Saturday, January 24, 2004

Gone Fishin' 

Blogging will be scarce in these parts for the next few days, as I'll be on the road once again. I may check in occasionally but won't resume my regular clip till next weekend. Check in with the links to the right for your usual hit of literary-mindedness.


So after all this mucky-muck with the New York Times Book Review, it's obvious which place I'll link from first. So here goes:

La Stasio is back this week and doles out reviews as follows: rave for Jodi Compton's THE 37TH HOUR (which has garned much positive praise that I, for one, agree with--expect to see this novel on some shortlists next year), finds Jonathan Gash's new Lovejoy novel a lot of fun, enjoys the new installment in Kathleen Hills' historical series, is especially impressed with Elizabeth Stromme's book published by City Lights Press, and has a great time with Donald Westlake's reissued novel GOD SAVE THE MARK (which I, too, thought was hilarious and special.) My god, 5 positive reviews? What is this world coming to?

Well, even if Marilyn's being excessively cheery this week, have no fear: there's always Laura Miller for head-scratching wackiness. This time she feigns puzzlement over the idea that Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe might really be gay characters. Frankly, I think she may have drunk too much coffee and read this piece a few too many times...

Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, reviews Irshad Manji's "The Trouble With Islam," and is mightily impressed with her spirit and passionate arguments. It garnered a tremendous amount of controversy in Canada, where the first edition was published last fall, and will no doubt do the same in the US as well.

In Margaret Cannon's crime column for the Globe and Mail, she is especially high on Natsuo Kirino's thriller OUT, Donald Westlake's GOD SAVE THE MARK, the new McBain, Dean Koontz, Eleanor Taylor Bland, and Simon Hawke's series starring Shakespeare as sleuth.

At the same paper, Martin Levin struggles to understand the wild popularity of the LEFT BEHIND books and their mutant spawn.

Now, the WaPo: Jonathan Yardley remembers Book Row, seven blocks crammed with antiquarian bookshops of every shape and form in the 1960s version of New York. Now there's a new book out about it, which Yardley sums up as follows: "They know books and bookselling, they have vigorous opinions, and they can't write."

Shelby Coffey reviews a couple of books on the journalism of old. I'm excited about James McGrath Morris's book on the dawn of Yellow journalism, if only because I'd argued years ago in a high school essay that newspaper coverage in the 1920s, as well as society as a whole, really mirrored contemporary culture (then, it was the mid 1990s.)

Yay! Katy Munger's occasional crime column is in this week's Book World. Those worthy of her scrutiny include Jim Kelly, Harley Jane Kozak, GH Ephron, and PT Deutermann.

Michael Dirda looks at Keith Coplin's CROFTON'S FIRE, a novel over 40 years in the making. Though he finds it wanting, it's only in relation to what readers are expecting these days: fabulous blockbusters. Instead, this is a quieter, less flamboyant book. I know several people who have rhapsodized about the book and I'm expecting my copy to arrive any day now, so I shall have to weigh in on some point about it.

The Guardian Review is quite chock full of morsels this week but I'll focus on Carrie O'Grady's review of Stella Duffy's new novel, STATE OF HAPPINESS. Frankly, I've been a huge fan of Duffy's books--most especially her novels of social satire. In SINGLING OUT THE COUPLES, Duffy uses the fairy princess archetype and twists it to near-sadistic proportions, for this princess's heartfelt desire is to break up happy couples in ingenious ways. It's a savage look at relationships and what it takes to keep people together and tear them apart. Then there was EATING CAKE, about a suburban woman ostensibly happy in her IKEA life trappings--except she's not. So she goes out of her way to destroy the idyllic setup by having an affair with her best friend's husband and then another woman. Then in IMMACULATE CONCEIT (recently turned into a rollicking play that ran in London last summer), a lapdancer is told that she's about to give birth to the Messiah. Can such a responsibility be thrust upon a non-believer in a modern age? I admit, this one's my favorite because it messes with religion and catechism but is never less than honest about it. So in STATE OF HAPPINESS, Duffy is less satirical and more thoughtful as she tackles a more sombre subject: the effects of illness and impending death on relationships, and the strength to get through it all. O'Grady's not sure it works as a reading experience but suggests it was cathartic for Duffy to write. For that, one would have to ask Stella herself, but perhaps the proof is in the fact that her next two books are crime novels and promise a return to her more satirical, urban-noir self. I, for one, cannot wait.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Confirming suspicions 

Frankly, I haven't had much to say about the whole NYTBR thing and Bill Keller's comments to the Book Babes. Plenty of others have, and naturally I've read them, but I'm just not getting so excited. Why? Mostly because right now, it's all talk. A lot of what actually does transpire depends on who actually gets hired as Chip McGrath's replacement, and chances are, things won't deviate that much from what Publisher's Lunch reported earlier today:

If Keller thinks "we should be more skewed toward non-fiction" and there's not much "fiction [that] needs to be done," how skewed have they been up until now (and does Keller even know?).

