Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Writing a Novel: Truth in Fiction

Joseph ConradImage via Wikipedia
When we write a novel or even a short story, first we must recognize that we are creating a universe, a world, a reality, which in due course we fill with flora, fauna, and characters.

Authors would love nothing better than to make this parallel universe a credible one so as to give readers the excitement and the aesthetic pleasure they deserve for the price of the book. More than a contract, this relationship between author and reader is a covenant, which is another form of contract, but a contract based on faith.

Joseph Conrad —a Polish author who wrote in his second language, English, landmark novels such as Heart of Darkness and Nostromo— in his Preface to Within the Tides (1915), says:
The problem was to make unfamiliar things credible. To do that I had to create for them, to reproduce for them, to envelop them in their proper atmosphere of actuality. This was the hardest task of all and the most important, in view of that con¬scientious rendering of truth in thought and fact which has always been my aim.
Since an author’s experience is limited, regardless of the author’s sophistication, education, and travelling, that vacuum has to be filled by the imagination. When I hear people say, or read in articles and journals: “Write about what you know,” I cringe. What we consider literature doesn’t emanate from experience but from the imagination. Cervantes never saw one single knight errant, yet he went on to create the most fantastic parallel universe, a universe in which he made “the unfamiliar things credible.”

Likewise, Shakespeare didn’t meet historical figures, and much less was he acquainted with princes, kings, and nobility. Yet, his pen wasn’t limited to just what he knew—his personal experience.

And what is one to say about entire genres such as science fiction and vampire lore? Do these authors write from experience and about what they know?

Not by experience alone does man live, but by the imagination also. Because master writers understand this point, they become masters of creation and in that effort they achieve verisimilitude—or, “rendering of truth in thought and fact,” as Joseph Conrad put it.





Saturday, November 27, 2010

Writing Fiction Tips: Henry Fielding The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) Book VIII, Chapter i.

Polyphemus pining for the nymph Galatea. Marbl...Image via WikipediaA CAUTION AGAINST THE SUPERNATURAL
... I think it may very reasonably be required of every writer, that he keeps within the bounds of possibility; and still remembers that what it is not possible for man to perform, it is scarce possible for man to believe he did perform. This conviction perhaps gave birth to many stories of the ancient heathen deities (for most of them are of poetical original). The poet, being desirous to indulge a wanton and extravagant imagination, took refuge in that power, of the extent of which his readers were no judges, or rather which they imagined to be infinite, and consequently they could not be shocked at any prodigies related of it.

This hath been strongly urged in defense of Homer's miracles; and it is perhaps a defense; not, as Mr. Pope would have it, because Ulysses told a set of foolish lies to the Phaeacians, who were a very dull nation; but because the poet himself wrote to heathens, to whom poetical fables were articles of faith. For my own part, I must confess, so compassionate is my temper, I wish Polyphemus had confined himself to his milk diet, and preserved his eye; nor could Ulysses be much more concerned than myself, when his companions were turned into swine by Circe, who showed, I think, afterward, too much regard for man's flesh to be supposed capable of converting it into bacon.

I wish, likewise, with all my heart, that Homer could have known the rule prescribed by Horace, to introduce supernatural agents as seldom as possible. We should not then have seen his gods coming on trivial errands, and often behaving themselves so as not only to forfeit all title to respect, but to become the objects of scorn and derision. A conduct which must have shocked the credulity of a pious and sagacious heathen; and which could never have been defended, unless by agreeing with a supposition to which I have sometimes almost inclined, that this most glorious poet, as he certainly was, had an intent to burlesque the superstitious faith of his own age and country.

But I have rested too long on a doctrine which can be of no use to a Christian writer; for as he cannot introduce into his works any of that heavenly host which make a part of his creed, so it is horrid puerility to search the heathen theology for any of those deities who have been long since dethroned from their immortality. Lord Shaftesbury observes that nothing is more cold than the invocation of a muse by a modem; he might have added, that nothing can be more absurd, A modem may with much more elegance invoke a ballad, as some have thought Homer did, or a mug of ale, with the author of Hudibras; which latter may perhaps have inspired more poetry, as well as prose, than all the liquors of Hippocrene or Helicon.

The only supernatural agents which can in any manner be allowed to us moderns, are ghosts; but of these I would advise an author to be extremely sparing. These are indeed, like arsenic, and other dangerous drugs in physic, to be used with the utmost caution; nor would I advise the introduction of them at all in those works, or by those authors, to which, or to whom, a horse-laugh in the reader would be any great prejudice or mortification.

As for elves and fairies, and other such mummery, I purposely omit the mention of them, as I should be very unwilling to confine within any bounds those surprising imaginations, for whose vast capacity the limits of human nature are too narrow; whose works are to be considered as a new creation; and who have consequently lust right to do what they wiIl with their own.

Man, therefore, is the highest subject (unless on. very extra¬ordinary occasions indeed) which presents itself to the pen of our historian, or of our poet; and in relating his actions, great care is to be taken that we do not exceed the capacity of the agent we describe.

Henry Fielding. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) Book VIII, Chapter i.

Many writing techniques of recognized novelists may be found in Mary Duffy's Toolbox for Writers.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Becoming a Writer: The Great Gatsby's Blueprint to Success and Wealth

The cover of the first edition of The Great Ga...Image via Wikipedia
Every time I read biographies, autobiographies, business management articles, journals, and textbooks, I never fail to notice one commonality among all successful people: they all set goals. Which tells me that all normal human beings do that --set goals-- every day; that they have a mental plan or a mental blueprint of what they will accomplish during the day, or in the short run.

One difference comes to mind: for the successful individuals, though, those goals that they set for themselves are for the short run and for the long run. And they write those objectives down. Herein resides the secret of success, since plans, goals, and objectives not committed to writing are often nothing but dreams.

A written list will make you a doer, a mental list a wayward dreamer.

While many readers search for the Jay Gatsby's magic hidden formula for riches and success, I'm sure they simply gloss over Gatsby's schedule for self-improvement. But let's not be mistaken; therein we find the roots of his success.

Here's an exchange between Jay's father and Nick Carraway, the narrator:
Jay's father: "Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he's got about improving his mind? He was always great for that. He told me I et like a hog once and I beat him for it."
Nick observes: "He [Jay's father] was reluctant to close the book, reading each item aloud and then looking eagerly at me. I think he rather expected me to copy down the list for my own use."
Nick wasn't about to copy Gatsby's list down since he's already a formed man, well connected, Yale-educated, and born into wealth. Not a self-made man. For others, though, we can see that from an early age Jay Gatsby had contracted with himself to become a success.

Gatsby's schedule:
Rise from bed.................................................6.00.................A.M.
Dumbell exercise and wall-scaling...................6.15 - 6.30.........."
Study electricity, etc.......................................7.15 - 8.15.........."
Work.............................................................8.30 - 4.30........ P.M.
Baseball and sports........................................4.30 - 5.00.........."
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it...5.00 - 6.00.........."
Study needed inventions.................................7.00 - 9.00.........."

What can we learn from this schedule? We learn that he's an early riser; that he takes care of his body as well as his mind. What is poignant is that his vision of success included a persona or an image--a cultivated and well-poised image. As the story develops, we learn that he puts to use everything that he included in his schedule, from wall-scaling (maybe social climbing) to inventions, and baseball and sports.

