Saturday, December 3, 2016

Overlooked podcast!

HI folks,

I have no idea how this happened, but yesterday by accident, I "found" a podcast by the great folks at Booked, Livius and Robb, where they reviewed my novel, Bomb! I have no idea how I missed this, but I did. I'd like to share it with you here, if I may.

These guys are really good and I don't say that because they give my books great reviews, but because they give a ton of writers great reviews. They know their stuff and it's always a great pleasure to encounter reviewers who really do "get it."

Please click on the link and give 'em a listen. Thank you.



Blue skies,
Les

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

First Review for THE DEATH OF TARPONS

HI folks,

Received the first review of my novel, THE DEATH OF TARPONS, just released from Endeavour Books (UK) and their Odyssey imprint, their new imprint for literary works. Hope others will pick it up and take the time to provide a review. This one for sure made my day!



Verified Purchase
The Death of Tarpons by Les Edgerton is a coming-of-age book set in Freeport, Texas in 1955. It tells the story of Corey John, who, on facing his own death, returns to his hometown and recounts the harrowing days of a pivotal summer in his life when he was fourteen years of age. I read this story in one four-hour sitting, and, as a fan of Mark Twain, found it absurdly enjoyable for the similar tone and styles Edgerton employs. The voice is almost autobiographical, and the prose is evocative and rich without ever being stilted. The story itself appears simple at first, but the minute I read a few pages I was drawn in by the character of young Corey and the world and times of the setting.

Corey John lives in a house where his mother is slowly losing her mind to religion and his father physically abuses him. Despite this, Corey is desperate for his father’s love, and dreams of doing anything to become the man his father wishes he were. There’s such an obvious mismatch between father and son, and the conflict that arises from this is both brutal and painful to read. Every time the young boy attempts to please his father something happens to drive them further apart, and the violence that erupts is vicious at times. Even though the logic and worlds of Corey and his father are completely incompatible, you always have this hankering for them to unite. This constant push-and-pull created a tug of war in my head. The way Edgerton wrote this, I couldn’t help but side with both the kid and dad at various times, and as such it made for an uncomfortable read. But this no negative. Certainly not. It is what makes it so sweet. The story pulls no punches, showing parents and kids as real people with a bit of good and bad in them and all the bits in between. Edgerton presents the world as it is without any of that saccharin sweetness that seems to pervade literature and film these days.

The structure of the book is also worth noting. The first and last chapters are set in present day, book-ending the main story-line to create a very satisfying conclusion. By setting the book up in this manner, the tale of fourteen-year-old Corey appears to be no more than a fleeting thought in the older man’s mind. And yet we get to spend time in Freeport with the Texas sun and Jax Beer and Corey and his friend Destin and their maid Inez and it all feels wonderfully real.
In the end, The Death of Tarpons is about a boy on the cusp of manhood, finding redemption and strength in himself amidst a world full of violence and good. It may be set in older times, but it’s relevance is timeless. For all these reasons, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it to all.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

PUBLICATION DAY FOR THE DEATH OF TARPONS!

Hi folks,

Just found out Endeavour Press (UK) and their literary imprint, Odyssey Press has released my first novel, THE DEATH OF TARPONS, for sale as an ebook. This is the first time it's been available as an ebook, previously available only as a hardcover edition.


It's priced very equitably at $3.99 in the U.S. and the equivalent in the UK. Not only am I stoked that it's now available as an ebook, but that it's one of the first to be published on Endeavour's new literary books imprint. As Endeavour is Europe's biggest publisher of ebook titles, I'm hoping it gains wide sales. If you purchase a copy, please consider leaving a review on Amazon and Goodreads and other such venues.

I'm really proud of this book. It's largely autobiographical and was written before I ever took a writing class of any kind. It's my wife Mary's favorite book of those I've written. I have to thank my agent, Svetlana Pironko for selling the ebook version. She's also placed the paperback version with Betimes Books and that'll be forthcoming soon.

A bit of history--in the mid-nineties when I sent it out, it went through 86 rejections. This was in the days of snail mail when you had to not only pay postage to send it to publishers, you also had to pay for return postage in the event of rejection. That was a lot of money, especially for our family which was living day-to-day and sweating out rent. If it wasn't for the faith and support of my wife Mary, I wouldn't have been able to persevere in trying to get it published. Perhaps that's why she loves it so much--she knows the sacrifices we made to get it out there.

Actually, at about the 50th submission, I got a letter from a regional publisher who wanted it and offered a $10,000 advance for it. That was huge money for me at the time and sorely needed. However, I ended up turning it down. The reason? He asked me if it was autobiographical and I told him about 85% of it was but not all of it. He wanted to publish it as autobiography and in good conscience, I couldn't do it. The real clincher for not taking his offer though was that he wanted to cut several scenes, notably one in which the young protagonist's father beats him with a live king snake. This was in the days before even the term "political correctness" had been coined, so I'm proud to say I had good instincts about this odious concept, even then. He wanted to cut it because... ready?... it might offend the snake lovers... Which must be what? Five or six people? That kind of did it... (Very) reluctantly, I withdrew the book from him. Then, as now, money has never been my goal.