For the last six months of 2003, out of approximately 350 full-length reviews run, 60 percent were nonfiction and 40 percent were fiction. The pattern was almost exactly the same if you look at the third and fourth quarters by themselves.

I noticed that Keller (and cultural editor Erlanger) didn?t address the newspaper?s curious habit of granting many books two reviews (one in the daily and one in TBR), but I figured a count there would be interesting, too. In the same six month period, we counted at least 64 books that merited double full-length reviews from the paper?and these in many cases are the "must review" authors Keller referred to, like Toni Morrison and Jonatham Lethem. Of that sub-group, it was almost evenly half fiction and half nonfiction.

So, as already suspected, the NYTBR slants fairly well towards non-fiction. So what will do to, go to a 70-30 split? 80-20? There's still a lot of fiction to review, no matter what Keller thinks, because really, every other week there's some ultra-hyped book that hits the market, be it the next in a bestseller's ouevre, a first novel, or a long-awaited book. Some succeed, others fail miserably.

I think, as Michael Cader points out, it would be in the NYTBR's best interest to cut down on the doubling-up of reviews. There's really no need for that unless the reviews are so disparate (let's say, Michiko loathes the book but someone writing in for the Review loves it. Or something like that) and it takes up room that could be better spent on additional books--fiction or non-fiction.

And then there's what seems to me to be the bottom line: that people jump up and react whenever the New York Times in any way, shape or form, says "boo." Does the Grey Lady have to be so important? Should we really care so damned much what they think? Well....don't look at me, I'll still read it, regardless of whether they add more fiction or cut it down. But I'll be reading lots and lots of other reviews and other opinions, too. It wouldn't hurt to knock the NYTBR down a peg or few in perceived importance, after all.

More crime writers on the bandwagon 

HBO's The Wire is a show I always mean to watch but well, I don't get HBO. Anyway, David Simon, who created the show, started going to crime fiction writers to add some punch. George Pelecanos is the story editor, and now news has broken that two more literary lions, Dennis Lehane and Richard Price, will be added to the writing staff for the show's third season. That's one fine lineup of writers, and the current staff, including Edward Burns and Rafael Alvarez, is already high on quality.

We missed you too 

Ana Marie Cox is back! Go watch her skewer the Washington politicos and generally be her usually sweet, sardonic self (no, that's not an oxymoron) at her new digs, where she has become: the Wonkette.

In brief 

Cecilia Ahern is 22 years old. Pretty, blonde, and oh yeah--the daughter of the Irish Prime Minister (or Tiaoseach) Bertie Ahern. Last year she made headlines with her six-figure deal for a chick-lit novel. Now, said novel is out--and she's ready for the oncoming backlash she'll likely face.

The Independent interviews Audrey Niffenegger, who seems to be everywhere and then some.

Walter Mosley took questions in the Washington Post a few days ago, and they now print his answers. (link from Mark.)

Instead of existing as kind of separate entities, five UK publishers are forming partnerships with libraries to significantly increase communication and foster a better relationship with them, i.e. having more author events in libraries. Sounds good to me.

DJ Taylor writes about his buried treasure: AE Coppard's 'Dusky Ruth and other stories'.

Carolyn See looks at Alice Flaherty's neuroscience-based approach to writer's block and applauds it, calling the book "the real thing."

Already in the swing of things is the Essex Book Festival. Perhaps you wouldn't think of that part of the UK as being particularly book-friendly but the lineup is quite strong: Val McDermid, Sarah Waters, George Monbiot, Jenni Murray, Mark Billingham, Martyn Waites, Adele Geras, Barbara Nadel, and many more are on the events list. Naturally, Martina Cole, Queen of Essex Writers, is among the starring attractions.

Edward P. Jones, the multi-nominated author of THE KNOWN WORLD, is interviewed by Robert Birnbaum.

And finally, Jiro Kimura reports on a slate of mystery nominations that will be awarded at next month's Left Coast Crime in Monterey. The nominees for the Lefty (humorous mystery) Otter (best mystery in a particular region, this year Monterey/Bay Area of California) and the Bruce Alexander Award (historical mystery) have garnered a lot of complaints for the shortlists and more importantly, for the paucity of said lists. In previous years there were 5 or 6 nominees per category--so what happened this year? I know of several people going to LCC who simply won't vote, which seems a shame, except that so too are the shortlists.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Getting Ettlingered 

As mentioned previously here, SJ Rozan has been keeping people abreast of the long, involved process necessary for getting a book--in her case, her standalone novel ABSENT FRIENDS, due out this fall--ready for publication. In response to a previous post on her "progress" blog, I had asked if Marion Ettlinger would be the photographer in question. Actually, the wording I used was "Will you be Ettlingered?" because of the photographer's distinct, almost hyper-real of presenting her subjects. She makes the authors she photographs look distinctive (although not always their best, but that's my own nitpick.)

