Friday, March 19, 2004

Obligatory Belle de Jour stuff 

Truth is, I'm just about ready to put a moratorium on anything related to the London blogger but Lizzie's open letter was too freakin' funny not to link to. And oh yeah, Belle will be published in the US by Warner books sometime next year. Interestingly, no word on whether Canada is interested in acquiring the rights to LONDON CALLING--no doubt the US or UK editions will have to duke it out at some pre-determined point.

Some spate of linkage 

10 years ago, BRAVO TWO ZERO told the story of an SAS mission gone terribly awry, blowing the lid open on the secret force. It also launched the careers of thriller writers Andy McNab and Chris Ryan. But Mike Coburn has a different view that's substantially different from BRAVO'S, and not surprisingly, he's getting lots of flak for it.

Damon Galgut's THE GOOD DOCTOR is finally available in the US. I've wanted to read the Booker-shortlisted book for ages, and this review in the New York Times only heightens my initial feelings about the book.

Waterstone's has decided to adopt a "Staff's picks" program to boost sales of various books, using bookseller's personal choices for a national campaign. Do also check out the snarky comment left at Booktrade.info about how it's basically the same idea Books, Etc. came up with years ago.

It's so hard to be Amazon.com--the ups, the downs, the grins, the frowns are second nature to them now.....

The longlist for the biggest non-fiction award in Britain, the Samuel Johnson award, has been announced. The emphasis this year is less on war and political biography and more on "quirky" fare.

The Independent jumps on the "25 words or less" bandwagon and asks a contributor to summarize a whole bunch of famous novels in the briefest of paragraphs. Hit and miss, but some are pretty damned funny.

David Liss is interviewed in Columbus This Week about his new book, A SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION, which takes up where the Edgar-winning A CONSPIRACY OF PAPER left off.

Comedians like Jay Leno are jumping on the kid's book bandwagon. Jury's out on whether I should be impressed by this or not.

And finally, four more years of The Daily Show, baby. Maybe one of these days I'll actually go see the show live, in person--although I bet the waiting list is probably a year long by now.....

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Really, it's better to think some things through 

If this isn't in the running for a Darwin Award of some sort, it ought to be:

A delusional man who apparently believed he was Jesus Christ built a wooden cross and tried to nail his hands to it in a horrific bid to re-create the crucifixion, police say.

But after hammering a spike through one palm, the man realized there was no way to hammer his other hand to the cross - so he dragged himself to the phone to dial 911 with his free hand.

Asked if he'd recently seen "The Passion of the Christ," the 23-year-old man, from Hartland, Maine, answered no, but said he had been "seeing pictures of God on the computer."

Baby, it's who you know 

Boyd Tonkin, writing in the Independent, professes shock about certain practices in the publishing industry:

...the jaw really drops on discovering that fully 40 per cent of the sample (of more than 500) got their first job in publishing "through a contact, a referral or network of some kind". So it's still not what you know... A couple of months ago, I wrote in this column that "the British literary scene indulges in a level of nepotism that might make the average Medici blush". At the time, I wondered if that sounded like a bit of cheap hyperbole. If only.

Gosh, only 40 percent? I would have thought the number would be higher, frankly. Although Tonkin's complaint has some validity, which is that perhaps such practices might impede upon the growing call for greater diversity in the publishing world, ultimately, it just sounds rather hollow.

Or more succinctly: why should the publishing industry be any different than any other profession in the world? Obviously, merit counts for something--no one wants a complete twit working on the job--but if you have no contact base whatsoever looking out for you at least in a professional manner (though personal connections help a hell of a lot as well) then you're basically sunk, as far as I am concerned.

Perhaps my viewpoint is skewed by the fact that I'm currently looking for a day job at the moment, and have been for a few months, although it's only been extra serious since I finished my thesis almost two months ago. To do that, I've had to start with job openings I'm aware of, but also pinpoint places I would like to work at that don't have anything open at the moment. But in doing so, I make contacts. And those contacts have other contacts. Which lead to job interviews, which will, at some point, eventually lead to a job. It's slow and time consuming but it's a lot quicker than if I had no one to turn to. And the same goes in looking for a publishing job or heavens, even landing a book deal (maybe especially landing a book deal.) Will merit get you published? No doubt about it. But why else would one go to conferences, writer's groups, parties, conventions, and other places where writers, editors and agents congregate? Well, because all three congregate there and are potential contacts. If I ever write something that in my mind, merits publication, I know I have a fairly solid contact base that should I make use of it, will help me in some form or another. Would I still have to deliver the goods? Obviously, yes, and the process doesn't accelerate just because one knows someone who knows someone else.

