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Let’s Have a Serious Talk About James Franco

Okay, writers, let’s have a serious talk about James Franco.

Really.

We have been talking some shit about this guy for a while now, and maybe it’s worth revisiting that. Last year, shortly after Franco made a video of his less-than-inspired and less-than-inspiring “inauguration” poem, we set out on a mission to hate on everything Franco attempted to contribute to the literary world. We even wore cardboard-cutout masks of his face around AWP in Boston.

But the guy is trying, people. He really is. Perhaps what we need to consider is that Franco has so much fame and so many resources, that his trying is significantly more public than our own. I mean, I wrote a really shitty poem the other day, shared it with maybe four people, and then it disappeared into the ether.

The difference is that if Franco tries to share a shitty poem with even one person, that person is most likely going to pass it on to a dozen of their friends. And on and on.

And all of us writerly folks are itching for the next chance to piss on his work.

That’s why we’ve been going nuts over this upcoming Franco adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

(Don’t get me wrong, here. I definitely was a little weirded out the first twenty times I saw his face below WILLIAM FAULKNER on the updated book covers.)

james-franco-as-i-lay-dyingJust think about it: you’re not going to boycott Franco’s As I Lay Dying because you have such low expectations for it; you’re going to pay $12.00 to see it when it’s still in theaters because you have such low expectations for it. And if it turns out to be a spectacular movie, sure, 75% of you will trash it because you and everyone else thinks it should be trashed; but 25% of you will be glad you paid the price of admission.

When I launched the Last Annual James Franco Award, I was not being serious. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I sincerely want Franco to send me his poetry. And I want it to be good. Should I not encourage him to write great stuff? That would kind of be like having James Franco as a student and telling him in every workshop, “I’m sorry, I just can’t take you seriously, James Franco. Maybe you should just give up or be somebody else.”

Yes, I will turn away any submissions that do not fit with the aesthetic of our press; but I’d be crazy to hate on Franco just because it’s cool to hate on Franco. When he sends me a poem, he will win the Last Annual James Franco Award. And if the poem knocks my socks off, I’ll publish the hell out of it.

Share your thoughts on Franco in the comments section of this post.

*UPDATE:
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2013 Cobalt Writing Prize Winners

It is with great pleasure that we announce the winners of the 2013 Cobalt Writing Prizes…

FICTION: Chavisa Woods, “Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country”
NONFICTION: Michael Palmer, “Nights After Amy”
POETRY: Jonathan Travelstead, “Trucker”

It was a narrow margin of victory in all categories, and there were many exceptional submissions. Here’s a reminder of our awesome finalists:

FICTION
Mark Wagstaff (also a finalist in 2012!)
Chavisa Woods
Alan Sincic

NONFICTION
Eric Hagen
Michael Palmer
Lauren Halloran

POETRY
Ae-Hee Lee
Patricia Colleen Murphy
Jonathan Travelstead
John McDermott

Winners will receive a cash prize, as well as contributor copies of the print issue containing their work (Volume 2). Finalists will also receive contributor copies, and their work will appear in the print issue.

Thank you to all who submitted. It was a great competition this year, and we’re looking forward to 2014!

Regards,

Andrew Keating
Publisher, Cobalt Press

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

goldfinch-3_4When a book arrives with a $30 cover price, weighing about as much as a small animal, readers may possibly view it askance and move on to something else. Those readers would be wrong. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s new novel, is enormous and intricate, not to mention expensive. It requires a commitment to wade through such a densely textured novel, and readers newly learning of Ms. Tartt may not understand that the commitment tends to be worth it. Her debut novel, The Secret History, appeared in 1992 and won her the hearts (and attention spans) of the masses. Her second, The Little Friend, came a decade later. Devoted readers have waited since then for another of her eccentric, intelligent, deeply literate novels, and this one does not disappoint.

Simply put, The Goldfinch is really, really good, not least because, as it turns out, Ms. Tartt is exceptionally good at bringing to life young men of a particular type as her narrators:  Richard Papen in The Secret History, and Theo Decker in The Goldfinch.

Theo and Richard are not that different — they’re both somewhat effete, socially grasping, unparented, out of their depth in every possible way, and inclined to a somewhat shifting morality depending on a) what they want and b) who else wants it. The advantage with Theo is that we spend many more years with him, and so we watch him age from a fairly steady boy into a wonderfully unsteady man as he becomes increasingly unmoored. It helps that Ms. Tartt is better at writing teenage boys than most current American authors. Oddly, she is not nearly as good at writing girls, which is part of why The Little Friend was not great. It’s also one of the weaknesses of both The Secret History and The Goldfinch — there are girls all over the place, but they are not as compelling or deeply drawn as even the minor boys. Even Camilla, who plays Muse to all the boys of The Secret History, doesn’t really come to life until the very end of the book, and Pippa, Theo’s focal point for much of The Goldfinch, is absent and too busy being enigmatic. Older adult women, however, fare much better — Theo’s dead mother is a cipher, but in a good way, and Xandra and Mrs. Barbour, the not-mothers to whom Theo attaches himself, are intriguing and compelling, as well as being among the few really sympathetic characters in the novel.

Meanwhile, The Goldfinch has so much depth, in so many ways, that it is often fruitcake-dense. The details of furniture and wardrobe, of restoration (in literal and figurative senses), of landscape, are intricate and deftly drawn. Several reviewers have called the book “Dicksensian,” which explains both what I loved about it and what I did not. On the one hand, the details are spectacular, and the narrative makes sense. It would have been brilliant as a serial. On the other, there are way too many people in the novel, and often too much reliance on coincidence, and sometimes it gets a little choked as a result. Stephen King, in his terrific NYT review of The Goldfinch, compares it to Oliver Twist. Having read his review, I now want to look at Oliver Twist again; making the comparison backwards might help me like Dickens. While I agree with King’s link of Boris to the Artful Dodger (more on Boris in a minute) and Theo’s terrible dad to Fagin, I think comparing Theo to Oliver is less clear — Oliver is naive and fairly boring, with none of the layers that make Theo so difficult and interesting. He is much more Pip or David Copperfield than he is Oliver.

