Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Letter from the Author

I received a letter from the Author of Engaging Pieces. He had an expectation of it being posted, so I am going to make it a full post, and I will answer his questions after the letter. Here goes...

June 27, 2007

I appreciate your purchase of my book, and I appreciate your comments. A number of newspaper columnists (Worcester Telegram, Washington Post) have reviewed Engaging Pieces, but you own the first blog to do so. You raise some poignant issues that I'd like to address. Other readers will certainly have similar issues, so I hope you don't mind if this is an open letter.

My main concern about Engaging Pieces was (and is) that all of the interviews, stories, and opinion pieces, save two, were previously published. Why, as you point out, would anyone want to spend their hard earned cash on writing that could be downloaded from the Internet, in a matter of seconds, for free? Good question. There are many answers.

Some middle-tier fiction writers give their writing away for free on the Internet, before it's even published, just to garner some publicity. Cory Doctorow is one of them. He has a Web site where he gives away his stories for free. He claims that some people who like his stuff on his Web site will want to own the actual book. For every person who is Internet savvy, who reads his work online, there is another person who is introduced to his writing online who would like to own the hard-copy. Others just don't like reading on a monitor. Others hate printouts. Others want an addition to their library. Lastly, not everyone has the time or fortitude to go back and find all of my articles, including those published in Chess Life. Even if they did, how would they know when they found them all?

The last reason may sound a little pretentious; however, in my case, I like to think of this pretentiousness as confidence in my writing ability. I understand that there is a fine line between confidence and delusion. Just look at the auditions for American Idol. But I've been writing long enough, have gotten enough feedback, have published in mainstream chess magazines enough and have gotten paid enough for my work, to be certain that I'm not deceiving my readers.

Obviously, most articles in Engaging Pieces are less than timely, so the book must stand on the strength of its writing and on the ideas that this writing conveys. In the literary world, it's not uncommon to see the collected stories, or even movie and book reviews by good writers, published. Martin Amis' War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000, is cited as an example. Many, many other writers collect their work, too.

It's also common for authors to throw in some new material along with their old stuff, and I've done this with Engaging Pieces. My book includes two previously unpublished short stories, edits to almost every article, postscripts updating the reader with new highlights about relevant articles, and, of course, the appendix that lists every major chess novel or anthology published since 1933. You can't find this type of chess fiction bibliography on the Web. You'll find smaller, more confusing lists, but nothing this authoritative. (I've actually purchased or seen every book in the bibliography.) By the way, if you're still trying to get rid of my book, but want to keep the list of chess fiction in the appendix, then I have a two word solution: copy machine. But maybe I'm being presumptuous with this solution. Maybe you're the type of person who prefers to have such a list in bound form, like others might prefer to have the book's articles in bound form. If so, then I've sold you a copy of my book. :)

A few comments about your post:

1. Where do I apologize for my writing style? I tend sometimes to be reflective or philosophical about my writing, but where have I been apologetic?

2. The quote is "About an hour into the student activity-fair," not "About an hour into the student activity."

3. No, I wasn't trying to be funny in the first sentence. But thanks for the compliment, anyway. This story is based on a true situation that happened when I was an undergrad at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It was written a number of years ago when I was still a bachelor, lamenting the 'girl that got away.' When those two girls walked in and stayed a while, I couldn't believe my eyes. I couldn't figure out why they were there. Some day I knew I would have to write a story to explain the mystery, and I did.

Part of my motivation for writing Engaging Pieces was to bring a form of closure to my interviewing and writing about chess. My son Tyler was born, coincidently, on the release date of the book, and with a bigger family, less time for hobbies, and an itching desire to improve my chess game, I need to spend less time on my writing. Publishing everything I've written about chess was a good way to close the door on one era of my writing life. When the book is behind me, I hope to spend more of my (limited) free time studying chess. At almost 36, I'd like to make an attempt at Expert or even Master before it's too late. I might start a chess blog. I might not. I might start a different writing project. I might not. I might become a Knight Errant. I might not. Lots of stuff is in the air. I don't know where it will fall. One thing is certain, though: I'm going to spend more time improving my chess game. How it is done and how public I'm going to be doing it, is really all that's really in question.

Again, I appreciate your post, and I appreciate my opportunity to get the author's 'backstory' in. If you would like to discuss the book, or have any more questions, I'm happy to discuss things. (Please send me an email. My address is on the back of the book.)


Howard Goldowsky

ps -- I sent this 'open' letter to DG at the BCC blog before I figured out how to post here in the comments...he might turn this letter into a separate post.

