New York City is a place to make connections. Lots and lots of connections. An exhausting amount of connections. In the last 7 weeks I have made a Linkedin profile, a professional Facebook page, an OkCupid Account (fist-pound), sent out over 30 resumes and applied to 7 graduate programs..
Gross. All this took time away from my writing and lead me to a minor existential breakdown when I was walking home through the snow last week. That’s why I haven’t done an entry lately. I was busying wallowing. I felt like a sham, a phone and a failure. I was having trouble distinguishing any semblance of self through all the bullshit and nonsense I was writing about myself. This leads me to this letter’s topic: Getting Press at three different literary venues.
It’s a strange conundrum that those who get press don’t really need it and those who need it, don’t get it. I had the luck to be at three networking/promotional/artistic/just-buy-our-stuff events in the last two weeks. They were, in chronological order: A Press event organized by A Tout France, a Spoken Word event called Ginsberg-Gainsbourg and finally, a Barnes & Noble event wherein three authors discussed the Art of Character.
Each was painful and enlightening in its own way.
Let’s start with A Tout France. I was invited by a friend who is already in the travel-writing business and very generously wants to share the wealth. The night began with a series of painful videos. In a clever marketing move, France annually features three regions that are somehow special that year. I cannot help but think of Ezra Pound’s Modernist battle cry: Make it new. For France is so incessantly sold as a tourist destination that it stuns me to think that they can ever think of anything new or interesting to say about it. Nonetheless tourism in France inflates a good 3-4 percent every year. God help us all.
The highlight of this smug display of corporate prowess was Kristen Scott Thomas speaking for a line of corporate hotels who disguise themselves as cozy, local establishments. She recited her lines naturally and smiled vaguely for the camera as if to say: "Wouldn’t you do it to stay free in all these lovely places?" You know, Kristen, seeing as I am at a French Press event for the free champagne and the bouef, I probably would. (fist-pound)
I schmoozed. I networked. I spun my genuine dream of walking across Europe from Paris to Compostela into a luxury fitness getaway for the Press Agent from Rail Europe. I applied the following tactic: To be interesting you have to seem interested. It got me like seven business cards. That’s just the problem at these things, it was almost impossible for me to act natural. I had the feeling I was a sham again.
Amidst the talks about how lovely Provence is and how driving over ice is the new adventure sport, I made a futile grab at sincerity by talking to people I didn’t think could do anything for me. You know: Old people.
An old guy in the corner reminded me of my neighbor. So I talked to him for a while. Look at me, hot and young, wasting my time on a geezer. I felt like I deserved a pat on the back, or at least another glass of Cote du Rhone. I left him to talk to woman of a certain age who seemed to be nice.
She turned out to be the head of head honchos. We talked about what it means to grow up between two cultures. I know from an ex-girlfriend that these sorts of individuals like to be called third culture kids. I regurgitated some of what my ex had told me and the lady seemed struck by my candor. But it was more than anything else the posture of sincerity rather than sincerity itself.
The night left me drunk and bad impression of myself and of France. The press were sending out endless variations on the same theme. This is France. This is luxury France. This is the other France. This is the hidden France. This is the other hidden luxury France, permutations ad nauseum. Sincerity was impossible and even undesirable in this atmosphere. Did I want to be a part of that?
On the bright side, I did get to ask out out the editor-in-chief of the most widely-read sapphic magazine. (fist-pound) She said heck no. Whatever. I didn’t mean it anyways.
Two days later I am at an event for which no press has been successful, Ginsberg-Gainsbourg and sincere art abounds. Nobody goes to this open-mike night. Probably because they don’t know about it. Probably because there are a million open-mike nights.
I get to Lolita Bar late, and my friend (psydonym!) Model D was there, waiting for me on a pleather bench. We catch up on everything, talked about how we miss the scene in Paris and how much we love various bearded Bohemians.
The event’s founder and host, David Fishel, comes up and speaks to us. We also met in Paris, but we were never tight. I like his work- which as far as I know tends to be nonfiction funny-tragic stuff. Mostly I remember him for having a swell mustache and a certain angular charm. He looks like I could fold him up and tuck him under my seat.
"No one who gets press needs it," he says. Model D and I agree. "I tried the Village voice, but with those hipsters you need to know somebody. I don’t know anybody."
