Archive for March, 2015

One of the great things about going to college in the city called home by one of America’s greatest writers is the opportunity to visit said home and learn, possibly, more about the man than the Great Writer He Was.

William_FaulknerIn my case, the great writer was William Faulkner, and the home was Oxford, Mississippi. Or at least the city in which his home was situated. Faulkner’s stately antebellum estate, Rowan Oak, is, as you can imagine, a landmark in Oxford and one of the largest tourist attractions around (the Ole Miss campus notwithstanding).

Of course, any discussion of Faulkner inevitably comes around to the fact that the writer was a drinking man as well as a storyteller. How much of a drinker? Well, so much that the U.S. State Department had to develop a full-blown program to handle his shenanigans during his international tour following the awarding of his Nobel Prize for literature. This interesting gem, courtesy of Open Culture, is equally humorous and alarming. Some of the tactics for controlling Faulkner, who was prone to drink two ways: prodigiously and incessantly:

  • “Keep several pretty young girls in the front two rows of any public appearance to keep his attention up”
  • “Put someone in charge of his liquor at all times so that he doesn’t drink too quickly”
  • “Do not allow him to venture out on his own without an escort”

One Faulkner drinking story, which I’m sure is part (if not all) legend came from my tour of Rowan Oak when I was at Ole Miss. As it was told to me, after Faulkner learned that he would receive the Nobel, and thus have to travel to Sweden, he locked himself in his upstairs bedroom and proceededRowan_Oak_1 to go on a bender. His daughter, worried that he’d never sober up in time to travel, tried in vain to get Faulkner to stop drinking. Eventually, he asked, through the bedroom door, when they would be leaving. His daughter responded, “Monday.” Faulkner told her he would stop drinking on Sunday.
His daughter, thinking the man would be out-of-his-mind drunk by then, decided to pull a fast one on him — she’d tell him it was Sunday on Saturday morning and buy herself a day. So, come Saturday, she did just that and, again through the bedroom door, exacted a promise from Faulkner that he would stop drinking that instant.

But it was a fall Saturday. And as Faulkner walked around his room, he heard through an open window a familiar distant sound. He listened more and quickly realized that the sound was that of the crowd at an Ole Miss football game in the stadium a couple of miles away. Realizing he’d been duped and that the day was in fact Saturday, he immediately resumed drinking.

I took that story, as told by the docent at the home/museum/shrine, as at least mostly true. It certainly fits the man — especially after reading the State Department’s notes and tactics for dealing with him.

Interestingly, though, Faulkner also had a reputation for not drinking while writing. Apparently, he saved that for those periods in between writing some of the most acclaimed fiction ever, picking up Nobel prizes and traveling overseas at the behest of the U.S. government.

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Writer_JohnLast week, I had the chance to participate in a writers panel at The Army-Navy Country Club in Arlington, VA. The panel, titled, “So You Want to Write a Book?” was designed to discuss various publishing options open to first-time authors or people who have always wanted to write a book, but didn’t know how to get started. I was joined by Dan Gerstein, Founder and President of Gotham Ghostwriters; Taylor Kiland, Navy veteran and published author or co-author of five military non-fiction books;  and Rick Russell, Army and National Guard veteran and Director of Naval Institute Press.  About 40 people attended the hourlong exchange of information, ideas and questions. One of the central themes of the evening was the disruption caused in the publishing industry by the rise of technology, particularly in regards to self-publishing. The “old days” of publishing – monolithic publishing houses buying books from agents to sell to bookstores – has been upended by the ability of writers to reach directly to readers via online publishing and publications, e-books, self-publishing and the ability to market their own books. Of course, there are risks (and shortcomings), but mainstream publishing can no longer scoff at self-publishing as a form of the “vanity press.” When the New York Times is discussing the phenomenon, it’s legitimate. Publishers Weekly, too, has begun to consider self- and digital publishing as more than just a fad. This piece from last summer has some interesting statistics regarding self-publishing. Of note,

•Self-published books now represent 31 percent of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store. •Indie authors are earning nearly 40 percent of the e-book dollars going to authors.

•Self-published authors are “dominating traditionally published authors” in sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and romance genres but — and here is the surprise — they are also taking “significant market share in all genres.”

I’m not saying self-publishing is the way to go for everyone. I can say that, if you decide to publish your own novel or memoir or children’s book, it’s a lot of work. I self-published my second novel, A Simple Murder, and found the writing to be the easy part. The marketing lift – from social media platforms to press releases, events, reviews, interviews, etc. – is significant and not for the faint of heart. You have to be prepared for the long slog and develop a readership over time. The jury is still out on whether self-publishing will sustain itself over the long haul. But the publishing world is changing, and options for writers to connect directly with readers is greater than ever.