For a long while, it looked as if I'd made the dumbest mistake of my life. We went through dozens and dozens of other rejections after that. In fact, it was the  87th submission that finally got taken.

And, that was the result of two fortuitous events.

One: A couple of weeks before it got taken, I was privileged to have the mss of The Death of Tarpons accepted for a workshop in Indianapolis to be held by Mary Evans. Mary is an Indy native and was back home to give a talk and to conduct the workshop for five of us lucky writers.

During the workshop, Mary pulled me aside and told me it was a truly brilliant novel, but that she guessed I was having trouble selling it. Surprised at her insight, I told her it was and she explained why. She said her own client, Michael Chabron, had experienced the same thing she figured I was going through with his own first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburg. That publishers assumed it was a YA just because it had a teenaged protagonist. I was shocked. "But, Mary," I said. "I've never thought of it as a YA at all. Any more than I would call John Knowles' A Separate Peace a YA novel." She agreed, but then gave me a bit of priceless education about publishing. She told me that editors and publishers weren't always the smartest folks around. She said that as soon as they saw a teenaged protagonist, their limited imaginations just automatically put it into a category. And, not only were they seeing it was a YA, they were seeing it as a book aimed at the single worst category for readers--teenaged boys. It's the worst demographic in literature--or, at least it was then in pre-Harry Potter days--as teenaged boys didn't read. While they were the single biggest demographic for movies, they were the single worst for books.

She then gave me the biggest and most useful piece of practical advice I've ever been given in publishing. She advised me to do what she'd advised Michael Chabron to do in the face of similar pigeon-holing. "Just make it a frame book, and you'll get it published," she said. Being young and ignorant, I didn't have a clue what a frame book was so she had to explain it in baby language. I learned that all I needed to do was to add two chapters, a new Chapter 1 and a new ending chapter. In Chapter 1, I needed to begin it as an adult looking back on his life, and in the last chapter, simply bring the narrative back to his adulthood.

And, that's what I did. I created a new beginning, making Corey John  an adult, dying of cancer, revisiting his boyhood home of Freeport, Texas and reliving a particularly bad memory of one tumultuous summer. At the end, I brought him back to that place. In between these two editions, I just stuck the original novel. That was it. All of a sudden, I'd transformed a YA into an adult novel...

That was the first event.

The second was that I sent it to the University of North Texas Press. This will give you a clue as to how many places I'd sent it to, as I sent it out alphabetically to publishers. A press beginning with "U" is kind of near the end of that list... In fact, I'd already made up my mind to never send it out again once I hit 100 places. I'm not sure there were even 14 places left on my list...

What I wasn't aware of was that the University of North Texas Press had never before in their history published any fiction. It shouldn't have even been considered and under normal circumstances wouldn't have been. However, Providence was present that day. The publisher, Fran Vick, had come into her office to begin going through the mound of manuscripts on her desk. As it happened, mine happened to be on top, the first one. Coming through the door to bring her her morning coffee, her assistant tripped and spilled the cup. She apologized and went out to get her another cup.

During that two or three minutes, with nothing to do, Fran idly picked up my manuscript and began idly reading. Well, one of the first things she encountered on the page were the words "Freeport, Texas." This was in my new version with the new frame chapter. Seeing those two words gained her interest. That was simply because that's where Fran was from--where she'd grown up.

She told me all this later. She said she began reading the next page and then the next and before she knew it she was hooked and knew they had to publish it. She gave it to her editor, Charlotte Wright, who liked it as well as Fran did. And, they published and it went on to garner a Special Citation from the Violet Crown Book Awards, a big deal in Texas literary circles. And, nominateed for a hunch of other great awards. Got to attend the First Annual Texas Book Festival and sit with Laura Bush and a bunch of really cool Texas writers and dignitaries.

The point is, absent a chance meeting with probably the only literary agent who had had experience with my kind of book and the kind of problem it was facing, and without a clumsy secretary's spilling coffee (thank you!), and without a publisher being from my own home town and seeing that on the first page, this book would have died. You just never know what little twist of fate will occur that aids in your work being seen by the right person.

Anyway, this kind of the story of this novel and I hope you at least found it interesting if not informative.

Thanks for considering buying my book!