His general resolves:
No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable].
No more smoking or chewing.
Bath every other day.
Read one improving book or magazine per week.
Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week.
Be better to parents.

Conclusion:
That Jay Gatsby set off on a quest to become rich, there's no doubt. That he achieved wealth by cutting corners and dubious business deals with shady figures, there's no doubt. The text is quite clear. The question that lingers is, would he have become successful without a written contract with himself? No architect, builder, or contractor would set off to build a house without the blueprints of the house. Success needs a blueprint.

Marciano Guerrero
Retired Investment Banker, Corporate Controller, graduate of Columbia University, and Vietnam Vet (1967-1968).
Mary Duffy's e-book contains all the writing techniques I use: http://sentenceopeners.com.
To read my book reviews of the Classics visit my blog: http://writingtolive.com.

How to Write Fiction: East of Tiffany's


To all my friends, and my Hispanic students: My short story "Mary Patricia and I" (from the collection East of Tiffany's) appears in Spanish in the newspaper El Comercio. LEA en ESPANOL!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Self Help

Friedman: social responsibility of business is...Image by ocean.flynn via Flickr
After a long (40 years), productive, and successful career in business, I now teach college. The articles that follow are all written from personal experience.



If you are interested in seeing how I achieved personal success in the United States, you may find my book of short stories East of Tiffany's interesting. Some of the stories are based on my life as an executive, investment banker, and financial adviser to wealthy investors in the East Side of Manhattan.
Close to half-million people have read East of Tiffany's so far. Order your copy from either Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.
Since English is my second language, Mary Duffy --a master of the English language-- aided me not only with the editing, but she also contributed her own stories. I love her writing in "When You Wish Upon a Star." This is a story based on a personal friend's life.


Senada Selmani, model

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Becoming a Writer: Hiruki Murakami and Leo Tosltoy

Jerusalem PrizeImage via WikipediaIn becoming a writer —particularly, a novelist— one has to be aware of a common sin among writers: excessive abstraction.

Let’s look at an example from Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. In a much celebrated and often acclaimed scene in which the protagonist, Toru Okada, goes into the dark well, we read:
I needed to calm myself and put my thoughts in order. Fear and panic would solve nothing. When had I last checked the ladder? Yesterday, late at night, just before I fell asleep. I had made certain it was there and only then let myself sleep. No mistake. The ladder had disappeared while I was sleeping. It had been pulled up. Taken away.
I no longer feel either terror of despair. Strangely enough, all I felt at that moment was a kind of resignation.
In my view, the scene lacks concrete objects for the reader to grab and apprehend and so feel the terror the character is experiencing. In the first sentence we find nothing concrete: ‘I needed to calm myself and put my thoughts in order,’ is a total abstraction. In fact, the only object with any physical substance in the entire scene is the ladder. Everything else is rhetorical abstraction.

This excessive abstraction mars the narration. And though the sentences are well stitched together, they don’t convey emotion.

Now let’s look at a passage from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (or Anna Karina):
At Petersburg, as soon as the train stopped and she got out, the first person that attracted her attention was her husband. “Oh, mercy! Why do his ears look like that?’ she thought, looking at his frigid and imposing figure, and especially the ears that struck her at the moment as propping up the brim of his round hat. Catching sight of her, he came to meet her, his lips falling into their habitual sarcastic smile, and his big, tired eyes looking straight at her.
To project the beginning of the deep dissatisfaction that Anna Karenina will develop for her husband, the author focuses not in abstractions, nor in emotional words, but in concrete words. First we find the train, and then the husband (or at least a human shape). Next, we find the ears, the brim of his hat, his lips, his sarcastic smile, ending the recounting with his tired eyes. Details and more details. Within this whirling of visual details, we find the abstraction ‘frigid and imposing figure.’ Everything else is a piling up of objects that the reader sees and through which we begin to see why Anna Karenina will eventually leave him.—her detested husband.

In my judgment it is far better to err on the side of excessive detail than on the side of excessive abstractions.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Becoming a Writer: Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson, Streatham, SW16Image by Ewan-M via Flickr
Samuel Johnson wrote in The Adventurer (No. 85. Tuesday, 28 August 1753):
To fix the thoughts by writing, and subject them to frequent examinations and reviews, is the best method of enabling the mind to detect its own sophism, and keep it on guard against the fallacies which it practices on others; in conversation we naturally diffuse our thoughts, and in writing we contract them; method is the excellence of writing, and unconstraint the grace of conversation.
When writing one has to be careful with our sentences as we lay them down since they will stand as mute testimony of our thinking, of our mind, of our personality. As Samuel Johnson says above, we must subject what we write to close examination, revise, check, and recheck to make sure that we don’t deceived ourselves or our readers.

For many years, I’ve made it a habit of not publishing anything ‘fresh off the press.’ That is, once I write an article I put it aside for a few days, and then, and only then I pick it up and revised it. Not only do I find grammatical, syntactical, and rhetorical errors, but also sophisms and fallacies.

How wise are Samuel Johnson’s words!

Conversation can be wide and deep as an ocean and as abundant in themes and topics as the flora and fauna that it contains. But in writing we can only deal but with a few selected topics. And as we write them we strive for precision and terseness. Prune we must.

“Method is the excellence of writing.” My method of waiting a few days for revision has served me well over the years, not because I can add new things, or embellish on what I wrote, but because as I revise, contract, and prune, I think of my readers: far be it from me to have my mind ‘practice fallacies’ on them.

When I read a mediocre book, to compensate for the bad time I pick up Samuel Johnson's Selected Essays and read one of them, and in no time I even out the bad with the good. Never have I been disappointed by any of his essays. What I like the most about this man is his total concern with ethical writing. And why not? A moral life is the road to happiness.

The only writing textbook I consult is Mary Duffy's e-book: Sentence Openers.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Writing Fiction Tips: Jane Austen and Rhetoric

Jane Austen and Rhetoric

Cover of "Sense & Sensibility (Special Ed...Cover of Sense & Sensibility (Special Edition)Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, Mary --one of the Bennet sisters and a pedant-- repeats words and opinions she draws from a book on rhetoric much in vogue then: Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric. Which shows that Jane Austen was a student of rhetoric.
In Sense and Sensibility we find some rhetorical figures:
Hyperbole is rhetorical exaggeration: "Mrs. Jennings was a widow, with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but to marry all the rest of the world."

