Sunday, May 27, 2012

over the rainbow

1. We tried to follow Y Combinator’s advice to minimize time fundraising and get back to work. Our goal was not to die from lack of funding or die from losing focus on the product. All $1.5 MM was committed within 10 days of YC demo day. Once we hit that number, we got back to work on the product.  When we were fundraising, it was actually hard to work on the product.

Priceonomics on time allocated to raising money/work, the rest here

(Have been trying to convey this point of view to the publishing industry for 16 years, with signal lack of success.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

--and there's more!

Anne Strainchamps interviewed me a couple of weeks ago for "To the best of our knowledge," for Wisconsin Public Radio, as part of a program on the surreal in literature.  This is now available online.  Others interviewed include Etgar Keret (Suddenly, a Knock on the Door), Mark Leyner (The Sugar Frosted Nutsack), Gerald Nicosia and Al Hinkle (One and Only: The Untold Story of On the Road) and Ryan Boudinot (Blueprints of the Afterlife). List of links here, my segment here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dead Sea Scrolls

HT Languagehat, a fabulous site with Digital Dead Sea Scrolls.  Given that a typical volume of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert costs £100 or so, this is very good news.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

modern times

But, more than the data-compressed brevity and just-the-facts utilitarianism forced on us by our times, it's the etherealization of written communication, and its subsequent ephemeralization, that ensure the demise of correspondence as a social art form. All that was ink on paper has melted into air, and who archives air? For all we know, emails or — less likely — texts worthy of the Golden Age of Letter Writing may be whizzing through the Wi-Fi all around us, but the Elizabeth Bishops and Robert Lowells of the Digital Age — or the Eudora Weltys and William Maxwells, or Walter Benjamins and Theodor Adornos, or Hannah Arendts and Mary McCarthys, or whomever you prefer — are probably hitting the DELETE key after reading, as most of us reflexively do.

That's what many of them were doing before the advent of social media, When Email Ruled the Earth. According to a 2005 New York Times article by Rachel Donadio, writers such as Margaret Atwood, T.C. Boyle, Rick Moody, and Annie Proulx saved their emails only desultorily. Zadie Smith said she kept "amazing e-mails from writers whose hem I fear to kiss" but for whatever odd reason imagined they would one day "go the way of everything else I write on the computer — oblivion," presumably because that's what our prosthetic memories do: inscribe our thoughts on thin air.

Mark Dery on Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer, at the LA Review of Books.

Er, wow. Hitting the DELETE key after reading?  As most of us reflexively do?  I delete offers of penis enhancement and other spam.  Apart from that, I never delete ANYTHING. Why would I? It's not as though my hard drive is short of space. I have have folders and subfolders in my email program (currently Thunderbird); a few people have folders all to themselves (correspondence with David is in the thousands), others are filed in subfolders of Headhunting, Degrees of Separation, Agents, Publishers, Press, DeWitt (members of my family), R, Samurai and so on.   An e-mail comes with the following cheering remark:

 Your comments on your blog did remind me rather of Cicero's Fifth Verrine on the power of the phrase "civis Romanus sum": "apud barbaros, apud homines in extremis atque ultimis gentibus positos, nobile et inlustre apud omnis nomen civitatis tuae profuisset". Go out into the wilds of the barbarian poker players, and one still receives more respect and recognition than you did from Bill Clegg et al. 

How could I possibly delete it?  (Whenever I think of Bill, of course, the regular association of ideas will now bring to mind the phrase 'apud homines in extremis atque ultimis gentibus positos.'  Apud barbaros, Bill, apud barbaros.)

For all we know Mithridates may be one of the great writers of the 21st century - how shocking if I were to destroy our early correspondence.  He may, of course, have saved it himself, but how much better if everything is kept in two places.  Somewhat startled, to tell the truth, to find that my fellow writers are taking such a cavalier approach to the preservation of documentary evidence.

Friday, May 18, 2012


These are very important for the writer today. For they are probably the way the writer may still be independent. You asked me before whether I ever change anything in one of my novels commercially. I said, “No.” But I would have to do it without the radio, television, and movies.

