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Saturday, March 27, 2004

If you need more reasons to read this book... 

then I refer you to Bookmunch's review of David Peace's GB84:

Two things. First of all: shirkers, part-time readers, those ill-equipped to read a book that demands your fullest commitment, those people who, like, read for fun, or for escapism - GB84 is not for you. Fans of David Peace, even - those people who made their way through the Red Riding Quartet in its entirety (that's 1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983 for the unitiated) - well, even you guys better prepare yourself.

GB84 does not tolerate fools gladly.

GB84 takes no prisoners. This is the second thing, really. I want you to imagine the reading equivalent of a sledgehammer, pounding you again and again (and again and again) for the course of 465 pages. A sledgehammer capable of educating you as to the savagery of the mundane. GB84 is no easy ride.


This book is coming with me during my travels tomorrow (yup, another short-haul trip on the horizon, means less blogging blah blah blah) but I wonder if I'll actually tackle it at that point. Reading Peace's works to date is always an emotionally draining experience and I need time (in the form of popcorn books) to recover. But dammit, that's what I love about him.

The roundup, earlier than usual 

I'm a bit confused--I thought Marilyn Stasio had a roundup last week, but nope, my mind's just playing tricks on me and she's back this week with her take on all things mystery. Gaining her approval are new releases by Henning Mankell, Ace Atkins, UK author Bill James, and Jonathon King.

Meanwhile, Book World has gone gonzo with crime fiction this week--and this when Maureen Corrigan's column makes a return appearance. She goes gaga for Andrew Taylor's version of a 19th century novel, AN UNPARDONABLE CRIME, and makes similar approving noises about books by Karin Fossum, Rebecca Pawel, and John Dunning. And then, there's the new Spenser book, which Corrigan admits to being "addicted" to. Honestly, the space might have been better spent on something else--do we honestly need another review that mopes about how Parker ain't what he used to be? The books will sell regardless of what critics say. (All this to say that you're not going to catch me reviewing a Spenser novel anytime. The Jackie Robinson book, OTOH, is a different story....)

In full length reviews at the WaPo, James Buchan finds David Liss's A SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION to be somewhat flawed, although Liss does get the spirit of 18th Century London very well. Louis Bayard enjoys Leslie Silbert's THE INTELLIGENCER and its tale of secrets, codebreaking and lies, although the prose is only "serviceable." And finally, Michael Griffith shines a spotlight on Robert Girardi's THE WRONG DOYLE, the latest release from upstart small press Justin, Charles & Co., who have partnered with Kate's Mystery Books to bring out some fresh new novels that the big publishers wouldn't otherwise touch.

Meet Michael Robotham--the bestselling writer you've never heard of. Such is the catchphrase his UK publisher is using to promote his debut novel, THE SUSPECT, because prior to writing fiction, Robotham was making a pretty penny as a celebrity ghostwriter. He talks to the Sydney Morning Herald about his careers, old and new, and the long road to success and recognition under his own name. Michael, meet Michael Gruber....

The Guardian leads off with Gordon Burn's detailed analysis of the whole McSweeney's/Believer thing. Yes, I suppose they are a literary "coterie" but I can't be the only one who wishes they'd all just start sleeping with each other, get into catfights, wear glamorous outfits, throw each other into pools...oh wait, that's Dynasty. And it's not the 1980s anymore. Hell, it's not even the Algonquin Round Table. So my suggestion for those Believer folks? Less snark, more sex.

Among the reviews at the Review: Christopher Fowler's ninth (!) collection of horror short stories, an impressive new novel from Irishman Glen Patterson, a name I will have to note as I am a big fan of Irish fiction, a look at Yvonne Coetta, Grahame Greene's lover 32 years and the subject of a new memoir, and more information on why Craig Unger's HOUSE OF BUSH, HOUSE OF SAUD was pulled at the last minute by its UK publisher.

Nicci Gerrard and Sean French are husband and wife and collaborators. Their seventh psychological thriller under their joint pseudonym of Nicci French is out, and Rachel Cooke of the Observer is quite enthralled with this latest effort.

Gabor Mate revisits the burning question of how much, if any, influence Wagner's Ring Cycle had on J.R.R. Tolkien, while also discussing a couple of other books that might have contributed to the conception of the Lord of the Rings--Beowulf and Joseph Campbell's HERO OF A THOUSAND FACES.

Martin Levin asks people to look past the whole Naomi Wolf business and remember why Harold Bloom is important--as a literary critic and theorist with unsurpassed influence. But Martin, we love dishing the dirt! And litcrit's just too boring to cut it, you know....

Tom Nolan, Ross MacDonald's biographer, is a very good choice to review the new collection of stories by Cornel Woolrich. To say he's impressed might well be an understatement.

Elmore Leonard has entered the children's book fray with A COYOTE IN THE HOUSE--but how does his voice work for the kiddie set? Ryan Harmanci of the SF Chronicle investigates and obtains a mixed result.

Another review of A SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION appears in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, where Jim Rowen struggles with the 18th century setting and language to find a shiny diamond of a story underneath.