Anyway, I guessed right, and SJ goes on to describe what a good time she had at the photo shoot:

Before you go for your appointment you send her the photos you've used previously, and the book she's photographing for. She actually reads your book to get a sense of who you are -- I've had publicists who haven't read my books! (Nor has my brother.) Then when you get there she's got a board set up with images on it -- photos, paintings, drawings -- of people who project the image she wants to give you. On my board she had Katherine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Eleanora Duse, Isadora Duncan, and Calamity Jane, among others. The Calamity Jane one made me wish I'd brought a gun.

. . .I spent 5 hours in her studio posing on a wide variety of furniture under natural light. I had such a good time! We nibbled on fruit and nuts, drank tea, talked and talked. She's very focused and I love to watch experts do what they do.

On that last phrase, I certainly agree--nothing beats watching professionals do what they do best, and doing it right. And I know I won't be the only one who can't wait to see the final photo that will grace the back jacket flap of ABSENT FRIENDS.

I am so reviewing this when it comes out 

Just announced at Publisher's Marketplace:

Forensic scientist Elizabeth Becka's first novel TRACE EVIDENCE, a thriller about a forensic scientist confronted with a series of horrific murders, involving young women drowned in a particularly gruesome manner in Cleveland's Cuyahoga River, to Peternelle van Arsdale at Hyperion, in a significant deal, at auction, by Elaine Koster (NA). David Grossman is handling UK rights and Chandler Crawford translation.

Local Boy Makes Out--Literally 

Oh this is just the silliest thing I have ever heard:

New York Giants quarterback Jesse Palmer will be throwing a different kind of pass soon - on TV's "The Bachelor."

The 25-year-old Palmer has signed on to become the star of the next edition of ABC's hit dating reality show, the newsmagazine "Extra" reported last night.

What the Daily News neglects to mention, since they don't care, is that Palmer was born and raised in Nepean, Ontario--yup, the place where I, too, was born and raised. I didn't know him, because he went to a Catholic school all the way through (I, on the other hand, am "Protestant" if you go by Quebec's old definition of the word.) Palmer played for the peewee football team as a little kid and then on St. Pius X's high school team. His father is a football coach and one of Palmer's brothers plays ball for some college team I cannot remember. Anyway, Jesse signed to QB for the Florida team, but barely got any action as Steve Spurrier kept him on the sidelines. A pattern set when he was drafted by the Giants and was soon relegated to regular bench duty since Kerry Collins never got hurt--until, of course, the last 3 weeks of the season.

God, the local papers are going to be all over this like a bunch of goofy parasites.

New Rap Sheet 

Finally, January Magazine's monthly Rap Sheet is up--after a bit of a delay. I've got three reviews in there of December '03 and January '04 releases: Charlie Stella's CHARLIE OPERA, Richard Burke's FROZEN (aka one of the Nine New Blood) and M.G. Kincaid's debut paperback original THE LAST VICTIM OF GLEN ROSS, which was the nicest surprise of the bunch. I freely admit to having lower expectations when reading a PBO (well, a mass-market PBO, but my trade paperback snobbery is a subject for another occasion) so when one is as well-paced and smartly written as this one is, I'm a happy camper. As I said in the review, Kincaid does owe a lot to Ian Rankin, but choosing him to emulate is by no means a bad thing, that's for sure.

Quick news 

How did a so-called "Difficult novel" become a huge seller and laden with awards? It's question people are asking about Mark Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (I book I particularly loved, btw) and the Independent attempts to get some answers.

DJ Taylor muses about being on the other side of the judging line: he's up for the overall Whitbread award, to be given out next week.

Jonathan Yardley reviews a book that argues that Americans are even more unscrupulous than ever, creating a "Cheating culture."

It's still pretty nasty when it comes to the rights for Winnie the Pooh. On one end: Disney and Claire Milne, AA's daughter. On the other are the Slesingers, who had obtained rights in the 1930s and are now suing Disney for their share of merchandising profits. The latest round went against Disney, but it's shaping up to be a battle royale.

So Penguin is famous for its Classics and Modern Classics program of books. Now they are putting it under one big umbrella and naming a publisher for the whole enterprise.

You have to like a review that calls David Denby a "bare-naked fool."

And finally, guess it's not fun to be Art Garfunkel this morning. His limo was pulled over? Sheesh.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Some jobs suck more than others 

Ray Banks used to work in a job centre (different spelling as he lives in Newcastle.) He spent far too much time trying to stop people from penning their life stories on their application for benefits. And, he says, the same thing happens in the Child Support Agency when people answer the question about "alleged father":

01. Regarding the identity of the father of my twins, child 'A' was fathered by Jim Munson. I am unsure as to the identity of the father of child 'B', but I believe that he was also conceived on the same night.

02. I am unsure as to the identity of the father of my child as I was being sick out of a window when taken unexpectedly from behind. I can provide you with a list of names of men that I think were at the party if this helps.

03. I do not know the name of the father of my little girl. She was conceived at a party at 3600 Grand Avenue where I had unprotected sex with a man I met that night. I do remember that the sex was so good that I fainted. If you do manage to track down the father can you send me his phone number? Thanks.

There's more, but I collapsed from laughter mid-way through reading #3.

