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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off 

And start all over again at the new, the improved blog, located at the easy-to-remember URL of http://www.sarahweinman.com. So what's so great about the new digs? Well, you'll just have to see for yourselves.

So goodbye, Blogger--it's been a swell seven-plus months. But now it's time to move on.

Monday, May 31, 2004

How to make this girl very happy 

Write a retrospective on Ross Thomas, as Richard Giller did yesterday for the Boston Globe. Instead of listening to me wax rhapsodic, let Giller explain what made Thomas's novels so wonderful:

[The] novels provide quintessential windows into the world of Thomas. It's a shadowy place where political power and big money intersect, and where all the important plays are made behind the scenes. The adversaries -- morally compromised heroes confronting irredeemable villains -- are invariably brilliant, treacherous, and cynical. Deception is the order of the day, or rather night, since an inordinate amount of the action occurs between midnight and dawn. Thomas takes you into the hotel rooms, corporate suites, and political offices of the people who know the score, the way the game is played, and exactly which levers to pull.

Make no mistake. For all their worldliness, these are not the burnt-out cases one finds in the pages of Graham Greene or John le Carr. Tough as nails, these guys (and not a few gals) run the gamut from congressmen to con men, political fixers to third-world dictators. They combine an outsize appetite for life with an eye locked steadily on the prize, and they play the game with a zest that is refreshing, inventive, and bold.

The two novels Giller cites--BRIARPATCH and OUT ON THE RIM--are fine places to start, although I'm also partial to the most recent reissue, 1983's MISSIONARY STEW (with an introduction from this fine blogger) because it's about the lead-up to an election year and the various machinations, blackmail, and murder (of course) that results from it. Cynical, world-weary, but ultimately idealistic--that's why I love him.

And how to make this girl extremely happy--reissue the rest of his novels! Earth to St. Martin's Press...

There's perverse, and then there's this 

A 15-YEAR-old schoolboy has become the first person in Britain to be convicted of inciting somebody to murder him.

The boy, who may only be identified by the pseudonym John, invented a cast of characters in an Internet chat room as part of an elaborate plan to commission his own killing, the Manchester Crown Court heard this week.

He was 14 when he fell in love with Mark, a boy two years older, and, in a bizarre online deception, adopted the guise of a female secret service agent to order Mark to stab him in a suburban alley.

The older boy was meant to end John's life with the words, "I love you, bro."

Mark carried out the stabbing in Altrincham, Cheshire, shortly before 8pm on June 29 last year. He knifed John in the chest and abdomen. The second blow cut into his kidney, liver and gall bladder, nearly killing him.
Some things should just stand alone without comment.

The last day of May 

And god, where does the time go? It's practically summer, and some part of me thinks it's still, I dunno, February or something. I don't get it. Anyway:

Oh my gawd, Patrick Anderson truly has the Line of the Week with the opening phrases of his review of Michael Fredrikson's new book A DEFENSE FOR THE DEAD: "The serial-killer thriller is the cicada of popular fiction. The damn things are everywhere." Accordingly, the review is an extended rant about the subgenre and only at the very end does Anderson review--sort of--the book.

Although Janet Maslin seems to take umbrage with the whole concept of "literary re-animation," she does like Colm Toibin's novel of Henry James, THE MASTER.

What's up with the historical novel, and why is it such a popular fictional genre these days? TheGlobe and Mail isn't exactly sure but they turn to two popular authors, Bernard Cornwell and Sarah Dunant, for some answers.

Even though I get all the titles mixed up, plenty of other folks don't and devour John Sandford's thrillers with ease. He's interviewed by Linda Wertheimer at NPR's All Things Considered.

Boris Akunin, who's threatening to conquer the English-speaking world in the same manner that he's taken over most every European country with his Erast Fandorin novels, talks to the Philly Inquirer about why he, an academic trained in philology, gravitated towards crime fiction.

Ooops--Jane Jakeman, who is both a crime writer and a historian, nitpicks about the overall premise of THE RULE OF FOUR--it seems somebody has published a layman's version of the Hypnerotomachia which figures so strongly in the year's "runaway" success.

And I must wonder--did Ron Bernas and I read the same book? His review of Mark Billingham's LAZYBONES seems so...cursory, somehow.

The Oregonian's review of the ENEMY is fairly standard but for this--no, no, The Rock cannot be Reacher. And why must people imagine their favorite characters in a movie version anyway? Another rant for another time....

