Chicago Instagram residency day 3: A manuscript page

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Hi, this is Caleb Crain, on day 3 of my Instagram residency for the Chicago Review of Books. I'm a Luddite, as I confessed yesterday, and I always write fiction by hand (though I always write nonfiction on a computer—sorry, I can't explain the discrepancy). Here's a photo of a page of the manuscript for my new novel, "Overthrow," which comes out on Tuesday from @VikingBooks. It's from an early scene in the book, and I admit that I chose this page because the revisions on it look so impressively elaborate. (On many other pages, the marking up isn't so rococo.) My method is that the left-hand pages are for scribbles, and the right-hand pages are where I try to write fair copy, once I think I know where I'm going. But sometimes, like here, even on the right-hand page I'm still going for a wander. I start out writing double-line-spaced, but on this page the revisions have crept into the interstitial lines that would have been empty.

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Chicago Instagram residency, day 2: Luddite writing tools

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My name is Caleb Crain, and I'm a Luddite. Today I'm displaying my tools for writing. (My novel "Overthrow" comes out next week from @VikingBooks, and I'm doing a residency here at the Chicago Review of Books' Instagram account.) I write fiction longhand, and I tend to start scribbling in pencil, preferably with the Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB, though I have tried to be unfaithful to it with the Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HB and the Uni Mitsubishi 9000 HB, and they and I have had some nice flings. I have no ambivalence about pens: the best is the Uni-ball Signo UM-151 Gel Pen (0.38 mm). The pencil sharpener pictured here is a Boston Vacuum Mount, inherited from my late father-in-law. I keep in supply four kinds of notebooks: the Staples Sustainable Earth composition notebook (for writing fiction); the Midori MD notebook, A5, lined (for keeping a journal); the Apica CD 11, A5, 7mm rule (for taking notes about books in); and the Muji Passport Notebook (for taking notes about everyday life in). My only phone is the ugly dumb burner phone here. Next to it is an Ipod Touch, which in my writing space has no internet access, because there's no Wi-fi, and which I use for the Oxford Shorter English Dictionary, Logeion, the Chambers Thesaurus, Lingea's Handy Lex English-Czech Large Dictionary, and a few foreign language dictionaries. The little white rope-like thing on the left is the tail of a librarian's snake; it has bullets inside, to make it heavy enough to hold open the pages of books. Pictured is a fine Staedtler eraser but I like the Uni Boxy eraser marginally more.

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Leaflet #8

Another issue of the newsletter . . .


Hot and cold

“All do not all things well,” sang Thomas Campion, and one thing that I don’t do well is the last few weeks before publication. My husband and I were trading anecdotes a few nights ago of how, in the month or so before my first novel was published, six years ago, I was a little sputtering butter warmer of rage and self-regard. I don’t want anyone to look at me! Why aren’t more people looking at me? was then the refrain of my days.

Frank Norris once said that he didn’t like to write but did like having written. It’s the sort of thing people like to hear from a writer, because it suggests that the writer is aware that there is something antisocial about the retreat from the world that is inextricable from writing, and that he is happy to reunite with the world at the end. It suggests, in other words, that the writer likes you.

What a lie. A writer is someone who likes other people much less than he likes to be able to say whatever he wants, in as rococo a way as he wants, at whatever length he wants, making jokes that only he may think are funny. For five years, while writing a novel, I have a life I never thought I’d be lucky enough to live: I sit alone for hours at a time, imagining people and a world, and growing fonder of them than of what is called the real world. And then, just when I think, Wow, I’ve finished a novel, what a good boy am I, I am told: You’re fired, sucker. Worse luck, my new job is salesman. Are my social media accounts tonally appropriate? What kind of pencil do I use? Are any of my characters based on people I knew in real life?

