Saturday, March 13, 2004

I usually take Saturdays off 

But this seemed to merit attention today.

(and no, I don't know what's up with the byline. I assume it'll be changed at some point.)

Friday, March 12, 2004

Technical difficulties 

For some reason unbeknownst to me, I think I've contracted the same intermittent connection that ailed Bookslut yesterday. Combine that with a temperamental computer and I suspect there may not be much more from me till the weekend. In the meantime, enjoy the offerings below and from the folks linked in the right hand corner.

The Rap Sheet 

For those anxiously awaiting the January Magazine crime fiction newsletter, it is finally available. My own contributions include reviews of two UK-only releases, Tom Harper's THE MOSAIC OF SHADOWS and Chris Simms' PECKING ORDER (the latter, especially, impressed the hell out of me) as well as a look at Ace Atkins' DIRTY SOUTH which, unfortunately, didn't go over as well with me as with some others out there.

Top o' the morning 

The British Book Trade Awards, otherwise known as part one of the Nibbies, were awarded last night. Ottakar's was named the Bookselling Company of the Year, Abacus took home the Imprint prize, and Profile won for Best Small Publisher--a feat determined, no doubt, by the success of Lynne Truss's EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES.

So the whole book club thing--obviously, it hasn't had its day yet, what Oprah's return to it, the Today Show, Richard & Judy, and other TV programs on the bandwagon. But they aren't limited to the screen; there's a huge online presence as well, as Caryn James finds out.

Looks like the cover price removal that was threatening to take hold in UK bookshops might be on hold. A backlash has developed thanks to Ottakar's and Amazon UK joining the fray of dissent that had been started by a group of authors and agents. Looks like Borders is left sitting in a corner, alone and lonely.

Richard Zimler lives in Portugal and writes historical novels about Sephardic Jews throughout the Diaspora. The second of which, HUNTING MIDNIGHT, is out now, and he talks about it to the Independent. I must say that these books sound fascinating to me because of the differences of culture and tradition that Sephardic Jews have, and so I'll be looking for a copy of this and the earlier book (THE LAST KABBALIST OF LISBON) as soon as I can.

Laurie Lynn Drummond is profiled in Columbus This Week about her stellar collection of short stories, ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU. She also reveals a few choice snippets about her upcoming novel, MOTHER BLIND, which tells the story of a young woman returning to her hometown of Baton Rouge to discover the truth behind her mother's murder. Is it crime fiction, or beyond genre conventions? Only time will tell, I suppose.

Drummond was also interviewed last week by Karen Bates at NPR to delve further into the inspiration behind the collection, and how much her life as a police officer infused the stories with authenticity and realism.

Speaking of interviews, there's a fabulous one of Scott Phillips as he talks to Rick Kleffel about COTTONWOOD, his well-reviewed 19th Century Western. But this is no ordinary Western--it's mean, nasty, with a hell of a lot of sex and violence. More reasons why I adored the book, really...

Which reminds me that I'd been remiss in checking out Kleffel's Agony Column, only to find a wide variety of neat little nuggets. Terry D'Auray covers the mystery beat there and recently reviewed Victor Gischler's debut GUN MONKEYS and INTERROGATIONS, my buddy Jon Jordan's collection of author interviews.

Justin Scott has been a dependable mystery writer for many years, though he's only just returned from a bit of a hiatus with the latest Ben Abbott mystery. The Newtown Bee profiles him as he prepares to give a talk about Robert Louis Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND and its influence on him and the genre.

Things are going very well for Linda Barnes, as she tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Her newest Carlotta Carlyle novel, DEEP POCKETS, is accompanied by the reissuing of her backlist, and she has two more novels in the works.

And finally, there's Viggo Mortensen. Actor, scruffy guy, and avant-garde publisher? I'm still trying to wrap my head around the concept, too.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The editions game 

The article on Martin Amis in today's NYT this morning got me thinking, but not about what the article says on the surface. Instead, I pondered the fact that many books, great ones, are not available in every country. And the question is, should they be?

Over the last year, I've lived in New York, London, and Ottawa. That's three fairly large cities in completely different English-speaking countries, each with their own book industries and often, their own editions. In the US--for good reason--it's rare to come across anything but the American edition of a particular novel, unless the bookstore in question has a vested interest in stocking foreign editions (independent mystery shops will do that for collectors and those who must, must, MUST have the true first because they need to read the book, like, now.) The UK is the same way, although occasionally a US edition will pop up if there's some distribution deal in place, which is why ironically enough, I was more likely to find Soho Press publications in London than I was in America. And then, there's Canada. Though it has its own publishing houses, there are so few books that get their own Canadian edition that instead, it becomes a guessing game to see which edition will show up. Peter Robinson has a Canadian book deal with McLelland & Stewart, which trumps all the other publishing houses. Same goes with Val McDermid, who's signed up with HarperCollins Canada, or Kelley Armstrong (with Random House Canada.) But folks like Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, and Simon Kernick appear in their UK editions, while the US editions of books by John Connolly and Lee Child take precedence. I'm not exactly certain how the awarding of Canadian rights is determined when agents negotiate their authors' contracts, but suffice it to say that there's no universal rule, based on the way such books are distributed. Obviously, books by American authors are far more likely to appear in Canada in their US editions, while UK authors are a toss-up, depending if their US deal was lucrative enough to be bundled up with Canadian rights. And if Canadians have a deal in their native country, you better believe that's what will be stocked in Canadian bookstores.

But of course, the likelihood that a writer's going to have separate publishing deals in each of these countries--and if you add Australia to the mix, as they too have their own publishing industry--is not always high. And really, is this even feasible? If Martin Amis is looking for a US publisher, it's because his books haven't been doing very well. What's successful in one country won't necessarily translate to the next (both figuratively and literally, especially if you're talking novels in translation where British English and American English can be so varied that it often requires two totally different translations!) and when there are already hundreds of thousands of novels published per year, how important is it, really, to ensure that a country gets its own edition of a novel?

