How often have you reached the end of a novel and felt let down by the ending? If it happens to me, it can ruin the whole book. But, speaking as a writer, finding the best way to end a book can be daunting, too. Apparently Ernest Hemingway felt the same way. After many different attempts at finishing A Farewell to Arms he finally ended up with “But after I got them to leave and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.” It makes you wonder how bad the other endings were.
But I digress. A couple of weeks ago, Scribner Classics, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, published a copy of the novel with all 47 (count ’em) alternative endings. One thought is that it will cheer frustrated writers up to know that even the great Hemingway had trouble coming up with an ending. Personally, I now feel depressed because I can barely come up with a couple of last lines, never mind 47.
Sumner Glimcher is quite a guy. I first met him at the Westport Arts Center in Connecticut, where he was telling people about his new eBook memoir A Filmmaker’s Journal. I read it recently on my Kindle Fire, and it was astonishing for several reasons. First, Sumner’s career has taken many twists and turns. Starting with a stint of active combat in World War II, through service in post-war Germany in the de-Nazification program, through a long career in documentary film, followed by teaching at NYU, he’s had the sort of life that probably wouldn’t be possible today.
But the thing that interested me most about his book was not the story, fascinating though it was. What hooked me was the fact that this was the first interactive eBook I’d seen. It contains links to clips from Sumner’s movies, as well as to an oddity of a song called “That Ignorant, Ignorant Cowboy” – designed to be a way of telling people, after the invention of penicillin, that syphilis was now curable. Apparently it became a huge jukebox hit!
Why is this so extraordinary? Because Sumner is a very charming and gregarious 88 years old. And he’s still taking a very active interest in new technology and ways of getting his message across using all the means at his disposal.
Over coffee recently, I asked him how he’d managed it.
“Oh,” he said suavely, “Once I’d conceived the idea, I found this absolutely terrific young guy at the Apple store, and he helped me get it all together.” Creative thinking, right?
Just reading this eBook has given me a whole lot of new ideas of what’s possible in the eBook world. So, although I love a paper book, this kind of creativity will keep me reading on my Fire.
If you’re old-fashioned, and must have a paper book, it’s available as a paperback from Amazon, as well as in eBook form for Nook, iPad, etc. So you have no excuse now. If Sumner can lead the way, you can follow.
You can find Sumner at his website, on his Facebook page and you can follow him on Twitter – he’s just started tweeting. You can find his movies on YouTube, or just Google him…he’s everywhere.
This Saturday, August 4, he’ll be interviewed on WWNN radio (8.30-9am) by Anita Finley, host of the radio program: “Cutting Edge with Anita.” They’ll be talking about how the Publishing Revolution has developed as a result of self-publishing, reading tablets and eBooks. And on August 20th, (6-8pm) you can meet him in person at a “Meet the Filmmaker evening at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in New York.
It seems that Sumner Glimcher’s adventures keep right on happening.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a writer-in-residence. Artists-in-residence seem like a logical idea: you get your artist, sit them down and get them to paint what they see. Writers-in-residence at universities or other intellectual establishments seem logical too. It’s when I hear about writers-in-residence at the Savoy Hotel, London Heathrow airport and on a container ship that I begin to wonder.
The latter is Horatio Clare, who first came to my attention when I read his memoir Running for the Hills, a few years ago. Since then he’s written a follow-up memoir, several travel books and a dystopian novel based on an ancient Welsh myth. He’s an award-winning travel writer. When I found out that he’d been a writer-in-residence on board a container ship, I was intrigued, so I asked him about it.
GC: Tell me something about how you came to be a writer.
HC: I grew up without TV, from the age of six or so, and with hundreds of books, because my mother was a reviewer. I saw no distinction between the things you read, the games you played, the way you lived. So we were obviously living, on the farm, a grand adventure. Mum kept a diary. Even then I wanted to read the finished story. I was not surprised when I ended up writing it.
