Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wrigley Turns One Hundred 1914-2014

I was just there the other day dropping off copies of my book and I saw the banner. One Hundred Years Old. 1914-2014. Amazing. But of course that is the magic of the field. It belongs to another time. The ivy covered walls and the snug feel of the park and the view of the lake on a hot summer day with a hot dog and a beer and some peanuts and you are lost in time. The baseball game plays out and the moment slows and all that hurried stress of the twenty first century slithers away.

I lived four blocks West of Wrigley for about three years. My wife and I had rented an apartment on Wayne Street and on summer days you could hear the crowd roar like the surf of the ocean. And I took it for granted. Yeah Wrigley Field. Chicago. Wrigley Field. They just were the same to me. But when I moved further west and getting to a ballgame became trickier I really began to understand how unique Wrigley was.

They tore down Comiskey and put up Cellular Field for the Sox. It is a great place to watch a game with lots of space and parking and easy concessions. But there is something missing. Maybe it is the people from the neighborhoods who go to every game. Or the way the ball bounces off the ivy covered back wall or the bleacher bums facing you every game.

But it is probably those hundred years that sit in the middle of a city in a green field that defies all logic. Men playing a game we played as kids and on a field that belongs to a memory.
The Pitcher...Sometimes a dream is all you have

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Writer and Teaching

Writers have always taken shelter in teaching. The Universities are brimming with writers. That's because it is friendly territory. You can actually talk about what you do without someone giving you that cross eyed look that always follows what is your day job? And this is because writers are suspect. You are doing something that keeps you at home and a lot of times you don't even get out of your robe. So teaching is a respectable alternative.

I have been speaking in a lot of schools lately and you can not help thinking...what if. What if I had become a teacher. Would I still write? Probably not. The rub is this. Once that weekly paycheck comes then all that motivation goes out the window. And time becomes a scarce commodity. Lets face it after reading student fiction and grading it and commenting on it  then by the time you start on your own work you are already played out.

Still the security and the camaraderie and the higher calling of helping others is alluring. Writers twist in the wind and a lot of times they just blow away. There are no support groups or rules of the road. It is pretty much every man for himself. So who can blame someone for swinging in with the pack and taking a pension and a paycheck.

But really do have to follow your destiny. Besides, who would give the author talks if everyone became a teacher?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Selling A Novel In Todays Market

I was coming out of a Literary Festival the other day and I saw something that made me think we have passed into a new world. There was a car and on this car were the trade reviews and quotes from a novel with a picture of the cover on the side of the card. These were painted onto the car and not just temporary. I began to read the reviews from Library Journal, Rick Kogan, Booklist, Kirkus written on the back and the hood and the sides of the car.

My assumption was this was some self published author who figured why not put his book on his car. But no. This was a press that did this. And so we have passed into the age of anything goes. Some might see this as evidence of clever marketing or some might see it as desperation against the titanic wave of cultural marketing that is now our society. So lets take it as a marketing ploy.

Do people sit in their car and read reviews from Library Journal on the trunk of the car in front of them? No. Would they buy a book they saw on the side of a car? Would they remember a Publishers Weekly quote streaming by on the hood of a car? Who knows. Probably not. But the point is that this publisher has reached the point of trying to advertise their book on the same footing as a real estate agent selling houses.

So again...desperation? Market savvy? Idiocy? Who knows. I did read the reviews and I did stare at the cover. Too bad I can't remember the name of the book. I'll just have to catch that novel as it passes by at sixty miles an hour next time.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sweaty Author

You get there and the authors are already at their tables. One guy is taking pictures upon pictures and tweeting them all over the place. He has his table right in the middle. You are there with a bookstore and are standing by to sign books for whoever may buy. The self published contingent is there. They are organized and efficient with their books and their notebooks. They sit behind their tables and stare out at the people beginning to stream in.

You did not start this way. You came form the old world of publishing. Big advances and Big Media. Signings were exclusive affairs at bookstores for people who came to hear only you. Now you are a baker at a carnival in a sea of barkers. Everyone is selling something and a lot of the products are substandard but it doesn't really matter. Whoever barks the loudest gets the sale.

