News & Blog

Lena Dunham and the Wicker Man

Is it just me, or is the bitter mocking of Lena Dunham’s book proposal, which led to a $3.5 million deal with Random House, completely atrocious and sickening? Gawker, a celebrity news website I normally enjoy, led the charge against Dunham by posting a leaked copy of the proposal on its site and then tearing it apart, line by line. Here are some examples, according to an article on

Gawker quotes Dunham’s proposal thusly: “I’ve never kept a diary, [because] if a girl writes in her diary and no one’s there to read it did she really write at all?”

Gawker responds: “The quoted sentence demonstrates that Dunham is incapable of conceiving a rationale for writing that doesn’t serve the goal of drawing attention to herself.”

Dunham writes: “I went to my first Women’s Action Coalition meeting at age three.”

Gawker responds: “The quoted sentence is indicative of a nauseating and cloying posture of precociousness that permeates the entire proposal.”

Jesus Christ, are they serious? Unable to do anything that doesn’t draw attention to herself? Nauseating and cloying precociousness? Is Gawker completely unfamiliar with Dunham’s brand of humor and the kind of topics she routinely addresses?

I’ve seen these same sentiments echoed around the Web, and it sickens me. Who cares that she got $3.5 million for her book? Good for her! If you think she got that money based on a thrown-together, slapdash proposal, you’re seriously mistaken. Dunham is a hot commodity right now, thanks to her popular HBO series Girls. The proposal was a pure formality, a piece of paper to show the higher ups at the publishing companies, nothing more. She could have written “Fuck you, pay me” on a cocktail napkin and there would have been a bidding war for her book.

Of course, digging deeper, it’s pretty obvious this animosity isn’t just about the amount of money she was paid. First, it’s because she’s a woman. Let’s not kid ourselves. Random House paying $3.5 million for a memoir by, say, Bradley Cooper would hardly have resulted in this kind of backlash, regardless of whatever nonsense he scrawled in his proposal. Second, it’s Dunham’s age. She’s still young, not even out of her twenties yet, so there’s a sour-grapes sentiment that she hasn’t “earned” this kind of money or attention. To which I say, fuck you, go create a hugely popular HBO series yourself and then we can talk about who’s earned what, thank you very much.

Not that anything I say matters. A lot of people just enjoy watching celebrities fall out of favor. Every once in a while, they need someone to put inside their Wicker Man. My fellow writers are often the worst for this. They scream and holler about $3.5 million deals being given to celebrities while they still toil away. Well, guess what? No matter what level of success you reach, celebrities are always going to get bigger deals than you. It’s part of the industry, whether we like it or not. Their platforms are just that much bigger than ours. Does celebrity guarantee sales? Of course not. But your books aren’t guaranteed sales either. So stop being babies and deal with it.

Straubathon: A Dark Matter

I’ve read reviews of Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter that claim the novel is a meditation on the nature of evil. I don’t see it that way, though the nature of evil is certainly discussed during the novel’s climax. Instead, I see A Dark Matter as being about something else one of the characters mentions: humanity’s insatiable and unique need for story, for narrative.

Like a number of Straub’s novels, what we’re reading in A Dark Matter is actually the novel written by one of its characters, Lee Harwell. Lee has been haunted all his life by something that happened back in 1966 to his friends and girlfriend (now wife). It seems one of those wandering 1960s spiritual gurus came to their university town to broaden minds and sleep with students, this one a charmer by the name of Spencer Mallon. Lee’s girlfriend and two of his friends get caught in Mallon’s web, and one night they take part in a ritual in a meadow near campus. A ritual that changes everything in their lives, leaves one kid dead, another missing, a third teetering toward insanity, a fourth slowly going blind, and a secret shared between only those who were there. Lee himself wasn’t there. As he writes, “I had missed the boat, definitively, and so had been spared the mysterious experience that came to define their lives. There was a magic circle and I stood beyond its periphery.” Of course, something else stood quite literally beyond that magic circle’s periphery too. Something from the hidden world. A demon, perhaps, or more than one. Now, many years later, Lee wants to know the truth of what happened that night. He tracks down the remaining participants in an attempt to put it all together, once and for all, and find out if Mallon’s line of bullshit might have been real after all.

This being a Peter Straub novel, the answer is far more complicated than yes or no. And at the novel’s heart is this question: How do you craft a coherent narrative out of something that by its very nature is too based in the realm of sensation, too unknowable, to ever be forced into such a structure? How do you make sense of something that cannot make sense? What happened in that meadow, the different yet interlocking experiences each of the participants endured, the trip beyond the veil that Lee’s girlfriend takes instead of Mallon, none of it is meant to be molded into a story, but Lee tries to because he must. He tries to not just because crafting narrative is his job as a writer, but because if he doesn’t he will never truly understand the wife he so loves. There will always be a gulf between them he can never cross. By giving the novel a final scene that is not a sting in the tail, that is not a climactic battle between the forces of good and evil, but is rather a scene of domestic bliss between the two of them, Straub seems to say it doesn’t matter what happened in 1966. What matters is now. What matters is the ever-growing, ever-evolving narrative between people.

Dense, non-linear, and at times written in a stream of consciousness, A Dark Matter isn’t Straub’s easiest novel, but it’s indubitably rewarding. (And, in this reader’s opinion, underrated and maybe even misunderstood.) Like the best Straub novels, it’s richly layered and open to endless interpretation. Why, for example, is Lee’s girlfriend/wife also named Lee, and nicknamed Eel? Why do he and she look so remarkably alike that he is nicknamed Twin? Why is the image of a glass of water on a table in the sunlight so important to not just our narrator Lee but, in a completely different context, his wife Lee? Why does hapless Spencer Mallon’s last name hint at malevolence? Why the recurring image of a severed hand? You won’t get all the answers in A Dark Matter, but that’s kind of the point. There’s a bigger world out there than we can see, the novel says. It was the 1960s, and the answers were blowing in the wind.

(On a personal note, it’s hard to believe how far I’ve come with the Straubathon. A Dark Matter was published in 2010. I’m almost up to date!)

New Interview With Me At Wag The Fox

After posting a lovely review of Still Life: Nine Stories last week, Wag The Fox has also posted a new interview with me conducted by site owner/founder/guru Gef Fox. Find out everything you’ve always wanted to know: how my Jewish background influences my fiction, how I view my evolution as a writer, what the worst piece of writing advice is, and much, much more! Here’s a snippet:

I’m definitely a fan of the golem, as you can tell from “The Jew of Prague.” In fact, I’d love to see more stories about the golem and its cousin, the man-made monster. Too many writers are focusing on vampires, zombies, and now werewolves too. There just aren’t enough Frankenstein riffs out there these days. But generally I’d love to see more creepy stuff and less gut-munching, whatever the monster.

And don’t forget, you can buy Still Life: Nine Stories in a wide variety of eBook formats here.

Shaking Things Up

(Note: That is not me. I would not be smiling.)

After 12 months of running on the elliptical machine at the gym, today I start using the rowing machine. They say it’s important to shake things up in your workout so the routine doesn’t become boring. Let’s see how it goes. Should be fun. Or maybe I ought to write that more accurately as “should be fun?” After about ten minutes, I think I’m going to need to start pretending a shark is after me.