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Flatbush Flashback

Shelter, Drugs, and Blowjobs

Review of "Bigger Than Life at the Edge of the City" by Gene Gregorits.

“Don’t publish it,” my editor, who also happens to be my wife, said to me after reading the previous draft of this review. “It sounds mean-spirited. It makes you look bad.”

I told her that I’d written the review in the same spirit—mean—as Gene Gregorits showed in Bigger Than Life at the Edge of the City. “It’s a vile book,” I said. “Totally fucked up. But it’s somehow compelling in its nauseating way. I read every word.”

“Why do you want to make some guy in prison mad at you?”

“He’s not going to get mad. He’s going to love the review. He’s always bitching about how critics never read his books. He’ll be thrilled to get a reaction. That’s the whole point of the book... to get a reaction.”

“But nobody knows who Gregorits is. They’re going to think you’re the one who’s fucked up.”

If you don’t know who Gene Gregorits is, a bit of background is in order. Gregorits is an anti-commercial, quasi-avant-garde writer who, despite holding mainstream publishing in contempt, longs for commercial success. In a scene in Bigger, which Gregorits calls a novel but is actually nonfiction (or close to it), he tells one of his patrons, “I don’t have the backing of a major publisher and the fucking audience I want.”

Due to his inability to find a publisher, Gregorits formed a company, Monastrell, to bring out his own books, and he has gone to extreme lengths to draw attention to those books. Once, he had somebody videotape him as he cut off part of his ear and ate it. In the course of this self-destructive crusade, Gregorits has made himself a martyr to bland commercialism.

A few years ago, after he had sex with an underage girl, the state of Florida sentenced him to 15 years in what amounts to a slave-labor camp. He’s lucky they didn’t lobotomize him.

Bigger was written in that slave-labor camp.

I’ve never met Gregorits. I know him through social media and his books. We have a few mutual acquaintances.

In the interest of salvaging what I can from the previous mean-spirited draft, I present below, as objectively as I can, a number of critical points about Bigger:

· In his typical self-defeating manner, Gregorits insults his readers, calling them “power-tripped, pussy-whipped pretty boys.”

· He describes Bigger as “post cultural” and “meta cultural.” These are meaningless terms, presumably intended to obscure the fact that he’s writing about real people and using their real names.

· I contacted one of the main “characters,” the patron who bankrolled his previous book, to see if she’d care to comment on her portrayal in this one. Gregorits describes her by name as “fat, homely, and talentless,” and “disheveled, obese, bucktoothed.” “No comment,” is what she had to say, and who can blame her? These descriptions, chosen at random among a multitude of similar phrases, should serve as a warning to anybody else who might consider giving Gregorits money, shelter, food, drugs, and/or blowjobs.

· Gregorits makes it clear just how treacherous he is. One character tells him, “Half of New York is still screaming for your blood.” Another says, “You screwed over everybody south of 14th Street.”

· Bigger is an often well-written and at times poetic catalogue of Gregorits’s hatreds. It’s almost as if he can’t write about something unless he hates it, and he hates everything, with the exceptions of good wine and beer, cats, a couple of punk bands, and the rare human being—like a sharply dressed “gentleman” who’s dying of cancer and “a super-hip mid-30s Jewess.” (Gregorits is obviously aware that Jewess is a loaded word—a Nazi word—that says nothing about the character and everything about his need for gratuitous provocation.)

· Bigger is a meandering, Henry Miller–Hunter Thompson-esque account of the life of Gene Gregorits, a homeless, filthy, foul-smelling crack junkie with rotting toenails—who might be HIV-positive but doesn’t seem to care—surviving on the Florida Gulf Coast. After a hurricane and an episode of sloshing around in raw sewage, he moves to the New York–New Jersey area at Christmastime 2012, and, staying with his patron, “equal parts Tammy Faye Bakker, Holly Woodlawn, and Gena Rowlands,” he switches to booze and coke, is interviewed by Vice.com—the interview reproduced word-for-word as a chapter, just in case anybody mistakes the book for fiction—and then gives a reading at a bar on the Lower East Side.

· Prison can be a good thing for a serious writer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gregorits is already working on a book about his life of slave labor in Florida’s Apalachee Correctional Institute. He might remind himself, as he sits in his cell, scribbling with a ballpoint, what death row and a last-second reprieve while standing before a firing squad did for Dostoevsky—and his career.

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It Takes a President

In 1998, at the height of Clinton impeachment mania, I, as editor of Sex Acts magazine, commissioned a cartoonist to illustrate “choice” parts of the Starr Report, independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s record of his run-amok investigation of a White House enmeshed in scandal—financial, political, and sexual. The report, now best remembered for its explicit descriptions of the multiple erotic encounters between a 49-year-old sitting president and his 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky, was published unexpurgated in The New York Times, marking the first time the Gray Lady had allowed “fuck” and “blowjob” to stain her pages.

One Sex Acts cartoon illustrates a tryst that, according to the Starr Report, took place in the White House study on December 31, 1995. It shows Bill Clinton, pants around his knees, displaying a curving erection of porn-star proportions that appears to be Viagra-enhanced—though Viagra wouldn’t be available to the general public for three more years. It’s an image that encapsulates much of what The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido (Twelve), by Vanity Fair editor David Friend, is about.

That’s presumably why the words “Naughty Nineties,” as they appear on the cover of this 632-page epic, are shaped like a curving, fully engorged, seven-and-three-eighths-inch phallus—though the effect is subliminal. I’d been reading the book for a month before I noticed it. I now assume that phallus is meant to represent Clinton’s penis, which is really a stand-in for every Boomer phallus that ever grew erect in the nineties.

If Bill Clinton and his penis are the star of this leave-no-stone-unturned analysis of the decade in which libidinous Baby Boomers took over America, Viagra is the co-star, and the complex, dramatic, and at times touching tale of how it was discovered, tested, named, and marketed, and then became one of the best-selling prescription pharmaceuticals ever—thus bringing erections and their dysfunction into our living rooms—may be the most fascinating part of The Naughty Nineties. (See “The Hardener’s Tale” and “Homo Erectus.”)

Hillary Clinton, weaponized gossip, and the Internet are among the major supporting players, with the latter two bearing responsibility for the “tabloidification” of an era in which “we learn not only that Prince Charles is having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, but are treated to a recording of Charles stating that he wants to be her tampon.”

It’s also a decade in which expansive silicone breasts and the $10-to-14-billion-a-year pornography industry emerged from the shadows to penetrate every segment of mainstream media and society.

My book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is among the multitude of texts that Friend, whom I work with at Vanity Fair, consulted in the course of his research, and The Naughty Nineties elaborates on some of the material I touched on. In discussing Lyndon Johnson’s porn-investigation commission, for example, I describe the president as “a corrupt Texas Democrat with a big dong,” before moving on to Richard Nixon’s war on porn. But how is it known that Johnson had a big dick? Friend explains: “He was known to flabbergast acquaintances by whipping out his Texas longhorn of a pecker.”

