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Flatbush Flashback

Novelist Praises Manual Typewriters; Ethicist Commits Federal Crime

Jonathan Lethem (left), interviewed by The Ethicist, Chuck Klosterman, at Bookexpo America.

The primary jolt of inspiration for Bobby in Naziland, the novel I'm currently fine-tuning (and that I'll be reading from at Bloomsday on Beaver Street) came from Jonathan Lethem's 2003 novel, The Fortress of Solitude. A good portion of that book is set in what's now called the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, in the 1970s, about two miles from Flatbush, where I grew up ten years earlier.

As I read The Fortress of Solitude, I kept thinking that I should write a book about Flatbush, and bring that time and place back to life, just as Lethem had done in his book. This kind of inspiration is rare, and that's why I thanked Lethem when I saw him yesterday at the BEA.

New York Times Ethicist columnist (and pop-culture aficionado) Chuck Klosterman was interviewing Lethem, on the Downtown Author Stage, about his odyssey as a writer and his forthcoming “political” novel, set in Queens, Dissident Gardens, due out in September.

Lethem, who will be turning 50 in February—“I’m not big on birthdays,” he noted—talked about how, 30 years ago, he’d dropped out of Bennington College, in Vermont, and hitchhiked to San Francisco, where he’d written his first three novels on a manual typewriter. He preferred a manual, he said, because “metal letters striking paper” was like “sculpting;” you could “feel the imprint on the back of the page,” and you produced something real. He fondly recalled his days of using White-Out, and waiting for it to dry.

In the transition from typewriters to computers, the main thing that’s lost, Lethem believes, is the notion of a draft. He scoffed at the idea of his writing students telling him, “This is my third draft,” when all they’d done was edit their story on the computer screen.

“You have to read it on paper and retype the story; it’s the only way you can tell if it works,” Lethem said, explaining how he advises his students to print out their stories, erase it from the hard drive, empty the trash, and retype the entire thing.

Lethem, who does not consider himself prolific despite having written nine novels and a slew of nonfiction, also described the beginnings of his consciousness, and becoming aware of time, at age six, in Brooklyn, in 1970. “I knew about the moon landing,” he said, “but don’t remember it happening. I knew the Mets won World Series in 1969, but finished third in 1970.”

I told Lethem, as he was signing my copy of Dissident Gardens, that Beaver Street opens on Church Avenue, in Brooklyn, in 1961. I think I detected a sparkle of recognition in his eye.


Chuck Klosterman was also signing his latest book, I Wear the Black Hat, which is about villains, and as I was waiting to get my copy signed, the two girls on line in front of me handed Klosterman a five-dollar bill and asked him to autograph it, which he did.

“I don’t believe it,” I told him as I handed him my book. “The Ethicist is defacing currency.”

Klosterman’s nervous laughter indicated that he probably didn’t realize that he was breaking the law. But it now leaves me with an ethical dilemma: What do you do when you witness a New York Times ethics columnist commit a federal crime, specifically a violation of 18 USC § 333, mutilation of national bank obligations, punishable by fine and up to six months imprisonment? Should I have made a citizen’s arrest? Report him to the Secret Service? Or just forget about the whole thing, even though I’m aware that ignorance of the law is not a defense.

Or perhaps I should just write to The Ethicist and let him sort it out. I know he’ll do the right thing. Read More 

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Does Book Publishing Have an e-Soul?

Seems like only yesterday that, armed with my Daily Beaver press pass, I was wandering the aisles of Bookexpo America 2012, stewing in the idea that book publishing was an industry without a soul. As I wrote on this blog last year, I felt as if "I were an invisible man exploring an exotic city in a forbidden country… I felt no connection to anything… Sometimes I wondered what I was doing there."

Well, the BEA apparently found some merit in my existential scribblings, and they've given me another press pass, so I'll be going back. The assignment I've given myself: Find out if book publishing has been able to reacquire from Amazon at least 70 percent of the electronic rights to their soul, and if so, what condition is it in?

That’s probably a joke. I don’t think Amazon has literally bought the soul of the publishing industry. And if they have, they’re most likely developing software that will allow them to resell “used” e-souls and keep all the profits for themselves.

That, too, is a joke. My attitude towards Amazon has improved considerably in the past year, ever since they “un-banned” Beaver Street on the eve of the 2012 BEA.

The highlight of last year’s BEA was Patti Smith, author of NBA-winning Just Kids, interviewing Neil Young, whose book Waging Heavy Peace was about to be published. Smith proved herself to be a first-rate journalist, and Young proved himself to be an intriguing storyteller. Which is what I told Smith when I bumped into her in the street a few days later. “You asked just the right questions,” I said.

“That’s what I was supposed to do,” she replied.

