James Preller Interviews . . . Lewis Buzbee: Part Two!

I’m back for Part Deux of our chat with my lovely and talented co-host this week, author Patty Duke Lewis Buzbee. (To catch up with Part One, click here.)

As a nod to tradition, let’s open the show with a brief musical interlude, which expresses in musical terms how I feel about Lewis . . .

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They don’t write songs like that anymore. Anyway Lewis, one of the things that comes through in your writing is that you love books, the physical objects themselves.

Books are unique tools. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. A CD, say, or a DVD, those are great tools, too. And have some physical pleasures to them. Even certain iPods are lovingly designed. But those objects are just mediums for the message — the sound comes from space still — if only the space in your ears. Or the movie appears on the screen, over there. But a book is the thing it imparts. You cannot separate the two. And because of this, I think, we have decided that books can be beautiful, sensual objects.

A bookseller knows this. Next time you go into a bookstore, watch the browsers. So much of how we choose a book is done with our hands. We pick it up, stroke it, turn it over, weigh it in our hands. We’re buying the thing itself.

Is your book available on Kindle?

No. Not this one. But, hey, I’m open to it.

It was significant to some viewers of Star Trek when Captain Picard pulled down a leatherbound edition of Shakespeare, or whatever it was he read. Actually, I believe he was a fan of the hard-boiled detective genre. Viewers were reassured by that vision of the technological future, which — let’s face it — frankly scares the bejeezus out of us. And of course, I have to mention our shared enthusiasm for Battlestar Galactica, where frak is a word and books are revered, treasured links to a broken past. Those scenes when Admiral Adama is reading to Laura Roslin.

Did you ever watch Hill Street Blues?

Of course. Loved that show.

There’s a great scene where one of the detectives is reading to his horse, who is quite ill. They’re in the stall together, and he’s reading to the horse from Faulkner, “another great horseman,” he says. Very moving. And of course, the final scene in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where all those people have each memorized one book, to preserve it.

It’s clear that the Kindle-monster is here to stay, and too much lamenting will do us no good. But I assert — very strongly — that the book is not going to disappear in the next five minutes.

It’s not a question, really, of either/or, for me, either books or computers, it’s a matter of both. Hey, if someone’s fearful of losing books, there’s a simple remedy. Go buy a book, turn off your damn computer, and read. Simple. World saved. Lamenting about it on Facebook does nothing. Read.

I ordered my copy of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop from Amazon.com. Does that make me a bad person?

Not at all. Listen, for years people complained about the chain stores, and the ruination . . . yadda, yadda, yadda. Truth is, chain stores have been crucial to keeping alive the literary culture, the publishing business, the diversity of the books we have available to us. The same is true of Amazon. It’s here, it’s not going away, and it does a lot of work on behalf of writers and publishers everywhere. I’m not a Luddite . . .

. . . I just happen to love books and bookstores. And I don’t believe that the bookstore will be replaced, completely, by Amazon. I mean, I still need to get out of the house now and then. And we are Americans, so shopping is what we do best. Books, more than ever, in many ways, are more current than ever. They are more widespread than ever, and there are more of them than ever. And we will want to go to bookstores to buy them.

Listen, if it gets to the point where we can do everything we need to do on a computer — and I can think of three things, off the top of my head, that you can’t do via computer — then go ahead and shoot me. Really don’t want to live in that world.

True or False: The novel is dead, literacy is dead, the computer has triumphed.

Pshaw. Not a chance. In the nineteenth century, with the advent of the bicycle, the op-eds of that day declared the death of literary culture. We would all spend so much time on our bicycles, we’d never read again.

Case in point: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Katharine Ross and that bicycle. They never read a thing in that movie.

Uh, Ms. Ross to you. And frankly, if I had a bicycle and that woman and a trusty sidekick and a loaded revolver — I’d never read again either.

Please don’t let thoughts of Katharine Ross distract you. But, gosh. Look at her . . .

We were discussing the death of the novel . . .

The novel was declared dead, once again, in 1962, I think. Before One Hundred Years of Solitude, Catch-22, and a thousand other great and important books. Humans are storytellers, we need stories. And long stories. We will build them one way or the other.

Like I said, computers are cool, but they ain’t everything. They’re just another thing. We’re a little bit obsessed right now with them — because we just invented them. We really have no idea what we’re going to do with them yet. It’s been, what, thirty years since they became user-friendly. Books have been around a lot longer than that.

And I want to say, right here, I also don’t believe the whole, “oh, we have such short attention spans” argument. People have always had short attention spans. And long ones. Right now, you know at least a dozen people who can tell you every single thing that happened on every episode of The Wire, or something else. We have huge  brains.

I think you are such a good writer. You have this clean,  direct style — it’s never, “Look at me, aren’t I clever?” I think when we read a book, it’s so important to have that feeling, to know we’re in capable hands. That this author, like a good limo driver, can take us where we need to go.

Thanks so much. The check is in the mail.

But again with the books. The writers I’ve studied and feel most drawn to are those writers who want to communicate with readers, not impress them. Even at fifteen, I knew there was no real cache in being a writer — dude, I was gonna be a rock star. But at fifteen I also felt the power of communication, what John Irving calls one genius speaking to another genius. I strive to communicate. When I want to impress you, I juggle.