This kind of breezy, vernacular-laced prose makes The Naughty Nineties an entertaining alternative to the slew of turgidly written textbooks dominating undergraduate reading lists for any number of history, sociology, political science, gender studies, and communications courses, such as U.C.L.A.’s “Pornography and Evolution.”

The scene in “Chez Fleiss” of Friend’s journey through the Mojave Desert to visit “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss contains another good example: “To get here, I have driven an hour along the parched perimeter of Death Valley without spying a human soul. And then, like some portent out of Castaneda, I see a vision. A titty bar.”

Yet Friend’s intent is never less than serious, and his research sets a scholarly standard for comprehensiveness, no matter how raw the subject matter. In “Botox, Booties, and Bods,” he explores rap culture’s fetishization of the female buttocks, cataloguing, in three jam-packed paragraphs, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot’s “crooning about the merits of a fuller moon”; Experience Unlimited’s “Da Butt,” a.k.a. “(Doin’) the Butt”; 2 Live Crew’s “Face Down, Ass Up”; Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Appelbum”; Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre’s coining the word “bootylicious”; Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker”; DJ Jubilee’s inventing the term “twerk”; Juvenile’s “Back That Azz/Thang Up”; Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty”; and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Ubiquitous and fulsome footnotes, which could comprise a volume unto themselves, enrich this meticulous detail. (The mother of all footnotes, on pages 467–68—perhaps the longest annotation I’ve personally encountered—analyzes why the institution of marriage is “on the rocks.”)

Friend is at home, as well, with the erotic. In “The Glory of O” he brings to life a masturbation workshop: “Ken, ever stroking, tells the audience, ‘Her clit just grabbed on to my finger.’ Her legs shake and flutter. ‘The clitoris is a spinning top,’ he says, ‘now spinning by itself.’”

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the nineties set the stage for the ascent of Donald Trump and a presidency in which politics, pornography, gossip, and reality TV are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. And Friend, rising to the occasion, ends with “The Trumpen Show.” But is Trump the terrible tyrant of a passing moment—the Tawdry, Tempestuous Teens, when the Times turns to titan of adult cinema Ron Jeremy for insight on POTUS paramour Stormy Daniels, the biggest XXX superstar since Deep Throat’s Linda Lovelace? (It takes a president.) Or has he brought us to the edge of an Enervating Endtimes, leaving us longing for the days when the most horrific thing you’d read in your daily newspaper was Ken Starr’s depiction of Oval Office anilingus?

We’ll just have to wait for the return of the Roaring Twenties for an answer. They’ll be upon us soon enough.

—Robert Rosen

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Yes, I Read My Reviews

On a site called "Vintage Erotica Forums" (VEF), somebody asked, "What book(s) are you reading currently?" A correspondent, "Pinkpapercut," posted the review, below, which I've lightly edited for clarity. The two books preceding Beaver Street in the forum are The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, by Edgar Allan Poe and The First Socialist Schism, Bakunin vs Marx in the International Working Man's Association, by Wolfgang Eckhardt. Silas Marner, by George Elliott, follows.

Back in the 1990s I regularly used to read Headpress, the self-described "Journal of Sex, Religion and Death," which was published in my home city, Manchester.

Headpress [journal and Headpress books] moved online and to London well over a decade ago, and I lost track of them and the man who was the engine behind Headpress, David Kerekes.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to check out whether they are still around. They are, and they’re still publishing material that fits best under the heading of Sex, Religion and Death, and one of their books, Robert Rosen’s Beaver Street, caught my particular interest.

I don’t want to spoil the book by giving Rosen’s story away so I’ll just say that after being cheated by a well-known person as an aspiring writer in early 80s New York, just to keep some money coming in, Rosen applied for a job with a publisher through a classified ad and ended up working for and eventually editing porn magazines for the publisher of some well-known skin mags.

The book is promoted on its cover as “a history of modern pornography,” which it isn’t. But what it is is a fascinating tour around the personalities of the U.S. porn scene in the 80s and 90s; an insight into the practices of the publishers and video makers and the contempt in which very many of them held their customers; the influence of porn publishing on mainstream publishing including forgotten connections between porn and the origins of Marvel Comics; and the story of the decline of the porn magazines in the face of the rise of the Web.

Given that every member of VEF is here because they have an interest in some aspect of porn or—amongst the VEF VIPs—have worked in porn, there’s something in Beaver Street to interest every one of us.

Beaver Street isn’t a deep or deeply analytical book but it is an easy, informative and entertaining read from a porn insider.

Very much recommended.

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Lennon: Naked, Flawed, Mean, and Beautiful

There’s nothing more I can add to Michael Nirenberg's essay, "Rock n Roll Watergate," that ran on The Huffington Post last week. Nirenberg, a filmmaker, best known for his Hustler magazine documentary, Back Issues, simply expressed the passion he felt for Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, which was released last month as a 15th anniversary e-book edition.

Nirenberg said that the book made him feel as if he were “inside the Dakota with John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” and that Lennon came across as “naked—flawed, mean, and beautiful.”

So, yes, all these years after publication, the book continues to affect people and inspire them to communicate their feelings about what they’ve read. This is what every writer wants his or her books to do.

To me, this is especially satisfying because for 18 years nobody would publish Nowhere Man—editors had deemed it “unpublishable.”

I think it’s now safe to say that they were wrong. Nowhere Man is the book that refused to die. And in this season of thanksgiving I can only give thanks to all the people who’ve read Nowhere Man and made up their own minds about it. Read More 

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The Woodward and Bernstein of Rock?

If you missed my previous appearances on the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, the Reelz channel will re-broadcast the show, coast-to-coast, on the dates and times below:

Saturday, November 7: 3 P.M. ET, 2 P.M. CT, 1 P.M. MT, 12 P.M. PT

Sunday, November 8: 12 P.M. ET, 11 A.M. CT, 10 A.M. MT, 9 A.M. PT

Reelz is not available on demand, so set your DVR if you can’t tune in at the appointed times. (In New York City, Hollywood Scandals is on Time Warner Cable 128 and Fios 233 .) Click here to find the show on your local cable or satellite system.

If you’re wondering why Hollywood Scandals asked me to talk about Lennon and my bio Nowhere Man (which has just been re-released as an e-book), there are a lot of good reasons. You can find the latest one in a just-published book titled The Beatles: Having Read the Book, by Greg Sterlace. In this volume, the author, using Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” format, reviews “the best and worst of the Beatle tomes.” In his Nowhere Man critique, he calls me “the Woodward and Bernstein of rock” and gives me an “A.”

That’s a title and a grade I can live with. Read More 

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Res Ipsa Loquitur

For those of you not fluent in Latin or legalese, res ipsa loquitur means "the thing speaks for itself." And the following review of Nowhere Man, which I found today on Goodreads, does just that.

