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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reading, Rejection and The Blog

A Finer Way To Hook Your Readers, You Will Not Find

According to his biographers, LBJ took counsel while sitting on the toilet.

Evidently, President Johnson was a multi-tasker. And this long before the term and notion became a necessity or virtue, depending upon how you look at it.

Or: Perhaps this was where he felt he listened best to the ideas and ruminations of others. Lyndon would not have been alone in this. In fact, there are many who can't get the most of the relief without it:

I recall my father complaining one morning about the state of affairs in my house before disappearing into the commode where he continued his rant behind the closed door.

"...And Goddamn! There's nothing to read in here!" He yelled.

To the writer, this is a golden moment...someone craves something to read? -- here's a manuscript, my good man!

Sure, part of the President's taking meetings while he crapped was to let Mr. Smarty Pants know that his Harvard-educated notions could be flushed, or that while for the moment he was deferential to counsel, he was also deferential to the passing of last night's meatloaf. But... an audience is an audience...

And anyone who has had a meeting with a production team, who has put aside a generous half-hour to rip apart your six months of work on a script with "I get it" or "heard it," knows that having someone's full and undivided attention comes at an enormously steep price.

Getting someone between flights, waiting for the doctor, sitting while they have a little taken off the top or when they need a moment away from TPS reports is the way to go.

Jeff Goldblum's character in "The Big Chill" says that the only editorial parameters set for writers at his hipster magazine are that "you are not allowed to write any piece longer than the average person can read during the average crap."

"Tolstoy can be read on the toilet." One of the mourners replies.

"Yes, but they can't finish it." Goldblum shoots back.

Ah! Short (or short enough), self-contained pieces? An easily accessed catalogue of ramblings on every subject? Reading that doesn't require sifting through indexes and magazine racks but can be recalled with a title, line or subject?

Technology and the blog has given us the Utopia of readers reading and writers giving the people what they want.


At one time, the best a writer could hope for with a script or several finished chapters was that it could get in the hands of "someone."

What exactly were those undefined wishes? God knows or, rather,  I'd be too embarrassed to admit: A casual voice I don't recognize, slightly blurred with the surf and hum of the PCH, with a 310 area code introduces himself and says "Really good..." and that my voice "needs to be heard" (trust me, I just cringed, too; it's okay).

And when it wasn't the mysterious benefactor, it is the friend-of-a-friend, cousin of a co-worker, Godson of a neighbor who went to law school with so-and-so who worked directly with __________ (Popular and Successful Person). But before they got your script to the Big Guy, they were going to have an underling -- someone of taste and in-the-know -- who sees if it's quality is at least worth looking at.

You are told to give the guy a couple of weeks to "get to it." You send out the script in a manilla envelope with a handwritten cover letter -- "Hey Jim, Thanks for taking a look at it. And we'll have to grab that beer. - P"

Was that too casual? Did it lack something, like a joke? 

You seal it and send it out with two hopes...

One: That two weeks goes by in what seems like a catnap. Two: That Jim never call you on that beer unless it is to speak glowingly about your work (otherwise, your prospective drinking buddy can spontaneously combust for all you care).

The wait for and the arrrival of the word is every bit as soothing as awaiting the results of a home kit early pregnancy test. Either angle you were coming from, should you have been so lucky to experience it, it sucked:

- One line was negative
- Two was positive
- No lines was invalid test and $9.99 down the drain

Hearing the notes on your work that was mailed out is, no matter where you come from, always the worst of all possible outcomes: it's invalid to those who spent their last buck on it; Positive to the 17-year-old, Negative to the 38-year-old praying for a miracle. And it's a dose of the clap for good measure.

With the emergence of the Internet and personal websites years back, you might have gotten story on here and there. But the process of spreading the word (business card, cocktail napkin, friends who stop by to mock your opening line "'This all could've been avoided.' That's trite."), there was never that pay-off you hoped for.

And what was the pay-off? I guess the unspoken one is money. Maybe an unforeseen position with a company needing your talents.

But what would that get? An apartment? A condo? A better job?

But I have a place and a good enough job?

What is it then? What made you want to write this thing?

Maybe it was back in fifth grade when you wrote a song parody of The Beatles' "Help" from the perspective of Lewis and Clark to Sacajawea and they laughed. Yes. That was good. And weird and it touched something that has to have meaning.

Man, you want to do that every day or often enough, ya know?

It didn't get you money (not even a few extra tater tots!). And all the subsequent attempts didn't get you laid (God knows).

But you got a laugh here and there. And sometimes you didn't. Sometimes, like that unscripted play in fourth grade, it fell flat. Still, wow, you'll take those odds, and move on.

So, all you want is to get it out there, something that doesn't cost- money for postage or picking up the tab out of gratitude. Maybe a chuckle here, a comment there or a "like" on Facebook.

You like it? Don't?

Fine, it's gone. Or as Bukowski wrote, "I'm already on the next line."


Arturo Bandini, the John Fante hero of Ask The Dust and others, sends an angry rant of a letter to a publication that has rejected his work.

It returns with a check and a letter from the editor telling Arturo that he'd trimmed the fat off the rant, kept what he liked -- what was good -- and informed the young writer that it would be published.

That is a struggling writer's dream: Don't worry about editing, we got it; Just you being you, is good enough; and acceptance letters dropping from the skies above. More, it declared the existence of anonymous readership who "got" him.

With the exception of the check, the blogger has the good fortune of Bandini: readers stopping in at all hours of the day; happening onto to the site from all around the world, frequently by accident. The reader skims the titles, falls into one and likes it. The fat is naturally trimmed and the writer has gone on, oblivious to the edits and discards and maybe even those "getting him," but he or she sees the "hits" and that's good enough.

That's success according to Fante and so many others.

When receiving notes on a work, the writer often hears from the reader "You lost me here..."

Well, yes, I guess...notwithstanding being lazily unclear, it happens that you lose people; I've never read a novel that didn't do that to me. But unlike the published novel that must be accepted as "it is what it is" and the reader's burden to understand, the unpublished piece must answer for any moment that is unclear.

With the blog, it is what it is. It's there. Within minutes, you have readers; and not those who need to tracked down and haunted.

 Maybe you edit or pull it, but it's there, and, if you're busy enough, it'll get buried in your next posts...

And you're on the next line.

A pretty good place to be.


Anderson Cooper and his show took part in a study examining cell phones for traces of fecal matter.

Cooper, whose antiseptic mien bleeds good grooming, discovered his own phone carried feces.

Poorly washed hands, yes. But also, people simply conducting more business from the toilet. They carry their IPhones and Androids with them to do their thing.

In between calls, they search the 'net as the average American does more than twenty times per day, pumping traffic to all sorts of sites and blogs.

Blog traffic!!!

Maybe a bad thing for hygiene, but a great push for the dirty business of writing.

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