And finally, J.K. Rowling gives her blessing to the exponentially growing subculture of Harry Potter fan fiction. Well, the G-rated no-sex kind, I think all the slash stuff might not exactly curry favor with the lady (but then again...)

Sunday, May 30, 2004

It's all about the interviews 

Joe Bloggs, the outpost for the UK-based 3AM Magazine, has been conducting a spate of interviews with some of the leading lights of the litblogging community. Now, here's mine.

The online mags speak out 

First up: a shiny new issue of Plots With Guns, with the usual mix of great stories, insane interviews, and other things that make it such a special magazine. Like Trev Maviano's conversation with Mark T. Conard--noir author, philosopher, and judging from this interview, an all around freak who bests and is bested only by the freakishness of Maviano. The co-editor calms down some in his Earful to talk about just how horrible and depressing the world can get--a cold, but necessary dose of reality that sometimes gets lost. As for the stories, they include the likes of Pat Lambe, the superhuman Stephen D. Rogers (how many hundred stories has he written now?) Stacey Cochran, and Tim Wohlforth, who gets away with as cool an opening line I've seen in ages.

Once you're done devouring the new PWG, go check out issue six of Shred of Evidence. Editrix Megan Powell has put together a cracking collection of stories from the likes of Gerald So, Ed Lynskey, and the aforementioned Messrs Cochran and Rogers.

Hey hey, it's the update 

And first, for those who wrote in after Friday's kvetch-inflected post, thank you. It finally hit me what the problem is--I'm not very good at reacting to cars that honk at me or are otherwise in the way when I'm in the middle of parking. Throws me off my rhythm or something. Anyway, having pinpointed the problem, I do believe I will solve it--or else, another five years of clawing my way through driver exam hell awaits...

But you all want links. So, without further adieu:

I'm a teeny-tiny bit disappointed with the NYT Book Review this weekend--not sure why, and perhaps it's just me. But what's there to see this time around? Hmm....Michael Wood's puzzling over a book that compares/contrasts film critic Pauline Kael and general critic Susan Sontag. I'm confused too--how did the book proposal work, exactly? Also, Neil Bremel finds the parts of Peter Esterhazy's CELESTIAL HARMONIES to be greater than the sum, and Jodi Kantor is underwhelmed by Maureen Orth's delving into the cult of celebrity worship.

Moving to the Book World, it focuses much of its attention on WWII-based books--timely, as it's the 60th anniversary of D-Day (already? Wasn't the 50th not that long ago? God, time flies...) Otherwise, Jennifer Howard struggles with Claire Tristram's AFTER, a novel of taboos and terrorism; Alice K. Turner has some fun with THE RULE OF FOUR; Ron Chernow grapples with his addiction to research, an affliction I am ridiculously in the throes of myself; and Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is on board the PUSHKIN AND THE QUEEN OF SPADES bandwagon.

The Guardian Review has some choice crime fiction-y stuff, like Robert Edric's severe disappointment with Susan Hill's foray into the genre after 30+ years of writing ghost stories. It seems she's gone for the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" formula of serial killer/thriller. Ah well. Meanwhile, Matthew Lewin rounds up the newest thrillers by Jonathan Nasaw, Jonathan Kellerman, Jeffery Deaver and Robert Goddard. In more mainstream fare, there's the already hotlinked piece on the late, lamented B.S. Johnson, Maya Jaggi's lengthy profile of Jeanette Winterson, the painstaking process of restoring William Blake to rightful glory, and Nicholas Clee goes gaga for Gerard Jones' GINNY GOOD, albeit with an acknowledgement that the book is "difficult to market."

The Observer is, quite simply, All About Robert McCrum. Not that I'm complaining in the slightest, as his recollection of 25 years in the book publishing world is funny, timely, and bloody well-written. Then there's his Top Ten books of all time, given in honor of the ongoing Hay Festival. Sure, it's a fairly traditional list, but hell, it's a good starting point. Also, Rachel Cooke looks at the B.S. Johnson biography and declares that as a "book about a man who cares about novels by a man who cares about novels, you should run out and buy it if you care too."

Over at the oh-so-lovely G&M, Margaret Cannon offers up a slightly sparser-than-usual crime column. Included in the roundup are new novels by Mary Higgins Clark, Nicci French, Jeffrey Miller, and Yasido Uchida, as well as an interesting compendium of female characters in crime fiction and film, HARDBOILED AND HIGH-HEELED, that Cannon really raves about. Meanwhile, Rebecca Caldwell interviews the judges of the Griffin Prize to figure out how the hell they can sift through so much poetry and judge who's the best; Martin Levin suffers from Bush Burnout, considering how many books on the current prez are being published on a daily (it seems) basis; and Morley Callaghan's complete stories, now collected all together for the first time, garner some nice notices.