I received a copy of the galley to this book several years ago, before it was published. I could not put it down! Robert Rosen effectively delves into John Lennon’s dark side, but from a wholly analytical, non-judgmental perspective. Rather, Rosen affords an in-depth exploration of the complexities of Lennon's often-tortured psyche, with the insight and precision that only a seasoned journalist can provide. His writing is stark, intelligent and authoritative. I highly recommend this book. —Alissa Wolf

Having just released an updated 15th anniversary e-book edition of Nowhere Man, now available on Amazon (for the unbeatable “matchbook” price of 99 cents) and Smashwords, this review, to say the least, reminded me why the book has endured for those 15 years.

Thank you, Alissa Wolf! Read More 

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Let Us Now Praise Passionate Amateurs

It's not coverage in The New York Times that keeps books like Beaver Street alive and vital four years after publication. It's the passionate amateurs, writing about what they love, who spread the word. One such writer recently posted about Swank magazine on his site, Pulp Informer, and raised a number of questions about Beaver Street.

I contacted the writer, suggested he read the book, and told him that he was well qualified to receive a review copy. He reached out to Headpress and they sent him one.

His unabashed review, illustrated with a number of photos I’d never seen (like the two above), expresses his profound appreciation of Beaver Street.

If the publishing industry is to survive as a viable, profit-making institution, it’s the multitude of sites like Pulp Informer that they can thank. Read More 
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Pinellas Prison Blues (and Oranges)

Review of "The Orange Woman" by Gene Gregorits.

Gene Gergorits is not Nelson Mandela, and even his staunchest supporters say that it's "pretty much impossible to spin in any positive way" the charge against him--unlawful sexual activity with a minor--under which he's currently being held in Florida's Pinellas County jail, awaiting trial.

Florida, the land of Stand Your Ground, a law most rational people recognize as legalizing murder, is a state that boasts the fourth-highest number of executions in the United States. It’s also a state run by a climate-change-denying governor, Rick Scott, who, in his previous gig as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, a healthcare mega-giant, oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in history. The company (though not Scott himself), admitted to 14 felonies and was fined $1.7 billion, the largest such fine ever levied in the U.S.

So, let’s call Florida what it is: a vengeful, bloodthirsty state run by a chief executive who’s lucky that he’s not doing hard time in a Federal penitentiary, and a state where such notions as the “rule of law,” “justice,” and even “science” mean what those in power want them to mean.

In short, when you’re talking about the Sunshine State, it would be unwise to make any assumptions about the guilt or innocence of those who occupy a prison cell and those who occupy the executive mansion. Or, if you must make an assumption, stick to a safe one: The occupant of the executive mansion has more money than the occupant of the prison cell—because it’s been well-established that Florida is at the forefront of the American ideal of justice for the rich. Therefore, I would not dismiss the theory currently circulating among those paying attention to The State of Florida vs. Gene Gregorits that prosecutors railroaded Gene as an “undesirable,” somebody not welcome in their God-fearing fiefdom, parts of which will soon be underwater. (Visit Miami Beach while you still can.)

Gene chose Florida as a place to live in bohemian semi-poverty because he likes the beach, he detests cold weather, and the cost of living is significantly cheaper than, say, in L.A. But lack of money is only one contributing cause of Gene’s current nightmare. Anybody who followed his pre-incarceration Facebook feed, a litany of impotent rage, threats of self-mutilation, and reports about his ailing cat, Sam, would have seen the obvious: These were the desperate words of a man headed for an insane asylum, prison, and/or early death.

Desperation, of course, is endemic to writing. Ernest Hemingway and Hunter Thompson blew their brains out—and they’d achieved a level of commercial and critical success that’s probably no longer attainable. That’s what the book business can do to people, especially to writers like Gene who are not “brand names,” who dare to cultivate a distinctive voice, and who refuse to write plot-driven genre fiction or nonfiction that defies easy pigeonholing in a commercial category.

Gene, having aggressively rejected all the conventions of mainstream publishing, instead took a uniquely American path: He formed his own imprint, Monastrell, exclusively for his own books. And though Monastrell has put out 18 books and Gene has met with some success, including an interview on Vice.com that briefly sent Dog Days: Volume One rocketing up the Amazon charts, this venture has simply not generated enough cash for Gene to buy himself some Florida Justice.

So, he sits in his Pinellas County prison cell, doing what he can to hang on to what remains of his sanity—he writes books, and Monastrell, currently being run by his supporters, publishes them. Since he’s been in jail, he’s written Stretch Marks, a full-length memoir. This, in itself, is an extraordinary achievement. The Orange Woman: Volume I ($6.99) is a 27-page excerpt from Stretch Marks.

In The Orange Woman, Gene flashes back and forth between the early 1980s and the recent past. But he primarily focuses on the “vicious” winter of 1983, when he was a “sexually perverse child of seven” living in financial and cultural poverty, in rural Pennsylvania, with his emotionally unstable mother, Kathleen, who works a low-paying job at an IBM plant, and his sketchily described younger brother, Matt.

The orange woman is Naomi Fairbanks, so-called because of an artificial tanning product that has turned her skin “the somber orange of baked carrots.” She’s an inbred local “creature,” living in a trailer park, whom Kathleen hires to provide childcare—it’s all she can afford.

Naomi’s dialogue is rendered phonetically—Yer warnt serm cawfee?—and this is among the multitude of vividly conjured sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and sensations of a distant time and place that gives the reader a clear sense of the fucked-up situation Gene escaped from, and explains to some degree why he now finds himself in a Pinellas County prison cell.

The Orange Woman is an hors d’oeuvre that leaves the reader hungry for the full meal, and I can only hope that no matter what happens, Gene continues writing and publishing. For his is a voice that is, indeed, worth preserving. Read More 

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The Brown-Paper Curtain

You know that Beaver Street review, by Peter Landau, on Goodreads, that I posted about yesterday? Well, today it's migrated to Fleshbot. So, if you neglected to read it yesterday, please read it today on Fleshbot. They have much better pictures than Goodreads, just in case you need a little more incentive to click here now. Read More 
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Call Me Virgil

I should pay more attention to Goodreads because people often post reviews of my books on the site, and I'm one of those authors who not only reads his reviews, but also likes to engage with his critics.

Last night I found two positive Beaver Street reviews. The first one, by Peter Landau, the writer who conducted the epic interview with me that ran last month on Fleshbot, describes me "as a Virgil to the reader's Dante on tour of a business that grew to define pop culture in America." In his thoughtful analysis, Landau calls the book "a fun and informative trek through a lost world," meaning that the profitable and dynamic magazine world that I depict in Beaver Street has long ago ceased to exist. He gives the book five out of five stars.

Thank you, Peter.

The other review, by Mike McPadden, is notable because the writer “vividly” remembers “the naked nun photo scandal of 1979,” which I describe in an early Beaver Street chapter about editing Observation Post, an underground newspaper at the City College of New York. (Actually, the “nun” went well beyond being naked, but I suspect that Goodreads is subject to censorship, and McPadden prudently restrained his language.) Overall, McPadden calls the book “breezy” and “funny” and recommends Beaver Street “skinthusiastically.”

