#WritersonTrump

Cheryl Strayed tweets about WritersonTrump_peoplewhowrite

This week, 470 writers across the U.S. added their name to “An Open Letter to the American People,” a rejection of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy. In it, the undersigned, which includes Pulitzer Prizewinning poet Tracy K. Smith and Pulitzer Prizewinning novelist Junot Diaz, list their reasons for opposing Trump. Among them:

Because, as writers, we are particularly aware of the many ways that language can be abused in the name of power;

Because we believe that any democracy worthy of the name rests on pluralism, welcomes principled disagreement, and achieves consensus through reasoned debate;

Because American history, despite periods of nativism and bigotry, has from the first been a grand experiment in bringing people of different backgrounds together, not pitting them against one another

…Because neither wealth nor celebrity qualifies anyone to speak for the United States, to lead its military, to maintain its alliances, or to represent its people

It’s a to-the-point manifesto that makes a reasoned case for questioning Donald Trump’s fitness for the White House, however, I wish the writers had sacrificed the digestibility of brevity for a more in depth rallying cry written not with the choir as its intended audience, but the unbelievers that won’t go near the church. I wish too, that there had been more than clausal treatment of American history’s “periods of nativism and bigotry” and a deeper questioning of just how much celebrity and wealth have shaped America’s value system. In short, much of the writers’ missive reads as a love letter to America’s mythic origins when what we (or at least, I) need is a confession and admission.

There have not been merely “periods” of nativism and bigotry. Prejudice, racism, and nativist intolerance of some kind have been violently, legally, and/or passively upheld in America from the very beginning of its inception–often borne of a desire to pass on “drudgery, work, and slavery” to those weaker than ourselves. Whether we are talking about the early settlers’ tense relations with the Native Americans; the economy that trafficked in human lives, kidnapping and enslaving men, women, and children to build America during the transatlantic slave trade; the laws that have denied large swaths of people the right to vote or marry whom they choose; the myths and chicanery that have consigned certain people to ghettoes and incarceration; or the economic injustice that has created such disproportion that 1% of Americans control 38-43% of the nation’s wealth, the fact is America has thrived from pitting certain groups against others in a zero sum, winner take all game. Now, as demographics shift, our economy contracts, and the world globalizes, many Americans who benefited from the game as it was played, are seeing their advantage shrink. This is why Donald Trump’s “we’re gonna win again” rhetoric has captured their imaginations and their votes. When Trump says he wants to “make America great again,” his devotees understand that he aims to make America great again for them.

Likewise, the truth is, in America, celebrity and wealth have qualified people to speak for other Americans. Everyday, celebrities and rich people–basically actors, musicians, reality stars, and businesspeople–are quoted on all manner of topics unrelated to their actual expertise. They’re enlisted to speak for charitable organizations or given the spotlight when they rally around causes of concern. If not for Princess Diana touring land mine rigged areas, would the press have reported about it? Would the New York Times have reported on this open letter by writers about Trump if the signees did not include bestselling authors like Cheryl Strayed or Pulitzer Prizewinners like Tracy K. Smith and Junot Diaz? Would I?

As we enter this election cycle, it’s incumbent on all Americans to take a sober look at where we are, and why we are here, and admit that if we want to move forward, we cannot gloss over our past and/or present for fear of discomfort. We have to confess that, yes, America was built on “winners” keeping their feet on the necks of “losers,” and that we have worshiped at the altar of wealth and celebrity to our detriment. We have to acknowledge that democracy is hard, and that our (human?) impulse is to recoil from/be cautious of those we patently disagree with, and what / whom we don’t know or understand. We have to admit that we are (by instinct?) self-absorbed and self-obsessed, and that if we and those that immediately concern us are doing well, we don’t actively care what’s happening to anyone else. We have to concede that it’s easier to blame others for our challenges than point the finger at ourselves or accept that we don’t have as much control over things as we’d like.

And then, we have to repent.

I love that writers are coming together to express their thoughts about politics and the writing business. Culture looks to scribes to keep an accurate record of their times, whether that truth is expressed through non-fiction, fiction of any genre, or poetry. So let’s commit to telling the truth. It may be the only way to trump Trump.

New Yorker Copy editor: “Our purpose is to make the author look good.”

In her incredibly witty TED Talk, Mary Norris, a copy editor for the New Yorker also known as the Comma Queen, defines the intimately technical relationship between editors and writers beautifully: “There is a pact between writers and editors. The editor never sells out the writer, never goes public about bad jokes that had to be cut or stories that went on too long. A great editor saves a writer from her excesses.”

Watch it here, or here.

Jessica Crispin on Fear & Writing

In the week after she shuttered her litblog Bookslut, Jessica Crispin shared her frank opinions on the publishing industry and how fear among writers cripples improvement with TheGuardian.com and New York Magazine‘s Vulture.com. Read them for an honest, acerbic assessment of, among other things, what it can mean to have a literary career today.