With one hyperbolic statement, Mrs. Jennings has been characterized as an idle busybody.
Oxymoron is a logical contradiction:
"The sort of desperate calmness with which this was said…" And: "…unsettle the mind of Marianne and ruin at least for a time the fair prospect of busy tranquility."
 From Northanger Abbey:
"Catherine found Mrs Allen just returned from all the busy idleness of the morning, and was immediately  greeted with..."
Often an oxymoron is the result of careless writing, but in the case of Jane Austen, no one can accuse her of being a careless writer-quite the contrary. By using this rhetorical figure she achieves economy of words.
Zeugma: According to Mary Duffy's textbook  Toolbox for Writers, zeugma is a group of words governed by one dominant word; a rhetorical figure which is often used to inject humor.
In Sense and Sensibility we read:
"…in spite of its owner having once been within some thousand pounds of being obliged to sell out at a loss, nothing gave any symptom of that indigence which he had tried to infer from it; -no poverty of any kind, except conversation, appeared."
In the above passage, the dominant word is poverty, to which the writer attaches the secondary meaning: dull conversation.
From Northanger Abbey:
Miss Thorpe, however, being four years older than Miss Morland, and at least four years better informed, had a very decided advantage in discussing such points..."
Note how 'being' controls both ideas: being older and being better informed.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Amish Hackers Tell All

Traffic sign alerting drivers for Amish Buggie...Image via WikipediaWilliam Zbaren for The New York Times Low tech? An Amish buggy in Shipshewana, Ind.
Last week, the techies were out in force when Kevin Kelly — a founding editor of Wired and currently the magazine’s “chief maverick” — came to the New York Public Library to talk about his new book, “What Technology Wants.” (See video of the event here.)  There were plenty of smart phones and iPads in the audience, but the thing I was really looking for was some Amish beards. Beards? Yes. As Kelly’s book reveals, he is that rare high-technologist to engage with America’s most famous community of Luddites.
Except that the Amish aren’t Luddites at all, or at least not according to Kelly. In a fascinating chapter of “What Technology Wants” (to be reviewed in the Nov. 7 Book Review) called “Lessons of Amish Hackers,” Kelly pokes his head into the barns of Lancaster County and finds a lot of very weird machines, as well as a highly deliberate approach to technology that has a lot to teach the rest of us about how to get along better with our own proliferating gadgets.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Footlights and Footnotes: Sondheim's 'Finishing the Hat'

Toward the end of his 1997 book, “The Footnote,” the historian Anthony Grafton wrote:

Sadly, the footnote’s rise to the status of a standard scholarly tool has been accompanied — in many cases — by its stylistic decline to a list of highly abbreviated archival citations. … Footnotes flourished most brightly in the 18th century, when they served to comment ironically on the narrative in the text as well as to support its veracity. In the 19th century, they lost the prominent role of the tragic chorus. Like so many Carmens, they found themselves reduced to laborers and confined to a vast, dirty factory. What began as art became, inevitably, routine.

There’s nothing routine about the footnotes in Stephen Sondheim’s new book, “Finishing the Hat,” which are as enjoyable and enlightening as the text itself. Here’s an early one:

Despite his influence on my life, Oscar Hammerstein II is not my idol. For those who know that he was an artistic father to me as well as a personal substitute for a real one during my teen years, this disapproving heresy, and others to follow, may come as something of a seismic shock. But the truth is that in Hammerstein’s shows, for all their revolutionary impact, the characters are not much more than collections of characteristics — verbal tics and quirks, like Southern accents or bad grammar, which individualize a character only the way a black hat signifies a villain — and his lyrics reflect that naïveté. Refining his innovations was left to my generation, and a lot of us went at it with a will. Songwriters like Kander and Ebb, Bock and Harnick, Strouse and Adams — we all explored the new territory with playwrights who happily accepted the notion that musicals could be more than constructs of block comedy scenes and novelty songs leavened by the occasional ballad, or lightly cynical cartoon shows like “Of Thee I Sing” and “Pal Joey.” Thus “Cabaret,” “She Loves Me,” “West Side Story,” etc.

By the way, in his review of “Finishing the Hat,” Paul Simon says: “A scene for ‘Gypsy’ originally meant to be choreographed by Jerome Robbins had to be redone when Robbins said he didn’t have time to do it balletically. The plot information would have to come in the form of a song.” Sondheim and Robbins, Simon adds, “worked for three uninterrupted hours and produced what would become the showstopper ‘Rose’s Turn.’” That showstopper, of course, was written for the doyenne of musical comedies. As Sondheim writes, “How Jerry intended to use Ethel Merman in a ballet is something we’ll never know, I’m sorry to say.”


View the original article here

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jimi Hendrix, Innocence and Experience

A publicity photo for Curtis Knight and the Squires, 1965.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; from “Becoming Jimi Hendrix” Jimi Hendrix, in a publicity photo for Curtis Knight and the Squires, 1965. More Photographs »

I suppose I always imagined that Jimi Hendrix sprang directly from the head of a particularly freaky hippie Zeus, but Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber set me straight. Their book, “Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius” — reviewed in this Sunday’s issue by David Kirby — mostly ignores Hendrix’s days as a superstar to trace his improbable rhythm-and-blues rise, on the road with groups like Hank Ballard’s Midnighters, the Bonnevilles, Curtis Knight and the Squires, the Isley Brothers and the Tams. Hendrix got fired a lot. “He couldn’t play the music right,” a fellow guitarist explained.

It’s a fascinating book for the story it tells, but I would pay the cover price just for its amazing photographs, a sampling of which you can see in this slide show. I’m going to pin them on a wall somewhere.


View the original article here

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Memories of Vargas Llosa by Eric Lichtblau (Llosavargas)

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 07:  Peruvian writer Mario ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeSyracuse University Mario Vargas Llosa, center, in Syracuse in 1988, with Myron I. Lichtblau, left.
When word came last week that the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, it brought me back to a small, sun-splashed office with centuries-old books lining pine shelves and a papier mâché pencil holder, the words “Happy Father’s Day” scribbled on it, sitting on the desk. That was my father’s office in our home in the suburbs of Syracuse, and it was there that my father, hunched over an old cassette player for weeks and months, became Vargas Llosa’s accidental autobiographer.

Junot Díaz's Run, Don't WalkBooks

Junot Díaz was here for an event at The Times last night, and in the course of the evening he rattled off the names of several authors and books that have greatly influenced his work — or simply flat-out floored him. Among them: “Family Installments: Memories of Growing Up Hispanic,” by Edward Rivera, a 1982 memoir “noisily brimming with life,” as Phillip Lopate described it in the Book Review; “Poison River” and “The Death of Speedy,” two collections of the Love; Rockets comics by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez; “The Keepsake Storm,” a collection of poetry by Gina Franco; and “The Housekeeper and the Professor,” by the Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa, about a brilliant mathematician whose short-term memory is impaired after an accident, and who develops a close relationship with his caretaker and her 10-year-old son. (Dennis Overbye described it in the Book Review last year as “deceptively elegant,” “written in such lucid, unpretentious language that reading it is like looking into a deep pool of clear water.”)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Literary Tree-Spotting

Cover of "The French Lieutenant's Woman"Cover of The French Lieutenant's WomanThis has been a good few weeks for trees, and not just the ones that have finally burst into full flaming color here in New York.
The fall season has seen the release of some notable new books with an arboreal bent, including Patrick Dougherty’s “Stickwork” (a chronicle of his amazing twig constructions), Leanne Shapton’s gorgeous “Native Trees of Canada” (featured last Sunday on the back page of the Book Review) and Allen J. Coombes’s magnificent “Book of Leaves: A Leaf-by-Leaf Guide to Six Hundred of the World’s Great Trees.”
Coombes’s five-pound compendium — insert your dead-tree joke here — gets my vote for the book I’d be most likely to take on a hike in the woods, provided I had a pack animal. But for a casual walk in the forest, or an overnight bivouac in the depths of a favorite armchair, I’d recommend John Fowles’s beautiful essay “The Tree.”
Just released in a 30th-anniversary edition, “The Tree” is a hard-to-summarize meditation on art, nature, individualism and mortality — sort of a cross between Thoreau’s “Walden” and John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing,” with a dash of “The Gift,” Lewis Hyde’s cult-classic manifesto on creativity, thrown in for good measure.

