Story of a Book Cover

Posted in The Literateria with tags , , , on 12/24/2015 by Janet Fitch

Having a book translated into foreign languages is probably the most thrilling experience for a writer, the times that make me feel most like an “author”. What a privilege, to be read by people from cultures very different from my own–always tantalizing to imagine what they think of this world I’ve created, Los Angeles in 1980, the punk era, the sensibilities and values. And the book covers too reflect the flavor and taste  of those countries.

Paint it Black began almost simultaneously in English and Dutch. Here’s the big, beautiful American hardbound.

pib hbd US.jpegPublisher, Little Brown and Co.

This cover surprised me–I assumed it would be BLACK!. In the UK Virago published it in two smaller formats–the tiny mass market one is adorable.

The Dutch version is also a stunner– Portret in Zwart. Such a cool title — wish I’d thought of it.  The Dutch publisher, De Bezije Bij, is a venerable and interesting house, founded during the resistance in occupied Holland.

pib dutch portret in zwart.jpeg

Many of the foreign editions used the white cover.  Here, the German hardbound version flips the image to the left and uses a green spine is –publisher, Lubbe Bastei.

pib german.jpeg

The Italians go for modernist–the cover has  cutouts, which become the diagonal-cut flap. Publisher is Il Saggiatore, Milan.

italian pib.jpg

Sweden made this beautiful swath of black. “Saknaden”–it means “Missing.”

pib swedish.jpeg Bokförlaget Forum, publisher.

The Israelis used the leather door into the grandfather’s study for their moody book cover suggestive of the madness in that household. Publisher, Modan.

PIB israel.jpg

I love the Romanian punk cover, including the character of Ming, which features in the book.  A little reprise of the girl’s back from white Oleander…

pib romanian.jpg

The Lithuanians took it in a different direction–also the girl’s back… but a more 60s graphic look.

pib lithuanian.jpgpublisher, Versus Aureus.

The Polish Paint It Black has a flap that folds out to show the entire image. It also goes with blue instead of white.  Publisher, Bertelsmann, Warsaw.

pib poland.jpg

When the paperback came out in the US, I was happy when it was decided to use the photo from the Dutch version, lightened and reddened, melded to the text design of the white book.

pib pbk US.jpegBack Bay Books, publisher.

pib turkish.jpg The Turkish version uses the same cover. Pegasus Yayincilik, publisher.

The Serbian translation, publisher Laguna, used a similar type and tone in the photo, but did a back:

paint_it_black-dzenet_fic_s.jpg

The Australian version keeps the art but turns the red type to white. (don’t know why WordPress keeps inking in weird black marks in the white, but you get the idea).

pib aus.gif

And the Dutch paperback went with a somber black and white:

pib dutch paper.jpg

What’s next?  A movie tie in cover? French? Russian?  Fingers crossed!

When I have more time, I’ll compile the White Oleanders and Kicks.

On Editing as Improvisation, a review

Posted in Moments of Clarity, The Literateria with tags , , , , , , , , , on 11/30/2015 by Janet Fitch

I can’t stop thinking about a book I read this summer, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch, especially the portion on revision. In honor of all the writers editing their work this winter, I wanted to share this wonderful book with you, specifically about its treatment of the revision process.  Good luck to all of you, I wish you good editing!

The right book at the right time saves lives, and man, you can say that about Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch

The thing about play in art, is it’s a sign of strength to spare, wind to spare, like someone running a marathon who breaks out into a pirouette. Sometimes working on a long project, the task just seems monstrous–like trying to build a gothic cathedral all by yourself. This book is a reminder, for a writer in long form, that it’s not stone on stone, a heavy, exhausting thing. That play, like the free jazz that the violinist author Nachmanovitch loves, makes heavy work light. That there are other ways to solve problems, other ways to approach the page, and that improvisation, the lightness of it, the in-the-momentness of its playfulness, IS the ‘air that falls through the net’ that Neruda describes.

Here’s my favorite part — on editing.

