About Steve, i.e., him

Stephen Stark is an award-winning novelist and bestselling ghostwriter. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, Poets & Writers and in many other journals. He has been a fellow and taught at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and won an NEA Literature Fellowship in fiction. His novel, Second Son, was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1992, and a New and Noteworthy Paperback of 1994.

Lights Out? (2)

I get up this morning (after watching several episodes of Fringe last night) and the lights are still on. Which is to say the power is on. But then I turn on the TV and there are some 70,000 people without power in the Virginia area, which is nothing, really, compared to the crapstorm that New Yorkers are facing as they wake up this morning.

(Thanks to my son for sending me the link to this video, which I saw again on the news this morning:

(First of all, how does he find this stuff? He has grown up with YouTube as a source of entertainment, education, and news, and I cannot even begin to think of a parallel in my own life. It made me laugh, even though I didn’t want to. But more, it made me wonder what it’s like to be, as they say, a digital native (my son) as opposed to a digital migrant (me).)

But back to the point. There are 70,000 people without power. Or there were this morning. There are (according to the news) 52 trees down on houses. There is phenomenal flooding. But I’m more or less cozy—as cozy as a cranky, get-off-my-lawn type can be, anyway—and up and working. Yay for me.

I guess that because of all the planning before the storm, the power’s going to come on more quickly than it did back during the derecho, but that emergency planning – what about it? Why aren’t their assets in place all the time? Why don’t we have that kind of readiness as standard operating procedure?

I’m guessing that Dominion Virginia Power is breathing a tremendous sigh of relief this morning as is probably Pepco, but the very large wet bullet this area dodged hit New York and New Jersey in the gut. I’m guessing that if power lines and been buried, there would be significantly fewer power outages today in the DC metro area.

But it seems self-evident that there is very little (not that I’m an expert) that could’ve been done to prevent the kind of flooding that New York has going on right now in the subways and commuter tunnels. Perhaps if the new tunnel hadn’t been killed by the governor of New Jersey, the New York area might be on its way to a kind of new-and-improved tunnel that might be better equipped to deal with this sort of thing. I have no idea.

 

I Am an Idiot (seriously)

Have you ever been looking for a job and you see one that looks PERFECT. Interesting work, all of your interests, potentially good salary, good benefits and all of that?

And then you do something that totally screws your chances of ever getting it.

I’m talking about screwing up the cover letter so stupidly that even if they do read it, they’ll be passing it around the office going, Look at this clown.

In my cover letter, I make the claim of being a “maniacal” copy editor. Which I am, most of the time. Doesn’t matter what I’m reading, I’m editing it.

Not long ago I heard a BBC interview with novelist Richard Ford, one of my all time heroes, and he said that writing was his way (I’m paraphrasing here) of making sense out of an unruly mind. I was standing in the kitchen and my feet pretty much got glued to the spot. The most orderly place in my universe is the putative page. That really struck me. I’m not the only one!

And so yesterday, after uploading and editing my resume and cover letter and hitting send, I was closing and saving my cover letter, and there was a MASSIVE error in the second sentence. This is what it looked like:

I have worked in , internal communications….

A freakin’ comma in the middle of the sentence for no reason but carelessness. Of course I remember reordering the parallel structure of the sentence, and I remember how somehow in dragging and dropping the S and comma got left off the other noun I was moving.

I should just have written:

Me rite reel gud.

That Hero Guy?

There’s always some hero guy at work. The one who comes into the office no matter what the weather, and even if the authorities say again and again not to do it. But rain, snow, hurricanes, whatever, this guy—and there are more of him/her than just one—is there. Probably just bored, and maybe looking for the BlackBerry Brown Nose Award or something for his dedication.

Not that he/she needs to be there any more or less than the good folks who are at home. He or she’s the one who wants the perfect attendance score, the gold star for just showing up.

This guy/gal? Not a hero. Stay at home. Let our first responders do what they do best, and do what best needs to be done. We don’t give these brave men and women the honor or respect they deserve. Particularly not by getting out on the roads when they’ve asked you not to.

So when Mayor Bloomberg or Gov. Cuomo, or my home, Fairfax County, asks you to shelter in place or evacuate, don’t be a “hero.” Leave that to the real heroes. The first responders. Just do the right thing and stay out of their way.

My Own “Fringe Festival”

Thanks to a reviewer of The Final Appearance of America’s Favorite Girl Next Door on Amazon, who compared my novel to Fringe, I’m now a stupidly avid Fringe  fan.

For fans of Portlandia, you may remember the episode where the couple gets a DVD of—I think—Battlestar Galactica and spends a whole “Euphio Question“-like weekend watching EVERY episode.