The whole idea of separate editions seems to me somewhat problematic in the age of the internet anyway. I alluded to the fact that certain bookshops will stock the "true first" at the behest of customers who want to read it now, before their home edition comes out. One of my biggest pet peeves is the time delay that often occurs between UK and US editions--especially because it's almost always the US publisher that delays publication. There was a huge gap in publishing Rankin's last book, RESURRECTION MEN, in the US. Its UK release was January 2002, with the US release in February 2003. True, one of the things that delayed publication was his switch from St. Martin's to Little, Brown, but by the time that book was out in New York, well, it was old news, so much so that the paperback edition had been out for ages in the UK and Canada. Allegedly, the publication dates will converge as time goes on, but why had there been a delay in the first place? More "egregious", if you will, is when a new author's book gets delayed US publication. I brought up Billingham and Kernick because right from the start, their debut novels were released in the US a year later (Billingham with William Morrow, Kernick with St. Martin's Press.) Why do this? It's one thing if the US deal was delayed, but at least in Billingham's case, he was on board with Morrow way back in late 2000/early 2001, only a few months before SLEEPYHEAD was due to be released in the UK from Time Warner UK. Sure, one can spout all the usual reasons--marketing, proper placement, time to get everything together to make a book more successful--but when customers know they don't have to wait a whole year to get a book, especially when it's a click away via Amazon UK or a favorite specialty bookshop, then what's the point in waiting?

And then, of course, there are authors who will never get an American deal unless something drastic changes, and vice versa. Take Martina Cole. Her books are phenomenally successful in the UK; it's really a toss-up as to whether she or Ian Rankin sells better at this point. But because her books are so very "regional" because of their Essex settings, salty language and brutal demeanor, they just don't have a chance at doing anywhere near as well in the US. Her success, then, can't be translated. On a lesser scale, it's like why some of the better selling amateur sleuth or cozy novelists aren't anywhere close to inking a UK deal. Their idea of "cozy" is Ruth Rendell or Stephen Booth, because the word has a completely different meaning. So for those who are big fans of the genre who happen to be British, again, they aren't going to find home editions of said books.

So what's the ultimate point, then? I guess it's that each country has its own closeted little industry, and when there are so many ways to bypass this, it seems almost archaic. I don't want to wait for my home edition if I don't have to. I read a lot of UK crime fiction (and UK fiction in general) and I'm not going to sit around waiting for a North American edition if it takes ages for one to be available--if at all. For publishers to be so willfully clueless to this fact is to be blind. And by opening their eyes, maybe it means that they don't have to be so aggressive about acquiring authors who are, well, already published elsewhere. So bringing it back to Martin Amis, so he doesn't get a US deal (although frankly, I'm sure he will now that Lindgren's article has appeared.) But those who want to read his next book will find a way to do so, because it's easier than ever. So I say open the publishing world up, make it more global. People can fight about which edition looks better, which they want to own. Me, I just want to read a book as soon as it's available.

Keeping kosher has its advantages 

The case of David Pickton, who is turning out to be the worst serial killer in Canadian history, just took a troubling, sickening turn:

VANCOUVER—Meat for public consumption from the pig farm of accused serial killer Robert William Pickton may have contained human remains, police and health officials say.

"There is the potential that some meat that was produced and perhaps packaged on the farm may have been cross-contaminated with human DNA," RCMP Corporal Cate Galliford of the missing women's task force told reporters last night.

Pickton, who is facing 15 counts of first-degree murder in connection with women missing from Vancouver's drug-laden downtown eastside, raised and slaughtered pigs as part of his work at the farm in Port Coquitlam, about 35 kilometres east of the city.

FWIW, DNA testing has linked 31 missing women to Pickton's farm, and the number's just going to climb. Should there ever be a book--that is, a detailed, highly analytical one--about the mismanaged investigation and the eventual outcome, I'll be first in line to buy it.

Belle de Book Deal 

The Times ran a very long feature yesterday on Belle de Jour's book deal and the speculation about who she is--whether she really is a "London call girl" as she claims. The article requires paid-registration but Grace Bradberry really does a nice job (almost too thorough, really) in getting reactions from all sides. What's interesting is that it seems her road to the book deal was very measured and extremely calculated:

Just before Christmas Belle won a Guardian award for her blog, and began assiduously seeking a publishing deal. Among those who championed her was [Mil] Millington, though he has never actually set eyes on her. "Met her? In person? What an excellent notion," he writes to me via e-mail (bloggers seem allergic to telephones). "I can just see myself telling my girlfriend that I'm off down to London to have dinner with a call girl I met on the internet. They'd have to spray down the walls with pressure jets to get the blood off. No, I know her only virtually."

Mil put her in touch with a number of people in publishing, including Hannah Griffiths of Fabers, who has spoken to Belle but never met her. So, is she American? "I respect her decision to remain anonymous," says Griffiths hurriedly.

Whether Belle will be able to preserve her anonymity as the publicity grows is another matter. Helen Garnons-Williams, her editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, originally spoke to Belle by phone. At that point Belle was in the process of choosing an agent, and had already met Patrick Walsh, who now represents her. He insisted that Garnons-Williams meet Belle in his office, not at the publishing house, and that she sign a confidentiality agreement. He also says he didn't hold an auction for the book, precisely because it made it easier to keep Belle's identity under wraps.

Naturally, there are conflicting opinions on the veracity of Belle's claims:

"I know someone who has met her," ventures Annie Blinkhorn, deputy editor of The Erotic Review, which now publishes a diary by Belle. "He said she was imparting highly technical information that you could only come by if it was bread and butter."

Angel Zatorski, manager of the London women's sex shop Sh!, was sceptical. "It didn't sound terribly convincing to me," she says. "It's very flippant, and she's able to separate herself off from what she does a little too much. If you were going out to sell your body I don't think you'd be quite so sorted and confident."

