Monday, December 30, 2013

Logrolling in My Time

Readers of a certain age (i.e. older) may recall Spy Magazine's pithy and satirical features and columns, specifically those with a focus on New York's crass 1980s cultural buffet of absurdity. Before I had even finished my first novel (which was published second), the Logrolling in our Time column stuck out for its deft exposure of cronyism in mainstream publishing. 

One author would write a praise-filled jacket blurb for a fellow author, and then, later on, that author would do the same for his/her colleague.

"See?" my frustrated twenty-something wannabe author self would mutter internally (and often externally). "That's why I'll never get a publishing deal!"

Actually, the reason was that my work at the time wasn't very good.  But it is true; logrolling, that is. One famous author offers a generous superlative, and readers and potential reviewers are then supposed to be impressed enough to like that book. 'Well, Famous Author #45 says it's good, so it must be.'

And so, books get sold, and trees get felled. At least that's what my naive self thought was the derivation of the term logrolling; the publication of books led to trees being sacrificed for authorial ambition.
But of course, the term goes back to the sport-pastime of actually rolling on logs. This provides me with an excuse to post images of hunky wet men competing in the activity, and engaging in link-baiting such phrases as "hunky wet men" and "hunky lumberjacks."

More currently, the term's political meaning implies nefarious favoritism. 'I'll support your idiotic bill if you support mine, fellow corrupt congressman.'

And that leaves a taint to the good aspects of logrolling. While it may appear to be an exclusive mutual admiration society, the people who've blurbed me, and I them, are good writers and editors, and their opinions matter, to me, at least.

The literary world is big and small at the same time. While millions of books are published each year, few authors in some genres know or appreciate each other, or even have the time to read each others' works.

Retro hunk logrolls
So when a writer who knows another author's work praises it, that's a good thing, right?

As the blog Book Mavin says, in a post about this topic, "Giving a blurb is something that authors can do for people, and in an industry that doesn't involve swag suites at every event or producer gigs, an honest and freely given blurb for a book seems rather innocent."

I'm writing this because I just sent out some uncorrected proofs of my next novel to a few authors whom I consider colleagues. If they lived near me, we'd be friends (Don't worry, you're going to be hearing a lot more about that book when it's published).

Certainly, as a writer, and a full-time journalist, ethical standards have to be maintained. But what if, say, I ask a poet who's known me since I was a college student to blurb my novel Monkey Suits?

"Jim Provenzano captures an era in gay history with humor and poignancy.
He has become one of our strongest voices." - poet Alex Gildzen

What if a writer whom I've admired, whom I knew all through the tumultuous AIDS activist years, pens a review of PINS, my first novel, for a national magazine?

John Weir and Jim Provenzano in NYC, 2012; quelle scandale!
"Provenzano has a swift and flexible style that cuts against sentiment and reveals, in moments of grace, something like true feeling. He's also funny. He has an ear for teenage banter, and he's tartly lyrical about Jersey towns, Italian families and homemade mix tapes with titles like GRAPPLE and AURGH. Most urgent, he shows how gay bashing is still an outlet for kids who grew up in the so-called gay '90s."  John Weir, author of The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket, for The Advocate

I call it good fortune, my poor man's version of a jewelry collection. As an independent self-publishing author, I have few, –frak that– none of the advantages of mainstream authors who snag five- and six-digit hardcover book deals (other than being white, male and somewhat not-poor).

If I want a mainstream review, like, in Kirkus, I would have to pay for it. Yep, "Give us $450, and we will 'objectively' send our review to thousands of book buyers." 

Is that objectivity or outright bribery?

So when a colleague who did snag a book deal, albeit for a probable four-digit advance and a mere paperback deal, but with the advantage of a months-long PR campaign, and a free Kirkus review (because established publishers pay for that, but not the authors), and then asks me to review his or her novel for the weekly newspaper where I work, these days, I have to say no. It's not because I don't want to. It's because I don't, anymore.

For the past few years I've edited BARtab. Once a monthly supplement, it's now a weekly section of the Bay Area Reporter. I also write up and edit arts and nightlife events listings.