Helen Walsh's debut novel BRASS is being published by Canongate this week, and it's kicking up a fuss because the heroine, Millie, is young and does a lot of sex and drugs and stuff. She talks to the Scotsman about the alleged furor. I, for one, wonder exactly why people are plotzing about this--isn't this what teens do, or think about doing anyway?

John Gielgud's letters are now collected and available in a spiffy edition edited by Richard Mangan. Quite simply, I have to read this.

And finally, place your bets on who will be World Book Capital in, erm, 2007. Oxford wants it bad, but they're up against stiff competition in the form of Paris. Next year, Montreal gets the honors. Let the games begin....

Friday, March 26, 2004

Music of the Absurd 

My friend N sent me this link a few days ago, but now that the sturm und drang in my life has died down a little bit, it seemed like a good idea to indulge in one of my favorite activities: listening to stupid kitsch recordings. Meet Wing, a Japanese woman living in New Zealand who thinks she has a wonderful voice. My "favorite" recording? The snippet of her rendition of Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love". You have been warned....

Reopening Old Wounds 

I've discussed here on the blog before that perhaps the one unsolved case that I think about the most is that of the BTK Strangler, who killed several people in Wichita in the 1970s. He had last been heard from in 1979, when he sent a letter to law enforcement with details only the killer could know and taunting them to catch him. After that, nothing, although there were rumors that he had killed others in the interim.

Now, BTK is back, having sent two letters to the Wichita Eagle on March 17 with details on the 1986 murder of Vicki Wegerle. Evidently, the letter included a photocopy of Wegerle's driver's license and crime scene photos. Police are "100% sure" it's authentic. And like everyone else in the Wichita area, I have to ask--why now? Why break two decades of silence?

If I had to guess, I wonder if it might have anything to do with rumors that had circulated on the Crime and Justice Bulletin board that BTK was going to be unmasked as someone who has been deceased for nearly a decade, and it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that the killer might have been aware of the discussion--especially considering his previous penchant for following any and all media coverage about him when the frenzy was at a high several decades ago.

I hope they catch him, and I hope he doesn't strike again. But we'll see if either of those best-case scenarios actually play out.

The Friday morning update 

Robert Birnbaum focuses his interviewing eye this time on Laurie Lynn Drummond, as they talk about what cops really do vs. the TV show versions, publishing vagaries, how she feels about literary vs. genre, and favorite authors. This interview rocks, and is yet another reason why you all should run out and get Drummond's story collection ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU.

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist has been announced, and editor Boyd Tonkin has the scoop on the nominees, who include Elke Schmitter, Juan Marse, Ricardo Piglia, Mahi Binebine, Luther Blissett, and Javier Cercas. No doubt certain folks have more to say about this today.

Carolyn See reviews two books by Zakes Mda, who writes about the contrast of old world and new in South Africa. See is most impressed with what she finds.

Did Rudyard Kipling's THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING have a real-life basis? So says a new book by Ben Macintyre, who fingers Josiah Harlan as the inspiration for Kipling's short story.

David Daniel is interviewed by his local paper, the Westford Eagle, about his Alex Rasmussen mysteries, the latest of which is GOOFY FOOT.

Tim Lott talks about his love for music, and how it led to an out-of-control record addiction that he had to curttail. Hmm, any correlation to how bookaholics feel (like the fact that my TBR pile is so high I can barely see past it?) Nah....

Joyce Krieg, the Agatha-nominated author of MURDER OFF MIKE, is interviewed by her local paper, the Sacramento Bee. Though her book (with a sequel to follow this July) has racked up some impressive awards, she's still keeping the day job as a part-time clerk.

Stewart Coape of the Sydney Morning Herald is gobsmacked by the quality of authors included in Orion's Nine New Blood Campaign in his mammoth review of the all of the books.

I seem to have missed out on the book coverage by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lately, so to catch up: Book Editor Bob Hoover interviews David Liss about his new book, A SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION (which was also reviewed in the Sunday paper last week). Hoover also reviewed Leslie Silbert's THE INTELLIGENCER and thought the historical stuff was better done than the contemporary aspects of the novel.

Another UK bookshop is about to close: Helter Skelter, which specialized in music books and other related wares, will close its doors as a retailer, although they will still keep the mail-order business running from an office on Vauxhall Street.

As the Festival of Words in Colorado approaches, the Vail Daily News is featuring an interview each Friday with an author attendee. Today, their subject is Gregory Maguire, author of WICKED, which is now a smash Broadway musical.

And finally, Elvis a Scot? Well, not exactly, but according to an unpublished manuscript, his ancestors allegedly hail from a small Scottish town near Aberdeen, leading camera crews to flock there to talk to people about it. Hell, I suppose it's about as likely as him being Jewish....

Thursday, March 25, 2004

My very own Maslin Watch 

(To wallow in crappy feeling, or to blog snarkily? The answer, dear readers, is somewhat obvious. Though I promise, full strength tomorrow.)

Oh, dear lord. Just looking at the list of books La Maslin mentions in this edition of her "popular books" column makes my eyes pop out and flip over and out in the Tex Avery style, except without the hot guys (hey, I'm transplanting here) in the vicinity. Gack. I mean, Bergdorf Blondes? The new Susan Elizabeth Phillips? James freakin' Patterson who hasn't written any of his books in eons? Stop it. Just stop the madness. It makes me ill.

