The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin
Six weeks after escaping the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary and his father is killed.
“Audacious, genre-bending … a thrilling head-rush of a book.” —Elizabeth Eslami
Table of Contents
- Libraries and livelihoods: Brantley, Coker, Gardner
- eBooks Watching You, Watching me: Alter, Shatzkin
- Journalism, More Crumbling: Koenig, Mathewi
- Covers/Rowling: Let’s Judge This One
- Hashtag alert/ #fiw12 : TheFutureBook Innovation
- Craft: Forget Who You Know
- Craft: Platform What?
- Craft: The Job of Writing
- Blogging: When It Pays
- Books & Conferences: Reading on the Ether
- Last Gas: Cliché Descending a Driveway
American communities cheer the Russians’ defeat of Napoleon’s Grande Armée each year in outdoor pops extravaganzas on the Fourth. That’s Tchaikovsky’s cannon-and-chimes 1812 Overture (Op. 49) still rivaling Sousa in our ears.
So it’s not that surprising that We, the Creatives, can bring a certain mercurial — none dares call us self-centered — charm to our observations of Independence Day, is it?
Thus, you’ll find that several commentators in the field this week have mentioned our authors’ “freedom” and “independence” as being worthy of a good Roman candle and a match.
One strong example of this comes from the Kill Zone. Sorry about that group-blog name, it’s the genre-gnawing noir-dark-alley-blog-home of several accomplished suspense and thriller writers. As far as I know, they’ve had not one homicide there. Yet.
One Kill Zone member we know well here on the Ether is our good friend James Scott Bell.
Today we have more freedom to choose where to publish our work. We used to be confined to the mega New York publishing houses.
Here’s what it means to choose the self-publishing path: Besides writing and marketing our own works, we have to outsource to editors, cover designers, and formatters. We have to collect the income from various distributors and formulate our own spreadsheets. And don’t forget buying ISBNs, determining a name for our publishing “company”, and registering for copyright.
With freedom comes greater responsibility, and we’re feeling that as indie authors.
If not quite our own private Huis Clos, Cohen brings us to…shall we say, the ties that bind us.
These are tough choices, but at least we have them. It’s more than we could do several years ago. Now there’s always the possibility that our work will make it into the hands of readers one way or another. Isn’t that a reason to celebrate?
Well, hm, somehow, I don’t find myself jumping into the conga line on the strength of that “possibility…one way or another,” no. But I salute Cohen for just that — for posing it as a question instead of as a truth we all feel ready to hold self-evident.
Let’s explore an author’s freedom in the next section, also, as we look at a call to arms from a good colleague in the Colonies’ libraries.
If libraries could mount a campaign directly at authors and agents, it could help broaden access to (e)books. Librarians could raise awareness that an author should “Say yes to your library!” and write into their contracts the requirement that their (e)book be available in the library market without onerous limitations.
I’m not recalling many times I’ve heard an author suggest that anyone “Say no to your library.”
Here on the holy Ether, this is preaching to the perverted.
But Peter Brantley, in his post at Publishers Weekly’s PWxyz blog — Authors: say yes to libraries! – is working, in part, in response to the news of the Smashwords deal with California’s Califa libraries. As we covered in the last Ether, that arrangement has a clause that will allow library patrons to publish their own books and offer them up as library ebooks.
While there seem to be glimmers of hope in a couple of limited pilot programs, the major publishing houses are still holding out from allowing their front list ebooks to be borrowed by library patrons.
“The big New York publishers are treating libraries like second-class citizens, so I see this as a real exciting opportunity for indie authors to move in and serve the needs of libraries.”
You get the spirit of the idea right away, of course. A big heart is at work here.
And on the face of it? Well sure, a lot of authors might love to sit down with a fire-breathing Big Sixer and say, “No, buddy, I’m not signing my name to this lunch tab or your little contract until you grant me the right to put this ebook into libraries.”
But when I asked agents about this?
Well, first they ran out of the room. One issue I’m running into from time to time is that members of the community don’t feel they can speak honestly on the record. This is especially true of agents, who worry that if they honk off any publishers with a comment, they could end up being less able to get what their author-clients need.
While I understand the fear — and regret the paranoia — I think it’s a mistake to speak off the record. Normally I wouldn’t carry such comments, but in this case, I went to the people I asked, and I can vouch for their authenticity.
