inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #26 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 11 Dec 09 13:55
    
Charlie, your author picture cleverly poses you in front of what
appears to be a huge magazine rack, but are the enthusiast magazines
still doing well, or are they, like the other magazines, dying? Or have
many of them been bought up by a Clear Channel-like entity like your
Clean Page firm?
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #27 of 142: Maria Rosales (rosmar) Fri 11 Dec 09 14:02
    
That reminds me--I thought the "Clean Page" name was brilliant.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #28 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Fri 11 Dec 09 16:47
    
Thanks, Lisa and Maria. Calling the company Clean Page was a
pleasurable moment in the writing.

Ed, obviously magazines across the board have been hit hard, but it
seems as if the enthusiast titles have been hanging in there better
than general-interest ones. (One of my early impulses in writing the
book came from noticing that Life and Look left the newsstand and half
a dozen magazines about quilting moved in.) 

If you look at Samir Husni's annual guide to the new magazines
launched each year, you'll see the enthusiasts outnumbering everyone
else, with ever-greater audience pinpointing. I'm with Lisa on this --
going to the newsstand and thinking, "There's a magazine about souping
up one model of car, and it comes out every month!"

There has indeed been some conglomerating of enthusiast magazines by
companies such as Primedia, which will buy both of the top titles in a
given interest -- e.g., Surfer and Surfing -- and make them
faux-competitors.

The economics of publishing for a concentrated hobbyist readership are
naturally easier than those of publishing, say, an extensively
reported newsweekly. But there's also something cultural going on here,
namely the Balkanization of modern life -- the proliferation of small,
intense worlds people get lost in. Cable TV contributed to this, but
the Internet has been the ultimate weapon.

The hobbyist version of this fragmentation is pretty benign. The
political version, not so much. Information age or not, it's really
easy now for large numbers of people to spend the bulk of their time
communicating with people who believe the same conspiracy theories and
urban legends they do, and no time with opposing views. Which leads to
problems.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #29 of 142: Gail Williams (gail) Sat 12 Dec 09 03:50
    
> the Balkanization of modern life -- the proliferation of small,
intense worlds people get lost in.

Well said.  It's been going on for a long time, but the internet makes
it easier.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #30 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Sat 12 Dec 09 10:10
    
Hobbyists -- at least extreme hobbyists like the model-maker in the
book -- have always been just a bit removed from the rest of society,
though, so the magazines likely work in concert with the Internet
sites. And I'd worry about the longevity of some of these extremely
specific magazines more if I hadn't once talked to someone who worked
for one of the bridal magazines and told me there are people who've
been subscribers for 20 years -- not people in the trade, but people
who are obsessed with weddings, including their own! 

Getting a bit meta, something I didn't want to forget to mention is
the PS section in the book. Man, I *hate* those things, and writing
your own like this -- with serious moments like the essay on writing
the book ("Does This Novel Make Me Look Fat?"), but the reading group
questions ("Who brought the salad?" "Is anyone sitting here?") and the
mixtape sort of subverting everything. 

But speaking of subverting, I found it interesting that this is a
paperback original. What's the story on that? Do you think it makes the
novel look less serious, or does it make it more accessible to the
intended audience? 
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #31 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Sat 12 Dec 09 12:06
    
There's a school of thought, which seems to be growing, that trade
paperback original (TPO) is a better format in which to debut some
books than hardcover. On a first novel such as "The Enthusiast," the
thinking is that people are more likely to take a chance on a new
author at $14 than at $27 or so. This is especially so if the book is
perceived to have a youthful potential audience.

(I've had the pleasure of hearing from a lot of young readers that
they like the book, but it also seems to have adherents my age and
older, so it's not a pure youthquake deal.)

The downside, of course, is that the book comes out only once instead
of twice, and I think it's still harder to get reviews and publicity
for TPOs in some media. One book blogger who liked "The Enthusiast"
protested that TPO was a disservice to the book. But I get the sense
we'll be seeing more TPOs in the future. (One publishing person said to
me, "Eventually, the hardcover will be for the president's memoirs and
books about dogs that you give for Christmas.")

The TPO successes I hear cited most often: "Bright Lights, Big City,"
"The Sprotswriter," and "Man Gone Down." 