But instead of ranting and raving about her choices for "review" (since the column basically amounts to a book-related name-dropping fest), here's my plan: the next column will show up in six weeks' time. Let's all come up with suggestions for books that will be current at that point in time (i.e. release dates in late April/early May) that are a) popular, or at least somewhat and b) actually worth reading. Oh, and it can't be stuff that Maslin already likes, as we need to broaden her horizons considerably. Crime fiction suggestions are, of course, most welcome, but other unjustly neglected poplit books will do.

I'll start off with suggestions #1 and #2: Donald Westlake's THIEVES DOZEN (which is in stores now) and THE ROAD TO RUIN. Add yours in the comment box.

Please adjust your RSS feeds 

If the tone of the blog has seemed, well, somewhat off of late, it's due much in part to the similar state of your humble proprietor. Put in euphemistic terms, dealing with familial and more personal issues, while also choosing this particular point in time to make a boneheaded mistake like hitting the back wall as she backed into a parking spot, thus ensuring that another driving test is in her immediate future, makes for a less than happy state of mind.

However, uncertainty has turned to resolution--of some sort, anyway--and good things are on the horizon. And for now, a date with a pint of Haagen-Dazs in front of the television watching a stupid comedy or another seems like a very good idea. More tomorrow.

Carole Epstein dies 

I saw this on Jiro's site and was really shocked to hear that the Montreal-based mystery author had died of cancer earlier this week. I met her at Bouchercon last fall and she was a swell woman. My condolences to her family in this difficult time.

Early update 

Donald Goines led, shall we say, an unorthodox life for an author--as a former pimp, drug dealer, and ex-con, he still pumped out 16 pulp novels in the 1970s before his murder at the age of 36 in 1974. Now there's a resurgence of interest in his work thanks to a new movie (NEVER DIE ALONE) and prison literacy programs. Lola Ogunnaike looks at Goines' life and work in the New York Times.

I haven't been linking much to Janet Maslin's reviews of late (not when Ron has his Maslin Watch going, after all) but this one, of David Freeman's new Hollywood novel, piqued my interest because of Roger Simon's positive comments about the book and the author. According to Maslin, it's a "real novel parked as a Hollywood one," which is fancy talk for saying it's very good.

Oh boy, this oughta be fun--the BBC is running a short story contest encouraging members of the public to write the second half of stories started by folks like Ian Rankin, Shaun Hutson, Alexi Sayle, Ed McBain, and Sue Townsend. Carole Blake (of the Blake Friedmann literary agency) is one of the judges of the competition, whose winners will be announced on 18th April.

Linked everywhere on the 'sphere but still worth reading: Publishers love, LOVE Amazon reviewers and want to shower free books on them in the hopes of more positive reviews. Hmm, I wonder why I never liked reviewing for Amazon. Probably because I'm lazy, or because I like actually having real reviewing credentials. But that's just me.

Where he had the time in his busy schedule, no one knows, but the Pope's 200 page memoir will be available pretty much in every major language Catholics speak by mid-May.

Even as Craig Unger's HOUSE OF BUSH, HOUSE OF SAUD gets critical acclaim in the US, it's looking for a new publisher in the UK, as Random House has cancelled its contract due to "legal reasons." Agent Elizabeth Sheinkman, who now is the head of the London Office of the Elaine Markson Literary Agency, is looking to place Unger's book elsewhere.

Looking for biography and Eastern European fiction in translation? Then Chanadon, a publisher that's launching its first three titles this summer, is the publisher for you.

Tony Harrison, a celebrated poet who famously rejected laureate honors, has won the Northern Rock Literary Prize, worth 60 000 pounds over 3 years, making it the richest such prize in Britain.

The Scotsman profiles Edwin Morgan, the country first poet laureate, as he contemplates writing poetry about the disease that may end up taking his life: cancer.

And even more poet laureate news, because now that George Bowering is defecting his position in the fall, Canada's looking for a new one. Enquire within.

Slate has published "The Explainer" in order to clarify things that people routinely scratch their heads about. Here's mine: why does the front cover rip off the design of "The Believer"? Is it homage, parody, or what?

And finally, it looks like Elizabeth von Hullessem, the con artist who has at least 16 aliases and is well known for impersonating a literary agent to scam people out of money, will have her day in court to determine whether she's guilty of running over her mother. This case was weird months ago, when Publisher's Lunch was all over it, and I daresay it will only get weirder....

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

After this, no more quizzes 

Which Completely Random Person Are You?

sandra
You are Sandra Gibbs!!


Which Completely Random Person Are You!!
brought to you by Quizilla

Granted, there aren't that many people to choose from...but still.

Vitriol is an understatement 

The World Figure Skating Championships are happening this week in Dortmund, Germany. A few years ago, I'd have paid attention in a rather Pavlovian fashion, clicking "refresh" every six seconds on the ISU site for instant scores. Now, well, I'm not so into skating like I once was (though once you learn to differentiate between triple jumps, it never goes away.) But I had to shake my head at the spectacular flameout of Canada's hope, Emanuel Sandhu. O, how we have suffered with this boy, who in one moment shows flashes of brilliance (Dr. Sandhu) and then goes and behaves like at train wreck in the next (Emanuel Hyde.) After winning his qualifying group, he bombed the short program yesterday, popping and falling on jumps all over the place.