That was the best thing to come out of BEA 2012—a legitimate excuse to chat with Patti Smith.

So, I’ll soon head back to the Javits Center, holding my well-earned cynicism in check, and I’ll see if I can find a good story to tell, or a worthy customer to invite to Bloomsday on Beaver Street. Read More 

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Makes a Good Album Cover

Now all we need is an album, and considering one of us is a musician--that would be Mary Lyn--I suppose an album is a possibility.

This photo, by Michael Paul (who will be the official Bloomsday on Beaver Street photographer), was shot late Sunday afternoon, as Mary Lyn and I walked past the Joe Strummer mural on East 7th Street, across the street from Tompkins Square Park. The dates on the mural, 1952-2002, always shock me when I see them--because Strummer, of The Clash, was 25 days younger than I was when he died, at 50, of a undiagnosed heart defect. So, for me, the mural has that extra-added jolt of poignancy.

What I like about the photo is its naturalness—we didn’t know that Paul was taking the picture, so we weren’t looking at the camera. And my and Mary Lyn’s slight blurriness brings to mind the cover of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush.

But long gone are the days when people bought record albums as much for the covers as for the music. (Need I mention Cheap Thrills, Sgt. Pepper, and Volunteers?) So, Mary Lyn will just have to get by on her music, and you can hear some of it June 16, at the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street. And though I will be reading on Bloomsday, I will not be singing or playing an instrument—because I can’t. But I’ll still be happy to appear on the cover of Mary Lyn’s next album. Read More 
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A Better Bloomsday on Beaver Street Invite

You now have a choice of invites you can download for Bloomsday on Beaver Street II: Father's Day Edition, which will be held June 16, at the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street. Download this invite if you're a fan of either Lainie Speiser and her masterwork, Confessions of the Hundred Hottest Porn Stars, or Eric Danville, whose book The Complete Linda Lovelace is directly responsible for getting the movie Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfreid, off the ground.

Or if you prefer a Rosen-centric invite, then please download this one.

Either invite will get you in the door. Read More 
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The Writer's Dilemma

The main setting of Bobby in Naziland, East 17th Street, in Flatbush, as it looks today.
One of the things I'm going to do at Bloomsday on Beaver Street is read from Bobby in Naziland, the novel I'm in the process of fine-tuning. It's going to be a short reading, about 1600 words that will include the opening pages of the first chapter--just enough to give people a sense of the book's flavor and the voice I've used to portray "an adult consciousness channeling the thoughts and emotions of a seven year old," as I describe it in the prologue.

The book, I'm sure, will be of particular interest to anybody who's familiar with Flatbush, the Brooklyn neighborhood that Bobby in Naziland is set in, especially if they happened to have lived there in the 1950s and '60s, and think they might "know" some of the characters. And I'm sure that readers will derive a great deal of pleasure from my vision of a Brooklyn that no longer exists, a provincial burb filled with goyim and Jews, Auschwitz survivors and army veterans who fought the Nazis, a place where "World War II lingered like a mass hallucination on East 17th Street and large swaths of the surrounding borough."

What I’m not sure of is what I’m going to do with the book when I’m completely finished with it. The publishing industry, which never has functioned in a rational way, has changed so much in the past decade, that I don’t know if it makes sense to go with a traditional publisher (assuming I can find one) or to self-publish. The Internet is full of stories by and about authors, many of whom have successfully published with traditional publishers, who are now struggling with this same question. There are as many self-publishing success stories as there are stories of failure and unmitigated despair. For a writer like me, who’s had some success with traditional publishing but has not produced the blockbuster that publishers demand, there are no easy answers. The more I read, the more confused I get.

I can tell you this much: For the past two years I’ve worked as hard at promoting Beaver Street as I’ve ever worked at anything. I’ve gotten the consistently excellent reviews and the high profile mentions that theoretically sell books. But until I can get those Harry Potter-like sales, it’s unlikely that a traditional publisher will send a bushel (or even a cupful) of cash my way.

So, all I can do for now is spend this Memorial Day weekend putting the finishing touches on Bobby in Naziland, and banish from my mind all that other stuff. The correct answer to my question will present itself when it’s good and ready to do so. As it always does. Read More 
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It's the Economy, Stupid

An impromptu memorial for murder victim Mark Carson in front of the now-shuttered Barnes & Noble on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village.
Regular readers of this blog may get the sense that I'm so caught up in my own writing career, such as it is, that I'm unaware of anything that happens that doesn't directly impact it. That would be incorrect. I pay attention to what's going on in the world, and sometimes some of it slips into The Daily Beaver. It is, for example, hard to ignore what's been going on in my own neighborhood lately.