One definite upside: with a TPO, you'll never get a phone call from
your agent saying, "Okay, look, uh, here's where we are -- they've
decided not to do the paperback." Too late! They already have!
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #32 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Sat 12 Dec 09 12:53
    
It's also a good format, I think, for a novel that's basically
light-hearted, no matter how serious its look at various issues it
portrays. It's consumer-friendly, as I think you've already discovered.


But it's also a fairly revolutionary novel for this age of American
fiction, since it doesn't seem to be a product of a Creative Writing
department at some university. This, I think, has been the death of the
American novel, and has driven a lot of us who like to read into the
arms of genre fiction, where a lot more happens and where there can be
some good insight into this and that along with the formula. My take on
The Enthusiast, although I'm on thin ice here, is that it's what
Graham Greene called an "entertainment," a word he used to, uh,
misdirect people from the possibility that it might have serious
themes, as several of his did. 
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #33 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Sat 12 Dec 09 13:11
    
Thanks very much for saying that. "An entertainment" (with serious
themes) is precisely what I hoped the book would be when I was writing
it.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #34 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Sat 12 Dec 09 13:20
    
We need more entertainments and less lidderacher if fiction's going to
survive. That's a big difference I notice between the States and
England: they Just Do It, and as a result people read. After reading
The Enthusiast, I had Hilary Mantel's Booker-winner Wolf Hall out of
the library, and it blew me away: very serious themes, virtuoso
technical effects, rather obscure subject (Thomas Cromwell, Henry
VIII's right hand man), but extremely readable -- and it's selling like
crazy. I've got a friend named Lewis Shiner <http://lewisshiner.com/>,
who started out in kind of cyberpunk sci-fi, but abandoned it early
on. His "entertainments" are all worth reading (well, except for the
skateboard/divorce novel, which I think is out of print anyway), and
every time I read one of his, I think "This is what we need more of." 

What we get, though, is either Creative Writing or novels by rich kids
from the younger generation of writers. It puts people off. 

Okay, I'll get off the soapbox now. 
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #35 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Sat 12 Dec 09 14:03
    
Not to get into a round robin of book recommendation, but I recently
read Colson Whitehead's "John Henry Days" and enjoyed it greatly -- a
fine example of an entertainment with serious things on its mind.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #36 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Sat 12 Dec 09 15:51
    
Yup, another good one. Not wild about his other novel, though. 
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #37 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Sun 13 Dec 09 09:49
    
And again, any of you reading this who aren't on the Well, if you have
a comment or question for this conversation, you can e-mail it to me
if you have my e-mail, or to <inkwell@well.com> and we'll whip it right
up.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #38 of 142: Strangest I Could Find (miltloomis) Sun 13 Dec 09 10:25
    
You mentioned Joe Brainard's work with various poets ... graphic
novels are a big deal these days, any thought of doing The Enthusiast
as a graphic novel? Thanks ...
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #39 of 142: David Gans (tnf) Sun 13 Dec 09 10:47
    

(Steve Silberman popsted a link to this hilarious essay, and I think everyone
here should also read it: OLDEST LIVING DROSOPHILA TELLS ALL:
<http://www.harpercollins.com/author/microsite/readingguide.aspx?authorID=34826
&displayType=essay&articleId=7737>

There are more on that page, and all the ones I've read so far are
spectacular.)
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #40 of 142: David Gans (tnf) Sun 13 Dec 09 10:47
    

(Here's an easier link to that piece: <http://tinyurl.com/ya23hrm> )
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #41 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Sun 13 Dec 09 10:50
    
A graphic novel! I would love it if someone wanted to draw and publish
such a thing. Meanwhile, the people at "Unshelved," the comic strip
about libraries, chose the book for their Sunday Book Club a little
while back, so there's a one-panel comic version already: 

http://bit.ly/gaBww 

David, thanks for that link to the fruit fly piece. The inspiring news
item is quite real, by the way.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #42 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Sun 13 Dec 09 10:58
    
You'd be better off finding a graphic artist you liked and
collaborating with him or her on a graphic novel. The thing that
surprises me about them the most is the degree to which the art can say
things and the dialog can interact with the art. You'd be good with my
favorite, Jean-Claud Denis, who is able to evoke some astonishing
stuff in those frames. If you read French, you can see a bit of his
work here:

<http://www.bdparadisio.com/intervw/jcdenis/jcdenispl.htm>
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #43 of 142: David Gans (tnf) Sun 13 Dec 09 11:01
    

That piece had "Shouts and Murmurs" all over it!  The "New York Street" piece
is also great.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #44 of 142: David Gans (tnf) Sun 13 Dec 09 11:01
    
Ed slipped.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #45 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Sun 13 Dec 09 11:07
    
David, thanks so much for the kind words about the essays. I used to
do a lot of short humor for magazines... then I started doing some for
Facebook friends, and they've migrated to my Harper web page
(www.harpercollins.com/charliehaas -- see "Essays" on the lower right).