GC: How did you come to be a writer in residence on board a ship?
HC: I emailed Maersk (the world’s largest container carrier) asking if they would like a writer-in-residence. I pointed them to Alain De Boton‘s book about terminal 5 and inferred I could do something similar for them – a PR job, in fact, which I never intended to do. To the eternal credit of Michael Storgaard, head of PR for Maersk, he not only agreed immediately, and said I could go wherever I liked, but also refused to exercise any control of what I might write, saying that would invalidate it. What a man. And it is quite a company…
GC: How long were you on board? And what sort of things were you expected to write?
HC: Compared to a seafarer I have barely started, though I have been around the world on two ships, and spent about two and a half months at sea. They asked me to do articles for Maersk Post, the company magazine, and a blog, which they liked, and profiles of seafarers – a lot of the people who run the company have little or nothing to do with the men who run the ships, which is a change of culture and rather sad for a seafaring family firm, and they wanted me to draw portraits of crew men.
GC: What were the best and worst things about being a writer-in-residence?
HC: The best is that it is a dream come true, whole new worlds to learn and write about, free food, a great cabin – on one ship, on the other it was full of diesel fumes – and the privilege of watching real men do real men’s jobs, on a sort of shadow planet, invisible to ours, but which sustains it. The worst? I often wished I was the second officer… I might have made a decent seafarer….
GC: Is writing in residence something you’d like to do again?
HC: Definitely! Bring it on. It’s a huge boon to writers, a really unexpected dimension to the job. Look at my fine young friend Owen Sheers – poet in residence with the WRU, the Welsh Rugby Union, the lucky, lucky, lucky bastard! He’ll be brilliant at it, of course…
GC: What are you working on now?
HC: Finishing ships and homing in on the end of a comic novel about sex, love, relationships and the black market, called The Duke & Hughes Field Guide to Some of the Birds of Northern Europe.
GC: Finally, where can people find out more about you?
HC: You can Google me or even read my books! I have a website, HoratioClare.co.uk, if you look carefully there’s a free short story buried there about a policewoman on the river Seine. It was commissioned by BBC Radio and it’s called I Am River. My books are available in the US from Amazon and other booksellers.
There’s a new short fiction app called Wattpad and the website that invented it has 9 million followers. Surprised? I was, because I’d never heard of it. So I signed up to take a look. Readers describe themselves as an eBook community, but the interesting thing is that many of them are writers too. You can upload your own work for others to read. And you can do it chapter by chapter, if you like. The reason this is appealing is that it enables a writer to get feedback as they go along, rather than waiting until it’s a ‘finished’ book and then finding out that readers hate it. And readers may even suggest new plot developments or request more characterization.
The reason Wattpad came to my attention is that among their new members is prize-winning Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Atwood’s novels include The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin and the Year of the Flood, as well as children’s books, non-fiction and poetry. She has published two new poems on the site, and is planning to share a piece of fiction this Fall. The poems are: Update on Werewolves, in which she explores the world of the female werewolf and Thriller Suite . (I hope these links work for people who aren’t signed up for Wattpad…)
She will also be the final judge of a poetry contest to be held on the site this month. She already has 280 fans, one of whom is me, of course. And once people discover her whereabouts, that number will just keep going up.
Readers comment on her work, as they do for any other writer on the site. Ms. Atwood says she’ll be reading the feedback on her work, but won’t be commenting on other writers’ stuff, though she promises to read some. She feels any comment she might make would carry too much weight for its recipient – good or bad.
Making yourself visible on Wattpad isn’t easy. Even Margaret Atwood has stiff competition. There are currently five million stories in 25 languages, and more than half a million more are added every month. So if you add something, you’ll be competing for readers’ attention, too. But then, that’s a real author’s life, isn’t it? Name a genre and they have it. Presumably, there’s writing which doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, but so what?
I think it’s time to get some writing on there and see what happens.