Late Saturday night, on a Greenwich Village street, eight blocks from where I live, a gay man, Mark Carson, was shot in the head, and killed, by a gunman shouting homophobic slurs. It was the worst of a series of so-called "bias incidents" that have happened in and around this supposedly tolerant neighborhood in May.

The Carson story has been covered to death by the media, and every time I walk out of my house to run some errand on 6th Avenue, I can’t help but be reminded of it. I’m sure it’s been contributing to the vague sense of nausea I’ve been feeling all week.

But I also think the story goes far beyond an anti-gay hate crime provoked by people feeling threatened by the legalization of same-sex marriage in a dozen states. It strikes me as a story about another crazy person with a gun who, before he shot Carson, was threatening a bartender on West 4th Street. But it primarily strikes me as a story about the economy, which, as far as I can see, isn’t getting any better.

When an economy goes bad and stays bad for an extended period of time; when it seems as if the government is incapable of doing anything about it or doesn’t want to do anything about it; when people cannot find decent jobs; when they lose their homes; when they can’t afford to pay for medical care; when they’re being crushed by debt; and when they see a tiny sliver of the population grow wealthier and wealthier, people look for convenient and vulnerable targets. The classic example, of course, is Nazi Germany and the Jews. And in Manhattan, where the economic disparity becomes more apparent every day, especially downtown, it appears as if gay people are providing a very convenient and visible target for anybody looking to express their frustration with the current state of the economy. Read More 
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Amazon Acknowledges Review Problem, Offers Clarifications

I've often written about the wide assortment of problems concerning Amazon reviews, and how these problems had gotten so out of control, that Amazon reviews had lost virtually all credibility. Among these posts are:

· A story about how Amazon allowed Michael Jackson fans to use social media to destroy a Jackson biography with a flood of anonymous one-star reviews.

· A story about how Amazon was deleting reviews posted by authors because the company saw all authors as direct competitors with other authors, and they do not allow reviews of products from direct competitors.

· In a story about book promotion, I’d mentioned how Amazon had been flooded with bogus five-star reviews written by critics who don’t read the books they’re reviewing and which authors are paying for: one review for $99, 50 for $999.

· A story about how an Amazon computer was automatically deleting reviews of Beaver Street because they contained “sexually explicit” keywords.

Amazon has finally acknowledged that there is “some confusion around the guidelines Amazon uses to evaluate Customer Reviews,” and, in an e-mail to authors, they’ve made an effort to clarify matters. Here are some of the highlights of that e-mail:

· Authors are allowed to review another author’s book as long as the author doesn’t have a “personal relationship” with the author of the book being reviewed. (Amazon does not define “personal relationship” or explain how they determine if the authors have one.)

· Authors cannot review their own books.

· Authors’ family members and “close friends” may not post reviews. (Again, Amazon doesn’t explain how they determine this.)

· Authors may not pay someone with money or merchandise to write a review, though giving a reviewer a free copy of the book to be reviewed is permitted.

Though this is a belated step in the right direction from a company that has systematically ignored these problems in the past, it’s hardly a complete solution. Since Amazon now has an ever-tightening stranglehold on the book business, authors can only hope that they will continue to seek even better solutions. Because before they were utterly corrupted, Amazon reviews were a good thing.

The complete FAQ on Amazon book reviewing guidelines is available hereRead More 
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Your Personal Bloomsday II Invitation

We're now in the process of sending out invitations for Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, at the Killarney Rose, on June 16, to all our Facebook friends and everybody on our mailing list. But if you didn't receive one, and are interested in attending what’s become our annual literary/pornographic/musical/theatrical event, please feel free to click on the image to the right and download an invitation.

You don’t need an invitation to come to the event. But, in these chaotic days of overbooked lives, we think it will serve as a helpful reminder. And the invite looks good hanging on your wall, right next to your calendar, assuming you still hang a calendar on the wall.

Hope to see you on Beaver Street! Read More 
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A Good Book

Before I go into complete and obsessive Bloomsday on Beaver Street mode (as opposed to the quasi-obsessive mode I'm currently in), I want to get in a good word about a book that I just finished reading. It's one of those books that in a just world would be getting some high-profile media attention--because it's not only a work of genuine religious insanity, but it's funny as hell, which is where, according to a certain strain of thought, its author might end up.

The Reborn Bible 2.0: The 2nd Coming Gospel of the American Rapture, by David Comfort, is a pitch-perfect re-imagining of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, that takes us from the Garden of Eden, where George Bush Sr. and Barbara Bush are Adam and Eve, climaxes in a pay-per-view David (Geffen) and Goliath (Arnold Schwarzenegger) battle, and ends with Moses (Holy Joe Lieberman) returning to Jerusalem to reclaim the Promised Land.