"We support you, David!" I say. He smiles. We both know it doesn’t matter. I tell him how when I started Unstrung Letters in Paris, we had such low attendance a few times that they threatened to shut us down. He says the same thing has happened to him. We commiserate and talk about how much easier things were in Paris.
"There was only one scene so it was the place for everyone to be."
"In New York it’s like there are 100 people lined up in front of you ready to do the exact same thing you’re doing-"
"-Only better. For less money."
Then the bell tolled for 8pm and the end of Happy Hour so we ran for more beer and to go down and listen to the 4 guys who turned up to share some art.
It isn’t great art. David, rather heroically takes the brunt of the first 5-minutes to warm up the audience. Often, you need to ease yourself into the potential magic (and sincerity) of storytelling and poetry. After all, this is a poetry reading, we’re all embarrassed to be here. But then a guy gets up and shares one of his favorite poets and reads it with an accent so soft and smooth that I think I could love this man. Even if he is talking about bugs in Alabama. There’s another woman who reads about a beach and e.e. cummings. We take a break, because we can. Two guys come back and make hilarious jokes about bogus laws that are still on the books throughout America. Some guy gets up and tells his first story to an audience. It doesn’t go great. But then, first times rarely do. Patrick Hipp shared his manic Sci-Fi. I like Patrick Hipp. You can tell him I said that. I shared two poems.
Afterwards, I tell Pat and David how I am reading the Corrections and want to kill myself just to not have to finish it.
I say, "It’s great writing. Okay, I don’t dispute that. It’s just that he doesn’t make me want to keep going. I don’t like his characters. I like his set-pieces. No one ever talks about his set-pieces. But I don’t like his characters..."
Pat says, "They’re just versions of himself. I liken it to Eddie Vedder and the guitar..."
The conversation continues and engages several of us. It’s just a bunch of writerly nonsense about technique and passion and you know: stuff. Those who don’t want to listen leave.
We giggle for a while then Pat and David go to get drunker and talk and I go to make out. (fist-pound)
I care about about Pat and David as people and believe in them as writers. But more importantly, I believe in creating spaces where sincerity is definitely not a posture. That’s why I want to talk to people about getting it promoted. That’s why I am writing about it here. But then those spaces can only exist for so long as unknown places to get together and share art and artistic nonsense before they are so well promoted that they become just another marketing venue. A place to make connections and promote yourself.
A few days later, I go to the mothership of literary marketing venues: Barnes and Noble on the Upper East Side. There I listen to David Corbett, the author of a book called The Art of Character, speak about how to create memorable characters. Take a moment to look at his site and gag.
During the talk, the amount of smoke coming out of this guy’s ass stings my eyes. He manages stop drop the following facts about himself in less than an hour: He’s a former actor, criminal defense case worker and, private eye; he’s Catholic; his wife has passed away. He’s now a teacher. I can’t hold it against him that he spoke so much. The fools at Barnes and Noble gave him a microphone. I wish what he was saying wasn’t so hokey and cliche: "Success by failure people! Likability is an overrated word. Give your protagonist a past."
But then, what the hell else is he supposed to say? He’s getting great press. He’s talking a whole lot of repetitive nonsense to get people to buy his book. That way, he can keep teaching so that he can keep writing. Maybe someday he can take some cool vacations and write some more. That’s the dream: To somehow find a middle ground between the marketing machine behind French tourism and the total lack of attention at Ginsberg-Gainsbourg.
For now, it’s nice to want sincerely to help a friend like David in a way- with little fear of doing it for self-promotion. It’s nice for now, that is. Because, really, none of us want it to stay like this. Pat wants to get published. David wants people to come to Ginsberg-Gainsbourg. I want to be famous (or at least rich and pretty). Why else are we doing all this? Writing is a solitary activity. We do all this other stuff to connect with people. To feel less alone. To cry out and get a response.
And if that response is big enough, maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to be those three assholes talking about story structure at Barnes and Noble with a rapt audience. People will listen to us as if the nonsense coming out of our mouths sincerely meant something.
Next week, I’m getting back to the point of this blog and checking out a reading at a KGB/Lit bar. New York has everything.
Rutger’s Reading Series: 85 East 4th St. 7pm. Bam.
For an good list of NYC literary events, check this out.
Paris, I miss you. Write back.