Blue skies,
Les

P.S. One more anecdote... my original title was "Spatterdashers" and it killed me when UNT Press insisted on not using it. Particulary, since the term was the reason I'd even written the book! I'd come across the word in a Paris Review interview and loved it from the initial encounter. Literally, it denoted an item of clothing men used to wear; a legging that "prevented spatter from dashing their trousers." Over time, usage reduced the word to "spats." The reason Fran told me they wouldn't use it because people wouldn't know what it meant. Reluctantly, I bowed to her and she was gracious in letting me pick the alternative title, The Death of Tarpons.

A few months after it came out, Gore Vidal published a book titled, "Palimsest." "Hey!" I asked Fran. How about this? Vidal has a book out titled Palimsest. That's even more obscure than Spatterdashers." She looked at me cooly and said, "Well, he's Gore Vidal... and you're not."

She had a point...

Monday, October 31, 2016

William Joyce honored me with a poem...

Hi folks,

Two days ago, William Joyce (also writing as Guillermo O'Joyce) wrote a poem for me. I can't begin to tell you how honored, humbled and thrilled it has made me. William wrote a book, that for me, was the best novel I've ever read. He's one of the true rebels in literature and in life. He walked with the kings of literature and was one of royalty himself.

Just want to share it with you here. Of all the awards and honors I've received this ranks up there at the top, along with Anthony Neil Smith's book dedication and Joe Lansdale naming me as his favorite crime writer.


William Joyce



Poem

                                        Poem for Edgerton

                               There's you, there's me,
                               there's Crotty.
                               That's it
                               in the whole world.
                               Fire, water, wind.
                               You, me, Crotty.

                               But say this 
                               to anyone
                               they will get angry, 
                               scalding angry, 
                               some will want to fight. 

                               People think they have 
                               options,
                               lots of options
                               that keep them 
                               free
                               of the treadmill.

                               In 1928 it was the same.
                               all sorts
                               of voices
                               Pound, Hemingway, Fitzgerald,
                               Thomas Mann,
                               Pearl Buck and Huck
                               Finn, Little Sparrow,
                               The Duke, the Count, the Satchmo.
                               Culture was everywhere
                               as Germany paid off
                               its premium
                               to the victorious nations.

                               Oct. 24th, 1929, the bottom
                               fell out of currency
                               and not even
                               J.P. Morgan cranked up
                               his victrola.
                               No one read
                               anything.
                               They just screamed
                               at their mates.
                               Oct. 24th, 1929, a lot more
                               than currency
                               got ditched.

                               Three years later
                               there was Celine
                               romping
                               like a feverish gazelle
                               over the broken belly
                               of Europe,
                               and Miller leaking
                               out of a tiny bookstore
                               in Paris,
                               then Chaplin delighting
                               in the catastrophic
                               breakdown
                               with "Modern Times".

                               Now it is 1928
                               all over
                               and people are still
                               running in place
                               in over-priced 
                               weight-control centers.  
                               In 100 years 
                               they haven't learned
                               a thing.
                               Haven't learned 
                               there's fire, wind, and water,
                               there's Edgerton, Crotty, and me.


Thank you, William.

Blue skies,
Les

P.S. Crotty refers to a close friend of his and mine, Ger Crotty, an Irishman who toils mightily to get William's work read and appreciated.

This is the novel that Neil Smith has dedicated to me. If I die tomorrow, these three honors will be more than enough...


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

OPENINGS IN MY ONLINE NOVEL-WRITING CLASS

Hi folks,

Well, we’re just finishing up our final week on the current session of my online novel-writing class, “Les Edgerton’s Bootcamp for Writers,” and find ourselves with the rarity of a couple of openings. Our next session will begin on October 30 and consists of a ten-week session, with the probability of taking a week off sometime during the term to recharge batteries.
With some of my online writing class members in Arizona.

This is a call for new class members. Not sure how many openings we’ll have as we offer vacancies first to our auditors.

The basics are the course costs $400 and it’s limited to ten people. The $400 is nonrefundable, as if a person quits during the session it would be impossible to fill that vacancy. As this is my primary source of income, it would be detrimental for myself and my family. It’s very rare that anyone opts out once begun, however. In over five years, there have only been two.

We’ve had a remarkable history of success. Nearly everyone over the past five years who has become a part of our class has gone on to being legitimately published and/or secured a good literary agent. In fact, that is our only goal—to become legitimately published.

Below is a letter I posted from a student who has since gone on to publish her fourth book to critical acclaim, impressive sales, and award nominations. Her first three novels were written in class. Her words are as true today as they were several years ago and will give you a former classmate’s take on the class.

From a student:
We just started a new session for my ongoing internet class on novel writing. We’ve got a couple of new students this time—most writers keep re-upping each time but occasionally one or two will drop out for various reasons: demands of a new job not allowing them to commit the considerable time that is required to participate, needing time off to address the notes their new agent just gave them for the novel he signed, and so on. Most just keep on, even after they’ve gotten an agent and/or sold their novel, and begin writing a new one. Almost all who stick out the entire session come back. The ones who quit usually quit fairly soon into the class. It’s not for everyone. Nobody holds anybody’s hand and every single one of us is focused on but one thing—helping each other write a novel that’s publishable. It’s a tough game and not for everyone.

