Rest in Peace, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, has died. - peoplewhowrite

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ works outsold everything published in Spanish except the Bible.   (via AP)

Colombian novelist and Nobel Laureate Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez, or “Gabo”, died today at 87 in his Mexico City home.

The New York Times recalls:

In accepting his Nobel, Mr. García Márquez said: “Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination. For our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”

Chimamanda Adichie & Zadie Smith Would Make the Most Amazing Dinner Guests

Chimamanda Adichie and Zadie Smith_peoplewhowrite

The video won’t be accessible via Livestream starting April 19, 2014. However, you can request it from the Schomburg’s Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division after that time.

Two of my favorite authors Chimamanda Adichie and Zadie Smith came together at New York’s famed Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to discuss Adichie’s National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel Americanah, and the issues of feminism and race explored in the book. The conversation was, of course, riveting. The kind of dialogue you want to have over a glass (or bottles) of wine, and courses of sticky, savory goodness. The type of exchange you need to interrupt with saliva missile affirmations of “Amen!” or “Word!”, and “I hear you, but…” objections.

Watch and talk back to the screen, like I did.

“I think it’s very important that brilliant women step out there and be hot babes.”
I hear you but… what it means to be a “hot babe” has been created and controlled by men to satisfy their own desires, and advanced by powers with an agenda to make money at the expense of women’s insecurities. I think it’s more important that women focus on brilliance than hotness, or better yet that brilliance be equal to hotness.

“I think it’s very easy to confuse something that’s badly written as somehow deep.”
Word! And also easy to confuse writing that isn’t deep as bad.

“I like to say that this is my ‘Fuck you’ book. …in some ways, ‘Fuck you’ to another version of myself. With Half of a Yellow Sun, I was very much — I was very dutiful. I think for so long, I’ve been a dutiful daughter of literature. I’ve followed the rules: ‘Show don’t tell.’ That sort of thing. With Americanah, I thought, you know what? I’m just going to write the book that I want to write.”
Amen!

There’s been a lot of talk / debate about breaking away from the convention of the novel. In a 2008 essay I’m too cheap to pay for called “Two Paths for the Novel“, Zadie Smith “proposed …exposing [realism's] foundations in white liberal thought, demolishing its bedrock assumptions about meaning, language, and selfhood.” And her latest novel NW was widely reviewed as her attempt to do just that. Likewise, Open City and Everyday is for the Thief author Teju Cole told the New York Times “‘the novel’ is overrated, and the writers I find most interesting find ways to escape it.”

I don’t know that I think the traditional form or structure of a novel has to be totally thrown away. I think it’s about evolving the wheel, rather than reinventing it.

“It’s important for me to acknowledge my class privilege.”
Word. Up. As black women, we undoubtedly live outside the sphere of white male privilege, but as educated, middle-class women we do enjoy certain advantages. It’s easy to see how obtuse the powerful can be when you are in the underprivileged position, but easier to go blind when you’re in the power position. I know people, for example, who are quick to rail against economic inequality in the States, yet are happy to perpetuate it in Ghana so they can continue to hire labor for dirt cheap.

“You very quickly realize you are expected to play the good black, because you are not African-American.”
Yup. The “good black”. And then comes that dawning moment when you’re denied entry into a shop or killed for looking suspicious… and you realize you’re playing a losing game. Through the glass doors of a luxury boutique or on a rainy night, the only thing some people see is your skin — and the generations of stereotypes, junk science, and institutionalized bias associated with it. 

“You can be in love in this country, and still be expected, if you go out, to individually pay for your own food.”
AMEN!

“Really, the only reason that race matters is because of racism.”
That’s right. Race is purely a construct, a figment. I recently read Dr. Yaba Blay’s (1)ne Drop Rule where she breaks down the 16 categories / designations of blackness in New Orleans and profiles people whose appearance don’t immediately indicate “black”. It drove home the point to me that blackness — and whiteness, and everything in between — are political and social identities that shape shift depending on culture, time, and space.