As for the idea that Belle is a liberated young woman in charge of her own sexuality, Zatorski doesn't buy that notion at all. "I find the blog quite objectionable," she says. "Why take the worst aspects of male sexuality and transpose them into the female arena? I think for a woman to become a kind of walking sex menu is a rather lowly aspiration -we can do better than that."

But in the end, all the speculation and sniping doesn't really matter:

Is Belle de Jour really British? Is she a hooker? So long as her books fly off the shelves, no one in publishing is likely to complain.

Because that's the bottom line: if there's a market and people will buy the books, the publishers will keep hawking them. Me, I'll only say that when the 40th anniversary edition of LONDON CALLING is reissued with an introduction by the ghostwriter, then it's time to talk.

Roundup time 

And we begin with George Pelecanos' new book HARD REVOLUTION, which is all over the place of late. It was only a matter of time before Janet Maslin got her hands on it. Does she like it? Of course she does! Evidently the accompanying CD is "a beaut" as well. Thing is, much as we know she adores his work, maybe after 3 rave reviews in a row, someone else ought to try him out. Michiko, perchance?

Meanwhile, Pelecanos talks more to USA TODAY about the impetus for the book, and how he tried very hard to keep things as authentic to the book's setting and time--DC in 1959-68--as he possibly could. And in a profile today at the Washington Post, Pelecanos sums up why he writes about DC in all its frailties and flaws: "I love this city." And the next book, his 13th, is already turned in. Look for DRAMA CITY in stores next year (but hey, Little Brown? Don't need to send out the ARCs so early. Make us wait. I'm sure it'll be worth it.)

So Martin Amis can't get a book deal in the US? Like Moorish Girl pointed out last night, are we really supposed to give a toss? Maybe it means that Andrew "Superagent Hated by All" Wylie really isn't as wide-reaching and influential an agent as he's cracked up to be. What's especially interesting is that the article was written by Hugo Lindgren, who has since defected to New York Magazine to be Adam Moss's minion over there

The five finalists for the Charles Taylor Prize in non-fiction have been announced. They include "Winnipeg-based writer Warren Cariou, Isabel Huggan, who resides in France, Ottawa's Gertrud Mackprang Baer and two Torontonians -- Margaret MacMillan and J. Edward Chamberlin. " The Globe and Mail has more information on the nominees.

Don Coles has published his first novel, DOCTOR BLOOM'S STORIES, at the ripe old age of 76. He's published 10 volumes of poetry, so why did he switch to the novel form now? The Globe and Mail attempts to answer this riddle.

Agent Peter Straus is always on the lookout for the next hot thing. And what was it? A children's book by Charmian Hussey, published by a small press in a print run so small booksellers wouldn't sell for less than a thousand pounds. Now Straus has taken Hussey on as a client and is shopping the book worldwide (first item.)

Tim Dorsey got another local review of his newest book, CADILLAC BEACH, but the Orlando Sentinel felt it was a "wildly uneven" tale.

With the #1 Ladies Detective Agency Movie inching ever closer to production, Alexander McCall Smith is getting a bit worried about who will be cast. He wants "a traditionally built lady, which means a substantially built lady, who is capable of getting across what it is to be a substantially built lady from Botswana." So I guess Whoopi Goldberg will be out of the running then....

Marian Keyes has come a long way since she was first published by an Irish publisher and trotting around London bookshops hoping booksellers would stock her books. Now she's moving past the "chick lit" genre that made her a bestseller, broadening her horizons. She speaks to The Bookseller about her latest career direction.

Jacqueline Wilson talks more about how she survived an 8 hour signing with 3,000 children waiting to meet her and get their books signed. Hurculean? Definitely.

Somali-born author Waras Dirie is recovering from injuries after a stalker attacked her in Vienna. She had just left her place in Cardiff the week before to get away from him, but unfortunately, it didn't seem to work. A bloody sad story.

And finally, Ed's on a freaking roll of late, but I'm not totally sure I needed to know all his states of deshabille. But nobody rants like he does. And thank god for that.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

All about the Nibbies 

The nominations for the British Book Awards have been announced, and scoring big with five nominations is Mark Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME. The Independent offers further analysis on the 8-book-deep Book of the Year Award, while the Manchester Evening News takes a look at all the categories as a whole.

And the big category nominees are:

Butler & Tanner Book of the Year

* Brick Lane - Monica Ali
* The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
* Eats, Shoots and Leaves - Lynne Truss
* Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - JK Rowling
* The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
* My Side - David Beckham
* The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith
* A Royal Duty - Paul Burrell

DHL Author of the Year

* Harian Coben
* Mark Haddon
* Alexander McCall Smith
* DBC Pierre
* Philip Pullman
* Jacqueline Wilson

Waterstone's Literary Fiction Award

* Brick Lane - Monica Ali
* The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
* Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller
* Waxwings - Jonathan Raban
* What I Loved - Siri Hustvedt
* Yellow Dog - Martin Amis

WH Smith Children's Book of the Year

* The Amulet of Samarkand - Jonathan Stroud
* The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
* Eagle Strike - Anthony Horowitz
* The English Roses - Madonna
* Goodbye Mog - Judith Kerr
* Lyra's Oxford - Philip Pullman
* Shadowmancer - Graham Taylor
* The Snail and the Whale - Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Virgin Books Newcomer of the Year

* Monica Ali - Brick Lane
* Jon McGregor - If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
* Clare Morrall - Astonishing Splashes of Colour
* DBC Pierre - Vernon God Little
* Graham Taylor - Shadowmancer
* Geoffrey Wellum - First Light

The full list can be found at the above link. The Nibbies will be awarded on April 7 at Grosvenor House, but due to unprecedented ticket demand, there will be another party going on at the same time.


Maud breaks the story that the newly-named editor of the New York Times Book Review is Sam Tanenhaus. Terry and OGIC are pleased with the announcement as well. Ed weighs in further with his own take.

Tenenhaus, known primarily for his biography of Whittaker Chambers, and is seen as a fair and tough editor who will champion both the best in fiction and non-fiction. No doubt that once he takes over the helm of the NYTBR starting April 1, he will be watched very closely. I wish him all the best in his new venture.