Not surprisingly, the Canadian media is not really happy about this, and the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno really goes off on Sandhu's disastrous performance:

Hello again. Loser.

We really thought you'd gone away these last 14 months, the gutless Emanuel Sandhu, replaced by someone else, an altered persona, a new you, a gutsy competitor who didn't shy and shrivel in the crunch.

But here you are once more, the Emanuel we all know and ...

Yes, we know this Sandhu intimately. Perhaps, after last night's catastrophe at the world figure skating championships, the enigmatic 23-year-old even knows something immutable about himself ? that he is not made of the right stuff, that he will never stand on the gold medal podium at any worlds or Olympics, that he lacks the fortitude of a champion.


Yowza. Be interesting to see if he pulls out a great long program tomorrow, but what the hell, skating fans and Sandhu fans will be back on the gravy train next year, though they'll likely get their hearts broken all over again.

Pulp.Net 

I've just been made aware of a fairly new online fiction magazine, PULP.NET, which is London based. They take 3 short stories per month and pay 100 pounds per story they select. There's also a number of reviews published, top 10 lists, and a list of events and competitions aspiring writers can enter. Good stuff.

Eurotrash 1, NYT 0 

No doubt you are all hopelessly aware of what fans we are of the delightfully psychotic Eurotrash. Now she's taking aim at Amanda Hesser, the New York Times' not-so-venerable food critic:

There is sometimes a dreadfully earnest, ponderous style to the New York intelligentsia. You see it in the writing and you hear it when they discuss worthy matters in a worthy tone. As the conversation shifts to the philospohical paradigm de jour, so do their voices. New York writers do not discuss. They declaim at each other, they intone, like Roman senators addressing the forum. Then their voices go back to normal when they pop out to buy a sandwich.

Like a book review in the New Yorker, this restaurant review made me want to burn something. I disliked Amanda Hesser by the second sentence when she used the phrase "olfactory amuse-bouche". By the end of the piece I wanted to grab her and make her wear clothes from Old Navy and eat Big Macs for the rest of her life.


We can't wait to hear ET's take on the Book Review someday.

More of the news you can use 

Sleep in a little late, and so what if I feel slightly behind? There's something to be said for a bit of extra sleep after all. But I digress, and so it goes:

Let's start with Howell Raines, the former executive editor of the NY Times who went down in flames after the Blair Affair. Now he's preparing his memoirs, which will appear shortly in the Atlantic Monthly. Tom Scocca, who seems to have taken over for Sridhar Pappu without anyone telling us, has the story.

Lies and the Lying Liars who report them: guess who's back in the journalism saddle? Why, none other than noted plagiarist Mike Barnicle, who got in trouble a whole host of times in the mid-90s. He's now a metro columnist with the Boston Herald, only a stone's throw away from where he perpetrated his plagiaristic behavior at the Globe.

The IMPAC shortlist has been announced, and there's even a Canadian on the list--Rohinton Mistry, who makes it for his novel FAMILY MATTERS.

Why did Bloomsbury UK do so well profit-wise last year? Come on, do I really have to tell you? Two little words: Harry Potter.

Kevin O'Kelly at the Boston Globe is extremely excited about the availability of Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer series in the US with the recently published DON'T LOOK BACK. This Norwegian author has been getting huge buzz since the novels were made available in English in the UK, and I'm glad to see the US following suit.

William Kent Kreuger, the author of BLOOD HOLLOW and four other crime novels, is interviewed at Mystery Ink. He's been compared to Steve Hamilton in writing style and choice of locale, but thinks if their protagonists ever teamed up, Cork O'Connor would kick Alex McKnight's ass (though I think this is kind of a no-brainer statement, really, and I love McKnight and Hamilton's books....)

Choice offerings from the Sunday Telegraph finally show up on the site, delayed as usual. Included is Toby Clements likening George Pelecanos' HARD REVOLUTION to....Dickens? I kid you not.

Mark Sanderson is obsessed, positively obsessed, with I Love Books and their project to summarize classic novels in 25 words or less. It's really rather amusing. (last item.)

In rebutting the whole Belle de Jour identity madness of late, Lillian Pizzichini brings up the idea that hey--just because a prostitute brings up literature in her blog, doesn't mean she's fake. After all, what to make of Carla Raay, the Australian nun-turned-hooker who's written a book called "God's Call Girl"? (second item.)

If you're a Victorian literature nut, this top 10 list provided by Philip Davis should be of definite interest. Not your usual candidates, to be sure...

30--the new midlife crisis? That's the thesis behind Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin's new book, claiming that 30somethings are "too busy for the Sex in the City Life." Okay, except that they obviously have deficient math skills since people are living longer. Maybe this would have been a better phrase in, oh, Victorian times?

Most people haven't likely heard of Dinah Lee Kung, but she's on the longlist for the 2004 Orange Prize. The San Jose Cruz Sentinel interviews her about this accomplishment and her career as a whole.