From Les:
I try to warn people who are thinking of joining us, how tough the class is, but I know from past experience that even so forewarned, at least some are going to be in for a shock when they see that we really don’t hold hands, pat people on the back for minimum efforts, or overlook writing that doesn’t work. I’m not cruel (at least I don’t think so) nor are any of the oldtimers in class, but most new folks haven’t been exposed to a class like ours. The truth is, most writers who haven’t had a class like ours have been praised in other classes or most likely, has been in classes that use the “sandwich” method of teaching. You know—that deal where the teach applies a bit of praise, then a bit of criticism, and then a bit of praise. Well, that ain’t our shtick. Not even close. The comments we all provide on everyone’s work fit one definition only. They’re honest.

This isn’t to be mean or to act like we’re the only folks around who know what good writing is. Except… we do know. I’m not aware of any other class out there with the kind of track record ours enjoys. Virtually every writer who stays the course with us ends up with a top agent and/or a book deal. That doesn’t happen in a single ten-week session. About the earliest anyone has earned an agent or book deal in our class has been about a year. And, that’s reasonable.
The thing is, our writers don’t expect things to be easy.

From a student several years ago:
Hi ________. Since Les opened the floor for comments from the "class veterans" I'm chipping in with my two cents. I have a file cabinet filled with stuff I sent Les and then needed asbestos gloves to take the paper off the printer. When I started this journey, I'd never taken an English class past high school. (I was pre-med in college) I figured I love to read, so how hard can it be? Okay, quit laughing at me. Clearly, when I wrote my first version of my first novel, I had no idea about story structure, POV, any of that. I figured I'm pretty articulate and therefore I can write?

Les quickly set me straight. All of this is to point out that we've all been on the receiving end of Les' brutal honesty. I will find some of the comments he made on my work and post them but phrases like "throwing up in my mouth now" and "bury this so deep in the yard no one ever finds it" are seared into my brain and I don't have to look to find those!!! The point is, I took other classes before I met Les and the teachers were kind and gentle and never told me I sucked. If it weren't for Les, I'd still be churning out awful drivel that makes people want to throw up instead of trying not to throw up while I wait to see if my agent is able to sell my book. I would never have gotten an agent without Les. So hang in there. Listen to everything he says and if it doesn't make sense, ask away.

The novel that I am currently trying to sell has been a work in progress since 2009. The first time Les saw it he sent it back and told me to re-write the WHOLE thing!!! My character was a wimp. She sat back and let things happen to her. I argued a little, rewrote a little and then moved on to another book. After a year, I went back and reread it and saw the truth. It was awful. So I took a deep breath and started over. Page one. First sentence. Re-wrote the entire thing. It took a full year and then I revised it again. It's definitely a process. But once you get the Inciting incident and the outline steps down pat, it's a whole lot easier. Trust me!!! And you'll never graduate completely. A few months ago, Les and I went head-to-head on one single passage. I was trying to be lazy and take the easy way out. He called me on it and I resubmitted three or four weeks in a row, revisions on the same passage. I was sure my classmates were so sick of it they were going to stick needles in their eyes rather than read it again! But in the end, the passage rocked!! So hang in there!!!! It'll get better. (Note: This novel sold and the writer is currently working on her fifth novel.)

From Les:
I figured I’d let some of the class members give you their take on our class. They don’t hold back and they all have tough skins. They will all tell you the same thing. It isn’t a class for sissies or for those who need their hands held or lots of pats on the back. Becoming published is hard, hard work and isn’t an undertaking for sissies. To get there, our students know they have to put on their Big Boy and Big Girl pants and expect to work harder than they ever have in their lives—and to never, ever “settle” their standards of excellence.

Class members come from all over the globe. We’ve had students from the UK, Ireland, Taiwan, Spain, all parts of the U.S., Canada, Australia, Luxembourg and many other places. We work with writers in virtually every genre on the bookshelves.

The way class works is that the class is divided into two equal groups. We used to have just one group, but it got to be too much for many students. In the past, everybody in the class was required to read everybody else’s work each week and provide in-depth comments on everyone’s work. That meant they had to read nine other class members’ work and deliver intelligent commentary on each one. We’ve since evolved to a more manageable number where now each class member reads and delivers comments on just four other classmates’ work. I provide comments on everybody’s work and that’s why the class is limited to only ten. With ten writers, I can give each person the quality of time and analysis each deserves.