Thank you, Mike. And keep those reviews coming. Read More 
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On the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles in America…

February 9, 1964, left to right, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Ed Sullivan, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney.
The Internet is filled with thousands of Beatles forums--online communities where people can log in and discuss the Fab Four. DM's Beatles Forums, Steve Hoffman Music Forums, BeatleLinks, and rec.music.beatles are among the multitude of sites I've browsed over the decades.

If John Lennon were alive today, I think he'd enjoy posting anonymously on some of these forums, and I'm certain that whatever he said would be greeted with comments far less generous than, "You don't know shit about the Beatles!"

That's because Beatles forums tend to be vipers’ nests of ignorance and hostility, with the most vicious comments coming from the people who know the least. May Pang, for example, used to post in rec.music.beatles, but was driven off the site by malicious attacks on virtually everything she said.

The most scathing reviews of Nowhere Man that I’ve seen anywhere have been posted by people who proudly declare, “I’ve never read the book. I don’t have to. I know what’s in it.”

Last night, inspired by the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, I was browsing one of the more civilized forums, Beatles Bible, when I came across a comment that shocked me. Going against the usual party line of “Nowhere Man bad!” somebody who uses the moniker “10centwings” indulged in a bit of independent thought. Softening his or her post with the standard caveat about reading it “with one eyebrow raised,” 10centwings said, “I’m 1/3 through the Rosen book…. This one’s a page turner. I actually lunched in today just so that I could sneak in an extra hour of reading.”

A comment like this, from a “real” reader, in a forum that’s usually hostile to the book reminds me yet again why Nowhere Man endures 14 years after publication. And though the controversy will probably never cease, more people are beginning to see the book for what it is.

I can hardly wait till Nowhere Man’s 50th anniversary. Read More 
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An Ice-Cold Bath of Publishing Reality

According to David Comfort, author of The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead and The Reborn Bible 2.0, most writers share the following personality traits: They're hateful, envious, suicidal, masochistic, and megalomaniacal. In a word, they're assholes. But they are capable of producing pithy quotes about the writing biz, and such quotes are scattered throughout Comfort's latest book, An Insider’s Guide to Publishing (Writer’s Digest Books, $19.99). Here's one of my favorites, from Jean Cocteau: "Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Note just what it is about your work the critics don't like--then cultivate it."

An Insider’s Guide also contains a wealth of eye-opening statistics, like this one: There's a .0000416 percent chance that The New Yorker magazine will publish an unsolicited short story.

For aspiring writers looking to save time and postage, this is useful information that you won’t easily find elsewhere. And though I’ve never submitted a short story to The New Yorker—and swore off submitting unsolicited manuscripts to anybody 20 years ago—I can attest to the general accuracy of Comfort’s calculation.

I was afraid that the well-earned and corrosive cynicism that suffuses An Insider’s Guide would remind me all too vividly of what I already know: The writing biz is fucked. Only a fool would go into it. Therefore I must be a fool.

Instead, I found it to be an entertaining rejoinder to the rising tide of fantasyland pep talks about how to make $1 million self-publishing e-books.

Rich with anecdotes about the hard-won wisdom of distinguished authors who survived (or didn’t survive) careers spent slinging words, much to my surprise, An Insider’s Guide left me feeling better about some of the life choices I’ve made.

I’m happy to say, at this late date, that the writing biz has not yet driven me to suicide (as it did Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Hunter Thompson), alcoholism (as it did Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald), drug addiction (as it did Edgar Allan Poe and William Burroughs), murder (as it did Burroughs), attempted murder (as it did Norman Mailer), insanity (as it did Hemingway before he blew off his head with a shotgun), a duel (as it did Marcel Proust), or fraud (as it did James Frey).

Literary talent has little to do with success, Comfort suggests, and in many cases it can be a hindrance, because if there’s one thing publishers hate, it’s originality. According to Comfort, “Luck, Suck & Pluck” are what it takes to succeed, and he returns to this theme throughout the book. Again, I can personally attest to the inherent validity of this formula.

The fact that John Lennon’s diaries fell into my hands was extraordinary luck, for example. But I couldn’t have done anything with them if it wasn’t for pluck. That publishers rejected Nowhere Man for 18 years, usually for the most ridiculous reasons—Not enough interest in John Lennon!—and that the book then become a bestseller and a cult classic is a monument to pluck. The thing that’s held me back, however, is that I suck at sucking, by which Comfort means “sucking up.” I’ve never developed a strong enough stomach to frequently and with feeling kiss the assorted body parts of the people who are in a position to further my ambitions. But as Meatloaf might say, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

People who become real writers—like Hemingway, Franz Kafka, and Jane Austen—can’t help themselves. There’s no rational decision involved. For people like this, it’s the only path to take. You hear the voice in your head and you need to get it down on paper (or on a computer screen). An Insider’s Guide will not save people like this from themselves—though they may be able to glean a few nuggets of practical advice from it.

An Insider’s Guide is a great book for people who think that writing might be a good career move, but can’t quite decide if they should be a writer, get an MBA, be a supermodel, or join the navy. For those people, An Insider’s Guide will serve as an ice-cold bath of publishing reality. I recommend it strongly.

Let me leave you with one last thing aspiring authors should keep in mind: Even the most successful writers, like Fitzgerald, and even those who’ve won the Nobel Prize, like William Faulkner, considered themselves failures and died penniless.

Need I say more? Read More 
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This Is Cool

John Mozzer was an information technology specialist who'd received security clearance from the National Security Agency. But in his secret life, one that he lived from 1978 to 1995, he was Alan Adrian, a pornographic actor who appeared in 67 XXX-rated movies, including such classics as A Taste of Money, Inside Little Oral Annie, Maid in Manhattan, Babylon Blue, Oriental Techniques in Pain and Pleasure, Centerfold Fever, and The Devil in Miss Jones II.

Now retired and living in L.A., Mozzer tends to an extensive archive of material related to the porn industry. He also knows many of the characters from Beaver Street, and he recently posted a review of the book on Amazon. I think the review serves as a perfect example of the kind of dialogue that I'd hoped Beaver Street would spark, and which I'd encourage people to continue.

This is what Mozzer had to say:


A Fascinating Read

My original reason for reading Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is that my world overlapped with author Robert Rosen’s world during the 1980s. I worked as an adult film actor (under the name Alan Adrian or Spike), a representative for magazine distributing and printing companies that profited by serving the porn industry, and a freelance writer and photographer for some of Rosen’s colleagues.

It’s a shame that names have to be changed in non-fiction books like Beaver Street. I was hoping to recognize the colleagues whose names were changed by Rosen. But that didn’t happen. I suspect this means it will be all the more difficult for future writers on this topic to figure out who’s who.

To my surprise, in Chapter 4, Rosen describes Carl Ruderman, the person with the money behind High Society, as very involved with its day-to-day operation. Furthermore, his anecdotes about working for High Society came across as very credible. I found myself feeling, “I’m sure these things really happened.” Nevertheless, I think caution is in order, because Rosen’s stint at High Society is a small fraction of the magazine’s life, and the situation may have changed over time. After finishing Chapter 4, I decided the extent to which Ruderman involved himself with the day-to-day operation of High Society, over the long run, remains an open question.

