Washington (Irving) and Rip Van Winkle slept here!

I’m really looking forward to a pair of upcoming events:

On Thursday, January 26th, at 7 p.m., I’ll be at the Warner Library in Tarrytown, N.Y., reading from and talking about “Rip,” my modern-day parody of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.”

In his later years, Irving lived at Sunnyside, his home on the Hudson River in Tarrytown. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, made famous in Irving’s take of the Headless Horseman, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” is in Tarrytown. And the Rip character in my send-up of the original works as a toll collector on the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is nearby the Warner Library.

Try to make it if you’re in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area. Admission is free. Books will be available for purchase and I’ll be available to sign copies.

Soon after spring’s sprung — on Saturday, March 31, at 2 p.m., I’ll be a guest of the Washington Irving Inn in Tannersvlle, N.Y. right in the heart of the Catskills, where ol’ Rip Van Winkle took his fateful nap. I’ll be reading from “Rip,” and talking about about both Washington Irving and how I came to write a parody of one of his most beloved and famous works. The inn’s website is www.washingtonirving.com

To read more about the book, visit www.blackangelpress.com

To order the book (either the actual book or the Kindle edition), go to http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_11/180-2933089-2944910?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=digiovanni+rip&sprefix=digiovanni+%2Caps%2C248




At Kerouac’s grave

Jack Kerouac's grave at Edson Cemetery, Lowell, Mass.

“He honored life…”

But have the living given proper honor to Jack Kerouac, America’s one true spokesman, who plumbed the deepest depths of sorrow and climbed to the highest ledge of beauty and joy?

His grave at Edson Cemetery in Lowell, Massachusetts, is marked with a simple slab with the above inscription, the names of the names of the grave’s two tenants — John L. Kerouac, “Ti Jean,” and his third wife Stella Sampas, and their dates of birth and death. Nearby are the graves of Stella’s mother, father and brother.

Pilgrims to Kerouac’s grave leave tokens and talismans — piles of pebbles, beer bottles, cigarettes, spare change and ballpoint pens.

Lowell does its best to remember its native son — there’s an annual Kerouac festival and even a Kerouac park with stone monuments engraved with quotes from his prose and poems.

And people abound who can point out the Catholic church and Catholic school he attended in the city, who can talk knowingly about his brief stint as a sports reporter for the Lowell Sun, and even folks who can point you to the bars where Jack used to drink — and oldtimers who actually drank with Jack (or at least say they did).

But stand at Kerouac’s grave on a cold day in January as the wind rushes off the Merrimack River and stirs the brown grasses and dry leaves. The winter sun lays low in the sky. It casts a certain slant of light. The light has the heft of cathedral tunes.

Kerouac’s grave is just one of thousands in the sprawling cemetery. They’re all just as dead. Their bones are all just as bleached and brittle. Their names and dates will erode and fade from their stones — and so will Jack Kerouac’s, despite the pebbles and bottles and cigarettes and change.

Standing at this holy tragic place I hear the rattle of bones and the riddles of life. And I hear Jack Kerouac speaking, his words pouring out, his words slurred by dharma and drink:
“Love is all.”
“Happiness consists in realizing it is all a great strange dream.”
“It all ends in tears anyway.”
“Something good will come of all things yet.”

Pilgrims, hear those words, and say them like a prayer, when you stand at Kerouac’s grave.

Don’t get caught napping! “Rip” now available as Kindle edition

Hooray! My short novel, “Rip,” a 20th-century parody of “Rip Van Winkle” (Rip is a toll collector on the Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown…he and his ne’er-do-well friends, the Sleepy Hollow Boys, do battle with a group of feminists who take up the cause of Rip’s wife….) is now (finally!) available as a Kindle edition.

Here’s the link to obtaining a million dollars worth of laughs for just $4.99….That’s less than a Big Mac Meal….Way less than going to the movies…Less than (can you believe it?) the Sunday New York Times…In other words, don’t get caught napping like old Rip Van Winkle — buy your Kindle edition now!

Crabby about lobsters?

The waitress at the harborside seafood restaurant in New Hampshire had already delivered to our table what were apparently necessary but totally unfamiliar tools: a nutcracker, a tiny fork, a wet paper towel.

Now she plunked down before me a dinner plate crowded with steamed clams and the main course, the entree, my entrance into a world I had glimpsed but never visited, a bright red lobster which, combined with the puzzlingly named “drawn butter,” would, I was told, be claws for gastronomic celebration.

Thence and thusly I embarked on my first lesson in the art of cracking open a lobster’s shell and claws in order to probe deeply into said shell’s crevices and then withdraw from those dark mysterious regions the sweet and succulent meat of the poor lobster who was now just a shell of his former self.

Here’s what I learned about eating a lobster: It is an act of violence, faith and persistence that is not for the weak of spirit or stomach. I’m told that the expression of my face — as I cracked open lobster shells to get at lobster innards while lobster antennae and lobster legs shivered and quivered — looked something like the expressions on the faces of the Little Rascals when Spanky’s mom served them mush and cod liver oil for breakfast.

When one eats pork, chicken or beef, at least the meat has usually been transformed beyond recognition into something that mostly looks nothing like the flesh of a dead cow, chicken or pig.

Eating that lobster, though, I had clear images of the prehistoric-looking creature scuttling steadfastly along the ocean floor when it was suddenly snared in a net along with hundreds more of its brethren and, within hours, thrust headlong into a pot of boiling water, then delivered to my dinner plate while Mrs. Lobster and her poor fatherless children waited unwittingly and unknowingly for the return of the husband and father they would see no more.

