inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #76 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Fri 18 Dec 09 08:57
    
Phil, yes, eden ahbez (an anti-initial-caps kind of guy) wrote "Nature
Boy." Let's print the legend, though I believe it's been somewhat
embellished: a displaced kid from the Lower East Side in the 1930s,
eden walked across the country a few times before settling in LA, where
he joined up with some longhaired proto-hippie health nuts -- heirs to
the German naturmensch tradition. These guys hung out in the canyons
outside of town, bodybuilding (with rocks as weights) and living off
fruit from the trees. They included Gypsy Boots, who in the '50s owned
Gypsy's Health Hut on Beverly Blvd. and occasionally went on the Steve
Allen show and made Steve drink carrot juice. 

eden and his wife and kid were camping out under the Hollywood sign
when he wrote "Nature Boy" and got it to Nat King Cole, who had a huge
hit with it. It later turned out that the melody was a Yiddish tune
eden had internalized as a kid in NY, so he had to split royalties with
the composer, but his end was enough for him to build his family a
house in a remote canyon and live there till his death in 1995.

(He ventured into LA occasionally in the 60s to record some trippy
spoken-word albums -- recently reissued -- and be a bit of a mentor to
Brian Wilson.)
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #77 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Fri 18 Dec 09 09:06
    
Phil, I read "The Road to Wellville" when it came out and thought it
was terrific. I'm into different territory with my book, but I admire
that one a lot. (I remember one edition came out packed in a cereal
box, which was very cool.)

Sharon, I haven't seen the movie but will rent it.

Gary, thanks so much for buying the book, and I look forward to having
you in the conversation! I don't know the Ruhl play, but will read it
when it's published.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #78 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Fri 18 Dec 09 09:09
    
Ed, thanks for those kind words about the mix tape -- great to have an
actual music critic smile on it. I used some of those songs as aids in
the writing, and it was a lot of fun to fill out the list. I was very
happy to hear that one reader pulled the tracks together and made a CD
for her husband... the kind of thing a boy writer dreams of.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #79 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 18 Dec 09 10:32
    
I didn't say I wanted to *listen* to it, just that it was a good idea!

I just had a little correspondence with a friend in LA who was
*astonished* nobody wanted his cowboy-detective first novel. I told him
it was harder than hell to publish a first novel these days. But once
you get it published, you have to promote it, and I'm tired of hearing
from my friends "They did nothing -- *nothing* -- to promote it!" Well,
no. They don't do that any more. That's why you've got to hire a
publicist. I know you've done some bookstore readings and something
called a "Literary Death Match." How have you been promoting The
Enthusiast?
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #80 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Fri 18 Dec 09 11:02
    
To be frank: I have no expectations of getting rich or famous from
this book, and that's not why I wrote it. I've been more than
compensated by people's responses -- e.g., readers tracking me down via
Facebook and Twitter to tell me they liked it.

That having been said, the answer to the question

> How have you been promoting The Enthusiast?

is: "Desperately."

My agent warned me that the publisher probably wouldn't do much for a
a first novel they hadn't paid (anything like) $1,000,000 for. To
HarperCollins' credit, they did some very nice things (like getting me
good bookstore readings) and some inventive ones (like sending the book
to craft and hobby bloggers, who gave us some nice reviews).

But basically I hustled a lot for the better part of a year, and took
several people's advice: "Say yes to EVERYTHING you're offered."

I made house calls to reading groups (a lot of fun -- good questions,
good snacks). I did Literary Death Match, which was a lot of fun too,
although I'm sure I'm the oldest person who's ever done it.

LDM, which has been presented in bars all over the world by the very
good Brooklyn lit mag Opium (see www.literarydeathmatch.com) is a
read-off with sardonic judging, an appreciative drinking audience, and
a non-literary final round that changes each time (e.g., which author
makes the best fruit smoothie?). 

For an account (and video) of my LDM evening, see
http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-24149-SF-Literary-Culture-Examiner~y2009m11

d15-Literary-Death-Match-wins .

I didn't hire a publicist, but I did kind of become one -- many hours
of guest-blogging, addressing postcards to get people to readings, etc.


To the degree that the book has gotten attention, it's due partly to
that and partly to the amazing amount of kindness I've run into. People
who like the book have gone out of their way to help it along. (Case
in point: David Gans instigating my appearance here.) I've been amazed
and moved by the help I've gotten.

Lest I get all weepy, let's turn to something that's funny as well as
pertinent: Ellis Weiner's recent New Yorker casual about book
marketing. It's funny because it's painfully true, and I've never seen
anything linked to by so many writers and publishing people:

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2009/10/19/091019sh_shouts_weiner

But also -- as Ed points out, it's extremely hard to publish a first
(or subsequent) novel these days, and I am mostly just very grateful.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #81 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 18 Dec 09 11:25
    
That URL might come through easier with brackets:

<http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-24149-SF-Literary-Culture-Examiner~y2009m11
d15-Literary-Death-Match-wins>

You mentioned that one of the big questions people ask you is why
Henry left his gig at Cozy, the weird high-dollar tea appreciator's
magazine whose fans include a Bob Dylan-ish songwriter and a lot of
muckety-mucks in the art world, and I've been puzzled by that, too.
Clearly the couple running the magazine need someone who's
professional, and it seemed to me the atmosphere there could turn into
something one could just tune out when crunch time came. Why *did* he
leave, or was this just one of those things that I've encountered while
writing fiction where the character tells you what he's going to do
and then you just have to figure it out yourself?
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #82 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Fri 18 Dec 09 12:03
    
I did leave some daylight there for the reader's interpretation. I'm
of the school of thought that a reader completes the book by bringing
his or her perspective to it, and I feel like my reason for Henry
leaving that job is not necessarily truer than yours. 