Lewis! Put down the chainsaw . . .

the bowling ball . . . and the live chicken. Right now! I’m not kidding around.

Oh, they’re not for juggling.

You are a sick, twisted man. Nevertheless, I have to say, you are one of the few published authors that I can enjoy on Facebook. You don’t see it as an endless promotional loop . . . and I thank you for that.

I am so done with networking. It’s one of the great fallacies, don’t you think, of the twitterverse — somehow it will make us all rich and famous. My new motto: working without a net. Facebook is one large Post-It note. I’m just amazed that there are writers who spend so much time promoting themselves there. Shouldn’t they be writing?

In the end, for me, all the self-promotion is just so tedious. But here I am, knee-deep in bloggy blogness.  Yet I contend there’s a distinction. A reader comes here by choice. I’m giving this stuff away, folks. And I try to keep the self-promotion to a minimum, because it’s boring, borderline tacky, and I don’t think it works. But I do feel that new authors, especially, are getting the message loud and clear from publishers and friends: “You’ve got to promote yourself relentlessly! You have to get out there — and sell, sell, sell!”

Now for a commercial interruption from Dennis Cass, who has struggled with some of the same issues . . .

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My publisher suggested that I go on Facebook. And I did. But what I found, instead of a new way to pester people, was a few actual friends. And when I hang out with my friends, I’m not trying to sell to them. And I’d expect the same courtesy from my brother, Al, who is in the insurance business. I don’t want to hear about his work, either. “Al is drowning in paperwork!” — he’d sound like another author, and we don’t need that.

I love it when I’m supposed to stand up and cheer for the most minor accomplishments, too. Oh, I finished a chapter; oh, I applied for a grant. I mean, I’m happy for everyone, but seriously, it’s like doing an end-zone dance for tackling someone on 2 and 7 in pre-season. Too much chattin’, not enough chewin’.

It’s hard to talk about this without sounding a little mean-spirited. And I’m sorry for that. But . . . just do the work and shut up already. Pass along some info every once in a while, sure. But too much is a turn off.

We do live in this weird “provincialism of the contemporary.” If it wasn’t invented in the last twelve seconds, it ain’t worth it, that’s the prevailing ethic. Twitter, Facebook, all the rest, they’re so new. Next year they could be the new Pet Rock. We don’t have a clue, as a culture, what any of this new technology means, or what we’re going to do with it, or really, how it will change us.

Me, I’m going old school for the release of my next book: blimps.

Gee, I hope it’s a good year.

Uh, Mr. Preller, please step away from the jokes; someone could get hurt.

My favorite thing I ever posted as a status update on Facebook was this: Go to blogblogblog.com to read my new blog about why there are too many blogs. People actually looked it up. And it turns out there is a website — it’s weird and Japanese.

So is my dry cleaner, but that’s a story for another day. You seem alert to all the little treasures and surprises in each bookstore. You mentioned one in Vermont, Bear Pond Books, where two signs hang near the front entrance, each with an arrow pointing to a different half of the store. One sign read, FACTS; the  other, TRUTH. You had a great line about that, “I’ll let you figure out which was for Fiction and which was for Home Repair.”

With me, home repair is definitely in the fiction section. Ask my family. When something breaks in the house, my daughter says, oh, it’s okay, mom can fix it.

You obviously have great affection for booksellers of all stripes. Perhaps we could take a moment to raise a glass (don’t worry, I’m buying) . . .

. . . to the idea that, as you said in your book, “all readers should be grateful that there are people foolish enough, rash enough, courageous enough, and pig-headed enough to open bookstores.”

Here’s to idiots everywhere! The world would be awfully dull without them.

End of Part Two.

Please click here for the thrilling conclusion of “The Never-Ending Lewis Buzbee Interview” — where we (finally) talk about Steinbeck’s Ghost, unlearning the lessons of college, parenthood, Charles Dickens, Katherine Paterson, Tom Waits, favorite bookstores, Rebecca Stead, Bystander (!), and more.

4 comments

  1. Doret says:

    “it’s like doing an end-zone dance for tackling someone on 2 and 7 in pre-season”

    Loved that and this neverending interview

    I don’t think the customer I help are reading The Yellow Lighted Bookshop because like Roger Dangerfield I still get no respect

  2. Liz S. says:

    I’m loving this, you guys.

  3. This is the best interview. It makes me want to put down my book and go ride a bike.

    And I think I will scream if I hear one more agent say, “You must blog! You must Facebook! You must be glued to your spam-filter!” because I can’t write books about what I do online.

    I do enjoy blogging, though, because I get to talk about all the weird sf/f related things that run through my head all day that none of my friends understands. And I like reading blogs, again for the community. But that promotion whip–I’d be glad to be rid of it.

  4. jimmy says:

    Parker, thanks for stopping by. Our primary energy has to go into our real work, certainly. But like you, I like to blog, and enjoy all sorts of different writing, so it works for me. As an outlet, a journal, an archive, as well as a place for teachers and librarians and readers to find out more about me, it, whatever. The blog absolutely serves a promotional function, certainly helps in terms of school visits.

    People will ask: Isn’t writing a blog a distraction? Tut-tut. Well, yes, I guess so. But I’ve always had distractions; I’ve always needed distractions, depended on them. This is one of my more productive ones. What’s the line by Marshall Crenshaw: “You’re my favorite waste of time.”

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