And so for the next five hours you bark at everyone passing by. Authors eye each other warily. Who has self published? Who has been reviewed? Who is selling? The arty crowd is there and they just want to make contacts. You are there to sell. People steer clear because you wear a sport coat and don't evince the tired Bohemia of so many literary festivals. Your book is heavy with reviews. Another violation. It goes like this and when the people stop the authors stare at each other.

And then it slowly dies. The guy who self published Goth Horror closes shop. The experimental guy with the crazy cover who sold a good amount of books leaves. Your bookstore takes off and leaves you with a few more books. You sell another one but that is really it. Time for a drink at a bar and the lingering vague dissatisfaction of the Literary Festival.

The era of the Sweaty Author is like that.

The Pitcher

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reading at The Green Mill

So I read at the Green Mill. Very cool place but I should have known better. Not that the crowd was not nice. They were. They listened politely as I read from The Pitcher. But the Green Mill is the home of Mark Kelly Smiths Poetry Slam and not really the venue for novelists reading stories of a Mexican American kid with a golden arm and a broken down World Series pitcher.

Even my credentials sounded suspect. Why would anyone have so many awards and so much media attention if they did not sell out? Next to the rappers and the first timers someone with a  hardcover novel just doesn't have the necessary proletarian markers to compete. And there were the favorites and they ruled. Who was that guy anyway with the book?

But I appreciated reading there. I really did. I appreciated the guy (Mark) who I had met a  long time ago in Wicker Park and told me about the poetry slam. Maybe it is the discomfort of the novelist for anyone who doesn't spend years hammering prose into a long coherent form that eventually lands between two covers and must be accessible to school kids and critics alike.

Maybe it is simply the difference between the poet and the novelist.
The Pitcher

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why The Internet Wont Save You

If you have tried to get a job then you already know. Your resume goes out into cyberspace and nothing comes back. Worse you have to fill out three forms just to send your resume to a company and that wont even get you through their firewall. The truth is no one even looks at your resume. The same way no one looks at all those pictures on your hard drive or all those songs in your phone. The internet or digital tech has simply reached its level of  incompetency and is now cancelling itself out.

Lets say you want to publish a book. Boom. Done. You upload your file create a cover with Amazons dummy creator and there you go. Published. You are an author. Or you want to be a rocker. You upload your music and start selling on ITunes. You want to have your own movie. Shoot it and upload to Youtube. Of course the problem is that there a million other people doing exactly the same thing and when you go to tweet blog or facebook about your book song or movie then those people will too.

The internet then cancels itself out. Like the emails you never look at you simply cant get to what is offered nor do you want to. Think of a million hotdog stands along the road. You want one hotdog but which one do you pull into. You pick someone you heard of maybe a long time ago and ignore all those start ups. Or you just randomly pick. But what if someone flagged you down?

Lets say a real  person came out behind all those digital billboards and said come on in and try my hot dog. You would pull your car off the road and eat there. Why because you are human and so are they. You are not silicone and you are not bits and bytes. The truth is we have come full circle. The internet Yulp is now one of noise cancellation.

Better go hit the pavement.


Monday, March 24, 2014

The Winter that Won't Let Go

Like the houses that wont sell and the economy that wont take off and the politics that wont get out of Park we now have the winter that wont let go. At least in Chicago. We have gone through hell. Thirty below. Forty below. Days on end of snow. Frozen wasteland. And by now we usually get some relief. It is almost April. But not to be. We woke up this morning to eighteen degrees. Frost on the windows with no end in sight.

And you really cant help but connect the dots. Our age is one of stagnation. People frozen in their homes in their jobs in their marriages.It is almost like America as a whole has hit middle age. A strange thought for a country that prides itself on being young. America now is one big waiting game it would seem. Waiting for retirement. Waiting for a job. Waiting to sell. And then there is the weather.

The slogging through it psychology of winter is a perfect metaphor for our time. We slog through to better times. Like the spring it must be there after this long dark winter. We can feel it in the sun now. We can feel it in the light that is now Daylight Savings Time. Funny how that extra hour means nothing when you cant go outside.

So we wait for winter to lose her grip. She is a real bitch this time. They are calling for snow tomorrow.

Books by William Hazelgrove