(Even more frustrating are pundits who won’t reveal even to media people who they are, and yet expect us to carry their quotes. In those cases, the ones in which someone hides completely behind a pseudonym or other disguise, I refuse to quote. If I can’t vouch for who my source is, that person is no source of mine.)
One agent told me:
While this might be a viable and interesting option for authors when re-selling back-list or self publishing, traditional front list publishing contracts for authors without massive leverage would not be viable in my opinion.
One agent who is always generous and up-front with authors — no stranger to Ethernauts here — is Rachelle Gardner.
When I put the question to her, she pointed out that going into contract negotiations with the hard restrictions of some rights already tied up is never smart:
And is it worth giving up a publishing contract? No.
One publisher weighed in, too, again on condition of anonymity, but echoing what these and other agents told me: only a “very attractive, proven” author could be expected to prevail on this in a contract negotiation.
So while the idea of Smashwords’ arrangement with the Califa libraries might have inspired Brantley’s post, the folks I spoke to kept going back to the fact that Smashwords is a self-publishing service, not a traditional publisher.
The idea of facilitating library availability can make us feel all warm and fuzzy, sure. But do we know that librarians are ready for, as Coker puts it, “indie authors to move in and serve the needs of libraries.” Would a lot of DIY work from debut authors serve those libraries’ needs?
Even if writing things into contracts made sense for traditionally published authors, it might be worth finding out first whether libraries are ready to “say yes to self-publishing authors” they’ve never heard of before.
Data collected from Nooks reveals, for example, how far readers get in particular books, how quickly they read and how readers of particular genres engage with books.
Amazon can identify which passages of digital books are popular with readers, and shares some of this data publicly on its website through features such as its “most highlighted passages” list. Readers digitally “highlight” selections using a button on the Kindle; they can also opt to see the lines commonly highlighted by other readers as they read a book.
That’s Alexandra Alter writing. You might not have known that because way too many people have referred to her widely read Wall Street Journal piece, Your E-Book Is Reading You, as “that piece in the Journal” — as if it had materialized by itself.
If writers don’t respect writers enough to refer to them by name when discussing their work, who will?
Alter’s article generated some chatter because, of course, it helped signal the formidable data-gathering power that digital formats can bring to bear on the industry — and in ways that may not always be as readily available to authors as to retailers or publishers.
There was a parallel moment in journalism years ago, when newsrooms were equipped with heat-mapping displays of their news sites’ pages. Intensifying color indicated where users were clicking. Hot phrases, popular photos. All of this was used to leverage advertising dollars, of course. And at times, such displays served as “proof of reader interest” to impress on journalists what material was popular with audiences — and what wasn’t.
The big question here, of course, is how much access writers may have to such data in book publishing and selling And, in particular, how can self-publishing authors hope to access a retailer’s knowledge of how readers are handling her or his work?
At one point in her article, Alter writes:
Amazon, in particular, has an advantage in this field—it’s both a retailer and a publisher, which puts the company in a unique position to use the data it gathers on its customers’ reading habits…Kindle users sign an agreement granting the company permission to store information from the device—including the last page you’ve read, plus your bookmarks, highlights, notes and annotations—in its data servers.
The Journal piece did suggest one kind of data that is extremely worth noting: when consumers show heightened interest in a particular author (by reading that author’s book faster and with fewer interruptions than others) or declining interest (by reading more slowly or abandonment before completion) in one that has had prior success.
Recalling saying in the past that publishers must develop the same data-scanning fluency that retailers have, he puts it this way:
Because, if they’re smart (meaning publishers), they won’t want Amazon to be the only publisher who knows what retailers know.
Where others may be concerned is in that question of what authors get to know. Here’s Shatzkin again, emphasis mine:
What would be of even more interest to a publisher, and almost certainly something that Amazon has set to be flagged for their publishing arm, is when a less-known author or book is being read very avidly. That would signal an opportunity for a publisher — one the author herself wouldn’t know about, even if she checks her sales figures and ranks regularly.
He’s right. And even as they salute new ideas of publishing independence this summer, Ethernauts of the authorial persuasion may want to give that point some thought. The battles of the revolution ahead may turn on the struggle for transparency.
Despite the furor over what some see as Journatic’s unethical methods, the harsh reality is that the economic conditions that led the (Chicago) Tribune and others to make use of the service are not going away any time soon.
