Category: jonathan franzen

Authors Behaving Badly: New Hope Gay Marriage Saga

Authors Behaving Badly

In the past few years we’ve heard a great deal about authors behaving badly. There’s even an acronym…BBA…badly behaving author. But this following list mentions a few alleged BBAs who aren’t new authors, or even self-published authors, and I found the comments fascinating.

Here are just a few names mentioned. There are fourteen mentioned altogether, twelve of which are showcased in detail.

Jonathan Franzen:

While we love Franzen’s work, he doesn’t seem to be the friendliest guy in town. First, he insulted Oprah. Who insults Oprah?! When Oprah wanted to make “The Corrections” one of her book club picks, Franzen was insulted. He notes, “I think she was surprised that I wasn’t moaning with shock and pleasure.” Um, why wouldn’t you be? Oprah is about to make you rich. Jonathan Franzen thinks he’s too good to have suburban housewives reading his books. To make matters worse, he wrote that horrible piece about Edith Wharton in the New Yorker that basically talked about how she hated other women because she was so ugly, so she only created tragic beautiful female characters. Yeah, Jonathan. We’re sure that was the reason. Just totally undermine the first female author to win a Pulitzer for her fiction. Good job.

I’ve loved everything Franzen has ever written. But I do marvel at his luck sometimes. And while I do believe that we create our own luck for the most part, I also think there’s something working in the metaphysical background for some people that most of us can’t figure out. It’s not every author who can write one book with bad sex scenes and annoying characters every ten years and make millions.

James Franco:

James Franco likes to call himself a part of the literary community, but unfortunately for him, they don’t really seem to want him (in fact, it might be a stretch to call him a “famous author” in the first place. He’s more “famous” and, in addition, an “author”). The LA Times recently ran a post called Will James Franco Please Stop? However, Franco insists that his undertaking so many artistic projects and trying to look like a renaissance man does not, in fact, make him a jerk. He told E! “If anyone wants to say that my doing these things makes me a jerk, that’s not about me—that’s about people reacting to me.” We see both sides of this coin. However, we think it’d be one thing if writing poetry and novels was just a hobby of Franco’s and he wasn’t pursuing getting them all published. That’s just obnoxious.

This one is tricky for me. Franco has done so many things I admire I just don’t get him being called a BBA. In 2006 James Franco went to UCLA to get his degree. He took 62 credits a quarter, where the normal load is about 18 or 19. And for some that’s even pushing it. He received his degree in 2008, and he never stopped acting during his time in school. He wrote his thesis under Mona Simpson, an author I’ve mentioned here before (she was Steve Jobs’ sister, who didn’t meet Jobs until many years later because Jobs had been put up for adoption…and she also wrote one of my favorite novels of all time, Anywhere But Here). And this is only a partial list of James Franco’s credits. So I personally don’t find him anything but inspirational. And I think calling him a BBA is really reaching too far.

As a side note, the author of this article made a few fundamental mistakes, which are all updated at the bottom of the post. I couldn’t actually find a byline anywhere. You can read more here.

New Hope Gay Marriage Saga

I’ve been following the story of gay marriage and the Mayor of New Hope, PA, where I live, and it continues to devolve. I posted about this early last week. The gist of all this is that Mayor Keller of New Hope believes it’s more important to follow the law than it is to question ethics and inequality. And even though a clerk in Montgomery County, PA, a few miles away from New Hope, has been issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples illegally, Mayor Keller refuses to honor those licenses and he refuses to perform same sex marriage ceremonies in New Hope because same sex marriage in Pennsylvania is illegal. Most legal analysts claim there is limited risk if Keller were to perform same sex marriages, and right now a judge is about to rule on what the clerk in Montgomery County did.

In any event, this was a recent article I read in a local newspaper about Keller.

On one side is the four-term Republican incumbent, Larry Keller, who supports legalization of same-sex marriage and recently declined to perform a wedding ceremony for a gay couple, citing Pennsylvania law, his oath of office and the legal advice of the borough’s solicitor.

On the other side is the Democrat challenger, Donna Deely, who had said she would, if elected, perform such ceremonies and now says she would respect the decision of the state court system, whatever that might be.

At the end of the article, a very clever little small town journalist adds this:

A recent poll by Franklin and Marshall College found that 76 percent of respondents disapprove of elected officials ignoring laws with which they disagree.

The journalist must have looked for ages to find that piece of information. And, there is no mention of the types of laws. In other words, Keller is upholding a law that’s not only unethical, but it is as steeped in US history as segregation laws and slavery laws. In other words, if there were a law in PA that stated people of African descent could not use the same water fountains or public bathrooms that white people use, would Mayor Keller be a hero for upholding that law?

