Monday, September 17, 2007

Pub. Date/Anniversary

Today is the official pub. date for the Chicken. Not sure if it means anything in practical terms -- since the book has been already selling for a couple of weeks on Amazon and some bookstores. But still, the pub date!

By sheer coincidence, today also happens to be the 15th anniversary since my family and I came to the US. (Cue in “Memories” from Cats.)

By way of celebration, I got interviewed by a local paper (Chronicle) this morning. It was fun, and I got to see what their office looked like.

And now I must run to school: today is the first installment of the student reading series. I really like the graduate students at the English department here. (Which is not to say anything bad about undergraduate ones – I just haven’t met many of them yet.) But the graduate students seem to have a really strong and supportive community, which reminds me of the way it was in Syracuse among MFA students.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I’m still figuring out the way blogspot works in terms of moderating comments. I don’t want to have to “approve” (or “reject”) each message. I will however delete the abusive ones.

So to the “fluffy” in question, who’s been trying to post more flaming comments here, I have this to say: Please get a life. Yes, you’re entitled to your opinions, but I’m not obligated to provide a forum for them. Start your own blog, or write your own book if you wish. There are plenty of ways for you to express yourself. This blog, however, is not one of them.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

They hate me! They really hate me!

Okay, not “they.” Just one of them. A young Russian lady, formerly of Squirrel Hill, has posted a hateful and very personal review on Amazon. How do I know that this lady, who identified herself on Amazon only as “fluffy,” is from Squirrel Hill? Easy. She first posted an equally mean comment on this blog, signed it, but then removed it (smart girl!). I’m not sure what the point of her outburst (I mean, review) was. She seems to be under the impression that writers earn loads of money. Oh, and she called me self-hating, which is kind of cool. That’s what critics called Philip Roth, and look where it got him!

Aside from this, though, the reviews have been good – see the new ones from the Moscow Times and LA Times -- and what makes me most happy is how positively the reviewers see the characters in the book. They see them as sympathetic, struggling, and human. They identify with them. So no matter how conflicted I might feel about real or fictional Squirrel Hill, I think I’ve done my characters justice.

What I’ve been wondering lately is how this online culture of ours, with its forums and blogs, seems to encourage meanness, pettiness, and outright abuse. Take, for example, Steve Almond’s tender, beautiful blog on parenting. And who is this stalker-like troll who week after week posts the most obnoxious comments, in which he insults Steve, his books, and his family? What personal agenda is at play here? What sort of sick satisfaction does he (or she?) derive from this exercise?

Others get attacked as well. Parents get criticized for their parenting. Immigrants get flamed on immigrant forums – just because someone is having a bad day. A months or so ago, a well-known writer got torn apart on when a personal e-mail about his family situation got “leaked” into the cyber world. Now, I’ve met this author on a couple of occasions, and each time he was gracious and generous. But the Gawker crowd doesn’t care. To them, he was fresh meat, and though they’d never met him – and some had never heard of him -- they nevertheless attacked him in the most vicious and personal way.

The scary thing is, in regular life, these might be normal, maybe slightly gossipy, but basically well-meaning people. But in the privacy of the Internet they turn into monsters. I wonder what makes them lash out like that. The media? The boredom? The repression of their day-to-day lives? I don’t know.

When the mean-spirited comment appeared on this blog, Movie Dictator said, Delete it! And though I hesitated for a moment – free speech and all – he convinced me. “It’s your blog,” he said. “It’s your space. And you don’t want anyone to poison it.” Which is true. It’s not a public forum. And while I love getting questions and responses – whether from friends or people I don’t know -- I don’t need abuse. Fortunately, before I could get to it, the poster was gracious enough to remove her own comment.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Life of Fame and Glory

I got recognized yesterday. At the post office. By a fellow Russian. I was standing in line, waiting to pick up a small parcel. It was noon, only one service window was open, and the woman behind the counter was helping a man with a large box. They were having a discussion. She kept suggesting ways to ship the box, and he kept rejecting them.