But it all helps. And sometimes, it even pays off.

It's a banner week for crime fiction zines 

I'm staggered, absolutely staggered by the sheer amount of content that's newly available today.

First, Issue 21 of SHOTS is up, and I have no qualms in telling you that it's the best one yet. Thanks to the efforts of our webmaster, Tony "Grog" Roberts, it looks meaner, sharper, and is bursting with content. There are interviews with Karin Slaughter (editrix of LIKE A CHARM), Chris Brookmyre, Fidelis Morgan, Chris Mooney, Chris Simms, Roger Jon Ellory, Morag Joss, Jeff Abbott, Teddy Hayes, and the capper, a monster feature on David Morrell (creater of John Rambo and the author of many more thrillers). All of Orion's Nine New Blood authors are interviewed as well, and featured in photo galleries from their launch signing and party back in January. And new author Mick Herron talks about the genesis of his debut, ON CEMETERY ROAD.

Think that's all? Not by a longshot. My hands are all over this issue in the form of three stories that I am really excited about: Ray Banks's "Phillie's Last Dance," Gina Gallo's "Higher Education," and Dirk Robertson's "Black, Watch and Tartan." I'm hoping to boost the number of shorts published in Issue #22 to 5-6, and so I'm actively looking for submissions. Spread the word and see the contact information in the masthead for how to submit.

Meanwhile, Neil Smith has let me know that the brand new issue of PLOTS WITH GUNS is live as well and once again, I'm so impressed with what they have. Stories offered up include those by Charlie Stella, Ray Banks (who's on a serious roll of late), budding novelist Scott Wolven, and partner-in-crime Jennifer Jordan. Maviano's Earful column is something to behold, a brutal example of how good creative non-fiction can be. And finally, George Pelecanos and Eddie Muller get the interview treatment by Stacey Cochran and Trevor Maviano, respectively, and Muller's interview offers up a special surprise: his two books, the marvellous THE DISTANCE and SHADOWBOXER, will be reissued in paperback by the folks at Uglytown. Even though I already have hb copies of both, I think I might just spring for the paper editions, which will no doubt look as gorgeous as their offerings have been to date.

Wow, just posting all that was bloody exhausting. But enjoy each magazine's wares. And hats off to everyone for their amazing work.

Not your usual promotional giveaway 

Publisher's Weekly called Daniel Silva's novel "The English Assassin" a "superbly crafted thriller."

The review, however, doesn't say anything about marijuana and Percodan.

Yet it was pot and ground-up pain pills that authorities allege were stuffed into the binding of a copy of the book and mailed to an inmate at Lackawanna County Prison.

The inmate, Nicholas Lapelosa, was charged Monday with conspiracy and other crimes. The charges were announced Tuesday, Mr. Lapelosa's 33rd birthday, by Lackawanna County District Attorney Andrew J. Jarbola III.

Somehow, I suspect this wasn't what Silva's publisher had in mind when they wanted to come up with freebies to give away with the book...

(link from Bookninja.)

Good morning 

I'm not doing the morning links today, as frankly, I spent way too much time on my most recent post (and hello for all those coming here who probably read the Times article or one of the wire articles, hope you stick around for my usual slice of life) among other things, as yesterday was awfully prolific. So today, I rest. At least for now. I may break in sometime later in the day, knowing me.

But enjoy the offerings below, and most of the usual suspects will have fine and piping hot content to offer up to you. And for anyone else I forgot, well, check those handy links on the right hand side.

And one more thing: Lawrence Block, whose new book THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL is a highly enjoyable piece of entertainment, is out on the road on a lengthy book tour to promote this brand-new release and will be speaking at many a bookstore and library near you. Aside from the fact that he's a favorite and that an event of his is always worth checking out because he's so good at reading from his work, now he's started a tour blog, which he'll be updating daily from now till mid-May, when the tour is complete. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Belle de Jour outed 

Well I must say, it happened awfully fast, but then, that's what happens when you've got handy folks like The Times sniffing around. But yes, evidently Belle's identity has been unearthed. According to the paper, she is really Sarah Champion, a book editor (including a fiction anthology called DISCO BISCUITS published in 1997) with the following credentials:

[Champion has been a] freelance music journalist at NME at 16, pop columnist for the Manchester Evening News, author of And God Created Manchester, former publicist and private detective and today a global party correspondent and the compiler of techno and drum'n'bass CDs Trance Europe Express and Breakbeat Science.

Although Champion did not deny the story, Belle has refused to divulge her identity in the most recent post on her blog, and in fact, gets rather cheeky, pointing folks to this brand-new site where you, too, can confess to being Belle de Jour.