I have the highest respect for the law. We need laws and we need to follow laws. But every so often a law comes along that needs to be challenged, and in this case it’s same sex marriage. What is going to be most interesting out of all of this is whether or not Keller is relected this fall. New Hope has a large gay community, but it’s not all gay. And if Keller is relected it’s going to speak loudly about where the straight community in New Hope stands on the issue of same sex marriage. Because it’s one thing to say you support same sex marriage, but it’s a completely different issue to actually support it.

Here’s a letter to the editor from one local paper.

New Hope Mayor Keller brought disappointment and sadness to me this week. My life is peppered with many amazing and happy times in New Hope. I shake my head. One of the friendliest places to gay people in Pennsylvania has a mayor who refused to marry a gay couple. Amazing!

Why would someone support a law that is obviously unethical? I remember my father telling me the Army (he served in the Korean War) gave a soldier the option to not follow an order if the soldier felt the command was unethical and/or immoral. If Mayor Keller is for gay rights, then why would he morally or ethically uphold the current marriage law?

As a local official, Mayor Keller should call Gov. Corbett and ask him to stand down and bring down the state marriage law. He should be an advocate for gay rights and not against gay rights.

I was married in New York in July the week of the Supreme Court DOMA decision. My wish was to marry among my family and friends in Pennsylvania, but I could not. Mayor Keller of New Hope was given the chance to stand up for equality and change. He sat down and supported the current law. Amazing!

Now this is an interesting spin. In the same article I linked to above, this is mentioned.

Keller said he is one of about 350 mayors nationwide who have signed a letter by Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, and this week sent a letter to Governor Tom Corbett that said although he always will uphold his oath, ” … in my heart, I strongly believe same-sex marriage should be legal.”

And this is how the New Hope Council responded. It’s an online version of the newspaper, and I couldn’t find another link. But I wanted to add the link becuase I know several of the people on the list are openly gay, and in long term relationships. One I’ve met at parties and she and her partner recently married on Cape Cod this summer, in Provincetown. In other words, she’s legally married in MA, but not in New Hope, where she selflessly gives her time to work for the town of New Hope as a council member.

The following members of the New Hope Burough Council want the public to know that we support marriage equality and will do all in our power to put pressure on our state senator, state representatives, and Gov. Corbett to change the biased unconstitutional law banning same sex marriage. We are proud members of a town that supports diversity and equal rights for all. We will not stop our pro-active role until Pennsylvania supports marriage equality.


Jonathan Franzen Claims E-Books "May" Be Bad for Society

First, the article to which I’m linking sounds as though it almost wants Mr. Franzen to hate e-books. But after reading his comments in full I didn’t walk away with that impression. His comments and opinions read more like what I hear from many people about e-books: they just aren’t sure about them yet.

This is understandable. I felt the same way about e-books five years ago. Because I couldn’t hold a tangible item in my hands…a physical print book…it didn’t seem as relevant to me. From what I hear, this is allegedly a huge problem with book pirates in Russia. They can’t hold and feel the digital books so they think nothing of pirating them to see if they want to buy the print books.

Oddly enough, Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM was, indeed, one of the last print books I read, and might possibly ever read. I’m not joking when I say this either. The thought of going back and reading a print book, especially a huge print book like FREEDOM, makes my stomach tighten.

Here’s a small excerpt from the article with Franzen:

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.”

Once again, I thought along these same line, too…at one time. But the moment I bought my first digital reader, a Kobo basic e-reader in e-ink, I was absolutely amazed at how much it felt like a book. In fact, for me it was almost an old fashioned experience. And, for the record, Kobo does not pay me to endorse them.

I now read everywhere and take my entire library with me. After having published over 84 works of fiction, I’ve experienced eye strain and can’t see a thing without reading glasses. I’m forty and I worry about the future of my eyes. My e-reader made a world of difference. I can adjust the print to suit my needs. I don’t have to strain anymore. Since I switched to digital books I’ve read in medical offices, hospitals, car dealerships, on public transportation, and on the beach. Before digital books, I had to set time aside to read, which always bothered me because I don’t have that much time to spare.

Here’s another comment by Franzen those who are unfamiliar with e-books often make:

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring.”

People will always care about printed books. I still do. They are just going to care in a different way. I fully understand the feeling of holding a printed book in a specific time and place. However, when I started reading my first e-book on my first basic e-reader, it shocked me at how this feeling remained the same. I didn’t feel cheated. I didn’t feel as if what I was reading was anything less than if it had been printed in hard copy. And the fact that I didn’t have to take it off a shelf reassured me even more, especially when I grasped the magnitude of the fact that I can, without hassles or sitting in traffic, buy any book I want with just one simple click. I like this power as a reader. I like knowing I have this power. I also like knowing I don’t have to suffer through the screams and yells of kids running around large brick and mortar bookstores that sell toys and stuffed animals.

