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Archive for May, 2009

WORSE THAN A CRIME

Recently I was at a friend’s house with a couple of other guys.  We were  sitting around the TV.   On these occasions, the host’s wife usually hangs around the periphery of the group but doesn’t really participate — it’s an apartment, so there aren’t too many other places for her to be, etc.  She’s generally fine.  No complaints.

The last time I was there, our host stopped to tell a very short Heaven/Hell joke about a  soul who had been sent to Hell by mistake.  God threatens to sue the Devil to get him back, and the Devil replies, “Where are you going to find a lawyer in Heaven?”  Ho ho ho.  That’s fine.  It was organic to the conversation, whatever.  I happen to be a lawyer, but I don’t really care about that kind of joke — it is an unavoidable part of life, best to get it over with quickly, etc.  (The religious aspect of  it doesn’t bother me at all, mostly because of my total lack of belief along those lines.   Another conversation.)

But then my friend’s wife jumped in:  “Here’s my favorite.”  And she proceeded to tell a really LONG joke, taking a few minutes, complete with a moment in the middle when she seemed to lose the thread and started hmm-ing and err-ing.  Somewhere in there, I had a precognitive flash: My God, this joke has exactly the same punch line as the one her husband just told.  A few of us had the same idea, I think, because you could feel the squirming in the room.  

So there we were, listening to this joke that not only wasn’t going to be funny (because it wasn’t great to start out with and wasn’t getting the kind of delivery that could carry the day) but literally had no chance of possibly being funny except possibly as some kind of ironic anti-humor which was clearly not what was intended.

And so it was.  Where are you going to find a lawyer in Heaven?

Worse than a crime, I tell you.

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I showed the below post to a friend, who said I was too pessimistic. We’ll see.

Still reading A Lost Lady.  It’s really short;  I’m just lame.  Also,  it’s better than I expected.  Not setting me on fire, but it is a straightforward, well-constructed story.  More on that later, mayhap.

Watched the first few episodes of British sitcom The IT Crowd, which were worth the time

Here’s our book lineup:

A Lost Lady, Cather (In progress)

The Plague, Camus (In honor of the swine flu)

The Glory of Their Times, Ritter (In honor of my wife, who says I should read it — and who has impeccable taste)

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SOUNDS LIKE MONEY

The title of this post is a quote from an aged relative of mine, her first reaction to hearing the news of a publication opportunity that had been offered to my wife.  The transcription itself  doesn’t do her justice; she gave the last word an exuberant break in the middle, so it was more like munn-nnay!  

To which I naturally responded, No it doesn’t.  Our conversation suffered at that point, with me trying to explain what was good about this opportunity aside from whatever my wife might get paid for it (it’s a royalty-based setup, so that is uncertain) and she giving me the human equivalent of Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close.  We are sorry for the inconvenience.   But we carried on, and she finally came up with an explanation of her own.  “It’s recognition, then?”   

I was able to agree that yes, recognition was probably a part of it.

I don’t want to be too hard on my aged relative — I would have put the conversation aside entirely if I hadn’t heard the same sentiment expressed two other times in the past two weeks.  It’s usually expressed in the following form: I should write a book like _______ and it will be a bestseller and then I’ll be rich!   One person filled in the blank with Watchmen, the Alan Moore graphic novel, and the other filled it in with an actual idea, “dating horror stories.” 

Let’s take this apart:

1.  I should write a book:  Yeah, you should sit down for about 1,000 hours and write a book. And then rewrite it.  And then realize that it isn’t any good and change it.  And all this on top of whatever you are doing to pay the rent.   

2.  It will be a bestseller:  After you find an agent to take it on who finds a publisher to take it on, and do whatever rewrites they demand, and hope that they market it properly, and Oprah recommends it, and maybe a prominent religious figure denounces it for having too much graphic sex of a particularly titillating sort . . . yeah, maybe it’ll be a bestseller.

3.  I’ll be rich: If you manage to make it through steps 1-2, above, we get to the real crux of the matter — I don’t think you actually DO get rich, at least not on one book.  I’m no expert on the publishing biz, not having had a scrap of my own work published (except for you fine people), but it seems to me that a first-time author would certainly lack any kind of bargaining power  with a publishing house — the type of power that gets you the fat advance and a decent chunk of the royalties.  The people who get those deals are the one who are able to cash in on some prexisting brand that they have created — either  the Hillary Clintons of the world, famous or notorious for other things, or a professional author who has an existing body of work that readers want more of.   I think, without really knowing, that Joe Author’s first book doesn’t make him rich, no matter how successful.  If he’s is lucky, it gets him the chance to write a second.  (And Joe sold the movie rights to that first book for a song well before it becomes apparent that it’s going to be a hit, so don’t be thinking that’s going to make so much of a difference.)

This brings me back to my aged relative, and the notion that my wife’s opportunity, or any Bizarro-world opportunity that might come to me, sounds like munn-nay! (I mean, I would hope that our books would be so wildly popular that Borders would eliminate the entire Self-Help section so as to feature our books, and have to restock the shelves five times a day at every location because of the demand.  Don’t hold your breath, however.)  It doesn’t sound like munn-nay! at all, actually — so why do it?

If you are a creator of art, that’s a question you have to answer — if it’s so unlikely that you are ever going to make a dime off what you are doing, why do it?    Why not just watch TV, or read, or learn to cook, or go out and make some friends and hang around with them?  Or why not just take a nap?  Why spend all that time on your worthless  art?

Figure that out, and then we’ll talk again.

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