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First, an announcment: I will be speaking at the Connnetquot Library on Long Island this Wednesday night, March 30, at 7PM. Come and see my multi-media extravaganza: slides, props, and, uh, some more slides.

Now, where we we?

When Top Cat and I were in France we re-lived our glory days by doing some hitch-hiking. This is a quick sketch I made of T.C. thumbing us a lift to Mont St-Michel in Brittany.

It was just a sketch — but once we got home, I painted it and ended up using it in the Damn France Book. Only, as you can see, there was a problem with that weird right hand there. So, now that it’s almost time for me to make the Damn France Book a permanent part of Franco-American literature, I have to fix that weird bit of anatomy.

Luckily, I am left handed. So I can draw my own right hand:

I can take my right hand to the UPS store half a mile away to put it on the copier to reduce it to the exact size to match the original sketch:

The right size for my right hand was 25% of the original (which, as you can see, was pretty tiny to begin with).

And then I re-draw the teeny tiny right hand along with the whole arm, and I attach it to Top Cat. Problem is, now he has two thumbs. I  have to get rid of the old thumb from the old weird old right hand.

And that’s how it’s done.

If I hadn’t told you, you’d never know.

Now, about the blurb situation: a writer friend of mine says that ” blurbs are like negative campaigning. Everyone says ‘oh, I hate that,’ and yet it works, every single time.”

So although it’s unanimous here in Vivian World that we hate blurbs, the reality is that if I get the dream blurb of a lifetime for the Damn France Book  it’s going right smack on the front cover in big, bold letters. Because although every single one of us here in Vivian World know ourselves and our reading tastes and are not influenced by the opinion of others’, we are a very select, discerning, self-confident, good-looking, witty, irresistibly gorgeous, and SMALL group of people.

If a writer wants to keep writing and illustrating her books about staying put, and wandering in France, and rainy days, and cats, and a Scottish Winter, she has to sell books to the kind of people who only pick up books because of the blurb from a famous, talented, generous, beloved author.

And if I ever get to the chance to become a famous, talented, generous, beloved author you can bet that I will do my bit for the book business and blurb like crazy whenever I am asked.

Oh, how I would love to leave my own blurb on the Damn France Book– but I couldn’t trust that enough readers would get the joke, and I really really want to do more books — about rainy days, cats, and how much I love to go to Scotland in the January. So I’ll keep checking my email every ten minutes for that desperately longed-for/answer to my prayers message from my dream blurber that says Yes, I’ll blurb your Damn France Book.

But until that day, I’ll take heart in this story (from Shelf Awareness, Friday March 25, 2011):

A good blurb is hard to find. In 1874, Chatto & Windus asked Samuel Clemens for “a brief but quotable review” of Nuggets and Dust Panned Out in Californiaby Dod Grile, a pseudonym for Ambrose Bierce.

The publisher, however, underestimated the brutal honesty of Clemens, who replied, “Dod Grile (Mr. Bierce) is a personal friend of mine, & I like him exceedingly–but he knows my opinion of the Nuggets & Dust, & so I do not mind exposing it to you. It is the vilest book that exists in print–or very nearly so. If you keep a ‘reader,’ it is charity to believe he never really read that book, but framed his verdict upon hearsay. Bierce has written some admirable things–fugitive pieces–but none of them are among the Nuggets. There is humor in Dod Grile, but for every laugh that is in his book there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit. The laugh is too expensive.”

Which makes me wonder: If you’d given your manuscript to a friend who told you the god-honest truth about how much he hated it, a la Mark Twain, would you be grateful for his honesty? Or would that friend be dead to you?

9 comments to Trade Secrets.

  • CarolM

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion,”especially” when you ask for it!
    Look at it as constructive criticism, just part of the growth process.
    Not to say you must change anything because of the fact that they hated it………..

