Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Oxford Rogue--by Reb MacRath

                                    The cover of my next book seemed appropriate...somehow.



LONG MAY OXFORD R.I.P.

Oh no, there I go again—where I swore I’d never swear I’d never go again. Time and again I have said those same words. But be certain of one thing: I’ll never say them of Oxford. The years I spent on that hallowed ground were the happiest years of my life. Oxford transformed a quick-tempered, Fu-loving, potty-mouthed Yank into a Classical scholar who learned to talk real pretty.
The great change began one day when I was busy dusting the lonesome shelves of Classics: Ovid, Tacitus, Horace, Virgil, Catullus…All so old and dead and dull. Or so I thought. But on this day, after scanning one deathly drab version of Ovid, I chanced on David R. Slavitt’s radical rendition. And I hollered, “Whoa, there! This baby is alive!”
 The man I’d once been left the building that day. No longer did I skip off with the rest of my Rogue Scholars to shoot pool at Stinky Bill’s or grab a drink at Hooters while we should have been on duty. No! Those days were gone. And finding me became the great issue at Oxford.  For I stole time in the same way that Butch and Sundance once robbed banks. I needed time, and more time still, to read all the different translations and learn why some worked and some did not. I hid under my desk, in the bathroom, in the children’s or the cooking sections. Hell, you could have found me anywhere I wasn’t meant to be. And my fellow Rogues were my support team, texting me when anyone was after my Rogue butt.
I wept like a child when dear Oxford closed and—

WHAT THE HELL, somebody screams. OXFORD CLOSED? YOU IDIOT!  THERE’S NO HOOTERS OR STINKY BILL’S ANYWHERE NEAR OXFORD! CHILDREN’S AND COOKING SECTIONS?

Oh wait. You thought I was talking about Oxford University? Oh, no, no, no. I meant Atlanta’s Oxford Books—more simply known as Oxford—the great indie bookstore that closed in ’97. I worked there as Fiction Manager.


RAINBOWING THE GRAY ZONE: A QUIZ
1) On my Curriculum Vitae, can I say I studied at Oxford?
Obviously, no. Way outside the gray zone, this claim would be fraudulent and would certainly backfire in time. And ‘I never meant Oxford U’ would make a pathetic defense.
2) Must I always tell the truth?
What we do tell must be true. But we can still rainbow the gray zone by deciding what we tell and how we present it.
Example 1: in revamping my CV for Amazon, I list a successful practice as a freelance journalist in Toronto, with a syndicated series. I omit the dates, which would antiquate me. And I leave out the downbeat ratio: nine years of begging, one year of success before I returned to the States. Nice and easy does it. Throw in book reviews done through the years, then make the scattered credits all seem to be cut from one glorious cloth. A small trick of perception containing no lies.
Example 2: My first book, The Suiting, was profiled in Success Magazine as well as The Toronto Sun, the Atlanta Journal and several other papers. But, years before The Suiting, I was profiled in the New York Times and the Toronto Star in connection with my status then as stateless person. Rainbowing the gray zone, I piggyback with a clear conscience and claim: I’ve been profiled in Success, The New York Times, The Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star, etc. Again, no need to mention that the NYT and Toronto Star pieces were not about my book. After all, being featured in the NYT for anything is no mean achievement.
3) What is this thing that you call Logan’s Gift?
John Logan rainbowed the gray zone heroically last year with The Survival of Thomas Ford. When this first of five novels that no one would buy became an online hit, he listed the names of his other four books as proudly as if they’d been published. In essence, Logan’s Gift declares that we really own our work when we say it’s finished…not when a contract is signed. Now, many readers may assume that JL’s other four titles were published. But in rainbowing the gray zone we needn’t be saints. JL claimed nothing except artistic ownership. And if he planted a small seed of subtle misdirection, I tip my hat and say a splendid flower bloomed.
Caveat: Thanks to Logan’s Gift, I was freed to claim my four books as Kelley Wilde and the eight books I wrote in The Desert after 1993. I became not the failed author of four books but the veteran author of twelve. Still, I am not free to claim the thousands of poems I churned out in college when I first started to write. Heck, I can’t even list The Sensuous Assassin, a disastrous early novel based on The Happy Hooker...the three plays I wrote/directed/produced and starred in--all of those in college, running for one night apiece...or the 50 short stories I wrote before confessing I couldn't write stories. The line may be fine but it's simple enough: We're free to list works that were published or which are in the pipeline now for ebook publication. Anything less than that is an...untruth.
4) Can I use snippets of print quotes in a misleading way to convey a glowing impression?
Flat-out no. If the NYT referred to me as a 'struggling writer' and 'a stateless person whose case seems to be one with real promise', I cannot combine the two to get 'a writer with real promise'. If the XYZ Digest claims that my book is an absolute mess but one with flashes of originality intermixed with dazzling typos, I can't reconfigure that as 'Dazzling originality'. And if an ABC Monthly reporter who hasn't read my work refers to me as an eccentric with interesting opinions, I cannot quote 'Interesting!'

