Sad Men

What Writers Can Learn from the Great Depression

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Writing Advice from H. P. Lovecraft

imageYears before blogs, digital self-publishing or even ‘zines, the great horror author H.P. Lovecraft helped lead the United Amateur Press Association for many years (including the Great Depression).

The association published The United Amateur, a collection of writings by members. Lovecraft also wrote a long column for magazine, analyzing different essays, poems and stories written by members—aggregating in the same spirit as contemporary literary bloggers.

You can download a free copy of Lovecraft’s Writings in the United Amateur, 1915-1922 over at Project Gutenberg. Below, I’ve reprinted a copy of an essay Lovecraft wrote for the magazine, sharing writing advice for members. After nearly a century, his advice still holds up.

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Filed under H.P. Lovecraft writing

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How New York City Writers Survived the Great Depression

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Welcome to Sad Men, the official blog for my upcoming book about how New York City writers survived the Great Depression.

OR Books will publish my first book, a hardboiled history about how ten different writers coped with economic catastrophe in the 1930s. The writers include: Edward Newhouse, Maxwell Bodenheim, May Swenson and Richard Wright.

On this site, I am building an archive of free eBooks, Spotify playlists, photographs, videos, and poems from the literary world of the Great Depression.

Email me for pre-order updates.

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Anonymous asked: Hi Jason. I'm working on a music video to play during my band's set, and I would like it to all be Depression-Era footage. My storyline idea is this: a boy who gets bullied growing up in a middle class/mediocre environment, the depression hitting, and the boy/man's future success (assuming a character like Ford or somewhat less successful). Let me know if you have any pointers on where I should get started! Thanks so much.

You should check the Prelinger Archive, they have a great collection of Depression-era videos…

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Strange Fruit & the Great Depression

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Kayne West sampled Nina Simone singing “Strange Fruit” in his most recent album, reviving one of the most powerful protest songs ever written in a song called “Blood on the Leaves.” 

New York City English teacher, poet and activist Abel Meeropol wrote the poem “Strange Fruit” during the Great Depression. The great Billie Holiday ended up recording the song, sharing the dark story about lynchings in America. NPR has more about this remarkable song:

In the late 1930s, Pellison says, Meeropol “was very disturbed at the continuation of racism in America, and seeing a photograph of a lynching sort of put him over the edge.” Meeropol once said the photograph “haunted” him “for days.” So he wrote a poem about it, which was then printed in a teachers union publication. An amateur composer, Meeropol also set his words to music. He played it for a New York club owner — who ultimately gave it to Billie Holiday. When Holiday decided to sing “Strange Fruit,” the song reached millions of people.

Filed under nina simone kanye west

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The First Publishing House Strike

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Amazon employees in Germany have mounted a strike against the online retailer. Today is a good day to remember other strikes in publishing history…

In 1934, Dashiell Hammett, Edward Newhouse and nine other authors joined brave employees on the picket line outside Macaulay Company publishing house—reportedly, the first publishing house strike in America.

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Filed under harpercollins union strike edward newhouse Dashiell Hammett

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Will Writers Get a Federal Bailout?

The Federal Government has stepped in to save banks, and the automobile industry, but where are they on the important subject of books? Or, if the answer is state and local government, where are they? Is any state doing anything? Why are there no impassioned editorials in influential newspapers or magazines? Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores?

—James Patterson in New York Times Book Review advertisement.

Above, a poster from Iowa : WPA Federal Art Project between 1936 and 1939.

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Pitch Letter for ‘Sad Men’

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I’m writing about nonfiction book query letters on GalleyCat, and I realized that it is very hard to find sample query letters online.

To help other writers, here is a copy of my query letter that eventually became this book project…

Sad Men will recreate the seven most miserable years ever faced by American writers. My dramatic history will begin during the long winter of 1933, following a crew of ruined literary luminaries, burnt-out pulp fiction scribes, and future Federal Writers Project employees. The book will conclude in 1939 as a controversial federal bailout sent writers back to work and the World’s Fair revived the city. Readers will discover some uncanny similarities to our recession, but my book will ultimately remind us that our literary ancestors have been here before—and they survived.

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Awesome cover for Sarah Weinman’s new anthology…
offonatangent:

Get ready for TROUBLED DAUGHTERS, TWISTED WIVES: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, edited by Sarah Weinman, coming from Penguin Books on August 27.