Overthrow is that cursed thing, a second novel. By “second novel,” I mean the book where one reaches—perhaps beyond one’s grasp. Herman Melville’s “second novel” was his third one, Mardi. (His actual second novel, Omoo, was just a sequel—more of the same of what was in his debut novel, Typee.) In Mardi, Melville attempted a novel that was also philosophy—allegorical, essayistic, stuffed full with oakum he had unpicked from his reading. It didn’t go over well. No, Herman, we liked it when you did boy’s-own adventure with ambiguous sexual frisson and anthropological tourism. Not watered-down Gulliver’s Travels but even more pedantic. For his next two books Melville went back to writing boy’s-own adventure with ambiguous sexual frisson and anthropological tourism, though he now appropriated the cultures of England and the American navy instead of those of islands in the South Pacific. In time the thwacked ambition of his “second novel” resurfaced, however. Moby-Dick is Mardi redux—a novel that is, once again, also a work of philosophy. But also with ambiguous sexual frisson and anthropological tourism, now of the culture of whaling. Melville couldn’t have written Moby-Dick if he hadn’t first written his failure Mardi. The challenge thus is not to mind failing. The proper stance to the reception of one’s work isn’t stovetop sputter but what I think of in my internal mental shortand as cool 1970s artist, wearing sunglasses and bellbottoms to her vernissage, cadging cigarettes from her friends in the back of the gallery, downing the yellowy white wine, not giving a shit because what’s important is to keep making the art, you know? Which of course is as much a lie as Frank Norris’s.

Quotes: “Les seuls vrais paradis, said Proust, sont les paradis qu’on a perdus: and conversely, the only genuine Infernos, perhaps, are those which are yet to come.” —Jocelyn Brooke, The Military Orchid

“A delightful feeling of rage seethed and bubbled over me as I read the letter. I was trembling a little and my palms felt sticky. Righteous indignation must be the cheapest emotion in the world.” —Denton Welch, Maiden Voyage

“If England is my parent and San Francisco is my lover, then New York is my own dear old whore, all flash and vitality and history.” —Thom Gunn, “My Life up to Now”

“The whole secret of a living style and the difference between it and a dead style, lies in not having too much style—being, in fact, a little careless, or rather seeming to be, here and there.” —Thomas Hardy, 1875 notebook, qtd. in Early Life

News: There’s an excerpt from Overthrow, the novel whose impending publication is causing me so much agita, in the August issue of Harper’s. In late June (gosh it’s been a while since I sent out a newsletter), the New Yorker website published my review of James Polchin’s Indecent Advances, a history of murders of gays in the 20th century and the so-called gay panic defense.

Below, in Technicolor, is the info on my bookstore events. Please don your bellbottoms and lengthen your sideburns and feather your hair and come:Please come help launch Caleb Crain's new novel Overthrow at a bookstore event in Brooklyn, Manhattan, San Francisco, or Los Angeles Brooklyn: Books Are Magic, 225, Smith St. Tuesday, August 27, 7:30pm. Caleb Crain reads from Overthrow with help from Christine Smallwood, Jana Prikryl, Daniel Smith, and Leon Neyfakh Manhattan: The Strand, 828 Broadway. Thursday, September 5, 7:30pm. Caleb Crain talks about Overthrow in conversation with Kate Bolick. Manhattan: McNally Jackson South St. Seaport, 4 Fulton St. (new location!). Sunday, September 8, 4pm. Caleb Crain and Astra Taylor discuss his novel Overthrow and her book Democracy May Not Exist but We'll Miss It When It's Gone San Francisco: Book Passage, 1 Ferry bldg. Wednesday, September 18, 6pm. Caleb Crain discusses Overthrow in conversation with Anna Wiener Los Angeles: Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd. Saturday, September 21, 4pm. Caleb Crain talks about Overthrow in conversation with Elaine Blair

“Overthrow,” as thing & as tour

I just got sent a copy of Overthrow as a finished book.

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

Plus, here’s the schedule for bookstore events in August and September. Please come, if you’re in Brooklyn, Manhattan, San Francisco, or Los Angeles! And please consider supporting these bookstores by buying your copy from one of them. Thanks!