Perhaps a ceremony change is in order 

"PATCHOGUE, N.Y. -- A man was killed during a ceremony at a Masonic temple when another member fired a gun loaded with real bullets instead of the expected blanks and shot him in the head, police said Tuesday.

"Police Detective Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick said the ceremony included a loud noise to frighten the new member. The inductee faces the front of the room and cans are stacked up behind him, he said. A gun is fired near the inductee's head and the cans are toppled, Fitzpatrick added.

The lieutenant said [the suspect] had two guns -- one with blanks and one with real bullets -- and he apparently pulled out the wrong one."

And here I thought the Masons were an 18th Century relic. Guess not.

Perhaps a ceremony change is in order 

"PATCHOGUE, N.Y. -- A man was killed during a ceremony at a Masonic temple when another member fired a gun loaded with real bullets instead of the expected blanks and shot him in the head, police said Tuesday.

"Police Detective Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick said the ceremony included a loud noise to frighten the new member. The inductee faces the front of the room and cans are stacked up behind him, he said. A gun is fired near the inductee's head and the cans are toppled, Fitzpatrick added.

The lieutenant said [the suspect] had two guns -- one with blanks and one with real bullets -- and he apparently pulled out the wrong one."

And here I thought the Masons were an 18th Century relic. Guess not.

Usual Spate of News 

And it's been a while since I linked to a Michiko review, but then, when does she get so damned excited about a book? Not that often, I tell ya. But she does about Edwidge Danicat's THE DEW BREAKER, a novel about Haiti's brutal history and its struggle--well documented of late--to overcome its demons and enter a democratic age.

Martin Van Creven's new biography of Moshe Dayan makes him out to be a "latter day Lord Nelson," according to the Independent. No doubt that the Israeli general was extremely influential, a man whose insights would be most valuable in today's conflicted times.

Sara Nelson's reading memoir SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME, has made it all the way to Australia. The Age profiles her and asks the simple question: why do it? Her answer, of course, is because she is passionate about books, and like many bookies, "[does] not feel comfortable if they do not have a book in their hands."

Looks like the movie AMERICAN SPLENDOR has opened new eyes to the work of Harvey Pekar; he's just inked a deal to pen three graphic novels for Ballantine, with the first due in stores this fall.

And speaking of deals, looks like Louis de Bernieres will have a new novel out this year, the first since CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN was released 10 years ago. Entitled BIRDS WITHOUT WINGS, it will be available from Secker & Warburg this July.

Maggie O'Farrell's novels are moody exploration of the passionate lives of women. The Telegraph meets her, and reviews her latest book, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, twice over; Jessica Mann finds it a "skillful, sensitive romantic novel" while Cressida Connolly considers it her best book yet.

The longest book signing in history? Sure seems that way, if you ask Jacqueline Wilson. She was booked to appear at 3:30 at Waterstone's Bournemouth branch, and ended up staying till midnight as 3,000 people showed up to queue up to get their books autographed. Now that is going above and beyond the call of duty--god knows what her hand must have looked like (or felt) afterwards....

Looks like it's Philip Pullman week. First Michael Chabon gets analytical in the New York Review of Books, and now the Archbishop of Canterbury has endorsed him, even though some religious types think the books are "blasphemous."

2003 was a banner year for Canongate, with strong sales of novels by Michel Faber, Louise Welsh, and Yann Martel fuelling a nearly 1 million pound profit.

I'm constantly catching up on crime fiction roundups all over the place, and my latest "discovery" is the Boston Herald, where Rosemary Herbert covers the book beat in general. Over the weekend, she cast her gaze upon a collection of mystery short stories edited by Eleanor Taylor Bland. All the authors are African-American, and Herbert deems the collection a winner. Earlier, Herbert raved about Linda Barnes' latest Carlotta Carlyle novel, DEEP POCKETS and Peter Robinson's PLAYING WITH FIRE.

And finally, I should really stop linking to things like this, but what the hell. Another Cecelia Ahern profile for those of you who keep looking for them (and there are plenty, according to my trusty referral logs). This one courtesy of the Toronto Sun.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Sometimes you just can't resist 

I promised I wouldn't say anything more on the matter, but I just can't shake the feeling that the whole Amazon anonymous review glitch should have happened this particular week. I, for one, vote for any (or all) of the "A Reader from Upstate NY" entries.

Insert Dr. Evil joke here 

COVINGTON, Georgia (AP) -- A Georgia woman who tried to use a fake $1 million bill to buy $1,675 worth of merchandise at Wal-Mart was arrested, and police later found two more of the bills in her purse.

The U.S. Treasury does not make $1 million bills, but similar-looking currency is sold in some souvenir shops. The fake bill featured a picture of the Statue of Liberty, police said.

"It looks real, but of course there's nothing real about this," said Stacey Cotton, police chief in Covington, about 30 miles southeast of Atlanta. "People do crazy things all the time."

What I want to know is, could she really have carried $998,325 in change afterwards? I think not.

A notable collection 

At the upcoming Edgar Awards on the 29th of April (which yours truly will be attending for a third straight year) the Ray and Pat Brown collection of popular culture studies at Bowling Green University will receive a Raven Award for "commitment to preserve mystery fiction through a formidable and constantly growing collection of detective mystery novels and manuscripts."

I'll say. The collection houses an amazing variety of books, magazines (8500 issues and counting) and other items related to detective, mystery and crime fiction. Simply put, it's a treasure trove for the fan, the collector, and the scholar. No wonder the Mystery Writers of America is recognizing Bowling Green and the collection it houses. Those fortunate enough to sift through the archives are lucky ones, indeed.

Dr. Gischler, I presume? 

Victor Gischler, known to the crime fiction world as the author of the Edgar-nominated GUN MONKEYS and blog favorite THE PISTOL POETS, is interviewed by his hometown newspaper, the Claremore Daily Progress. He's currently on a leave of absence but has spent the last couple of years teaching creative writing at Rogers State University in Oklahoma. The interview itself is rather facile, covering the usual bits, but Gischler sounds rather relieved that the reviews have been very kind to his latest book. Deservedly so, I might add. But anything that's as fast-paced and funny and skewers the MFA life was going to be a great read, and so it was.

