Thursday, June 28, 2007

Goldowsky Replies

Howard has asked that I post his response to Hisbestfriend's review of "Engaging Pieces." In it, he addresses some poignant issues which were raised, as well as some other topics which he believes prospective readers might be interested in.


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.


Howard Goldowsky

Update: It turns out that Hisbestfriend also posted the letter at his blog, and then he and Howard continued the discussion in the comments.

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