The best of the rest:

Perhaps the Big Interview of the weekend is with Val McDermid, whose latest Tony Hill/Carol Jordan bestseller (hey, check the Sunday Times list in a couple of weeks and you'll see) THE TORMENT OF OTHERS is just out in the UK. The Sunday Herald profile looks at her hard-won success, how raising a child may (or may not) affect the graphic subject matter of many of her books, and the difficult breakup she had with her partner of 11 years.

Mark Billingham, who is about to embark on his longest (and strangest, according to his itinerary--Austin to NYC to Phoenix in 48 hours??) book tour yet, is interviewed by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about the usual things, mostly about his new-to-the-US Tom Thorne novel, LAZYBONES.

Randy Wayne White gets the Q&A treatment by one of his semi-local papers, the Southwest Florida News-Press.

Cosmo editor and mystery novelist Kate White, whose books I keep turning to when I want an instant dose of enjoyable brain candy, is interviewed in the Times-Dispatch.

David Montgomery rounds up some of the newest up-and-coming writers on the crime fiction scene, like P.J. Tracy, Ace Atkins, Denise Hamilton, Jonathon King and Chris Mooney.

Another day, another profile of Hari Kunzru. This one actually names his girlfriend. Aside from that, it's fairly boilerplate, methinks.

Oh, bloody hell--I'd totally forgotten that Helen Fielding's new book, OLIVIA JOULES AND THE OVERACTIVE IMAGINATION, is just about to be released in the US. To "celebrate" this momentous occasion, the Albuquerque Journal interviews Fielding on the change of pace. Meanwhile, I'll just sob quietly that more deserving authors can't get the same amount of press coverage.

Dan Pope (whose byline is curiously absent from the piece) details a far-too-common affliction for debut novelists--the curse of the second novel.

And anyone who reads this blog long enough knows that the book industry is a tough nut to crack--but the Bradenton Herald decides to take a whack at that old chestnut by talking to a few people about how it's oh so hard to make it.

Looking for mysteries in any city, any town? Carole Barrowman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel lists a dizzying variety of books for your reading pleasure, whether you're looking to read about Manhattan, LA, or Peoria. OK, I made the last one up, because as far as I know, there are no mysteries set in that town...but if I'm wrong, well...?

Orhan Pamuk's SNOW is getting reviewed in a lot of places, but the one at Scotland on Sunday seems to sum things up quite nicely, deeming the new work a "stirring read."

I'm not exactly sure why Dorman Shindler needs to slag off the thriller genre as a whole in his review of Lee Child's THE ENEMY, but I suppose it's just too much work to leave a primarily positive review as is instead of justifying it somehow.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer gets on the RULE OF FOUR bandwagon, and call for the inevitable--a sequel. Ah, but don't you know such a thing will either a) be a while or b) never see the light of day if you reference that earlier "curse of the second novel" article?

Self-help books....for kids? That does seem to be the new trend, according to Eva Gzowska of the Independent. Bloody hell, what's next, self-help primers for pets? Oh, wait....

And finally, Emily Maguire, I love you. Thank you for writing this, really.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Dormancy 

Your humble correspondent, for lack of a better term, is feeling rather blah this morning. Of course, failing a driving test for the third time in a row with only one more chance before the license gets revoked will often cause such feelings to emerge. So, because the only thoughts that seem to turn over in her brain seem to start with "Why?" and end with "WHY?" she's taking the rest of the day off.

And for the forseeable future, too; all the other cool kids have two-day weekends, but since I do like to post those Massive Weekend Updates on Sundays, the only day left to be silent was Friday. And so it shall be.

See you Sunday.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Yardley goes mental 

I've loved Jonathan Yardley's reviews for quite some time, but his latest offers up a whole host of cheap shots, er, biting gems. Taking on Rachel Pastan's THIS SIDE OF MARRIED, she--nor her background--doesn't exactly emerge unscathed:
"Rachel Pastan received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her short stories have been published in Mademoiselle, Threepenny Review and Arts and Letters. She has received the Arts and Letters Fiction Prize, the PEN Syndicated Fiction award and fellowships from the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Delaware Arts Council. In addition, Ms. Pastan has taught writing at Edgewood College, the Writers' Place in Madison, Wisconsin, and Swarthmore College."