Or something like that.

I can’t say that I understood everything I read (especially that one sentence in Arabic) or that I got all the Biblical references or even that I understood all the Yiddish expressions, which is a language I’m not unfamiliar with. But page after page, the book did leave me wondering: How did Comfort, who’s probably best known for The Rock And Roll Book Of The Dead, do it? I kept picturing him, confined to a monk-like cell, a 21st century prophet writing on papyrus, as he absorbed and transformed every word of the real Bible into his deranged contemporary vision of all the usual suspects who have so befouled our political discourse.

The crucifixion of Obama, which the “learned lawyer, Geraldo” is covering for Fox News, serves as a good example of Comfort’s sense of humor. “‘Does ObamaCare cover crucifixion?’” Geraldo asks, reporting from the scene. “‘Is being the messiah a pre-existing condition? Would righteous infliction of emotional distress warrant punitive damages?’”

Somehow, in an act of biblical fortitude, Comfort keeps this sort of thing up for 309 pages. Somebody had to do it. Read More 
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Keeping Literature Relevant

Bloomsday on Beaver Street II is one month from today, and as is always the case when you're coordinating a complex event with a wide array of independent-minded and highly creative people, there will be divergent opinions. In the interest of group harmony, these opinions must be addressed.

"The event is sounding too much like a celebration of pornography," is an opinion I heard expressed yesterday.

I respectfully disagree.

What we’re celebrating is literature that was once branded pornographic, not pornography itself. The main case in point, of course, is Ulysses, which was originally banned in the U.S. for its explicit sexual content. And some of that content will be read as an illustration of why certain misguided people chose to ban an extraordinary book.

Then there’s Beaver Street, which certainly explores the place of pornography in American culture, but is anything but a celebration of pornography. In fact, the critic Neil Chesanow, in describing Beaver Street, referred to my “deep ambivalence and frequent disgust” with porno. “Yes,” he writes, “the book mentions gangbangs and all manner of sexual acts, but none of these are lovingly described in salacious detail.”

And the other book that I’m going to be reading from, my almost completed novel Bobby in Naziland, has nothing at all to do with the pornography industry, and ties in directly with Bloomsday by paying tribute to James Joyce in the subtitle, A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.

The other two books we’re celebrating, The Complete Linda Lovelace, by Eric Danville, and Confessions of the Hundred Hottest Porn Stars, by Lainie Speiser, are about, and examples of, pornography as a mainstream cultural phenomenon. But they are not works of pornography.

Plus there’s the music. Some of it, like Mary Lyn Maiscott’s haunting new song, “Angel Tattooed Ballerina,” about a transsexual, simply touches on the theme of transgression.

And yes, it’s true, there will a porn star on hand, and she will be reading from a book. But if I understand correctly, it is required that every cutting-edge literary and art event in New York City have at least one porn star on hand. In fact, if the porn star is famous enough, and she’s sitting naked and ironically in a bathtub filled with money, she will be recognized as an object of beauty that has nothing to do with pornography.

So, if Bloomsday on Beaver Street II seems a little heavy on pornography, it’s only because we’re doing what we can to keep literature relevant in the 21st century. Read More 
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My Discomfort Zone

Some of the revelers at Bloomsday on Beaver Street I. It was kind of like a high school reunion, with a couple of celebrity interlopers from The Surreal World.
Putting together the second annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street: Father's Day Edition, is the equivalent of putting together a complex theatrical event, and it has taken me well outside my creative comfort zone, which generally involves sitting alone in a room and doing little more than putting words on a blank page.

I'm working with actors, musicians, other authors, and at least one porn star, several of whom live outside the New York area. There are auditions. There are technical issues involving sound systems and recording devices. There are invitations to deal with and press releases to write. Plus, I have to prepare my own performance, something that has never come naturally to me, and which will involve reading in public for the first time an excerpt from a novel that I've been working on for five years.

Bloomsday is keeping me awake at night.

But I keep reminding myself that the reason there is a Bloomsday on Beaver Street II is because last year’s event went so well, and was so much fun, people are still talking about it. It was a combination book party and reading, concert, open mike, high school and junior high school reunion, co-op meeting, family gathering, and drunken bacchanal.

So, as I work with my multitude of collaborators and potential collaborators to finalize this year’s festivities, I just want to say that the first round of invitations will soon be going out via Facebook, and everybody on my mailing list will be receiving a personal invitation via e-mail. And if you happen to be in New York on June 16, feel free to drop by the Killarney Rose. If it’s anything like last year, chances are good you’ll still be talking about Bloomsday II when Bloomsday III rolls around in 2014. Read More 
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From Another Carl Ruderman Fan

The following review, written by "Another Former Porn Worker," appeared on Amazon yesterday. It speaks for itself.