Not that we needed more evidence that legitimate newspaper work is staggering through an ugly twilight, GigaOm’s astute and perspicacious commentator Mathew Ingram is particularly good on the latest embarrassment — the Journatic affair.
In case you haven’t been following this, Journatic is, in Ingram’s description, a service that:
…uses freelancers and staff to compile the kind of local news that typically appears in weekly community newspapers or the local section of a daily like the Tribune: that is, announcements about local sporting events, residents who have won awards, council meetings and so on.
When the Chicago-based show This American Life (heard on NPR) carried Sarah Koenig’s story about how Journatic creates “hyper-local” news by having people in the Philippines gather the info (at 35 to 40 cents per story), Koenig’s source, Ryan Smith, discovered that fake bylines were being used on these obits, real-estate stories and other things. You can hear Koenig’s report, Forgive Us Our Press Passes. (Scroll down for access to that story, or scrub to 26:16 in the tape.)
When issues in journalism come up — this happened with the Jonah Lehrer case recently — I sometimes hear from people that they don’t get what the big deal is. Now, this is because, of course, journalism spent many decades collectively believing its high standards were understood and valued by the public, only to learn in the digital age that, by and large, this was rarely the case. Hence the rise of ideologically driven news (something close to an oxymoron), “citizen journalism” accepted as a replacement for professional news, collapsing news media, and more.
So in case you need to understand what was wrong with how Journatic created supposedly local news — and why major papers including the Chicago Trib, the Sun-Times, the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle are cutting ties with Journatic or scrambling for a reponse – I like how the Journatic whistleblower, Smith puts it in the show. His job is to copy-edit these falsely bylined reports. He tells Koenig:
It’s sort of a tattered product that’s being written overseas, and half-heartedly edited, and just kind of slopped on the page. And journalism is supposed to be sort of like a local institution, and written by people that care about what’s going on there.
As large papers contracted with Journatic sever their relations, or just bluster away about it –there are conflicting reports about various newspaper contracts with Journatic — Ingram picks up the story with some perspective:
Much of the reaction to the Journatic story has focused on how the fake bylines — and the way reporters described who they were in phone interviews — were designed to simulate hyper-local content, and how this is an unethical or at least unappealing thing for newspapers to do.
That’s an appropriate entry point, yes. But you need to follow him further:
The uncomfortable reality is that the Tribune and other newspapers started using Journatic because it was a lot cheaper than generating that kind of content with staff reporters, and newspapers have been scrambling to cut costs as their print-advertising revenue continues to free-fall. The Tribune, for example, laid off 22 employees when it outsourced its hyper-local content to Journatic.
An effort to replace what once was labor-intensive local reporting, in other words, is driving these alternatives. Ingram again, and here he mentions Narrative Science (also in Chicago — is this in their water?).
I saw Narrative Science’s presentation at the Tools of Change conference in February.
At the end of the day, centralized and partly-automated production of…generic content is likely a reality for newspapers — or even fully-automated production, from services like Narrative Science, which generates sports stories, business stories and an increasing range of other content using algorithms instead of human reporters and editors. It may not be the kind of future that all journalists or news consumers would like to see, but it is probably the future nevertheless.
Koenig nails it at the end of her piece, I’m adding the emphasis:
The newspaper business as a whole doesn’t seem to have a better idea, not unless consumers want to start paying properly for their news…According to the website Paper Cuts, something like 35,000 people have lost newspaper jobs since 2008 because of layoffs and buyouts. Unlike most newspapers in America, Journatic is hiring.
This will be Rowling’s first post-Harry effort, of course.
Pottermore be damned, she’s going Potterless.
And this early release of the cover, meant to make us want to read the book, of course, offers a very high-visibility chance to do what we all do, anyway. Even though we say one should never do it.
Let’s judge that thing by its cover.
We hear a lot about what traditional publishers do for authors, of course. And near the top of every list is always great cover design.
Not that we can actually tell a thing about how the novel will read from this, of course, but as you arrive at the page on which Little, Brown displays this excitement, I want you to notice where your eye goes. Go ahead, click here and have a look, see what draws your attention. I’ll wait.
Now, now, calm down. Apples and oranges, you bet.
Different rackets. Different strokes, too.
Who knows what Rowling can do on grass? (She was spotted courtside last week, you know, on ESPN, I may not be joking.)