What else is there to say about the New York Times' review of Daphne de Marneffe's book other than this: take it away, Jessa.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Harrogate Lineup 

Been meaning to write about this for a while, but the events calendar for the 2nd annual Harrogate Crime Writing Festival is now up, and frankly, I've been drooling about it ever since I saw it. Won't be able to attend this year, but based on the current lineup and last year's inaugural fest, I think Harrogate is well on its way to being the premier crime fiction event in the UK. (For my thoughts on last year's event, see my report on the Deadly Pleasures website.)

This year's festival will be held from July 22-25 at the Majestic Hotel, which is a lovely and spacious place--especially the bar. The Guests of Honor are Minette Walters (who recently co-chaired a Crime Writing Masterclass with Mark Billingham during the London Book Fair), and Karin Slaughter, who will be interviewed on the 2nd night by Laura Lippman. Also coming over from across the pond are Dan Fesperman (whose upcoming book, the Afghanistan-set THE WARLORD'S SON, I just received in the mail today), and G.M. Ford, who's really one of the more underrated thriller writers going these days (though his profile is increasing steadily with each book thanks to his the efforts of his publisher, William Morrow).

I could go on about some of my other favorite writers who will be in attendance: Billingham, Stella Duffy, Martyn Waites, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh, John Baker, Richard Burke, and especially John Williams, who's one of the most influential players in the UK noir scene. But what really has me excited (aka sorry that I can't go) is the Crime in Translation lineup. There's Karin Alvtegen from Sweden, who wrote a marvellous piece of suspense called MISSING, and Petros Markaris from Greece, who is already building up some buzz with the translation of his crime series. Carlo Lucarelli, author of the Gold Dagger-nominated ALMOST BLUE, will be there as well, hawking the next in the Inspector Negro series, and interestingly, there will be an author from Iceland as well, Amaldur Indridason. All except Altvegen are published by Harvill Press (now Harvill Secker) and it just goes to show that they really do have quality authors from foreign countries.

So if you're in the North Yorkshire area and a crime fiction fan, Harrogate is truly the place to be.

Syndication 

According to my referral logs, someone has created a syndication site through livejournal to get blog updates via RSS. To the person who did that--thanks. I'm kind of a dunce when it comes to the tech-y stuff (otherwise, I'd have graduated from blogspot a zillion years ago) so it's much appreciated. And yes, I promise I'll move to a more user-friendly site, someday....

The morning's news 

Two years ago, a couple of aspiring writers founded a unique literary magazine, One Story, which publishes just that each issue. A single story, which pays the contributor $100 and 15 copies. The New York Times profiles this fledgling magazine.

Robert Birnbaum's new interview at Identity Theory is with Nathaniel Bellows, and it's most enjoyable as they discuss his writerly origins, his thoughts on the publishing world, and book reviewing.

Linton Weeks looks at what is still a hot-seller and hot button in the world of publishing: anything Clinton. Hillary's memoir did gangbuster business, and it looks like hubby Bill--whenever he gets his book done--will have similarly gargantuan sales.

Also at the Post is Chris Lehmann's review of a new book by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig about copyright and the way that it's being zealously protected by corporations.

And because, like a dork, I forgot to include the link, Patrick Anderson's review of Tom Cook's PERIL and Peter Craig's HOT PLASTIC can be found here. Also, Craig's PBO is included in the Oregonian's roundup of new releases. Craig was also interviewed last week in the Daily Iowan, as he was a graduate of the University of Iowa's writing program.

Manuel Ramos, the author of one of my favorite crime novels, MOONY'S ROAD TO HELL, has four earlier titles that are being reissued by Northwestern University Press. The first two are reviewed very favorably in the Philly Inquirer by Marietta Dunn.

Uh oh--another drum-beating for self-publishing, this time from Laura Vanderkam at USA TODAY. Yes, there are success stories but they are few and far between. And it still won't mean that the bookstores will stock the book or that distributors will carry it.

Speaking of university presses, Northeastern University has decided to scuttle its publishing arm, citing lack of revenue and high operation costs. Naturally, those at the university are shocked about the press's demise.

If you're a member of the Kipling society, you are in for a treat--the next issue will be out on April 7 with a newly discovered 6,000 word short story by the man who brought us KIM and Gunga Din.

On March 30, a charity auction benefiting the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture will feature the opportunity to get your name in a book by one of 30 authors, including Sue Townsend, Philip Pullman, and Tracy Chevalier. Having seen one of these auctions at work, prepare to fork over some serious dough to be "Tuckerized"....

The Independent on Sunday examined the plight of the short story, looking at initiatives such as the Save Our Short Story Campaign which is doing its best to increase awareness and bring more funding to the table.

Ed is extremely impressed with Andrew Greer's THE CONFESSION OF MAX TIVOLI, as shown in his review for January Magazine this morning.

And finally, what does a smile say about you and your personality? A new book by Angus Trumble attempts to uncover the mystery of the smile and how people can sort out differences between genuine and fake ones. And smirkers, beware....