  • That’s a tough question because while the rational part of me would want to say, “Well you are entitled to your opinion” the emotional side of me would say “You don’t love me anymore!” hahaha. But honestly I’ve been getting much better at not taking the criticisms personally and trying to see things from their perspective to see if they have a valid point. If they do I try to make changes accordingly, if not then I try my best to let it slide. Good Luck! And thanks for showing us how you fixed your “weird bit of anatomy”

  • mo

    a la! mon ami mark le twain!

  • Nadine

    OK, I confess: I bough a book recently because of the blurb.

    The front cover had this by Christopher Buckley: “Deft, surprising, darned entertaining.”

    I liked the undersell and I like Chris. Buckley’s novels and essays, and the book was only $15 in paperback, so I took a chance. I wouldn’t call it “deft” but it had one or two surprises and it was indeed darned entertaining.

    Now, about today’s question:

    Twain’s response to Chatto & Windus is not brutal honesty, it’s only brutal. No friend would write such a thing.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think the Twain review is very funny. But that’s only because it’s not about me and it happened over 100 years ago. Isn’t the classic definition of humor = tragedy + time?

  • JOAN

    I would have been devastated to get a review/opinion like that from a friend. However, Twain must have discussed the book with the author, so I have to go along with his assessment. Brutal? yes. Brutally honest? Yes. I could not have given such a harsh review to a friend. I think Twain could have been easier on the author and still remained honest. I am able to accept constructive criticism now, but when younger I would have been cut to the core to read something like Twain wrote/spoke, considering he was a friend.

    I do understand that the reading public, not knowing the charm and wit of Le Vivian, might be influenced by a famous author’s comment/blurb about The Damn France Book. But not me, I KNOW I’ll buy the book as soon as it lands in the bookstore, blurb or no blurb.


  • I value honesty very much so I’d have to say that I’d take it. I guess if we ask a question we should be ready to hear the answer but like everything noble it’s easier said than done. Would I be allowed to whack them in the face with the manuscript and call it even?

  • I think there’s a book title in “Five blushes, Ten shudders and a Vomit”.
    I’m getting inspired and I’m thinking Charlie Sheen again.

    I love your hand correction narrative. The two thumbs might be interesting to leave in there. Not that the text and illustrations aren’t enough, but a little insider joke is kind of fun and you are quite clearly, a fun kind of gal.

    I googled Ambrose Bierce because Twain’s comments seemed hilarious to me – so over the top. I think Twain was giving “Bitter Bierce” a taste of his own medicine and having fun.

    Here’s what I found in Wikipedia:

    The sardonic view of human nature that informed his work — along with his vehemence as a critic, with his motto “nothing matters” — earned him the nickname “Bitter Bierce.”

    Despite his reputation as a searing critic, however, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers ……

    and the Wikipedia info goes on.

    Methinks the searing critic earned the searing review!!

  • Deborah

    Twain’s review leads me to so many questions: did the publisher actually use it? Is it a case of ‘no such thing as bad publicity’? It did make me curious about the book — can anything really be so bad? Was it intended to be funny? Did Bierce often use pseudonyms? If not, did he use one on this one because he knew it was bad? Either way, why did he use such a strange name?

    Twain’s comments smack of smartass show-off, saying more about him than about the book (he was a pretty good self-promoter). I’ve had some less-than-sterling comments from friends when I’ve given them things to read, but their comments were specific enough to be helpful once I got past my defensiveness. While some of my feedback lacked finesse/tact, they were not as brutal as Twain’s; AND, they were not public. In all cases, I believe it is possible to be honest and kind — a skill that is every bit as impressive to me as writing and drawing skills, and Twain has shown a marked lack of that skill.

  • patty

    I would hope a friend would privately tell me why they disliked…ok, hated, my work, rather than make it public!
    I have recently been reading Julia Child’s Life in France and the corny thought popped into my head that a title for your book could be Mastering the Art of French Looking – vols. 1 and 2 of course!
    Good thing I don’t work in publishing.

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