Freelancers: Forecast Gloomy 

Rachel Donadio, who has quickly become one of the must-reads at the New York Observer, uses the lawsuit against freelancers who were paid by Lingua Franca magazine after they went bust as a springboard for commenting on the whole business of freelancing. Is it dead? Maybe not, but it's not looking so good:

If ever there was a moment of generational split, this winter of our discontent is it. One need only consider the contrast: The struggling freelancers for a now-defunct journal of ideas are handed court papers, while the professional intellectuals, the ones with coveted staff jobs and 401(k)?s, are using prime literary real estate to lament their middle-aged romantic failures. The old guard is unraveling, the new guard is being sued.

What, as they say, is to be done?if anything? "It should only concern you if you buy the idea that American intellectual culture resides on the Upper West Side," said Dennis Loy Johnson, who runs Mobylives.com and is the president of Melville House Publishing, a small independent press based in Hoboken. "It?s like the British royals," he said. "They?ve been inbreeding for so long that it?s starting to show."

But if up-and-coming writers can?t make a living publishing their ideas, what kind of effect does that have on New York intellectual life? "It has a disastrous effect," Mr. Denby said. "At the risk of sounding nostalgic, I think it really was healthier in the 50?s."

Although I feel a great urge to slap David Denby for a multitude of reasons, there's none better than this nostalgia trip. Healthier as compared to what? Because things aren't as "clubby" as they once were, that for whatever reason, everybody and their pet dog thinks they can be a writer and freelance? Maybe it's because I have no desire to play the game, but freelancing often seems to me like a vicious cycle: you spend all your time looking for ideas to pitch that you forget to actually have any of your own and develop outside interests, which leads to problems in finding ideas to pitch. The best writers, IMO, have done something else first or do something else until they reach a point where they don't have to anymore. Means that there are a variety of different perspectives--in theory, anyway--that may or may not refresh the whole freelance culture. It's kind of like what's been happening in medical schools. The shift's turned from accepting primarily those who were pre-med obsessives (down to cheating in elaborate ways so that they could get the edge GPA-wise) to those who have the same credentials but have different backgrounds, like liberal arts, history or even music. Med schools don't want doctors who are one-note. Nor do law schools. Why should publishing and writing?

The Wedding from Hell 

" BANKRUPT pornographer Al Goldstein somehow convinced 28-year-old beauty Ava Maharaz to marry him. It's the first time for Maharaz, the fifth for Goldstein. Portly porn star Ron Jeremy was best man."

I think I'd better go take another shower now.

Girls Kick Ass 

I was going to round up the Lunch Weekly deals, but screw it, Lizzie did a better job of it. I will say that I strongly suspect we're going to see more books like this one:

Julie Elizabeth Leto's MIGHTY APHRODITE and an untitled sequel, featuring Cuban-American Marisela Morales, a former bond enforcement agent who's lost her license to carry, but not her gun or her ability to kick-ass, to Amy Pierpont, to be featured in Pocket's new "Bad Girls of
Downtown Press" trade paperback program, in a very nice deal, by Helen Breitwieser at Cornerstone Literary (world).

I'd heard through the grapevine that an editor was looking for this kind of book, i.e. those along the lines of "Alias" or even the Modesty Blaise books. In this particular instance, it seems to be the anti-Stephanie Plum: she's a bail bondsman who can actually kinda do the job (or something approximating it.) But the only fear I have is that authors will use Helen Fielding's new book as a cue instead of those that would really work: like the aforementioned Modesty Blaise books. But if this is the new direction of Chick Lit, it could be interesting....

News of the early morning 

Note to self-do not eat ice cream before bed. It really makes for semi-paranoid dreams....

Now the news: First, booksellers and publishers of travel guides everywhere are rejoicing, as the scourge responsible for stealing tens of thousands of Lonely Planet guides was found guilty. It got to the point where bookstalls had to hide the Lonely Planet guides behind the counter, like cigarettes! Pretty wild....

Mark Sanderson's Telegraph column on the world of books opens with a discussion on HarperCollins' new paperback-only line, Perennial. It seems it's not as successful a venture as it should be; P.S., the back-page "extras" section, is comprised of "a frothy interview which would disgrace a magazine about soap operas - "On your own in the world with all the penalties that that [sic] might accrue to you as well as the benefits" is a typical sentence - a collection of favourable quotes from reviews and a list of further reading which omits publication details of the titles mentioned." That doesn't bode well...

With DJ Taylor's biography of Orwell racking up so much praise and so many awards, he picks the top 10 books for Orwell-lovers.

If there was a war waged in the bowels of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung was the big loser--a lot of his theories have been discarded and he's more famous for his memoirs. Deirdre Blair has written a biography of Jung, attempting to understand the man with an appalled state of fascination.

Are women's magazines in trouble in Canada? Based on the upheaval of late, one would think so, but the Globe and Mail begs to differ.

Although there are so many reviews of the book that I can no longer keep track, A.N. Wilson is most enthusiastic about John Le Carre's ABSOLUTE FRIENDS.

Edward Albee, in a profile for the National Post, talks about his remarkable career resurrection. Naturally, he blames the fallow years on being "a terrible drunk."

