Twerpin’ with Mark Goldblatt

Mark Goldblatt is a theologian, novelist and journalist as well as a professor at Fashion Institute of Technology of the State University of New York. His first novel, Africa Speaks, a satire of black urban culture, was published in 2002 by MG-upclose Permanent Press. Sloth, a comedic take on postmodernism, was published in 2010 by Greenpoint Press. A book of political commentary, Bumper Sticker Liberalism, followed in 2012 from HarperCollins. The Unrequited, a literary mystery from Five Star/Cengage, was published in 2013 — the same year Random House released Twerp, a novel for young (and old) readers.

Loren Kleinman (LK): Do you read reviews written about your books?

Mark Goldblatt (MG): Until the last one, my middle grade novel Twerp, I always did—and reacted in the typical gastro-intestinally injurious ways most writers do. But Twerp now has hundreds of reviews in newspapers, magazines and blogs, so I haven’t been able to keep track. I will admit to Googling myself on an embarrassingly regular basis. It’s a sign of immaturity. But, hey, Twerp is written from the perspective of a twelve year old boy, so I’ve made the immaturity work for me.

LK: Did you know the title before you started writing?

MG: The working title of Twerp was What Happened in Ponzini . . . which the editor at Random House disliked so intensely that she stipulated in the contract that the title was definitely going to change. She proposed Twerp—which I hated. That began a long back and forth, over the course of weeks, where we bandied around over a dozen titles. We both liked Running from Shakespeare. But there was a problem: the dominant word was “Shakespeare.” That meant that kids who heard the title might remember only the word “Shakespeare,” and if they searched for the book on Amazon, they’d never find it.

Gradually, I came around to Twerp. Now when I say “came around,” what I mean is I went from hating it, to hating it slightly less, to feeling indifferent, to not-quite-liking it, to accepting that it was going to be the title. Now I’m very fond of it. I can’t imagine the book with another name.

I’ve got one other story about a book title—my novel Sloth. I actually began that book in the mid-1980s, and it passed through many iterations before it was published in 2010 by Greenpoint Press. I was originally calling it Work In Progress (for obvious reasons) and had that on the first page of the manuscript. But my roommate at the time, who was working 60 hour weeks, and who used to rag me about my eight-hour-a-week adjunct lecturer schedule, noticed the title page on my desk one morning and said, “You should really call that thing Sloth In Progress.” I thought that was pretty funny, so I changed the title page. Then, when I finished the book, I realized it was no longer Sloth In Progress. So the title became Sloth.

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LK: Did you do any research before the start or during the writing of your books?

MG: I did a lot of research during the writing of my 2012 political book, Bumper Sticker Liberalism. (Did I mention that I’m a political conservative? I’ll wait for the hissing to die down….) That was pretty standard internet-based stuff. More interesting was the research I did for my first novel, Africa Speaks—which is a satire of black urban culture, narrated by young black man, in hip hop dialect. I researched that one for a full year before I started writing it, jotting down phrases I overheard on the street, buying copies of Source and XXL magazine, recording hours of banter between public-access cable hosts, etc. I enjoyed it, but I’d never want to do it again.

LK: What is the one book you think everyone should read?

MG: That’s easy. The Bible. Whether you’re a believer or not, the Bible is the ur-text of Western Civilization. I’m continually astonished at how many of my writer friends have no acquaintance whatsoever with the Old and New Testaments. I don’t mean you need to recite chapter and verse. But you’ve got to know the basic stuff—the books of Genesis and Exodus, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jonah, Job, the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letter to the Romans. You should also know a little about the composition of the books, the languages in which they were written (Hebrew for the OT, Greek for the NT), the evolution of the canon, etc.

Let me give you an example of why it’s important. In the last speech he ever gave, Martin Luther King concluded with an eerie statement, which many commentators have heard as a prediction of his death: “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

That closing makes no sense whatsoever unless you know something about the story of Moses and the Israelites. That whole, “been to the mountaintop…seen the promised land…I may not get there with you”—that’s straight out of the book of Deuteronomy. (So throw in that one too.)

TwerpCover-with_blurbLK: What are your thoughts on e-books?

MG: Well, they’re here to stay, obviously. There’s one part of me, the Luddite part, that is appalled; I mean, I love books. I love them as physical objects. I literally slept with my first novel after I got the galley—I stared at it for hours and fell asleep with it next to me.