“In producing large works… we are perforce taking the results of many inspirations and melding them together into a flowing structure that has its own integrity and endures through time…. We arrange them, cook them, render them down,digest them. We add, subtract, reframe, shift, break part, melt together. The play of revision and editing transforms the raw into the cooked. This is a whole art unto itself, of vision and revision, playing again with the half-baked products of our prior play. …

“Editing must come from the same inspired joy and abandon as free improvisation…. There is a stereotyped belief that the muse in us acts from inspiration, while the editor in us acts from reason and judgment. But if we leave our imp or improviser out of the process, re-vision becomes impossible. If I see the paragraph I wrote last month as mere words on a page, they become dead and so do I…

“Some elements of artistic editing:1. deep feeling for the intentions beneath the surface; 2. sensual love of the language; 3. sense of elegance; and 4. ruthlessness. The first three can perhaps be summarized under the category of good taste, which involves sensation, sense of balance and knowledge of the medium, leavened with an appropriate sense of outrageousness….”

I will definitely put Free Play on the shelf right next to The Art Spirit within arm’s reach of my writing desk, to remind me about the air that falls through the net. I can’t be reminded of it enough.

 This review of Free Play  first appeared on my goodreads page. 

On “Aging Badly”

Posted in Moments of Clarity with tags , , , , on 11/23/2015 by Janet Fitch

I don’t normally click on tantalizing celebrity gossip presented by sites bearing the titles ‘BoredomRUs’ or ‘LookatME’, but I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and, recently having had a rather large birthday myself, I found myself entering a site portaled by a figure of a fleshy woman in a tiny red white and blue flag bikini. “Celebrities who have Aged Horribly.”

It wasn’t so much that I wanted to know who has aged horribly, so much as wanting to see what time has done with figures familiar to me from younger times in my own life, as a gauge to my own process. Probably that’s why most people want to see things like this–not to think, egad! What a mess!  (Although maybe some people do, schadenfreudenly.)

Most, I think want to simply explore the question–how do we age?

The funny thing about this photo essay,  is that the celebrities in question haven’t aged horribly at all. They have simply aged.

Gotten fatter, or smiled less. Some caught without makeup. All three is the best–like Kristie Alley,  shown flipping off a photographer in her stout fifties.

And I realized what I was seeing here wasn’t ‘celebrities aging horribly’, it was celebrity culture’s terror of time, horror of being part of a natural process. This used to be called narcissistic terror, but even the term narcissistic has gone into a new phase–like ‘privacy’, for the opposite reason–narcissism having become invisible because near universal.

Oh, the narcissistic terror of the people who put this little slideshow together!  ‘My god, she’s not as cute as she was at 20!’ How could she let herself go like that?

I must admit, I got a good long laugh, scrolling through these before and after pictures, hearing myself say, “Yep, she got older.”  “Yeah, he put on weight.”  “Even a good-looking seventy year old looks like seventy without makeup.” Keith Richards?  I mean, the  man’s a poster-boy for the fully-lived life. Kate Moss? Wrinkles when she smiles! Brigitte Bardot??  Give the woman a break. Kittens become cats.

You can’t freeze yourself like an embryo, kids.  I hate to scare anyone, but this is what happens if you’re lucky enough to stick around. You change. But change is not an emergency, it is not a failure.

One sub-theme did emerge though, perhaps the opposite one intended by these terrified narcissists. The harder certain of these celebrities tried to surgically stave off the effects of time in the body–which is life itself, after all–the stranger and more grotesque they looked.

I never did see the chick in the red white and blue bikini, but she actually looked like she was having a good time.  Certainly better than the anorexic, anxious, age-shaming person who assembled this slideshow. When I was done scrolling, I felt surprisingly happy. ‘Aging Badly’ turns out to be just aging. You don’t have to fight it, you don’t have to do a thing about it. You want to feel good, keep calm and live your life. Nobody gets a  grade on this.