“I think there is a narrative that America likes to tell itself which is that all immigrants should be terribly grateful to have come and should therefore shut-up and not complain. And there are many good things about America, but it’s not perfect and people have trouble adapting and adjusting, and some people want to go home.”
Yes, indeed. One of the things immigrants’ rights opponents miss is that most people would prefer to live and work in their native country than start from scratch in a new land with little to no money, connections, contacts, or family support in most cases. If people really want folks not to come to America, they should start challenging foreign policy that cripples or compromises the economies of certain nations, and look at real reparations for nations that were literally robbed of their men, women, and children to work for free to build other nations. British slaveholders were given payouts when abolition outlawed slavery, and their descendants are still enjoying the financial legacy of this remuneration. What would happen–how would the globe’s economy be impacted–if the African nations that were plundered for the transatlantic slave trade were refunded for the loss?

Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch" Wins the Pulitzer

Donna Tartt won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her novel The Goldfinch - peoplewhowrite

Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt has won The Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her highly acclaimed novel The Goldfinch, beating out Philipp Meyer’s epic, and epically praised The Son and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis. Released in October 2013 — 11 years after her hailed sophomore novel The Little Friend and 22 years after her bestselling debut The Secret History – The Goldfinch was hotly anticipated and immediately rocketed to multiple “Best of 2013” lists, landing on several long and shortlists. Last month, The Goldfinch was edged out by Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and will go up against Americanah again in June as both books have been shortlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction.

Dan Fagin’s Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation took the Non-Fiction Prize, edging out nominees The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass andThe Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War by Fred Kaplan.

Playwright Annie Baker earned the Pulitzer in Drama for her three-hour play The Flick.

On the Journalism front, the winners list acts as a searing reminder of the stubborn impasse between civil liberties and national security, as well as the challenges Americans continue to face in the wake of the contracting economy and terrorist threats.

The Pulitzer jury awarded The Washington Post and The Guardian US for Public Service, specifically citing these publications’ “revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy.” The garland is being seen as a win for Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee living as a political refugee in Russia for leaking documents to the press exposing the United States’ global surveillance program.  Snowden called the Pulitzer “a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government.”

The Boston Globe Staff was honored for its Breaking News reportage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt that ultimately revealed brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev as the culprits.  The Explanatory Reporting award went to the Washington Post’s Eli Saslow “for his unsettling and nuanced reporting on the prevalence of food stamps in post-recession America, forcing readers to grapple with issues of poverty and dependency.”

Get the full list of Pulitzer Prize Winners here.

Think Editors Don't Edit? Think Again, Says an Editor.

Barry Harbaugh_via Slatedotcom_peoplewhowrite

Barry Harbaugh

There’s a rumor going around that editors don’t edit anymore. I heard it when I was shopping my first novel — specifically that editors are mostly acquisition agents now, only picking up books that are ready to hit actual and virtual shelves. But Barry Harbaugh, an editor at Harper Collins imprint Harper, says the rumor is just that. Plus, he adds, it’s insulting.

Calling himself part of “a population of overworked, underpaid, good-humored, vastly well-read craftspeople often spending huge amounts of time on other people’s writing,” Harbaugh says, “I probably mark up fifty to a hundred pages a week, most of it on the weekend. I ask questions and cut sentences and write chapter titles and all that stuff. The other editors at my company, and editors I know socially from other companies, are just as rigorous.”

So who’s perpetuating this falsehood? Harbaugh shares a few ideas with The New Yorker.

To his point, editors are, of course, editing. As are agents, and book packagers, and editors who freelance their services to writers on the side to supplement their incomes, which is where it can get confusing for writers, at least. When you’ve completed what you think is a masterpiece and an agent tells you it needs editing before they send it to an editor, the instinct is to ask “Well, isn’t that what the editor is for?” This instinct is, of course, borne out of frustration (borne of countless rejections), sleep-deprivation, alcohol, and/or petulance, but it is what it is.

