Sunday, February 14, 2010

Department of Self-Congratulations.

It would appear that I have won an award. The people at The Armenian Center at Columbia University in New York City have awarded me the 2009 Anahid Literary Award for The Leisure Seeker. To quote the letter, "The award also takes into account your fine work in your other books Second Hand and The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit...The purpose of the Anahid Literary Award is to recognize Armenian-American writers for their work and as an encouragement for them to continue with their creative careers." It also includes a monetary prize, which is always welcome.

Best of all, I didn't even know I was nominated. I just received an e-mail one evening from the writer Nancy Kricorian (author of the wonderful novels Zabelle and Days of Bread and Fire), telling me that I had won. It was great news and a real honor, especially since former winners include Chris Bohjalian (Skeletons at the Feast), Eric Bogosian (Wasted Beauty and Talk Radio), and Peter Balakian (The Black Dog of Fate).

Considering that there was a time not long ago where I was fairly certain that there was never going to be another novel, this is particularly gratifying. Thanks to all involved.

Okay, I'm done congratulating myself. Back to work.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New Trade Paperback of THE LEISURE SEEKER out today. Finally.

Well, good. It's finally out there in the stores. (At least I hope it is.) The new trade paperback edition of THE LEISURE SEEKER.

It's kind of cool having a paperback come out. It's definitely different than the release of a hardcover book. I suppose there is something inherently fancy (some might say elitist) about the hardcover book. It's big, expensive, bulky, almost impossible to cram it into your back pocket or purse. But a hardcover book is solid. It feels like something that someone could discover at a library or a bookstore ten, fifty, even a hundred years from now. This is the sort of thing writers tend to fantasize about. (Mine is that someone finds a copy of my novel SECOND HAND at a thrift store of the future.)

Alas, we know there are a lot of people who just don't buy hardcover books. Most people, in fact. They say, "I'll buy it when it comes out in paperback". Why? Aside from the lower price, there's something really comfortable about a paperback, like well-worn jeans or a perfectly broken-in pair of sneakers. (I have no beef with the e-book, but it will never be the same as a book book.) It's not hard to imagine someone at the New Paperback Releases table at their local indie or chain bookstore, they pick up that paperback book, with its snazzy cover and satin varnish finish and decide to take a chance on it. It doesn't hurt that it's just $13.99.

They take it home, still excited about their new purchase and start reading it right away. And a few days later, by the time they're at the last page, the book is no longer new. Maybe it's got a crease or two or three in the spine, a few folded pages, a coffee stain from reading it at breakfast, but all that is good. It doesn't mean that the book has been used up, just...christened.

I suppose the fact that I'm more likely to mess up a paperback is exactly what I like about them. Reading doesn't necessarily have to be some formal affair, all stiff and bulky and hardcovered. Sometimes it's about finding something that you can just slip into and feel right at home.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Heavyweight Champion of Typewriters

For the past month or so, I've had the photograph above as my desktop wallpaper on my computer. And though I originally did it just because I thought it looked cool (I'm ashamed to say that I do a lot of things in my life for that very reason), it started to get under my skin. Perhaps it's just that I've been re-watching the first season of AMC's "Mad Men" (and appreciating its Art Direction and magnificent propping), but I have lately become nostalgic for the IBM Selectric.

There's no rational reason for this, I know. I love my computer. I really love it. It's probably the only thing that has allowed me to write novels. If I had to stand at a desk and write in longhand like Hemingway (why he stood, I have no idea), all I'd have to show for it would be three short-short stories and phlebitis. Even if I had to write on a typewriter these days, I'd most likely be composing haiku, lazy bastard that I am. (Case in point, right now: I'm blogging when I should be writing.)

The fact is, I'm old enough to have taught myself how to type on a giant 40 pound cast iron Royal typewriter leftover from the 1950's that I inherited from my very first job (The shipping department of Home Planners, located on Grand River Avenue in Detroit). I was unemployed after college, with a lot of free time and just starting to write, so it was time to finally learn how to type. And I had me the Packard of typewriters -- finned and out-sized, unpadded and lethal in a collision.

I didn't actually get to use an IBM Selectric until my first "real" job in advertising a few years later. This was in the 1980's when everyone was snorting cocaine and wearing keyboard ties. I remember being so thrilled seeing the Selectric when I was shown to my desk for the first time. Even though it was dangerously close to obsolete even then, mere moments before the dawn of the computer, it felt like the most modern machine I could ever use. I recall the humming noise it used to make, as well as the vibration you felt as you typed or even when you just rested your fingers on ASDF and JKL:, waiting for inspiration to strike.

It too was a heavy beast of a machine. Which makes me wonder: is there something about composing on a weighty contraption that feeds the illusion that one's work is weighty as well? What does it mean that now that writing machines are feather-light, everyone is writing -- blogs, status updates, tweets, texts (and most of it feather-light as well). Were people less likely to write when they had to operate heavy machinery to do it? ("Stay away from that thing unless you know what you're doing!") Maybe. But if that was the case, everyone would have been writing their asses off when the quill was in fashion. Then again, maybe they were. I can't remember. I'm not that old.

Still, I can't help but to long a bit for that rumbling, quivering behemoth of a typewriter with its ball of keys and the thunk it made when you closed the top, like slamming the door on a Deuce and a Quarter. Of course, here in the muzzy glow of nostalgia, I am conveniently forgetting what a pain in the ass typewriters were, specifically my aversion to typewriter ribbons. I hated those things. (Cut to me at a desk, ink on my face and hands, spewing expletives). I will happy live out my days never again soiling my fingers with accursed typewriter ink. So screw the Selectric. Huzzah technology! I still love my computer.