All that for this? All those hours in class, critiquing and being critiqued; all those piddling prizes; all those teaching sinecures -- all that forced marching through literary apprenticeship as it's now defined in this country to produce a novel that has approximately as much heft as an episode of "Friends" or "Sex and the City"? Is that what they're teaching in the writing schools and lavishing awards upon -- Sitcom 101?

So you get the drift. He doesn't like it. Then there's the closing paragraph:
The whole enterprise, which means to be light, even frothy, never rises above the labored. If this is what the writing schools are handing out MFAs for these days -- and there's plenty of evidence elsewhere to suggest it is -- then the keys to the joint should just be turned over to "As the World Turns."

Now, now. ATWT isn't exactly the soap to slag, seeing as it's one of the better ones on the air right now (GH? Another story. DAYS OF OUR LIVES? Way too over the top. Etc., etc.,) with some degree of writing talent. For all I know, some of them might even have MFAs. But it does make me wonder who got the clever idea to match Yardley up with what essentially amounts to a chick-lit novel. Shouldn't anyone have twigged this wouldn't exactly be his cuppa?

Smatterings 

Oh, those Minots (as in MINE-it, not the French pronunciation.) So many siblings, so many writers all trying to tell the same tortured family history in a different way. Not surprisingly, they fight a lot. Current round: eldest brother George, whose new novel tells the same family incident but may or may not tarnish the rep of second oldest brother Simon. My head hurt after reading this.

You know, part of me wants to find some trace snarky element in this, but I can't--I think it's great that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar loves history and seems to write it pretty well, too. And he wants to emulate Paul Robeson, who was quite the guy (and a favorite singer of mine.) What's not to love?

Timothy Harris's two Kyd novels were held up as prime examples of how PI fiction was moving forward in the 1970s, updating the Hammett/Chandler vision. Then Harris stopped writing books--until now. With a third Kyd book in stores now, after a 25 year layoff, Tom Nolan catches up with the writer in this interview for January Magazine.

Roger Straus, the longtime founder of the high-falutin' pubishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux, has died at the age of 87.

It looks like an arrest is imminent in the case of literary agent Rod Hall, who was stabbed to death over the weekend. A man in his 20s--no other details available--is being questioned.

Noel "Razor" Smith was once a hardened criminal. Now he's writing about his former life, and speaks to the Guardian about the transition from robber to writer.

Louise Rennison's books have made a huge impact in the United States--especially for its slang. The Guardian looks into the effect of "Britishisms" creeping their way into the way American teens talk. The next trend: when this particular patois goes global....

Blah blah blah Bill Clinton memoir blah blah June 22 blah blah blah. Actually what strikes me is that it's a year, almost to the DAY, that some other juggernaut was published. Is there something about the first day of summer that screams blockbuster? Hell if I know...

And finally, oh, if only I had a serious amount of money, then I could buy some of this. Seeing as he is one of my all-time favorite painters....

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Helen DeWitt found safe 

Thankfully, the missing novelist has turned up in Niagara Falls, where she's been known to haunt previously:
Missing novelist Helen DeWitt turned up Wednesday in Niagara Falls, N.Y., after vanishing from her Staten Island home, police said.

Dewitt, who had been described as suicidal, was found in good condition, New York police said. She was to be taken to a hospital for evaluation.

Niagara Falls Police Department officers had been asked by New York City police to watch out for DeWitt, who wrote the critically acclaimed "The Last Samurai," Niagara Lt. Joe Morrison said.

"She had a history here," said Morrison, who had no details about how she was found.

Wonderful news, and here's hoping she can get the rest and help she needs.

Shouts and Murmurs 

To Maud: What Lizzie said. I'd rather a happy, healthy, not-so-prolific writer and regular person than a harried, stressed out, beholden-to-your-audience blogger.

To Terry: Get well soonest.

Beyond the Truth/Stranger/Fiction continuum 

This is the story of Ernest Di Falco, who just wanted to rob a bank but managed to get every detail wrong:
Di Falco, who is unemployed, entered the bank, approached a teller and displayed the phony gun, authorities said.

"This is a holdup," he announced. "Fill up the bag."

Once the bag was full, Di Falco amazingly asked the teller for a ride to his car, saying it was parked down the street.

The teller refused and called a cab.

Di Falco waited — with the bag of stolen cash, said FBI agent John Turkington.

"He waits patiently for the cab to arrive," he said. "People are coming and going."