On the other hand, e-books open up possibilities with the narrative form that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. We now live in a world in which, for the first time, there are two distinct ways to read: 1) with your eyes alone, and 2) with a cursor. The two ways to read point to two very different reading experiences… and that difference will affect how books are imagined and executed.

The potential for annotations and links is the most obvious change. But the experiential possibilities of an e-book are not limited even to words on the screen. With inevitable hardware advances, there will eventually be suspense novels, for example, with creepy background music and momentary visual effects. As the heroine steps inside the seemingly deserted house, a bass line will pulse through your headset. As you scroll across the words, “She heard a sudden rustling of wind through the tattered curtains,” you’ll hear a rustling. Then, as your pulse quickens, when the villain leaps out from behind the curtains, an animated graphic will emerge from behind the words on the screen to menace you for a split second, then recede.

As unsettling as such innovations may seem, they needn’t encroach on the experience of traditional readers. The option of sight reading, of scanning down the page line by line, without using the cursor, will always remain. But the range of new possibilities is sure to impact how writers write; many will write with an e-book specifically in mind. They’ll become orchestrators as well as wordsmiths. The results will be hybrids… not unlike the way today’s graphic novels are hybrids of traditional novels and comic books. I know it’s a scary prospect. But I suspect more people, rather than fewer, will become book lovers. They’ll just love their books in different ways than book lovers did before.

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UnrequitedFront-Jan2013

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LK: What is in the works for you next?

Right now, I’m working on a sequel to Twerp. The tentative title is Pickle. I’m going to fight very hard to change it.

 

Where can you find Mark Goldblatt?

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Why I Don’t Give In To Submission: Guest Post by Mark Antony Owen (@MarkAntonyOwen)

Mark Antony Owen writes poetry in syllabic meter. His work draws on that world where the countryside bleeds into suburban living –a world he calls marc antony‘subrural’. Building economic poems around small details of subrural life and shifting between recollection and observation, the past and the present, Mark chooses to color his subjects darker than they are. Each of his poems uses one or other of nine self-developed forms, sometimes with variations. Mark lives and writes in Hampshire.

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 The thinking goes like this: if you write, you write to be read. And as a poet, I certainly want to be read. So why don’t I submit my work to respected poetry journals and sites? Or rather, having had five of my poems accepted for publication (and only one rejection), why did I stop submitting? My thinking goes like this.

Poetry journals, whether in print or online, can be a great way for readers to discover new writing, new poets. At their best, they’re a platform for excellence: a filtration system that keeps the ‘bad’ writing from the ‘good’. But journals can also skew one’s view of a poet or their work … as I discovered by accident.

Having read some print and online journals, I found several poets whose work I admired and whose collections I went on to buy. What was shown of their work was, I found, representative of their style and subject matter. Bottom line? One happy reader/customer. But there were also poets whose output I initially rejected after seeing their work, in isolation, in journals. Poets whose work I later dipped into in bookshops and found I liked once I’d read their poems in the context of a collection.

Frankly, I felt a bit misled.

Now obviously, it would be terribly unfair to poetry journal editors to castigate them for having their own literary preferences and choosing to publish only those works which they deem to have merit. And of course, anyone who reads a particular journal for long enough will get to know an editor’s tastes and can then decide whether or not these match their own. But the fact remains that journals can showcase only a slice of a poet’s work – at first, anyway. A slice that may not cut it for everyone.

So we come to my reason for not submitting. Fear of rejection? Fear of the agonising wait for a response that might be a rejection? Artistic arrogance? None of these. It’s simply that I don’t believe my poems stand up well individually. By which I don’t mean each of my poems isn’t readable or perhaps even rewarding in its own way. I just mean that I conceive of my poems as details in a larger canvas. Yes, you can appreciate them close up – but I’d far rather you saw them in the context of the body of my work. I think they work better that way; and it’s completely unreasonable of me to expect them to be seen this way if they’re being published in ones and twos across various journals.

Let me be clear: I’m not knocking – or rejecting – poetry journals. I’m simply saying they’re not for me or my work. At least, not now I’ve found my style (I prefer ‘style’ to ‘voice’) and have a broad creative vision for my writing.

You might ask: ‘If you don’t submit, how will you be read?’ Good question, and one to which I don’t have a good answer. All I know is that I’m not about to give in.

 Where can I find Mark Antony Owen?

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