For whom left is this newsletter first?
Coming to terms with building an authorial brand
I began this newsletter as a practical measure. One of the things you’re supposed to do when at work on a book (I’ve been told) is to continue building your platform. The idea goes that when the book is finally published and on shelves, all those addresses on a email spreadsheet you’ve never personally spoken to will be clamoring for 89,000 more words from you than usual. I have my doubts.
Still, here we are. Me typing this; you looking at the headline, not remembering when you signed up, deleting its contents before reading this line. However, if you’ve gotten this far, here’s my quick pitch: I do quite a bit of reading and writing—in various normal and not-so-normal forms—and like talking about them. I like sharing them with people, too. That’ll be the backbone of this newsletter. As per the previous paragraph, I’m also at work on a book. Research for that book is taking me to Europe this summer to look at various tiny archives and towns and whatnot. If you stay here, I’ll share some of that.
I’m not sure whether you’ve made it this far because you like my writing thoughts or my reading thoughts, so bear with me on the self-indulgence if you’ve come for the latter.
This past week, I had a new essay come out at Catapult, a lovely online literary magazine, publisher, writing class facilitator, etc. “How My Parents, Who Loved Grapes, Lost Their Love for Winemaking” started when I went back to school last fall. I’ve long held a reluctance about sharing personal narratives. Part of this hesitance is simple: I prefer telling other peoples’ stories. Part of it is more complex: I think you should hold those personal stories close, guard them with your life, and wait to tell them until you’re absolutely confident in your ability to do so damn well. However, in graduate school one isn’t given leeway for stories necessitating more ambitious research or writing. Deadlines every three weeks are un-shifting. As a result, those personal narratives become—what with memory’s ease of access, lowered standards for truth, etc.—mighty appealing. Another matter of practicality, I suppose. I still think this one came out well, and it was one I had been waiting to write for some time.
That’s the only public writing recently, though a few other essays that rose from the same churn are either off to publishers or will be next week. Part of the reason for the dearth is ongoing work related to Sprinting Through No Man’s Land (title to be argued over between everyone with a hand in the project). The book will be taking me to France this summer, in an effort to better set some of the scenes, particularly those closest to the war, as well as to get my hands on as many un-digitized papers in wayward local archives and with the descendants of the racers.
My Rough Itinerary: London → Paris → Marseille → Provençe → Grenoble → Strasbourg → Dunkirk → Vannes → Cherbourg → London
Where there’s good material, I’ll share it with you here. Otherwise, look for some insufferable travel musings: the reason I’m sure you came here in the first place.
I’ve been mostly inundated with books I’m required to read (or using as research texts), instead of ones I’ve chosen to pick up over the past six months or so. But I can still make some recommendations from the ones I’ve managed to slip in the cracks. You’ll find there’s a certain bent to them. Namely length.
First, Lucie Brock-Broido’s canon. Start with The Master Letters, which is more or less perfect. Move onto Stay, Illusion if you enjoyed that. I think the peaks in Stay, Illusion are higher, but the overall object in The Master Letters is pristine. Her poetry isn’t the most immediately graspable if you’re not already regularly reading the form, but there are few who match her reverence for language and esoteric but perfectly encapsulatory images. I don’t think it’s a spoiler or anything to say—though I reserve the right to change my mind—there’s an epigraph somewhere in there for a narrative nonfiction book about the 1919 Tour de France.
I have perhaps found the guiding principle for nearly all my favorite books: ones with small aims, that can be accomplished in not-so-many pages, executed without error. Skylark by Dezso Kosztolányi neatly fits into that construct. I don’t think there’s too much else to say about it, except that it has a wonderful narrative conceit. For a book with little in the way of plot, it still manages to explore a relationship that’s outside the usual ones of literary fiction (at least among contemporary writers).
In the month-long France trip, I don’t plan to work much on the writing of the book itself. I hope to instead focus on developing settings and the sense of a place, as well as a few freelance stories, but the chapters will come following the trip, once I’m back. I do plan to do some reading while I’m there, though. Books I haven’t dared open in the course of the semester, when I’m bound to lose the thread by the time I finish. Namely, I plan to at least read the first volume of A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. No guarantees on making it through the end of Volume Four. William Gass’s The Tunnel is also staring at me from my bedside stand while I write this email to you. There might even be a Don Quixote in there somewhere, if another project in the works advances far enough.
Okay, that’s it for now.