REPRISE: HOME SWEET HOME AT OXFORD

I’ll always go back to Oxford, my Oxford, when the moon is the right shade of blue. The day that I stopped slipping out to Stinky Bill’s or Hooters was the day I became a real writer. While learning how dead languages, in skillful hands, could live again, I began to understand that all writing is translation. And the slivers of degrees in difference between shades of tone and sense either raise or raze our work. This perception became my own great master key.
Well, it’s one of two keys, actually. The other’s the awareness that the recipe for happiness couldn’t be much simpler: don’t entertain second thoughts unless they’re entertaining.
May your Oxford entertain you as much as mine does me.


9 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

Great post, Reb. Highly entertaining and full of energy (and truths). I know you don't dwell on the negative aspect of such bookshops closing but stories like yours illustrate beautifully why, rather than die, they should multiply.

Reb MacRath said...

Thanks, Bill. Someday I may write a more serious post about that legendary bookstore. The reasons for its closing were highly complex. Oxford didn't close only because of chain store competition but because of: too many satellite stores too close to the main one, with too little difference between them...shoddy business practices--publishers refused to do business with the owner when he attempted to start a new store. Etc. But when Oxford was hot, it was smokin'. And all the big stars came to sign. I met: Anne Rice, James Patterson, Michael Palmer, Colleen McCullough, Philip Margolin, Walter Mosley, many more. That store was somethin' else in the wonderful days when it ruled.

Jan Needle said...

Great stuff. But have you ever heard of Jeffrey Archer? He always used to say - on his books and everywhere else - that he studied at Oxford. And so he did - but not at the university. Even sadder, he used to say they were best sellers. And even sadder than that - they damn well were!

Lydia Bennet said...

Vastly entertaining post Reb! yes well you may know that oxford (ours) has two universities, and it's not unknown for people who went to Oxford Brookes to say 'I was at university in Oxford'... with perfect truth! yes it's interesting where we draw the line between a rainbow in the grey area and pants on fire. I think it's fair to use review quotes with bits missed out (signified by ...) but not combine difft bits without indicating omissions. Besides, 'an eccentric with interesting opinions' is a good review, at least in the uk!

Reb MacRath said...

Tks, Jan and Lydia. I have heard of Jeffrey Archer--not that particular business but a certain shady something else. One of my favorite authors, Mark Helprin, is reported to have made up his entire past. Then again, so did Bob Dylan, I think! I'm okay with leader dots. But I'd draw the line at converting 'Hilariously inept. Funny, this halfwit seems to think that he's original--but the only original thing about him is his utter, total lack of an original thought' into this 'Hilariously...funny! Triple original!'

Jan Needle said...

I don't think there were two universities when Archer was there, tho. A friend of mine who was at Brasenose said Archer claimed to be there, but he wasn't a registered undergraduate, and everybody knew it.

Wikipedia says this:Archer studied for three years, gaining an academic qualification in teaching awarded by the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. The course was based at Brasenose College, Oxford, although Archer was never registered as an undergraduate student of the College. There have been claims that Archer provided false evidence of his academic qualifications, for instance the apparent citing of an American institution which was actually a bodybuilding club, in gaining admission to the course.[6][7] It is also alleged that he provided false statements about three non-existent A level passes and a US degree.[8] His website includes references to his Oxford 'Principal', yet omits that he was not a full undergraduate at Oxford.[9]

Good stuff, this internet, ain't it!

Reb MacRath said...

Jan, thanks for the added information. I'd guess that there are many who, aware of the increasing odds that they will be caught, still engage gleefully in games of Beat the Clock. The sad part is that good agents or editors may take their own tumbles when creeps are exposed.

julia jones said...

Hilarious - loved it. Thank you!

Reb MacRath said...

Thanks so much, Julia. Glad you enjoyed.