German word of the day – “Bildungsroman”

Yesterday I learned a new German word – but not because I live in a German speaking region, and not because I read Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” or any commentary about it in its native language (though admittedly these would actually be good present day activities for me – but I digress…)

I’m not even exactly sure how I stumbled on this word anymore, because it was one of those strange moments where a bunch of divergent aspects of my life came together and suddenly made sense in a brand new context (which, ironically, is best described by another German word commonly used in English) and I’m like 10 degrees of separation away from that original context now.

What is important is that I have a new word to represent what I already understood well – the concept of the “coming-of-age” story, which is pretty much what “Bildungsroman” translates as in English (and do yourself a favor and play the little pronunciation samples they have embedded in the definition, just for the hell of it – they give you the English singular and German plural versions and I bet neither of them are what you’d expect this word to sound like if you are a native English speaker).

Bildungsroman - from "erase pen"

A Bildungsroman novel is usually about a kid and how he/she grows up to be a man/woman, or as this article cites, it’s a story “which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood.” This author, who focuses on Victorian era literature (of which apparently this genre was very popular), breaks it down like this:

1. A Bildungsroman is, most generally, the story of a single individual’s growth and development within the context of a defined social order. The growth process, at its roots a quest story, has been described as both “an apprenticeship to life” and a “search for meaningful existence within society.”

2. To spur the hero or heroine on to their journey, some form of loss or discontent must jar them at an early stage away from the home or family setting.

3. The process of maturity is long, arduous, and gradual, consisting of repeated clashes between the protagonist’s needs and desires and the views and judgments enforced by an unbending social order.

4. Eventually, the spirit and values of the social order become manifest in the protagonist, who is then accommodated into society. The novel ends with an assessment by the protagonist of himself and his new place in that society.

Now, if you’ve read my book already, then you know what I’m getting at with all of this: basically, my book can be aligned with this genre pretty well (and that’s not something I’d really like to admit, since I’ve been resisting pigeonholing this funny, sad, insane, sensible, repulsive, enlightening, common sense and amazingly ordinary story into a nice little convenient marketing package, on principle alone).

But there’s a couple of distinctions I would make (as other sub-genres of this literary device have as well):

  • The main protagonist in my book, Cecil Adams, isn’t a child – but “maturity” is a subjective thing, and a key aspect of his character’s personality development
  • and “the spirit and values of the social order become(ing) manifest in the protagonist, who is then accommodated into society” isn’t the issue in this story – actually, it’s the complete opposite (unless you consider “the social order” to be metaphorical and spiritual in nature – but that’s a different conversation for another time…) and the premise that the character must be accommodated in-to society is actually the cause of the original problem.

And so I’ve decided to create my own subgenre of the Bildungsroman: the Antibildungsroman. You know, Google Translate doesn’t always do the best job, but when it comes up with gems like that one, it makes up for a lot of strange translations. If you flip it around and write it as “anti-education novel”, it describes succinctly how the “antagonist” Linda challenges Cecil’s “education” in life (specifically, what it means to be a man, but really, what it means to be human); and if you leave it as “novel anti-education”, and think of the adjective form of the word novel (“of a new kind; different from anything seen or known before”), then it still works (at least for me…)

And so here it is:

  • Antibildungsroman: a story that traces the psychological and moral growth of characters (protagonists and/or antagonists) as they endure repeated clashes between their needs and desires and the social order they learned them from, culminating in a perceptual epiphany that alters their existence (and those around them) indelibly.

Eventually I’m going to have to come up with a more directly English variant on this word, because it’s just too much of a mouthful – but for now, I’m pleased as punch to have something that can get across the wide array of themes in this novel in a more concise and efficient way.



Sat May 5, 2012 Book Event in Los Angeles @ Freddy and Eddy 3pm – 5pm

Look at how cute this couple is.

I mean really, don’t you feel like you already know them?


