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Monday, February 14, 2005

Mat Coward by Sandy Auden

'copyright Sandy Auden 2005'

Ed here: The Alien Online is one of my must-reads every morning. It is packed with news, interviews, reviewers author links, all done in high style. The Brit science fiction-fantasy-horror scene(s) gone as riveting reads. Here is a piece by Sandy Auden about our friend Mat Coward.

Mat Coward - trying to avoid success and failing
More than you ever needed to know about being a writer…
Submitted by: Sandy Auden
On: 09.02.2005

Mat Coward's new non-fiction book, Success…And How To Avoid It, is out now from TTA Press and takes a look at the true life of a freelance writer – something he knows a lot about having been part of the writing profession for nearly two decades.

Using many anecdotes from his own life, Coward has put together an invaluable guide for all kinds of writers, from journalists to novelists; but the difference with this book, compared to most How To Write tomes, is that Coward takes off the rose-tinted glasses, throws them on the floor, and jumps up and down on them. He delivers an honest description of what being a freelance writer is all about, and includes some solid advice for any writer, whether you're just starting out or more experienced.

"It's interesting to me," said Coward, "that every review so far has highlighted the 'honesty' of the book. It seems obvious that a book of this kind would be worthless (and wouldn't sell, and wouldn't get rave reviews) if it wasn't honest - that is, to a large extent, its selling-point. But I suppose people's surprise and pleasure at the book's honesty tells us a lot about previous books for writers."

There are many anecdotes from Coward's life included in Success. Many of them are highly entertaining but a few show how badly things can go wrong. Did Coward find it therapeutic to write down these bitter experiences? "I'm not sure it was, no," he said. "I think to be truly therapeutic for the author, a book of this sort would have to consist of detailed accounts - including names, dates and amounts - of actual conflicts between the writer and his various editors, sub[-editor]s, agents, producers, and so on. And that would, of course, be unpublishably dull; unless you were to fictionalise it and pass it off as literary fiction, and I've never yet sunk low enough to dabble with literary fiction.

"Rather than being therapeutic, dredging up all this stuff – the disappointments, the failures, the letdowns - just brought it all back to the front of my mind. I've never understood the idea of hypnotherapy; memories are buried for a reason."

For fledgling writers, yet to have their optimism ripped from them, the book highlights some harsh realities. "I wouldn't want to discourage people from writing, if they enjoy it, as a hobby, or even as a paying hobby," Coward said. "But I certainly want to discourage people from trying to do it as a main source of income; from committing their lives to it.

"Unfortunately, it is one of those things that almost everyone thinks they could do, and almost no-one actually can do. It is, for the most part, extremely hard work, pretty boring, and almost impossible to make any money at. By 'any money', I mean an income at the level of the minimum wage.

"If I were to give one really useful bit of advice to young people dreaming of a writing life it would be something that people of my parents' generation used to be told by people of their grandparents' age: get a trade. Do not go to college, because that won't equip you to earn money in a hurry; education only makes you good at feeling resentful. Get an actual trade, like plumbing or hairdressing or care-home nursing, do an apprenticeship or a day-release course, get a certificate.

"At the very least, get a lot of experience of bar work or waitressing. Not only will you always have something to write about - which is a very rare gift, as any contemporary fiction reader will agree – but you will be able to earn money through self-employment, as and when you need to. You can work a few days, write a few days, take it as it goes, ride out the famines and take full advantage of the feasts, and you will survive long enough to get something written. Every creative writing course should be required by law to include a Central Heating Servicing module."

Once you start to understand Coward's point of view, you have to ask: if it's so bad, why don't you go back to a day job? "I fantasise about doing that - getting a job," he replied. "I'm not sure about a corporate robot job, but something nice and regular, anyway. It would, after nearly twenty years of this, be a pleasant change. Obviously, it would have to be something without a stringent dress code - I've spent twenty years working in my dressing gown and slippers, I'm not about to change that.

"I never really intended to do this full-time, all the time, forever. But as it turned out, personal circumstances dictate that I'm stuck with it. Even if I could get a job, I'm not sure who'd employ me. I've been a writer most of my adult life; I have no significant qualifications, no relevant skills and no recent experience of ... anything.

"Can you imagine the job interview? 'OK, Mr Coward, and what have you been doing since 1986? We don't seem to have those pages here ...' Oh, post-86? Well, I've been sitting in a room smoking and making stuff up. 'Mr Coward, are you aware that you're wearing a dressing gown here today?'

"People starting out in writing really do need to beware of this - suppose it doesn't really work out, but it takes quite a long time not to work out? Think about this: who is going to give you a job when you're 45? Keep up that hairdressing, please!"