I must admit that despite my reservations — equal parts guilt and apathy — I thoroughly enjoyed ingesting the approximately one ounce of lobster meat I managed to liberate during approximately two hours of poking and probing and insinuating and exploring the poor litle (one pound) lobster’s dead and lifeless and boiled body.

But what of poor Mrs. Lobster and her poor orphaned Lobster children?!

As I dipped Mr. Lobster’s boiled flesh into the tiny pool of butter which represented the poor bloke’s final immersion into something much different from his familiar salty ocean water, I pondered and debated and agonized over whether it was proper and right to eat this lobster, imagined so clearly the beady-eyed and sorrowful faces of his family when they realized their husband and father would not ever return home from his job down at the waterfront docks…

And, ultimately, I simply didn’t care. This meal, despite the physical and emotional effort required to obtain it, was despicable, yes, but it was also so delicious and delectable that it was more than worth the burden of guilt I carried with me out the restaurant door, where the muffled sobs burbled and bubbled up through the cold harbor waters from the sad place called Lobster Land on the dark and swirling ocean floor.

Occupy Parnassus!

As I’ve tried to market and publicize my recently published novella “Rip,” a modern-day parody of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” I’ve had to deal with this reality: It was published by an independent literary press, not by one of the mega-publishers, and that means bookstores and libraries and even some readers may look askance at my witty, clever, entertaining and perfect-for-someone-to buy-the-movie-rights book.

Happily, most of the people I’ve encountered — including bookstore owners and library directors — have been very good about treating me like I’m a real author of a real book, enthusiastically inviting me to read and to sign copies of books I sell, and (in the case of independent bookstores) taking a fair and reasonable share of the proceeds from book sales.

Nevertheless, and despite the sea changes in the world of traditional publishing, there are still the resisters and opponents and non-cooperators — using shorthand, let’s use the more familiar term “jerks” — whose futures are made cloudy and uncertain, at best, by the mega-publishers and mega-websites and mega-bookstore chains but who still cop an attitude toward small-press and independent books.

A representative of several independent bookstores in northeastern Massachusetts had expressed interest — even apparent enthusiasm — about “Rip” and the notion of having me do readings and book-signings at two of his stores. But then he sent me his guidelines and requirements, which included a fee of $50 to stock my book on his shelves and a fee of $250 for staging a reading at one of his stores.

Take heart, take heart, my fellow scriveners, and read the reply I sent in response to his kind offer. ————————————–
Dear X:

I’m writing in response to your letter outlining your policy for selling books and hosting readings by independent-press authors at your stores in XXXX and XXXX.

I find myself thinking about the “Occupy” movement and its rallying cry: that it represents the 99 percent of Americans who are being controlled, manipulated and often trampled by the 1 percent who control the vast majority of the nation’s wealth and, thus, wield most of the power, mostly using that power to safeguard their own interests.

I doubt that an “Occupy XXXX” or “Occupy XXXX” protest would accomplish much. But I like the idea of “Occupy Parnassus.” I’m hoping that you, besides making money from the sale of books and their authors, also read books. If you do, perhaps you’ll appreciate the Parnassus reference (from Greek mythology) to the mountain that was home to the Muses, and so is the symbolic home of the arts and literature.

I find myself thinking that stores like yours, which face the real prospect of extinction as you stand in the path of the unstoppable forces of online outlets like Amazon and big chains like Barnes and Noble, would think of their position as being very much akin to authors who find themselves caught in the chokehold of merchandising and money and megadeals that now rule mainstream publishing.

If you run an independent bookstore fighting against the impersonal and homogenized book-sale conglomerates, you’re part of the 99 percent. But your policy makes it sound like your true sentiments reside with the 1 percent.

At a cover price of $12.95, my profit margin on “Rip” is $7.70. To pay you 50% of the cover price would leave me with about $1.20 per book while you would collect five times that amount. What’s more, you want me to pay $50 for you to sell my book at your store. Tell me how that is fair and equitable. I’d have to sell about 40 books to break even.

For $250, you tell me you’ll stock the book and schedule me to read at your store. To make back that $250, I’d have to sell about 200 books at your store. Are you able to guarantee that level of success at your store? Are you that solvent and secure in this Age of Kindle?

I can only assume that your policy is very consciously intended to discourage independent authors who are pursuing other paths to the peak of Parnassus. If you’re in the business of selling books because books, to you, are simply a commodity, then I guess your policy makes sense. If you purport to love books, or think it’s important to put books in the hands of people, or to encourage creative pursuits, then your policy reveals a sad hypocrisy.

I have readings and signings for “Rip” scheduled at bookstores in New York, New Jersey and in Massachusetts venues over the next months. I’ve already made two appearances at bookstores. Neither suggested that I pay them $250 for the privilege of selling my books at their stores and sharing my talents with their customers by reading from and talking about my work. They took a 20 percent commission on books sold at those events and, in a gesture of support for independent authors, bought — bought, not took on consignment — books at 80 percent of the cover price to sell at their stores.

So, if you’d like me to be a guest author at your store, here are my terms:

– no fee to read/sign
– no fee to stock “Rip”
– bookstore to buy books at 80% of cover price for their stock
– 20% (of cover price) to the store for each book sold at the reading/signing
– the bookstore to advertise as is their standard for a reading/signing
– the bookstore to provide refreshments as is their standard for a reading/signing

In exchange for agreeing to those conditions, I will read selections from my novella “Rip,” answer audience questions, sign copies of books sold, talk about Washington Irving’s original and how it compares to my parody, and perhaps — if we schedule an appearance for the holidays — read from one of Irving’s delightful essays about Christmas in Olde England.

Best wishes,

Nicholas DiGiovanni