When the Times story is available to me, I'll make it available to you all. The story is, as some say, developing.

UPDATE, March 18, 7:45 AM: Having now read the Times article, I am less than impressed with their research methods:

A detailed analysis of her writing by the man who famously unmasked Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors has convinced him that she is Sarah Champion, a 33-year-old author from Manchester.

Don Foster, America's foremost literary sleuth, identified quirks in Belle's text, such as the way she uses brackets, dashes, compound verbs and italics. He entered this information into Google, the internet search engine, and within 20 minutes found that Miss Champion was the only person who matched the linguistic fingerprint.

"While no piece of evidence is conclusive by itself, I'm sure we have found our woman," he said.

Hello...you're going with a story that involves umasking a pseudonymous author....and all you have to support your claim is a freakin' GOOGLE search??? Wow, whatever happened to real investigation? Pounding the pavement and hours of painstaking research?

But interestingly, the whole google thing seems to have worked:

Last night Ms Champion, who is currently living with her boyfriend in California, did not deny that she was the woman behind Belle. "I'm in San Francisco at the moment...to hide," she said, laughing.

She said that she was aware of the impact Belle de Jour had had and asked: "How did you find my name? Give me a clue?" Later she sent an e-mail with the statement: "I want to make clear that I have never been a call girl."

Of course, even her non-denial denial isn't totally conclusive, but it might explain, at least a little, why Belle seems to have an "American" voice, according to those who have frequented the site much more than I have.

The Times has even more information on Ms. Champion that basically parrots what I had discovered myself last night:

Ms Champion bears an uncanny resemblance to Belle, although the website call girl is meant to be nearly ten years her junior [sic]. They both display an extraordinary love of obscure bands, have relatives in Yorkshire, have spent time in Manchester and are widely read in modern literature. Belle shows a detailed knowledge of South London and describes how she was "divided in love (from her boyfriend) by the A23".

In 2002 Ms Champion was living in West Norwood, South London, less than a mile from the trunk road. She grew up in Manchester but left school before doing her A levels to become a freelance journalist, writing for the New Musical Express and the Manchester Evening News.

She briefly found recognition as a writer in the mid-1990s, editing anthologies about alternative culture, including And God Created Manchester and Disco Biscuits. She has been described as "a former publicist and private detective and today a global party correspondent and the compiler of techno and drum 'n' bass CDs". She left Britain in 2000 for Bangkok, returning in 2002.

So suffice it to say that I am still less than impressed with the whole thing. OTOH, it makes a lot of sense that Belle would be a writer/editor with some experience as opposed to some neophyte--or a 50something man doing this just for kicks. But it's all so weird.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Will Batchelor's wire story covers some of the same ground but also features comments from Champion's mother:

Ms Champion’s mother, Elaine Champion, denied her daughter has any connection to the diary.

From her home in Chorlton, Manchester, she said: “It is totally untrue. Sarah didn’t write it, she has got nothing to do with it.

“I spoke to her yesterday and I think she is seeing the funny side. She wants it to blow over.

“Personally, I am quite embarrassed by it because I don’t know if our friends or family might see it and think it is true.

“Me and her father are very proud of her. She has done a lot for herself.

“She is certainly not a call girl. No way at all.”

So there you go. Is Belle really Sarah? Even if it is, does it make the diary "real" or totally fake? And will I stop finding stuff about this story to post? Stay tuned....

Remembering Ross 

I've become rather addicted to the transcripts of Washington Post Book Editor Michael Dirda's weekly chats. This time, he focuses on "major minor writers" in all genres, and closes the chat with a brief remembrance of what may well be my favorite mystery writer, Ross Thomas:

Lexington, Ky. : Michael, Many "major minor" writers have been discussed on your book chat. Many so-called genre writers are relegated even beneath that level and yet for years write excellent books that are soon lost to posterity. I'll nominate Ross Thomas from that pile because his books went out of print after his death and are now coming back into print in quality trade paper editions. Why should anyone read Thomas today? Because he was a decent stylist who wrote political thrillers about skullduggery in high places and that makes his books pertinent today!

Michael Dirda: Ross Thomas is a wonderful writer. Try Chinaman's Chance or The Seersucker Whipsaw or The Cold War Swap. I used to call Ross up to review thrillers and he was always at his desk in Malibu. I miss him.