As a disguise, Di Falco was wearing a long brown wig, sunglasses and a business suit. But a bank employee recognized him immediately.

When the cab arrived, another employee took down the license plate and gave it to cops, who broadcast it on the state police emergency network.

I swear, they should have training courses on this sort of thing. Rule one: don't call a freakin' cab!

When it rains, it pours 

This is probably getting boring, but anyway, my latest review. I was very impressed and promptly bought up Norman Green's backlist. Considering who I read and what I read, I'm just as surprised I didn't read him before now. But now I will.

A smorgasbord of interviews 

Yankee Pot Roast, who manage to up the humor quotient on a regular basis, continue their "Interviews with Interviewers" series with blog favorite Robert Birnbaum, whose style I someday hope to emulate. Previous installments have cast the Q&A lens on Claire Zulkey and the Black Table's A.J. Daulerio. (link from TMFTML.)

For some reason, I cannot find the Globe and Mail's lengthy interview with Hari Kunzru that ran in the print edition; but the Sunday Telegraph has its own, with Helen Brown trying to overcompensate for some unfortunate choices:
His new novel, Transmission, about a young Indian computer programmer's attempts to succeed in America, also centres on characters whose dreams and identities are subsumed by cultural surfaces. It is ironic, then, that lifestyle gurus from Channel 4's The Gay Team advised a reporter from The Telegraph to place Kunzru's books on his coffee table to help create a more convincing "metrosexual'' identity.

"I thought that was very, very funny," chuckles Kunzru, when I meet him for lunch at his publisher's whitewashed private club beneath the Strand. "I'm an urban lifestyle accessory!"

Thankfully, Helen Brown, the Telegraph's interviewer, does move on to talk about more weighty matters like Kunzru's rejection of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize that stirred up controversy late last year.

Brown also interviewed Eoin Colfer of ARTEMIS BROWN fame for the same paper, and it's the usual sort of thing, explaining what attracts children to his work, although it seems Colfer is a bit out of touch with what the kiddies are actually watching:
Colfer's work elegantly subverts our traditional perception of the little people. You thought you knew what a leprechaun was, didn't you? Jigging green midgets in tights? Forget it. In the world of Artemis Fowl, LEPrecon stands for "Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance". Colfer's fairies are a hi-tech bunch, whose enviable gadgetry helps them to stay beneath the radar of us "Mud people". Colfer twists traditional Celtic mythology in order to reflect his native Ireland. There's an old theory that tales of tricksy fairy folk thrive among subjugated races, that stories can represent the way in which the indigenous people and culture are forced underground by their conquerors. Ireland's recent economic resurgence, based largely on the IT boom of the 1990s, is mirrored in Colfer's canny fairies, who have mastered technology far superior to that of the clumsy, polluting humans.

Children love it, perhaps because they're also like fairies, darting about beneath adult surveillance. They may have to abide by some inexplicable adult rules, but they're normally far more adept in the world of microchips and basic video-programming than their parents. "I'm very keen on not writing down to children," says Colfer. "They all use computers and watch Ally McBeal."

Ally McBeal? That was cancelled a zillion years ago, right? The kids I know are a hell of a lot more likely to be watching Chapelle's Show....

More ConnellyWatch(TM) 

I'm surprised the Washington Post took so long to review THE NARROWS, but maybe it took that much time to line up the reviewer in question, I don't know. Anyway, John Katzenbach (who has a new book out later this year, I believe) gets the job and seems to like it as much as practically everyone else does, although he makes a very good point:
"The Narrows" is very much a sequel, and in that respect it has a little trouble standing on its own. Connelly frequently refers to the events of the preceding book, and just as often relies on the reader's knowledge of "Blood Work" and the Eastwood film. It is perhaps unfair to judge a sequel by the same standards applied to a conventional novel. In all likelihood, readers familiar with these prior works would be frustrated by much explication, either of plot or of character, that they might consider repetitive. Consequently, there isn't much background -- "The Narrows" simply sails right off into its story. This makes it a tricky read for those coming to Connelly for the first time. They will discover that he has an attractive rapid-fire writing style and that he skillfully deliversthekey pieces of evidence that tie the strands of the story together. But his reliance on information from previous books means that appreciating this one is something of a challenge.

