I’ve been a professional writer–mostly of fiction, but of other things too–for a long time; I sold my first story–and earned $30 for it, five bucks a published page–to The Carolina Quarterly while I was in grad school, so it was probably 1972. Approximately 41 years ago. Jesus Christ, that is a long time.
I used to tell myself that I loved publishing stuff, but lately I’ve come to doubt what I believed since I was 23. I’ve always loved writing the stuff (well, let me qualify that: I’ve always loved writing it when it’s going well, and I love finishing)–and I’ve always loved seeing my stuff in print, but the process of publishing and the business of writing? Hmmm, not so much. It’s a joy seeing galleys, and it’s indescribably exciting to see a finished book for the first time, to hold it in your hands, to flip through it, fondle it, open it up and start reading.
But then there’s all the other shit.
I won’t go into that, however, I’d just sound cranky, and that’s not why I’m doing this blog, to complain or express opinions. I’m doing it because I realized (and it came as a big shock, really) that I didn’t care if I commercially published anything ever again. But it might be fun, I subsequently realized, to make some of my work–old work and new work–available online for anybody who cared to read it.
I also thought a blog would be an impetus to me to accomplish a few things that had snagged my imagination in recent years. I’ve always enjoyed serialized fiction, so I figured a blog would give me the opportunity of writing some SERIALS myself. And while I have no interest in producing a book-length memoir, I thought I would like to write short essays linked to the circumstances surrounding, and the strategies involved in, the composition of each of my books–which is why I’ve put up the covers of all of them, under BOOKS; the text currently connected to each cover is merely a placeholder; the idea is to gradually replace every “publisher’s blurb” with a short memoir and some appropriate photographs.
That’s what’s coming; currently, Cafe Pinfold offers essays I’ve published and lectures I’ve delivered (COMICS WRITINGS), plus (in FILM) a few embedded videos (I did the scripts) as well as the complete film scripts I wrote (for Susan Seidelman and Alex Proyas, in the late 1980s, early 1990s) based on my novels Freaks’ Amour and Jersey Luck ; IN PROGRESS consists of the opening chunks of three linked novellas that I’m still working on. Soon, I’ll be putting up chapters from a novel called “The Unlighted Place,” my stab at a ghost story. (Somebody told me years ago that every fiction writer ought to write at least one ghost story.) I’m also working on a novel set in the nineteen-teens called “Patsy Touey,” but I’ve decided for the time being not to post any excerpts; however, one of the first stories in Serials will be a related piece called “King Touey.” The ORPHANS section is a hodgepodge of stuff–short fiction I did 25 years ago, stuff I did last summer, stuff I did in between.
So there you are. I hope you find something here that you like.
– Tom De Haven
February 21, 2013
EIGHT MONTHS ON
In January 2013, I started to make a list of work that I wanted to post on a blog I had in mind, and it’s also when I came up with the title. (“Cafe” because a good cafe is an unpretentious, casual place you can drop into at any time for a quick cup of coffee or a full–though not a fancy or sumptuous–meal; “Pinfold” because of all the many characters I’ve created for novels and stories and scripts, Pinfold–the 1890s street urchin from Funny Papers, my third novel–has always been, for me, the most important; having created that character and written that novel, I knew that I was in this profession, a profession I love, for the long run; I knew that I could do this over the course of my lifetime, that I had the talent, the training, and the discipline.)
With the indispensible advice, guidance, design skills, and computer savvy of Chad Luibl–currently a third-year graduate student in the MFA creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I teach–I began putting material up on the blog in February. Through the winter and spring, I kept passing stuff–manuscripts and images, even a video–along to Chad, some of it older work, some of it works-in-progress, some of it new and written exclusively for Cafe Pinfold, including short introductory essays to each of the sections and each of the postings, as well as the first episodes of the serial novel King Touey. The blog has been accessible since mid-February, but I deliberately didn’t make any formal announcements about it until the spring when, finally, each category could offer substantial material.
Although I’ll still be posting work–fiction and essays–that I’ve created and published over the last several decades, and lectures I’ve written and delivered for specific occasions, from here on out the main focus of Cafe Pinfold will on the series of short autobiographical essays I’m writing about each of my published books (two have already been posted, for Jersey Luck and U.S.S.A., 16 to go) and the continuation of King Touey. (The plan there is to conclude the novel in 12 episodes with a non-fiction coda to follow about the 1915 Standard Oil strike in Bayonne, New Jersey, which provides the background for the novel.) I will also continue to add new chapters to each of the three linked novellas that comprise Standard Six. Eventually, I’ll start posting sections of another novel I’ve finished called The Unlighted Place.
The reception so far to Cafe Pinfold has been gratifying, but a number of writer friends have been a little disconcerted, too, even annoyed, that I’ve decided to “give” my work away. Believe me, I understand their concern. Writing is a profession and its practitioners ought to be paid for what they produce. No argument from me! But as I said in my original “Welcome” post, the current situation in book publishing has become unpleasant, frustrating, insulting, and essentially pointless. It’s dispiriting to realize how many terrific writers of my acquaintance have published novels over the last few years that a) never made it onto a bookstore shelf, b) never were reviewed, anywhere, and c) disappeared–instantly!–without a chance or a trace. I just got tired of it and decided to opt out, simple as that. Sure, I’d like to earn more of my living from what I write, but I like being in complete control of my career now, and of my work; I love writing, especially writing fiction, and I enjoy making it available for anyone who wants to read some of it. And while I don’t think it’s ideal for any writer to publish without a good editor’s input, I’ve been writing long enough–and I’ve worked as an editor myself–that I feel confident anything I’ve posted, or will post, on Cafe Pinfold is the best I can produce. Promise you, it’s all been finically edited and extensively revised. (Also, I’ve been known to go back and tinker.)
To everyone reading this, and to all those who’ve dropped into the cafe over the last several months, many thanks. Please come again.
– Tom De Haven
August 25, 2013