Either way, I appreciate Harbaugh’s own frustration. In the age of Amazon and self-publishing, it’s tempting to run away with the idea that writers don’t need book editors/publishers in the same way authors of the past did. But the fact remains that editors are still the most powerful advocate a writer can have — must have — throughout the publishing process, and in those months (and years) after your work is released.

It’s the editor whose going to be selling your book’s concept to his/her colleagues throughout the chain, ad infinitum. Depending on the editor’s level, and the level of enthusiasm, the editor plays a big part of deciding which authors to invite to that luncheon where the New York Times Book Review Editor will be sitting at the next table over. And it’s the editor who will talk up your book at industry socials that are closed to authors. In short, the editor ultimately determines how much love your book will get, contract notwithstanding.

As I wrote after attending a discussion between Jhumpa Lahiri’s agent Eric Simonoff and the editors of Seabiscuit, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and Tina Fey’s Bossypants, if an editor feels a battle is worth fighting — pray God it’s your book — they almost always win.

Do Writing Outlines Scare You?

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s writing outline

For lots of writers (myself included), the idea of plotting out a story before you write it is not only as overwhelming as writing the book itself, but it seems to disabuse the romantic notion of letting the characters and story reveal themselves over time. Three-time author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, whose highly praised novel Bittersweet comes out May 13, 2014, insists “thinking about all of [your book's] elements in a calculated way in advance of writing it” can be fun.

Beverly-Whittemore says John Truby’s book The Anatomy of a Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller was particularly helpful to her as she put together the outline for her next book. In a post on Truby’s website, she explains that carefully imagining every aspect of the world she was creating beforehand made the actual writing process less daunting. She explains:

By the time I get to the outline phase in a novel, round about Chapter Eight or so of Truby, I’ve already got a thick notebook of what I’ve discovered by working with him. Here’s what I know:

My premise- what my novel is “about,” specifically what its moral argument is, and how every moment/character in the novel works in consort with that argument

My characters- their weaknesses, their desires (what they think they want), their needs (what they need to learn), how they work in connection with all the other characters in the novel, and much more.

My setting- how place and time influences every major moment in the novel

My novel’s basic arc- who is battling whom for what, where they’re doing it, why they’re doing it, and how it’s going to end.

See how much I didn’t know I knew? This is when I feel a little thrill! I didn’t know I knew so much, and I’m chomping at the bit to start writing.

Check out the full post here.

Common Sense Procrastination Fighters (Because We Need the Reminder)

Author Hazel Gaynor shares ten ways to get writing - peoplewhowrite

Hazel Gaynor

Hazel Gaynor (she wrote The Girl Who Came Home: A novel of the Titanic) has shared “a few tips for getting the words down” that I love her for. Basically, she says turn off the internets, set small attainable goals then doggie treat yourself when you meet them, and give your circle permission to shame you. Read all ten tips here.

The Fab(ricated) Life

Author Emily Gould - peoplewhowrite

Emily Gould

Maureen Callahan has written a must-read about how media, particularly social media, has contributed to the fabrication of glamorous lifestyles. In the piece, she uses anecdotes from the lives of fashion designer L’Wrenn Scott who tragically took committed suicide amidst alleged financial woes, celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz who found herself near bankruptcy in 2009, Real Housewife of New York Alex McCord, and writer Emily Gould who earned a $200,000 advance in 2008. (A spokesperson for Scott says: “The figures quoted in the media regarding the financial status of LS Fashion Limited are not only highly misleading and inaccurate but also extremely hurtful and disrespectful to the memory of L’Wren Scott.”)

“People who don’t know think, ‘Oh! You’ve won the lottery!’ ” Gould explained to Callahan, but the reality is her lifestyle didn’t change much. Outside of shopping for new clothes and going out to better restaurants with a rich set of friends, she stayed in her one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment which cost her $1,700 a month.