The thing is, how many people are really going to pick this book up as their first Michael Connelly? A few, I suppose, but if I were still working in a bookshop and a customer told me they'd never read Michael Connelly but had heard so much great stuff about him, I'd give the customer one of a) THE POET b) BLOOD WORK c) THE CONCRETE BLONDE (because that to me was a stronger book than THE BLACK ECHO, and was, incidentally, the first book of Connelly's I read.) I suppose one could read THE NARROWS and figure things out, but what fun is that? Especially with all the little inside jokes and meta-references, it helps to have read prior books.

Does it mean THE NARROWS isn't as strong a book because it doesn't "stand alone"? Hard to say, except perhaps the concept is somewhat overrated. It's bloody hard work to continue a series, let alone ensure that each work can be viewed as a separate entity. And sometimes, it might just be a better idea to work on resolving threads, creating new ones, and write the book that's supposed to be written, and not worry so much about whether a potential new fan is going to be annoyed because the book doesn't explain previous events very well.

So you want some links, well here they are 

And I must, absolutely must start off with the stabbing death of literary agent Rod Hall, who represented a whole host of people via his eponymous agency. The police have no leads as of yet.

And yet more bad news, alas: Helen DeWitt, the author of THE LAST SAMURAI, was reported missing yesterday by the landlord of her Staten Island home. She was last seen in the Saint George section. Thoughts and prayers are with her family and loved ones.

Now, to some less weighty matters: as Publishers Lunch reported yesterday, Random House seems to love reorganizing, so they're doing it again. Jonathan Karp (who edits the likes of David Liss and Claire Berlinski) gets promoted to editor-in-chief of the Random House imprint, while Nancy Miller moves up to editorial director.

The New York Times profiles Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, the two authors responsible for what may turn out to be this year's THE DA VINCI CODE (but better written, I hope, and so others tell me),THE RULE OF FOUR.

What on earth is going on at the Walrus, Canada's allegedly leading literary magazine? A second editor has quit the mag after only 4 months on the job. Hello, stability?

Anneli Rufus rounds up the latest news with Bay Area authors like Leonard Chang, Dylan Shaffer, and Nichelle Tramble, whose long awaited second installment in the Maceo Redfield series, THE LAST KING, is out next month.

Jim Knipfel offers his summer reading list, but not surprisingly, it's kind of geared towards the morose and depressing. I, too, cringe at the Pattersons and the Clancys and the Grisham, but dude, can't you compromise a little bit?

Deryn Rees-Jones, who has written a "murder mystery poem" that's getting some play in Northern England, is interviewed by the Liverpool Echo.

Rick Kleffel snags Tom Perrotta for an hour and interviews him about LITTLE CHILDREN, what's really going on in the suburbs, and oh yeah, those goldfish....

It can't be a trend yet, but first Irvine Welsh was seen boxing in San Francisco, and now women's fiction writer Santa Montefiore has taken up the cause of pugilism. I guess the repetitive aspect is good for staying on course as a writer...?

And finally, Spike Milligan manages to have the last laugh after all after death--but only for those who understand Irish Gaelic....

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Lehmann to New York Mag? 

If what Gawker says is true, then Chris Lehmann, deputy editor of Book World, will jump ship to become a features editor at New York Magazine. No word on when this job change would happen, though it's expected to be fairly shortly. My mind's whirring at this bit of news but if I can calm myself a little bit I'll focus on the following points:

A. Lehmann was one of the strongest reviewers, a proponent of good literature and a very sharp critic. His voice would certainly be missed, and Book World will have a huge hole to fill--never mind that there will have to be someone to take over Lehmann's weekly review column on Tuesdays.

B. He's also known rather good-naturedly as "Mr. Wonkette," aka the husband of celebrity political blogger Ana Marie Cox. No word on whether Lehmann's new job will require him to move back to New York (where he and Cox were based before he took the Book World job) but if so, will Cox go with him?

C. And if Cox does move back to the city, what does the future hold for Wonkette? Can she sustain the blog if she has to operate it from outside of Washington? Will the sensibility change if she does so? Or will someone else fill the role? (Our pick for the hypothetical "Wonkette II" would have to be this young lady.)

Suffice it to say that enquiring minds want to know and the story is, well, DEVELOPING...

UPDATE, 10:45 AM EDT: In a nutshell, Lehmann is moving to New York to start at the magazine fairly shortly, and Cox, as she states this morning in light of Page Six's item, "[won't be] noving to NY; Mr. Wonkette is going to commute."