Jessica Crispin of Bookslut on Fear in Writing_PeopleWhoWrite

12th PEN Festival Has Mexico Focus

Álvaro Enrigue, Valeria Luiselli

Alvaro Enrigue and Valeria Luiselli will share original testimonies crafted under their guidance at “The Voices of the Student ‘DREAM’ers.”

On April 25th, PEN America will kick off its 12th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature with a focus on Mexico. The aim, according to the statement on the festival website is to invite attendees to “rethink the stories of migration, the border and national identity.” The program features a range of lectures and panels related to Mexico and Mexican narratives including the seminal role of translators, an exploration of Africa in Latin America, pre-Christopher Columbus, and an opening night panel on the multibillion-dollar drug industry with 1991 MacArthur Fellow Guillermo Gómez-Peña, journalist Lydia Cacho, and Man Booker Prize 2015 Winner Marlon James.

 

Absent from the Mexico-centered slate is a program exploring the business of writing in Mexico/for Mexican writers. If you’re interested in learning more about the publishing market in Mexico, PublishingPerspectives.com has an interview with indie publisher Eduardo Rabasa who founded Editorial Sexto Piso in 2002.

Though elusive pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante will likely not be unmasking her(or  him)self at the festival this year, her English-language translator is also on deck to discuss Ferrante’s work with a panel of authors. Author and cultural critic Roxane Gay will give the keynote Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture followed by a sit-down with multi-award-winning poet and Buzzfeed’s Executive Editor of Culture Saeed Jones.

Check out the full schedule here.

The New Publishers: Telecommunications & Technology Companies

mvgj5ssl

Dominique Delport is head of  Vivendi Content which just announced the creation of a content studio that will create scripted, made-for-mobile series.

Digital platforms and devices have become the place where stories that are usually ignored by mainstream distributors find welcome viewers. Among others past, present and (being) adapted for television, there’s viral hit An African City, Snapchat series Literally Can’t Even, and Roots drummer Questlove’s original animated series STORYVILLE. But, increasingly, telcos and tech companies are taking more of an ownership stake in the content viewers flock to their sites or services to watch.

 

NetFlix’s stable of streaming programs and Amazon.com’s Emmy-, SAG-, and Golden Globe-winning series Transparent are probably the best tech companies creating original shows that have found cult audiences, but new players are entering the fray. Back in February, Apple announced it was working on an original TV show with legendary hip-hop producer and Beats Music Co-founder Dr. Dre tentatively entitled Vital Signs–the first step in creating a bundle of shows for AppleTV.  Earlier this month, traditional mass media powerhouse Vivendi announced plans to put €25 million behind a new venture called Studio Plus which aims to create original series for mobile phones and tablets.

At MipTV, an annual event that brings global media and content players together in Cannes, France, the head of Vivendi Content Dominique Delport said of the move, “We’re aiming to tap into the booming consumption of short formats by the mobile generation and address the scarcity of quality mobile-ready scripted content for the millennials.” Delport told Variety Studio Plus will launch in France with 25 scripted, short-format, 10-episode series.

Also announced this month, telecommunications giant Verizon has teamed up with media conglomerate Hearst Corp. to purchase Complex Media.  According to Ad Age, “Some Complex Media content will be distributed across Verizon’s platforms, such as the telco’s Go90 video service.”

Complex chief executive Rich Antoniello said, “When you get an opportunity to create unfair and competitive advantage disproportionately in the marketplace, you take it.”

Abiola Oke, CEO of okayafrica, the largest digital platform for new African content, says he’s been in several meetings with telcos focused on funding or creating new content for their subscribers. He noted they are not just looking for streaming content, but literature too.

What does this mean for us writers tapping at our keys, scrawling ideas in journals and on napkins, or simply staring at a blank screen?

There’s something to be optimistic about as we toil in the refiner’s furnace of creation: Even as traditional publishing opportunities constrict and mutate in the digital age, new digital platforms may be the way to get our work to our audience. Successful traditional authors are already exploring and experimenting with digital distribution formats.

At the end of 2015, a New York Times story announced multi-million copy selling author Wally Lamb’s plans to release his sixth novel I’ll Take You There as an app, via e-book publishing company Metabook. Fellow bestseller Margaret Atwood has been ahead of the digital wave for years. As I noted in a 2012 post:

In 2012 specifically, she launched an app called Fanado which allows authors and fans to connect and sign books virtually. She has been actively promoting online writing community Wattpad.com. Now, USA Today reports, Atwood is planning to write her next book, Positron, as a serial that will be released on Byliner.com. (Byliner was just in the news for partnering with the New York Times to publish original long form articles by Times writers.) Atwood told NPR the internet has ironically made it possible to revive the serial fiction culture of the past.