So do I, and I know I'm not the only one who thinks this, not by a long shot. I was introduced to Thomas's works a few months before St. Martin's Press began reissuing them in trade paperback--a program I hope will continue until all twenty-five of his novels are back in print. Although Dirda's made some fine choices of which of Thomas's books to pick up, I started with 1987's OUT ON THE RIM--and was totally enthralled by Thomas's terse storytelling style that moved briskly yet was filled with wry humor. After that, I was hooked. My own favorites so far besides RIM--since I still have several books to read because I'm trying to pace myself--are THE FOURTH DURANGO (1988) which may be the nastiest book about small-town politics ever written, and MISSIONARY STEW (1983) for its knowledgeable take on the backstabbing and vagaries of prepping a candidate to run for presidency. But really, you pretty much can't go wrong with any of Thomas's books written under his own name (the five he wrote using the pen name Oliver Bleeck are regarded as somewhat inferior, though I haven't read any to comment one way or another.)

I've never had more pleasure in catching up with a writer's backlist as I have with Thomas, but it saddens me, of course, that the list is finite, as Thomas died back in 1995. And yet, even though his political thrillers are very much a product of their time, they seem eerily prescient even now, making me wonder what, exactly, Thomas would have made of the current political climate. Every time something major happens, like the situation in Haiti, the War on Iraq, the suicide bombings and the Presidential Election, a familiar mantra resonates in my brain: What Would Ross Thomas Do? But alas, we'll never know now.

For more Thomas-related info, see David Montgomery's tribute, Tony Hiss's memorial written for the Atlantic Monthly, and Roger L. Simon's speculation in the L.A. Weekly that Thomas might well have been a spy. Suffice it to say that Thomas's life and work would make for an excellent biography, should someone be inclined towards that sort of thing.

Newton Thornburg Interview 

The folks at Tangled Web have an excellent resource for crime fiction fans in Britain, and occasionally, come up with some wonderful original content. Their most recent addition is no exception, as Bob Cornwell tracks down an underrated gem in the genre. Newton Thornburg is the author of CUTTER AND BONE, which was turned into the 80s movie CUTTER'S WAY, and is considered to be something of a noir classic. He wrote 10 other novels, but only two others--TO DIE IN CALIFORNIA (1973) and DREAMLAND (1983) are in print in the UK, thanks to the efforts of Serpent's Tail.

Cornwell's interview is extensive, as he goes into much detail about Thornburg's career and his impact on noir fiction, even on those that may not otherwise realize it. But sadly, there will be no more novels:

Life has not been kind in recent years to Newton Thornburg. In 1986 his "lovely long marriage" to Karin, his wife of 33 years, ended when she died, he has lost a beloved son to alcoholism and seven years ago Thornburg suffered a stroke that has left him paralysed down his left side. Living with government help in a retirement home near Seattle, he is wheelchair bound, unable to walk, even the most simple tasks a trial. "Sometimes", he tells me early on, "it takes me a while to get to the phone."

Most of all he is physically unable to write. Somehow he managed to complete Eve's Men (1998), though some of it was written ten years before, and that book remains his last published work. He remains philosophical: "A lot of old guys write one more book", he instances Norman Mailer, "and they shouldn't."

Is he philosophical because there's nothing he can do about it, or because there's nothing he can do about his inability to express himself in print that he can be philosophical about it? Obviously, the answer to that question will not be forthcoming anytime soon. But what a shame regardless. And although I'd long been meaning to try one of Thornburg's books, I think I'll be on the lookout in a much more urgent manner after reading this interview.

And even more new deals 

...as reported by the venerable folks at Publisher's Marketplace.

Looks like John Connor's going to be the breakout author of the recent Nine New Blood Campaign from Orion:

Senior prosecutor with the Crown Prosecution Service John Connor's A CHILD'S GAME, the third in the Karen Sharpe series, to Yvette Goulden at Orion, in a two-book deal, for five figures, by Philip Patterson of Marjacq. The BBC has licensed his first two Sharpe novels PHOENIX and THE PLAYROOM for television.

Meanwhile, those in the UK better get their HypeMonster (TM) watch going for this new one:

Young Scottish novelist Stuart MacBride's debut crime novel COLD GRANITE, to Jane Johnson at Harper UK, for six figures, for three, books, for publication beginning in May 2005, by Philip Patterson (world). Goldmann pre-empted German rights for six figures right before LBF, by Andrea Joyce at Harper. Harper's Lucy Vandervilt is selling US rights.

Chris Simms switches publishers 

Chris Simms, whose books OUTSIDE THE WHITE LINES and PECKING ORDER have generated some serious buzz and critical acclaim in the crime fiction world (for what it's worth, my review of PECKING ORDER was included in the most recent Rap Sheet roundup from January Magazine) has just moved from Hutchinson/Arrow, which published those books, to Orion, which, according to his agent Jane Gregory, has awarded him "a healthy five-figure advance" for his next two books. The news was announced a couple of days ago during the London Book Fair but is only leaking out now.