Franzen added this:

“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

Once again, I “get” it. This is something I would have said, with both pride and attitude, five years ago. And at that time, I was actually writing digital books. You can imagine my own personal dilemma. Here I was writing them and getting them published and I didn’t know the first thing about how people were reading them. After reading the quotes in this article by Franzen, I have to admit that I do take a small amount of satisfaction in knowing I once felt the same way he feels now. In other words, I can’t blame the guy. (But this could also be due to the fact that I love his work so much he can do no wrong.)

I’ve read both FREEDOM and THE CORRECTIONS by Franzen. I posted about FREEDOM, here, last February…almost a year to the date I’m writing this post. I loved both books. I love the way Franzen writes. I’m not going to get into anything else because this isn’t a review. But the one thing I regret is that I didn’t read FREEDOM in digital. I would have enjoyed it more because I wouldn’t have had to deal with a huge bulky book in my hands. I did, however, buy the digital version for my digital library at a later date. I might not read it again for a long time, but I know it’s there and I can whenever I want. I now have three digital reading devices that range from e-ink to a tablet. They are all hooked up together and I now have three digital copies of FREEDOM. I can’t take them down from a shelf; all I have to do is press a button.

I have no regrets about joining the digital age of publishing, as a reader or a published author who’s been around for a long time. It’s only improved the quality of my life. But I would have argued that point to the bitter end five years ago.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I just finished FREEDOM late last night, the new Jonathan Franzen novel. I wrote a small post about the book when I was halfway through it, here, and mentioned how interesting it was to actually enjoy reading a book with characters I honestly couldn’t stand. And now that I’m finished with the book, though I still don’t like most of the main characters, I absolutely loved it.

This is partly because I like Franzen’s writing style. I know at least a third of the book could have been edited, which would have made the book tighter. I’m a huge fan of word economy and getting books down to the bare minimum for the sake of moving the story forward quickly. It’s often more difficult to write a 40,000 word novel than it is to write a 400,000 word novel and to get the point across without compromising anything. But, like I said, I enjoy Franzen’s writing style and didn’t mind the length of FREEDOM.

And, for me, the ending was a surprise (no spoilers here). Given the nature of these characters, I didn’t think the book would end as it did, and I was expecting to be disappointed. In other words, this was the ending I was hoping for. I just didn’t think it would happen. To the best of their abilities, the characters do arc throughout the book, especially Patty. And if you can put up with Patty’s annoying personality by the time you’re halfway through this book, you’ll enjoy the way it ends.

Joey, though, was my favorite character. He was the most exciting, the most interesting, and often the most tragic person in the book due to circumstances beyond his control. But he wasn’t always tragic, and I found myself feeling a great deal of respect for him more than once. I’ve seen other reviews about FREEDOM where people didn’t think Joey was realistic enough. But first, I thought it was, and that’s all that really matters to me as a reader. Second, this is fiction, I said fiction, and the people who leave reviews like this should just sit back, read what the author has created, and stop worrying about whether or not it’s realistic enough for them. If they want realism, they should go down to the local supermarket and shop.

The only character who slightly disappointed me was Joey’s college friend. I thought he should have been written in as gay. He was so devoted to Joey and hated his own sister so much, it would have been a perfect little sub-plot. Especially the scene where he comes into the room he shares with Joey after Joey has just masturbated and talks about the smell of the room. I don’t think a lot of straight guys would have mentioned this aloud. But I’m used to this sort of thing in mainstream fiction, where gays are usually ignored. And this is why I write what I write, so it’s all good.

Being that I write erotic romance, I found it interesting to read the way Franzen handled sex in the book. I set personal boundaries with my characters that I never cross, but not nearly as many boundaries as authors who write mainstream literary fiction. I don’t have to set these boundaries because my audience expects me to cross lines authors like Franzen won’t cross. But that doesn’t mean I was disappointed at all in the way Franzen wrote the sex scenes. Actually, this is probably the first mainstream literary novel I’ve read in a long time where an author had the guts to tackle certain sexual situations in detail. This is especially true with Joey and his sexual needs and preferences. (Joey is one horny little guy who seems up for almost anything.) I would have liked to have read more sex scenes in general, being that I believe sex is what often motivated the characters in FREEDOM…it was a strong underlying force throughout the book. But I wasn’t disappointed either. At least sex was handled, which doesn’t usually happen.

