The Phantom Sunnyside Blog: A Guest Post by Glen David Gold

by Patrick on May 22, 2009

Glen David Gold is the author of Carter Beats the Devil, which was a national bestseller and received praise from the likes of Michael Chabon, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly (“Simply amazing.  Please, an encore…A”) and Jonathan Franzen.  His new book is called Sunnyside.  (Click here to buy it!)  He will be appearing at Vroman’s on Monday, May 25 at 7 p.m. (That’s this Monday, folks!)  Here are his thoughts on blogging, the internet, naked men, and the creative process:

I am delighted and terrified to contribute to the Vroman’s blog.  I’m not someone to whom this form comes naturally – my first impulses are generally the small fish one chucks back into the stream with the admonition to mature, pronto.  But I thought this might be a chance to throw back a certain curtain and show off some gears and levers that I haven’t exposed before.

When I was a little kid, about seven or eight years old, I read Dick Cavett’s autobiography four times, and — I’m sorry, does that require some explanation?  Well…I liked Dick Cavett.  He seemed smart.  Anyway, I recall him describing his work habits: he would start typing something, drop his white-out under the desk accidentally, find a magazine from 1963 and six hours later realize he’d been reading articles on snowshoes instead of working.

I thought this sounded grand, apparently, as it’s exactly how I work now, except for “magazines” substitute “internet,” a word far more seductive and dangerous.  I was made for the tangent.  Would I rather work or look at 6000 photographs of cats sitting in sinks?

I mean, no contest, right?  This is why I don’t have a website.  Rather: as the guy who loves websites, I would want my website to provide news updated from the biochip in my forehead, a twitter stream that roars entirely in epigrams, a gallery of myself and my many friends and enemies clinking flutes of prosecco, a constantly updated bibliography (such as the latest bit of adequacy:, links to people with whom I have started feuds, a forum to keep those feuds going, flash graphics showing me triumphing over enemies and various haircuts, invitations to many parties I would have to throw, clips of said parties and the feuds they enflamed on YouTube, research reference photographs, contests, games involving funny hats, and massages and free balloons for everyone who might visit.

The upshot is that this is my actual website:

This took forever to design.  Really.  I sweated that “us.”  As if there were a small squad of young, earnest people wearing t-shirts with post-post ironic phrases and non-ironic images of cats in sinks, sitting around a large oak table with laptops humming, listening to their iPods, ready to direct the incoming emails to the proper apparachniks.   Also, you’ll note that the background is white.  I thought that was classy.

If I didn’t have the website I do, if I did put any time in on it, if I goofed off — self-promoted?  networked? communicated with people who were interested in my work? put my lips to the screen like a squirrel looking for syrup? — on the net, I wouldn’t have written Sunnyside.

The problem for me is that the net is a great democracy.  Everything is equally important, and soon I can’t tell if looking at the detailed breakdown of a medieval crossbow, upon which part of my novel hinges, is more or less interesting than a naked, out of shape guy haltingly playing “Major Tom” on the guitar.  Here, you decide:

a) Crossbow:

b) Naked guy (warning, not work safe.  Really, really.):

So, I’m betting you like myself are more compelled by that naked guy.  God bless him.  I have no idea why he thought it was a good idea to put his flesh up there for all the world to see and to judge him while he wrestled aloud with abilities that though heartfelt were arguably just beyond the tips of his fingers.

Which leads me to why I don’t blog.  I love bloggers.  But for me, the first draft I write is for myself and the subsequent drafts are my attempt to invite the world in.  Revision is my friend, and, if you like my work, it’s yours, too.  At best my early thoughts are perhaps 35% good and 30% stupid and 35% boring.  Which I originally typed as “bloring,” which might be more accurate.


Sunnyside, my novel, is a big book that takes a ton of narrative chances.  It’s about, among other things, artistic intent (in this case Chaplin’s) and how it can get derailed.  There were times where I wasn’t juggling 100 balls in the air — I was juggling none.  There was a strange absence when I sat down to write, a loneliness that bugged me.  In August 2007 I was deep, deep into my manuscript and I needed the feeling of communicating to the outside world.  Transitional objects, teddy bears, things invested with manna fascinate me, and my blog became my transitional object.  Here is my first month of posting, which I meant from the bottom of my heart:

By September it looked like this:

I think I told two or three people that the posts existed.  A handful of other people seem to have stumbled there themselves.

It’s a page count, of course.  Blogging was keeping me honest.  And it gave me a goal.  Finish the damned thing.  Which I did right here:

(As you can see, I had sold out and added visual aids by then.)

I started editing down (which led to cryptic notations indication what page I had read to, what page I had edited to, and how long the manuscript was).  I was also leaving myself notes so that I would later remember and understand what had once been bothering me.

I was wrestling darkly with what it meant to edit something.  Every day brought a new challenge, and having it memorialized in that in-between place where readers who knew about the blog (I think 12 people seem to have known about it) could see the progress meant something to me like tossing salt over my shoulder.  Mostly it was for me a diary I didn’t mind sharing, about a book no one had seen, which rendered things like this opaque:

Sort of.  It turns out that there was just enough inference in there that even if people didn’t know the book I was referring to, my shouts were in a common language.  A couple of people figured it out quickly and kept me posted in response.  It was a nice communal hiding place.

And a hiding place no longer.  I figure now that the book is unveiled, if you actually read Sunnyside (my vote?  Yes.  Yes, you should) and you’re interested in process, check out the blog and see what it was like to write.  I have spoken against “director’s cuts” of novels, so you will never see Tatiana the Witch whom I refer to early on, nor the benshi, but you’ll see signs of mourning upon their excision.

I realize something now: I kept rereading Dick Cavett because I wanted to know what it was like when he was under the desk, not making stuff up, but in that place between dreaming and writing, perhaps wasting time, perhaps letting things stew.  Of course that wasn’t there in print.  But now it is, sort of, for me.

So there you go.  I genuinely don’t know if it’s helpful to see my own process questions laid out like that, but I hope it is.  Even Dick Cavett has a blog now.  Maybe someday he’ll spill.