Step-by-Step Bookkeeping: The Complete Handbook for the Small Business (Revised Edition)

Step-by-Step Bookkeeping: The Complete Handbook for the Small Business (Revised Edition)
“Persons beginning a business may have technical knowledge, management skills, or marketing experience, but most likely no knowledge of accounting or record keeping. [He] clearly describes the basics of ledgers, balance sheets, tax forms, accounts receivable, etc. Many updated sample forms are included.”—Booklist. “A book well worth reading...exhaustive detail.”—INC Magazine.

Price: $9.95


Click here to buy from Amazon

Our Banana Republic by Nicholas D. Kristof

Published: November 6, 2010, The New York Times
In my reporting, I regularly travel to banana republics notorious for their inequality. In some of these plutocracies, the richest 1 percent of the population gobbles up 20 percent of the national pie.
But guess what? You no longer need to travel to distant and dangerous countries to observe such rapacious inequality. We now have it right here at home — and in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, it may get worse.
The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.
C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.
That’s the backdrop for one of the first big post election fights in Washington

Positive Parenting: Tell Your Child How You Feel

Shockingly diverse kindergarten group in ParisImage via WikipediaYour son has left his clothes strewn across his floor, again. It drives you to distraction that his laundry hamper still sits empty, while you can no longer see his carpet. A good parenting tip at a moment like this is to express to your child how this makes you feel, and then, make a request. Positive parenting can turn this around into a lesson about respect.
Children are emotional, and understand feelings well. However, we don't often confide our feelings to them. We keep our feelings locked away, giving them rules, and never explaining how their bad behaviour makes us feel.

Accounting for Your Art: A Low-Maintenance Bookkeeping System for Entertainment Artists

Fully updated for a UK audience Bookkeeping Workbook For Dummies is the easiest way to get up to speed in all the basics of bookkeeping: from setting up a bookkeeping system and recording transactions to managing payroll, preparing profit and loss statements, tackling tax and filing month and year end reports finances. Expert author Jane Kelly guides you step-by-step through every aspect of financial record and offers quick tips to help you work through the interactive exercises and practical problems encouraging you to find your own route to a solution and sharpen your skills along the way. Whether you’re studying on a bookkeeping course or balancing the books in a small business this book is the fastest way to get started.

Bookkeeping Workbook For Dummies, UK Edition includes:

Part I: Exploring Bookkeeping Basics

Chapter 1: Deciphering the Basics
Chapter 2: Designing Your Bookkeeping System
Chapter 3: Sorting Out Your Business Road Map

Part II: Putting it All on Paper

Chapter 4: Looking at the Big Picture
Chapter 5: Journaling — The Devil’s in the Details
Chapter 6: Designing Controls for Your Books, Your Records, and Your Money

Part III: Tracking Day-to-Day Business Operations with Your Books

Chapter 7: Purchasing Goods and Tracking Your Purchases
Chapter 8: Calculating and Monitoring Sales
Chapter 9:  Employee Payroll and Benefits

Part IV: Getting Ready for Year’s (Or Month’s) End

Chapter 10: Depreciating Your Assets
Chapter 11: Paying and Collecting Interest
Chapter 12: Checking Your Books
Chapter 13: Checking and Correcting Your Books

Part V: Reporting Results and Starting Over

Chapter 14: Developing a Balance Sheet
Chapter 15: Producing a Profit and Loss Statement
Chapter 16: Reporting for Not-For-Profit Organizations
Chapter 17: Doing Your Business Taxes
Chapter 18: Completing Year-End Payroll and Reports
Chapter 19: Getting Ready for a New Bookkeeping Year

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 20: Top Ten Checklist for Managing Your Cash
Chapter 21: Top Ten Accounts You Should Monitor
Chapter 22: Top Ten Problems You Should Practice

Price: $20.25


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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Living With Music: A Playlist by Ben Greenman

Ben GreenmanGail Ghezzi Ben Greenman

Ben Greenman is an editor at The New Yorker and the author of several works of fiction. His latest book is “Celebrity Chekhov.”

My new book is some kind of weird circus clown, if a circus is a writer’s desk and a clown is a man who cuts off his own foot and drinks blood from the ankle. To be more precise: After a number of books of serious (though sometimes funny) fiction, I had an idea to do an entire book of the stories of Anton Chekhov, with the original characters ripped rudely out and replaced by contemporary celebrities. There are many reasons for this (having to do with the way we process celebrity, the way we process literature, the way we build a fence between “serious” and “trivial” without really thinking through the reasons for protecting that border), but I won’t get into them here. All I’ll say is that I love Chekhov’s stories, and as I read through them, I was struck again by how perfectly he captures crucial moments in human interaction. I started out thinking he was a kind of photographer — the scenes are so perfectly etched — and ended up thinking he was a kind of pop songwriter. He zeroes in on moments, and while his stories go by quickly, they stay in your mind forever. In light of that, I thought it would be nice to find popular songs that harmonize with each of the stories — or, rather, each of the pairs, Chekhov’s original and my celebritized remake.

1) Old Friends, Simon and Garfunkel. The Chekhov story “Fat and Thin” is about a man who comes back to his hometown after a successful career. He meets an old acquaintance who has stayed in town and become a husband and father. The men grapple with pride and envy. (In my story, “Tall and Short,” Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie make up the pair.) “Old Friends,” a nice portrait of aging, springs to mind immediately. “How terribly strange to be 70,” the narrator says, imagining that he has moved through the years with his friend (or lover). Now that Paul Simon is almost 70, we’ve seen that his friendship with Art Garfunkel is far more problematic, more like Chekhov’s friends (or my Paris and Nicole) than a peaceful pair on a park bench.

2) Superstar, Lydia Murdock. In “A Transgression,” a collegiate assessor is returning from work when he runs into a maid who berates him for his dalliances with young girls. Upon arriving home, he finds a baby on his doorstep. Understandably, he panics. I won’t say what happens next — only that it’s comic and tragic and manic and melancholy. After its celebrity translation, the story became a fantasia about David Letterman, who was in the news last year for his relationships with staff members, and who went on the air and made his misbehavior explicitly, compellingly public. The ideal song here, the archetype of paternity pop, is of course Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” but everyone and their mother knows that song, so I went instead for “Superstar,” Murdock’s disco answer song, from 1983, in which the singer takes the role of the spurned lover.

3) He Stopped Loving Her Today, George Jones. Chekhov begins “A Lady’s Story” with a simple memory: “Nine years ago Pyotr Sergeyitch, the deputy prosecutor, and I were riding towards evening in hay-making time to fetch the letters from the station.” I don’t know if “hay-making time” is a euphemism for lovemaking in either Russian or in the original English translation, but the story blossoms into a moving memory of youth and beauty, and how both drain away. In my version, I took out the narrator, Natalya Vladimirovna, and put in Britney Spears. Pyotr Sergeyitch became Justin Timberlake. Britney/Natalya ages, feels dragged along by time. “My father is dead,” she says. “I have grown older; everything that delighted me, caressed me, gave me hope — the patter of the rain, the rolling of the thunder, thoughts of happiness, talk of love — all that has become nothing but a memory.” Only one song is that sad: Jones’s immortal country weeper. The circumstance in the song is different — the villain carries a scythe rather than an hourglass — but there’s the same mix of small-scale happiness and profound regret. In fact, when I was (re)writing “A Lady’s Story,” I listened to this song over and over again, for inspiration.

