Fake Book

Jean Shepherd was called “the first radio novelist” by media scholar Marshall McLuhan. He is probably most famous for narrating the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, which was based on his book In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash), a collection of stories he first told on the radio about his childhood in Hammond, Indiana. Parts of my novel, Tamper, like Danger Hill (Chapter Four), Treasure Hunt Chapter Five), and The Boy Who Hid In Leaves (Chapter Six), were inspired by events in my own childhood, growing up in a small town in Virginia, and my manner of telling these stories is influenced, in part, by Jean Shepherd. Not to mention the Nabokov-like introduction of fictional books. Here’s the story of a fake book that became real. Jazz musician Bob Kaye tells the story on his web site:

 
When Shepherd came to New York in the early 50’s he had a totally different concept of what he wanted to do on radio. Basically, he wanted to do what other close friends of his (Jack Kerouac, Herb Gardner, Jules Feiffer) were doing, but in a different medium. To Shep, the airwaves were his blank page, to fill with his satiric and usually right-to-the-point observations about Mankind.
 
In addition to being a popular radio personality on WOR Radio in New York City, Shepherd appeared at The Limelight Café in Greenwich Village, emceed jazz concerts, improvised spoken word for the title track on the 1957 Charles Mingus album The Clown, and wrote for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including The Village Voice, The New York Times, Mad Magazine, Playboy, Omni, Car & Driver, and many more.
Another indirect connection to Tamper is Shepherd’s book hoax.  As jazz musician Bob Kaye tells it, Shepherd complained that:
 
New York was a city that was entirely run by lists. Nobody dared go to the theater without reading ten reviews first! If Clive Barnes said the show was good, it was good. Even if you fell asleep in the first act,
you somehow felt that it was your fault! Did it ever occur to you that lists are compiled by mortals?”
 
 
It was around this time Shepherd formed his concept of “Night People and Day People.” Kaye quotes him as saying:
 
“At 3:00 am the people who believe in lists are asleep. These are the people who get all the latest hit show tickets. Anyone still up at 3 am secretly has some doubts. There are only two kinds of people. Us and Them. And they don’t know that we exist!”
 
At about 2 am one night, Shep said to his listeners, “let’s all go to the local book stores tomorrow and ask for a book, that we, the Night People, know doesn’t exist.” Since it was a communal thing, he asked the listeners for suggestions for a title.
 
Finally, at about 4:30 am someone came up with “I, Libertine”. Shep then created an author, Frederick R. Ewing, formerly a British Commander in World War II, now a civil servant in Rhodesia, married to Marjorie, a horsewoman from the North Country.
 
So what’s next? The first guy walks into the store and asks for ‘I, Libertine.’ The owner says he never heard of it. Man number two walks in asking for it. Now (the owner) says ‘it’s on order.’ The next guy
comes in. Now (the owner is) on the phone to the distributor. Well, after 350 more people ask for it, Publisher’s Weekly is in shambles!
 
You must remember that the listeners KNEW that this was a nonexistent book!
 
After finally revealing to the public that the book did not exist, Shepherd had lunch with Ian Ballantine of Ballantine Books and the famous science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon. They decide to take it to the next level. Shepherd and Sturgeon quickly wrote a novel called I, Libertine. Ballentine published it and the book and it actually became a best-seller! By then, most people knew it was a prank and many of them probably bought the book for just that reason. Profits from the sale of the book were donated to charity.

VanderMeer on Booklife

I listen to Jeff VanderMeer’s advice for one reason: He’s too good a writer not to be doing something right. I’m halfway through reading Finch and it rocks. I think maybe Jeff’s parents found him in a rocket ship from a planet with superior writing skills and raised him as an Earthling.  Either that, or he works really hard at it.

Fine Lines

I suppose my recent cut-up experiment is more about marketing than writing. It’s certainly easier to write a cut-up than it is to get someone to read it, but I don’t want to trick anyone into reading something that isn’t any good. Quality should always come first. One should believe they have a product of top-notch quality before promoting and marketing it. One produces a good cut-up the same way one creates good poetry or prose – study, practice, persistence, and patience.

I used to think maybe I was “cheating” when I added, deleted, or otherwise manipulated the raw composite of two different texts joined together in the middle. Finally, a quote from William Burroughs himself, which I found at Reality Studio, put my mind at ease. In a statement to the 1962 International Writers’ Conference, Burroughs said, “In using the fold in method I edit, delete, and rearrange as in any other method of composition.”

Note: A fold-in is simply a variation of the cut-up. As Burroughs explains in the same Statement to the 1962 International Writer’s Conference:

“Brion Gysin, an American painter living in Paris, has used what he calls ‘the cut up method’ to place at the disposal of writers the collage used in painting for fifty years — Pages of text are cut and rearranged to form new combinations of word and image — In writing my last two novels, Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded, i have used an extension of the cut up method I call ‘the fold in method’ — A page of text — my own or some one else’s — is folded down the middle and placed on another page — The composite text is then read across half one text and half the other — The fold in method extends to writing the flash back used in films, enabling the writer to move backwards and forwards on his time track — For example I take page one and fold it into page one hundred — I insert the resulting composite as page ten — When the reader reads page ten he is flashing forwards in time to page one hundred and back in time to page one — The deja vue phenomena can so be produced to order — (This method is of course used in music where we are continually moved backwards and forward on the time track by repetition and rearrangements of musical themes.”

Go to Reality Studio to read more of Burroughs’ statement as published in the Transatlantic Review

Now, back to my statement that quality should always come first. I’m enjoying a novel by Jeff VanderMeer called Finch (the third and possibly last in the Ambergris cycle). This reminded me that Jeff and I had briefly discussed an article by Jessa Crispin about Jeff’s other new book, Booklife. It went like this:

19 October 2009 at 6:21 PM

Bill Ectric says:

Jeff, I would like to say a word about the one negative review of Booklife that I’ve read. I’m a fan of Jessa Crispin and many of the books she recommends are right up my alley, but when she says Booklife “made her uneasy” and has questionable priorites, it occurs to me that virtually every book Crispin likes has already been through the “networking” and “ego-feeding” processes that she apparently finds distasteful. The difference is, in many cases, those authors have people in the trenches to do the legwork and nurturing for them. Jeff, I believe you wrote Booklife for authors who must “switch hats” from artist to publicist to merchant without loosing foucus. Anyone who has read your fiction knows that creativity and skill are first and foremost. I’m finding Booklife to be quite solid and helpful.

19 October 2009 at 6:27 PM

JeffVanderMeer says:

Bill: I was bothered by it because it seemed to insinuate that I was being dishonest in the book. But I’ve since asked Jessa if I can interview her for this site, and she accepted. That’ll run sometime in November or December, but it’ll go into more detail about her views on writing, creativity, and careers. I do plan in the second edition to reference that “non review” as she called it, in the context of double and triple making sure that readers understand why I’m offering up the information in the Public Booklife section.

I really look forward to further dialogue between Jeff and Jessa, two of my favorite bloggers, and I hope it happens!