Each week begins on Sunday evening, when people can begin submitting their weekly pages from Sunday until Thursday. If it’s a new writer to the class, they are allowed to submit their first five pages of their novel, plus an outline which consists of five statements and a total of 15-20 words. Oldtimers in class call this “inciting incident hell.” If the outline isn’t working and their beginning doesn’t represent the inciting incident as provided in their outline, they are required to keep submitting each week until it does. Our feeling is if they haven’t thought through their novels sufficiently and provided a publishable novel structure (evidenced by the outline), then they most likely don’t have a novel ready to be written and to simply plunge ahead will almost invariably lead to an unfinished novel. We don’t want that.

Once they’ve been okayed for the beginning, from thereafter they can submit up to eight pages per week, along with the others in class.

Time zones don’t matter. Everybody’s work, including everyone’s comments and my own comments on each person’s work each week is posted on the class site and folks can go to it any time of the day or night. Class members can begin sending back their comments on each others’ in their group from Sunday through the following Sunday, when it begins again. Although, in practicality, most members send in their work each week on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It’s like being in an “on-ground” class in that everything said or done in class is seen by everybody.

We do have a chat function and people use it all the time, even though they’re in different time zones. One of the best things about this class is that we have lots of oldtimers who know from their own experience what works in a novel and what doesn’t and more importantly… why it works or doesn’t work. It’s like having a group of seven or eight other professionals helping you with your own novel. Probably at any given time in class, there will be four or five who already have had a novel or several published as a result of being in class, so it’s a really rarified group. And, if you think that you couldn’t operate in a situation like this because you’re a beginner, that simply isn’t the case here at all. Nearly every single person in each class began just the way you did, as a rank beginner. And, they remember and they have complete empathy for your situation, if you’re a beginning writer.

It’s not a situation of simply saying, “This doesn’t work.” Myself and others in class will surely say that, but we then let you know why it didn’t work and give you solid suggestions on how to make it work. We collectively have a nurturing nature and all of us want the newcomer to succeed just about as badly as that writer wants to.

If you are still interested but still feel intimidated, I think if you simply look at how the class works, you’ll quickly see how you’ll fit in comfortably. Since we’ve got one week left in class, for anyone who would like to see up close and personal how we work as a class, I’d be delighted to give you auditor status for our last week. Besides class members, we also have an auditor function which works the same as it does in a “regular” college class. You’re admitted to class and can view every single thing we’re doing and the entire class session is archived and easy to access. Normally, the cost of auditing the class is $50, but for our last week, for those interested in simply getting a look at how we work, just email me at butchedgerton@comcast.net and let me know and I’ll have our class administrator, Holly, get you on board asap.

I know there are no doubt a lot of questions you may have. Please feel free to contact me at any time and ask me anything you’d like.

From past experience, when we’ve had openings like this, they go quickly, so if you are interested, please get in touch, okay?

For those interested in such things, here are a few of my own qualifications to teach writing.

MFA in Writing from Vermont College
Taught writing for the UCLA Writer’s Program
Taught writing via Skype for the New York Writer’s Workshop
Writer-in-Residence for three years for the University of Toledo
Writer-in-Residence for one year for Trine University
Taught writing classes for St. Francis University
Taught writing classes for Phoenix College
Taught writing for Writer’s Digest Online Classes
Taught writing classes for Vermont College
Published 18 books, including craft books on writing, novels, sports books, YA novel, historical nonfiction book, humor nonfiction, black comedy novel, noir, thrillers, literary and existential fiction.
Dozens of short stories published in such publications as The South Carolina Review, High Plains Literary Review, Aethlon, Flatmancrooked, Murdaland and many others.
Many private clients who published books I worked with them on, including such writers as Robert Rotstein, Michelle Corasanti, Janey Mack, Maegan Beaumont and many others.
A lot of living… much of it as an outlaw…

Blue skies,

Les

 Debut novel from Gerald O'Connor one of our class members from Ireland. Comes out in the spring--look for it and buy it!



Sunday, October 16, 2016

WILLIAM JOYCE INTERVIEW BY RICHARD GODWIN

Hi folks,

Most of you know I'm a huge fan of a living literary legend, William Joyce. Happily, today an interview he did with Richard Godwin just came out on Richard's interview site, Chin Wag at the Slaughterhouse, a must-see stop on the literary trail. Here's what William had to say:

·        ·
Quick Fire At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With William Joyce
Posted on October 16, 2016 by richardgodwin