P.S. This isn’t the only way in which Margaret Atwood is reaching readers old and new; I’ll be doing a follow up post on her remarkable new ideas soon.
I was lucky enough to meet Charlotte Rogan the other night at an event hosted by Write Yourself Free, in Westport, CT. Charlotte is a local resident, and kindly spent a couple of hours talking to local writers and fans about her recently published book, The Lifeboat, described by Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times as “a really accomplished first novel”. The novel takes as its premise a group of 39 people stuck in a lifeboat after their liner sinks in 1914. The lifeboat is too small, and, unlike the passengers of the Titanic, these people are not rescued for three weeks. Some have described the book as harrowing, but I found it fascinating, as well as beautifully written. The power struggle between the two main characters (other than our unreliable but intriguing narrator, Grace Winter) hinges on the male and female styles of leadership. There are moral dilemmas aplenty, and I predict this will be a firm favorite with book groups.
The book hit #12 on the NY Times hardback fiction list and has been on the extended list for 7 straight weeks – an amazing achievement for a debut novel. And it’s being translated into 24 languages. What’s interesting about this is that Charlotte has been writing for 25 years, and has several (unpublished) novels under her belt. She took a creative writing class with Harold Brodkey, and then simply wrote and wrote and wrote, improving as she went along. Judging by The Lifeboat, this method seems to have worked. (Memo to self: write more…) When I interviewed her, I asked Charlotte what had made her decide to publish at last.
GC: What made you decide to try and get the book published?
CR: I think all writers want to be published, but I was busy with my family and I didn’t like doing the things it took to try to find a publisher: searching out appropriate literary agents, writing endless query letters, writing short pieces in the hopes of breaking into print through magazines, making contacts among publishing professionals. Still, I knew I was getting better with each novel I wrote, so when I looked into the future, I could see two equally reasonable scenarios: one where I continued to write only for myself and one where I finally found an audience for my work.
GC: How did you find an agent? CR: Over the years I occasionally set my mind to finding a publisher, but none of them came to anything until my children were seniors in high school. One day I got a call from a journalist who was writing an article on the challenges for multiples (Charlotte has triplets) of applying to college. Over the course of things, she and I became friends, and after reading one of my manuscripts, she introduced me to her literary agent, who sold The Lifeboat to Little, Brown (note: publishers of J.K. Rowling’s next book. GC) in the fall of 2010.
GC: How much help have your publishers given you in promoting the book? I notice that you have great quotes on the back cover (from the likes of J.M. Coetzee, Hilary Mantel and Emma Donoghue), and interviews/reviews with all the main newspapers/publications.
CR: Little, Brown has a phenomenal publicity department, which has been wonderfully effective at getting The Lifeboat in front of various media outlets. Of course, no one can control which books the reviewers choose to read of the many thousands they receive each year or whether or not they like a particular book. As for the blurbs, I was shocked to discover that finding authors to write them was my responsibility. I didn’t know any authors! I decided to use the opportunity to write letters to my literary heroes and thank them for their books, which are really the things that taught me how to write. Out of fifteen letters, five authors agreed to write blurbs for me: among them two Booker Prize winners, an Orange Prize winner, a National Book Award winner, and a Nobel laureate. I will always be grateful to them for taking the time to help a new-comer.
GC: And as always, writers want to know how a typical day goes…it seemed to me, hearing you speak, that you’re a pretty disciplined person. Is that right?
CR: I am quite disciplined, but how a day goes really depends on the other elements of my life. My family has always come first, and I find that even twenty-something children require a certain amount of time. One of the first things established writers will say to you is to treat writing like a job. That means blocking out distractions and saying no to a lot of things. I am a morning person, so I like to use the morning hours to work. Ideally, I fit exercise, errands, and household tasks into the afternoon, with more work before dinner if time allows. I find it impossible to do more than 2-3 hours of really creative first-draft writing per day, but there are always other writing-related tasks I can do. These include editing, research, and reading books that are inspirational for my work. When I am editing a more finished piece, I might work for 8-10 hours a day if life allows it. Finally, taking care of your physical needs is an obvious but sometimes overlooked element of productivity: eating right, getting enough sleep, and regular exercise pay huge dividends when it comes to writing.