Ed, about JC Denis -- wow, nice art, with that storyboard feeling.
Thanks.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #46 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Mon 14 Dec 09 08:09
    
You've managed to get in the heads of your enthusiasts in the novel
pretty well, but it's kind of hard to see you doing any X-treme sports.
You must have enthusiasms of your own, though. Want to tell us about a
couple?
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #47 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Mon 14 Dec 09 10:29
    
X-treme sports, no. But moderate sports, for sure. Bicycling, running,
indoor rowing -- I do all of these as an excuse to read the pertinent
magazines.

In the indoor rowing department, I've added the fillip of rowing
across America, armed with a road map and tape measure. Occasionally
I'll go online to read about the town I'm passing through on the map...
a virtual kind of getting out and looking around. This manages to be
athletic and nerdy at the same time, an excellent enthusiast nexus.

Like many other writers (but, sadly, fewer in the computer age), I'm
kind of a fetishist about my longhand writing implements:
Clairefontaines and other good notebooks, schoolkid fountain pens,
Pentel Sliccis, and very dark pencils. (I'm one of those people who
almost couldn't go on when the Eberhard Faber Blackwing went out of
production, but the California Republic Palomino has enabled me to
rally.)

Henry's enthusiasm for collecting those towns he calls Claytons is
mine as well.

And music, of course, but I think that's pretty universal for people
my age. "Why can't I be judged by my record collection?" -- a
generation's anguished cry.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #48 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Mon 14 Dec 09 10:51
    
One of your characters -- I don't think it's Henry, but I'm too lazy
to check -- even says something like "At least I had the good sense
never to work for a music magazine," which caused me to stand up and
cheer. If I had it to do all over again...

I'm also with you on the writing implement thing, and you've just
reminded me to go looking for a few more spiral-bound (at the top)
pocket-sized reporter's notebooks next time I'm in the States. 

The Clayton thing...well, I have to confess I'm confused. You said you
started with the ending, and the ending to me felt like the story had
imperceptibly slid into a kind of elegaic, utopian, soft-focus thing. I
don't dislike the ending, nor could I (or would I) presume to offer an
alternative, but my take on it was that you knew you had to end
somehow, and this was a happy ending you could live with. 

(There, I think I managed not to drop any spoilers there).
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #49 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Mon 14 Dec 09 11:57
    
Ah, the reporter's notebook! 4" x 6", the perfect size to fit in one
hand so you can write while walking, which I've been known to do all
day. 

Case in point: the scene in the book when Henry visits New York for
the first time. To write the descriptions, I flew to NY and reproduced
his walk (Grand Central to Chelsea, back up to the Plaza, etc.),
writing in a reporter's notebook the whole time. I wasn't recording my
impressions (native New Yorker) but Henry's (first-time visitor). The
results, with the writing cleaned up, are pretty much what you get in
the book. Method writing, I guess.

Those notebooks are still being made -- I get mine from Portage
Newspaper Supply in Akron, Ohio. Strongly recommended for restless
writers.

About the ending: Some readers like it a lot, others don't. I never
felt that it had to be happy. It is heartfelt. I woke up one day, a
year or so into writing, and thought, "I know where he is at the end,"
and felt sure about it.

I think what we're dealing with here is probably the autobiographical
impulse (As Oscar Wilde is alleged to have said, "In every first novel
the hero is the author as Christ or Faust.") Henry's state of mind at
the end of the book is something like mine: happy with his town, his
work, his marriage, and his friends, but always aware of the losses
he's taken. I think of it as happiness with an asterisk, and I felt I
was reporting from that state. By my age, if not Henry's, some losses
are inevitable.

I'm always interested by the different perspectives people bring to a
novel, and by writing one I've gotten a closer look. You say "utopian,"
and I know what you mean. On the other hand, nosing around online,
I've seen a few young readers say they like the book but find it "oddly
sad." Right -- at their age, the sadness, the asterisk, is odd. At my
age, it's assumed.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #50 of 142: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 14 Dec 09 13:25
    
I love those notebooks too.
  

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