Years ago, I heard about the murder of editor Bill Bottiggi. But I never knew about the circumstances leading up to the murder, as Rosen describes it. I find Rosen’s account very disconcerting. After all these years, I have to reconsider placing Bottiggi in the “all good” and “nice guy” category in my head. Initially, I believed Rosen’s account. Later, I found myself not wanting to believe it, and longing for accounts by other people who knew Bottiggi.

Rosen presents strong arguments against society for allowing Traci Lords to get away with hoodwinking the porn industry. In fact, his arguments made me very, very pissed off at her.

Beaver Street was truly a book that I couldn’t put down. I learned tons of stuff that I didn’t know. You don’t need to have been involved with the porn industry, like myself, in order to enjoy the book. You don’t even have to be involved with researching the subject. Beaver Street is a fascinating book to read. 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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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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A Writer Who Doesn't Give a Fuck

I've been meaning to write something about Gene Gregorits since I read his book Dog Days a couple of months ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a slice-of-life novel that goes nowhere in particular, except from Baltimore to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as the alcoholic, cat-loving narrator takes you down a well-trod path of self-destruction, with the energy of Gregorits's prose driving the narrative forward, despite the lack of anything resembling a conventional plot. This is a book written by a man who's spent a lot of time locked in a room, cranking out millions of words in the course of developing an original voice.

That Gregorits self-published Dog Days under his Monastrell Books imprint, and has turned himself inside out trying to promote it, tells you all you need to know about the state of mainstream publishing these days: If you're going to write something genuinely original and not easily categorized, you’re wasting your time. The publishing industry does not want to know you.

I don’t know if Gregorits made an effort to sell this book to a mainstream publisher, but if he did, what they told him were variations on, “We really enjoyed reading Dog Days but we don’t know how to publish it, so we’re going to pass.” Which means, in the eyes of the publishing world, no matter how good a writer Gregorits is, he’s not a major celebrity with his own TV show, and it’s going to be difficult to promote a book like Dog Days without such a “platform.”

So, Gregorits brought out Dog Days himself, got some publicity on Vice.com, and sold a few books. This infused him with hope. He thought that an interview on a high-profile Website might lead somewhere. But these days, nothing in the writing biz seems to lead anywhere, except oblivion, and anything that doesn’t lead to oblivion is the exception that proves the rule.

Gregorits, who was embittered to begin with—bitterness is what fuels his writing—became even more embittered. He became something rare in the literary firmament: a writer who doesn’t give a fuck what anybody in the biz thinks of him, who doesn’t care whom he pisses off or what bridges he burns.

This is refreshing.

I’ll leave you with a recent post from Gregorits’s Facebook page that neatly sums up the view from underground, written by a man who has allowed himself to feel too much:

Trying to put a press kit together. I had a Princeton pussyboy acting as an “agent” last winter, but he never did a fucking thing so I told him to go fuck his mother. One of the most important things he promised to take care of was a decent looking press kit, and here I am trying to cobble together various reviews, interviews, etc., to show around to an industry that I don’t give a damn about. All time wasted. I’d rather be telemarketing: there’s an end to that dirty business, and a point.

I don’t want to be part of the feeding frenzy. I’m fucking good at what I do. Period. Fuck this PR bullshit. I could simply hack off a piece of my head, or an arm or a leg or something, take off a finger... quick, spiritually transforming, primal.

Or I could sit here mouse-clicking, jacking myself off all day like a baboon... endless, spiritually debilitating, superficial.


There you have it: The 21st century book biz in a nutshell. Read More 

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One Year of U.S. Beaver

Maybe you're celebrating Maundy Thursday, but I'm celebrating the first anniversary of the U.S. publication of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, an event marked by a responsive reading of a review by Byron Nilsson, on a site called Words and Music, which ran one year ago today.

And quite a year it's been! The good news about Beaver Street, one year down the road, is that it's sold out on Amazon. Again. The bad news about Beaver Street, one year down the road, is that it's sold out on Amazon. Again.

I’m not about to complain about a book selling out repeatedly. I will only say that when the book does sell out, as it’s been doing the past two months, I’d be happier if Amazon got it back in stock more quickly or kept more copies in stock so it didn’t sell out as often.

And I will express gratitude for the fact that one year after its U.S. publication (and two years after its U.K. publication) critics continue to write about Beaver Street and people continue to buy it.

And finally, I will extend an open invitation to all readers to come to the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street on June 16 for the Second Annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street celebration. The Very Reverend Byron Nilsson will be presiding, and he thinks I know how to “make words dance.” He said so in his review. I will be doing my best to make those words dance in public. Read More 
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Folks Like Shu

Sometimes things happen as they should, even in the world of book publishing. What I'm referring to is the idea that if somebody reads one of your books and likes it, they might seek out another one of your books. Though I'm sure this has happened to me on numerous occasions, I rarely hear about it, as the average reader tends not to communicate with the authors he reads.

But this time I heard about it. Bryan "Shu" Schuessler, who runs the culture site Shu-izmz, read Beaver Street, ran a rave review, interviewed me on his radio show, and then read my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, not because he had any interest in Lennon or the Beatles, but because he liked my writing style and Nowhere Man has a number of true crime elements, which fascinate him. Up went another rave review, and last night we recorded another radio interview, which Shu will post sometimes this week and which will be available for download as a podcast.

For the most part, we talked about the background of Nowhere Man—how I came into possession of Lennon’s diaries, how I transcribed them, how they were stolen from me, how I recreated them from memory, and how it took me 18 years to find a publisher for a book that’s now considered an underground classic.

In the course of our conversation, Shu said something about Nowhere Man that I’d never heard before—that’s it’s a good book for people with attention deficit disorder because it has short chapters. To which I say, “Hey, ADD people, welcome aboard. Hope you like my book.”

And as our conversation ended, I said to Shu, “Thank you. It’s folks like you who keep folks like me going.”

“We’ve got to support those whose talents and endeavors we enjoy,” Shu replied.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Read More 
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Why I Like Joan Didion

Joan Didion in 2008. Photo by David Shankbone.
Variations on "What writers have most influenced you?" is a question I often get during interviews. The unsurprising short answer is Hunter Thompson, Henry Miller, and Philip Roth. (Click here for more detail.) But the list goes on to include George Orwell, Joseph Heller, and one woman, Joan Didion, now the only writer on the list who's both alive and active.

It was Heller who brought Didion to my attention, back in 1972. For a fiction writing class at City College, he put Play It As It Lays on a list of the greatest novels of the 20th century. (The list also included Catch-22.) Though I didn't enjoy it when I read it then, a recent rereading of this story of a woman's life in Hollywood proved Heller correct: Play It As It Lays is a great book.