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit 

All I really need to say about the Jayson Blair media blitz was summed up far better this morning by good old Uncle Grambo, commenting on the Page Six Item that Blair went into the Lincoln Center B&N and thumbed through copies of his books to find that nasty messages had been placed inside (!!!):

but the real question that emerges after reading this quick hit in The Post is this: what kind of egomaniacal douchenozzle (especially as high-profile as JB) walks into a B&N and ACTUALLY FLIPS THROUGH his or her own book on the day it's released? it's one thing to stroll into a bookstore to check out whether or not they're carrying your book, but do you really need to sit there and thumb through your book in one of those cozy aisleway chairs? i mean, it's one thing if you're muthascratchin' Johnny Updizz (ed. that's Updike to you), but completely another if you're the sort of jackanapes who buys Alka Seltzer thinking it's coke and then snorts it anyway! NO BUZZ!

So, so true. But then, Blair is a rather, well, odd individual. Lying a lot is kind of a dead giveaway, after all.


This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Lillian Roth's memoir I'LL CRY TOMORROW, which was groundbreaking for its time in its examination of Roth's battle with alcoholism and her tortured life. I think I actually read bits of this book as a kid--I was certainly aware of its existence, at the very least. Roth was certainly an interesting figure, and she did manage to overcome her demons, starring on Broadway in several shows and working right up until her death in 1980.

James Todd Booker has been on death row since 1977, when he was convicted of sexual assault and murder of a 94 year old woman. But in the meantime, he's written poetry that's become acclaimed in various circles and published in many different poetry journals. So, how to judge, if one really can? The New York Times examines the possible dichotomy between an artist's work and his violent past.

Peter Marks at the Washington Post remembers Spalding Gray's work and life, and tries to get past the sad way of his death.

Chris Lehmann applauds Tom Perrotta's ginger steps into more mature subject matters with his newest book, LITTLE CHILDREN, about the boredom and ennui that leads suburban parents to embark on things they might not have otherwise attempted.

Boris Starling, whose first novel, MESSIAH, was turned into a somewhat graphic BBC miniseries, is back with a new novel set in contemporary Russia. He speaks to the Newcastle Chronicle about researching it, and makes a surprising admission that he's never seen an autopsy or a dead body.

The Globe and Mail gets on the Cecelia Ahern press junket Bandwagon. She speaks to Rebecca Caldwell about whatever this "chick lit" is and the impetus for writing her bestseller P.S. I LOVE YOU (hey, wasn't that the name of a flop show starring Connie Sellecca? Whatever happened to her? Oh, wait, I better not digress.)

Salman Rushdie has been named the President of PEN, the International Writer's Assocation. He will serve a two-year term.

The Independent is quite impressed that Jay Griffiths' non-fiction work A SIDEWAYS LOOK AT TIME just won the B&N Discovery Award, which was handed out to several other Brit authors like Zoe Heller and Monica Ali.

Wow! E.L. Konigsburg, of MIXED UP FILES OF BASIL E. FRANKWEILER fame, is still writing, and her new book gets a nice review this morning in USA Today. When it comes to Konigsburg's work, MIXED-UP FILES was great but I have a special fondness for the long-out-of-print minor classic ABOUT THE B'NAI BAGELS, where a bunch of Jewish kids get together to play softball while one's frantically learning his Bar Mitzvah portion. Lots of fun, that one was.

And finally, what to make of Stevie Cameron? As a journalist, she was all over the Airbus affair, pointing fingers at Brian Mulroney and his cronies. But now it turns out that at the same time, she was an RCMP informant--for the same scandal she was reporting on. Conflict of interest? Sure looks that way to me. But Antonia Zerbasias of the Toronto Star finds the story's even more complicated than that.

Monday, March 08, 2004

The art of the deal 

Jonathan Haewood for the Independent on Sunday puzzled over the trend of hyping a book deal to excess, only for the truth to bring things crashing down. Look at Helen Oyeyemi; 18 years old, a first-time novelist, gets a 400,000 pound deal? Or does she? Turns out reports were off by a factor of 10. And this is nothing new, as the same thing happened with Hari Kunzru (reported: 1 M, real: 100 K). And then there's the fact that some agents think that getting a huge advance means total victory:

The very term "advance" is a bit of a misnomer. Technically, it is an advance on predicted royalties, but in fact, only a third is received on signing; another third on delivery; a sixth on publication and the balance on paperback publication, by which time it is more of a retrospective fee.

Nonetheless, an advance is at least guaranteed income. The late super-agent, Giles Gordon, was known to proclaim that he'd failed in his job if a client of his earned a cent in royalties. With this in mind, he secured a staggering £1.4m advance for Vikram Seth's family memoir, Two Lives, due from Little, Brown in 2005.

Not surprisingly, the publishers aren't thrilled with this concept in the least:

Many publishers simply cannot afford this kind of money. Toby Mundy of Atlantic Books dispenses the occasional five-figure sum, but he believes that all first-time novelists should earn royalties: "Everyone comes away happy. The book trade's happy because they exceeded expectations; the house is happy because there's no unearned advance, and the author's happy."

The thing that advances do is immediately announce to the world that author X, or X's book, is now Very Important, that people should Take Notice. So if it never actually earns out in the end? Big whoop. That huge advance allowed for a bigger marketing campaign, more hype, and more importantly, greater attention paid to said author by his or her publisher. Instead of being ignored, the author is practically babysat from beginning to end. But it seems that advances are, to put it mildly, a wee bit out of control. Are some books worth the astronomical sum? Well, as long as they keep selling, sure. But the vast majority of books don't do anything of the sort--by that I mean, sell enough to justify the cost. But everyone--agents, authors, publishers--want to be seen as Very Important, so they'll keep on perpetuating this crazy vicious cycle.