William Joyce
William Joyce has had an intensive literary career whose vicissitudes exemplify the shallow fickleness of the industry. This is a writer who knew Norman Mailer, and who wrote a first novel, First Born Of An Ass, that baffled the reviewers, not hard given their restricted reader’s skills, and he carried on. That is what writers do especially those who challenge society. William met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about his place in the American legacy and the tethering of literature by social conditioning.
What is your enduring relationship as a writer with the American legacy?
Enduring?? I don’t have enough money for next month’s rent so my relationship with the American legacy is the least of my concerns. I’m hoping to ENDURE without sleeping on the street.
But since you mentioned it, which “America” are you talking about? There’s the U.S. “America” which has misappropriated the name and there’s the continent America named after America Vespucci, an Italian cartographer.
If you’re talking about the U.S., as soon as I die–shortly– the academics will build a statue to me, and put me in the Pantheon of Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, and Charlie Chaplin. As long as they erect an emaciated statue, I’ll be happy.
But if you’re talking about the continent America, I identify just as much with Eduardo Galeano as W.C. Fields or Henry Miller. That would also be true with another dozen Latin American and West Indian writers like Aime Cesaire, Vallejo, Rulfo, Asturias, and Jose Donoso.
To what extent do you think America and Europe now are tethered by social conditioning and a failure to appreciate breakthrough literature, if you think of the effect Henry Miller had on the literary establishment, and how much was your novel First Born an anarchic assault on those limiting sensibilities?
Well, I think the difference between now and then is that Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer had eloquent defenders. There was in Europe and the U.S. in 1935, or 1960, an aristocracy of critics who had the confidence to take on any book, no matter how low-life, and articulate its vitality. These connosseurs of what is best in the written word do not exist now.
First Born of an Ass had no such defenders. In 1989 when it came out, there were book reviewers who applauded the novel but no one who really took its measure. It was “breakthrough” in the sense that it used apparent losers to define a way of life in a particular setting, the steel mill towns of Western Pennsylvania.
What also made it breakthrough was that like Tropic it disparaged the entire the entire set of bourgeoise values. Art, thrift, cleanliness, progress, education, respectability all are washed down the drain.
All of these “Breakthrough” books have another thing in common–The Body. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, Tropic of Cancer, and First Born of an Ass never get far away from the body. If Tropic could be said to be one large stomach, First Born is nothing but one sprawling intestine. It is the world viewed from the digestive apparatus.
This is the last thing the Modern World of isms and sects wants to hear. The Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, deny the body. It is always suspect. With its unpredictability, it needs to be reigned in, harnessed, covered up. All of literary censorship is predicated upon this. If the body can be denied, it can be used as a tool to perpetuate profits and a slice of propaganda.
The most important thing about Breakthrough Writing is that a lot of the time it is funny. And once you have people laughing, they’re going to look around and see the absurdity of their own situation. Then, they kick off their high-heels, or loosen their neckties, become slightly human. Now the writing is a threat.
A long time ago, there were men, and occasionally women, who saw all this and in a leisurely fashion wrote about the joy and insights they got from such unpredictable material. No such arbiters exist today and it is one of the reasons humans are becoming junkies at an unprecedented rate. What we have in place of excellence is the voice of the Mob. And there is hardly anything they don’t know.
Do you think that Art and literature are being increasingly repressed by social engineering and the rise of the far right and its Christianising tendencies in the US and what is the antidote?
Repression? Social Engineering?? Whatever is going on it has made people dumb. In all the countries people are so dumb it’s a wonder they’re alive.
In 1966, Roberto Rosselini, the pioneer Italian film director, said in an interview that Europe was headed toward an infantile society. We’re there now. Billions of people just waiting to be fed, no sign of life anywhere.
Look, if an educated man has the choice of eating a pizza or reading a good book, he’ll take the pizza. The pizza has taste right away whereas the good book takes work. You have to bring something to the book–desire, a sense of adventure, a willingness to explore; the reader has to have energy. Ahhh, but with the pizza you need only open your mouth. Bingo! Everything is taken care of. All you need is dollars or euros and You’re set. And dollars or euros is all that most people have. Desire was flushed long ago into the gearboxes of nasty machines.
The problem is that the wheat for the dough in the pizza is full of GMOs. The tomato sauce is loaded up with a chemical preservative to give it longer shelf life. The cheese comes from a cow that had its ass shot full of hormones to promote quicker growth of the befuddled animal.
The body doesn’t know what to do with all these chemicals. all this sludge. So the pizza just sits in the guy’s gut in various stages of putrefaction while the body tries to arrive at a verdict. When the autopsy was done on John Wayne, they found 36 pounds of feces. The great defender of law and order and he’s dragging around all this shit while 50 million people across the Earth scream, “That John Wayne, he’s my hero, he doesn’t take shit from anybody.” Well, he just happens to take a lot of shit from the whole food network which is supposed to keep him alive but in fact is responsible only to a group of shareholders.