Bulgarian Author Yordan Rachikov, the author of twenty-five books published in his native country, has died at the age of 74.

Newsday reviews Colin Harrison's new novel THE HAVANA ROOM, highlighting his repeat usage of the woman as catalyst for the overall downfall of a rich, powerful man. In reading this profile, I hadn't realized Harrison's wife is the novelist Kathryn Harrison, who is more famously known for her memoir, THE KISS, detailing her incestuous relationship with her father. In an earlier profile with the Philly Inquirer, the memoir's impact is addressed:

"She wrote a very visible book," he says, carefully. "We knew it would pass. Our hope is to just keep writing, keep exploring."

And, to be fair, it has for the most part.

And finally, a late, but very positive review of Laura Lippman's EVERY SECRET THING from the Dallas-Fort Worth Telegram. Running it through the blurb-o-matic:

. . .the story doesn't end quite that neatly, and that's one of the pleasures of Laura Lippman's writing style. Every Secret Thing is described as a novel, not a mystery, and it's more novel-like in its deep characterizations than most mysteries. . . Every Secret Thing is a pleasure to read.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Dating a blogger: not such a good idea? 

Tod Goldberg, who just left a comment on the blog, is the author of two novels, FAKE LIAR CHEAT and LIVING DEAD GIRL. He's also a columnist for the Las Vegas Mercury and almost two years ago--long before Katha Pollitt rambled in the New Yorker about her addiction to cyberstalking her ex--related an anecdote about a friend of his. The usual thing: she met a guy who seemed nice and they hit it off. They went out a couple of times, and things were progressing nicely.

So naturally, she Googled him. And found his blog:

Friday, 2:15am

Library girl and I went out and had a great time. I was hoping she'd give me a hand job, but she didn't. I don't think she's a very good kisser, her tongue seemed really long to me. Not many women usually find me attractive so I'm kind of bummed about this tongue thing. I'd like to go to her house again and see if she'll give me a hand job. Sorry to be obsessing over hand jobs, but I just tried mushrooms for the first time...I'm 25 and just starting to take drugs! Yipee!

Friday, 4:27pm

Saw library girl at the library. We're going out tonight, though I'm gonna call her in about 10 minutes and suggest I just come over with a movie. I want to be a screenwriter and she wants to be a writer so maybe she'll find this really romantic and she'll give me a hand job.

Suffice it to say that things cooled considerably for Stacy. The moral? There's a reason to keep things strictly semi-professional on a blog. Or stay anonymous,however loosely it's defined.

Random stuff 

Seems that bloggers' birthdays congregate into clusters; last month there were a bunch of them, and now it seems that several of my favorites dawned in the Age of Aquarius, just like I did. So for those with upcoming birthdays, gifts--or at least the thought of them--are forthcoming.

The Cinetrix speculates on TMFTML's eerie similarity to the life story of one Mark Hunter, aka the character in Pump Up the Volume played by the guy that every seventh-grade girl around me drooled over. I can't really recall my own reaction. Granted, I was a clueless neophyte a year younger than the rest of my classmates, but it was bloody hard to escape that movie. What was it about it that endeared it to people of my generation? Was it the fact for equal opportunity slobbering? Was it the indefineable something that Samantha Mathis once had but lost? All I know is, if the trajectory follows, Our Boy in New York will soon start talking in a faux-Nicholson accent and start trashing hotel rooms and getting into altercations with his significant other involving broken beer bottles and arrests. And we wouldn't wish that upon him in the slightest.

OGIC presents a quote from Otto Penzler about his disdain for cozies, especially cat mysteries:

"Many of these books feature cats or recipes. If they have both, I want to burn that book unless the recipe features a cat."

Can't say I much blame him, since I have little tolerance for such books myself. Sadly, I haven't been able to see the article in question (I'll pull it up on Lexis-Nexis later when I have the chance) but based on my time as a bookseller, did I ever see the phenomenon in evidence. People love these books. Why? They are, I suppose, a comfort read, something to enjoy like a yummy piece of chocolate cake or some other kind of junk food. It's just not for me.

Of course, when it comes to Otto, he has a bit of an allergy to paperbacks in general. Or so I've been told.

The journey to publication 

So the blogosphere en masse is linking to Andy Kessler's article about his path from self publication to big five success, saying that "in the age of digital page layout and Web marketing, you can do it yourself," he concludes. "Quick to market will eventually change the big guys." Laila touches upon my biggest beef with Kessler's reasoning, but I'll go further: sorry, Andy, the world, and certainly the publishing industry, can't move as fast as you'd like it to.

It ties in with my earlier rant today about getting the right people for the right job. Sure, you can dash something off quickly, slap a cover on, print it with the best quality paper and self-publish, making it available at Amazon. But then what? Will regular bookstores stock it? Will distributors? If folks like Baker & Taylor or Ingram won't carry the book, forget about wider distribution. Forget about walking into your local bookstore and finding said book, because it won't be there. Publishers have to start within their own company, making sure that sales reps, publicists, cover artists, designers, editors, assistants work together and find a slot where, ideally, the book will most benefit from and will find its widest audience. And Kessler also had the following to benefit from: sending out "copies to friends and old contacts at newspapers, business magazines and TV, like CNBC." So once again, the contacts game was in his favor. Not everyone has such a network in place, though. So then what?