I don’t like standing in lines. That’s an understatement. Lines turn me into a mean, angry person. You’d think that after years of lines in Russia, I would develop some level of acceptance, or maybe tranquility, or grace. But no. I stand there with an expression of total disgust, and sometimes make snide comments under my breath.

So when a man in line behind me asked me if I was Russian, my first thought was: Is it that obvious? Or is it my clothes? Or my face? Then he said he’d glimpsed my name on the slip of paper I was holding. Wasn’t I the one with a book? Doing a reading next week? He said he already ordered the book.

After I picked up my parcel, the man asked me to wait for him. On the one hand, I was grateful for his interest; on the other hand, I was late for work. He was mailing a whole bunch of little packages, each of which had to be individually weighted.

I felt like a jerk at this point. There I was – an author! — acting impatient and peeved at the world in general and postal services in particular. Not at all the way I’d like people to think of me. And another thing: I love doing readings and meeting people, and I think I’m quite sociable at work. But at times, I like to step back and be invisible. I rarely get into conversations with strangers, and I tend to avoid eye-contact while shopping, walking, or using public transportation – which, of course, makes my meeting Movie Dictator on the T even more unbelievable.

He and I occasionally debate whether we’re extroverts or introverts. He seems to think that extroverts are people who do all-night parties and dance on tables, naked. I think he’s confusing extroverts with exhibitionists. Years ago, a friend characterized me as an introvert with occasional spikes of extroversion. That sounds about right. I mean, I can be outgoing, but I can also run out of steam, like last afternoon at the English-department party. By the end of the second hour, I found myself incapable of carrying a conversation.

And then there are whole days when I feel (and act) like a total misanthrope. Go figure.

As for getting recognized, today I arrived at the office only to be greeted by a poster (complete with my photo) of my upcoming reading at the university bookstore next week. This damned poster seems to be everywhere in the department, on every door or wall. It's a nice poster, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful. But it’s also a little unnerving, especially when you suddenly see your face in the bathroom, right next to your reflection in the mirror.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Out or Not?

The big news is, Chicken is available on Amazon. Really available. Not for pre-order, but actually in stock, “will ship the same day,” and so on. That’s almost two weeks before the official pub date. A good problem to have, right? Except I’m not quite sure what to do about it. Should I alert the whole world that my books is out? Beg for good ratings and Amazon reviews? Or should I wait until the official date – September 17th – at which point, the book will be in actual stores? I think I might break down and send a mass e-mail this weekend – because it’s just too sad to see it listed on Amazon, unnoticed by everyone.

In another news, I did my first radio interview yesterday. And let me tell you, I wasn’t prepared at all. I’m participating in a reading next Tuesday (9/11) at Real Art Ways in Hartford. The event is called The Evening of Literary and Patriotic Dissent, and I’m reading with Steve Almond and Alistair Highet. So the interview was to promote the event (and, to some degree, myself), and it was kind of a last-minute thing. I got the e-mail from Real Art Ways in the morning and did the interview at 4:40 pm. And we’re talking live radio, people! To say that I was stressed is to put it mildly. It’s one thing to screw up an interview that’s just about my book, but it’s a whole other thing when it’s to promote the venue, event, and two other readers. On the one hand, I knew it was an awesome opportunity. On the other hand, I’d never done anything radio, and I had serious doubts I could manage to be coherent let alone eloquent.

To do the interview, I would need a land line. No problem. While I don’t have one at home, I have a normal phone in my office at UConn. I figured I’d get there and do some prep and research for the interview. What happened next is referred to as Murphy’s Law in America and The Law of Bread-and-Butter in Russia. Earlier yesterday morning, the university had a power outage. By the time I got to campus, the power was restored, but the internet was out. (And it stayed out for the rest of the day.) There I was, in my beautiful (if somewhat Spartan) office, with no access to e-mail, no way to read the Press Release for the event, or the bio for one of the fellow participants. Nothing! I was reduced to using telephone!

In the end, I did my best. How it came out, I’m not sure, and I really don’t want to know. Like many people, I hate the sound of my voice and my accent. In my imagination I sound a lot better than in real life, and that's one illusion I think I can live with.