All disclaimers flying, sure, sure, don’t get all hot under the collar, the legal department hasn’t been called. “Entertainment purposes only!” as Nathan Bransford likes to disclaim when he asks readers for opinions.
And far be it from me to try to tell you what’s a good cover and what isn’t. But maybe this is a comparison to keep in mind. For someday when you need it. Or pay me no mind whatever. Food for naught. Do I look like a design expert to you? I’ll just make a few phrases here. It’s all I’m good for, really.
Opaque. Closed. Rigid.
Arresting. Enigmatic. Human. (“Only God can make a tree.“)
Judge Rowling’s book by its cover. This should be interesting. If our friends at Little, Brown want to pique our interest with their cover, let’s indulge them. And let’s find out which Ethernaut comes closest to a good call, once the book is out in September. Drop me a line: Click to comment
The daylong program’s hashtag, #fiw12, is a good one to follow. (London is five hours ahead of Eastern time.)
The daylong program’s intent is “to bring fresh perspectives to the new challenges and opportunities that exist for publishers, leaving the audience inspired to explore new possibilities in their work and some great new contacts for future projects.”
And in the service of that effort, there’s an interesting group of speakers and presenters on hand, including Sarah Ellis, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s digital producer. Ellis’ topic of conversation today is the RSC’s fine MyShakespeare site,
The site includes some fine blog work, such as David Schajer’s New Adaptations Solve Shakespeare Mysteries, about his intriguing adaptation approach:
In my adaptations, Shakespeare’s audience speaks aloud. They serve as a chorus as they watch the plays unfold, and they provide us with a look inside the Elizabethan mind, from the nobles to the groundlings.
The MyShakespeare site serves as a spot where “artists and audiences interpret, recode, and remix Shakespeare’s online world.” And Sam Missingham and her colleagues at TheFutureBook have had the grace to recognize that project as something that can have application to the mounting pressure in publishing for connection with readers.
Literary Platform founder Sophie Rochester produced a strong blog piece, herself, in advance of the Innovation Workshop, Ten Challenges to Innovation in Publishing, and it ran both on that site and at TheFutureBook’s blog page. Even if you don’t get a chance to look for tweets coming out of the workshop, do give yourself a minute to scan Rochester’s wise work.
Among her ten points, two I think are especially important for all of us to consider, in terms of what publishers are facing and doing.
First, Rochester’s Number 4: I’m going to quote her at several sentences’ length here, and then add my own emphasis to the last sentence of her write on this point:
There’s no return on investment and we’re quick to throw in the towel.
The problem with quality digital publishing projects is that the production costs are high – sometimes really high – and notably way beyond the kind of budgets publishers are used to paying from either editorial or marketing budgets. Throw into the mix the anxiety that these projects might not yield any profits it becomes a bit clearer why digital innovation is not a straightforward pathway for publishers…
The other frustrating thing for publishers is that no sooner has a new concept of digital innovation in publishing been announced, it’s almost immediately declared ‘dead’ by anyone it hasn’t worked for…
At the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2011, all the talk was around social reading platforms, but by the time we’d reached New York in February 2012 some at BookCamp already dubbed social reading ‘over.’ This crazed seesaw of enthusiasm vs. contempt for digital publishing initiatives only adds to the general anxiety of decision makers.
One of the reasons I like Rochester’s write is that she’s willing to mix both hard business realities and the “softer” side of this industry crisis, the sheer jerk-around of fast-swinging opinion and the emotional toll that takes. We’re all feeling that “crazed seesaw” about one initiative or another. Queasy is too nice a word. And publishers may need more Dramamine than anybody these days.
I’d also call your attention to Rochester’s Point 7:
We’re not talking to each other.
There are some clear reasons why publishers are not sharing more information with each other at the moment – competitive reasons, and sometimes even for legal reasons. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that there is little sales data in the public domain attached to new digital publishing products. A project might be getting a lot of noise from bloggers and press, but what publishers really want to know is, “How much did it cost to make, and what was your return on investment?”
I’ll leave you to go over the rest of Rochester’s points, yourself.
Some highlights of today’s session:
- Ellis’ presentation from the RSC is in the opening session, comfortably scheduled — for Eastern US followers — at 1320 BT, 8:20a ET. With Ellis is Jeff Norton, who will talk about a new narrative development process that involves beta-readers (I’m wondering if there’s a parallel here with agile), and producer Mike Jones on the author-audience relationship.