Your book was amazing! I downloaded it to my Kindle and could NOT put it down last night. You perfectly capture the atmosphere of the office, that slight paranoia, tinged with smarminess, with the forced insistence that everything around here is perfectly normal. I too worked in the industry, though far more recently, but it seems nothing has changed.

Your assessment of Carl Ruderman is priceless. I, too, have sat in front of that exquisite Victorian desk, surrounded by his priceless artifacts that invariably feature naked women or abstract genitalia, patiently waiting my turn for him to say, “...And Ms. XXXX, what good news do you have for me today?” From your description of him, I could hear his voice leap from the page. I could see him as I saw him in his office at 801 Second Avenue, a bit more shriveled version than the one you saw, but in that same beautifully cut, tasteful gray pinstripe suit, pocket square, and genteel sneer.

Also, in the short time I was there, I know the company was sued multiple times. Weirdly, it was never mentioned at the meetings. It was simply like it didn’t matter. Also, by the time I got there, the porn down on the lower floor was never mentioned. Ever. People on the 19th floor did NOT speak to any of the people down there. I only knew about them because I had skills he needed for both floors.

I loved the part about “the founder.” After he lost the lease on the 19th floor and we were moved to the far less glamorous 11th floor, that bust was placed directly outside my door, so it would stare at me day in, day out. It was rumored that there was a camera in it, but that was probably just conjecture.

He was elderly by the time I worked for him, yet he was insistent on never dying. He kept a personal chef with him at the office, a woman he paid far less than she was worth, peanuts really. She would prepare his daily vitamins and medications, dozens in all, and his breakfast and lunch in the office’s formal dining room. All upper management was expected to attend, but as a woman and a low-level techie I was fortunately denied that privilege.

I liked your Maria. It explains his current secretary while I was there. She was a mid-fiftyish battleaxe of a hag who would agree with him if he said the sky was green, and spent much of her time repeating back anything he said in different words as if she had just thought of that. She, and the other woman before her, trained themselves to expect and indulge his every whim. The woman before at least seemed to see the humor in the situation, as Maria seemed to. I would have been stoned all the time, too.

There was a whole host of crazy characters there who, like me, had no other options at the time, and those of us who got out sometimes get together and talk about it, because no one else would ever believe us. They are a crazy bunch, but those who survived, many are people I really like, cause as you and Maria were, we were witness to a legend being written. Like you, I walked out of that office with no job but that “incredible lightness of being.”

All in all, you reminded me that despite everything, Carl Ruderman has charisma. A sly, slithering sort of charisma, but charisma just the same. I can’t even say I dislike him. He is the sort of man who will do anything for money, and it seems that he did.

In the end, those of us that got tangled up in it have one hell of a story to tell at cocktail parties.

Marvelous work! Read More 
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Cubitt's Concept

Amanda reads from A Clockwork Orange.

Genius is a word I use sparingly, but I would apply it to photographer Clayton Cubitt's Hysterical Literature, an erotic art project that transcends both literature and pornography.

The concept is deceptively simple: Film, in black and white, a series of sexy, articulate women--some are porn stars, some aren't--sitting at a table, reading a passage from their favorite book. As they read, somebody is underneath the table, out of sight, pleasuring them with a vibrator. All you see is the table, the fully clothed woman from the torso up, and the book she's reading, as she becomes more and more aroused until, no longer able to read, she gives herself over to orgasm.

Not surprisingly, the most popular video in the series, with more than six million views, is porn star Stoya reading from the anthology Necrophila Variations.

Can’t wait to see somebody do justice to Beaver Street.

Stoya reads from Necrophila Variations.

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The Good Parts

Go to the 27:00 minute mark to hear Philip Proctor as Molly Bloom

One of the things we will be celebrating on Bloomsday on Beaver Street II: Father’s Day Edition, on June 16, at the Killarney Rose, is the concept of Ulysses as a pornographic book that was banned, in 1920, by The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

Last year, Byron Nilsson, our MC, read the passage that was directly responsible for that banning: Leopold Bloom masturbates at the beach as he watches a young girl reveal her "beautifully shaped legs." James Joyce's description of Bloom's orgasm--"O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely! O so soft, sweet, soft!"--may be the most poetic description of masturbation in the English language.

This year, we’ve selected a 300-word erotic passage from the adulteress Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. It begins, “I had to get him to suck them they were so hard he said it was sweeter and thicker than cows then he wanted to milk me into the tea…”

We’ve been looking for the right actress to read this passage.