But here's what I think: Cozy is different from Henry's other jobs,
and it's a crucial passage in his development. He's not the kind of guy
who's going to run off to a Buddhist monastery for a few chapters,
even after Jillian turns him down by the river. But at Cozy he's
exposed to a kind of livable spirituality: aesthetics, compassion,
digging the everyday. Richard and Agnes are useful teachers by example.

And then the question is -- can you stay with it, or does it bring up
your sense of your own limitations and scare you off? I think Henry
kind of feels like he's "getting it" till he has that failed visit with
Gerald in New York. That's a very common experience -- you feel you're
making progress with this life stuff, and then -- guess what! I'm
still a mess! And off he goes to the most familiar kind of job, the
wakeboarding magazine.

A key line in there comes in the scene with Wendy Probst: "I was
feeling like I’d blundered in with a race of people who actually had
something to offer, and sooner or later they’d wonder what I was doing
there." Feeling like you have nothing to offer is a very rough gig.

But I don't think Henry gets to be who he is at the end of the book
without meeting Richard and Agnes along the way. In a way, he and Patti
kind of exit the book on their way to being a bit like Richard and
Agnes. So the Cozy chapter gives us a little of that fantasy of meeting
your past/future self.

The other thing about that chapter -- it does zip for the plot but a
lot for the story. People got me to cut a lot of other chapters, but no
one ever laid a hand on that one, which made me happy.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #83 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 18 Dec 09 12:06
    
It could be twisted and re-jiggered into a stand-alone short story, I
think. 
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #84 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Fri 18 Dec 09 12:28
    
Thanks for saying so. I did that with the "Spelunk" chapter and was
happy to get it into Narrative Magazine: <http://bit.ly/XKzEx> .
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #85 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Sat 19 Dec 09 14:15
    
A brief news flash: I just saw that "The Enthusiast" is on the SF
Chronicle's "50 Notables" list for 2009. I'm amazed & happy.
<http://bit.ly/5S8R1H>
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #86 of 142: David Gans (tnf) Sat 19 Dec 09 19:56
    
Congratulations, Charlie.  You certainly deserve it!
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #87 of 142: (fom) Sun 20 Dec 09 00:03
    
I can't believe I missed the announcement of this topic -- or was it 
announced? 

I bought The Enthusiast at a reading when it came out, and read it 
immediately and loved it. I've been rereading favorite bits since then, 
but reading this topic has convinced me to start at the beginning and read 
it through again.

It might be my favorite novel ever. I have given it as a gift, and plan 
to buy a few copies this week for holiday gifts. I am an old Charlie Haas 
fan from New West days; am so looking forward to the next novel. The 
Enthusiast got me back into reading fiction -- I think I've read more 
novels this year than I have since the sixties.

I have some questions, but I have to go back to the book to get them 
right.

(Also: capt, you're doing a great job interviewing. Asking really 
excellent questions.)
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #88 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Sun 20 Dec 09 10:26
    
fom, thank you so much! Looking forward to your questions.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #89 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Sun 20 Dec 09 10:53
    
And while we're waiting, I'll ask another. 

These towns, "Claytons," that Henry feels so warmly about, I'd really
like to believe they exist, but...I wonder. One of my oldest friends,
Terry Byrnes, has spent 40 years documenting Springfield, Ohio, and at
long last has, I believe, decided it's time to organize it and put the
work out there. The photographs are devastating; this is a town which
once had charm, had the (yes!) Buffalo Springfield steam-roller factory
and other industry, and has all the faded glory of Henry's Claytons,
but none of the upswing. 

If anyone is curious, some of Springfield: The End of the American
Road is up here: <terencebyrnes.com/Springfield.html>. (WARNING: This
has blown up my browser, Safari, a number of times, and I have written
to find out what's up with that, but do look if you can). The show will
premiere in Hamilton, Ontario, on Jan. 30.

It could be because I've spent time in Springfield, but I think there
are probably lots more Springfields than Claytons. I'd like to believe
otherwise -- and I'd like your possible help in believing that. 
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #90 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Sun 20 Dec 09 15:47
    
Absolutely, the towns on the upswing don't grow on trees, but upswing
isn't a precondition for Clayton status, just something Henry sees
going on "in a few Claytons." When I was writing and imagining Clayton,
I thought of places like Galesburg, Ill., and Bozeman, Montana -- the
comfortable size, the old railroad switching yards and fading hotels.
Since writing, I see Clayton-like details when I'm in old California
downtowns like Salinas and Fresno.

