23 November 2008

Why I’m Antisocial, Part N+1

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 12:12 pm

After reading my short story in a recent “Open Mic” public reading, an event I described in a comment to this post, I emailed Dave, the organizer of the event, telling him that I’d enjoyed it and asking him what he thought. Dave was disappointed in the turnout, feeling that neither the bookstore hosting the Open Mic event nor the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) which sponsored it had done enough publicity. Dave concluded his email by saying that he planned to write a skit for the next public reading and asking if I’d like to play one of the parts.

I said I’d be happy to oblige with the skit. I also added my two cents’ worth about possible improvements to the reading segments of the evening’s entertainment:

Three of the writers presented the first chapter from their novels. My sense was that they intended to titillate the listeners, perhaps inciting them to buy. Maybe there was also a desire by the unpublished writers to achieve some credibility with their peers in the RMFW, perhaps to get some advice or to make connections. But there was no interaction between readers and listeners during the program, and other than cursory “nice story” remarks all around I engaged in no conversations with anyone afterward.

I suggested making the readings more interactive:

E.g., someone else might read the piece beforehand and engage the writer in a brief discussion about some aspect of it. I write a blog, and just before the public reading I put my story up to see if anyone had any suggested modifications. A high school kid suggested a change in the ending, which I more or less followed in the reading I presented. Subsequently several other blog commenters said they liked the original ending better, which generated some interesting observations about crafting a story generally and about this story’s meaning in particular. The danger is that this sort of interaction might feel academic to the casual attendee.

I told Dave that, since I’m not a member of RMFW, I wasn’t aware of their PR efforts, but that I was curious about connecting with the innumerable book reading groups scattered around the area and inviting them to attend/participate in the next public reading.

Dave’s reply conveyed a different tone and message. He wondered, given the lack of PR and my non-membership in RMFW, how I’d found out about the public reading.

I did pitch to the board that all participants would be members of RMFW. Now, as far as I’m concerned, that has a lot of wiggle room. If…let’s say…the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were in town and heard about the show and wanted to come play, I’d be a fool to reject them.. I have no problem with you assisting in a skit. However, plugs for your work, provided (I’m assuming) that you write prose, needs to be exclusive to RMFW members.

My reply in part:

Sorry about crashing your party. I know nothing about RMFW other than the Open Mic, so I’ve never really considered joining. I guess if I go to the website I can find out the benefits of joining, annual dues, etc. I’m afraid I tend to agree with Woody Allen about joining clubs, so if you’re going to be all members-only about it then maybe I should bow off stage now. I’ve written a couple of novels, neither of which has been published or is being considered by any agents or publishers, so I bring no Nitty Gritty PR benefits as a non-member participant. Maybe if I ever get famous I can include this vignette in my memoirs — going rogue in my first public reading.

Then Dave

Although, I’m sure you intended the “crash” as humor, by no means did you upset any balance of the universe. Loved having you. Well, you have two novels and perhaps you should push them. RMFW is good at encouraging you to do that and educating members to the pitfalls. Whereas I’m generally a non-joiner, this organization has worthy benefits…

Then me again, after complaining about the non-informativeness of RMFW’s website and encouraging Dave to go see for himself.

In your prior email I got more of a sense that the Open Mic is intended primarily to publicize both the organization and the works of the members — I guess that hadn’t occurred to me before. I thought it was more about getting writers and readers together in a public place focusing on what’s written.

It’s been 3 days now and I’ve not yet heard back from Dave. Some day I’ll go back, see if they’ve fixed the RMFW website, report my findings to Dave.



  1. “It’s been 3 days now and I’ve not yet heard back from Dave.”

    What a big surprise. ‘Why I’m Anti-social’ is surely part of the anti-social, because the post, including exchanges, bears out instead ‘THAT I’m Anti-social Is Not a Well-Kept Secret…’ I actually think I know how it works in the form in which you suffer it, because of having done something like that myself, and you’ll get over it if you do, and you won’t if you don’t. (I know, I know, it’s extremely hard to understand why people don’t just GRAVITATE to your Exquisite Pedantry…the secret to managing pedantry is realizing it’s worthless until you can look back on it from a distance. Nobody can get inside the locked-up places.)