And one thing else to consider is that publishing lines only publish a finite number of books. They don't want to flood the market and start over-competing with other books. So why the "delay" in publication? Beacuse that's the only slot the book can get and get the maximum attention. Should it change? Sure, but I don't see it happening now, and I certainly don't see it happening eventually.

Forgive me, for I have sinned 

An Israeli rabbi has invented a prayer to help Jews overcome the guilt of visiting pornographic websites.

The benediction by Shlomo Eliahu says: "Please God, help me cleanse the computer of viruses and evil photographs which disturb and ruin my work..., so that I shall be able to cleanse myself (of sin)."

Mr Eliahu said he had seen a marked increase in the number of men who had come to him to confess their internet sins.

The only problem I have is that I'd like to see the full prayer in transliterated version. However, I am ashamed to admit that my Hebrew education has failed me and I'm drowning in letters at the Yediot Aronot site looking for the originating story. Can someone help me out here?

EDIT, 5:00 PM EDT: Lizzie asks, rightfully, why I need this prayer so badly. Well....I have a confession to make.

Marc pointed me to this particular salient item.

So you better ask him.

Big Publishers, Little Publishers, etc.  

I was going to leave my response to Kevin Wignall's comments in the related section, but since it's turning into a long response, I'm putting it here for all to see.

Responding to David Murrell's article in Poets & Writers, Wignall wrote:

In defence of the big five, here goes. Simon & Schuster took a gamble on me - they published a first time English author with an unusual "literary thriller" that wasn't easy to pigeonhole. I didn't get all the hype and stuff but I got a good campaign and was very happy with my treatment. The book didn't break any records but it did okay and they've stuck with me. It's this careful career-building that the big 5 are accused of abandoning, but we forget sometimes that the publishers at these companies are just as passionate about books as we are, and I think (under a lot of pressure) they get it right more often than they get it wrong.

I'd be happy to. First, I'd also like to point out that to add further, the publicity isn't done yet, what with Kevin's book just about to be released in a trade paperback edition next month--and since pbs have (much) larger print runs, those that missed it the first time around (like me, alas) have their chance to read it and spread the word accordingly.

Now, I had put up Murrell's article verbatim with only a couple of throwaway comments, but have more time now to expand further. Personally, potential for backstabbing notwithstanding (that's another story for another time) if someone at a major house is willing to put themselves on the line for a certain book, then they will, and will go to all lengths to do so. I think no matter where a book ends up (if a book ends up anywhere) then the best thing that could possibly happen is to have a) an excited, enthusiastic agent and b) an excited, enthusiastic editor working on your behalf.

I'm going to go off on a bit of a tangent, but I've never really understood why writers are happy if they get an agent and that's that. Ask questions. Be prepared. What's said agent going to on your behalf? Will they sell your work, believe in it, or let it languish and not offer it up for years and years? Same goes with editor or publishing house. What's the editor going to do for you? Will they have the right marketing plan in place, will they jump ship from the house and orphan your book? In short, the writer has to find the right people doing the right things. It's like looking for a job--if you have a dream, are you going to be satisfied with taking whatever is available, or will you push that extra bit for what you're really after? Granted, there are a lot of extenuating factors at work--personality traits, being in the right place at the right time, talent/ability and all that, but as long as you're able to do so, why wouldn't you? Why settle?

It doesn't mean that goals don't change, or dreams don't change. Of course they do. And so too does writing ability and craft. One would hope so. But if you've done everything possible to get that novel or short story collection or nonfiction book in shape, and you want to send it out, then don't just send it out blindly. Find the people you believe will be most interested in making your work available. Do the research. Sure, it's great to say that you sent it out to 100+ agents, but I'd venture to say that 80% of those mailings shouldn't have been done in the first place, b/c one should be able to tell from, yes, research, that they wouldn't be interested in your work. And then once you find the right agent, grill 'em. Ask about job performance, how long it took to sell their clients work, and who they sell them too. Ask the agents which editors they like dealing with and which ones they don't. And this may sound radical, but give them a list of editors you would want to work with and why. Have a plan in place. Make them work for you.

A lot of people say that writing "beats working for a living." Uh, guess what, writing IS a living, and so you have to treat it exactly like you would any job that you'd otherwise be earning your living at. Sure, sending out queries and proposals can be as vexing as sending out resumes and lining up interviews, but I really don't see that much difference. And good targeting is key in both instances.

So back to the overall point, which is this: if you find the right people, and have an idea of realistic--not necessarily lowered, but practical--expectations, then your writing career will be successful and fruitful. Sure, horrible luck can happen, and often does, but those "overnight successes" are hardly ever that. There's a lot going on behind the scenes that average readers are never privy to. Find out what they are. Work. Start with the manuscript, and then do what else is necessary. The days of sending your work out and hoping it will speak for itself is long gone and it's doubtful it will come back. Be proactive, and expect it of those working for you and who you work for.