Slaking the noir craving 

Hardluck Stories has updated with its spring edition, guest edited by Charlie Stella. It's a killer issue, and I'd say this even if I weren't in it. I'll let Charlie introduce the story:
Remember all those big mouths used to talk trash and could never walk the walk? A quiet woman with a lifelong desire (some might call it a dark one—but not me) has no reason (not anymore) not to fulfill all her wishes and prove the old adage about which ones to watch out for.

I wrote the first draft of "Keely Sings the Blues" in a near-gulp a few months ago after the first line popped into my head. You get a line like that, you have to figure out what happens next. The story is also, in its own way, the most personal I've published to date.

But that's my contribution. As for the rest of the issue, there's Duane Swierczynski's must-read gonzo interview of Ken Bruen, stories from some of my favorite new writers like Trev Maviano, Stephen D. Rogers, and Patrick Lambe (along with Charlie Stella's prequel to his novel JIMMY BENCH-PRESS), and much more. Like I said, this issue kicks serious ass.

Blog that Name 

It's no surprise whatsoever that yesterday's "Talk of the Town" article on ICM agent Kate Lee has produced an inevitable backlash, seen most visibly here and here. The gist of the griping is that somehow there's this "clique" of bloggers that namecheck and reference each other so much that people can't join in and are thus shut out and unloved.

Hmm, does this sound at all familiar?

Considering the right hand side of my blogroll, my words should be taken with many grains of salt. Besides, as I've said before, voice wins out, both in getting noticed and finding colleagues, drinking buddies, and close friends. And frankly, I'm far more interested in what could be a more serious question: what does this all mean for Kate Lee?

From what I gather, agents take on authors and projects they believe will sell, but their choices are varied. More and more of them are making their client lists available, so one can guage what kind of work each is particular to. Darley Anderson, for example, is best known for selling thrillers by UK authors like Lee Child, Martina Cole, and John Connolly. His two newest finds are Sheila Quigley, whose work is in the vein of Cole, and Alex Barclay, who appears to be a female Connolly. But Anderson doesn't only take thriller writers; however, those have proven to be the authors who yield him the kind of advances he's near-legendary for obtaining, and if an author submits work that can potentially sell in the way those other writers can, he'll take him or her on.

Other agents' tastes aren't necessarily so cut and dry; like any reader or editor, if he or she likes a work and believes in it, such work will be taken under the agent's wing. But playing the game of "like gravitates towards like" may not necessarily work. Matching an author to an agent is, at best, a crapshoot--one hopes for a perfect match, but that's difficult to come by.

In any case, though taste is arbitrary and there can be similarities in the kinds of authors an agent signs up, I've never seen the kind of "branding" that Kate Lee seems to be starting. And I worry that by signing up so many bloggers (although it's important to point out that of those bloggers listed, the vast majority haven't even completed their magnum opuses, let alone obtained book deals for them) they will all be viewed as a collective, and that each work cannot be judged individually, and potential editors will react accordingly.

Lindsay Robertson, in a comment left at the Gothamist thread, said as follows: "My point is that Kate is not capitalizing on a fly-by-night trend as much as she's using the internet as a gigantic slush pile. So these books that may or may not come out will (hopefully at least) not have anything to do with blogging! Nothing. Not even a url mention in the author bio. Mine certainly wouldn't."

That's all well and good, and in my estimation, the right tack to take--but should Robertson land a deal, will it be as the author of a book, or as a blogger? How would such a deal be reported in Publisher's Lunch? What would the marketing plans be for such a book? Because her blog is so personality-driven, the personality and voice--not necessarily the finished product--is what will likely come to mind when they hear the book deal pitch, and will affect the decision accordingly.

The rules may not necessarily apply to others namechecked, especially those that have had numerous print and online bylines (like Claire Zulkey or Old Hag) or have published short fiction and are known for their fiction writing in some form or another (like Maud.) But considering how much bloggers pride themselves on individuality and iconoclasm, being lumped together under the auspices of a single agent may well prove a hindrance, not a boon.

Having said that, I think it's a good thing that Lee's "branching out" by signing up other up-and-coming writers who are not bloggers. If she can sell their work, it may well erase any idea in people's minds that she's just the "Blogger Agent" instead of someone who happens to cater to her own tastes and whims--and then turn around and ensure that such tastes find a home with a publishing house.

Will Wonders Never Cease 

Deadly Pleasures reports that finally, amazingly, Rennie Airth's THE BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE will actually be published--and this year, at that. As reported by Ralph Spurrier, the owner of the mail order-only bookshop Postmortem Books, the book will be out on November 5 from Macmillan.