Awesome cover for Sarah Weinman’s new anthology…

offonatangent:

Get ready for TROUBLED DAUGHTERS, TWISTED WIVES: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, edited by Sarah Weinman, coming from Penguin Books on August 27.

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Abyss of the Birds

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This year marked the 72nd anniversary of the debut of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” a gorgeous cycle of chamber music first performed in a German prison camp during World War Two. 

I have been lost in “Abyss of the Birds,” a mournful seven-minute clarinet solo that sounds like a songbird lost in the frozen darkness of a January night. The composer described his own piece: “Clarinet alone. The abyss is Time with its sadness, its weariness. The birds are the opposite to time, They are our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows, and for jubilant Songs.”

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Thin Man Martini

During the deepest moments of the Great Depression, Dashiell Hammett published The Thin Man. The 1934 novel was a satirical and introspective detective story, the plot pickled with booze.

While watching the The Thin Man film this summer, I tried to adapt a martini for the book. Guided by this Lost Past Remembered blog post, I modified the 1930s staple into an easy drink. Try it out below…

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Filed under thin man Dashiell Hammett martini cocktails gin

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What the Great Depression Can Teach Us About Amazon

Will Amazon destroy the publishing industry? History says no…

Throughout the Great Depression, department stores like Macy’s sold books at a massive discount. The bestselling Gone with the Wind became an early casualty in the 1930s price wars. Department stores priced the new novel at 89-cents, hoping to lure customers into stores—a sneaky loss leader strategy.

More recently, Amazon used eBooks the same way. They would sell digital books at a steep discount, but they would hook a generation of readers on the Kindle platform.

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Filed under amazon ebooks department stores

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Zora Neale Hurston Sings the Blues

During the Great Depression, the novelist Zora Neale Hurston traveled from Harlem to Florida to record folk songs for the Federal Writers Project’s Florida Folklife archive.

She left behind 18 amazing recordings, telling the story of individual folk songs and singing many of the tunes herself. I’ve linked to all the recordings below…

Follow this MP3 link to listen to her sing “Halimuhfack.” Here’s more about the recording: “A ‘jook’ song, learned on the East coast of Florida. After the song, Zora Neale Hurston describes how she collects and learns songs (including those she has published).”

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Filed under Federal Writers Project Zora Zora Neale Hurston free ebooks free music

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Why I Write Letters

Way back in December 2000, Peace Corps stationed me on top of a cold mountain in Guatemala. During my first night in the village of Miramundo, I stared into the foggy darkness outside the wood shack where I would live for two years, feeling like I had stumbled upon the edge of the world.

My old girlfriend had mailed me a letter with a photograph and a copy of Radiohead’s Kid A CD. I switched on my battered Discman and savored that new album for a week. At night, I would swaddle myself in a blanket with her letter, letting those spooky synthesizers and Thom Yorke’s voice whoosh through my head.

That memory contains so many obsolete technologies: a compact disc, a portable CD player, printed photograph and a handwritten letter. One decade later, I can stream Kid A through my laptop, transcribe my writing notebook entries into my iPad and post the essay on my Tumblr blog. As I wrote about authors in the 1930s, I found myself writing letters again—getting back into the old habit that they took for granted.

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People’s Libraries

A peek at my upcoming book at The Los Angeles Review of Books:

JASON BOOG

on the return of the thirties.

In the spring of 1935, the famous novelist Maxwell Bodenheim crashed the New York City welfare office and begged for relief after five years of the Great Depression. His career had stalled, and Bodenheim hadn’t earned a dime since his final novels had flopped. He was working on a manuscript called Clear Deep Fusion, but he would never finish it. His visit to the relief office was his last stand before he was edited out of literary history.

The New York Herald Tribune mocked Bodenheim’s ragged demonstration: “he wore high shoes without laces, his shirt was dirty and the rest of his clothes needed cleaning and pressing. He was unshaven, very pale and his hair was mussed.” He brought along five Writers Union activists and a squad of reporters in an effort to inspire other writers to go public with their struggles to survive. One activist waved a sign that read “starvation standards of Home Relief make real ghost writers.” During the thirties, the rate of newspaper closings rose to 48 percent and magazine advertising plunged 30 percent. Publishers Weekly noted book production had been slashed from nearly 211 million to 154 million books during that period: 57 million books evaporated into thin air.

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(Source: lareviewofbooks)

Filed under Occupy Wall Street library occupywallstreet Maxwell Bodenheim