Simenon (from interview at the Paris Review)

report a problem with this poem

 The Day Lady Died

tip of the day

If you know French, this is a wonderful series - available at or

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

ancient moderns

Going through notebooks, too lazy to translate. Coming across passages I read in the mid-80s (!), thinking How lovely!  And because this was so very long before Tumblr I copied them into a notebook.

Etre avec qui on aime et penser à autre chose : c'est ainsi que j'ai les meilleures pensées, que j'invente le mieux ce qui est nécessaire à mon travail. De même pour le texte : il produit en moi le meilleur plaisir s'il parvient à se faire écouter indirectement ; si, le lisant, je suis entraîné à souvent lever la tête, à entendre autre chose. Je ne suis pas nécessairement captivé par le texte de plaisir : ce peut être un acte léger, complexe, ténu, presque étourdi...

Barthes, Le plaisir du texte

Le Nouveau n'est pas une mode, c'est une valeur, fondement de toute critique : notre évaluation du monde ne dépend plus, du moins directement, comme chez Nietzsche, de l'opposition du noble et du vil, mais de celle de l'Ancient de du Nouveau ... Pour échapper à l'aliénation de la société présente, il n'y a plus que ce moyen : la fuite en avant : tout langage ancien est immédiatement compromis, et tout langage devient ancien dès qu'il est répété.


Il faut cependant fair droit, hors narrativité, à l'éventuelle fonction immédiate du discours motivant. Une motivation peut être onéreuse du point de vue de la mécanique narrative, et gratifiante sur un autre plan, esthétique par exemple: soit le plaisir, ambigu ou non, que le lecteur de Balzac prend au discours balzacien...

Genette, Vraisemblance et Motivation

Monday, May 14, 2012

prime time

It’s one of the most meticulously covered stories of the moment, except for one its more particularly disturbing implications:  Amazon‘s announcement that it has “licensed the right to lend digital versions of all seven volumes in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series in the U.S.” — meaning that people who have ponied up $79 to join the Amazon Prime cult — is a huge step forward in the privitization of the American public library system.

Dennis Johnson at Melville House blog, the rest here.

Monday, May 7, 2012


it's a risky view of things for the tragic, in a sense, gives up on 
justice. This is what happens in ancient Greek tragedy: the gods get 
away with it. There is no justice for humankind. In place of justice, 
what individual human beings can aspire to is the condition of the 
heroic - a noble embrace of their tragic predicament. It was said that 
the gods envied humans the opportunity to be heroic, as they could not 
be so, never being powerless, and so never victims of injustice. In 
fact, sometimes the gods were shamed by heroes, and so tried to rectify 
the injustice. The tragic, then, does, just about, hold onto the hope of 
redemption, though only at great personal cost. Someone usually has to die.

I came across this in an e-mail I wrote a while back, but I don't know where I first found it. Does anyone know?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

the stork brought it

LM: What gave you the initial impulse to make Severian a torturer? Was it that abstract notion of wanting your hero to deal with the nature of pain and suffering?
Wolfe: No, the possibility of having a character who was a torturer was one of those initial ideas that wasn't tied to anything for a while. It first came to me during some convention I was attending at which Bob Tucker was the guest of honor. For some reason Bob felt obliged to go to a panel discussion on costume, and since he wanted someone to accompany him, I went along (otherwise I wouldn't ordinarily have gone since I'm not a costumer). So I went and heard Sandra Miesel and several other people talk about how you do costumes—how you might do a cloak, whether or not it's good to use fire as part of your costume, and so forth. As I sat there being instructed I was sulking because no one had ever done one of my characters at a masquerade. It seemed as though I had done a lot of things that people could do at a masquerade; but when I started to think this over more carefully, I realized there were few, if any, characters who would fit in with what Sandra and the others were saying. That led me to start thinking about a character who would fit—someone who would wear simple but dramatic clothes. And the very first thing that came to mind was a torturer: bare chest (everybody has a chest, all you have to do is take your shirt off), black trousers, black boots (you can get those anywhere), black cloak, a mask, and a sword! Here was an ideal, easy SF masquerade citizen.