But it has come to my attention that we don’t necessarily need to limit our auditions to actresses. The Firesign Theatre’s comedy album, from 1969, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All, contains a surreal bit at the end of side one where Philip Proctor, playing car salesman Ralph Spoilsport, reads a close approximation of the final part of Molly’s soliloquy. You can hear it in the above video beginning around the 27:00-minute mark. This is the kind of thing that just might work on Beaver Street.

So, actors and actresses, if you’re in the New York area and you think you can do justice to the passage we’ve selected, as either comedy or erotica, please get in touch. We’d love to hear you read. Read More 
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The Nazi Connection

Max Bialystock, Franz Liebkind, and Leo Bloom in a scene from The Producers.

Of all the Jews in all the books in all of literature, why did Mel Brooks steal the name Leo Bloom from the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses for his nervous and corruptible accountant in The Producers?

Played by Gene Wilder in the 1968 film, and Matthew Broderick in the original cast of the 2001 Broadway musical, Leo Bloom, in the course of auditing scam-artist producer Max Bialystock’s books, realizes that more money can be made from producing a flop than producing a hit. And the super-flop that Bloom and Bialystock scheme to produce is a musical titled Springtime for Hitler, written by a deranged former-Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars).

“I don’t know what it meant to James Joyce,” said Mel Brooks, “but to me Leo Bloom always meant a vulnerable Jew with curly hair. Enter Gene Wilder.”

There’s more: Before taking on the role of Max Bialystock in the film, Zero Mostel played Leopold Bloom in a Broadway production of Ulysses in Nighttown. And the film is full of Ulysses references. In one scene, Bloom asks Bialystock, “When will it be Bloom’s Day?” A calendar on the wall shows that it is Bloomsday—June 16.

I bring this up now because, though Ulysses seems to contain references to everything in the world, it contains no references to Nazis—the book predated Nazism. And since everything that will happen this June 16, at Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, at the Killarney Rose, will, in one way or another, be tied into the Ulysses theme, I thought that a direct connection to the title of my book, Bobby in Naziland, which I’ll read from for the first time in public that night, was lacking.

True, the subtitle, A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew, is a direct reference to Joyce, and I figured that that was good enough. But now I know that, thanks to The Producers and Mel Brooks, which are both referenced in Bobby in Naziland, I do have the Ulysses-Nazi connection that I longed for. Read More 
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Ulysses and Me

Yes, yes, yes, I really have read, from beginning to end, Ulysses, by James Joyce, the book we will be using as an excuse to have a party, on June 16, the day known as Bloomsday, at the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street.

It was 1977 when I took down the book from my shelf, where it had been gathering dust for many years. Having recently embarked on a writing career, I felt it was a novel that every "serious" writer should read, and I'd managed to avoid doing so throughout college and grad school.

Ulysses is the most difficult book I’ve ever read, and it took me the better part of a year to get through it. There were pages where I literally had to look up in the dictionary every other word. And there were huge swaths where I had no idea what was going on. But finish it I did, dipping into it every spare moment I could find, and reading it on the subway, where it served as a conversation piece. Late one night, as I was returning home to Washington Heights on the Broadway Local, the guy sitting across the aisle from me pointed to the book and said, “It’s a joke book. You’ve got to read it like a joke book.”


Taken more by the idea of Ulysses than the book itself, in 1986 I went to Dublin for Bloomsday, named for the book’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom. On the morning of June 16, I visited the Martello Tower, overlooking the Irish Sea, in Sandycove, outside Dublin. This is where the book opens with the words, “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

In the afternoon, led by a local guide, I took a walking tour of Ulysses sites throughout the city. The guide, a knowledgeable fellow, probably in his late 60s, kept referring to the fact that Bloom was an Irish Jew. “You’ve got to pay your Jews if you want to sing the blues,” was the line that got the biggest laugh out of the tour group.

In the evening, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I listened to a reading of the final part of the book, Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, the one that begins with “Yes” and ends with “yes I said yes I will Yes.” Then, in the finest tradition of Leopold Bloom and his good friend Stephen Dedalus, I went to the local pub and drank my fill of Guinness before stumbling back to my hotel for a good’s night’s sleep.

The next day, I embarked, via ferry, for Liverpool, where another pilgrimage awaited me. Read More 
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Right Here on Our Stage…

…direct from Cleveland, Ohio, where he's just completed a critically acclaimed run as James "Jimmy Tomorrow" Cameron in The Iceman Cometh, let's give it up for Paul Slimak!

Actually, it's not a stage, just an area on the floor at the upstairs bar of the Killarney Rose, at 80 Beaver Street, that we like to call a stage. But it is where all the Bloomsday on Beaver Street performances will be taking place, on Sunday, June 16, beginning at 7 P.M. And we have just received word that Slimak, whom you may know as degenerate Nazi fugitive Erich von Pauli from the Beaver Street videos (and whom I call "Henry Dorfman" in Beaver Street, the book) will be one of the performers.