    Comment by Jonquille de Camembert — 23 November 2008 @ 3:11 pm

  2. I’m already over it — if I wasn’t I probably wouldn’t have posted this. It was already clear after about the second exchange what was going to happen, and from that point it was simply a matter of playing out my part with the “exquisite pedantry” you’ve noted. There remains some appeal of putting together an alternative version of this public reading scheme, with interviews and Q&A included. Sadly I found it rather boring to listen to the readings. Perhaps if the other contributions had been as good as my own I’d have felt differently.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 November 2008 @ 4:15 pm

  3. Well maybe, but I don’t think you’ve given it enough of a chance. You could have easily directed it ‘focussing on what’s written’ instead of saying it so that ‘pushing them’ sounded as if you were holding your nose (never a popular response to the recipient, even when deserved.) One time may not be enough to know if none of their works were ever going to be good, although it could be, of course, i.e., if they all seemed, say, ‘drab’, that can make you want to kill yourself.


    Comment by Jonquille de Camembert — 23 November 2008 @ 4:36 pm

  4. Dave (pen name E. Cameron Stacy) seems like a nice enough guy, and he is sincere about his PR responsibilities, so I probably was being overly high-toned in my last two replies to him. I’ll see if I can find out more about the novelists’ club through other sources.

    Here’s something interesting: classical musicians adding story recitations to their performances in order to attract an audience. I think I’d rather just hear them play — will get in touch with these people as well.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 November 2008 @ 5:25 pm

  5. Oh dear, ‘Dorris’ is a bit much with her saving classical music this way. Plizz..This kind of thing has been developing through coffee at Barnes & Noble to always having some sort of chamber group at the Met here on Friday evenings, and also there was a trio right at the entrance of the Morgan Library Friday when I went (for the first time, incredibly enough, after scores of visits to all the other museums. J.P. Morgan’s McKim Library rooms have been carefully preserved through Renzo Piano’s recent huge and beautiful renovation–much lighter and in less of a barnlike way than has been done in places like Avery Fisher Hall; I had seen exterior oftenm and it had begun to look like an old tombstone.) These are nice ways of hearing classical music, but then so are the good players in the subway.

    To be sure, this ‘breaking of class barriers for classical music’ is for those in whatever current project. It no more will ‘save classical music’ if it’s truly endangered than a hole in the ground. New York City Opera will be lucky if it doesn’t fold, haven’t just got rid of a fancy French opera director who abandoned them when they tried to get him to work within a smaller budget for at least one year. He had the gall to ask them to ‘work with a deficit’ (they’re already broke, and dreadfully second to the Met across the Plaza) right after Lehman. He tried as well to use becoming the director of Bayreuth as a bargaining chip for NYCOpera…with the unfortunate matter of that not working well for him due to being refused the Bayreuth directorship..

    The main things that will ‘save the classical arts’ are the new culture- and intellect-rriendly administration, and this will get rid of the redneckery that has even been forced on the high arts since Reagan. All these coffee house things are very nice, mind you, although I can’t say I adore the idea of chamber music juxtaposed with readings nearly so much as just one or the other (neither is ‘boring’ except to some people anyway). There really is a trickle-down effect in culture, and with rednecks or even ‘good ole boys’ like Clinton in office, and a tiny govt. arts budget (ridiculous compared to France’s), the possibility of genius emerging to claim its place is all but nil. So geniuses will finally start flowering again. The best that has been able to be hoped for for 30 + years is ‘growth industries’ in well-known works like Swan Lake and now Balanchine more and also more Puccini and Verdi, but there have been no dynamos to hit the scene like Leonard Bernstein or Martha Graham in many decades, although there’s some good stuff in Holland and France. There should be a ‘meltdown’ of the filth on B’way, I hope–here is where commodification has come to rule and it is sickening. My own survey of B’way scores, which used to be so rich in the 30s through the mid-70s, is 4 good scores in the last 30 years, and only 2 in the last 10, that’s pitiful.

    Obesity rates should decrease as well. Did you see that AP story about Huntington, W.Virginia, the most unhealthy city in the U.S., where fully one half of the people are obese? I played in Pittsburgh in 2002, and that’s a town of obesity too.