I asked Chris about it and here's what he had to say:

My, word gets around fast! In the best traditions of the crime genre, it was a case of them making me an offer I couldn't refuse! It's just a great shame to leave the team at Hutchinson.

Such is how it goes, of course, but as Jane Wood will be his primary editor at Orion, I'd venture to say he'll be in very good hands over there. And Orion, with their staggering crime list, has a better ability to promote new authors and make their names more visible, at least in the UK publishing world. In any case, huge congratulations to Chris, and I know I'm not the only one looking forward to his next work. So far, he's already carved out a nice little niche in psychological thrillers that deal with some seriously offbeat topics but are extremely well-written. No doubt that shall continue and develop even further with Orion.

Lit Idol from an American Perspective 

The Washington Post, interestingly enough, has a long feature on Lit Idol in this morning's paper. Although Paul Cavanagh, the lone Canadian in the final bunch, was the overall winner and will be represented by Ali Gunn of Curtis Brown, it seems that Karen Barichievy's S&M-tinged DIRTY WOMEN made quite the impression, and Gunn will rep her as well. It also seems that Barichievy's book might get a deal first, as Cavanagh's NORTHWEST PASSAGE is only half-complete.

Still, that won't stop Gunn from putting the book up for auction:

Gunn said she expected to hold an auction for Cavanagh's book soon. "Obviously, I don't even start negotiating unless it's above six figures," she said, with some bravado. "I don't get out of bed for less than a hundred thousand."

But Cavanagh has more tangible worries right now:

So will Cavanagh, à la "Survivor's" Richard Hatch, become famous, a true Lit Idol?

"I don't know what that is," he said. "I just feel like someone who has to figure out how to get his book finished in a very short time."

No kidding. Hat's off to him if he can, and based on the short synopsis and the excerpt that's available, it looks to be an interesting read. But don't be surprised if Barichievy proves to be the breakout star of this year's installment (hmm, the Clay Aiken to Cavanagh's Ruben? Nah, that's stretching an analogy way too far....)

It's not easy wearing green 

Happy St. Patrick's Day, folks. Even as one Canadian MP wants to make it a statutory holiday and people will be getting themselves ridiculously drunk all over the world, I will just keep my head down and my mind on the world of publishing and literature. It's just easier that way.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's.....a novelist? Yes, all sorts of writers, like Michael Chabon, Greg Rucka, and Brad Meltzer have been dabbling (well, in Rucka's case, it's a full-blown side career) in the comics industry, and they speak to the New York Times about their endeavors. While we're bringing Rucka up, his Atticus Kodiak series, especially the most recent one, CRITICAL SPACE, kick absolute ass. And his recent standalone, A FISTFUL OF RAIN, was pretty damn good as well. The man knows how to write express-train suspense.

Chuck Palahniuk answered questions at the Guardian the other day, the topics ranging from the now-infamous short story "Guts", his secret desire to write a stage play (I can so see this) to whether he'll, uh, collaborate with JK Rowling.

Newly appointed NYTBR editor Sam Tenenhaus is profiled in the New York Observer today. Rachel Donadio looks at his career as a whole, tries to debunk the idea that he has a conservative agenda (with the help from a quote from Terry) and reveals that his wife, Kathryn Bonomi, arranges programming at the Jacob Burns film Center in Westchester, something I've heard wonderful things about in terms of what they offer and their role in the community. Cool.

And also at the Observer, Sara Nelson examines why Matthew Sharpe's THE SLEEPING FATHER, a paperback original published by Soft Skull Press, has broken out into a huge critical and commercial success. It's a great story.

My copy of David Peace's GB84 arrived in the mail earlier this week, and the Telegraph has all their features on him up, finally. I've linked to the interviews he gave to Jasper Rees and Mark Blacklock before, but there's also the paper's review written by Sukhev Sandhu, who finds it to be bloated and nasty but somehow magnificent. Or difficult. Or unforgettable. Oh boy, that's why I'm saving it until I'm emotionally and mentally ready to handle it, considering how much each installment of the Red Riding Quartet took out of me.

The Toronto Star has a couple of St. Paddy's Day related items. Richard Ouzounian lists the top ten Irish exports--playwrights and stagesmiths all--while Judy McStoffman looks at the current crop of Irish authors like Marian Keyes, Cecelia Ahern and Colm Toibin.