Oakland, Ca., where I've lived for a long time now, is too big to be
tertiary, but it does have some Clayton to it. A few construction booms
passed the city by, and a lot of mid-20th C. architectural ornament
that would have been torn down elsewhere has been left standing. A walk
around the eastern side of downtown is a sweet nostalgia trip --
friezes, parapets, elevators with accordion gates, and so on. I wrote a
piece about this for Oakland Magazine: 

<http://www.oaklandmagazine.com/media/Oakland-Magazine/May-June-2009/Im-From-Th
ere/>


I think there are a lot of blocks here that would appeal to Ben
Katchor's wonderful character Julius Knipl. Alameda, nearby, has some
of the same feeling and a size truer to Clayton. 

But, as you suggest, it's not easy to find a first-rate Clayton. Or to
forgive the malls.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #91 of 142: David Gans (tnf) Sun 20 Dec 09 15:50
    

In my travels as an itinerant musician I find myself in some pretty sad
little towns, many of which have decrepit ex-dwntowns and sad, bleak
Wal*Marts near the highway.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #92 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Sun 20 Dec 09 15:54
    <scribbled by captward Mon 21 Dec 09 01:28>
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #93 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Mon 21 Dec 09 01:28
    
Yeah, but thanks for awakening the thought that Henry and Julius Knipl
have something in common.

(Scribbled for typo). 
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #94 of 142: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Tue 22 Dec 09 12:32
    
Charlie, I'm about halfway through and really liking this novel. I
love the straightforward narrative style--it makes the outlandishness
and poignance of the story shine all the more. I can see the Elkin
influence, not in the language, which is sort of anti-Elkin in its
simplicity, but in the bizarre characters who are still somehow
plausible and moving. That little bit about the lady with teh grotesque
crochet work was really something--just a couple of pages of pure
wallop. Looking forward to more.

The Elkin book it's reminding me of most is the Dick Gibson show,
another novel about an itinerant media type.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #95 of 142: Gail (gail) Tue 22 Dec 09 15:00
    
I have a question when you have a sec.  Audio books!  Have you, would
you, do you plan to record an audio version?
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #96 of 142: David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 22 Dec 09 15:20
    
Charlie--along the lines of the books others recommended that might be
Venn-diagrammable with your work-in-progress: Keith Maillard's novels,
in particular his "Difficulty At the Beginning" quartet. If you can't
find 'em, I'll lend them to you. Coming to Oakland in three days...
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #97 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Tue 22 Dec 09 15:24
    
Gary, thanks so much -- glad you're liking it. Yes, I think "The Dick
Gibson Show" and "The Franchiser" both have their fingerprints on my
book, though I'm also glad you think the sound is different from
Elkin's. Being influenced by his ideas is plenty, and I don't think
anyone could do his sound the way he did.

Gail, thanks for asking that about audio books. I've been asked that
at several readings, since my reading style is a little bit show biz
and people say they'd like to have it on audio.

(A short sample:
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBB8o7pvUcw&feature=related> )

My guess is that an audio book is unlikely, since Harper controls
those rights on the one hand and doesn't do audio books except for big
sellers on the other. However, let me ask my editor if she thinks
there's any chance of it, and I'll get back to you. Thank you for the
thought.
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #98 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Tue 22 Dec 09 15:27
    
David, I don't know Maillard's work, would love to be introduced to
it, and would especially love to see you if our schedules mesh. Will
contact you via Facebook. Thanks!
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #99 of 142: Ed Ward (captward) Tue 22 Dec 09 15:53
    
Interesting about the audio books. A friend of mine asked if The
Enthusiast is on Kindle. Is it? You tried one of those there
contraptions? If so, what do you think? If not, what do you think?
  
inkwell.vue.371 : Charlie Haas, The Enthusiast
permalink #100 of 142: Charlie Haas (charliehaas) Tue 22 Dec 09 16:33
    
I've e-mailed my ed. to ask about the audio book issue, but Harper is
shut for the holidays -- I should hear back from her when they get
back. Maybe an audio book could be done with a third-party
distributor...

The Enthusiast is indeed on Kindle, and other e-book formats besides.
Thanks for asking.

I haven't tried the Kindle myself. People I know who have them like
them a lot, although they complain about the lack of page numbers,
which I think would be pretty annoying. 

I know little about these things, but it seems like the Kindle, Nook,
Sony Reader, etc. (and iPhone reading apps such as Stanza) could be
clues to the future. For one thing, the business model of physical book
retail is, very sadly, failing for a lot of bookstores and publishers.
For another thing, the e-book is made to order for those chain-readers
of romances and other genre literature who go through a few books a
week -- a sizable market.

People in publishing are alarmed by the Kindle because if it becomes
very popular, it may eventually enable Amazon to dictate pricing,
margins, and other terms. On the other hand, people in publishing who
have to take 10 manuscripts home on the weekend love their 2-pound
gadgets.

Me, I hate to see bookstores close, and I fear the Kindle for that
reason. And I like books physically, a lot. I don't plan to buy one
until and unless it becomes the only way to read the newspaper.
  

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