Monday, March 22, 2004

Confessions of a mid-list author 

"Jane Austen Doe", writing for Salon (so you have to get through that extremely annoying day pass to read it) has an interesting, if rather depressing, article about the vagaries of the publishing world. Although the way she presents her story seems somewhat scattershot, the realities are all too true--sometimes that debut advance can be too high, because if you don't earn out, there goes your career and your expectations for future books. Editors can love your work but if they get no support from their bosses, they won't take you on. Then if you get a small advance, there's no promotion or publicity to accompany it.

A sad story? Definitely. But tragic? Should we really feel sorry for her? That, I am still not sure. Publishing is like any pecking order--some are wildly successful, many are simply not. Of course, it hurts if you're in that latter category, but unfortunately, someone--lots of people, really--have to fill that spot.

I've long been fascinated on what I call the "disappeared authors." They have been published, but all their books are out-of-print or they've stopped writing for various reasons, mostly because they can no longer get a publishing contract anymore. Why does this happen? And more importantly, why shouldn't this happen? There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of folks who have obtained a publishing contract. Does this guarantee the right to a long and thriving career? Should it? Is it better to get a spectacular advance at the beginning and flame out two books later, or to be in penury for a few books and build up, or even just to have published at all? Hard questions, but ultimately, articles like "Jane Austen Doe's" are illuminating because the more a would-be writer knows about the business he or she is getting into, the better off he or she is.

No question the publishing world is a tough business, but I'm not sure it can be any other way. The details can be different, but not everyone who wants to be published can be. Or should. Or should be in perpetuity.

(link first seen at Cup of Chicha)

UPDATE: John Scalzi offers his "Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice". This one's my favorite:

5. You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, You Know.

I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn't be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said "Looking For Sex." Go
home, why don't you. Just go.

Admittedly if everyone followed my advice the entire economy of Park Slope would implode. But look, do you want to write, or do you want to get laid? No, don't answer that. Anyway, if you really want to impress the hot whomevers, you'll bring your bound galleys to the coffeeshop to edit. That'll make the laptop tappers look like pathetic chumps. We're talking hot libidinous mammal sex for days.


I dunno John, some people, I think they want to write and get laid....

And a good morning to you 

Another day, another blog update. And for some reason, even though the first day of spring was 2 days ago, it's bloody cold outside with snow on the ground. What the hell? Just another sore point of living in the frozen north, unfortunately. So, here are this morning's links:

Patrick Anderson looks at two new releases in his weekly column: he finds that Thomas Cook's PERIL is more style than substance, an instance of "a veteran treading water." he's very impressed with Peter Craig's HOT PLASTIC. I wholeheartedly agree; I read the galley of Craig's book last summer and thought it a wonderful exploration of familial relationships in the guise of a con artist novel. Great writing, and some serious depth. This is one paperback original that has hardcover aspirations.

Poor Tanya Gold. Such sacrifices she has to make! The Guardian asked her to seclude herself with a host of celebrity biographies, and she has complied although the results are somewhat frightening....

If you're selling sexed-up books, why not have covers to match? The Evening Standard reports on Vintage's new "Blue" line of 12 classics that will be repackaged with racy covers.

Queer Eye for the Straight Book? OK, a cheesy moniker, but Rebecca Caldwell looks at the growing trend of gay and lesbian romances for her home paper, the Globe and Mail. I'd also like to add that the literary world coverage has gotten more eclectic--in a good way--since Caldwell showed up. Keep it up.

Rosemary Goring at the Glasgow Herald takes a further look at the diversity issues in the publishing world and how many folks got their jobs through connections with others.

J.K. Rowling, overrated? Well, that's what Forbes thinks, as the financial magazine nominates her to be one of the 10 most overrated celebrities.

Two of my fellow crime fiction reviewers at January Magazine have made the jump to full-length reviewing: Yvette Banek glows about Laurie King's THE GAME, and Jennifer Jordan favorably compares William Kent Kreuger's BLOOD HOLLOW to the work of Ross MacDonald.

Another rave is in for Joe Lansdale's SUNSET AND SAWDUST, this time from the Denver Post, which also looks favorably upon Andrew Taylor's richly dense historical, AN UNPARDONABLE CRIME/THE AMERICAN BOY.

And finally, yeah I know I promised no more Belle de Jour posts, but this exchange on Booktrade.info is delightfully snarky and features comments left by Mil Millington, whose influence engineered Belle's book deal, and Helen Garnos-Williams, her new editor at Wiedenfeld & Nicholson.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

With a little help from my friends 

It's always gratifying when people you know and like, and whose work you like, have their hard work and effort pay off. For those that actually pay attention to the comments section, you know that I have a regular harem...er, staple of regulars who chip in with their responses to whatever it is I've posted at that particular point. And their fortunes are getting better and better. It started with Jim Winter, whose debut novel, NORTHCOAST SHAKEDOWN, will be available in November from Quiet Storm Press, and already the recipient of some very nice blurbs from Steve Hamilton, G. Miki Hayden, and Kevin Wignall (whose next book, FOR THE DOGS, is out in July which I'm very much looking forward to.) Now Ray Banks has inked a deal with Point Blank Press for the upcoming publication of his first book, THE BIG BLIND, later this year. I'm really excited about both bits of news and if hardboiled and noir fiction is your sort of thing, I daresay these guys (and Dave White, who's still toiling on his manuscript) will have healthy careers for many years to come.

