You couldn’t make this up if you tried

A guy has been squatting on Patrick deWitt’s website (author famous for often looking like he’s just leapt from one timeline to another and is in the process of figuring out what year it is), holding it for ransom. The price? He wants deWitt’s publishers to read his manuscript. As you can imagine, the response from deWitt has been definitive: meh.

I shit you not. I am almost dehydrated from cry-laughing.

There are traditional ways to get a book published—pitches, queries, agents, enduring months and years of soul-crushing work and silence—and then there’s blackmail.

A writer is currently squatting on Patrick deWitt’s website, which they’ll return to the award-winning author if he reads their “very unpublished novel.”

The squatter has not identified themselves (they call themselves a “bad boy” on the contact page), but their demands and motivations are clear:

“Mr deWitt, If you want the site back, just let me know. I’m not trying to blackmail you, your producers, the publishing house or your literary agent. I just want y’all to read my manuscript.

“Oh fuck, I just realized that’s the dictionary definition of blackmail. Sorry, I guess I just meant I don’t really give a fuck about money.”

D&D as a foundation for being a storyteller

Cartoonist Jim Zub on how D&D made him the storyteller he is (audio). I have an article that’s similar (about foundational values) over at The Walrus. Daily I am amazed at how popular the game has become. I walk the streets freely now wearing D&D tshirts that advertise my geekiness for the entire world to see and never once to I experience name calling, stomach punches, wedgies, or even the dreaded “Read Admiral”. At least, not about D&D.

Jim Zub is an award-winning Canadian comic book writer who says he learned a lot about life — and found his future career — by playing Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. Now, he’s writing guidebooks as well as hosting a podcast about the role-playing game. He joined guest host Laurie Brown live in the q studio to talk about the effect Dungeons and Dragons has had on his career and why the game is exploding in popularity again.

On Marketing Books

Should the writer be thinking about marketing while writing? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! Sorry, that was the poet in me laughing. This is me thinking about marketing after I’ve finished a poem: “I wonder if Mark will like it….”

Book marketing, generally speaking, falls on the shoulders of your publishing team. So while marketing shouldn’t be your primary focus, you do need to be mindful of it. In terms of your work’s “marketability,” I’ll explain it this way. An editor I knew would often speak of her desire to acquire books that hit a “sweet spot.” She meant that she was looking for books that checked off a number of desired categories. This could include hot trends and genres (think Fifty Shades of Grey and Gone Girl), as well as books that dealt with timely issues.

While that may be how she evaluated the books that crossed her desk, many writers don’t write thinking about sweet spots. That’s because the creative process is often messy and doesn’t always fit neatly into categories. Nor should it, IMHO.

America’s dirt gets dirtier each day

So, the American Dirt scandal has all the hens and roosters clucking. Even a few foxes. The publisher has tried to address the situation (though the letter goes off the rails) and has cancelled the book tour citing safety concerns. What a time to be alive. That says, the Guardian takes a highroad stance and offers an article on books you SHOULD read to understand Latinx culture.

I believe the publishing industry made a profound mistake publishing Jeanine Cummins’s wannabe narco-novel American Dirt. While we wait for the industry to change, here’s what to read if you really want to understand Latinx culture.

“Critique is a fundamentally negative gesture.”

That oughtta curl a few toes in soft academic shoes (and maybe tent a few other robes) out there. This essay extols the virtues of reading aloud in a group WITHOUT using your critical mind. This is something I struggle with (even while reading silently). I hate not being able to turn off the critical brain. But after 25 years of reading, writing, and teaching poetry, I find it very difficult. Same thing happened to me with the theatre: I can’t even go to a fun show with seeing the blocking, lighting choices, directorial interferences, actor posturing, etc. All that’s left to me is film. So if you know how they get all those people inside the flat box in my basement, please don’t tell me.

Praise isn’t a thing we literary academics tend to excel at. Weaned on the likes of Karl Marx and Michel Foucault, our critical minds are wired to “problematize” not praise. Here, we are trained to say, is how this particular text is complicit in this or that insidious ideology — or, somewhat more positively, how it helps us critique an ideology, or a form of oppression or inequality. And who can blame us? We live in a country where the less affluent 50 percent of the population now possesses around 1 percent of its wealth, and each successive week seems to bring a new instance of racialized violence. Not to critique these ills, as they become visible in literary texts, would amount to self-delusion.

Yet we are left, many of us critics, with a deep-down impulse to praise, and the above formula does little to sate this need. If we are only going to “interrogate” literature (that favorite word!), why read at all, much less devote our careers to these works in spite of all the pressures, monetary and otherwise, that scream at us to stop and turn around? Critique is a fundamentally negative gesture, and as one’s default readerly mode it leads to a kind of attrition. At the end of the day we all need to eat — and praise may be the first step toward attaining sustenance, the utterance of thanksgiving before the feast. A world transfigured by praise is one worth living in — and, crucially, one worth renovating, endeavoring to reform. Praising it, we impose on ourselves a degree of humility and receptivity to others and their gifts, to nature with its superabundance of beauty and wonder that cries out to be cataloged and shared. We remind ourselves that humans can be remarkable during a time when being human is so frequently cause for shame.

On the power of the pre-order

Know someone with a book coming out and want to help them without putting in too much effort? Pre-order it.

When authors shyly, or not so shyly, encourage people to pre-order their book, they are hoping readers will order from a book shop, online, or from their library in advance of the publication date – regardless of the format. It can be career-changing for an author and this is why:

Americans get Dirty

So, there’s a huge appropriation scandal gone nuts in the US around the white-woman-writes-about-Mexicans book American Dirt. It was supposed to be a huge triumph for the author and publisher and while I expect the negative attention hasn’t hurt sales so much, it does seem to have been a remarkably tone-deaf and bad-timing decision on the part of everyone involved. Was there no one at any boardroom table that went, “Really? Are you serious? Right now?” Anyway, before you conservative types start yapping about the artist’s right to cultural appropriation, it looks like the real controversy didn’t erupt until passages of writing started to emerge that showed the “author’s portrayal of Mexican culture [as] outlandish, littered with stereotypes, stilted bilingualism and an awkward peppering of italicized Spanish phrases.” Now there’s an open letter (!!) signed by 82 authors asking Oprah to reconsider her choice to pick this book for her club. Thoughts?

Its publisher, Flatiron Books, an imprint of Macmillan, paid a seven-figure advance after outbidding several competitors for the novel. It snagged a coveted selection in Oprah’s Book Club and had been shipped to key celebrity influencers, including Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros and Salma Hayek. A reported first run of 500,000 copies was printed. The film rights were sold.

But by week’s end, the novel “American Dirt” had garnered attention that its boosters likely didn’t expect: angry charges of cultural appropriation, stereotyping, insensitivity, and even racism against author Jeanine Cummins, who herself said in the book’s author’s note, “I was worried that, as a nonmigrant and non-Mexican, I had no business writing a book set almost entirely in Mexico, set entirely among migrants.”