have a terrible announcement to make,” he said, “but out of respect to the memory of the President of the United States this show cannot go on.”

He took off his wire-rimmed glasses and rubbed his eyes as he waited for the audience’s response. But all that came back at him were flutters of puzzlement. Clasping his hand together, he spoke again, this time in a louder and firmer voice: “President Roosevelt has just died.”

At 8:32, dressed in her dowdy English matron’s costume, Lillie Doucet walked off the stage with nothing more than a balding fox stole wrapped around her shoulders, and disappeared.

My novel was about Lillie and her unique tie to President Roosevelt. Together, we roamed through Central Park and New York’s Upper West Side and attended Roosevelt’s funeral at Hyde Park. Along the way we met a young unwed mother from North Carolina; an Irish woman with two ex-husbands; a recent German immigrant, a former ophthalmologist who took in stray dogs. The story was about that day in history, about Roosevelt’s death and how one woman’s life became upended because of it.

I wrote every day, something I particularly enjoy when I can get into my characters’ heads and anticipate their words and actions. The book took on some force and energy but I began noticing that whenever it came time to write about Lillie, I’d discover a jagged nail and rummage around for an emery board. Or I’d remember it was time to order from Fresh Direct, or that the dog had tracked mud on the living room floor and I needed to wash it. Or I should call for a haircut appointment. You get the picture.

I had to face facts. Lillie was spoiled and churlish and sulked when not all the attention was focused on her. A diva is a diva and Lillie Doucet (rhymes with “my way”) was certainly that. I know people like this, who suck up all the air in the room and wait impatiently until it’s their turn to speak. I don’t like those people. And slowly it was dawning on me: neither did I like Lillie.

It’s one thing to write characters who are difficult and unlikable; I’ve done it and it’s actually fun. But there has to be something tender or vulnerable about them if you’re to make them sympathetic. I couldn’t find those pieces in Lillie. I began to have pitiless thoughts about her. A car accident? A fiendish ex-husband? An accidental overdose? Nothing made sense. Without Lillie, there was no story. Without Lillie, 175 pages and nearly two years of my life had no context. I started having a churning feeling in my gut, the kind you get before you get really sick. This book wasn’t working.

I suppose at heart all writers are murderers. I’d killed off plenty of characters in my time, but never a whole book. Before I became a novelist, I was a magazine editor. One of the great things about being an editor is you get to say things to writers like: “This character isn’t fully realized,” or “You’re not writing from the heart,” then go off and have a latte and not give it a second thought. The editor in me was screaming those exact words to the writer in me. The book was dead. The editor in me knew it long before the writer did and neither of us got the latte. 

Now, nearly two years later, I’m well into a novel that has three main characters: an immigrant from Germany, an Irish woman with two ex-husbands, and a young unwed mother from North Carolina. President Roosevelt is very much alive in this one, and what started out being a book about a single day has now turned into a story spanning nearly one hundred years. My characters are complicated, not all sympathetic, but I know them and like them flaws and all.

But every now and then, while I’m writing, a sweet girlish voice pops in my head, and the swell of an orchestra about to break into some wonderful Cole Porter number. Lillie Doucet. I think of her fondly. May she rest in peace.

Just in somebody else’s book, not mine.

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 FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

The Golden Notebook, Woodstock, NY

Annie Bloom’s Books, Portland, OR

Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe and Phoenix, AZ

Reader’s (summer) diary: dipping into short stories

IMG_0086Short stories are a little like pornography: You know them when you read them, but they’re hard to define.  Style, length, subject matter–all up for grabs.  O. Henry’s short stories are a world apart from, say, George Saunders’s stories, but they coexist in the same universe.

Here’s a list (in no particular order) of just a few of the writers who have tackled the short story with success. Some are equally or better known for novels, but not all.  Alice Munro, for instance, is primarily a short story writer, while you’d probably say that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a novelist who wrote short stories. You’ll notice right away that the list comprises writers from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and many of them are North American. My bias. Sorry.  Send me your favorites too, please, in the Comments.

  • Alice Munro
  • William Trevor
  • James Joyce
  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Jhumpa Lahiri
  • James Baldwin
  • W. Somerset Maugham
  • Sandra Cisneros
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Lorrie Moore
  • John O’Hara
  • Alix Ohlin
  • Irwin Shaw
  • Maile Meloy
  • Jessica Francis Kane
  • J.D. Salinger
  • Junot Diaz
  • Jennifer Egan
  • Raymond Carver
  • Shirley Jackson
  • Annie Proulx
  • Sherwood Anderson
  • Haruki Murakami
  • John Cheever
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Eudora Welty
  • Tessa Hadley
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Tobias Wolff
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Andre Dubus
  • Vladimir Nabokov
  • Katherine Mansfield
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Grace Paley
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • T.C. Boyle
  • Ann Beattie
  • James Salter
  • Colm Tóibín
  • Amy Bloom
  • Anaïs Nin
  • Gabriel García Márquez
  • E.L. Doctorow
  • Joan Wickersham
  • Mavis Gallant
  • Susan Minot
  • Truman Capote
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Junichiro Tanizaki
  • Toni Cade Bambara
  • Jane Bowles
  • Angela Carter

And don’t overlook the major short story anthologies, some of which come out each year; they’re great for an overview of the short story world past and present. Here’s a selection:

  • PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories
  • The Best American Short Stories
  • The Best American Short Stories of the Century
  • The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories
  • The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories
  • The Oxford Book of American Short Stories

Confessions of a short story devotee: Alice Munro is my favorite short story writer, but E.L. Doctorow’s story called “The Writer in the Family” is my favorite short story. If you’re a writer (and even if you’re not) you’ll want to read that one.