Here we go again 

"The identity of one of the most notorious murderers in the annals of British crime may become clearer when a retired detective presents fresh evidence.

Trevor Marriott, a former murder squad detective, will attempt to unmask Jack the Ripper during a presentation at the University of Ulster.

The retired police officer applied new forensic and investigative techniques to the baffling series of murders which struck terror into the dimly lit streets of Victorian London.

Oh my god, you mean he didn't fall in line with Patricia Cornwell's theory? I'm shocked, positively shocked.

Seriously, I respect all the time and effort that goes into trying to solve the case but--everybody's dead, you know? Seems like there are other, more recent unsolveds that would be a better use of time, money, forensics, brainpower and attention. Like this one.

Spalding Gray 

As reported all over the 'sphere, a body was pulled from the East River near Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that may belong to the writer and actor Spalding Gray. An autopsy is underway at the Brooklyn Office of the OCME to determine the cause of death and to identify the body, which was decomposed beyond recognition.

This isn't terribly surprising; if a body's been in the water a couple of months, then it's filled with putrefying gases that cause it to rise up and float--hence the term "floater" for such instances, and thus facial features are distorted beyond recognition as it and the body bloats out. Chances are that if an ID can be made, it'll be done via dental records, and no doubt there are some on file for Gray.

UPDATE: Ellen Borakove, the spokesperson for the medical Examiner's Office, has confirmed the news. The body was, as expected, identified via dental records and "other X-rays," i.e foreign bodies like the metal plate in his head that had been surgically implanted following a 2001 car accident.

Condolences to Gray's wife, Kathy Russo, their children, and all their family and friends. A great loss, indeed.

Blogging is the new dotcom, redux 

Every time some little blip in bloggerdom occurs, like last week's "mysterious" disappearance of The Kicker (that wasn't really such), up pops Jason McCabe Calacanis, former venture capital guru from the heady days of the dotcom bubble, like an unfortunate lemming that just won't leave. So how to judge whether today's article in New York actually takes Calacanis' "challenge" to Nick Denton's Gawker world seriously? Does he honestly, truly believe that "within five years, the top blogs will become worth as much as $5 million."?

Please, stop the madness.

Blogging, by nature--at least in the media bubble world--is not a long-term form, as people's memories of what happened six hours ago, let alone six weeks or months ago, fade away. Why shouldn't Gawker be a launching pad for people's careers, moving on to bigger, better, more permanent gigs? It's called moving up the food chain ladder. Kind of like those who start out at a small press and get a contract from a bigger publishing house. Are they supposed to turn down the more lucrative offer because it's "selling out" or "disloyal"? Um, no. Sometimes such moves backfire, yes, but being beholden to lower pay (or suffering for your art) doesn't make you a better person for it.

(Thanks to Marc for the link.)

Yet another Monday morning roundup 

I can see that the Book of the Week--since Janet Maslin's reviewing it today and Chris Lehmann gets it tomorrow, I believe--is Tom Perrotta's LITTLE CHILDREN. I read ELECTION and loved it, and JOE COLLEGE was really good as well, so I'm excited to get this book. Maslin, FWIW, thought it "poignantly funny."

What's going to be the biggest seller of 2004? More of THE DA VINCI CODE? Something we don't know about? Eh, based on the fact that the first printing is sold out three weeks before publication, it's more likely that it'll be GLORIOUS APPEARING, the 12th (and last!) book in the LEFT BEHIND SERIES.

Patrick Anderson devotes his thriller column to Daniel Silva's A DEATH IN VIENNA, the latest in a book by one of the four living writers he feels are "world-class practitioners of spy fiction." The coda rounds up the Best Novel nominees for the Edgar, and Anderson's apparent surprise (and delight) that Ken Bruen's THE GUARDS made the list. May we point out that at this point, that book seems the best bet to take home the prize as well? What exactly that means for the Edgar itself remains to be seen, of course, but on occasion, they do go out on a limb in terms of branching out beyond the more "conventional" mystery novels that often take home the big prize.

Dick Adler's column for the Chicago Tribune is mostly made up of raves; Another one for Daniel Silva, a special notice for Andrew Taylor's AN UNPARDONABLE CRIME (or THE AMERICAN BOY for those, like me, who read the UK edition) as well as for Olen Steinhauer's THE CONFESSION (and it's supposed to be a five-book series, not a trilogy) and Laurie King's THE GAME, and some good praise for Twist Phelan's legal thriller FAMILY PRAISE.

But speaking of THE GAME, Clea Simon of the Boston Globe is less enthusiastic about its merit, saying that its overall theme of Sherlock Holmes pastiche has worn out its welcome.

Judith Redding rounds up some crime fiction for the Baltimore Sun, including Rebecca Pawel's LAW OF RETURN and curiously, Jack Kerley's debut THE HUNDREDTH MAN (which Dutton bought last year for a cool $500 K) which isn't even out in stores until the 7th of June. Of course, not that there's an embargo on print reviews of the book or anything....

...not like a certain Mr. Blair, who is duly pilloried in USA TODAY. So the reviewer was predisposed to trashing the book, but to his credit, he actually does find some merit: that Blair had a story to tell, but the way he did so is not the book's strongest suit.

Rosemary Goring lets her indignance about authors and product placement get the better of her by comparing them to the wonder of Toad (in Kenneth Grahame's THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS) discovering a motor-car for the very first time.

If I grow up to be a famous writer, will my expletive-filled rants fetch a nice sum of 30 000 pounds? Of course, I'm not Ernest Hemingway (nor would I really want to be, honestly.)

Luke Sutherland's novels reflect his upbringing and isolation as a black man living in the small town of Orkney. He speaks to the Scotsman about how he channelled his childhood experiences into writing and what influence they still wield on his current work.

Dan Rhodes is interviewed at the Elegant Variation. Is he truly the "Angry Young Man" that the media makes him out to be? Find out for yourself....