Radio interviews 

Last week on Radio 4's Open Book programme, Mariella Frostrup interviewed three of the Nine New Blood Crime Writers: John Connor, Alafair Burke, and David Corbett.

A couple of other places worth checking out for quick interviews with authors include Bill Thompson's Eye On Books and David Freeman's Relax With a Book. Eye On Books, especially, has become a favorite of mine, because even though Thompson doesn't have much time with the authors, he manages to make the mini-interviews interesting and different from the usual publicity machine stuff that occurs when a new book's out.

News for Tuesday 

Well, you had to know I'd lead off with David Sexton's article on literary weblogs for the Scotsman, but in reference to the whole "clubby" feel he talks about....ah well. Someone must not like crime fiction very much, then. I'll get over it.

The Hon. Chris Smith will chair the 2004 Booker Prize judging panel. The remaining judges will be announced at a later date. Claire Armistead meets Smith in the Guardian, wondering if he's well up to the challenge.

Meanwhile, Scottish poet Don Paterson--already nominated for the Whitbread--has taken home the T.S. Eliot prize for a cool 15,000 pounds.

And more awards, this time the National Book Critics Circle. Studs Terkel, Chicago personality and still kicking at the ripe old age of 91, will get a lifetime achievement award. The fiction nominees are Edward P. Jones, Tobias Wolff, Caryl Phillips, Richard Powers, and Monica Ali.

Duncan Murrell talks about lowered expectations for writers: is it better to aim for the top, i.e. the Big Five of American Publishing? Or to set sets more realistically on small presses and such? To a certain extent, he's absolutely right--it is all about status. A big publisher can, in theory, do more for the author and pay more than a small press can. But will they pay the same kind of attention? That's where the problem lies. And small publishers don't, in my mind, heinously stab authors in the back in the same way the big boys can. They can be downright vicious. (link seen first on Maud.)

Peter Carey, speaking in an interview with the National Post, doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a particular type of writer writing about the mythology of his native Australia:

"It's like looking at a bunch of dots and then saying, 'Oh, look, these three things make a pattern.' But you can only do it by ignoring a whole bunch of other things," says the author.

Indeed, casting Carey as a historical writer ignores the science-fiction of the Unusual Life of Tristan Smith or The Tax Collector, a story set in contemporary Sydney.

"Everyone's looking for a pattern in my books except for me," continues the author. "I'm not looking for a pattern, I'm just looking for an idea for the next book."

Well, people are always looking for some sort of angle--even if it's nowhere to be found.

And finally, the Poe Toaster has struck again--keeping alive a streak uninterrupted for the past 56 years, when a fateful anonymous soul has left french cognac and three roses at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe in his adopted hometown of Baltimore.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Organizing your reading time 

I was so close to bitching out the mailman today, who has a habit of being ridiculously late in delivering. By 4 PM I was certain that he'd mistakenly thought Canada celebrated Martin Luther King Day as well, but lo and behold, a shiny ARC appeared in the mailbox, expressed from the UK. Now, the dilemma; I'm about 3/4 of the way through the book I'm reading now (Ray Shannon's MAN EATER, which is as hugely enjoyable as the reviews and word of mouth had led me to believe) and am faced with the task of picking what to read next. Now, my TBR pile (short for To Be Read, for those not well-versed in bookspeak) isn't as unwieldy as some--there are only about 15 books unread, puny compared to those who have mountains and stacks of books still waiting to be perused--but it's full of books that I'd like to read, that I haven't gotten around to reading, or am saving for some kind of rainy day.

But oh, that proof copy....it beckons with its siren call, luring me to try it with the temptation of instant gratification. No matter that the publication date's not for another six months and that any review I could write won't appear till then, in all likelihood. Never mind that if I read it now, by the time everyone else gets around to doing so, I'll have forgotten all of the plot and most of the characters. (the only book that it almost doesn't matter if such a thing happens is the latest by George Pelecanos; Little, Brown puts out the ARCs so far in advance and puts out enough of them that most of my friends and colleagues have read it long before the pub date; I suspect, however, this practice may change at some point soon.) But....I wanna read the book already, dammit.

All kvetching aside, this does highlight the way I prioritize my reading: in short, manuscripts take priority over ARCs; the longer the lead time, the more likely it is to be read immediately. First edition hardcovers are then read before those out a while, which take precedent over paperbacks. And trade paperbacks are more likely to be read by me than the mass-market format. Is this an absolute hierarchy? Of course not, but essentially, the more immediate a book is, the more likely I'll read it right away. This rule also only holds for crime fiction; all bets are off for other genres and more mainstream work, although because of it, I'm more likely to let an older, literary work languish on the TBR pile than I would a new crime release.

Chances are that I'll get to a couple of books in the pile before I tackle the proof. But I might not. And now I'll turn it to the floor: how do you prioritize which books get read? Does it matter if a book's more contemporary or not? And if galleys come your way, do you drop everything to read them?