The guy who just gobbled the pizza doesn’t care about all this. The next morning he wakes feeling pregnant when he liked to feel nice and light. He tries to relieve this bloatedness by yelling at the wife and kids but they’re bloated too and yell right back. It’s called The Great American Family. Everybody hoping to make A Stupendous Crap in the hoity-toity-ha-ha-ka-ka Craperia Room so they can go out and buy more pizzas. Papa then goes to work–usually in some office building– where anger is not permitted. At lunch in the company cafeteria, someone blames all the problems on the Commie government, a second guy says, No, it’s the Jewish bankers. A third party blames all the problems on the Armenian faggots, they’re the ones who’ve taken over the schools. The conversation has inflamed the original pizza guy. It’s tapped his adrenal gland and he rushes off to the Rest Room where if you were ever caught just resting, security would haul you off for serious questioning.
A modest bowel movement and the pizza guy feels a bit lighter. “Maybe it is those Armenian faggots” he says to the mirror as he washes his hands.
There’s always been Social Engineering going on. In 1850 Alexander Herzen said about Russia that 52 adults were waiting for the infant to plop out of the womb. If your own life’s a failure, you can always give advice. But humans prepare for this social engineering by eating a lot of ballast. That way they’re passive and can be molded this way or that way. They don’t want freedom which is what the artist represents; they want to be weighted down… with pizzas, with slogans, any kind of crap will do. Pursuing freedom takes too much work, too much vigilance. Better to be half comatose and relaxed–cool it, chill out–than all flighty, flapping one’s wings toward a distant chimera.
Whether it’s the social engineering in 1491 from Uncle Ephraim or the technological variety now, there’s always a constant. There’s something that’s inherent in humans that’s always looking for a shortcut to happiness. In 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand were looking for a shortcut to the Spice Islands so they sent explorers west in wooden ships. No spices but Indians who had lots of gold and silver. In 1849, More gold at Sutter’s Mill in California and this discovery made half the world insane at so much riches in one tiny locale. 75 years later it was liquid gold and people went mad at the thought of a model-A Ford that could power them right up to heaven. Led Zepplin has a lot to say about this. Now it’s a host of technological devices that are supposed to make people feel Connected but just a glance around and you see that people are totally disconnected. They can’t see and they can’t hear. They just poke and pray and wait for the next pizza.
So I don’t think it’s a matter of repression. Humans have been gutted by seven centuries of looking for a shortcut when paradise was often right next to them, within them. Very few have ever been willing to serve that 10 to 15 years apprenticeship that would have taught them contentment and often ecstasy. They’d rather buy a pill by that name.
What is called art or literature is nothing more than a record of an individual’s participation in the comedy called life. Language has been so reduced in its resonance that words are now taken literally. Comedians in the U.S. no longer enter college campuses because they say students take everything literally. That means desire is gone. The body has retreated into a shell. Dead at 18, waiting for the teacher to get them down the road to the next Holiday Inn. The far right or far left or Christian evangelists are just examples of polemicized mobs who take everything literally. Who are ready to kill if they don’t get their daily umbilical transfer of pizza. All the groups, when they see that pizza, smoking from the oven, scream, “AWESOME!”
The antidote??? Hide.
How would you introduce your work to a new readership?
Well, there’s a direct tie-in with your previous questions.
Given the quagmire the Earth is in now and the fact that most countries are police states run by corporations, if I wanted readers I’d have to find rebels, people fed up. This has already happened. How did you and I meet? Through Les Edgerton. And who is Les Edgerton?
Well, he’s more than a rebel. He’s put his body on the line. He’s done time. He’s worked the streets which means he knows what it takes to get a job done. And he’s not going to be fooled by rhetoric–he’s not living out of his head. He’s also done the hard reading; he can decipher the difference between art and the con job called Prize Winners. He’s not going to be fooled by the Noir crowd, nor any genre for that matter.
The funny thing is that before I met Edgerton I dreamed of meeting Edgerton. I knew I needed someone like Edgerton, someone who as a child had rooted for the Bad Guys in movies. I knew 10 years ago I couldn’t get along with straight people.
Straight people don’t get it. They don’t get anything. They have no idea of Charlie Mingus or Miles Davis. Their parents’ idea of a good time on Saturday night was to watch Lawrence Welk on the teevee and they’ve followed suit. Straight people don’t have that little hitch in their giddyup, that savvy on what it takes to get the day started. They’re content to poke at some machine.
In the old days, there were publishers who had this sixth sense of how to get a book rolling. Barney Rosset of the old Grove Press had it. So did the guy who ran Workman’s Press in the ’70s. Carl Weissner had it Germany and if it hadn’t been for him, Bukowski would still be working for the post office, even in his grave.