Thank you for your thoughtful letter Mr. Goldowsky. I was very excited to get your book, there is a general lack of chessy stuff. I had read Immortal Game, and the Kings of New York, and I hadn't read Chess Bitch yet, but I was looking forward to your book because I think if I saw another page of chess diagrams and algebraic notation, my eyes were gonna bleed!

Answering your questions, I have gone back and reread the last part of the postscript to the de la Maza profile, and it reads to this reader as being apologetic, even though you don't say you are sorry, or ask forgiveness. I can assume you meant that it is reflective, but that was my take.

I apologize for the misquote. It has been corrected.

To the quote in the story. It made me laugh for exactly the reason I stated. Out loud. That it actually happened in real-life only tinges the cultural fact that two babes wanting to learn how to play chess in their sun dresses has got to be fictional.

The general issue that I had with it being a book of timely magazine articles, was that it was off putting to me the book reader. I often felt like I was reading stale material. Realize that I purchased the book as a book, and not as a collection of your stuff per se. The fact that I could get these articles for free, and things like the movie review, made it really difficult to recommend the book, as a book.

The book is marketed by its specific content, not as a collection of things you have written. So finding the movie review was, well, jarring. Again my expectation was not a collection of your work, all your work, but a book containing all the various topics as listed. Ultimately, I was disappointed not to get the timeless essays on the topics that I thought I was promised, and I hoped to get.

But I did have to reflect honestly that I was fascinated enough to read the entire book, learn a lot of stuff in the interviews, and I will agree, oddly enough, even though I never thought I was buying this book for a bibliographic list of stories, that bibliographic list of stories is what kept me from instantly turning around the book. I have collected lesser references for sure. Don't worry your sale is safe!

So the nature of my review, is pay attention to what I do, because it may be more important than what I say. In this case. :-)

I wish you much luck going forward with everything, and I have enjoyed your articles, even if I didn't get a chance to read them contemporaneously to their original publication.


Anonymous said...


I enjoyed reading your reply. It's good to talk about these issues, especially if both parties enjoy the conversation (which, I think, we do). The more we talk about the book, the more perspective buyers know what they're getting for their money. One of the 'problems' with my book is that a book of interviews and stories like this doesn't come around too often in the chess world (the literary world, maybe, but not the chess world), and readers might not get what they expected. It's the responsibility of the reviewers to review the book accurately, and the responsibility of the readers to make sure the book is what they expect.

Almost 15 years later, that afternoon in the RPI chess club is a vague memory, so I have no idea what the girls were actually wearing. The sun dresses (as well as the rules of mathemudica and many other details) are part of my imagination.

Good luck with your chess improvement, and I hope you enjoy your future chess fiction reading. As for current non-fiction without games, Chess Bitch is excellent; however, if you can wait until September, Paul Hoffman has just written the epitome of chess non-fiction work. His book is a memoir about his relationship with his father. Throughout the book he takes the reader on adventures to many chess venues (the Libyan W.Ch, Moscow, etc.,) and profiles many famous players. It's 450 pages, and deserves a pre-order at Amazon.

I'm interviewing Hoffman for the October Chess Life. It's my last scheduled interview until further notice.


hisbestfriend said...

If I didn't enjoy this, then I am sure my wife has been up to no good in her nocturnal hours. The 16 cents that I have earned has yet to reach my pocket, and at this rate, it will be well over 10 years to cash my first check! And the chicks! Don't get me started!

You're right that this doesn't happen enough in this world. I am sure that I will be reading Paul's book as well as Jennifer's.

And ultimately, I try my best to call them as I see them, and if anyone besides myself actually gives 2 hoots about my opinion, that hopefully they process it appropriately :-).

And as a final aside, It took me 3 months to slog through Immortal Game, 1 month through Kings of NY, and a day to make it through yours. That's definitely worth something.

that's hott said...

My buddies and i play blitz in public regularly. We've gotten phone numbers, dates on several occasions. I met each of my last 2 girlfriends while i was playing chess at a coffee shop. The first, i asked her if she knew how to play, she said no, so i offered to teach and that was that. Second one, got curious and came over to watch and chat. One time we had a group of women come over and take turns playing us with material odds, we had 2 boards going.

Anyway, if you play chess in public enough, stuff like that really does happen.

Anonymous said...

Hey there Author, I've read only this page of your blog, so please pardon my potentially inappropriate question. Recall reading a fictional short story published in CL&R about some bloke w/an opening gambit that left his opponents essentially paralyzed, The punch line to the story was the final refutation of his gambit, to wit, they took him out and shot him dead. Wondering if you might recall the name of the story, or if/where it might be found on-line. Thank you.