4) Holding Out for a Hero, Bonnie Tyler. Chekhov’s “In the Graveyard” begins where it says it begins, in a graveyard. It’s windy and the sun is going down. Soon enough, the narrator and his friends see a man walking among the tombstones. He’s in a shabby overcoat, carrying a bottle and some sausage, and he asks to be taken to the grave of the actor Mushkin. His reasons for wanting to visit the grave, as the story comes to explain, are highly vexed. In my story, the man is gone, and Mushkin is gone; in their place are the comedians Artie Lange and Andy Kaufman (and there’s even a cameo by Bernard Herrmann). For a story about heroes and role models, there’s no better song than “Holding Out for a Hero.” Sing along with me: “Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?” If anyone names a band (or, better, a child) “Streetwise Hercules,” I will send that person one hundred dollars.

5) Is She Really Going Out With Him?, Joe Jackson. “At the Barber’s” is a fantastically condensed story about a young barber. He is working one day when an older man comes into the shop. He begins to cut the man’s hair and to chat, and it transpires that the man’s daughter is engaged to marry. Normally, this would be cause for celebration, but the barber confesses he’s in love with the daughter and has long hoped to marry her. I left the barber as a young barber — you can’t trim everything — but changed the older man to the famous-haired Billy Ray Cyrus, which by extension changed the young woman to Miley Cyrus. Joe Jackson’s greatest hit is the one song that belongs with this story, and it attests to the universality of the theme.

6) Lonely at the Top, Randy Newman. In “An Enigmatic Nature,” a beautiful woman in a first-class railway car appeals to a young author sitting next to her; she beseeches him to write about her life, her passions, her suffering. Above all, she says, she has suffered from wanting happiness, but never quite being able to attain it. Men, and specifically how she reacts to them, have been her obstacle. In celebritizing this story, I decided to go in the other direction and pick someone whose progress has rarely been impeded by men: Oprah Winfrey. The challenge then became to understand what might bedevil her, how someone who has unlimited power feels as though she may be sinking even as she rises. “Lonely at the Top” became another song I listened to for inspiration. Newman wrote it with Frank Sinatra in mind, and when Sinatra declined to sing it, it became a brilliantly ironic piece for Newman himself, who was at the time toiling as a cult favorite.

7) Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, Buzzcocks. At the end of my book, I tried something even more ambitious (or foolish) than rewriting individual Chekhov stories: I rewrote Chekhov’s Little Trilogy, a series of stories featuring the same main characters, Burkin and Ivan Ivanovitch. The two men oversee “The Man in a Case,” “Gooseberries” and “About Love,” which together produce a complex nested narrative about the nature of love and happiness. “The Man in a Case” is about a man who doesn’t embrace life and so must exit it. “About Love” is about star-crossed lovers. The middle story, “Gooseberries,” is probably my favorite Chekhov story, because it’s at once so sympathetic and so unforgiving. Ivanovitch narrates, and it’s about his brother, Nikolay, and how he wasted most of his adult life in pursuit of a goal that, while it made him happy, may have neutralized the entire notion of happiness. It ends in a pained cry for youth. I won’t insult the story by summarizing it too glibly — I’ve already insulted it by populating it with Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler. What I will do, as apology, is pair it with “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” a perfect pop song that’s every bit the equal of that perfect story.


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Principles of Double-Entry Bookkeeping [1913]

Principles of Double-Entry Bookkeeping [1913]Originally published in 1913. This volume from the Cornell University Library's print collections was scanned on an APT BookScan and converted to JPG 2000 format by Kirtas Technologies. All titles scanned cover to cover and pages may include marks notations and other marginalia present in the original volume.

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Schaum's Outline of Bookkeeping and Accounting, Fourth Edition (Schaum's Outline Series)

Schaum's Outline of Bookkeeping and Accounting, Fourth Edition (Schaum's Outline Series)

Confused by bookkeeping and accounting? Problem solved.

Schaum's Outline of Bookkeeping and Accounting is the ideal review and reference for your accounting class. Inside you'll find explanations of the subject's fundamentals and topics such as financial analysis, preparing cash flow statements, and the distinction between accounting for perpetual and periodic inventory system. It also includes a chapter on the most popular accounting software, which accounting students are expected to master before they graduate.

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Six Ways to Fight Fair with Your Partner

Angry Talk (Comic Style)Image via WikipediaEverybody at some time or another ends up finding themselves in a dispute with their partner. Even the most compatible couples can find themselves in an argument with one another from time to time. Sometimes an argument comes from tiny misunderstandings but other times they are due to much more serious, difficult issues. The basis of any sound relationship advice is the importance of fairness on the part of both parties. Here are some steps you can follow so you can have a fair fight with your partner:
Be aware of your negative emotions and feelings
You and your partner should start by acknowledging the negative emotions you feel towards each other, but don't discuss it just yet. If you are angry at your partner for something he or she has done, then be honest with yourself. Don't forget that it's okay if you're angry or your feelings are hurt. You shouldn't act as if you're OK if you aren't since this just eventually makes it harder.
Let one another cool off, then consider the right thing to say
Often it can be a persons first reaction to an argument, to start being verbally abusive or angry. None of this behavior will solve anything. It is important not to say things in the heat of the moment, so that you don't end up saying something hurtful out of anger. But particularly because the situation is so fraught with emotion, this is complicated. If you're too agitated for a constructive discussion, take a breather to calm down and find the right words.
Express your grievances constructively
It's essential that you both feel you can express your thoughts and air your grievances. You should be honest with you partner and tell him or her what you would really like to say as long as you do so in a tactful and constructive way. Expressing yourself constructively means avoiding hurting or sarcastic comments that will only aggravate the situation. Bringing up long-resolved issues or past mistakes that are simply irrelevant to a current problem is definitely not the way to go. Use fighting to fix your problems rather than to wound your partner.
Don't do all the talking--alternate as listeners
A fair fight will have you both expressing your views in turn Ask your partner that he or she listens to you before you start to talk and that he/she does not argue his or her point right from the start. When it is your partner's turn, do the same. Allow your partner to speak without breaking in.
Allow the moment and issues to sink in
State your complaint and then give your partner a little time to think. In this way, you'll both be able to concentrate on your problem and get your feelings in check. Give this stage all the time you need even if it's several hours before moving to the next step.
Admit when you are wrong, ask forgiveness and work together for solutions
Regardless of who started the argument, it is important that both of you take your share of the blame and sincerely apologize to one another. Being apologetic will allow both of you to mutually solve the conflict.
Let it be a learning experience, but leave the problem in the past
When you reconcile, apologizing isn't the end. Conflict in a relationship can be a learning experience as long a both partners let go of any resentment and move forward. Once a problem has seen a resolution, don't present it again.
People in healthy relationships still fight. It assists both people with improving their relationship and growing as individuals.
To get more relationship advice, go to http://www.relationshipgold.com.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cool Holiday Gifts for Teachers

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...Image via WikipediaThe holidays are right around the corner, which means parents will soon be scrambling to pick out the most appropriate gift for the teachers in their children's lives. Purchasing gifts is always a fun experience; and can be so even when you don't know the person very well.
Teachers are people that we typically may have only a bit of information about. However, a very nice gift can still be found with a little investigating and consideration. A staple in the life of every teacher is that of the lanyard. Lanyards provide teachers with a way to carry their classroom keys and other small items.
Badge lanyards feature a plastic badge holder so that a teacher can adequately display their employee identification. Even when you don't know your child's teacher's favorites, you can find many badge lanyards or standard lanyards without a badge holder in just the right style for any teacher, male or female.
Lanyards come in a wide array of styles suitable for any teacher of any grade. Finding badge lanyards in fun and cheery teacher themes is easy to do. Just investigate by observing how your child's teacher dresses and presents him or herself professionally. If a teacher teaches sixth grade, they may not giggle with delight at receiving something decorated with apples or ABC's.