A Night with Patti Smith

Posted in Moments of Clarity, The Literateria with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 11/17/2015 by Janet Fitch

I can’t get enough of Patti Smith. Not since first seeing her in Portland Oregon in 1979, an artist I’d never heard of, but the ticket was $2, so why not? She took the stage, in an old theater–this skinny… boy? girl? in white shirt and necktie. She began, in a voice that was both gravelly and breathy, very very slowly: Jesus died… for Somebody’s sins… BUT– NOT –MINE! she screamed.  The audience went nuts. I went nuts.  My sins, they belong to me…. And then launched into the rock standard GLORIA–with the sexes remaining unchanged.  It was permanently mind-blowing.  My mind is still blown.  Like someone whacking the top of my head with a board.  Ever since, I’ve craved more–the music, the poetry,  the preacher-like gestures with those sensitive, little-tipped fingers–rising, hushing, reaching out. The power of her voice, her control of it, belting, murmuring. The rhythmic skeins of language–chants and incantations, true bardic rapture.  Her unabashed joy in art and in the things of the world, her sense of outrage, her sheer energy.

I have seen her turn gray, and sweeten with the years, a real surprise. Then her book, Just Kids, was published. It absolutely charmed me, a gorgeous recollection of how artists are made, that’s what got me about it, what commitment to art looks like,  the attitude of wonder and openness and goofiness and non-judgement–here’s my review of it on goodreads if you’re interested: Just Kids

A new book has now hit the bookstores, M Train, a dreamy memoir, and to celebrate, she came to LA and spoke at the Los Angeles Public Library Aloud series last night, in conversation with the novelist Jonathan Lethem. Of course I dumped everything to be there. I’d drive 100 miles just to hear how her mind works.  It’s so inspiring to see an artist who considers herself an artist. Who still has a creative vision as fresh as it had always been, whose layers of wisdom and experience manage not to rob her of her artistic vitality, her openness to the world–something I treasure more and more the older I get. How cheerful she is, unpretentious and direct, without any pose– unless naturalness itself is a pose, and if it is, it’s the best one to have.

The book sprang from a dream. She allowed one association to suggest the next, uninterrupted, and then explained that she edited it down and inserted small title heads so readers can rest and orient themselves, little ‘stations’ on the mental train… – Lots of pieces from her travels, photographs… I look forward to just spending time again inside her mind–that quick, broad, childlike, unjudgemental, alert, appreciative space.

Here are some notes from the evening I managed to jot down in the dark.

I learned that she works simultaneously on a number of books at once. “This was the first one to cross the finish line,” she joked.  She jokes a lot–I love the way she  takes her work very seriously, but not herself.  She spoke about her sense of responsibility to the reader, to the audience–“There was such responsibility in Just Kids–to chronology, and the people and the times.” To get it right. Where the new book is more a meditation, a dreamlike work.  She enjoyed writing M Train because it works associationally–didn’t have to be as responsible to truth and people in the outside world.

I liked hearing her talk about the difference between writing lyrics and writing poetry. She was talking about   a poem she wrote about Amy Winehouse and her death, which became a lyric to a song,  “This is the Girl.” She’d written it, and then her bass player shared a piece of music he’d written, and she realized that her poem would fit it perfectly. But the difference: “There’s a responsibility with a lyric, to others.” With a lyric, you have to think about the audience being able to understand you, follow you, it also has to not  violate the mood of the music.  “But with a poem, the responsibility is to the poem itself.  There are a lot of different sensations encoded in poetic language. Your blinders are on this way”–she held her hands up in front of her eyes–“in, towards the work.” The poet’s task is not to explain or make clear to the outside world, but to speak to the work, to deepen within the poem, a very intimate thing.

A lot of her musical work is improvised, a process that fascinates me, part of that shamanic element of her poetry. It often starts with a riff from the musicians, like  in Radio Ethiopia, or that incredible run in Birdland, about Wilhelm Reich and his son Peter, one of my all-time favorites. The musician starts, and then she mprovises language out of that, around that, a real bardic trance.

Great questions from the audience. Here were a few of them:

An audience member, an actor and writer, asked her about how to find/define success.  She said, “My definition of success is doing something really good. That you can read again and know it’s good. even if it doesnt get published or anything, even if nobody else sees it, I’ll read it and go, man, that was good!”    Not numbers or sales or followers, image etc. Just to do good work. “How it transformed other people, that’s another way.” Its contribution to the conversation.   And simply accepting that she’s an artist who does work across genres–“I always wanted to be Joan Mitchell. I saw her sitting in front of a big canvas in a film once, and she’s smoking and she said, ‘I’m a painter. That’s what I do.'”  But Smith’s been a poet, writer, musician, performer, mother, wife, all of those creative parts.