UPDATE: Have now finished reading MAN EATER, which I still enjoyed but...at the same time I thought it a tad too slick somehow, like I could see the gears shift from plot point to the next. But if you like your regular dose of Elmore Leonard, this book fits the bill just fine. I suspect I'll like "Shannon's" backlist written under his real name (Gar Anthony Haywood) more, though. And I've decided the ARC will wait for a few days yet; John Dufresne's LOVE WARPS THE MIND A LITTLE's been languishing in the pile for too long, and as I like to alternate between crime fic and mainstream stuff, now's the time to pull it out.

Shouldn't there be some kind of protection for this? 

"A number of writers and proofreaders who freelanced for Lingua Franca magazine are actually being sued in Bankruptcy Court for the peanuts they were paid before the mag went under. The bankruptcy trustee sued under a law which provides that payments made to creditors within 90 days of a bankruptcy filing and deemed outside the regular course of business may be voided. Creditors can be ordered to repay the money."

Good lord. The judge seems like he'll throw the case out, but still.

Alec Baldwin: More than just a metrosexual 

So after Alec confided to the Intelligencer that he wanted to explore his "softer side," now he's doing just that: according to Page Six (which, amazingly, does not call him "The Bloviator" this time) he's slated to star as the flamboyant Halston, the famed fashion designer who died of AIDS in 1990. There will also be a "full blown love scene with a guy." Ah, the things to do to try to revive a flagging career.....

Memo to Mark Sarvas 

Nope, I didn't have any of those Walter Mosley-related stuff. So here they are: an interview with the Salt Lake City Tribune, and one in the Courier Press (which originally appeared in Newsday a couple of weeks back.)

Bon giorno 

Let's start off with: a new animated version of THE LITTLE PRINCE? Why yes, it appears this is going to happen.

The government will abandon a "Shakespeare test" for 14 year olds after accusations were hurled that the material was being "dumbed down." More egregious, in my own opinion, is how the plays are taught specifically to suck the life out of the material and make it seem boring. It's Shakespeare--culture for the low culture masses, after all! It should stay fun....

The Guardian has more info on the upcoming Salman Rushdie movie starring his galpal (huh? Am I channelling Page Six, or worse, US Weekly? Ack) Padma Lakshi, who cops to being "quite nervous" about the project.

Janet Maslin reviews two books on the light and breezy end of the spectrum: Carrie Fisher's THE BEST AWFUL, which she deems "delightfully snarky," and Howard Kuntsler's MAGGIE DARLING, which she enjoys in parts.

Patrick Anderson looks at Brian McGrory's third novel, a fun book that at its best, recalls Gregory McDonald's FLETCH novels.

Peter Robinson, whose latest book PLAYING WITH FIRE is just out, is interviewed at the Glasgow Herald. Also at the same paper is a retrospective on Len Deighton, who was one of the best espionage writers in the business.

It's a typical story: man finds fabulous Upper East Side apartment and moves in. The twist? There's a roommate who is HIV-positive and slowly dying. Writer Wesley Gibson took on the unexpected demand to help his roommate die, and he discusses it in his new memoir and talks at length with Newsday.

And finally, since the Old Hag is outing herself on said review, I'll link to it gladly. She's less than impressed with Patrick McCabe's CALL ME THE BREEZE. As a fan of Irish fiction, I'm disappointed that the book doesn't deliver, but then again, I'm looking more forward to Eoin McNamee's upcoming novel THE ULTRAS very, very much--if only because he's my favorite Irish writer.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

mystery notes 

If you're looking for ideas about what to do and where to go in the city of Baltimore, well, who better to ask than Laura Lippman? (Although I'm also curious about his, his and her take on the city, but that's me.) Anyway, today's WaPo features Lippman's walking tour of the city, as she takes us through the classic, the quirky, and the something extra. Even if you haven't read her books (and shame on you if you have not) you'll gather from this piece that Baltimore is a city she adores in all its glory.

Blake Crouch keeps on racking up the good reviews for his debut novel DESERT PLACES, including this one from the local paper I usually don't read (since it isn't delivered to my doorstep.)

And hot damn, the new edition of Plots With Guns is up, and it's chock full of the usual uber-noir and ultra-cool stuff (OK, so I also review of Stephen Hunter's HAVANA in the now-closed section. It's my blog, I shill for my friends. Occasionally, anyway.) Like what, you ask? Well, there's Maviano's Earful, and we learn about his resolutions for 2004: hang out with cool writers, solicit hate mail, and improve his writing. And lots more salacious stuff, too.

Then there's the interview with Charlie Stella, the new king of Mafia Fiction. Damn, I wish I had thought of that moniker myself. And of course, stories. Boy, are there some good stories here: from Reed Farrel Coleman, who puts a decidedly hardboiled spin on the Kaddish prayer; new It Boy Mark Conard, Pindeldyboz fave Paul Toth, and a hell of a lot more. Don't know how Neil and Trev do it but once again, it's another fabulous issue.

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