And finally, Ed, I did link to the Paretsky review yesterday, but I haven't caught up with her books in the last few years. Besides, don't you have some Ian Rankin to start reading?

Sunday, March 07, 2004

David Peace vs. Granta 

So David Peace is all over the news this weekend, what with the publication of his new novel GB84. I've already linked to reviews in the Guardian, Observer, and a long piece in the Independent, but perhaps the most interesting one showed up in the Telegraph over the weekend. But because that paper is so notoriously slow about getting their content online, it'll be a few days before everything's available. Most intriguingly, Peace reveals in the Telegraph that being one of the Best 20 Young British Authors isn't quite what it's cracked up to be:

"I got off on the wrong foot with Granta. They said to me the photo would be in two weeks' time. Then I got an e-mail on the Saturday: 'You have to be in London by Tuesday morning.' And I'm like, 'I can't.' 'You have to be.' 'I can't.' 'This is the only day that Zadie Smith can do this photo shoot. She is going to America on Wednesday and she doesn't want to change her plans.' I'm like, 'F*** Zadie Smith because I'm not going to do it.' "

So Zadie goes off to Harvard and won't change her plans, but Peace has to come in all the way from Tokyo at a moment's notice? Yeesh. But then, the whole Granta thing never much impressed Peace to begin with:

He has a distinct memory,10 years before he failed to turn up for the Granta photo, of seeing the group shot of his 1993 predecessors. "I remember thinking, they look like a bunch of wankers. They're all London-based. They just seem a literary elite." To this day, he reads almost no contemporary fiction.

I always thought he was an odd one to be included amongst the 20, but the strength and originality of his writing stacks up to any of them, if not more so. But his attitude isn't terribly surprising; some years back, he went on at length to Crime Time about his beef with the genre as a whole. Contrary? Certainly. Iconoclastic? You betcha. But that's what makes him so interesting....

Meet the Lit Idol shortlist 

Though it won't be officially announced until tomorrow, the Independent on Sunday has the inside scoop on the final five vying for representation by Ali Gunn at Curtis Brown UK and making their way to published status. The winner will be announced on March 15, and you can place your own vote here.

The shortlist is:

Celina Alcock, THE BONE DANCE
Karin Barichievy, DIRTY WOMEN
Donald Considine, CAREERING

Not surprisingly, the final five skews more towards commercial fiction over the literary sort. Should be interesting to see who takes the final prize.

...and the whole megillah 

This morning I took part in something that, at least for my hometown, was somewhat unusual. A few months ago, several women who are members of my synagogue decided to organize a women's megillah reading. Such a thing has never been done in Ottawa, never mind in an Orthodox shul. To the best of my knowledge, there wasn't a whole lot of controversy surrounding the idea, but there are always a few who like to complain about such things. But the rabbi gave the group their blessing--provided, of course, that it was "by women for women" because having men around would defeat the whole purpose, after all. So the months slipped by and the entire Book of Esther was divided amongst about fifteen women of all ages. I was a last-minute substitute, as someone had to drop out. So while everyone else had months to prepare, I had two weeks--less, what with my trip to Toronto last week.

No sweat. I'm a professionally trained singer, after all.

But it was a totally different experience from learning an aria or lied or pop song. For one thing, the musical notation used for the megillah is different from that used for Torah or Haftorah reading (which no doubt brings back memories of Bar Mitzvah days for some of my readers) and is not based on any Western modes, for obvious reasons. I decided to learn my portion off a provided tape rather than learn the whole notation series and apply it, for time constraints. But it's still music, after all, and I wanted to make it sound good.

And in the end, I did, though I had one of those weird brain farts that made me forget about 1/3 of the "tune." But many years of training comes in handy, and my old reflexes kicked in--never let them show you forgot, and always, always keep going. Besides, it's more important to get the Hebrew pronunciation correct in such an instance, anyway, and much to my surprise, that pretty much stuck even as I made up notes to go along with the words.

The entire reading took about an hour and fifteen minutes. So many different women and different voices; some classically trained, like myself, others barely getting over the courage to sing in public. Sure, some went off-key or were too slow, but each individual meshed with another to form this beautiful, continuous melody as the story of Purim was recounted once again. Afterwards, we ate; it's what Jewish people really do best. And we breathed a huge sigh of relief that it was over, and exulted that we had accomplished something unique, something that even if it becomes a yearly tradition, will never quite be the same. Those who participate then will be more confident, more assertive, but like many things, it's never quite the same after the first time, when it's still very much a novelty, when a trail is being forged.

A girl I've known much of my life was visiting from Montreal and came to hear us, and she commented how it was amazing that she could be in her hometown and participate in such a thing. She'd lived in Israel, been to New York City, and never did, but could find a women's reading in the town of her birth. And so it was for the vast majority of women in attendance.

It's too early to say whether I'll take part in such a thing again next year, but wherever I am, I sure would like to. It was unique, it was affirming, and it was a hell of a lot of fun.

LA Times Book Festival Nominees 

The shortlists were announced yesterday, and the awards will be given out at the annual Book Festival, held the weekend of April 24. One of these years, I'll have to trek out and go, because it looks like so much fun, and so many fantastic authors take part.

In fiction, the nominees are a very strong bunch:

Sherman Alexie, "Ten Little Indians: Stories"
Pete Dexter, "Train: A Novel"
Michelle Huneven, "Jamesland"
Jhumpa Lahiri, "The Namesake"
Tobias Wolff, "Old School: A Novel."

While on the crime fiction side, it's a little more eclectic with quite the international flavor:

Neil Gordon, "The Company You Keep"
Peter Lovesey, "The House Sitter"
Henning Mankell, "The Dogs of Riga: A Kurt Wallander Mystery" [translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson]
Rebecca Pawel, "Death of a Nationalist"
George P. Pelecanos, "Soul Circus: A Novel."

I'm confused how Gordon's book qualifies as crime fiction, to be honest--never marketed or promoted as such and few, if any, of the mystery bookshops stocked it. But what the hell. It's a great honor for debut novelist Pawel, and great to see the underrated Lovesey on the list. Soho Press should be quite chuffed.