You can find more information about the author at the Mat Coward website or for purchasing information, head on over to www.ttapress.com.

Source: Mat Coward

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Jon Breen

The current movie Hide and Seek illustrates a problem with most film reviewing. Having read the critics we usually read, in the L.A. Times and Wall Street Journal, and listened to some more on our local public radio station, Rita and I had decided it must be one of the classic turkeys of all time, and despite the promising-looking trailers and our enthusiasm for Robert DeNiro, we’d pretty much decided to give it a miss. Indeed, some of the reviewers were indicting DeNiro for lowering himself to accepting such a potboiler at all, accusing him of just taking on the project to finance his film festival.

But then the ads for the film started to include some glowing quotes from reviewers (and these were print reviewers, not TV and internet quote whores) that proclaimed it a classic of nail-biting suspense. We decided we’d give it a try after all. How bad could it be?

Well, it’s not bad at all. It’s not great by any means, but it’s a good, solid diversion, eminently worth seeing if maybe not worth buying the DVD for repeat viewings. Most professionally made films that make it to the theatres are like that: okay, if you like that sort of thing. Very few are masterpieces, while a few more (but not all that many) are total disasters. Movie critics don’t seem able to say that very often: generally a film must be praised to the skies or damned as garbage with no in between allowed.

A couple more specific points on Hide and Seek, without giving anything away. The ending is a surprise, but in retrospect the only possible solution. And one of the elements of the plot that reviewers were quickest to jump on as implausible is in fact a clue to the outcome of the movie. The filmmakers have practiced fair play, the very thing we mystery traditionalists look for and don’t always find.

One other thing: at least one reviewer implied the performance of Dakota Fanning as DeNiro’s daughter (yeah, his daughter, not his granddaughter) was no challenge to her talent, a slam dunk, she could have phoned it in. The movie world seems to be taking this kid for granted. By any rational standard, her performance is extraordinary for a child actor and one of the key elements in making the film as entertaining as it is.

Jon Breen
Why Wait? Move to EarthLink.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

From Ted Fitzgerald

Ted Fitzgerald:

Arthur Miller, RIP.

His passing should be noted.

I can't add to anything you can read over the next day or so, except that DEATH OF A SALESMAN, ALL MY SONS and THE CRUCIBLE have never been more relevant or important. I think a good teacher can drive Willy Loman's story home to kids of all circumstances.

O'Neill and Tennessee W. may have hit a few more balls out of the park, but if I had to pick one American play, just one, as the best, the most important, the most timeless, its SALESMAN. And I think you all are on the same wavelength.

But it's depressing how many obits focus first on Miller's marriage to Marilyn Monroe, then on his work. But, what else is new in Bushamerica?


Memorable lines from Athrur Miller's Death of A Salesmans (AP)
-- "A salesman has got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory."
-- "After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive."
-- "Be liked and you will never want."
-- "I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person."
--"You don't understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back -- that's an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you're finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory."es from Miller plays
-- "Never fight with a stranger, boy. You'll never get out of the jungle that way."



"The Crucible"
-- "I have not moved from there to there without I think to please you, and still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart."
"A View from the Bridge"
-- "I am inclined to notice the ruin in things, perhaps because I was born in Italy." 

© Copyright 2005 Associated Press.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Arthur Miller; Jack Chalker

An interesting piece on NPR about Arthur Miller being a lasting American playwright--the only other two being Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams.

I hadn't ever thought of it that way, not quite anyway, but I suppose it's true. From that hallowed A list of three the drop to the B list is a fur piece to travel. Not that there aren't many many lesser playwrights of wide and great talent on that list. In fact some of them are at least as interesting as the three gods. But when you think of last century worldwide with playwrights such as Piranadello and Ionesco and Pinter, I think our own hallowed trinity are the only ones we can safely put up.

Caught an interview from 1999 with Miller and he told a great Harry Cohn story. Harry's Columbia studio paid a lot of money for film righst to "Death of A Salesman" but then Joe McCarthy came along and denounced the play as an attack on the American way (I guess because it depicted a man whipped and humiliated by capitalism as a whiner and coward).

Harry decided the only thing to do was to create an 8 minute docu-drama called "Life of A Salesman" in which a jubilant American family of Ozzie & Harriet stripe celebrate Dad's joyous news that he just sold a steamship (or some other big ticket item) and let the comies put THAT up where the sun don't shine. This ran before "Death of A Salesman."

Only Harry Cohn.


I was always grateful to the science fiction writer Jack Chalker for publishing my first three short stories back in 1958-1959 in his fanzine "Mirage." I long ago lost my copies but about a year ago I had occasion to speak to Jack and congratulate him on being a best-selling science fiction writer, which, back in the ffties, was the holiest of my dreams.