Slimak and his wife, Agnes Herrmann, who plays Diana Clerkenwell in the Beaver Street videos (and whom you may have last seen in The Road, as Archer’s Woman), will perform a reading from Mr. Sensitivity, a play by our MC, Byron Nilsson, about a man who gives his wife a porn stud for her birthday. (Mr. Sensitivity was performed at the Fringe Festival in 2009.)

As a special bonus, Slimak, in the character of von Pauli, will introduce my first public reading of my novel, Bobby in Naziland: A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.

He has ways of making you listen. Read More 
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I Feel Your Pain, Ted Heller

Dear Ted,
I read your piece in Salon, "The Future Is No Fun," about self-publishing your e-book, West of Babylon, and I wanted to let you know that it might be the most depressing story about the publishing industry I've ever read. I got about three quarters of the way through it before I had to stop and put it aside. It was just too bleak to go on. Too much "extreme cruelty." But I came back to it the next day, and skipped to the end, just to make sure it wasn't a suicide note. Then I kind of read it backwards, paragraph-by-paragraph, and felt a little better. I did appreciate your epiphany--if you can call it an epiphany--that you now understand how rough it is out there, and that from now on, you'll help anybody who asks you for help. I feel the same way.

You say that your working life now consists of sending out hundreds of e-mails to people in the media who might want to review your book. You say that you consider it a good day if someone gets back to you, even if they tell you, politely, to fuck off. What you don't seem to realize is that that's how it is now, even if your book isn't self-published. What you spend far too much time doing sounds disturbingly similar to what I've spent far too much time doing since a small, London-based indie published my latest book, Beaver Street, as a paperback and in all e-book formats, two years ago in the U.K., then last year in the U.S.

Still, I found your naïveté touching—calling the media “base hypocrites” because they run stories about authors turning to self-publishing but won’t acknowledge a self-published e-book unless it’s written by a celebrity who self-publishes by choice. You’re just learning now that the media is a viper’s nest of base hypocrites? Where’ve you been? You don’t get media attention by publishing books. You get media attention by committing a terrorist act or by assassinating a celebrity. Not PR gambits I’d recommend.

I should also mention that, though we’ve never met, I did know your father. He was one of my creative writing professors at City College, and as I found out, he could be a cruel bastard, as your sister, Erica, vividly recounts in her memoir, Yossarian Slept Here. But 40 years after the fact, I can sincerely thank him for helping to prepare me emotionally for what I’d have to face as I made my way in the book biz.

Your father, of course, had no illusions about the book-publishing industry. “You can’t live off royalties,” he told us the first day of class. “That’s why I’m teaching here.” (And he didn’t think too highly of agents, either, as I recall.)

All things considered, Ted, I think you’re doing OK. Do I really need to remind you that Salon is the media, and they are paying attention to you? Big time. I wish somebody at Salon would answer my e-mails.

Bob Rosen Read More 
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In Silence and Secrecy

My actual room is a little more cluttered, and I use a slightly more advanced writing machine.
This weekend, as I've been doing most weekends lately, I'm going to concentrate on fine-tuning Bobby in Naziland, the novel I began writing five years ago, and had not shown to anybody until last week. As I explained in an earlier post, I plan to read the opening pages at Bloomsday on Beaver Street next month, so it was time to show at least those pages to my editor (who happens to be my wife).

I suppose most writers (as well as most readers) find it peculiar that a writer would work in total silence and secrecy for five years, especially these days, when it's become increasingly common for writers to share works-in-progress online with readers who provide instant feedback.

This is the height of literary absurdity and the best of all possible ways for a writer to achieve a state of confusion. Book writing should be a solitary activity that takes place in a room of one’s own with a lock on the door (to paraphrase Virginia Woolf). And I’ve been doing this long enough that I trust my own editorial judgment.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t prefer to be working with an editor at an actual book publishing company who’s given me an advance so substantial, I could concentrate, to the exclusion of all else, on finishing Bobby in Naziland. But I’m not the kind of writer who gets advances, substantial or otherwise, on unfinished books. On the contrary, when I finish the book and begin submitting it, I think publishers will tell me, “Great read, but there’s not enough interest in Jews, goyim, Nazis, the Holocaust, UFOs, the Rosenbergs, or Brooklyn to justify publishing this.”

This is the kind of thing that publishers say reflexively to most writers about most books. It can’t be taken seriously. When I was struggling to publish Nowhere Man—a book that would be translated into a half-dozen languages and become a bestseller in five countries—I was told time and again, for 18 years, “There’s not enough interest in John Lennon.”