But it was Didion’s essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem which I first read in grad school and have reread countless times since then, that proved influential. The essays are textbook examples of first-person journalism at its best—a perfect fusion of style, emotion, and information. And the title essay, about Haight-Ashbury in 1967, is one of those rare pieces of writing that I read and thought, “This is what I should be doing.” I also love the simple truth she expresses in the preface: “Writers are always selling somebody out.” Every serious writer should have that embroidered in needlepoint and hung on their wall. Because if you’re not selling somebody out, what you’re doing is PR.

I’m writing about Didion now because the other week, I finally picked up her 2001 essay collection, Political Fictions, a series of devastating takedowns of the democratic process, the journalists who cover politics, the politicians themselves, and the books that some of these politicians have written. What I like most about the essays is that Didion tells the truth as she sees it and, unlike the journalists she’s writing about, she doesn’t care who never speaks to her again. She sells out everybody.

For example, perhaps the kindest thing she says in “Newt Gingrich, Superstar,” about the literary output of the former speaker of the house is: “To Renew America shows evidence of professional copy-editing.”

And in “Political Pornography,” she says of the oeuvre of Bob Woodward, stenographer to the Washington power elite: “These are books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent.”

Much of what Didion writes is truer now than it was 12 years ago. Which is why nobody mentioned in these 322 pages has ever used one word of Didion’s as a blurb on a book cover. Read More 
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Personal Faves: Volume III

A final look back at some of my favorite posts, selected at random, from The Daily Beaver on its third anniversary. Then, on new blogging frontiers.

Godfather of Grunge Meets Godmother of Punk (June 7, 2012)
A report from the BEA.

Bernie on Beaver Street (June 19, 2012)
This is what happens when a celebrity vigilante shows up at a book launch party.

My Book Promotion Philosophy (Sept. 6, 2012)
Why I’ll talk to anyone who wants to talk to me about my books.

Distinguishing Characteristics (Sept. 11, 2012)
A guest post from Mary Lyn Maiscott on the anniversary of 9/11.

Google Is God (Oct. 18, 2012)
What do you do when you don’t like the way a powerful monopoly is treating you? Nothing you can do. Read More 

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AVN Reviews Beaver Street… and they like it!

One of the odd things about the Beaver Street promotional campaign, which has been ongoing for two years, is that despite the coverage the book has garnered all over the cultural spectrum, in such places as Vanity Fair, Bizarre magazine, an academic site called H-Net, The Village Voice, Erotic Review, and Little Shoppe of Horrors (to name but a few), there hasn't been one review in any of the men's magazines that I write about in Beaver Street.

I suppose the primary reason for this lack of coverage is that Lou Perretta, who now owns two of the titles at the heart of the book, Swank and High Society, as well as every other porn mag except for Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, is upset that I've blogged about the abysmal working conditions at his company and his campaign contributions to Scott Garrett, the Tea Party icon who represents New Jersey’s 5th congressional district. Perretta, apparently, has forbidden his merry staff, under penalty of termination, to so much as mention Beaver Street in or out of the office.

And I suppose that Playboy and Penthouse are not especially interested in books of any kind, and that Hustler doesn’t write about books unless Larry Flynt wrote them—though I’d think that Flynt would have gotten a kick out of my stories about his former rival, ex-High Society publisher Carl Ruderman.

Well, I’m pleased to report that a magazine read by everybody who’s anybody in adult entertainment has published a brilliant Beaver Street review in their February issue, which features a cover story about the “30 must-read books on the history of X.”

Adult Video News (AVN) has been called “the Billboard magazine of the porn industry.” It’s the mag that the mainstream media turn to when they need reliable information about smut. The review, “Walk on the Wild Side,” written by AVN editor Sharan Street, calls Beaver Street “brutally honest,” “compelling,” and says that it’s “a fascinating exploration of the common ground shared by [comic books] and pornographic magazines.” Street (Sharan, not Beaver) also does an excellent job of pulling out just the right quotes to give the reader a good sense of the book’s overall flavor.

I’d urge you all to read AVN’s review of Beaver Street. It made my day. Read More 

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How to Kill a Book

I feel for Randall Sullivan, author of Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson (Grove Press). What's happening to him could have happened to me--had my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, been published now rather than 13 years ago, before the age of social media and before Amazon completely took over the book biz.

In yet another demonstration that the mega-conglomerate is a company out of control, a company that feels no need to treat fairly or responsibly the authors whose books they sell, a company that feels no need to answer to anybody about anything, they have allowed Michael Jackson fans to destroy sales of Sullivan's book with a barrage of anonymous negative reviews.

According to an article published on the front page of The New York Times yesterday, “Swarming a Book Online,” Jackson fans have used Twitter and Facebook to solicit scores of one-star takedowns of Untouchable; to have numerous positive reviews deleted; and even to have Amazon briefly remove the book from their site by falsely claiming that copies were “defective.”

Untouchable, like Nowhere Man, is a largely sympathetic portrait of its subject that also includes certain negative assessments. In particular, information about Jackson’s plastic surgery and his two marriages enraged his fans. According to Sullivan, many of the one-star reviews were factually false and clearly written by people who hadn’t read the book—as I can attest is also the case with most of Nowhere Man’s one-star reviews.

Amazon, however, doesn’t consider this a problem, saying that the reviews don’t violate their ever-shifting guidelines. Amazon has also said that it’s unnecessary for a reviewer to “experience” a product before reviewing it.

In the past, the Times has written about authors paying reviewers to flood Amazon with five-star reviews, and of authors anonymously trashing competing books.

There’s no question that Amazon’s review system is broken, possibly beyond repair, and that it’s relatively easy to game the system. Nor is there a question that it’s almost impossible to police phony reviews on a site like Amazon. But the real injustice here is Amazon’s refusal to work with authors and publishers to solve any kind of problem or to make any effort to adequately explain why they do what they do.

Fortunately, Amazon is sensitive to negative publicity, and the fact that the Times put this story on the front page is a good thing. Read More 
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The Making of an Underground Classic, 2013

This wouldn't be the first time I've pointed out that most books have the shelf life of yogurt, and anytime people are still talking about a book that's been out for nearly 13 years, it's nothing short of miraculous. Well, that, happily, is the case with my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, which at this stage of the game appears to have established itself as an underground classic.

The latest review appeared today on Bryan Schuessler’s site, Shu-Izmz. Schuessler, as regular readers of this blog will recall, is a fan of porn, death metal, gore, and true crime who writes from the perspective of regular guy whose mind is in the gutter. So taken was he with Beaver Street, he felt compelled to read Nowhere Man, too.

And, yes, Schuessler enjoyed the book, despite the fact that he’s not a fan of the Beatles or Lennon. This, of course, is what’s kept Nowhere Man alive all these years—it takes people by surprise, transcending the genre of rock ’n’ roll bio.

Here’s a blub from the review: “The manuscript is so personal that one would think John Lennon himself was telling Rosen exactly what to write.”

I urge you all to read his entire critique. And then get your own copy of Nowhere Man. See for yourself why it’s an underground classic. Hell, you don’t even have to buy it. You can get it at the library. Someday, somebody might even make it available as an e-book. Read More 
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Top 5 Blurbs of the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive

 

Just in case the world ends today, on this first day of winter in the northern hemisphere, I'm going out with the "Top 5 Blurbs of the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive."