Belle de Jeu 

For those keeping score:

-Sarah Champion issues a denial and talks about the whole fracas in the Observer;

-San Francisco-based Andrew Orlowski, an editor of the Register, a UK-based media website, is being put forward as a possible candidate;

-The Independent picks Michel Faber (!!) as a likely suspect;

-The Manchester Evening News gets the local angle on Sarah Champion, interviewing her mother, her friends, and so on and so forth;
-and Rowan Pelling discusses meeting Belle a couple of months ago in the Independent on Sunday.

If all this link-gathering seems rather by rote, well, it's because it is. Because it's really getting rather ridiculous, all these people clamoring to get the scoop on who she really is, when for crying out loud, the book won't even be out for another 10 months. How about waiting for a while until, oh, the galleys are made available to the press, then getting an "exclusive interview" revealing Belle's identity which will later turn out to be a carefully orchestrated plot by her agent and publisher to play the puppetmaster as they dangle their spicy (and evidently, good looking) carrot in front of a host of drooling journalistes?

Let me be the first one to say that when (I suppose I could say if, but really, it's only a matter of time) Belle's identity is revealed, it will be incredibly anti-climactic and will lead people to shake their heads and wonder, "so what was the fuss all about all those months ago?" Although this business is only interesting to me for one reason and one reason only: would anyone have cared about the identity of a blogger a year ago? Even Salam Pax didn't get this much press. Of course, he isn't turning tricks for a high price in Iraq, only doing some pesky sociopolitical writing. I guess it does show that blogging, as a form, is now paid attention to and has some currency in the literary and media world. So even out of the murkiness and tawdriness that's going on now, there's a silver lining to be had, which is that blogs in general will continue to be taken seriously.

OTOH, all this looniness surrounding Belle makes me somewhat glad that this man doesn't have a book deal yet. At least, not as far as I know. Because who needs all that trouble?

And even more update 

George Pelecanos continues to be covered extensively in the news. ">He's interviewed by the Houston Chronicle about all the usual stuff that reporters are supposed to ask authors when they show up in town, and Robin Vidimos of the Denver Post follows suit with another glowing review.

David Montgomery reviews David Liss's A SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION for the Boston Globe. He's rather dazzled by the sequel to Liss's Edgar award winning A CONSPIRACY OF PAPER. Also at the Globe is James Sallis' profile of Joe R. Lansdale and his eclectic career, which continues with his new book SUNSET AND SAWDUST.

Speaking of Liss, he's interviewed in today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about the new book and about how his own Jewish heritage informed the writing of his novels, along with his history background.

Simon Winchester is interviewed in the SF Chronicle about his fascination with earthquakes. He's in San Francisco to teach and to research the 1906 earthquake--no doubt for a book that will be published commemorating the quake's centenary in a couple years' time. Also at the chronicle is a lukewarm review of Ali Smith's newly released short story collection THE WHOLE STORY AND OTHER STORIES (which has been out in the UK for well over a year), another rave for Sarah Dunant's THE BIRTH OF VENUS, and Christine Thomas isn't exactly fawning over Landsdale's latest, saying "it fails to engender sympathy for any character, let alone an impetus to consider their experience, flaws or the late-starting mystery the plot eventually perches upon." Ouch.

John Orr rounds up some new crime fiction releases for the San Jose Mercury, but more interestingly, reveals that Martin Cruz Smith is writing another Arkady Renko novel at the moment, which will take him back to Moscow and deal with the Chernobyl disaster in some way. Hmm.

Romance writer Melanie Craft is better known for being the wife of high-tech mogul Larry Ellison. The Chronicle follows her for an entire day, looking at her writing patterns, ordinary things and oh yeah, being Mrs. Larry Ellison. Can't forget that.

Henry Kisor rounds up what's ahead for "Baseball Lit"--and believe me, there are plenty of offerings on that list.

And finally, publishers are realizing that some books have broad based and crossover appeal. That's why Harcourt is reissuing Yann Martel's THE LIFE OF PI in a trendy children's book format--and making it six dollars cheaper. Judy Stoffman looks at this new trend for the Canadian Press.

My Big Fat Weekend Update 

Forgive the haziness and general malaise that seems to have afflicted the blog in the last few days. Alas, it was an extension of what your hostess was feeling--but some time away from the computer, extra social interaction and much-needed sleep seems to have done the trick as a restorative tonic.

Let's start with the Paper of Record, because they have finally seen the light and anointed George Pelecanos as an author of serious literature--how else to explain the thoughtful review that appears this week? Though usually, I get annoyed if a book is reviewed both in the daily paper and the Book Review, this time I'm happy that someone other than Maslin can get their own viewpoint out there. Also of note is Jennifer Gonerman's LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE, detailing how the convict life is becoming all too commonplace in many communities, something that fascinates Brent Staples.