However, a Kindergarten teacher may! It's not the size or cost of the gift that is important. It's the thought that goes into coming up with something that simply says, "Thank you, we appreciate you!"

Expensive gifts such as gift baskets and gift certificates should be discouraged; they set a bad precedent that other parents feel forced to comply with, and those parents may not have the finances to buy that bigger gift.
Some students really like the idea of giving their teacher something very personal - something home made. Following this idea, kids can write their teacher a special story, where the teacher is a hero or heroine.
They can even illustrate their story with beautiful artwork they draw themselves. Another homemade gift idea for teachers is to provide them with a stylish way to keep clutter from pencils under control in the classroom. The amount of help a child will need to complete this project will depend on their age.
Using an empty coffee can, pull out the paints, fabrics, clay or beads and let the creative juices flow. Using a craft knife, cut small X patterns in the lid.

The lid of the coffee can will be used to hold pencils in place. Once the can is completely decorated and dry, stick pencils in each of the openings made with the craft knife. Your child's teacher will be thrilled for the extra organization in the classroom! Many parents are simply too busy to create a homemade gift for their child's teacher.

Keep in mind, almost everyone has a sweet tooth; try candy in a clear jar with a pretty ribbon tied around it.
Teachers work very hard with our children, so anytime they are shown how much they are appreciated, they are pleased by it.

For more tips and information about badge lanyards please visit: lanyards
Source: http://www.submityourarticle.com
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Memories of Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa, center, in Syracuse in 1988, with Myron I. Lichtblau, left.Syracuse University Mario Vargas Llosa, center, in Syracuse in 1988, with Myron I. Lichtblau, left.

When word came last week that the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, it brought me back to a small, sun-splashed office with centuries-old books lining pine shelves and a papier mâché pencil holder, the words “Happy Father’s Day” scribbled on it, sitting on the desk. That was my father’s office in our home in the suburbs of Syracuse, and it was there that my father, hunched over an old cassette player for weeks and months, became Vargas Llosa’s accidental autobiographer.

It was the spring of 1988, and Vargas Llosa was spending part of the semester on campus at Syracuse University to deliver a series of lectures on his writing and worldview. He had not yet reached the peak of his prominence; it was another two years before he ran for president of Peru, and longer still before he became the subject of Nobel rumors. Even so, Vargas Llosa, then 52, was already a rock star among Latin American novelists, often mentioned in the same breath as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez. For Syracuse, a university more accustomed to hosting future N.B.A. stars than internationally renowned novelists, his presence was a coup. My father, Myron Lichtblau, a scholar in Latin American literature and the chairman of the foreign language department at the time, had managed to lure him to campus with the promise of little more than a packed lecture hall and a few home-cooked meals.

Just out of college myself, I went to one of the lectures at my father’s urging. “This is a big deal,” he told me. Instead of the usual yawning students in a half-empty lecture hall, I found students and faculty at rapt attention in the packed auditorium. Vargas Llosa, a charismatic figure with dashing good looks and a thick Peruvian accent, held his audience spellbound as he spoke in English of using fiction as a way of turning lies to truth and, ultimately, changing society. “The novel was invented,” he said, “not to transcribe reality, but to transform it, to do something different, to make of real reality an illusion, a separate reality.”

As successful as the lectures were, Vargas Llosa never thought of them as anything more than that. “I had no idea when I came here to deliver these lectures that this could become a book,” he acknowledged to a local newspaper reporter. “It was Myron Lichtblau’s idea.” From that idea, Vargas Llosa said, was born “a kind of accidental, literary autobiography.” Indeed, my father saw in the lectures the potential not only for an unparalleled insight into a literary genius but, more broadly, a primer for any would-be novelist or student of the genre on how reality becomes fiction, and vice versa. Vargas Llosa mulled the idea over. He was not entirely comfortable with his English, but he had to admit that building an autobiography from a body of work not intended as autobiography promised an end-product that was “much more pure,” because it would not carry the pretense and self-consciousness that came with setting out to write a memoir.

And so, with Vargas Llosa’s blessing, my father labored over his tape player until late in the evenings to listen to the novelist’s lectures and get them down on paper. An unassuming man with a passion for language and learning, my father considered himself the curator for a rare masterwork, committed to capturing what he called “the essence of Vargas Llosa’s art.” Every word counted. If my father found himself stumped by Vargas Llosa’s strong accent, he would summon my mother, my sister or me to his office for help, planting us in front of his tape player. “Listen here,” he would say, hitting the play and rewind buttons again and again. Is Vargas Llosa saying that a novelist must reveal “those demons that obsess him,” or “those demons that upset him”? (It was the former). Or here — play, rewind, play — was he comparing writers to “street exhibitionists,” or “discreet exhibitionists”? (The latter.)

When he was done transcribing the lectures, Dad set to work putting them into a narrative structure, organizing the themes into eight separate essays, weeding out tangents, smoothing the syntax and adding historical and literary footnotes before sending the draft to Vargas Llosa for review and approval. The result was “A Writer’s Reality,” written by Mario Vargas Llosa and “edited with an introduction by Myron I. Lichtblau.” When the book was published by Syracuse University Press in 1991, it met with wide critical acclaim. “I know of no work, not even Henry James’ ‘The Art of Fiction,’ which so lucidly explains what a novelist does and how he does it,” the reviewer for Commentary wrote.

Unlike the dozen other books my father wrote — academic-minded tomes admired by fellow Spanish literary specialists but largely ignored by anyone else, with hundreds of leftover copies in our basement — this one even sold well. Alas, my father was ever the academic and never the businessman, and he had signed away his rights to the publishers. He never saw a penny from it, but it was no matter to him. A grateful Vargas Llosa flew him and my mother to Chicago to help him celebrate an award in his honor after the book’s release, and a personally signed copy of their collaboration — inscribed in Spanish with “deep gratitude” from “MVL” — was a prized possession of his, and is now one of mine.

The two men, the master and his accidental muse, remained friends for years, and Vargas Llosa returned to campus for follow-up visits before my father died in 2002. Dad would have turned 85 the week Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel, and I doubt he could have envisioned a better birthday present.

Eric Lichtblau is a reporter in The Times’s Washington bureau.


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Property Management Accounting: A Survival Guide for Non-Accountants

Property Management Accounting: A Survival Guide for Non-AccountantsIn this day and age, we're lucky to have software that takes care of the nuts and bolts of property management accounting. But even with software, you'll find it much easier to keep accurate records if you have an understanding of the basic accounting concepts upon which these programs are based. Buildium's Property Management Accounting teaches you these concepts with property management specifically in mind. Don't worry if you don't have an accounting degree or previous bookkeeping experience. This guide will arm you with all the information you need. And if you do have an accounting background, you'll find some great refresher information inside as well.