Speaking of Boris, I have mixed feelings about him. He reminds me both of the expatriated quasi-Russian not-Soviet boys I used to teach in Queens and of Alex Perchov, the narrator of Everything is Illuminated. Boris is fraught in some of the same ways, but, like Alex, sometimes his weird (and often wonderful) accent and character take up too much space. The role that Boris plays in the huge narrative arc of The Goldfinch, and in the story of the painting from which the novel takes its name, is huge, and not entirely successful.

Also, normally I don’t mind prologues, but I felt that this one lent nothing to the story, and I wish that Ms. Tartt had begun at the beginning, with Theo and his mother. As for the end… There are moments of glorious light that come through it, but it presents a thoughtfulness (and a self-awareness) to Theo that I didn’t feel like I had ever seen before in the novel, and that I am still not sure I believed. Did the ending make my chest hurt? Yes, although not as much as I thought it would.

What really got me was the relationship between Theo and James Hobart, or Hobie, the furniture restoration master who befriends and mentors him. I don’t want to write much about Hobie, because he made me so sad, but I think he is the first Donna Tartt character I’ve ever wanted to know in real life. Also, I have rarely encountered a novel that handled grief as well as this one does; whatever else Theo is doing, he is also trying to understand the loss of his mother and how he can go forward after her sudden, awful death (this is not a spoiler, as Theo tells us she is dead almost immediately). The way that Ms. Tartt handles Theo’s sorrow is extraordinary — even when Theo gets a bit maudlin, the novel never does, and both his heartbreak and the misery of how his life has to change are gorgeously done. Likewise, the care that Ms. Tartt has taken to make the painting itself (a real painting, presented here with a wholly alternate life story) a character in the book is astonishing. Even when the other details of this read have faded, the little golden bird and its chain are going to stick in my mind for a very, very long time.

Overall, I loved this book, and I look forward to reading it again. Donna Tartt is perhaps better than she’s ever been. While The Goldfinch certainly has flaws and some moments where the prose gets ahead of itself, those problems are wildly overshadowed by the book’s strengths.

Info:  Little, Brown and Company, 784 pages, $30.00 hardcover, October 2013

2013 Cobalt Writing Prize Finalists

Here they are – the 2013 Writing Prize Finalists:

Fiction – Alan Sincic, Mark Wagstaff, and Chavisa Woods.
Nonfiction – Lauren Halloran, Michael Palmer, and Eric Hagen.
Poetry – John McDermott, Jonathan Travelstead, Patricia Murphy, and Ae Hee Lee.

Congrats to the finalists. Winners to be announced soon. All finalists will be included in Cobalt Print Volume 2.

Pre-orders for Volume 2 will open very soon… as in the next day or two. So link up your PayPals or whatever is involved in buying stuff from us.

Thanks,
-Keating

2013 Jim Palmer Baseball Writing Prize Winner Announcement

Happy Saturday!

Last week, on our Facebook page, we announced the finalists for the Jim Palmer Baseball Writing Prize. The list was determined by managing editor/publisher Andrew Keating, who curated July’s two part all-baseball issue (Home Team | Away Team). Over the past couple of weeks, we have whittled down the shortlist (which is below) down to our favorites (also listed below), and finally one winner.

And that winner is Courtney Preiss, author of “Life Ain’t Easy for a Girl Named Mickey.”

The winning story first appeared in Hobart this past April. Courtney, a die-hard Yankees fan (no, seriously, she’s fierce), lives in Brooklyn. She holds a BFA in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson and tweets @cocogolightly.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to all who entered Cobalt’s first Jim Palmer Baseball Writing Prize, and all those who participated in the all-baseball issue. Special thanks to Ben Tanzer, Sampson Starkweather, Richard Jordan and JM Huscher for their non-contest contributions to the issue. Thanks to Hobart and the many other publications that directed their readers and contributors to enter. Thanks, finally, to Stewart O’Nan and Frank Deford.

Finalists

Henry Alley, “My Nick”
Aaron Burch, “Closed Captioning”
Lou Gaglia, “Little Leagues”
Courtney Preiss, “Life Ain’t Easy for a Girl Named Mickey”
David Press, “In the Dominican with Satchel Paige”

Shortlist

Henry Alley, “My Nick”
Amanda Bales,
Aaron Burch, “Closed Captioning”
Clara Changxin Fant, “Baseball for Immigrants”
Andy Fogle, “Batboy”
Lou Gaglia, “Little Leagues”
Kimberley Lynne, “Oriole Park
Marjorie Maddox, “Conversations with Self on Origins”
Ray Morrison, “Stealing Home”
Jenny O’Grady, “Korean Baseball”
Mark Pawlak, “Win, Lose, Rain Delay, Washout”
Courtney Preiss, “Life Ain’t Easy for a Girl Named Mickey”
David Press, “In the Dominican with Satchel Paige”
Megan Pugh and Gillian Osborne, “The Perfect Game”
Neil Serven, “Duster”

We will be announcing the shortlist and finalists for the 2013 Cobalt Writing Prizes soon. Be on the lookout for more contests and themed issues in 2014.

Best,

Andrew Keating
Publisher / Managing Editor