Margaret Cannon's crime column leads off the Globe and Mail coverage, which is positively bursting at the seams with arts and books coverage this week. In brief: Cannon is happy to have Cliff Janeway back, is similarly positive about offerings by Jenny Siler, Thomas Hettche, Pierre Magnan, and Joe Lansdale, is extremely impressed with Scott Phillips' COTTONWOOD, but isn't nearly as much with John Connolly's BAD MEN, which contrary to popular belief, happens to be a Western. OK, so there's all that supernatural stuff and loads of gory violent deaths but really, look at the structure. (Yeah, I'm having trouble convincing folks about this, but I keep trying...)

Peter Robinson is interviewed in the national paper as well, although to be honest, Sarah Hampson doesn't really add much new insight that couldn't be gleaned anywhere else. Though, I suppose, it's great to see him meriting attention all over. And it is. His Canadian tour is underway and he'll be signing books here in Ottawa on Tuesday and in Toronto on Wednesday with George Pelecanos.

The G&M also features Nancy Kilpatrick's disappointment with Kelley Armstrong's DIME STORE MAGIC, T.F. Rigelhof's assertion that Michael Posner's new biography of Mordecai Richler is "a very good book indeed" (and one I must get my hands on at some point), Ingrid Peritz's wrapup of the recent symposium at McGill University that focused on Richler's work and his place in academia, Simon Houpt following around Irshad Manji as she tours the US with her new book that's critical of the tendencies of fundamentalist Islam thinking, Lisa Gabriele likening Natalee Caple to Juli Zeh, and Lionel Shriver's take on Katherine Newman's RAMPAGE, a thoughtful examination of the psychology of school shootings (a book, I suspect, would be of much interest to this author.)

The other major Canadian paper I actually care about, the Toronto Star, leads off with a look at Joy Goodwin's THE SECOND MARK, an in-depth look at the 2002 Olympics and the pairs figure skating judging scandal which ended up awarding a second gold medal to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. Garth Woosley is impressed with Goodwin's level of detail and research here, saying that it offers up everything that would have otherwise "been swept under the rug." (this one's for you, A.)

Otherwise, Jack Batten's crime column craps all over the new Grisham and Reed Arvin, and Jean Charbonneau is enthralled by Trezza Azzopardi's REMEMBER ME.

The Washington Post isn't quite as chock-a-block with good stuff this week but there's still plenty of it, like a review of Lisa Jardine's biography of 17th century scientist Robert Hooke, Jennifer Howard (blogeur extraordinaire) on David Markson's VANISHING POINT, David Cooper's examination of a new book that details how the birth of the blues may have been more commercially driven than once thought, and Michael Dirda's delight with Jasper Fforde's newest novel, THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS.

Over at the Guardian, Richard Eyre ponders what, exactly, is Britishness, Jeet Heer is charmed by John Updike's early ambition to be a cartoonist like those he idolized and badgered (in letter format) for signed copies of their work, Michel Faber's puzzlement over Andrey Kurkov's PENGUIN LOST, a sequel to a charming book translated from Russian, Chris Petit gives a thumbs-up to Boris Starling's Russian-based thriller VODKA, Nicholas Clee does his usual Bookseller-y roundup, which includes the catty competition for the right to publish Alex Barclay's debut thriller, and Lauren Henderson (who seems to have a weekly column going or something) ponders the merging of straight and gay culture, as best personified by New Paltz mayor Jason West.

Then there's the Observer, where the pickings are somewhat slimmer. Harriet Lane finds Joan Didion's memoir WHERE I WAS FROM to be somewhat lacking, and Stephanie Merritt guesting in Robert McCrum's "World of Books" column, where she discusses whether the Lit Idol competition was fraught with more voting irregularities than Florida in the 2000 election.

Having dispatched of the major book reviews, let's turn to some isolated goodies:

Trevor Ferguson is a pre-eminent literary writer in Canada, living in Montreal. But a few years ago, his books did amazingly well, and made him some mint. Why? A new name, a thriller structure, and Ferguson was now John Farrow and a huge success. It raised some eyebrows, but now he's melding his two personae for his next book, THE EARTH IN ITS DEVOTION.

Unlike Michel Faber in the Guardian, David Smith in the Scotland on Sunday is rather impressed with Andrey Kurkov's PENGUIN LOST.

Joanna Smith Rakoff is mightily impressed with Stephanie Cowell's MARRYING MOZART, a comedic novel that imagines what young Mozart was like as he meets all four of the Weber sisters--of course, which one he ends up with is well-known, but the fun is getting to that point.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer gets to Ian Rankin's A QUESTION OF BLOOD long after everyone else, but it goes with the consensus opinion and gives the book a rave review.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel focuses their attention on Joe R. Landsdale's new "mainstream" crime novel, SUNSET AND SAWDUST. It looks to be another winner from the man who won the Edgar a few years back, and deservedly so, for THE BOTTOMS, which wonderfully evoked the goings-on in a small Texas town with a shadowy menace that lurked not too far from the surface. It's one of my favorite crime books and so I'm looking forward to Lansdale's latest with much enthusiasm.

Kimberly Hartnett of the Oregonian wonders why Philip Margolin took the serial-killer route in his latest novel, SLEEPING BEAUTY, which evidently doesn't seem to transcend the now-cliched plot device.

And finally, the New York Review of Books talks masturbation. Quite the juxtaposition, and frankly, I'm still not sure what to make of it....

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