Persephone Graham, a professor at the University of Delaware, has written a treatise on Cuban and Latin American detective fiction, after discovering that 25 percent of all books published in Cuba between 1972 and 1986 were detective novels. Hot damn, how many of those will be translated? Not a hell of a lot, I'd venture to say.l

David Kipen at the SF Chronicle is somewhat bemused by John Dunning's bibliophile mystery THE BOOKMAN'S PROMISE. He spends much of the time criticising it for being not up to par, but then confesses he "devoured the book hungrily." Odd, but these things happen after all.

The Orange Prize judges are celebrating the longlist's diversity. How about celebrating the fact that a lot of good books made it on, and hopefully the best one will win? Or is that too naive a thought in this day and age.

An archive of letters and manuscripts by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is expected to fetch 2 million pounds after suddenly resurfacing after four decades at a London legal firm.

Oh boy, Darley has done it again: superagent Darley Anderson, who reps Lee Child, John Connolly, Martina Cole, Caroline Carver, and many others, has secured a rumoured 350,000 pound deal with Harper Collins for a first novel by Alex Barclay, a 30 year old Dublin-based writer whose work is supposedly reminiscent of Tami Hoag, Patricia Cornwell, and Karin Slaughter. Good god, it's Connolly's female doppelganger.

Richard & Judy, those TV rascals responsible for putting Joseph O'Connor's STAR OF THE SEA on the bestseller list (leading to his just-sealed seven figure deal for 3 more books that was finalized during the London Book Fair) have done their magic on a non-fiction tome, as sales of William Dalrymple's WHITE MUGHALS has risen by 440% at the chains this past week.

Jane Jakeman raves about Tom Franklin's debut novel HELL AT THE BREECH for the Independent, with good reason--this is a fabulous, fabulous work. Sprawling, emotional, beautifully written--I know I yammered about this over the weekend but it bears repeating because it is just so, so good.

Matthew Reilly is one of the biggest selling authors in his native Australia. Now he's about to launch his next thriller on his website for free--provided you sit through a banner ad first.

And finally, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the longtime partners responsible for the hit musical HAIRSPRAY, are profiled in the G&M. Their next project? A musical version of Frank Abagnale Jr.'s CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. You know, that might actually work....

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I suppose you're wondering why you're all here 

PILAR--For more than a year, the public has been mesmerized by the murder of socialite Mar?a Marta Garc?a Belsunce, a true-life drama with details seemingly borrowed from an Agatha Christie novel.

Moments after Garc?a Belsunce's body was discovered in her bathtub in October 2002, the leading suspects gathered in the living room of her villa in this Buenos Aires suburb to discuss what they should do: her husband, her brother, her brother-in-law, her doctor, even her masseuse.

Now a prosecutor has stepped forward to say who among them will be charged in Garc?a Belsunce's killing. But the alleged motive is an unexpected and disturbing twist that is more Sopranos than Christie: Garc?a Belsunce was murdered, the prosecutor alleges, not out of jealously or greed, but to cover up the dealings of Mexico's Juarez drug cartel.

Sometimes, truth truly is stranger than fiction...

Line of the week 

Courtesy of Jess @ the Blueprint:

Hollywood is so predictable. after all the pre-release ballyhooing of the passion (didn't some say mel would never work in this town again?), the fiscal success of the jesus jawn has studio execs reconsidering the cash cow potential in secular flicks. can religion, however, become a form of sustainable entertainment? the passion may be more of a momentary phenomenon with moviegoers and not necessarily an indicator of the public's desire for faith-based entertainment. unless, of course, vivid video produces an interpretation of the story of sodom & gomorrah, which would definitely be worth checking out.

Hell, the lines would be about three-deep a couple of days in advance....

Late on the bandwagon and so am I 

I read the Globe and Mail's profile of Jayson Blair in a coffee shop downtown yesterday. It was the usual standard stuff but this portion caught my eye, as I think Simon Houpt, the interviewer, meant it to do:

In his New Yorker review of Masters' House, Nicholas Lemann suggests the Times could prevent another Blair-like incident by creating a small team of researchers who would randomly spot-check and verify stories before publication. (This idea was first floated by the Times biographer Alex Jones immediately after the executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd fell on their swords last June.)

In some interviews, Blair acknowledges Lemann. Then at Hue Man Experience he tells the audience, "I actually have an innovative idea, to actually have someone inspect stories." There is no mention that others have already put forward the idea.