There were lots of references to films and other poets and writers. She lives in a cultural world, everything from Funny Face–‘that’s who I wanted to be, Audrey Hepburn in her little beatnik pants, working in a bookstore.’ to Rimbaud, Nina Simone, Blake,  Moby Dick–“I read it when I was about 13–but I skipped the whaling chapter.  I was a good reader but I’m a girl, and I skipped the whaling.”

About gender: “I staked the right not to have to be fettered by gender.”

One audience member asked her what she would recommend for reading material for juvenile offenders who are looking at long sentences. She said, “Who’s to say.  Depends on their reading level. With one you could give them the Glass Bead Game, with another it’s comic books.  The one thing that can’t be incarcerated is your imagination.  Genet was in jail at 14, and read Proust. It changed his life.  Who’s to say that a little thug like that shouldn’t read Proust. I think we should widen the choices of prison libraries.”

On the subject of responsibility, an audience member asked about writing non-fiction, ‘what if you’re writing about someone very close to you, who would be hurt…’ a question frequently asked of memoir writers.  Smith surprised us by saying that you have a responsibility to the living breathing people around you… that in Just Kids–full of real people. She felt a responsibility not to hurt anybody, even the ones who–she didn’t even say hurt her, she looked for a kind way to say it ‘weren’t that careful with me.’ “Books last a long time.  I think you should be careful with people in print. It’s up to you, but that’s what I did.”

“I’m not afraid to look uncool.” What I like best about Patti Smith is her absolute lack of cynicism, of irony, of beentheredonethat.  Her direct apprehension of reality, her mixture of air and earth–her emergence as the quintessential American artist. I left there inspired in about nine different ways. THIS is how to be an artist. THIS is how to age–joyfully.

Three Readings, One Week

Posted in Moments of Clarity with tags , , , , , on 10/20/2015 by Janet Fitch

An embarrassment of riches– three readings this week!

Wednesday night, October 21st, at the LA Lit Crawl in North Hollywood.  I’ll be reading with ‘Literary Locavore’ in celebration of Literature for Life, where I’m going to read from my YA Novel KICKS for the first time in 20 years. Reading with Andrew John Nicholls, Susan Straight, Jervey Tervalon and six others, at Skynny Kitchen, 8 p.m. Lit Crawl NoHo is an incredible evening, forty events all in walking distance–we’ll be reading after the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. 

 Saturday Night, October 24th, I’ll be reading something dramatically different, with two remarkable poets, the mysterious Beau Sia and the charismatic Derrick Brown at The Best Poetry Hour, 8 p.m., Art Share LA (801 E.4th Street, Downtown LA) https://www.facebook.com/events/778982138893922/

 Sunday Evening, October 25th. An extremely rare appearance with ALL the members of my own writing group!  Yes, the dashing David Francis, the ferocious Rita Williams and the elusive Julianne Cohen, and me–on stage together.  Don’t miss it!  Certain family resemblances may become evident.  at Tongue & Groove, Hotel Cafe, Hollywood.
https://www.facebook.com/events/405324176331214/

Interview, Summer 2015

Posted in Moments of Clarity with tags , , , , , , , , , on 10/13/2015 by Janet Fitch

Fabulous interview with Kate Gale, at the AROHO (A Room of Her Own) writing retreat in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, summer 2015.   So many astute questions here–talked about writing, literary forebears, thoughts on mentorship and a woman’s voice, my own literary project and the special problems of writing the historical novel.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ev02ic3rgbgwh0i/KateJanet.mp4?dl=0

Bubbles and Me

Posted in The Word: Stories with tags , , , , , , on 10/06/2015 by Janet Fitch

The Word: GLOVE

Anna sat at the bar of the Hyatt Atlanta, the site this year of AWP, with Scott Fender and Aly Cole. Talking about Old Times, when the three of them shared a house in Iowa—that dump–writing, critiquing each other’s work, partying it up. Her old pals joked and laughed, but she could see,behind their eyes, they were searching her for the old Anna, the fat girl, life of the party. The last one off the dance floor, the one who brought the pot, the Jack Daniels. They’d been hand in glove in those days, Anna’s door always open, her big bed always ready for a sprawl and a pow-wow, a double feature on her old TV. That was who they missed. The fat funny self-deprecating Anna, who was fun for everyone but herself.