- Thomas Leliveld of Berlin’s txtr speaks in the 1540 BT session, 10:40a ET, about online retailing “for books in a competitive marketplace” (is there any other kind?).
- Peter Collingridge of Safari Books Online makes a presentation (also in the the 1540 BT session, 10:40 a/ET) on analyzing the effectiveness of digital campaigns and audience reach — plus balancing risk and innovation.
I think there’s an idea floating around out there that you have to “know someone” to get an agent, or meet one at a conference, or somehow be connected.
Agent Jenny Bent wants you to know that you don’t have to have an inside track to reach her and other agents with a pitch.
Her post is headlined It’s Really NOT About Who You Know…
The truth is that about 50% of my clients have come to me completely cold–via an unsolicited query letter. And I am often competing with really top agents for projects that have come in unsolicited, so I know that they are getting clients this way as well.
And she’s ramping up to a series of query letters that have worked.
I wanted to show you guys a few great query letters that not only hooked me but garnered multiple offers of representation and then sold in the US and also abroad. The one I’m featuring today is for a book that we ended up calling THE GHOST BRIDE. It sold at auction in the US to Morrow and in the UK to Hot Key Books, a new division of Bonnier. The author was choosing among a number of really good agents, all of whom requested her manuscript based on this unsolicited query
As she goes on to quote Yangsze Choo’s letter, then analyze its effectiveness:
…a terrific summary, a fabulous hook, comp titles of other books that I love, a compelling reason for querying me in particular, and intriguing biographical information that is relevant to the book she has written.
Not only is this great information — along the lines of the demystifying efforts that agent Rachelle Gardner specializes in — but it also does writers the favor of helping knock down the old, exhausted complaints that agents are naysaying gatekeepers.
Bent seems bent on getting to you with something informative, welcoming, and actionable.
I’m a fiction writer, but I work in marketing and PR. I’m well aware of the power of platform, and I want it. I want it now.
So you remember, of course, when everybody took the Platform Pill. One of the things that made the introduction of the author-platform concept so confusing is that many of our “gurus” forgot to mention (or didn’t know, themselves) that platforming is far more an issue for nonfiction writers than fiction people.
But is this really worth all the time and effort I’m pouring into it ? I could be watching TV, hitting the gym, spending time with my husband or—ahem–working on my manuscript. The answer is yes, I absolutely believe it’s worth it, for three big reasons.
And so, in Putting the Cart Before the Horse, Emily Wenstrom, guest-blogging at Elizabeth S. Craig’s site, goes over what she believes are the reasons for her unorthodox interest in platforming for fiction.
- I’m getting ahead.
- It gets me actively engaged in the community.
- It expands my options.
Wenstroms’s post is well worth a look.
Allies. Doing someone a favor and then immediately asking for one is inappropriate; favors don’t win allies. Only you and your work win lasting allies. Do good work and treat people kindly, and strangers will reach out to help you. Recognize those who will never help you, and ignore them; indignation and regret waste energy.
Author Sarah Manguso gets into the Work in Progress blog at publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux with one of the best rounds of direct advice I’ve come across in some time. Meaning no bush is beaten around — Manguso travels with a buzz saw.
Enemies. Know who they are and monitor them. Those who offer or ask for favors might be enemies in cheap disguise. Calling enemies out in public makes you look weak; in the company of others, act as if no enemy could possibly hurt you. When asked about an ad hominem attack, pretend never to have heard of the attacker.
Maybe kindly, Manguso headlines her piece How to Have a Career: Advice to Young Writers. But plenty of veterans are going to get some important tips here. Or maybe something more like what you pick up in good therapy — that merciful realization that you’re not crazy and that the way things look to you isn’t wrong.
Friends. Avoid all messy and needy people including family; they threaten your work. You may believe your messy life supplies material, but it in fact distracts you from understanding that material, and until you understand it, it is useless to you.
One more bit from her post, then check it out for yourself:
Onward. Once you’ve truly begun, slow down. The difference between publishing two good books and forty mediocre books is terribly large. Don’t expend energy in writing and publishing that would be better used in your family or community.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
Tim Kreider…has seen his book jump over 2000% following his column for “Opinionator” for the New York Times on June 30.