And a Good Purim to you 

Once again, it's that time of year. A time to dress up, eat hamentashen, and drink oneself silly. Except frankly, I'm not much for putting on costumes (Hallowe'en? What-ever) and only indulge in the occasional hamentash. (no comments on anything else--hey, like any Jewish holiday, it's all about food.) And alas, drinking myself into a stupor was not on the bill--such is life when you're the designated driver. But in spite of it all, I did participate in a very enjoyable and illuminating venture (more later) and had myself a very good time.

So let's turn our attention to the world of crime fiction then, shall we?

The Guardian has to be first up, because they went insane, positively insane this week. Terry Eagleon rhapsodizes about David Peace's GB84, giving it by far the best review the book has received to date. Where's my copy? I want my copy!! (ed. just because it's a Jewish holiday doesn't mean you have license to kvetch more than usual.) Anyway, also piping up in the Review is Mark Lawson on Reginald Hill's GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT, and how the books bear hardly any relation anymore to the Dalziel and Pascoe BBC series. Jon Courtenay Grimwood is far, far less enthralled with Jodi Compton's THE 37TH HOUR, but it seems to me that he misses the point; it's not a ratcheted-to-the-seat suspense novel, it's about mood and character. And some fine writing. But then, I liked Compton's debut quite a lot. Maxim Jakubowski has a slim crime roundup, and finally, PD James explains how telling stories to her siblings at a young age sowed the seed for her career as a writer.

Margaret Cannon is her usual cheery self this week at the Globe and Mail, giving raves here, there and everywhere to Thomas Cook's PERIL, Alec Michod's debut THE WHITE CITY ("one of the best historical mysteries of the year"? Really? Hmm) Laurie King's THE GAME, Leslie Silbert's THE INTELLIGENCER, Cornel Woolrich's previously uncollected short stories, and Nicole Lundrigan's debut UNRAVELING ARVA, which sounds so compelling I'm going to have to hunt a copy down as soon as I can.

Oline Cogdill's back after a bit of an extended absence, and turns her attention to one of the better reads of last year, Jim Fusilli's TRIBECA BLUES, and to a newer release by Twist Phelan, one of the many talented folks on the Poisoned Pen roster. Every time I read one of Oline's reviews, I'm reminded of how much I try to emulate her in my own review-writing.

Tom and Enid Schantz have a monthly mystery column in the Denver Post, and this time they devote their energies to historical mysteries. Those getting the thumbs-up include Laurie King's latest Holmes/Russell novel THE GAME, Lora Roberts' THE AFFAIR OF THE INCOGNITO TENANT (another Holmes pastiche) and Jane Finnis' Roman-set debut GET OUT OR DIE.

And David Montgomery returns with another column for the Chicago Sun-Times, rounding up the latest in the genre. He's extremely impressed with William Kent Krueger's BLOOD HOLLOW, is charmed by Julie Hyzy's debut ARTISTIC LICENSE, enjoys the newest books by Kris Nelscott and Ray Shannon, and finds John Dunning's THE BOOKMAN'S PROMISE a bit wanting.

Kris Nelscott's novel also gets attention at the Oregonian, getting a strong review from Alice Evans.

The Tacoma News-Tribune interviews Sara Paretsky about her latest V.I. Warshawski novel, and why she's still struggling with the crime fiction label which some see as a "put down."

Meanwhile, Floridian and crime fiction writer Tim Dorsey is profiled in the Palm Beach Post.

Jack Batten is back, and this time he's all over the latest 87th Precinct novel by Ed McBain. The verdict? He digs.

And in the best of the rest of the news:

Maud! Washington Post Book World! I'm telling you, bloggers are taking over print reviewing by storm. Gotta wonder, who'll be next?

In Scotland on Sunday, Rachel Sieffert is rather envious of Jacqueline Wilson's status as the UK's "most borrowed author" but she also confesses a deep love of libraries. Meanwhile, in the Observer, Seiffert talks about how she's balancing writing with teaching, and what effect the latter has on the former.

I have nothing to criticize in Laura Miller's column this week. Shocking? Well, she makes the case for Stephen Wright as one of the Great American Novelists, and I think she might have actually succeeded, just a little bit.

Martin Levin at the Globe and Mail wonders about the "pamphlet paradigm," or taking what's good enough for a magazine article and stretching it into book length. He also takes a bit of a shot at blogs, but on the other hand, so many are "personal polemics and rants on topics ranging from baseball to Bush to bag lunches." But when you find the good ones, it's like striking gold. Really.

Valerie Martin reviews Sarah Dunant's THE BIRTH OF VENUS for the NYTBR and approves. Me, I'm just glad that I can get a paperback edition of the book, since Canada stocks its own edition which was released at the same time as the UK one.

Christopher Paolini's ERAGON has hit the UK and Diana Wynne Jones finally understands what the fuss is all about.

Guy Gavriel Kay may well be one of the best fantasy writers going, because his novels are always on an epic scale. His newest, THE LAST LIGHT OF THE SUN, explores new worlds, much to the appreciation of Robert Wiersma of the Toronto Star.

And finally, it's so easy to respond to Robert McCrum's columns at length, but this time, better to let the man speak for himself:

No one from civilian life in possession of their right mind should willingly go to a publishing party. These are routine training manoeuvres and best left to enlisted personnel on front-line duty in the world of books.

But if, by some twist of fate, you find yourself marooned at a publishing bash - lacking the chutzpah to shout: 'Fire!' or short of a well-informed literary conversational gambit - you could do a lot worse than utter an apparently trivial remark like: 'Book embargoes - who needs 'em?'

Sentiments of this kind will keep the party going with a swing long after chucking-out time. The unbearable thrill of the embargo rarely fails to exert its ancient fascination.

No kidding. Put something out of reach of the common masses, and they clamor for it. But the question is, will Jayson Blair's book make the bestseller list of the newspaper he repeatedly lied to? Odds are good that such a thing is bound to occur.

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