I spent the past couple evenings watching some of the many, many episodes of Good Eats on my DVR. One episode in particular (“Tort(illa) Reform“) was especially thought provoking. One of the things that endears me to the show is how Alton Brown presents not only recipes but the science and often the anthropology behind foods. In this case, corn.
The foodstuff in question is actually properly called “maize.” The name “corn” is applied in Europe to most cereal crops. In this case, we’re dealing specifically with the starchy, thick-hulled maize used by the Aztecs to make nixtamal, AKA “hominy,” which begets masa which begets all manor of deliciousness.
After Cortez got done pretending to be a god and eradicating the massive Aztec empire, he returned to Europe with lots and lots of gold, but also maize. Unfortunately for the Europeans, Cortez was too busy killing Aztecs to notice their methods of producing nixtamal. See, the Aztecs learned thousands of years prior that by soaking corn kernels in an alkaline solution of water and wood ash they could remove the pericarp, or outer hull. Skipping this step leaves the maize nutritionally inefficient, and that’s why many European cultures that adopted maize as a staple food were stricken with pellagra, a niacin deficiency that fanatical “House MD” fans like me will recognize from the second-season episode “Forever,” in which it made a lady attempt to drown, and then successfully smother, her baby.
[Credit to David Byrne for the post title]
Way back in November of 2007 I posted about the sordid saga of Ethan Reynolds, formerly of the model blog / community Brat Boy School (since shut down; internet wayback machine link here – caution, it loads slowly). I’m seeing echoes of that experience in the recent downfall of “Hockey Kid Mikey,” an alleged gay high school hockey player promoted by gay web site OutSports who, after building a small empire on the web, turned out to probably be a 40-year-old gay hockey fan.
Both appear to be cases where some blogger used the magical power of the internet to pretend to be someone else. In both cases the bloggers built an enormous base of enamored fans, and in both cases their success began to open doors outside the internet shortly before their fictitious persona fell apart. In neither case were any actual crimes (apparently) committed, and yet in both cases the fans, once betrayed, called for blood.
As I was in 2007, I am fascinated by the response from fans. It’s not as if this technique is old. I’ve compared Ethan to nudie centerfolds, who always seem to find titillating answers to the same questionnaire, but the creation of a fictional persona is not limited to the vaguely pornographic. Think of Dear Abby, or Poor Richard, or for that matter any talk-show host. None of these people is really the person they present to the world. Granted, that fact is disclosed to varying degrees, but I’d imagine there are many Letterman fans who would be outraged to discover the real person behind the television character he portrays. This is, I would hazard to say, at least partly to blame for the outrage behind the most recent “Late Night Wars,” and why Jay Leno emerged as the villain while Conan’s popularity grew: cutthroat businessman is pretty far removed from the brand Jay has been selling his viewers, while Conan’s brand is apparently not as far from his actual personality. Continue Reading
The publishing blogs have been all atwitter this week about famous writers who have faced rejection. There’s Michele Kerns’ list of 30 famous writers who have faced rejection (via Editorial Ass, and Rejectionist, and Dystel & Goderich, and did I miss anyone?) and today Nathan Bransford points out this unattributed list of “50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected” with the footnote “Only fifty?”
All of this should be very encouraging for we the aspiring authors. Rejection isn’t the end of a career, it’s a precursor. If we keep plugging away, and focusing on our craft, and observing submission guidelines as if they were the mores maiorum, hope is not lost.
Then Mary Kole at Kidlit.com goes and drops this weight on us:
Only 3-5% of published writers make a living on their published writing income (advances and royalties) alone.
…which just wants to make me curl up in a corner somewhere and cry. I will never fault anyone for stating the truth, no matter how harsh, but the thought that I could spend the rest of my life stealing precious moments from my 9-to-5 workday to write upsets me far more than any number of rejection slips.
I’m not looking for fame and fortune. I’m not asking to be Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. All I want is to make enough money that I can dedicate myself to my writing, and not have to squeeze my writing time into the few hours a week I don’t spend earning money for food and shelter. Writing in the weekends and evenings around my day job is hard. Really hard. I make myself do it because I’ve read about the writing writing habits of published authors like Mr. King and Michael Chabon and dreamed of the day I could dedicate hours every day to my craft.
So I’m going to have to plow ahead with the belief that I will be in that 3-5% of writers, or that I can be in the larger percentage who supplement that income with lectures, teaching, or (I assume, and should I be so lucky) film rights. In the meantime I’ll keep up the day job – at least I’m lucky enough to have one I really care about — and keep plugging away at those novels until I get one published. That would seem to be an important first step.