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Nonprofit Bookkeeping & Accounting For Dummies

Nonprofit Bookkeeping & Accounting For Dummies

Your hands-on guide to keeping great records and keeping your nonprofit running smoothly

Need to get your nonprofit books in order? This practical guide has everything you need to know to operate your nonprofit according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) — from documenting transactions and budgeting to filing taxes, preparing financial statements, and much more. You'll see how to stay organized, keep records, and be prepared for an audit.

  • Begin with the basics — understand common financial terms, choose your accounting methods, and work with financial statements
  • Balance your nonprofit books — set up a chart of accounts, record transactions, plan your budget, and balance your cash flow

  • Get the 4-1-1 on federal grants — find grants and apply for them, track and account for federal dollars, and prepare for a grant audit

  • Stay in good standing with Uncle Sam — set up payroll accounts for employees, calculate taxes and deductions, and complete tax forms

  • Close out your books — prepare the necessary financial statements, know which accounts to close, and prepare for the next accounting cycle

  • Know what to do if you get audited — form an internal audit committee, follow IRS rules of engagement, and keep an immaculate paper trail

Open the book and find:

  • The difference between bookkeeping and accounting
  • How to maintain a manual or computer record-keeping system

  • Ten vital things to know when keeping the books

  • Do's and don'ts of managing federal grant money

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  • The most common errors found during nonprofit audits

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Philip Roth's Literary Javelin

Longtime readers of the Book Review may recall George Plimpton’s classic 1992 essay “The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book,” which held that when it comes to sports literature, there is an inverse relation between the size of the thing people are trying to hit and how much fun it is to read about it.

Since Plimpton aired his Small Ball Theory, other writers have attempted to expand his insights to sports like badminton and hockey. But what about the javelin? Curiously, two admirable novels published this year have given the need for a less spherical theory of sports literature sudden urgency.

In the final scene of Philip Roth’s “Nemesis” (reviewed for us this weekend by Leah Hager Cohen), a group of boys recall the day the doomed playground director Bucky Cantor showed them how to hurl the javelin. After taking care to stretch his groin (phallic symbol alert!), Bucky let it fly with the majestic authority of Hercules himself:

You could see each of his muscles bulging when he released it into the air. He let out a strangulated yowl of effort (one we all went around imitating for days afterward), a noise expressing the essence of him — the naked battle cry of striving excellence. … It was as though our playground director had turned into a primordial man, hunting for food on the plains where he foraged, taming the wilds by the might of his hand. Never were we more in awe of anyone. Through him, we boys had left the little story of the neighborhood and entered the historical saga of our ancient gender.

So far, so Freudian. But as it turns out, “The Ask,” Sam Lipsyte’s satire of early-middle-aged male slackerdom, also climaxes emotionally with the throwing of a javelin. While Roth’s is a sturdy midcentury javelin, however, exploding out of Bucky’s hands with the force and confidence of the American Century itself, Lipsyte’s spear — thrown by the fortysomething loser Milo Burke — is a wobbly, wonky, post-Vietnam javelin, dropping quickly to earth like a semiflaccid … O.K., you get the idea.

“I threw the javelin then,” Milo recalls of his high school track-and-field career, “was no champion, not even a contender for regional ribbons, just good enough to know the happiness of making your body a part of that spear, to get a good trot up to the throwing line, to slip into a rabbity sideways hop and snap your hips, launch a steel-tipped proxy of yourself at the sky.”

His own life trajectory has been even less triumphant, “like a javelin that tails and wobbles and does not drive into the turf but skids to a halt at a slightly less-than-average distance, a mediocre distance, from the lumped lime line.”

That’s a pretty nice literary throw. But wait! As it happens, Lipsyte — himself a shot-putter in high school — also anticipated a detail in yet another big fall literary release.

In “The Ask,” Milo, a failed painter, takes a job building decks in Queens. In Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom,” the reluctant rock star Richard Katz chucks his music career to build decks for Tribeca plutocrats.

“Decks are America,” Milo tells one of his own plutocrat friends. “The hidden platform where the patriarchy is reasserted.”

Unless javelins are.


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Mastering Book-Keeping: A Complete Step-By-Step Guide to the Principles of Business Accounting (How to)

Mastering Book-Keeping: A Complete Step-By-Step Guide to the Principles of Business Accounting (How to)An easy-to-use, sequential approach to book-keeping which covers the requirements of all the principal book-keeping courses. Typical business transactions are used to illustrate all the essential theory, practice and skills required.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reviewer Spotlight: Miguel Syjuco

Miguel SyjucoMarcos Townsend Miguel Syjuco

Miguel Syjuco, the author of the novel “Ilustrado,” makes his debut in the Book Review this weekend with his review of “How to Read the Air,” Dinaw Mengestu’s second novel. Both of these writers use the immigrant experience to explore themes of family and homeland, politics and identity. In an e-mail conversation, I recently asked Syjuco about his own writing, and the questions and subjects currently driving his work.

In your review, you note that Mengestu’s characters argue over the notion that the immigrant story is “just one story told over and over. Change the dates and the names, but it’s the same.” Can you discuss how, in your own work, you’ve addressed the question of how to tell a so-called immigrant story while avoiding the realm of cliché?

The immigrant story is universal, especially in today’s world; either we’re émigrés ourselves, or our ancestors were, or our descendants will be. Touching on universality is an important part of effective storytelling, but the problem with clichés is that they are tired and dull. And that’s where writers must try to be artful.

In my work, I tried to address this issue by exploring themes like identity and homeland across several narratives, generations and writing styles, using them as motifs, the way one would in musical composition. I hoped their recurrence across the different story lines would resonate, creating harmonies and a sense of universality. Another way of avoiding cliché was through parody and satire, which played a big part in my book, as these forms embrace, even require, cliché as a starting point. And a third way is to call attention to the familiar aspects of a story, then celebrate their nuances to prove they’re actually singular and important, as Mengestu did in his book.

Mengestu, like you, uses a fragmented narrative to tell his story. It strikes me that this kind of structure — though it can be called “postmodern” (a term I know you’ve said you don’t like) — somewhat aptly mirrors the immigrant experience: like a life, it’s broken into parts, a story of alternating identities and existences. Can you talk a little about this?

You’re right, I don’t like “postmodern.” Postmodernism was a reaction to modernism. Where modernism was about objectivity, postmodernism was about subjectivity. Where modernism sought a singular truth, postmodernism sought the multiplicity of truths. By that simplified definition, both “How to Read the Air” and “Ilustrado” are modernist in aim and sensibility, because their stated aims are to seek that truth, even if it’s elusive. Their structures may be fragmented, but that’s not so much postmodern as contemporary. Look at the way TV programs and movies are now made, or how we gather information from various news sources or multitask at our computers.

I had more in mind the idea of how we process contemporary reality than the idea of fragmenting the immigrant experience. I was more concerned with finding an organic way to react to aspects of the Philippine literary tradition in English — its didacticism, self-exoticization, postcolonial angst and social realism — than anything else. The immigrant experience in “Ilustrado” was only a small part of what I intended to be a broader look at the Filipino experience, even if that broader look was itself merely a specific perspective. To say “I’m going to write about the immigrant experience” means, to me, that one has to write about all the experiences surrounding that, to give it proper context.