They look like a regular old down-to-earth couple that really loves each other and likes to have fun. Seriously, look at these guys:

This is them working on what eventually became their new store in Marina Del Rey, CA – and this is what it looks like now:

Warm, inviting colors. Lots of happy, smiling faces and fun products – just what an adult store should be! A fun place for adults to explore and learn and find new ways to play together…

I don’t even need to tell you how psyched I am that Ian and Alicia (the owners) have agreed to host my LA area book event. It’s gonna be a total blast, and I can’t wait to meet this amazing couple. Like most people who’ve been in relationships for a long time (and especially after having children), theirs was getting stale – and so they decided to break up the routine and explore what made them happy, and this store (and the accompanying website) were born. Actually, this is the second version of their store (you can read all about their history here), and things seem to be getting better and better for them each passing year. If they are not living examples of the Lindas of the world that I wrote about in “Boy Meets Girl, The End”, I don’t know who is.

If you are in the area – hell, if you are anywhere near Southern California on May 5th – come down and hang out with us. I’ll be reading and laughing and smiling ear to ear and generally acting the fool, and a good time will be had by all. And just think, you’ll be in the perfect place to pick up some new toys or some new ideas for your own entertainment, and you’ll be supporting two of the coolest people in LA. And Venice freaking beach is like 2 blocks away, so you know I’m going to try to get a bunch of us down there afterwards at some point.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a sunny Saturday in Southern California…

Rejecting Rejection

I’ve always had a problem with rejection.

I could get all deep with the history – the father that left, the girls that giggled and turned away, the jobs that hired others. I could even just focus on the last year, and every single “Thank you for your interest in so-and-so literary agency” email that I got (they never get easier to read), or didn’t get (nothing like no reply at all to really resolve things). Or I could just tell you about how I was trying to contact a certain establishment (to set up a book reading event) using their online form (which is never more than just typing some words and hitting send, you know), only to be met with a “Server Error” page – and during the follow up phone calls (that weren’t returned) and finally getting through, being greeted with a harsh “We got your emails and voice message!” like I had been stalking the person or something.

I could write all damn day about rejection, because it’s the kind of response that can cancel out a million positive reactions in one fatal swoop – and I know you’d know what I’m talking about. Everyone hates rejection. Does anyone like rejection? I don’t know anyone who does. I hear people say stupid ass shit like “Haters make me stronger” and whatever other ego trip they decide to express, but I’ll say it straight up – rejection sucks, and it hits deep.

And if you are the creative type, or more specifically, the creative type that believes you’ve got something worthwhile to share, you face a 99% chance of either receiving rejection blows straight to the gut or tripping into a 6 foot deep hole of complete and utter lack of response when trying to get your work out beyond your safe little sphere of happiness and joy and sunshine flavored cupcakes.

The only thing that has helped me – and I recognize that this is possibly a sign of mental illness – is to keep on. Keep on keepin’ on. Like all those rejections never happened; like people are actually just waiting to hear from someone like me because they’ve been looking for what I have to offer them. I know, it sounds completely insane, and I’m still getting used to it myself – but it’s the only way I’ve been able to get anything accomplished. And really, when I stop and think about it for a second (which is usually when I first lie down to go to sleep at night), I realize that I’ve come a long way. I mean, just the fact that I didn’t give up when I shared the first chapters I wrote – which took some strong criticism as well – or when no literary agent would touch the finished project, or when some of my good friends told me they couldn’t even read it because of the language. I still finished it, and then edited it, and edited it again, and again, and again…and then the cover, and then the website, and so on and so forth, just to get a decent book together. Then the promotion, and the talking with stores, and the book tour – I look back and realize I’ve done a lot. And I’m still 100% committed – and it’s paying off. Somehow, by continuing on, doing a lot to get a little back in return every day, it’s working out.

I can’t tell you how many people I offered the ebook to for free – several times even – and didn’t hear a word from, who are now coming back to me asking how they can buy the paperback. People in different countries contacting me, people I don’t even know! And not a single step of it would’ve happened had I not been rejecting enough of the rejections so freely given to me…

So that’s it. No great words of wisdom, no real moral to the story. Just good ol’ fashioned stubbornness, in which I am not lacking in the least. I just keep on pushin’ forward – because I’ve got too much left behind that I no longer have time for…