Thursday, March 31, 2005

Me & Liz: A Cautionary Tale; or, DEATH TO THE BLOGS!

Y'all must be feeling pritty darn good about yerselves, you super-cool revolutionary sweethearts of the blog, eh? Am I right? Written up on consecutive days in the Times...getting your names in bold-face (I won't name you, but you know who you are) on Tuesday, March 28--just a day after the same paper credited you with putting Liz Smith--the One, the Only, the Barbra Streisand of bold-face--out of business...

Hey, hotshots--a word of advice from someone who's been there, eh? Liz Smith's story--and, indeed, my own--demonstrates just how devastating the fall from great heights can be, and how fast it can occur. So keep that in mind as you turn your backs on the likes of Liz & Me.
Let's start with Monday's NYT Business section. The title says it all: "In the Blog Era, Liz Smith Wonders if There's Room for the Pro."

[An aside, if I may: is there such a thing as too exact a title? Should that particular NYT editor get a raise for precision? or a good talking-to about how, readers being scarce enough as it is, we don't want to make it too easy for them to skim past the article itself whilst walking from the kitchen to the den before they log onto Gawker?]

Tell the truth, cruel-hearted 21st century techno freak: the INSTANT you saw how Liz, that doyenne of discretion, but also the face of old-school gossip, had admitted defeat, what did you do? You dropped to one knee and performed that classic Tom Cruise "celebration of one's own greatness" maneuver, didn't you?

[You know the one, don't pretend otherwise: Clenched fist jerked crisply, Kung-Fu style, to shoulder, elbow pulled tight against your side-
--as you say, in a sharp whisper that sounds like a single blast of steam heat,

or, worse still,
"SCORE!!!" in,
"Score another victory for us renegade bad-a** anti-capitalist blogster dudes & dresses--we drove another anachronistic 'print media' sweetheart out into the cold." A triumph of NOW over THEN, of YOUTH over AGE, of INTELLECTUAL over INSTITUTIONAL, of WORKING JOE over THE MAN--

HOLD IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Listen up, blogmeisters! Before you get all gussied up for that TIME MAGAZINE TREND OF THE CENTURY cover photo, let's look at the facts. Nirvana, you're not. Sure, you represent the chaos and freshness of revolution, but in fact you graduated from a fancy college just like the rest of us--

[worse, you probably even have an M..F..A..!--]

and, sure as shootin', you didn't have to work an on-campus food service job, struggling madly to keep up as wave upon wave of blue dining-hall trays marched toward you with conveyor-belt doggedness; were never put in the position of having no choice but to dig, with your own sorry fingers, into the depths of those scratched-plastic juice glasses to retrieve from their bottoms the soggy, half-eaten remains of tapioca pudding, + innumerable cigarette butts; all this for $1.25 an hour, just to make ends meet...

C'mon, admit it! You're living in Park Slope or Hoboken, Berkeley or Ann Arbor or Toronto, with a bijillion-dollar sci-fi rack of computer gadgetry to make your blog smooth and shiny. You've got a cushy day job--OK, maybe you even work hard, and even like it (sorta), or at least like the bon-bons your paycheck pays for; or else you're milking the interest on Grand-Mama's inheritance; either way, this is a secret you keep from your blogroll regulars so that you can present as a Terry Malloy down-the-docks scuffer ("I coulda been a contenda," you bellow with anguish at your 84" flat-screen t.v.)

(But I digress...)

We were talking about my close personal friend, the lovely Liz Smith, who at 82 looks better than I did at 22--and about how all you Dave Eggers-trained smarty-pantses cluck dismissively at the old values--sweat kept secret, secrets held close, true to yer school, et cetera. And about the little snicker you won't admit to at the thought that you & your gang are taking over the world... Same as the way you pshaw publicly every time the NYT or some other establishment rag tries to get a "handle" on you and your funknographic gaggle, which of course they always, like, get so wrong... And yet if a Cool-Factor judge were to issue me a warrant to search your place of fiction commission--that is, the place you do your blogging, the place where you assume your Alt-Shift personae--I guarantee we'll find you've got a secret scrapbook of printed mentions that you keep under your floorboards, and this week's Times' articles will be right on top.

Oh, Liz--I feel your pain! Like you, I'm too principled to play the Nasty Nellie game--and look at the cost. They email me; they say, Hey Max--serve us some Dish or we're gonna cut you off. They want the nitty-gritty on why Y got fired; how M maneuvered around A to wind up with J's job; which literary agent is consumed with Reefer Madness; and which top editor swizzles the spit between her teeth, driving her assistant mad. I know all this stuff, of course I do--but I've never forgotten your advice: when in doubt, imagine the shoe on the other foot. What if this were said about you?