    Comment by Jonquille de Camembert — 23 November 2008 @ 7:15 pm

  6. http://www.nybooks.com/podcasts/

    Here you can hear Joan Didion and the others at the 45th Anniversary of New York Review of Books. I went to the 35th, but this is quite good. These are all brillinat people and you get a good taste of the polite, civil Manhattan intellectual here. They’re not quite sexy enough for my taste, but they even make a lovely sound in their speech, with its well-tuned soft-spokenness and precision of intelligence. Oddly, Joan’s first little speech, written instead of extemporized, sticks out rather badly and still hangs onto an outmoded tendency to focus slightly more on the negative–which is exactly right if the negative is the dominant, but in the aspect of the Obama-people thing, the negative is not. The fact that Obama could work with these people, then end up with people like me and every one of these (including her, which she reveals toward the end, after having been politely ignored for about 45 minutes after her little ‘Didion number’ on the ‘irony-free zone’ (oh, Joan, enough is enough..), as we all discuss the coming age with creativity already within the discussions themselves. Even Arpege has said some interesting things, now that she’s calmed down from the Spectacle is Fake! It’s FAKE, I tell you! It’s goddam Fake!


    Comment by Jonquille de Camembert — 23 November 2008 @ 7:26 pm

  7. NYC being the literary capital of America, I would expect that many more public readings are scheduled at the coffee houses and bookstores. Maybe what’s being read is of higher quality than can be found out here in the Mountain Time Zone, though I’m not fully persuaded. New Yorkers are the taste-setters for fiction, and I suspect that any new fiction earns style points if its main setting is New York and environs and if the writer lives in New York. I just read the first 120 pages or so of Atmospheric Disturbances, a first novel that sounded promising based on the flyleaf and that got glowing reviews in the New York press but that I found very ordinary. Story begins in New York, writer is a young woman MD who lives in Manhattan. Paul Auster benefits from being a New Yorker, as at times does DeLillo. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake was one of the most boring novels I’ve read, benefiting partly from Lahiri’s rep as a short story writer and also from her characters being doctors and architects living in NYC and Boston. Philip Roth earns his cudos even if he sometimes gets lazy. But at least I’m drawn to these New York books — they sound more interesting than a lot of contemporary American fiction. The Nobel committee sounded pompous when they said American writers are too provincial to get a Nobel in literature any time soon, but I think they might be right. When New York becomes the setting for too much ordinary fiction, then New York itself becomes just another province.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 November 2008 @ 11:17 am

  8. Ann Beattie doesn’t write novels that take place in New York, neither had Joan Didion ever done so. I wouldn’t say that DeLillo could be said to ‘benefit’ by being a New Yorker–he’s a fine writer who can write about New York well because he knows it and also is a great writer. Cormac Mccarthy and Larry McMurtry don’t have anything to do with New York. We’ve read different things, but I think you’re off on this one, but my reasoning is that there is an inability to write well about New York, and long has been. Capote only even pulled it off in a short story or two, his published chapters of ‘Answered Prayers’ are mainly gossip he wanted to get punished and rewarded for simultaneously. Mailer sometimes wrote well about New York, as in ‘The American Dream.’ Bellow too, but I don’t think that’s why they were great writers. As for the coffee house readings, I know a bit about them, and imagine they are about the same across the nation–it’s not one of my scenes, but I’m sure it’s meaningful for some friends I have here. I’ve liked a lot of the readings at B & N and YMHA, though.

    “When New York becomes the setting for too much ordinary fiction, then New York itself becomes just another province.”

    Yes, the fiction reduced us to one big Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (lol)


    Comment by Jonquille de Camembert — 24 November 2008 @ 9:22 pm

  9. It might well be me — I’ve found myself losing interest partway through many novels lately. At the same time I’m finding more satisfaction than usual in reading short stories: the tight craftsmanship evidenced in some, the quick brilliance of others, the dreamlike cadences of still others. It’s unusual for me, since I’ve almost always preferred the long form. I do consistently find my tastes tending toward foreign writers though, with some notable exceptions.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 November 2008 @ 11:01 pm

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