I am very pleased to be reading from Two Big Differences at Baruch College, where I teach First-Year Writing. Please join me on November 3rd at 7PM on Zoom. My colleagues in English Seth Graves and Evan Smith will be joining me.
As an adjunct, I don’t take this institutional validation lightly. I know many adjuncts who are artists in addition to their teaching. I want to dedicate this reading to adjuncts who work so hard for, well, what I think of as low wages. Some of us are even Guggenheim fellows. Please don’t ignore the adjuncts.
Please register for this Zoom reading.
I was very proud to read from Two Big Differences on Zoom at my alma mater, the University of Michigan. I was especially proud of the company I kept, including readers such as Ellen Dreyer. And I hope there will be more readings to come.
Here is the link to the video. Since, as you can see, I was the last (but not least) reader, I don’t begin until 1:25 or so.
Friends have asked me about getting a copy of my book while avoiding Amazon. I also have an Amazon ban. And I support the rights of Amazon workers to unionize.
On the other hand, I acknowledge that Amazon is printing and distributing my book. It’s what the publisher, MGraphics, used for this purpose. And I must admit that this model is much better and allows for a book to be published and sell without having to fit the strictures of a dying business model, one that requires publishers to choose books that will sell vast amounts only instead of, well, simply propagating art, perhaps not as popular as Fifty Shades…but culturally valuable for sure. We Americans, with our ideas about freedom ever to make a buck, sometimes forget about the social and cultural responsibility of publishers, especially corporate ones, “major” publishers. Perhaps we forgive them more than Amazon since what they do seems more innocuous.
An example of a publishing company with which I would have published is Simon & Schuster. I’ve reviewed books they’ve published. I have a sense of what’s in their catalog. However, I would be disappointed that they are publishing the memoir of who I think will become known as one of history’s worst enablers, Mike Pence. If we’re going to hold Amazon accountable for how they affect the various industries in which they’re involved, shouldn’t we hold publishers accountable for the cultural effect of their products as well? I would, nonetheless and with my desire to do so, still publish with Simon & Schuster. But I don’t think of them as more “ethical” than Amazon at this point.
Not with S&S, but I did have a choice. I published with MGraphics. And Amazon prints and distributes my book. However, if somebody is still not sympathetic with the awkward position I’m describing here and still wants to get my book, please get in touch with me. We can work something out.
My novel Two Big Differences has been published by Издательство MGraphics. You can get it here. Please take a moment to hear me when I say that this dream has been a long time coming.
I started it in 2012. It’s older than both my children.
Many of those I thank in the Acknowledgments are gone now.
It has taken a long time.
The website linked above is a supplement to the book, a space connected to the book. If you would like to say something about the book, I can publish it in that space. I’m eager to hear your thoughts. Or you can let somebody else know about it.
Came today, Ilya Ilf’s birthday…
“Every story begins with a feeling. It’s like a little seed. It swells, sprouts, and starts growing, and I wait for it to get so large, I can’t ignore it. And then I sit down, and try to build a house, and put that feeling inside, where it can live forever. And I know that I have succeeded when I read that story five years after I wrote it and I can still feel it, that feeling is still there, still lingering, tucked between the pages.”
This space is a free place to explore Two Big Differences.
The late Denis Johnson on, I think, Denis Johnson:
I wrote a review of Mona Awad’s latest novel All’s Well.
“The epithet ‘witch’ is, of course, a loaded one in our culture’s history. The complementary phrase “witch hunt” comes from the time of the Puritans but became a descriptive term for the McCarthyite persecution of “communists” before it finally came to describe the “victims” of the #MeToo movement, the men who wielded their power to take sexual advantage of women. Some feminist writers have sought to reclaim the term, and All’s Well would appear to demonstrate that point.”
“Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Every writer knows the quote. Every writer knows failure. If you are a writer and you disagree, good for you. I have known failure.
I did an MFA. My final project was a collection of short stories, now called Grow Me Up and Other Oaths. Two years after I graduated from the MFA program, I was awarded a contract to publish Grow Me Up with a small publisher from the South. It made sense. Most of the stories took place in the South and took influence from my experience living in the Deep South from age five until almost eighteen, seminal years during which I read Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty in my English classes. The publisher sent a contract. I signed it. And we were on our way. At the end of the summer of 2012, I decided that I could put aside that project, since it would be published, and begin a new one. This new project was inspired by my visit to my partner’s birthplace: Odessa, Ukraine.
I wrote a post on Facebook much less detailed than this one, received several likes, and felt very validated. The publisher was small, but I felt like I was “making it.” When I asked about a publication date, I was dismayed to hear that it would be a couple of years before the book was published. I mentioned the long wait to Tobias Wolff, and he told me to look for another publisher.
In 2014, two years after I signed the contract, a month before the birth of my first daughter, I received an email from the publisher announcing that they were closing and that upcoming publications, including my own, were canceled. Having a baby on the way, I didn’t take the time one should to grieve the death of that project. Meanwhile, I was still working on this monster of a novel that I had begun when I had thought that I was “making it.”
So that’s what I mean when I say failure. Maybe I could rethink, rewrite the narrative to mean something else. I could resent the publisher for closing. I could blame a number of people and other factors for what happened. I continued along my path.
Since I was awarded that contract in 2012, I have become the father of two women. I have been first-hand witness to more than one person’s death. I have learned of horrible things that have happened in the past to those closest to me. These secrets cause me suffering. There has been joy. There has been pain. There has been a pandemic. I have failed and failed and failed. I can think that the failure has become better.
The project I began in 2012, a novel about Odessa, Ukraine, a woman from there, an Odessitka, and an American who learns Russian and travels there, this project is older than my oldest child. Are our works our children? They certainly demand and receive a lot of our attention.
The project, titled Two Big Differences, will be published by MGraphics in Fall 2021. It is slightly older than nine years, almost a quarter of my life.
At this point, I don’t believe in perfection. I also still have trouble believing it’s going to happen this time. I keep waiting for that email…I like to think that, if I’m still failing, at least I’m failing better, that right now what’s happening is the best of my failure, that I’ll keep trying. If you would like to read my novel, please reach out. It should be available this coming season.