So I stay between the white lines--and because of this, they turn away. Oh, Liz! In the beginning it was magical! We here at BookAngst had no business plan, we were operating by the seats of our pants. But it worked, Liz! And, oh, the accolades! We went from 0 to 60 in no time flat. Suddenly NPR was calling, Oprah was calling; Publishers Weekly wanted to do a profile; there was a whole blog devoted to trying to figure out our true identity. [No, they never did get it right.] Meanwhile, at BookAngst 101 we had 6,000,023 hits in a single day. That's a lot of hits!

But it doesn't last, does it? (Though your run has been far, far longer than most.) Quite recently I was having lunch with an agent, and we were talking blogs. Unaware of my own pointed interest in the conversation, he was raving about all those po-mo lit-crit tech-head groove-sters, Marvelous Maud and Bookslut and Sarah the Idiosyncratic and ElVar and Beatrice/ix and Nathalie the GalleyCat and--well, pretty much everybody in the known lit-blog universe... except... AHEM...

"Sure, sure," I said, "But what about that, whatzit, BookAngst, the publishing blog?"

He squinted a moment as though trying to concentrate in a loud restaurant. (OK, it was a loud restauant.) I prompted him further: "You know--that Mad Max guy?" Finally the squint gave way to a flicker of recognition--and then

He. rolled. his. eyes.

"Oh, God, yeah, I know that one--isn't it such a bore? The guy obviously doesn't know anything about publishing; maybe if he had some good gossip or something it'd be worth it--instead he goes on and on about the dullest topics. Reaganomics, corporate mergers, blah blah blah."

That night I dragged myself home and discovered that I'd had nine--9!--hits in the previous 24 hours; and two of them were come-ons from porn sites.

Well, Liz, at least they're still writing about you. Whereas Tuesday's lit-blog-fete made no mention of....well.... Anyway, now that the writing's on the wall, Liz, I depend on your example to show me the way to a graceful exit. As to all you hot-shot blogsters riding high atop the crest of the moment, just remember:

Payback's a bitch!


TLG said...

But we're not bitter, are we?? ;)

You know I love you, right? Not love-love, but the way I love that portion of the internet that's capable of stringing words together in grammatically correct, diagram able sentences and then string said sentences together in a manner enjoyable to read.

The only thing worse than perpetual anonymity is being pushed out of the spotlight back into anonymity. The media’s fascination with all the various types of bloggers and all the zillions of things they blog about will die down soon ( I said that two years ago), and we’ll all just be lone voices crying out in the dark again. It’s comfier that way :)

On a seperate note...Sadly, I think your whole post was a metaphor for my childhood.

Ami said...

And to strike another painful metaphor...

You'll never be able to make a living at it. If you're in it for attention, or fame, or money, (or all those other things veteran writers say to wanna-be authors) get out, now. ;-)

Maybe, one day, if you're lucky, you'll make some extra bucks on the side by lecturing to bright-eyed university students about the anthropological importance of blogging.

You can go on and on about having seen, first hand, how the legendary six-figure 'deals' made by the star-bloggers of '05 weren't so great afterall. How the poor, hopeful schmucks were sucked into the machine and then spit back out when their publisher's dumped them for the new crop of 'of-the-moment' memoirs such as I am Doom, Gamers in the Myst, and Finding Everquest.

Give my best to Liz.
Former universtiy food service workers, unite!
Love ya, Max.

Phil W said...

Your descriptions capture the reason gossip is a sin. It's awful.

Don't be discouraged, Max. I like your blog. It's solid. I would like it less if it had gossip like the agent wants.

Bob Liter said...

You mentioned getting only nine hits on a particular day and several of them were spam. I was one of the others. Keep writing.
Bob Liter

Anonymous said...

So why DID Y get fired?

I think you owe it to me to say, after bringing up nightmarish memories of time served separating glass, trash, and plasticware in the dishroom of my hoitytoity private university. Not to mention the food-encrusted, often-bent flatware. Though at least I was paid threesomething an hour. You must be old.

Also, can one have a legitimate claim to suffer if one has a big-screen TV but doesn't use it very often? What if one lives in an upscale Southern California suburb, but drives an old car?

And who is the reefer-mad agent? I'll give you 25 extra bloghits if you tell.

Thanks for the amusement. I wuv you better than that Maud lady and Liz Smith combined. Hey, is it true what they say about that Maud lady and Liz Smith combined?

Anonymous said...

I used to read all the "literary" blogs daily. It took me a few weeks to realize that they were:
a) time-sucking worm-holes of self-aggrandizement
b) Mobius-like loops of reference, self-reference, and reference to self-referential writings
c) pseudo-cool cliques populated by people who had no discernible connection to the real world--that is, the actual productive world outside the helium-like ether of blogdom

BookAngst 101 is the only blog that remains in my bookmarks. I may not visit as often as I would like, but when I do, I always find the posts worth reading. Thank you for doing this.

Anonymous said...


I counted no less than three out-loud laughs (plus assorted sniggers) you scored with this post (visual: Max pumping fist), which is about three more than any of the other so called lit-blogs might be expected to deliver on any given day. Suggests to me you must be doing something right. Maybe park the exit strategy for a while, hunh?