The post, titled “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, is about how “busy” and “tired” we all claim to be, and has drawn over 500 comments.
On the morning of July 2, the book jumped to #255 from #7,271.
And here are books mentioned recently in Writing on the Ether. In case you’re not able to see the Flash slider of book covers, I’m also listing the books for you.
The inclusion of these works, by the way, is meant as a convenience, not an endorsement. Read them all, and report back to me.
- The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin (Exciting Press) | Ether sponsor
- Perfect Skin by Nick Earls (Exciting Press) | Ether sponsor
- Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing by L.L. Barkat (T.S. Poetry Press) | Former Ether sponsor
- The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau (Crown Business)
- The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown UK)
- Chasing Sylvia Beach by Cynthia Morris (Original Impulse)
- Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us by Andrew Keen (St. Martin’s)
- The Guardians: An Elegy by Sarah Manguso (FSG)
- The Information Diet by Clay Johnson (O’Reilly Media)
- Rafa by Rafael Nadal and John Carlin (Hyperion)
- Shear Murder by Nancy J. Cohen (Five Star)
- We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons by Tim Kreider (Free Press)
We’re going to talk visual art here a little bit, yes, even in a publishing column. So sue me. I have interests in the visual arts, you should, too.
I thought I could resist until New Yorker cartoonist Drew Dernavich got off that line ex-Duchamp. And in addition to the joy of finding a cartoon artist who can write, there are obvious parallels in his comparison of two iconic American painters’ efforts in the “patriotic space” of the Fourth.
In An Analysis of the Thomas Kinkade Calendar for July at The Awl, there’s nary a mention of the unsightly post-mortem tussle going on. For that, you can read an Associated Press report carried by CBSNews: Thomas Kinkade’s widow, girlfriend face off in court over $66 million estate of “Painter of Light.” Good times.
For something a lot more telling, we read Dernavich:
Rockwell confessed, “I am a story teller.” And this is where the similarities abruptly end between Rockwell and the man (Kinkade) who so badly wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as his idol.
Dernavich proceeds to take apart the July 2012 Kinkade calendar entry, “Homecoming Hero.” And the essential point of his comparative review of what made one man an artist and the other a hack is in specificity. Dernavich never stops going at it in gratifyingly literary terms.
On Kinkade’s Homecoming Hero:
The scene depicts an American soldier stepping off a patriotically festooned bus and into the large talent gap between the two artists. Check that: on second look, we see that the soldier is only stepping into a Kinkade painting. But this is a panorama, not a story. Stories must have tension and resolution, and in Kinkade there is always only resolution.
On Rockwell’s Homecoming Marine:
Let’s look at the painting that Kinkade was aiming for when he did this one: Rockwell’s “Homecoming Marine,” from the October 13, 1945, cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It’s one of his best works. First of all, context. This represents a real individual from an actual war, specifically the Japanese theater from WWII.
Notice how the human faces are inscrutable, but Kinkade has still found the energy to zoom in and scrawl the name “Merritt” on the soldier’s bag with precision. You can tell where the emotional center of a work is by where the artist has chosen to spend his time, and it’s in gimmicks.
Look at the group gathered in Rockwell’s portrayal. They are individuals, and they are connected physically and emotionally. There is drama in the poses, the faces, the clasping of hands. It is not all smiles and relief, and it looks as if the homecoming soldier might even be relating details of horrific events. But he belongs to this group of men, as we can see by his picture posted on the wall.
What makes pop popular in the Kinkadian oeuvre, we learn from Dernavich, are the mindless but dependable generics of the formula. For example, Dernavich notes that there’s always a hot-hearth-cottage element in a Kinkade work, this time “the many chimneys burning those cozy July fires!”
Isn’t there a place for the lesser work of pop artists, as well as pop writers? Of course there is. If there weren’t, the landscape of our time wouldn’t be strewn with these Kinkade pieces (and too many well-executed Rockwells, too, for that matter).
But a good takedown like Dernavich’s critique is worth a couple of hundred Kinkades. It keeps acceptance of lesser work “for what it is” from becoming too comfortable. And it sends us back to our own work looking for worthwhile specificity.
Main image: iStockphoto / Westbury
The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin
Six weeks after escaping the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary and his father is killed.
“Audacious, genre-bending … a thrilling head-rush of a book.” —Elizabeth Eslami