Hue Man is an African-American centered bookshop in Harlem where the audience had been really receptive to Blair and his "ideas." Can we just get down to the bottom line, which is that Blair's a sociopathic charmer? He has all the symptoms: ingratiating oneself with those above him in power while having little use or being downright hostile to his peers. Lying effortlessly and smoothly and fooling the bosses while others suspect but can never prove what he does (although of course, the Times eventually did.) I could go on, but I suspect the link I provided would have a lot more apt parallels to Blair's behavior.

And I really doubt he'll ever learn from his mistakes. Which means we'll be subjected to this crap at some point in the future, in some form or another.

News of your day 

Let's lead off with Alice Randall. Three years after controversially trying to retell GONE WITH THE WIND from the point of view of a female black slave, she's baaaack, and taking no prisoners with her new book, PUSHKIN AND THE QUEEN OF SPADES. She wants to know why black women are being spurned in favor of white women when it comes to marriage and relationships, and what this means in terms of the black male psyche and their behavior. Suffice it to say there's already a wee bit of controversy starting up.

The Guardian tries to understand why Plum Sykes is making the Manhattan society world buzz with anticipation about her upcoming debut novel, BERGDORF BLONDES. Probably because it's supposed to be trashier and even more poorly written than THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA? Otherwise, beats the hell out of me...

In the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley reconsiders Daphne Du Maurier's REBECCA and argues the case for it to be considered on literary merit and not just as "Jane Eyre Lite", while Chris Lehmann examines Geoffrey O'Brien's book about pop music and its power to transport people back to cherished memories, among other things.

Holy crap--a Canadian wins Lit Idol? Yes, it's true: Paul Cavanagh of Ontario has nabbed the top prize and will be represented by Ali Gunn of Curtis Brown. To read an excerpt from Cavanagh's winning novel, NORTHWEST PASSAGE, go here. Karen Barichievy was the runner-up, and it remains to be seen whether more of the shortlist will ink publishing deals, as Cavanagh is tipped to do.

Yesterday wasn't just the Ides of March--it was also the 440th anniversary of the first book ever printed in Russia, THE APOSTLE, printed up by Ivan Federov and his printing press.

Scottish literature is enjoying an unexpected but enjoyable boom in foreign countries, as novels from the likes of Alisdair Gray, Michel Faber and Louise Welsh are being translated into a variety of different languages.

The Evening Standard seems to think that the Orange Prize might be Monica Ali's chance to finally snag a prize, although I think there's some very stiff competition that she would have to overcome to do just that. Meanwhile, the G&M has a Canadian perspective on the Orange Prize longlist, focusing on Margaret Atwood, the lone Canadian entry.

The Globe and Mail offers up an interview with Lillian Nattel, whose new book THE SINGING FIRE is racking up plenty of praise. She talks about its elements of magical realism and her place in contemporary Jewish literature.

More on Katie Price (better known to Brits as Jordan, though for the life of me, I can't figure out why) and her upcoming autobiography, which will ship out 250,000 copies based on pre-advanced orders. Yeesh, what people will do to try to find out if she slept with Becks once and for all. Does it really matter? I guess I'm just waiting for her to make news when her breast implants explode or something.

Rosemary Goring laments the books she's left unread even though she's received many recommendations to read them, and discusses such a plight in general. Hell, that's why people have TBR piles in the hundreds, if not thousands....

The very first book in the Complete Peanuts Collection is out. (In fact, I saw someone buying it at Chapters yesterday afternoon while there to engage in my semi-regular book reading binge.) It will take Fantagraphics 12 and a half years to complete the project, and USA Today takes a look at the impetus behind it.

Speaking of USA Today, they are the latest in line to shower praise on Laurie Lynn Drummond's fabulous collection of short stories, ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU. While it's early days yet, this is tops on my list of my own Best of 2004.

Brad Meltzer is the cover boy of this week's Tropical Life magazine, where he talks about his new novel, THE ZERO GAME, how deeply involved he is with comics, and why he left Washington for South Florida.

One of the leading literary festivals in Northern Ireland, Between the Lines, will be held from March 30-April 4. Among the authors making an apperance is one of my absolute favorites, Eoin McNamee, who'll be reading an exclusive preview from his upcoming novel, THE ULTRAS. I bring this up because my copy of the proof arrived in the mail yesterday, and there aren't that many things that can make this girl happier--well, at least when it comes to books...

And finally, I'm still scratching my head about this: Ian Rankin was asked by the Austin-American Statesman to profile people based on their choice of 10 favorite songs. Uh, OK? It's extremely amusing and entertaining, but like I said, I'm confused about the whole damn thing. OTOH, he really ought to know who Bob Schneider is, although I assume he does now. (link via Bookslut.)