Not quite there yet, but close.

(If you don’t know about “The Euphio Question,” I urge you to run out and get yourself a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s masterful Welcome to the Monkey House, a collection of short stories that are still among the best I’ve read.)

If you haven’t watched Fringe, well. Whatever. If you have read The Final Appearance of America’s Favorite Girl Next Door, then get yourself a copy and see.

Lights out? [U]

I grew up in the Washington, DC area and in the first 20-something years of my life, I don’t remember the power going out. I vaguely remember it going out once—but I may be just giving Mother Nature the benefit of the doubt.

But then also, in those days when the most sophisticated electronics I had were a transister radio, and later, a stereo system, a TV, and a Smith-Corona typewriter, we weren’t as dependent on electricity, so maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Then again, I’ve always been dependent on food, and I grew up with an electric stove. So….

But the real point of this post is that even if we could prevent 95 percent of the power outages in the DC metro area, I don’t think we would. If we had wanted to, we would have. Continue reading

Timing Is Everything

As my nifty little wireless Brother laser printer churns out pages behind me, in preparation for a video I’m making on making my own books (stay tuned), and the massive hurricane Sandy makes its way up the coast to turn off my power, knock down my neighbors’ trees, wreak celestial havoc, and generally maybe just eat the East Coast, I just wanted to get in a post on great new stuff from Poets & Writers magazine, where, back in the days when I was working in publishing, I once applied for a job, and which, also many years ago, ran a piece of mine on simultaneous submissions.

(For my money, P&W mag, even in the old days when I first subscribed to the magazine called Coda, has the most news writers can use. Some right thinking philanthropist needs to help P&W get their whole magazine on line, for electronic subscription. Seriously. P&W, how much would it cost?)

Talk about your serendipity. In the new edition, which arrived in my mailbox on Friday, there’s a substantial piece on independent publishing, featuring the family affairs that are Two Dollar Radio, Ig, and Small Beer Press, which publishes the awesome Elizabeth Hand. Continue reading

Prepping for Frankenstorm

The rule usually seems to be the case that if you prepare for it, it won’t happen—and boy do I wish that were going to be the case this time around. Yeah, I don’t think we are going to be that lucky. This one looks pretty sure to cause a lot of problems. This is the Washington Post‘s take.

So it was out to Domed Teapot, my favorite home DIY store. Lots of people doing lots of shopping. Major racks of batteries. Guessing all of the generators are long gone. Not that I could afford one.

I hate having power out, but it’s not so bad if it’s just for a couple of days. Doesn’t seem that there’s much I can do other than what I have. So, here’s to Sandy. Oh, yeah, better stock up on beer!

There is nothing better than warm beer when your power is out. And apparently diapers.

Things You Need to Be a Publisher

If you’re reading this, the answer is pretty simple. At the most basic, nothing you don’t already have—if you have content.

According to Bowker, the company that will be happy to sell you some ISBNs, nearly a quarter of a million books were published—self-published—last year. So you don’t need anything more than all those other publishers do. A computer, sufficient software to create the book block (all your content) and your cover, and an Internet connection. That’s it.

As I said in an earlier post, the barrier to entry is pretty darned low—so low that last, dying ant in my kitchen could drag a dog over it.

The one thing you won’t have that a “real” publisher will have is a sales force. Yes, Amazon  or whoever else will “stock” (virtually) your book, but it is highly unlikely that it will get into brick and mortar bookstores because you will have no leverage to make that happen.

So why would I want to do this? Good question. I’ll see if I can answer it one way or another. Stay tuned.

The Accidental Publisher

When I started looking for a job in publishing after moving to New York many years ago, the reason was simple. I wanted to know how it worked. It seemed a sensible thing for a writer (who at that time had written two unpublished novels and was working on a third) to know.

At that very early point in my literary career, my sole publishing “success” was a letter to the editor in Harper’s magazine. The letter, which I still have somewhere, was in response to a piece by Madison Smartt Bell (wow, Dragon Dictate got the correct spelling of his middle name) on “brat pack” fiction.

Continue reading

Laid Off, Let Go, Reduced by/in Force

I cannot express how deeply, profoundly, I loathe the locution “let go” as a euphemism for getting laid off. I know I’m not the first person to notice the lameness of let go—it sounds like the person being let go is somehow being done a favor, like you caught a jarful of fireflies and your mom tells you to let them go.

People, after being let go, probably do not leave the building saying, “Free at last!” Some might. I didn’t. Being laid off sucks, but it’s just business. Continue reading