All the fallen faces, they were trying so hard to look happy for her.  Here came one more, Laurel Chapman, standing in the entryway, squinting–she had always been slightly nearsighted–not sure if it was Anna at all. Anna turned on her barstool, all legs in her wrap dress, and caught Laurel’s eye. Yes, it’s me, her nod said. “Hello, Gorgeous!” Laurel said, rushing over.

Anna stiffened as Laurel hugged her, and she could see Laurel’s confusion. She wasn’t that big soft girl anymore, the big breasts, the big stomach, the big arms. Her arms had grown strong and lean now, her stomach non-existent. She taught at Boulder, where she had begun to climb, and mountain bike. She had gone from 185 to 124 and she could see Laurel’s disappointment, that her hug was no longer like a golden retriever slobbering all over you. She was not ‘doing’ that Anna anymore and they were all disoriented. What happened to the sidekick, the best friend, the life of the party?

Anna got the bartender’s attention right away– the boy disregarded the sea of writing profs and authors and came right to her. “My friend will have a margarita–salt, rocks. Right?”

Laurel grinned, appreciating that at least Anna remembered that much. Then her old roommate noticed that Anna herself was drinking a martini up with a twist. All that cold snowy clearness.

“So what have you been up to?” Laurel asked. But Anna knew what she was asking–What happened to you?

“She moved to Boulder,” Aly said.

“Climbing, kayaking,” sighed Scott.

“Holy shit,” Laurel said. “You look like that actress, do people ever tell you that, the one that married to Warren Beatty—“

“Anita Benning,” Aly said.

“Annette,” said Scott.

“Have you always been like, this closet athlete?” Laurel asked.

“The Anna I knew would have shit bricks if she’d had to carry a box upstairs,” Scott said.

All of them drinking margaritas, the drink Anna had introduced them to in grad school, because she was from California. Margaritas and guacamole. They were disappointed that she hadn’t stayed there with them.

“Do you still have that bong? That looked like Bubbles in 1000 Clowns?” Laurel asked, really asking Are you still smoking pot? Do you still party? Do you still get drunk and lurch around with your blouse undone? Are you still the laughing stock of Ames Iowa? Oh, we had such good times when you were such a mess. Aly loved her then, because she’d looked so good by comparison. Laurel too. So great to have someone who was never going to get picked, except sloppy seconds, or thirds.

Now she didn’t care if people liked her. She didn’t have to work at being this loveable fun gal anymore.

“I heard you have Dorna Palermo at Boulder this semester,” Scott said.

“Did you read her last book?” Anna said, squeezing the lemon peel of her martini around the rim of the glass. “What a piece of sentimental crap,”

He looked crushed, his stubbly beard, his watery blue-green eyes. “You always liked Dorna Palermo.”

“A burned out piece of shit with a bad perm,” she said.

The way they looked at her. Hadn’t she always said what she thought of people?

“They’re paying sixty grand for the residency. Hey, pay me sixty for a term of doing nothing, I’d at least sleep with the students.”

Scott laughed but the two other women didn’t. They just stared at her—what were they objecting to, her mentioning money? God forbid! Or offering to sleep with the students. Who were way cuter than they had been at Iowa.

“She won a National Book Award,” Aly argued.

“All that aged goldbricker does is drink, and she doesn’t even shtup the students. They’re very disappointed.”

But it was her friends who were disappointed. They missed parking her at the bar and going off with some adjunct faculty from Bennington. She had dropped sixty pounds, stopped performing. The Anna who wanted you to like her had died. And this was the one who was left. The one who didn’t have to sing for her supper.

And this was who she’d been all the while.

The bartender was flirting with her.

“Are you liking Colorado?” Laurel asked.

“Saved my life,” Anna said. She noticed that Laurel was putting on a few pounds. Maybe she would send her Bubble.   Like passing on the torch.

Part of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 

Next week’s word is: TORCH

 

 

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