Gene Wolfe (in conversation with Larry McCaffery) on the inspiration for Severian in The Book of the New Sun

Friday, May 4, 2012

go away

David Graeber: An anthropologist who studied people in central Nigeria showed us how we were completely clueless. She doesn’t really speak the language and she gets a house, and immediately women start showing up from the neighborhood and dropping off little baskets of stuff: somebody bringing some okra, somebody bringing some fish. And she doesn’t know what to do so she takes out her little notebook and eventually somebody takes pity on her and starts explaining how things work. The person says, “Well, you know, you give something back to these people. But the key is you have to figure out exactly what it’s worth, and then give them either something slightly more valuable, or slightly less valuable. So if it’s worth twelve shillings, you give them something worth eleven or thirteen, never give twelve. Because if you give twelve, that’s like saying, ‘go to hell, I don’t ever have to see you again.’” So everyone has to be a little bit beholden.

DG at Guernica,  the rest here

per ardua ad astra

The first known recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was published in 1901 in The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. The author suggested pairing peanut butter with crab apple or currant jelly, which was unusual for the time. Peanut butter, which was considered a delicacy, was usually served as a savory food. New York’s Vanity Fair Tea-Room served its peanut butter with watercress while Ye Olde English Coffee House had a peanut butter and pimento sandwich on the menu.

more on pbj's here

Thursday, May 3, 2012

maybe I need to start a webcomic...

Skullkickers is now also a webcomic. I started serializing our early issues, one page every weekday, so that readers could discover us, start from the beginning and grow attached to the series, giving us outreach far past comic shop shelves and retailer ordering concerns. I’m thrilled to say that over the past 3 months we’ve generated 1.7 million+ pageviews to 96,000+unique visitors. That is about twenty times our monthly issue audience and reaches people in places that don’t have comic shops at all.

So, reaching people is great and all but how does that translate to actual sales? If most are getting the milk for free, will they buy the cow?

Good news: Serializing the issues hasn’t negatively affected our sales one bit. Our trade sales through comic and book stores are up, steadily climbing. Making more people aware of the series has made them want the current material more, not less. Quality and good word of mouth is helping build our readership in shops bit by bit.

Better news: At conventions I’m selling a lot more. I’m not twice the sales person I was last year, but I’m selling more than double the number of books since we started serializing online. 9 times out of 10, I’m selling it to people who read the series online. I asked almost every person who came to my table if they’d heard of Skullkickers before. No word of a lie, when they said “yes”, 90% of those folks also said they were reading it online. It shocked me.

the rest here, HT @ryanqnorth

history of surgery

The horror of great darkness, and the sense of desertion by God and man, bordering close on despair, which swept through my mind and overwhelmed my heart, I can never forget, however gladly I would do so. During the operation, in spite of the pain it occasioned, my senses were preternaturally acute, as I have been told they generally are in patients in such circumstances. I still recall with unwelcome vividness the spreading out of the instruments: the twisting of the tourniquet: the first incision: the fingering of the sawed bone: the sponge pressed on the flap: the tying of the blood-vessels: the stitching of the skin: the bloody dismembered limb lying on the floor.

(Professor George Wilson on undergoing amputation at the ankle without anaesthetic in 1843)


It would take a little while for surgeons to discover that the use of anesthesia allowed them time to be meticulous. Despite the advantages of anesthesia, Liston, like many other surgeons, proceeded in his usual lightning-quick and bloody way. Spectators in the operating-theater gallery would still get out their pocket watches to time him. The butler's operation, for instance, took an astonishing 25 seconds from incision to wound closure. (Liston operated so fast that he once accidentally amputated an assistant's fingers along with a patient's leg, according to Hollingham. The patient and the assistant both died of sepsis, and a spectator reportedly died of shock, resulting in the only known procedure with a 300% mortality.)

Atul Gawande, 200 Years of Surgery, in the New England Journal of Medicine. The rest here. (HT @ezraklein)