In the event that the world doesn't end today, the Autumn Offensive will be followed by the Winter Assault and Spring Siege, the latter climaxing, of course, with the Second Annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street. (Make your plans today!)

Optimist that I am, I'm planning on taking off for St. Louis for the holidays, which is where the Beaver Street Spring Offensive of 2012 began in April. So, this will probably be my last posting of the year (if not forever). Here's wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Hope to see you in 2013!

And here are my fave blurbs and the reasons I chose them:

5. “Rosen excluded female pornographers entirely from his history. I suspect he was too caught up in his own juvenile dabbling to notice their existence.” —Kate Gould, Review 31
What does a review look like when it’s written by a reviewer who’s made up her mind that she’s going to trash a book before reading the first word? It looks like this. I include this classic hatchet job because of the backlash it inspired, which ended up bringing more attention to Beaver Street than if the reviewer had read the entire book and written an honest critique.

4. “Tender and tawdry all at once.” —Neil A. Chesanow, Review 31
This eloquent point-by-point takedown of the above hatchet job does what Gould’s review should have done in the first place: It provides an accurate and insightful picture of what Beaver Street is about.

3. “A fascinating peek inside a world of sex, indulgence, and exhibitionism.” —Shu-Izmz
Horror mags love Beaver Street, and Shu-Izmz, a site overseen by Bryan Schuessler, is one of three such sites that gave the book a rave review. Schuessler writes from the perspective of a regular guy whose mind is in the gutter; he loves porn, death metal, and gore. Also, this review led to a very cool interview on Core of Destruction Radio.

2. “Incredibly thoughtful, engaging and entertaining.” —The Bloodsprayer
Written by a chubby chaser who also happens to be a trained historian, the critic “J. D. Malinger” (as he calls himself) offers an intellectual lowbrow take on Beaver Street. The review resulted in an epic two-part interview, which allowed me to elaborate on a number of themes I touched upon in the book, such as the contempt with which many porn publishers treat their employees.

1. “A gem of a read… You will find yourself fascinated by the cast of characters.” — Richard Klemensen, Little Shoppe of Horrors
Even if LSoH editor and publisher Richard Klemensen hadn’t said in a comment on this blog that Beaver Street was one of his “favorite reads,” I’d still have chosen the above blurb as my favorite of the Autumn Offensive. Klemensen, who’s celebrating the 40th anniversary of his venerable publication, gets to the heart of the matter in his critique, which serves as yet another direct repudiation of the Review 31 hatchet job. Beaver Street is indeed a character-driven page-turner, whose vibrant cast will defy your expectations of what kind of people work behind the scenes in pornography. Since LSoH is only available in a print edition, if you’d like to read the entire review (and a whole bunch of stories about Dr. Phibes), you’ll have to buy a copy. Happy anniversary, Richard, and here’s to many more! Read More 

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Amazon Absurd

Though I've had my issues with Amazon in the past, I want to make it clear that what I'm about to say has not affected me personally. Amazon has not deleted any reviews of my books and they have not deleted any reviews that I've written about other people's books. However, an article, "Amazon Tackles Review Problem, Deletes Wrong Reviews," by Suw Charman-Anderson, that ran last month on Forbes.com, is both disturbing and sounds typical of the way that Amazon does business.

Here are the main points of the piece:

· Amazon has changed its customer reviews guidelines.

· According to customers who posted reviews for a book by Michelle Gagnon, either the reviews never appeared or they were deleted.

· When these customers complained, Amazon told them that they “do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product,” and they “will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter.”

· When one of the customers told Amazon that they had no “relationship or financial interest in the book,” Amazon then told Gagnon, the author of the book in question, that they’d remove her book from the site if the customer complained again.

· Another author, Steve Weddle, received a similar e-mail from Amazon when he attempted to post a review for a book by Chad Rohrbacher, whom he knows personally.

· This is apparently happening on a wide scale.

· Bottom line: Amazon now appears to be forbidding authors from posting reviews because it sees all authors as direct competitors with other authors. In the meantime, Amazon has done nothing about fake reviews, written by reviewers for hire, that have flooded the site.

One can only hope that Amazon recognizes the absurdity of their review policy and corrects it promptly. Read More 
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A New York Shopping Story

One reason I've lived in New York City virtually my entire life, and in Manhattan since I graduated from college--the last 22 years downtown, in Soho--is because of the incredible convenience of not having to own a car. Everything I want or need, be it freshly made, hand-cut buckwheat pappardelle or an obscure book that's been out of print for a decade, can be found at a store, like Raffetto's or The Strand, that's within walking distance of my house. At least that's the way it used to be.

Manhattan in particular has been undergoing dramatic changes for some time. The quirky specialty shops and dusty book and magazine stores that used to line so many streets have given way to upscale boutiques, chain stores, and nail salons. Thanks to our mayor, Michael Bloomberg, New York has been transformed into a generic megacity—a gilded ghetto stripped of all funkiness, and designed to cater to tourists. A lot has been lost and very little had been gained.

This was driven home to me the other day when I went out to look for what I thought wouldn’t be especially hard to find: the latest issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, “the journal of classic British horror films,” as publisher Richard Klemensen calls it. The magazine has been around for 40 years, and in that time I’d seen it in numerous stores, like Kim’s, which used to be the place to go for offbeat publications of all kinds. (Kim’s still exists, but in a different location and has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.)

LSoH had run a rave review of Beaver Street, and though I had a scan of the review, I’m a completist when it comes to my own stuff, and I wanted a printed copy for my files. Thus began a shopping odyssey that included trips to more than a dozen stores, all within walking distance of my house: McNally Jackson, Bluestockings, St. Marks Books, Kim’s, Bleecker Bob’s, Barnes & Noble (ha!), Dashwood Books, Generation Records, Forbidden Planet, a comic book store on St. Mark’s Place, and I don’t know how many well-stocked magazine shops that seemed to carry everything but LSoH.

The result: Nada, nada, and nada.

So I ordered it online, directly from Richard Klemensen, who I imagined sitting in his house in Iowa, stuffing magazines into envelopes, addressing them by hand, and licking and sealing the flaps—an image that Richard confirmed is not far from the truth. “On the shipping end of things,” he said, “I am, indeed, a one-man-band!”

I anxiously await delivery. Read More 
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Little Shoppe of Beaver

It's interesting that a number of sites primarily devoted to horror, like The Bloodsprayer and Shu-Izmz, have taken such a liking to Beaver Street. Now you can add Little Shoppe of Horrors to that group. The venerable film mag--they've been around for 40 years--has run a delightful review of my investigative memoir in their latest issue, #29. It almost sounds as if it could be yet another rebuke to the hatchet job posted on Review 31 last month. That rather unpleasant critique put forth the opinion that, though Beaver Street was basically an anti-feminist piece of shit, certain low-minded individuals might find it "titillating."