And, I have to ask (though I am never quite sure whether/when to take you seriously)... that blog that sought the true Max identity... could you clip us a link 'cause I know I (sadly) missed it, if indeed there ever was such a thing.

BTW - while we're lamenting University odd-jobs... I did the food-service thing too, only on "party boats" in our harbor. Only thing, this was in an era of johnny-on-the-spot type holding tanks, which were pumped out at the end of the evening. The, errr, liquid waste, that is. So at the end of each cruise, one bright-eyed college student got handed an instrument dubbed "the plucker" and sent to the loos with a bucket in hand. Nuff said. And the payment, while moderately better than your buck-n-abit (guess I'm a tad younger - wink), never topped minimum wage... unless you count the three fingers of alcohol-of-plucker's-choice that acknowledged a job well done. I'll take tapioca anyday.

Brenda Coulter said...

Gee, Max, your post made me feel so bad I'm going to go straight home and put up a link to your blog. I bet I could shoot you two, maybe even three unique visitors a day.

C'mon, everybody. Put something in the hat for good ol' Max.

Anonymous said...

I like your blog so much, I have a link to it from my blog. I like the info you provide. What's more I find it useful and entertaining -- so that's twice the benefit for the investment of time.

We don't need gossip!

Anonymous said...


It wasn't reefer he was addled on, I can tell you that much.

Frances said...

Mad Max, I also have a link from my blog to yours. I'm not sure if anyone has ever clicked through, but I read you! Your insights into the publishing world, however veiled, are a translation into a world I understand very little. Keep it up! Nine hits a day - that's 9 more than were reading you before your blog.

Frank said...

Oh, Max, WE still love you! I'll be honest, I like gossip as much as the next bitter, thwarted person, but gossip doesn't have to be EVERYWHERE. Keep doing what you're doing.

Anonymous said...

i still clock on too max, almost an act of faith, but it's no longer the depths of winter with dark hours to spare on you and there's novels to be written and i ran out of pies and got a new agent and started the garden and cut my finger and maybe you should be doing some of these things too because you're starting to sound like that sam lipshyte. so now you know how it feels to sell 600 copies in 5 years of a novel which took 10 to write and 14 blocks of A4 because your editor led you up the fuckin garden path. turn the gun round max, and let's get going again. we had some fun back then, didnt we man...?

Beth Ciotta said...

I visit you daily, Max. I've got a link from my blog to yours as well. We don't need no stinkin' gossip. At least I don't. That's not why I come here. Hang tough and blog on!

Libertarian Girl said...

To my Dear fellow (anonymous) Food Service Survivor,

Re "the plucker": nuff said indeed! Tapioca + cigarettes is a relatively tasty combo, in that context. And an extra XO to you for the "laugh out louds" & assorted sniggers...

To Sad Saxe:

Well, naturally, I know what Richard Widmark said in HOW THE WEST WAS WON, but perhaps for the sake of the rest of the people reading, you should deliver the punchline nonetheless? [Kind of me, don't you think, not to steal your thunder?]

Anonymous said...

Ah, Max darling.

I'm a writer, a blogger (and a lot of other things that end in "er") and I have enjoyed your insights into the mechanisms of publishing. The gossip, however, is unimportant to me. I'm not a New Yorker, I adore my editor, and it's none of my business who's sleeping with who or which author/agent/editor has a problem or quirk or failing.

Enough people gripe and complain and stab one another in the back. Please don't go there. Instead, stick to the material that made you great. The nuts and bolts and insider perspective on a tricky business. It's tough to navigate these waters without a map. Don't leave us in the dark too.

Anonymous said...

Yours was one of the first links I added the first day I set up shop on the net. Just a small post, a few books recommendations, and YOU.
We love the Angst.

TLG said...

Ami, I'm in it for the chix. Don't tell my husband. Chix dig chix that write encyclopedia entries (it was just that one time!! I swear!! I was hard up for cash!!!). One day, I hope to be a rock star in the boring world of encyclopediary

(I also plan to revolutionize dictionaria with all my made-up words)

Anonymous said...

OK - I give... I the only one waiting for Sad Saxe to wade back in with his Widmark quote? Does admitting such mark me as anal-retentive? Put us (me) out of our misery, won't you Max?

And, while you're at it... thanks for the Xs and Os, and a fine distraction they were, but... you won't mind if I note for the record that you never did answer my query re: the search for your identity. How about that link, blog boy?

Anonymous said...

For the record, I worked food services freshman year, after which I decided to apply for a job at the computer lab, teaching my fellow students how to change their Word docs from single- to double-spaced for $7/hr.

And I dig Book Angst heaps.

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A VOCATION OF UNHAPPINESS [Courtesy Georges Simenon (1903-1985)]

"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."

PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]

"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."

PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]

"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."