Which is one reason I waited five years before showing Bobby in Naziland to anybody, especially publishers. There’s nothing more demoralizing for a writer than to hear from a so-called voice of authority that your work-in-progress is unpublishable.

I also trust the judgment of my editor, and when she reads Bobby in Naziland in its entirety, I want her to read it with a fresh eye. So, I will continue to work in secrecy and silence. Read More 
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The Stoya Exception

"People become porn stars because they're good at it; because they have no other options; because they have nothing to lose; and because they're desperate, either economically or emotionally or both." --Robert Rosen, from Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography

"It made it harder for people to stay in that mindset of porn stars as people who don't have other options because they're too emotionally damaged or stupid to do something else." --Stoya, the porn star, telling the Village Voice why she prefers to post her thoughts directly on the Internet rather than talk to the press.

I’d never heard of Stoya until I read the cover story in last week’s Village Voice. The article, “Pop Star of Porn,” by Amanda Hess, tells how Stoya, 26-year-old star of such X-rated videos as Stoya: Web Whore, has become the toast of the New York art world, perhaps because of her “Snow White beauty,” the mathematical perfection of her face and body, and her even more famous boyfriend, porn star James Deen.

I find it interesting (though not especially surprising) that when I was looking the other way, the line between XXX celebrity and non-XXX celebrity seems to have vanished completely. But even more interesting, I thought, was how Stoya’s above quote echoed what I wrote in Beaver Street, and might have even been a response to it.

Stoya does not want you to think that people become porn stars because they have no other options or because they’re emotionally damaged. And she holds herself up as a shining example of a porn star who has options and is not emotionally damaged.

Fair enough. Stoya is the exception that proves the rule. Though I wonder what, exactly, she’s planning to do when she’s no longer under contract to Digital Playground and her celebrity is no longer based on how well she performs sex acts on video or in live shows. A handful of success stories come to mind: Danni Ashe (Internet millionaire), Jenna Jameson (best-selling author), Ginger Lynn and Christy Canyon (radio personalities).

And I’m sure there are a few more potential Stoyas out there—intelligent, beautiful, emotionally together women with a wide array of options who see hardcore porno as a good career move. But my quote, about economically and emotionally desperate people without options, is based on what I learned from conducting approximately 200 in-depth interviews with porn stars, erotic performers, and nude models, many of whom were intelligent, witty, and articulate.

Stories of sexual abuse, incest, and loss of virginity through rape were common. The porn stars I spoke with, over a 16-year period, were people scarred by emotional trauma, with little education, who were usually driven into porn by economic desperation. If they had options, it was a choice between a minimum wage job at McDonald’s, Burger King, or Wendy’s.

So yes, what Stoya has accomplished is remarkable. But, I think it would be best for the rest of the world to hold on to the mindset of “porn stars as people who don’t have other options because they’re too emotionally damaged.” Because it’s true, even if Stoya doesn’t want you to believe it. Read More 
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Who Is Ruby Leggs?

Readers of Beaver Street should be familiar with Sonja Wagner, whom I described in the book as my "dyslexic, spliff-smoking freelance art director," and whom I gave some of the best lines, such as the one on pages 123-124, when she asks our esteemed publisher, Chip Goodman, "Is something wrong, Chip, dear? Didn't Bobby and I put enough incest into your filthy little book?"

If you haven't read Beaver Street, then you can read about some of Wagner's erotic artwork on this blog.

Last night, over a couple of shots of vodka in her studio, Wagner got into talking about Ruby Leggs, a character she created more than 30 years ago, and in that time has produced dozens of Ruby paintings, mostly documenting her curious New York City life. Now Wagner has decided that she wants to publish the complete Ruby Leggs story in a book.

So she asked me to answer the following question: Who is Ruby Leggs?

I’ll give it a shot.

At her most basic, Ruby is three pairs: a pair of full, scarlet lips mounted on a pair of long, shapely legs, who’s always wearing a pair of high heels. Though lacking a head, arms, and a torso, she still manages to radiate erotic heat. This, then, makes Ruby a fetishist’s delight, a woman reduced to two body parts and a fashion accessory. In the above painting, Ruby is arousing a subway car full of men who ogle her through the peepholes they’ve cut in their newspapers. But the title of the painting, “No One Ever Looks at Me Anymore,” shows that Ruby is also a naïf on the loose in the big city, a creature unaware of her erotic power.

And New York is full of women like that, which makes Ruby Leggs somehow real, a recognizable character, somebody you’d like to meet, sit down with at a cafe, and over a couple of drinks ask her about herself. Because you know, behind those perfect red lips and white teeth, Ruby Leggs has a tongue, and she can do a lot of things with it, including tell you herself who she is, if she’s so inclined. Read More 
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