Toward the end of your review, you express a desire to see Mengestu move beyond the subject of the Ethiopian-American experience. Meanwhile, I know you’ve sold a second book to Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Will we find you stretching beyond the subject of the Philippines?

I think “How to Read the Air” really snapped into focus when it journeyed beyond America and went to Africa, because by doing so it broadened the narrative and fixed the protagonist’s story into a larger one. What I’m hoping is that Mengestu will expand his scope, though that doesn’t mean he should abandon the very Ethiopian-American background that gives him such a unique perspective. Africa, like Asia, is a setting, not a subject. There are so many stories to be told from these places, and too few writers with a foot there and the opportunity to reach a large readership. Mengestu has an enviable vantage point from which to elucidate so much about the current and historical issues in Africa.

This ties in with a quotation that is my touchstone, from the Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski:

Twenty years ago, I was in Africa, and this is what I saw: I went from revolution to coup d’etat, from one war to another; I witnessed, in effect, history in the making, real history, contemporary history, our history. But I was also surprised: I never saw a writer. I never met a poet or a philosopher — even a sociologist. Where were they? Such important events, and not a single writer anywhere? Then I would return to Europe and I would find them. They would be at home, writing their little domestic stories: the boy, the girl, the laughing, the intimacy, the marriage, the divorce — in short, the same story we’ve been reading over and over again for a thousand years.

So yes, my next book is also about the Philippines, and it will also use subtle parody and satire. But where “Ilustrado” was my attempt to present a compassionate indictment of the failure of the elite who have led the country for generations, my next book will be an examination of the different forms of power at play in a country like mine, and how each of those bump up against one another. I also want to provide a cross-section of Philippine society, so I can explore the anatomy of Philippine corruption (and, by extension, corruption in the Third World). I think of “The Wire” and how it used narrative to examine the problems of Baltimore, and how in doing so it suggested solutions merely by highlighting the stickiness of the problems.

What other subjects or questions interest you most as a writer these days?

I’m interested in the question of whether writing today can be political. I have no illusions that my work can rouse the masses to create change, because literature simply doesn’t have that power anymore in my country, if it does anywhere. But I do hope that it can be read by those who are in positions to create change, or that it can at least be part of that dialogue.

I’m also interested in the notion that to posit solutions one has to first understand the problem, and that writing has a role in working toward that understanding. “Ilustrado” reached back into history to try to examine the roots of the Filipino elite and the difficult choices they didn’t make that led to our current situation as a country. I think that writing can (and, perhaps, should) be instructive and provocative, entertaining and moving — though the trick is to find that balance without falling into propaganda or polemic.


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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Woody Allen's Comma Collapse

Yes, this mostly has to do with movie titles, not books, but it is irresistible: Slate’s Copy-Editing the Culture columnist describes the “rise and fall” of Woody Allen, as seen through his use (and misuse) of punctuation.

We justify this post by noting that one book is mentioned toward the end: “Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever: My Story.” (Where to begin with that one?)


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How to Start a Successful Home-Based Freelance Bookkeeping and Tax Preparation Business

How to Start a Successful Home-Based Freelance Bookkeeping and Tax Preparation BusinessThis book is a genuine resource, packed with proven methods, and valuable interviews with real bookkeepers and accounting professionals. These ideas and techniques show you how to quickly build a flourishing full-time or part-time home-based bookkeeping or tax practice, and keep it running profitably.

Some of the topics covered in this volume:

How to get started and obtain all necessary business licenses

How to manage your cash flow for maximum profitability and business success

How to get clients and keep them

How to attract the most profitable clients

How to increase referrals

How to set and collect your fees

How to offer tax services to your existing clients

How to get referrals from CPA offices and other financial professionals

Information on how to become a Certified Bookkeeper through the AIPB

How to comply with the IRS recordkeeping requirements

How to avoid your liability for the dreaded IRS Trust Recovery Penalty

And much, much more!

Price: $29.95


Click here to buy from Amazon

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Quick Preparation Tips and Resources

 Are you entering the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) contest this November?
You must produce a 50,000 word piece of fiction, from scratch, by midnight on November 30th. NaNoWriMo works on the honour system.
Pros: No entry fees; forces you to write a lot over a short period of time; you have nothing to lose by entering.
Cons: No prizes, so less motivation; you’ll probably produce writing of questionable quality under such constraints; it’s easy to quit because there are no consequences.
Do the pros outweigh the cons? That’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself. You can check out the full details here, or browse FAQs.
How do you plan to get that book written in such a short time? Here are some tips to keep you on track as you race to the finish line:
Know why you’re entering. If you’ve got a story itching to get out, do it. If you’re only acting on a whim, you’re likely to fail.Talk to your family. Let them know you’re participating in the competition. You’re going to need their understanding if you’ll be pulling out your hair for a month.Connect with other writers. Find an accountability partner to help keep you on track.Set strict writing hours. Choose a time when you’re sure you won’t have other responsibilities. If you have a day-job, you’ll want to plan to write first thing in the morning or late at night.Set a daily word quota. Don’t be tempted to slack one day and try to make up for it the next, unless you have a really good excuse.Find a good spot to write. An office, a desk by a window, the kitchen table—wherever you’re comfortable. Make it your space with all the materials you’ll need to write your novel (computer, pens, pencils, lined paper, blank paper, reference books, research, etc.)Compost. Spend some time mentally composting your basic premise and characters before the start date so you’re ready to begin on time.Outline. Prepare a written outline and character sketches to work from (this is permitted in the official rules).Write what you know. Unless you’ve done pre-research for your idea already, choose a storyline that won’t require a lot of extra research during the writing stage.
By helping you evaluate novels as you read, this 30-page workbook will improve your understanding of what makes them bestsellers—or mediocre shelf-fillers.
Print off your copy of the Read Better, Write Better workbook today. If you deconstruct a novel or two before the end of the October,  you’ll increase your chances of writing a worthy NaNoWriMo manuscript—that is, one you’ll want to continue to work with even after the contest is over.
The eBook includes:
a printable novel study templatea list of creative reading activitiesan example workbookan interactive glossary with links to online resources
Find out how you can get your free copy here.
If you want to write a novel in a month, you’ll need to prepare. Check out the following free resources to help you:
5 Resources to Help You Plan your NaNoWriMo Novel, Procrastinating Writers9 Ways to Prepare for NaNoWriMo, Write AnythingFive Must-Have Resources for Nanowrimo, Web Stuff 4 WritersNaNoWriMo Tracker Template and Some Resources, Domestic JoyMust-Have Tools for NaNoWriMo, Learn to Write FictionHave you officially registered?Are you familiar with all the rules?Do you have outline notes on key elements of your story?Have you completed any necessary research?Have you set up a comfortable area in which to work?Do you have written evidence of your writing goals for the next 30 days?Have you briefed others in your house about what you’re doing?Do you have an accountability partner?Have you located important resources for your journey (books, helpful websites, writing articles, support forums)?Are you stocked with notebooks, pencils, pens, etc. and is your computer free of glitches?Have you prepared a selection of things that inspire you (CD’s of favourite music, photographs, novels, etc.)
How are you using the last two weeks of October to prepare for NaNoWriMo?
Your NaNoWriMo experience will be much richer if you study a copy of Larry Brooks’ masterful Story Structure Demystified before you begin. Check out my review of Story Structure Demystified.
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