I don't review books there anymore. I may choose to post a review on GoodReads or, if I like it.

And I may blurb more books, like I did for this one. Our Naked Lives: Essays from Gay Italian American Men, is a good anthology of nonfiction. As a half-Italian American gay guy, I'm a good fit. I was actually asked to contribute to it, but after PINS (fictional gay Italian American teenage wrestler) and a few nonfiction essay contributions in other LGBT Italian American anthologies, I was a bit tapped out in that department (Actually, I'm saving that stuff for yet another of my many incomplete novels-to-be). So, blurbing was my way of contributing.

But sometimes I have to simply say no. 

Say the book is, I dunno, an anthology of erotica, or science fiction, or erotic science fiction. That's not my genre. I cannot speak with much authority about genres in which I don't write. I've been asked repeatedly to blurb the kind of books that I usually don't read and never write. It makes me wonder if these writers and editors ever read my work at all.

Does that matter? Sure it does. You don't ask Stephen King to blurb your gay romance novel, unless the love interest turns out to be a serial-killing vampire shape-shifter (and I'm sure there are such books out there, and I hate them, in advance).

Thesis statement: Dear fellow authors and authors-to-be; to get a good blurb, pick the right author.

Here's a blurb for my third novel, Cyclizen, from award-winning author Trebor Healey:

" Juggling AIDS activism, corporate and individual greed, all through the travails of a bike messenger in search of love and belonging, Cyclizen is noteworthy for its fine characterization and poignant lyricism. Provenzano explores love and friendship with insight and nuance, marking his work as unique, vital and significant."
Pretty neat, huh? I consider Trebor a colleague and a friend. I post his local readings in events at work, and yes, sometimes even include a photo, where I might not do that for other authors (hey, he's cute, too). And I prefer to list reading events at the Market Street Books Inc, and at Magnet, because I've done readings there, and they support LGBT authors.

I know lots of people will want to know when authors like Trebor are doing an event, because his books are good. But more important, Trebor knows about the community and era in Cyclizen, specifically, the AIDS survivors and urban gay ghetto souls who do not have the privilege of being a middle-class stay-at-home mom who dabbles in gay fiction while surrounded by her five cats.

Here's my review one of his latest, novels, Faun. Even if we'd never met, I would have written that review, because it's a really good book. When I was reviewing books for the BAR, I was selective, because I wanted to give our freelance writers first dibs.

But here's an exception, my review of Eric Arvin's Another Enchanted April and Woke Up in a Strange Place. I liked both books. In fact, I like all of his books. His books are much more popular than my work, and I should be jealous, but I'm not, because there's a soulful openness and good intention to his work. And when I asked Eric to blurb Every Time I Think of You, he did, hopefully, because he liked it, not because he thought he owed me any favors:

"Jim Provenzano has written a tender, nostalgic tale in a simple yet elegant prose that comes straight from the heart. It's beautiful, literary, and effective without affectation. We're moved by these characters because we recognize in them our own once-believed indestructibility."

Eric Arvin and TJ Klune
But now, the not-indestructible Eric and his partner T.J. Klune (who is also a gay author whose work I like) are facing a difficult problem. Arvin's been hospitalized and his agent has organized a fundraiser so his family can stay with him during a grueling series of operations. Many other writers have been sharing the information about donating to help them out. Here's the link.

So, is that logrolling? No, it's just being nice. And the community of his friends, fans, and colleagues are part of that, having so far raised more than three times their goal.

You can read all my book reviews on GoodReads and play a guessing game of who owes me, whom I owe, who logrolled whom, which authors I once shared a writing group, which authors I've spent late nights wine-drinking and camping at Yosemite and sharing dinners while gossiping about the book industry (hint: several), and which writers I've never met at all (hint: most of the dead ones).

Or you can get over it.

You can, unlike my younger un-published self, accept the fact that people who work in a business/art form sometimes work together and hang out. Because few of us make enough money doing this, and writing is a painfully solitary act, and if we don't help each other out, then what's the point?

And if this all sounds like a rambling jumble, it is. Because, according to this blog essay, creative people are allowed to sometimes not make sense. But I think I

No comments:

Post a Comment