Jack passed today at age 58.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Stuff on the web today

Ed: On her must-read blog today Sarah Weinman linked to a piece about a "fab" novel sale for considerable dough. Nobody is ever going to stop publishers (or any of us for that matter) from being foolish. By my God can't somebody rein in the freaking publicity department once in a while. Listen to this hoo-hah:

"27-year-old Marisha Pessl's SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS, the story of a young woman and her professor father, pitched as "Nabokovian in scope and style," with a "Hitchcockian and Donna Tarttish narrative" and "Jonathan Franzen and Lorrie Moore-type metaphors," to Carole DeSanti at Viking, in a major deal, at auction, by Susan Golomb at the Susan Golomb Agency (NA). UK rights to Viking UK, in a significant deal, in a pre-empt; Dutch rights to Ambos/Anthos, in a very nice deal, in a pre-empt."

Ed: I do believe that is the first and last time we will ever see Nabakov and Hitchcock's name in the same sentence. Not to mention--God forbid--Hitch and Johnathan Franzen.

At least Marisha has the decency to be damned good looking.

Two of you wrote me off line about my reference to Tom Gifford at all, wanting to know more. Unfortunately, my impression of him was formed by three or four phone calls and by talking to his grand good friend (and fine writer) Robert Byrne. Because I'm such a brown shoes kind of guy, I always like to listen to people who can take a cloudy day and by sheer force of cosmic willand turn it into a sunny, jolly party.

When Tom died Bob wrote a Mystery Scene piece about him. Tom was all classic cars and classic women and classic affairs and classic style. I don't envy that--I don't have it in me--but it's sure fun to watch. I think of Tom--in addition to being a first class writer--in the way I think of Jackie Gleason packing that long long train filled with babes, booze and buddies and heading from NYC to Miami. And curiously enough I sense the same dark Mick melancholy in each of them too.m

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ed here:

A few years ago I met an attractive, fortyish, bright woman in a bookstore where I was doing a signing.

My presence create the usual problem--crowd control. But it's not what you think. The owner was in desperate need to FIND a crowd so I'd have somebody to talk to. I think there were maybe eight people there.

The owner explained it by saying that it was because of the weather that so few people had shown up--sixty degrees, a fine sunny April Saturday, who would want to come to a mall on a day like this (well, apparently a few thousand people wanted to because the other stores were packed). This was the same very nice store owner who'd told me a couple years earlier that it was the "weather" then too--a balmy forty-three degree February afternoon--and only a pittance of people for my signing. Who'd want to venture out on a dangerous winter afternoon like that one? He was trying to save face--mine.

Anyway, after the little talk I gave (as I recall I was discussing quantam physics and the history of Aztec art) the fortyish woman stepped up to the table and bought two of my books and then sort of hung around to talk to me. She said that writers never seemed much like their books. My books, she said, were so dark and brooding and yet I'd basically done fifteen minutes of standup comedy a few minutes ago. She said it didn't make sense that I'd be one way in person and another way in print.

I mention this this evening because Sarah Weinman's blog had an interesting discussion on a similar topic this morning.

When I explained to the woman that I always wore a masque at book signings, she said she didn't believe me. I don't think I ever did convince her.

But it's true. In person I'm usually doing gags because it's one way of keeping people at bay. It covers my shyness. I've seen a number of writers at signings whom I suspect do the same thing. So I question people's ability to "judge" a writer's real personality by his books--or even by meeting him in person.

"Do not understand me too quickly."

I guess we all make assumptions about creative people based on their work. But the work is not always a reliable or even safe path to the secret heart.

As Thomas Gifford--a Dubuque man and international bestseller and one of the most fascinating people I ever met--always wrote in the front of his books: I am not I; they are not they.

Fair warning.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

used book royalties

Ed here:
I've noiced that the subject of earning royalties on used books has taken on new purpose now that Amazon has begun mining serious coin out of "pre-read" (hey, if it's good enough for used car dealers, it's good enough for me) books.

I'm dimly aware that an attempt was made to do this in the UK. Maybe some of you folks can tell me if it's worked out over there.

There was a pre-Amazon time when I thought the idea was sort of dumb. Hell, I buy a lot of books used and always have.Saves me a lot of money. But now, in a way that would have been impossible before Amazon, we are competing against our own pre-read books for cash.

I'm neither a leader nor a joiner of groups. I won't sign petitions, I won't march, I won't speak up publicly unless a a situation has begun to inflict physical harm on people.

But as someone who himself orders used books from Mr. Bezos, I'd like to know what other writers think of the royalties idea. How would they be calculated? Who would collect them? Is it even worth the trouble?

Be interesting to see what you folks think. --EG