HOW I BECAME THE U.S. POET LAUREATE

Notes to a novel-in-progress

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

MY LATEST BOOKSTORE IDEA

would be called "English & Spanish" because it would be located in the Napa Valley.

So the English part of the store would all be poetry. And the Spanish part of the store would be general -- whether from fiction to kids' books to poetry (of course) to history to how-to books to nonfiction etc.

Poetry doesn't sell, but it'd get a forum in a bookstore whose financial viability would be based on its niche of Spanish language offerings. For example, in St. Helena where I live, more than 50% of the student and teacher populations at the local schools are Spanish-proficient.

Would this work in real life and not just fiction?

Monday, January 15, 2007

"WELL VERSED"

A Note For Chapter 16:
[Check outline to confirm Chapter number)

From yesterday's New York Times Sunday Magazine, Deborah Solomon's interview with John Ashbery:

Question: Although you have won dozens of awards and accolades, including a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur grant, you have never been asked to serve as poet laureate of the U.S. Is that a snub?

Answer: I really don't think I'm poet-laureate material.

Question: It's not something you would like to do?

Answer: I don't think so. To be poet laureate you have to have a program for spreading the word of poetry. I'm just willing to let it spread by itself.

Friday, January 12, 2007

THE DEAL WITH VIGGO MORTENSEN

Among the many fabuloso faux blurbs I received through my Call for Blurbs --which would come to provide this novel's scaffolding--was this mischievous one from Jean Vengua:

Long awaited, this revised edition comprises the complete and unabridged diary from the "TaTa" series, with the original foreword by Viggo Mortensen, calling for the removal of the federal ban. Included are the original black and white graphics imprinted on the first and back pages: the large letter, "T" followed by the phrase, "plum stables" and the upsidedown "A," so crucial to the integrity of the work as a whole. I was pleased to find the middle "succubus dream" sequence intact, with its footnotes partially erased, in reference to the earlier ban on the Albany edition. The historic court ruling is appended. Applying my innate sense of good grooming and taste, I will resist the hyperbole that has so often accompanied Eileen Tabios' works. Suffice to say that it has taken a political sea change to set the stage for this edition, and we are all the better for it.

Funny, right? But your intrepid author here actually contacted Viggo Mortensen to see if he'd be interested in writing a Foreword! (After all, he's receptive to poetry in his own way.) Well, Viggo had his peeps -- well, one peep -- write back to say that he is not able to participate. But they did concede the book to be "an interesting project."

This, of course, is not a setback for Yours Truly. I'll still use the incident and brief e-encounter in some way. But don't let anyone say I didn't explore all possible avenues to make this Puppy jell!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

RE. NIC BOTTOMLEY, INDIE BOOKSELLER

It's worth moving from prior post's Comment section the link to Nic Bottomley, a finance lawyer turned independent bookstore owner. His blog about the experiences of managing an independent bookstore is the first link on the right -- I plan to follow it as it may give interesting ideas for my novel.

But it is fabulous, often hilarious, reading on its own. Below, for instance, are excerpts from his blog's comments section:

Yes, the Sure-Footed Confuser (Absolutum Surum), they are easily spotted.

I work in a bookstore, and there have been quite a lot of them wandering in the woods.

Some of those I've encountered:

1) Customer: "Excuse me, I'm looking for The Little Prince by Machiavelli."
ME: "..."

2)Customer #2: "I'm looking for Les Miserable. It's by Dumas."
ME: "Les Miserables by Victor Hugo?"
Customer (looking irritated) "No, I want Les Miserables by Alexandre Dumas."

3) Customer #3: "I'm looking for a book on India. The author starts with 'M.'"
ME: "Is it a Ficiton or Non-fiction title?"
Customer #3: "I don't know."
ME: "Can you tell me more about what the book is about?"
Customer #3: "It's about India. That all I remember. And the author's name starts with 'M'."
ME: "I may need more information to do a search, Sir."
Customer #3 (losing patience): "What do you mean? Can't you just do a search on 'M'?"


Here's another excerpt:

Peterv: Why do people get so sentimental about small enterprises? Admittedly bigger chains are not always that savoury, but fundamentally these smaller shops are still out for our hard-earned: they're not charities. You'd think Nic Bottomley was donating his organs to dying children, the way people leap to his defence. I'm curious to know who commissioned the blog and the precise nature of his relationship with them. A nation of shop keepers ...

Snowedup: Fine, Peterv. We won't bother. Those of us who've taken zero salary for three years, or remortgaged our houses, or who work 16 hours a day for a venture that has no guarantee of working out, or who dare to try something new and brave and different, in order to bring something good into the world - we'll just stay in our pointless little jobs next time, contributing next to nothing to the world and whining away the time until we die.

Watching the news this week has left me more certain than ever that we should take every opportunity to show that humanity can be good, and clever and creative, rather than blow each other up when provoked. Small, independent companies matter because they are the ones whose objectives aren't directed by shareholders, but by dreams and basic human values like hope, happiness and pride. Shame on you for being the spokesperson of the bland.