So why is this news? Because as George Easter (editor of DP) points out, Airth's new book has been delayed a whole host of times since news of its arrival was first announced, oh, back in about 2001 or so. THE BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE is the sequel to 1999's RIVER OF DARKNESS, a psychological thriller set in the aftermath of WWI that actually managed to make a real point about the nature of serial killing in a time when such creatures were far rarer, alas. Reviewers and fans--myself included--went gaga over the book, and it was nominated for a slew of awards, and even won a couple. But what of the sequel? Delay. Then another, and another. It got to the point where I coined a phrase in its honor to describe the series of postponements a book's publication date can undergo. (The current titleholder of Rennie Airth Syndrome is Robert Crais's THE FORGOTTEN MAN, but that was another post at another time.)

Anyway, the number of delays meant that after a time, folks pretty much gave up hope there'd ever be a book. Airth has published three novels previously: besides '99's RIVER OF DARKNESS, he wrote SNATCH, a caper novel published in 1969, and ONCE A SPY, published in 1981. In other words, he's a rather slow writer, so perhaps it was a little foolish of his publisher to expect he'd deliver the book so soon after the publication of an earlier one. But in the end, they won, and the book will actually see release--or so Macmillan's leading us to believe. For all we know, there will be disappointment once again.

As I said in my piece about Crais last month, I really wonder when the negative buzz surrounding a multitude of delays affects book sales when--or if--the book sees the light of day. What's an "optimal" wait time, and how much can, or should, fans stay patient? It's just another wrinkle in the biz that makes everyone nervous, for good reason--because any kind of negativity, even a mere flicker, can be lethal for a writer's future career.

Never mind that in Airth's case, the level of sustained hype is such that it will likely create some seriously unrealistic expectations (see Dunning, John for an example of how hype and reality don't always mesh, even though THE BOOKMAN'S PROMISE did hit the NYT list.) Will it deliver? Only time will tell, of course.

Assuming there is such a book ready in November....

Links for your Tuesday 

No doubt some folks will pounce eagerly upon this news and expound at length, but I'm just going to report that Gregory Rabassa, who's translated a whole host of literary giants, is now writing his own book about--what else?--the vagaries of translating books. Sounds like it'll be a must-read.

Maud's latest "Making Book" interview is with blog favorite Jonathan Ames, who divulges a wealth of information about what really goes on in writer's colonies--some writing, but much more drinking. As a veteran of three Bouchercons, all I have to say is--well, duh...

Meanwhile, Julian Rathbone is interviewed at the Times' business section about the nitty-gritty and economics of writing. I wish more writers would go public with this sort of thing. (link from Ed.)

Crap. The Bookseller is going subscriber-only, which means that there's one source I rely on a regular basis that is essentially wiped out.

Robert B. Parker's new book, DOUBLE PLAY, gets the review treatment at USA TODAY. They like it, but find it a bit too frothy considering the subject matter--Jackie Robinson in 1947--could have had a deeper treatment. Me, I just got annoyed because Putnam did that whole wide margin/increased font business. Can we stop this madness already? If the book's only 60,000 words, then treat it as such, not like a 100,000 word novel....

Thriller writer John Weisman, whose new conspiracy novel JACK IN THE BOX was reviewed in yesterday's Washington Post, is interviewed in the Winchester Star.

Speaking of the WaPo, Chris Lehmann advises those who might have thought that Paul Cody would be a good novel to read if you're a fan of Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME to "move along. Nothing to see here." Ouch.

Oh good god, it's a new trend starting--books compressed into text message language. The first victim, er, candidate is Homer's THE ILIAD. I have to wonder how FINNEGANS WAKE would do after being translated--I suspect it would be more comprehensible....

And finally, ConnellyWatch takes a slightly bizarre turn as he's the latest crime writer to be interviewed at Bankrate.com. Find out all about the menial jobs he's held, the advance he got for THE BLACK ECHO (higher than I'd realized), and his addiction to buying computers:
I feel guilty all the time about what I spend money on, but on the work side, I go through computers very quickly because I am just fascinated by technology. If I see a computer that has something new that mine can't accomplish, I just get it without any real thought. I have these really big shelves that I built in my garage for my old computers because I also don't want to get rid of them. I upgrade computers at least once a year. I think it helps spur me on to start a new book with a new computer.

As someone who's been the beneficiary of new gadgets and computer upgrades through the years (thanks, dad) I just have to ask: isn't it easier just to upgrade parts instead of entire computers?

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