Friday, November 12, 2010


I received an e-mail from Gotham Writers about an event in the Upper East side yesterday. The authors of "The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published" teamed up with a pair of literary agents to hold an American-idol style contest in which people had one minute to pitch their book proposal before them, the crowd, and the rolling cameras.

I attended, for I've recently had the idea to edit a collection of thematically related short stories--Bride of the Golem--an anthology of humorous Jewish horror. However, after standing in line and entering the room it was explained that only those who just purchased the book were eligible to pitch, and not wanting to feel pressured into buying a book I might not need, I declined to do so, and instead watched the procedings with amused detachment.

Twenty-two people pitched their books. Some sounded absolutely dreadful, others, intriguing. First I'll cover the dreck, then the dazzling, the swine before the pearls.

Of the 22, three had already self-published their books. Do they really think a different publisher will republish their works?

Also, three of the 22 were novels involving presidential assassination attempts, though, thankfully, not of our current president. One monotone mumbler described his scenario--a female is elected president, then women's suffrage is repealed, then a civil war of sorts, and in his words, the book becomes like Orwell's 1984 meets Cormack McCarthy's The Road. One of the three assassination novels might actually work, depending on the quality of the writing--it is about a Puerto Rican man who attempts to bump off President Truman.

One of the self-published geniuses is a caucasian who works as a school counselor. He's compiled quotes and pearls of wisdom from African-Americans from Frederick Douglass to President Obama, in a collection titled African-American Core Values. While I don't think his project is republishable in its current format, I have to laud his efforts to reach our city's youth and inspire them.

Self-help and enlightenment books made up three of the 22 proposals. One is a 19-volume Path to Peace by a space cadet who was not ready to take the microphone when her turn arrived, so she went later. Another proposal is "Goddess Entrepreneur", a guide to nonaggressive success using your feminine essence. The author is a transformational life coach. The third of this type was "Coincidentally Charmed" an inspirational autobiography, a mystical journey of discovery of her blessed life, which has been filled with good fortune. Good for her. Maybe her lucky streak will continue and she'll find a publisher.

A few of the proposals were memoirs of persons not so spiritually blessed, and these sounded intriguing. "The Act" is about a child of a mixed race couple (one a Swede, the other, African) growing up in northern Sweden, then moving to the U.S. where he ended up a male prostitute. He says it's a true story, and it was quite unusual and unexpected to hear a black man speaking with a Swedish accent. "Correspondence Unauthorized" is about an African-American woman convicted of a white collar crime, sent to prison, then later going homeless.

The idea which "won" the event was Verne Hoyt's "Parties Unknown", the fruit of 20 years research into his grandparents' involvement in a lynching in southern Georgia in 1930, which culminates with him visiting the victim's widow, and later serving as a pall-bearer in her funeral.

Novel ideas: 1) Voodoo Town a slipstream novel about a detective who must consult the seven African Voodoo Deities to solve a mystery. He described it as Elmore Leonard meets Anne Rice. He should add Neil Gaiman's American Gods to his "similar" list.
2) A novel about a new astrologer who solves problems. Her speech is very polished and perhaps her writing is, as well. Although the concept of pseudo-science in novels causes a knee-jerk revulsion in me, I've seen two writers use Tarot well in their stories--Jeanette Winterson in Gut Symmetries and my colleague Michelle Byington in her novel-in-progress. Michelle's character Tina uses tarot to force/reinforce her interpretation of the world both to herself and to her girlfriend, to tragi-comic effect.
3) 13 Minutes. A novel about a hedonist artist who achieves limited success and ends up on reality television.
4) A Doll House. About a late life marriage to a husband with Alzheimer's, using the construction of doll houses to keep him focused.
5) Kwame Nkrumah (not the former President of Ghana) has an African folk story about a wily hyena.
I think all of these are fine ideas if the writers have the talent to make them shine.

There was one poetry book proposal "For the Godesses", poems about women who have nurtured and inspired him. The author has never had a poem published before. And his recited sample contained nothing novel or gripping in it.

One of the best proposals, and I really hope this gets published is "A Girl's Guide to College Sports Scholarships" by one of ESPN's editors. The panel suggested that she draft a famous female athlete to write an introduction. If my spouse and I are blessed with a daughter, I hope this book is updated and reprinted frequently.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day Post

About 15 years ago, my friend Big Jerry and I decided to go hang out in Fredericksburg Texas for a day, only about an hour and a half drive out of Austin. After a nice lunch at one of the town's notable German restaurants and beer gardens (Auslander), we made our way to the Nimitz Museum, named after the famed World War II admiral who grew up in there. Its collection of photographs and artifacts is limited to the Pacific Theater of the war, often overlooked, as people and Hollywood tend to pay more attention to the war in Europe.

Outside the museum we noticed two tour buses.

We walked through the exhibit among groups of elderly veterans, many wearing hats and vests for their unit reunions, learning what a wretched and wrenching experience the Pacific War had been for our soldiers, who often battled malaria, dysentery, incessant drenching rains and undernourishment in addition to the Japanese. In one room we encountered an oversize photograph, maybe four feet by six, of a group of soldiers wading ashore on Tarawa. One of the older vets pointed to a man in the picture and said "That's me." And looking at him and the photo we could see that he was telling the truth. I wonder how it felt seeing his younger self in a museum, in a snapshot of the most horrible day of his life.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Bubble/Ha-buah

Last night I went to a showing of an Eytan Fox's "The Bubble" (ha-buah in Hebrew). I wanted to like the movie but found it too heavy-handed. Some things were depicted very well--the humiliation of Palestinians forced to pass through Israeli checkpoints was spot-on. Also well shone is Tel Aviv's gay culture. The characters seemed real and believable, except, perhaps Ashraf's brother, named, unsubtly, Jihad. As a writer of stories, though, I dislike clumsiness in the plot as well as distortion of circumstantial nuances.

The first problem: as the young hedonistic peaceniks prepared their "Rave Against the Occupation" they didn't invite Palestinians, citing the problems with checkpoints etc. This would be credible, except that there are over a million Arabs living inside Israel's borders. Why didn't they think to advertise in Arab townships inside Israel? I could see that Fox wanted to show their "Bubble", their complete lack of connection to other communities, but somebody on the rave planning committee should have proposed the idea before it was dismissed.

The second problem: hiring Ashraf at the cafe as "Shimi" and hiding his Palestinian identity, as if Arabs were not allowed employment in restaurants in Tel Aviv--as if the patrons would assume that because he's an Arab, he's a terrorist. I don't buy it.

The third problem: the scene in which a Palestinian woman is killed in Nablus by IDF soldiers. Utterly absurd that a pair of Israeli soldiers (just a pair, not even a squad) pursuing "unseen terrorists" drive up into Nablus and shoot her by accident, when nobody else is even visible... I'm not saying the IDF hasn't killed civilians. Unfortunately, quite the contrary. But in terms of the movie, this could have happened in a more believable and even more powerful way--say, for example, as she's passing through a checkpoint, an Israeli soldier has an accident with his rifle. Then the IDF would have to contain an angry crowd, confronted with witnesses. But unfortunately, the way in which the sister is martyred is cheap and implausible.

The fourth problem: the narrative of Noam's deceased mother, a veritable martyr for coexistence. Too brazenly heroic and sentimental.

Unlike some of the other audience members, I didn't have a problem with the ending, which I'll not give away. But I hope to see future treatments of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a queer lens which are not so ham-fisted and unsubtle.