But publishers like that no longer exist. That means the writer is going to have to have the street savvy to do it himself but he’s also going to have to find allies. Find his Edgertons–hustlers, conmen, out-of-work actors and actresses, people with sense and taste and a sense of humor.
For example, in 1989, when my poetry book For Women Who Moan came out, I hired two saucy hookers to go into a bar at Happy Hour time. Later, I’d walk in smiling.
“You look like you’re in a good mood,” the bartender would say.
“Yeah, my book just came out.”
“Oh, what book is that?”
So I show him the book.
“How much?”
“No charge. It’s your tip.”
“Thanks, my girlfriend’s birthday is coming up. I think she’ll like this.”
“But maybe you could show your new book to those two ladies at the end of the bar?”
The two ladies thank him and start to read–out loud, together, just as we rehearsed it. Already a few guys have meandered in and they hear this strange poem about orgasms just as their sipping their first beer. They knock down that beer tan rapido and order another. Now the place is starting to fill up. A loud argument starts up at the bar. The ladies are debating which of them has the best Moan–just as we rehearsed it.
Well, even in 1989, U.S. men had a hard time getting laid. And now, no sooner do they get off work than they hear two attractive women waxing eloquently on the female orgasm. Potential buyers are creaming their drawers at the sound of it all. Men are soon packed three-deep around the women. One, then two whisper in the women’s ears for their phone number.
“Maybe you could buy me a copy of this book,” the men are advised.
Of course the guys are going to buy the ladies a copy of For Women Who Moan. A half hour later a new crop of suckers stroll into Happy Hour at Childe Harold’s Bar and Restaurant at Dupont Circle in D.C.
Happy Hour indeed! Me and the ladies are out of there with ten books sold in an hour and a half. I leave a ten-dollar tip for the bartender and I meet the ladies down the street at the corner. I have White Out with me and I spread it through the dedications and resell the books at the next bar.
Many nights I arrive home so high I fall asleep in bed with my clothes on. I wake in the morning to ten and twenty-dollar bills all over the bed. In eight months I make more money from a poetry book than even Walt Whitman did in his best years. Poet & Writers, the trade magazine, sends out a reporter. D.C. hookers report that business has never been better.
But if you’re an enterprising author working the streets, you’d better be prepared for accidents and prepared for how to take advantage of them.
Example. One day I’m in a supermarket at the checkout line and a huge Black man pushes me aside, yelling, “Make way, make way, I have to cook for the vice president.”
I’m so dumb I’m asking myself, “Which corporation is he talking about?” Then I remember that I do live in Washington, D.C.
“Hey!” I yell at the cook, “You rudely pushed me out of the way. Maybe the Vice President would like a copy of my latest book?”
He hands me ten dollars and I inscribe For Women Who Moan to “Dan Quayle who is ready to lead our noble nation into battle.”
Two weeks later I see the cook in the same supermarket.
“Hey, what did the VP think of my poems?”
“He never got them. Mrs. Quayle got a hold of the book and won’t give it up. When I left she was reading it to somebody over the phone.”
I could have sold him another copy but I thought, “The hell with it. Let the VP and his wife fight over the Moan book.”
A month later there’s that cook again.
“Hey Cook! Did the VP ever get my book?”
“Naw, Mrs. Quayle lent it to the First Lady.”
Immediately I started having grandiose fantasies. I imagined the President of the United States plucking For Women Who Moan off the bedside table and wondering, “Have I ever known a woman who moaned?”
Then I imagined getting a call from the First Lady and it wasn’t about the quality of my poems. The Moan poem had started her hormones galloping again. I was filled with dread. What if she actually did call and I had to perform on the First Lady or watch my poetry career go down the drain? It was remote. It was absurd. But stranger things had happened to me. How would my tool, John Henry, react when he saw all that white pubic hair and heard those Secret Service men pacing outside the door of the motel room???? And what if she did Moan and the Secret Service men, thinking she was being strangled, came crashing through the door, guns blazing?? I laughed it off as silly thought; still, every time the phone rang, my stomach tightened. Finally, after a week when I didn’t hear from her I figured I was off the hook. Maybe she got George to quit thinking about bombing Iraq for an hour and he gave her a tumble. Stranger things had happened.
What I wasn’t prepared for was a knock at the door a few days later. A little guy in a white shirt and a necktie said he was from Baker & Taylor and could he talk with me. Baker & Taylor I knew to be the largest book distributor in the U.S. This rep said Baker & Taylor had received calls from bookstores requesting the Moan book and did I have a few hundred copies I could turn over to them. I asked him if anybody important had called the bookstores. Yes, he said. Who? He said he couldn’t tell me.
We did some paperwork then and it revealed I wouldn’t make much. Bookstores would get 40%, B & T 15% which would leave me with one dollar profit on each book. I paid the publisher $3.50 a book. I told him it was no deal.
In retrospect, I made a mistake. I would have had nationwide distribution and it wouldn’t have affected my street sales. My ego was just too inflamed with my independence. But what stories I got every week. So, as far as readers now, it’s just a matter of matching the right book to the right locale… and being careful of elderly ladies who have power.
Thank you William for a great interview.
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