GC: You seem very self-possessed. Do you feel pressured to produce your next novel?
CR: Oddly, I do feel pressure, but only some of it is related to worry about finishing the novel I am currently working on. That’s probably because there are so many new tasks vying for my time. Fiction writers tend to be introverts, but once published, they are given a microphone and asked to speak, set to writing essays for magazines, and interviewed on live radio. Those are things I have never done before, and they have taken a lot of time and energy. But the next big challenge is to balance my time more effectively because I do want to get back to working on my book. GC: On behalf of my readers and myself, thanks, Charlotte for such an encouraging interview!
Here’s an interesting development in the world of books and writing. Our local theatre, the Westport Country Playhouse, a venerable institution, is starting a new “literary salon series” called Books Worth Talking About! The program starts in June and consists of a pre-show discussion with an author whose writing complements the production. I’ve not heard about this kind of collaboration before, but it makes perfect sense to have writers and theatre-goers discussing what they have in common. In particular, the first in the series relates to memoir as a healing medium. Those among us who write memoir will surely find the comparison between two different authors’ work helpful.
The first discussion, on June 13, will feature Nina Sankovitch, author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: A Year of Magical Reading,” a memoir in dealing with the death of her sister. She’ll be interviewed from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. by Tessa Smith McGovern, memoir collection editor, writing professor at Sarah Lawrence and founder of eChook Digital Publishing.
The play that follows is The Year of Magical Thinking, based on the National Book Award-winning memoir by Joan Didion. Featuring Maureen Anderman, the play is about hope and renewal following the author’s loss of her husband.
If you have a ticket for the play in that evening, you can attend the salon.
Two more salons are scheduled – on July 18, prior to a performance of Molière’s “Tartuffe”; and on August 29, before the world premiere of the comedy “Harbor,” by Tony Award-nominated playwright Chad Beguelin.
If you’re interested in this new collaboration, you can buy a ticket by calling the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529. Tickets are available online 24/7 at www.westportplayhouse.org.
Back in November, I wrote a post about whether an MFA was worth the money it cost. recently, m,y friends at the Fairfield Writers’ blog took up the discussion again. This was sparked by the Broadway hit play Seminar, which some of the writers had seen. It’s about a writers’ workshop…
At different times in March, three of us in the Saturday morning writers’ group at the Library saw the hit Broadway play Seminar with its original cast, before changes were made at the beginning of April. (Jeff Goldblum has replaced Alan Rickman in the role of Leonard; Fairfield’s own Justin Long now plays Martin, the role debuted by Hamish Linklater; and Zoe Lister-Jones is Kate, following Lily Rabe.) Colleague Ian Peterkin, who is an MFA student in creative writing, offers this takeaway.—Alex McNab
When novice writers realize their passion is more than a hobby, they will invariably seek out instruction. Whether they find that instruction in an MFA program, a writer’s workshop, or autodidactically, they must take the matter of writing seriously. For those hoping to learn their craft through books, there are many sources to choose from. Stephen King has his On Writing and of course there is that old classic by William Strunk and E.B. White—The Elements of Style. If fledgling writers do not have the time or commitment for an MFA program—and sometimes even after completing one—they often attend a writers’ retreat or seminar. This brings me to Theresa Rebeck’s play, Seminar.
Poets & Writers, is probably best known for its magazine for, well, poets and writers. In fact it describes itself as the nation’s largest nonprofit literary organization serving poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. They have two offices, one in New York City and the other in Los Angeles.
Among the many things they do to support writers is to maintain the best database of contests, literary magazines that I’ve come across. Check out their site to find out what they do. And then link to their database Writing Contests, Grants & Awards, to find out where you should be submitting next.