You’re going to hear a lot of people with opinions about FREEDOM. I’ve heard them myself, both good and bad. I’ve read a few reader reviews on amazon and that actually surprised me. And regardless of these reviews, I’d personally recommend this book to everyone, especially aspiring authors. But you have to read the entire book. If you start out expecting a wonderful reading experience and you want it fast, you’re going to be disappointed. However, if you read with the intention of finishing the entire book and getting through the rough spots, you will not be disappointed in the way it ends. That is, unless you’re a die-hard cat lover.

A Halfway Through the Book Review: Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM

I have to admit that after reading three Toni Morrison books in a row, which I just did last month, any author or book that follows is going to have a rough time convincing me Toni Morrison isn’t the best author in the history of the planet.

But I started reading FREEDOM, by Jonathan Franzen, after finishing Morrison’s, JAZZ, and it wasn’t easy to switch gears. This has nothing to do with Franzen’s style or his book. It’s just that Franzen is so different from Toni Morrison it was hard not to compare the two authors. The easy part was I’m a fan of Franzen’s CORRECTIONS, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing what Franzen has been up to in the last ten years.

Right now I’m halfway through FREEDOM. (I know no one gives halfway reviews, but it’s a long book and it’s my blog so I can do whatever I want here.) I’ve read Patty’s autobiography, I’ve watched her transition from a young adult to a college student to a housewife and mother. I’ve seen Walter and Richard through their ups and downs. And I’ve read about Joey’s kinky little escapades with phone sex and observed his peculiar little wench of a girlfriend. And if I had to rate FREEDOM on amazon right now, I can safely say I’d give it five stars without even knowing the ending.

I wouldn’t rate it this way because I love the characters. In this particular case, I don’t think I’ve ever despised characters in a book quite this way before. They are vapid, self-indulgent, and absolutely fascinating in all their dullness. I’m not even sure I can explain this clearly, but I actually love them because I hate them so much. These characters are everything for which I do not stand and never will stand. The only character with whom I can remotely relate is Joey, because he seems so eager all the time.

And right now, though I can’t even begin to predict the ending, I couldn’t recommend this book more to anyone looking for good fiction. I also like Jonathan Franzen’s writing style. I’ve seen reviews of FREEDOM where readers have blasted his dialogue. But I disagree. I like the way he pulls it off, and I can’t help wondering which character Franzen is most like. If I had to guess I’d say he really wants to be like Richard, in reality people see him more as Walter, but deep down, he’s all Joey.

Jonathan Franzen Discussing Tennessee Williams and Living in St. Louis

Although I probably shouldn’t be, I am, in fact, a fan of Jonathan Franzen’s work. In this youtube clip, at the bottom of the post, he explains why I probably shouldn’t be a fan. When they discuss Tennessee Williams, and the fact that Williams was also from St. Louis, it shows a distinction between the mind-set of the gay male author and the straight male author. Franzen writes about St. Louis and speaks of it with mostly fond memories, where Williams never wrote about St. Louis and actually refused…so they say…to even be buried there. And even though no one can be sure, it’s suggested that Williams didn’t have the same fond memories of St. Louis as Franzen because he was gay. I mention both Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote in this previous post and what Franzen says in this interview helps back me up.

In this respect, I couldn’t agree more with Franzen on Tennessee Williams. Nowadays St. Louis is just as gay friendly as most places in America. I have a gay nephew who lives and works at Washington University and he loves St. Louis. But I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for a gay man living there forty or fifty years ago. From what I hear, it wasn’t even that great in New York. But at least in New York there was a strong underground gay community to help gay men like Williams survive.

But I am, however, still a huge fan of both Franzen and Williams. Because for me…and this might be generational…I find good fiction fascinating enough to love all fiction writers as long as they write well. I’ve been holding off sending book reviewer, Elisa Rolle, a list of my favorite authors because I don’t make distinctions about whether authors are gay or straight. And my list, without apology, doesn’t just consist of gay authors and m/m fiction. In this case, Franzen writes so well I couldn’t care less who he sleeps with (though, he is kind of cute in that book-ish way). I also like the fact that Franzen made the distinction between his work and Williams’ work so openly. A lot of authors, gay or straight, would have just brushed over it without making any important statements at all for fear of saying anything…heaven forbid…politically incorrect. As far as his being an elitist goes, I just don’t buy it.

The only area where I disagree with Franzen is this quote I read on wiki:
Never use the word “then” as a ­conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page. …But this is just a stylistic preference and one of those writing ticks all authors have been aruging about since the beginning of time.