Callahan breaks down the math:

•  $200,000 in four installments: one-fourth upon signing, one-fourth upon acceptance of the manuscript, one-fourth upon hardcover publication, one-fourth one year later or upon paperback publication.

• 15 percent ($30,000) to her agent.

• After-tax take-home: about $45,000 a year, her original salary

When her memoir did not sell well — 8,000 copies, versus the 40,000 copies her publisher would have considered a success — Callahan says Gould “found herself jobless and broke…no longer [able to] afford to run with her more privileged friends.”

Today, she works at two startups and has sold a new novel called Friendship for $30,000. She says she hardly eats out, and no longer has a credit card.

“Now, when younger writers talk to me,” Gould told Callahan, “I tell them to get a job.”

British Booksellers Caution Publishers Not to Bypass Them

British bookseller Dan Johns - peoplewhowrite

British bookseller Dan Johns said: “If I cannot put my trust in a publisher or a publisher’s rep, I will simply not communicate. I will order my books, but I will not tell you anymore than that. I need to know any information I give to you is not being used to get direct e-book sales.”

The battle for readers between booksellers, publishers, and Amazon continues–although this time Amazon has nothing directly to do with the beef. According to a piece on The Bookseller this week, English booksellers are peeved at publishers for selling titles directly to institutions at the Bookseller Association’s Academic, Professional and Specialist conference in Brighton last week. This incident marks the latest threat to bookstores’ relevance in the age of the e-book. 

Back in 2012, when Amazon launched a publishing division, Barnes and Noble refused to carry their titles which hurt the e-tailer’s book sales may have forced them to focus on bookstores outside the U.S. Last year, when B&N felt Simon and Schuster was not showing strong enough support in their vulnerability to Amazon, the 140-year-old bookstore reportedly reduced orders of Simon and Schuster titles “by as much as 90%.” It took eight months for S&S and B&N to mend fences.

George Saunders Has Won the First Folio Prize

George Saunders, author of Tenth of December, has won the Folio prize - peoplewhowrite

George Saunders

George Saunders’ Tenth of December was honored with the inaugural Folio Prize–and a £40,000 check. The story collection bested Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers and Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing which both just made the Baileys longlist, as well as Anne Carson’s Red Doc, Amity Gaige’s Schroder, Jane Gardam’s Last Friends, Kent Haruf’s Benediction, and A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava.

Folio Prize jury chair Lavinia Greenlaw described Saunders’ work as “both artful and profound. Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what lies behind and beyond them.” The judges were authors Michael Chabon, Sarah Hall, Nam Le, and Pankaj Mishra–part of an Academy Folio has created boasting 110 literary luminaries–and chosen by lots to ensure “three members from the UK, and two from outside the UK, and there must be no more than three members of the same gender.”

Founded at the end of 2012 by agent Andrew Kidd and Aitken Alexander, The Folio was conceived to reward literary excellence irrespective of gender or nationality.

There’s more on PublishersMarketplace.com and theFolioPrize.com.

Your Canon, Not Mine

BBC Book List Challenge_peoplewhowrite

It’s okay if you haven’t read these books. Or don’t like them.

There’s a post from ListChallenges.com going around that’s positioned as a lighthearted best man’s bet. The set-up goes like this: “The BBC believes that most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books below. How many have you read? (Tip: The average Goodreads member has read 23 out of 100 books on this list)” Implicit in the BBC and Goodreads name drop and the scoring function is the notion that the person who’s read all or most of these books is a literary savant or culturally approved.

The thing is, after patting myself on the back for having finished several of these titles (or their film adaptations), I was missing several works that are classics to me: Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, Bebe Moore Campbell’s Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby

In college, a list like this would have had me fuming about the absence of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart or Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits or Dorothy West’s The Wedding. And to be clear it still irritates me that there are too few works by writers who aren’t white and male on this list, but now I’m comfortable saying this is your canon, not mine.

What books make your list?