Aspiring and emerging writers are taking advantage of the free distribution digital media provides too. In 2015, Aziah King practically broke the internet with her tweeted tale about a stripper’s wild weekend in Florida, and Penguin Random House joined the Association of American Publishers to host the Twitter Fiction Festival. Earlier this month, literary agent Beth Phelan hosted a pitch session for writers to share ideas with agents and editors on Twitter called #DVPit.

Whether it’s participating in social media pitch sessions, sharing new work on platforms like Wattpad, leveraging social media to share stories with our following, there are obviously lots of different ways to get the word out, but how do we make money?

This is where writers and agents need to get creative. Perhaps it’s setting up pitch meetings with the appropriate Content/Programming lead at a telco, or getting a group of writers together to create a collective and pitching a social or digital platform on a content channel/series that’s exclusive and lives behind a pay wall. Similar to JayZ’s Tidal, which creatives from every genre should follow closely (mistakes and successes) to learn how an artist-owned platform can eventually work.

Because we, as a culture, are still understanding the ocean of possibilities digital platforms can power–even as tech and telecommunications companies innovate at breakneck speed–the only thing really standing in our way is imagination and knowledge. If writing is something we want to do professionally and sustainably, we need to educate ourselves about the changing market and how and where we might fit in; and we must be willing to think creatively and pursue fresh options when traditional doors remain closed or only open a crack.

Eat, Drink, and Be Literary with Marlon James, Zadie Smith, and Bill Clegg

BAM_Eat Drink Be Literary with Marlon James, Zadie Smith, Eileen Myles, Darryl Pinckey_peoplewhowrite

For the third year in a row, Brooklyn Academy of Music is hosting the ultimate literary supper series. “Eat, Drink, and Be Literary” 2016 will feature a monthly lineup that includes Man Booker Prize 2015 winner Marlon James, 2015 Sunday Times short story prizewinner Yiyun Lee, amongst other seminal talents. See the full 2016 schedule on BAM.org.

Isabel Allende Starts All Her Books on January 8th

Isabel Allende on her writing process via Lenny newsletter_peoplewhowrite

If there’s a balance between being bullish about writerly goals/self-imposed deadlines and patient pacing, Isabel Allende seems to have mastered it. Check out the author’s interview on Lenny about her new book and her writing process.

Bowie Bonds for Writers?

bowiecomputer

David Bowie in 1996, a year before Bowie Bonds were introduced

Here’s another kind of speculative fiction, or non-fiction for writers to consider: packaging your current and future earning potential into a security bond investors can buy and sell–or at least thinking of your work (past, present, and future) as valued commodities.* In 1997, David Pullman, an investment banker working with David Bowie, created financial instruments known as “Bowie Bonds” to “securitize [Bowie’s] back catalog”. An article on Phillymag.com explains how the bonds, which acted as a loan against future payments, worked: “Artists would get a lump sum of money now without having to wait for future royalties.”

 

The bond sounds like the advance traditionally published writers negotiate as part of their book contract–except writers would presumably have to pay the money back if their future royalties/earning potential could not cover the initially projected value. Since most contracts don’t require return of the advance if a book doesn’t earn its advance, a bond like this would not make sense for most writers, but it’s an interesting model to explore as digital tools make the publishing and book selling industries more financially transparent and empower writers to take more ownership of the business of writing. Moreover, the bond taps into the way some artists already value their art.

Upon cursory rumination, the Bowie Bond seems like an instrument or model only really famous or financially successful writers can begin to entertain, but young creatives have been making calculated risks based on their art as long as art has been appreciated. One of the things that struck me as I watched the film Straight Outta Compton was how both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre walked away from millions at at least two points in their careers to either maintain their safety or avoid becoming further entangled in strangulating contracts.

There was a power in their exit because it spoke to their faith that they could reinvent themselves. They were essentially betting on their talent and work ethic, and their future ability to monetize them. Their belief in their capacity to recreate and improve upon their past success was a bond of sorts.

How can new and emerging writers quantify the current and future value of our work and intellectual property without allowing financial value to motivate or compromise the art? How can we figure out how not to let the tensions between commercial realities and artistic integrity hamstring us while others profit from our intellectual property? How would believing in the worth of our work change the way we approach the financials of writing?

 

On Becoming a Full-Time Writer

Sloane Crosley_Beginnings_via_NYMag_peoplewhowrite

Last month, New York Magazine published a series of posts around the theme “Beginnings”. I’m still making my way through them. Perhaps because I’m still figuring out how to do this writing thing while maintaining a roof over my head, a social life, and balance, this one, by Sloane Crosley, was one of my favorites. The clip above is just a snippet.