Since the LSoH review is not available online, I'll take the liberty of quoting the last paragraph in full:

“If you are looking for some titillation, this isn’t the book for you. If you want to read about people, situations, a time and place in an industry that was looked down upon by many people (while many secretly gobbled up the magazines), this is a gem of a read. You won’t find yourself embarrassed reading it. You will find yourself fascinated by the cast of characters. This is a book both men and women would enjoy (even if the women were only trying to find out why men would even have been interested in that crap!)”

Well said, LSoH! Now I’ve got to go out and track down a copy. Read More 
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A Well-Targeted Review

If you happen to run a sex shop or "intimate apparel" store, then you're probably familiar with the trade magazine StorErotica. This is a serious publication that gets into nuts-and-bolts retailing issues like maximizing profits, store security, and hot new products. Well, I'm tickled pink to report that in the magazine's Hot Products section, among the James Deen endorsed dildos, they've listed Beaver Street, describing it as "an interesting and witty look at pornography from the early '70s through late '90s."

Considering chains like Barnes & Nobel have been less than eager to stock Beaver Street in their remaining brick-and-mortar stores, I couldn't think of a better place for my "intriguing" (as StorErotica calls it) investigative memoir to be sold. I mean why should Fifty Shades of Grey, which I noticed is in the window of my local Pleasure Chest, have all the fun? Isn't it possible that people who buy Doc Johnson vibrators are also interested in quality, thought-provoking literature?

So, I’d encourage all erotic products entrepreneurs to take StorErotica’s advice and order Beaver Street today. It’s the book that carries both the Vanity Fair and Erotic Review seal of approval. How can you go wrong? Read More 
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Back to Business

Before Hurricane Sandy plunged me into 104 hours of pre-industrial living, and a certain election restored the tiniest glimmer of hope in American democracy's ability to function, I was, as I recall, writing about the vagaries of the book business.

On the British site Review 31, a critic that one of my more eloquent defenders described as "a tyro reviewer with a political ax to grind" had subjected Beaver Street to its first hatchet job. What I never got around to talking about is the upside of having your book trashed in an inaccurate and inherently dishonest manner: It sparked an online debate that ended up bringing more attention to Beaver Street than another rave review would have. It's the kind of debate that you just don’t see often enough these days--one that demonstrates the passion for books that still exists in this age of social media.

Also, the day the power came back on, a far more friendly British site, Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog, posted an essay I wrote a few months ago titled “My Book Promotion Philosophy.” The gist of that philosophy can be boiled down to one sentence: “Talk to anybody who wants to talk to you about your book for as long as they want to talk about it, and go anywhere people are interested in your work.”

In other words, I’m happy to report that the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive, though suspended for a week due to inclement weather, remains an ongoing operation. Read More 
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On the Responsibility of the Critic

 

The other day I responded to a review of Beaver Street, by Kate Gould, posted on a British site, Review 31. I took Gould to task for what was essentially a dishonest review, but limited my criticism to the review's most blatant and verifiable misstatement: "Rosen excluded female pornographers entirely from his history." Female pornographers, I said, are one of the book's main subjects.

Another critic, Neil Chesanow, has now taken this one step further, posting on the Review 31 site a detailed deconstruction of the review's inherent dishonesty. Chesanow's critique, in my opinion, is far more interesting and informative than the review itself. In fact, it does what Gould's review should have done in the first place: It provides an accurate picture of what
Beaver Street is about.

Since Chesanow's piece might get lost among the other comments, I'm posting it here in its entirety.


By Neil Chesanow
It is a pity that a tyro reviewer with a political ax to grind saw fit to trash a funny, witty, engaging, informative history/memoir of the modern pornography industry because it wasn’t the feminist screed she had absolutely no right to hope it would be. As a result, her review is much more about her than it is about the book: a mark of rank amateurism.

Ms. Gould announces her misgivings about the porno industry early on. That alone should have disqualified her from reviewing the book; she lacks the objectivity necessary to write a bona fide review. She writes, for example, that she had hoped “Rosen’s account of the industry might engage intelligently with such issues” as “consent and the way in which porn teaches boys to view and treat women.”

If Ms. Gould knew a little bit more about feminist history, however, she would know that such a book—in fact, a whole flock of them—has already been written, primarily by feminists in the 1970s and 1980s, by women (and some men) who were mainly members of the radical feminist group Women Against Pornography. They included Susan Brownmiller, Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Gloria Steinham, Shere Hite, Lois Gould, Robin Morgan, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and the incomparable Andrea Dworkin, who maintained, among other bizarre notions, that all sex is rape.

There is no need for yet another of these books, and Mr. Rosen’s publisher, Headpress, would surely have rejected a manuscript along the lines that Ms. Gould would have liked to see because it has been done (and done, and done), and the desire for such a book today, even among the pathetically small number of women left who still consider themselves card-carrying feminists, is next to nil.

The subtitle of Mr. Rosen’s book, A History of Modern Pornography, Ms. Gould insists on taking literally in order to score her own points. In fact, Beaver Street is a memoir through which history is interwoven, and this is evident on the very first page. Ms. Gould writes that Mr. Rosen is “heavily biased” and “unable or unwilling to consider the existence or validity of any opinion other than his own.” Well, yes, because, you see, that is what a memoir is. Ironically, the same could be said of Ms. Gould’s review.

Ms. Gould unfairly takes Mr. Rosen to task for asserting that porn actress Traci Lords transformed “the ‘young girl’ into an object of such intense fascination, it’s now the single most profitable sector of the porno-industrial complex.” Mr. Rosen has scapegoated Ms. Lords, Ms. Gould contends, because “paedophilia is as old as time.” Yes, yes, but the porno-industrial complex, about which Mr. Rosen writes, is not as old as time, it is a recent invention, and its emergence roughly coincides with Mr. Rosen’s entry into it, which is precisely what makes his perspective on that industry valuable. It would be lovely to have a reviewer who could get such basic facts straight.

Ms. Gould snarkily sums up that “if you're looking for a dude’s take on smut mags, Beaver Street might be quite titillating.” Unfortunately, though, it seems she does not understand what the word titillating means: pleasantly stimulating, exciting, and erotic. Beaver Street is none of these things. Mr. Rosen’s deep ambivalence and frequent disgust with what he was doing during his porno years precludes that. Yes, the book mentions gangbangs and all manner of sexual acts, but none of these are lovingly described in salacious detail, not even Mr. Rosen’s account of his brief romantic relationship with a porno actress, which is tender and tawdry all at once—fascinating, yes, but erotic, no.

Ms. Gould is free to dislike Mr. Rosen’s book, but when one reviews a book for a public audience, one has a responsibility to review the work fairly on its own terms, not on a completely different set of purely solipsistic and irrelevant terms idiosyncratic to the reviewer. Ms. Gould fails to live up to this responsibility. Instead of serving us, the readers, she uses her review as opportunity to serve herself. Her review is titled “Masturbation Fodder.” And that is exactly what it is: not the book, the review. Read More 

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