Thanks to Ivy Alvarez for the information!

HOW TO STOCK A BOOKSTORE FROM SCRATCH

One of the fun things has been imagining how one would stock a bookstore from scratch, particularly if I -- or the novel's protagonist of a new bookstore owner -- is a starving poet. So I had to think of ways to acquire a lot of inventory at zero, or almost zero, unpfront costs.

One of the answers I'd devised was that I would go to Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, whose peeps know me, and offer to do a de facto "SPD in Wine Country" section where they would ship over a lot of poetry inventory that otherwise would just stay in their inventory back room. I'd give SPD a lot of play and this method also would give me a lot of inventory right away at no upfront cost.

Of course, there'd be some hoo-haa negotiations with SPD who would prefer to give me the usual bookstore arrangement. What we end up agreeing to do is that for the popular poetry titles, I'll have to abide by the usual retail arrangement. But SPD knows, and in truth the SPD staffers probably do really know (wink), which poetry titles are hard to move and from these they'd give me titles that otherwise would just sit in their back room. The key here is that, as a start-up, I need to get inventory right away for little money.

Oh we'd spice up the plot somewhat with the bookstore guaranteeing some SPD events in the bookstore... and since I've gotta make the story interesting, I'll probably have to concoct some more nefarious scheme(s) -- perhaps involving poetic "cultural capital" if I can make the concept not boring (which is not easy - wink).

Another stocking idea was to email a bunch of Poet Listserves for poets who'd be willing to send their own books on consignment -- I suspect that'd get a lot of takers (or, I write it as such anyway in the novel).

One of the logistics I anticipated is shoplifting -- and so in my offer to Poet Listserves, though I'd tell them the arrangement is "on consignment," I also say that they'd have to just forgive me their loan of their books if they're shoplifted. Since most poets would be sending just 1-2 titles, I don't expect that this would decrease interest.

Speaking of shoplifting, I thought I'd hang some sign somewhere in the bookstore:

If You're Going to Shoplift, Go to Barnes and Noble.

Poor Barnes and Noble -- they get such grief from us idealists, don't they.

Then, of course, hitting publishers for poetry titles -- especially older titles. in real life, I once put a call out there to poetry publishers requesting donations of 100 copies each of poetry titles for another poetry project I'm still working on. I actually have about a thousand books -- mostly much older titles -- right now in my house, awaiting the fulfillment of this other project. But the response means that tossing in this idea into the novel ain't over-the-top fictitious at all, if at all fiction. And I wouldn't discriminate between stocking newly-released versus older titles...I, uh, the protagonist, believes Poetry is timeless.

Part of the problem is that this bookstore -- unlike the Kingdom Bookstore that Ron Silliman blogs about quite interestingly today -- would be open most of the week, rather than once a month.

St. Helena, once you strip away the wine-related tourism, is a town of 5,000 while Kingdom Book's Waterford, VT contains an approximate 1,100 population. I don't necessarily think 5,000 would generate more significant traffic to accommodate a bookstore, but hope that tourists would add to the traffic.

And I probably would structure an online-business to the operations. Part of what's going on here (obviously) is that though all this is for writing a novel, I do have a dream of opening up a bookstore someday...so I'm multitasking--doing the research for the novel may give me a way to discover things that would be helpful if I, in real life, opened up a bookstore someday.

A bookstore oriented around Poetry -- it's a dream, it's a dream...

(Meanwhile, if anyone reading this has an idea to help out a starving poetry bookstore owner on building up inventory during the initial days of the store, let me know!)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

BLURB PROJECT

It occurs to me that I should note that this novel is the book I am writing to fit my BLURB PROJECT -- go to link for intriguing details!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

IN THE BEGINNING, THE WORD...

I have dreams of opening up a bookstore. Or a bookstore with art gallery. I have the name already picked out, with the puns absolutely intended:

POETRY: BOOKS, GIFTS AND NOTIONS

In part because I'm unable to open a bookstore, I started a novel about a new bookstore owner. In St. Helena, CA where I live. And involving Arnold Schwarzenneger who, with family, has been known to frequent the local Meadowood club. And how Arnold had gone to Main Street, St. Helena, looking for cigars but ended up in my wee bookstore. (Hmmm -- please to note that the use of "I" and the novel's primary protagonist will be frequently mixed up in these Notes.)

The novel's working title is How I Became The U.S. Poet Laureate ... which I always felt I should revise as I'd like this novel, once I complete it, to have a shot at selling enough copies to be an international best seller and what are the odds of that if the title contains any reference to poetry? Having just typed out that question, it occurs to me -- but maybe I should retain the title. Because achieving a bestseller with a title involving poetry would be more difficult. And (notwithstanding the pain that just erupted along my back at the thought), there is beauty stubbornly in difficulty.