 

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 FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Out West Books, Grand Junction, CO

Maple Street Book Shop, New Orleans, LA

Jack & Allie’s, Vernon, CT

 

 

no taxes? no prize. no,thanks.

The BBC News headline: Allan Ahlberg turns down Amazon-sponsored award

The children’s book author was scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Booktrust Best Book Awards in the UK.  Until he found out who the sponsor was.

In the UK the Amazon issue is taxes: Amazon pays taxes only on its profits, and at a very low rate–which last year amounted to only £4.2 million on sales of £4.3 billion. Read the story to find out why.

Rant Week continued: Twenty-seven not-my-friends

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An article in Publishers Weekly, called “Indie Authors, Readers Show Support for Amazon,” came my way on Friday, July 4. Anything that has the words “authors,” “Amazon,” and “support” in the same sentence (or headline) has my attention, because these days that’s an unlikely combination.

Except in the case of authors who publish only on Amazon, and readers who buy their books.

That seems logical: authors who are not or cannot get published anywhere but on Amazon have a vested interest in supporting it; their readers have a vested interest in supporting those authors. So twenty-seven Amazon authors have released a long, rather creepy petition that you can read here on a site called change.org.

The sloppily-copy-edited petition is addressed to “Dear Readers” and signed by “your authors.” Since I’m not one of their readers and none of them is my author and I’d never even heard of a single one of them, I looked up half a dozen of the names. Judging from the websites I tried to read, they write badly but prolifically, and they major in the categories of horror, paranormal, thriller, and romance. They’re not trying to write anything you’d call literature, as far as I can ascertain, and they claim to have millions of readers.

This tells us that there might be millions of readers out there who gobble junk e-books and are very happy that Amazon sells those e-books for very little money.

The petition asks readers to refrain from boycotting Amazon because a boycott would hurt the writers of e-books.  But the readers of the kind of books written by these particular authors and others like them will never boycott Amazon since they can’t get those books anyplace else. Repeat: No one who reads these Amazon-published e-books is going to boycott Amazon. And a boycott of Amazon will have no effect on these particular authors and readers.

The authors’ petition argues that the Big Five publishers overprice their own e-books and that Amazon is trying to stop this practice on behalf of readers.  True or not, why would that matter to this kind of author? These writers aren’t going to be published by major houses no matter what the price of an e-book is. Anyway, they already have a publisher–Amazon–so what’s their problem? They don’t actually have a problem, but they do seem to want to show support for Amazon.

Discouraging any boycott of Amazon may make sense to the Big Twenty-seven Authors, but for published writers who are seriously affected by the way Amazon strong-arms the industry, a boycott is a reasonable tactic. It hasn’t yet gained enough strength among buyers to have an effect, but we can hope. And it’s hard for authors who aren’t Stephen Colbert or Scott Turow or Nora Roberts to stand up and be counted–who isn’t afraid of the biggest bully in town?  Does Midlist Author X want to be blackballed by Amazon? No.

The problem with this dispute is that there are no good guys.  It’s perfectly true that many of the publishers and imprints that comprise the Big Five have not been good to a lot of writers and authors.  Big-gun authors make scads of money; the midlisters don’t.  The system is flawed, unfair, unbusinesslike, and often downright stupid. But it’s equally true that Amazon uses its almost unimaginable wealth and clout to manipulate the publishing industry–and that’s even worse for the majority of writers.

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SIDEBAR: Here’s another article on the subject, which probably won’t cheer you up very much (it cheered me up a little) but will enlighten you.

And here’s a perfect Rant Week piece from Dennis Johnson of Melville House: The Silence of the Publishers.  Don’t miss.

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 FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Astoria Bookshop, Queens, NY

Bookmark It, Orlando, FL

Page 1 Books, Albuquerque, NM

 

 

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Today is the eighty-third birthday of Nobel Prize-winning Canadian writer Alice Munro, who is almost synonymous with the modern short story. This is from the official Nobel Prize website:

Munro has been appreciated for her finely tuned storytelling, characterized by clarity and psychological realism. Her stories are often set in small town environments, where people’s struggle for a decent life often result in difficult relationships and moral conflicts. 

Also, her stories are great reads. Titles: Dear Life; Lives of Girls and Women; Runaway; The Progress of Love; and many more.

Next week on The Book Under Her Bed: a list of short story writers for your summer reading pleasure.  There’s only one Alice Munro, but there are other writers who come close. Feel free to submit your own candidates; I’ll post them.

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