Monday, March 15, 2004

Remainders of the day 

Publisher's Lunch is reporting live from the London Book Fair and so the following goodies are directly attributed to Monsieur Cader and his merry band of silent henchmen:

Lord of the Rings, the Musical? Oh my god, please let it not be true. But it seems to be. Gag me, please. What's worse than hobbits in general? SINGING hobbits. Aaaaaah!

First, there was Belle de Jour. A little bit of blogging, a lot of sex talk, and now she has a six-figure deal. Now, here come the spinoffs. There's Beau du Jour, who seems to delight in stalking call girls and fanboying after Belle, and even more humorously, there's Belle de Jew: professional by day, shulgoing demure lass by weekend. Amazingly, I think she's someone's basheert....

Mark your calendars as Kitty Kelley's tell-all on the Bush family will drop on September 14. Will it do enough damage to affect the election, or just dish a lot of good but ultimately worthless dirt? Time, obviously, will tell.

And one of the big celebrity biographies that's being hawked at LBF is by the unclassifiable celeb known to all and sundry in the UK as Jordan. But embarrassingly, the book she held up for a photo op was blank--no text between the covers. Publicity stunt, or something more telling? Reminds me of the old story about legendary pitcher Dizzy Dean after he was hit by a baseball that careened back at him. He went for X-rays, and the next morning the papers trumpeted the headline "X-RAY OF DEAN'S HEAD: SHOWS NOTHING" (paraphrased, but you get the drift.)

Ron has started interviewing authors again, like he used to on a regular basis at Beatrice some years back. This one with Leslie Silbert, author of THE INTELLIGENCER, caught my eye as I'm currently reading this, her debut novel, and enjoying it immensely.

And finally, our favorite indignant blogger has been on a freaking roll of late. He's compiled the Literary Hipster's Handbook, started a campaign to get people snail-mailing again, and forges a link between blurb whoring and well, real whoring. Or something. Not that such a thing ever happens in the literary world. Oh, never, not in the slightest. Well, except for one reviewer for a major paper who gave a favorable review to his on-again, off-again girlfriend. But we'll chalk that up as a one-off....

The whole blurb thing 

As many in the 'sphere have noted by now (though I first saw the story when my friend Ali Karim sent it to me) the Telegraph dropped a bit of a bombshell when various UK authors, most especially Isabel Wolff, admitted that they had given fake blurbs to books they didn't necessarily like, but gave them anyway to see their names on the cover or for other, less noble reasons.

I suppose I'm wondering why this is considered to be newsworthy--this kind of practice has been going on for as long as I've been aware there was a book business. Sure, even now I pay attention--a little bit, anyway--to blurbs, but mostly from the other side of the spectrum. If I see a book by someone I don't know, those who blurb give me an indication of the newbie book's target audience. So if a debut author has blurbs by say, Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane, it indicates that the book is at least supposed to be similar to those bestselling authors' works and that it's likely not to be a tea cozy. It also gives an indication of how much confidence the publishing house has in the new book's abillity to sell. If the only blurbs on the back cover are by B or C list authors, then chances are the book's going to be mired in midlist and not likely to break out anytime soon. But if a whole slew of A-list authors have blurbs on there, then the publisher expects the book--or at least, the author, at some point--to do as well as those who blurbed it.

But I've heard too many stories of backscratching, of friends who blurb other friends, lovers and wives who "secretly" offer blurbs for their loved ones, of authors whose names appear on the back cover but really, their agent or editor actually submitted the blurb, to really take much stock in their overall value. As a marketing tool, sure, it's great when the publisher goes to bat for an author and gets some famous person to blurb you. Should a blurb by Thomas Harris ever appear on the cover of a new novel, that would be beyond stratospheric because he doesn't even go anywhere near that whole business. But there are folks whose names appeared on practically every book for a time--the proverbial "blurb whore." Right now, I'd say the top spot for the honor currently, at least in the mystery genre, is Harlan Coben. I'm wondering if he's going to pack it in and stop blurbing fairly soon, like Lawrence Block and Michael Connelly did after a few years of constant appearances.

There are many authors--plenty of them--that contribute a genuine blurb, who really go out of their way to support new authors because they, in turn, were supported by bestselling authors when they started out in the business. SJ Rozan in her Progress blog discusses her own role as blurber and blurbee:

So who are these blurbers? My editor and I made a list of writers I admire, whose readership would in some way overlap with mine, either because of the kinds of books they write or because they set their books in New York City, ABSENT FRIENDS being a very NYC book. The ones I know personally I asked personally, because when people want me to blurb their books I absolutely hate it when the galley comes out of the blue with no request first. The ones I don't know, Bantam is asking. Most writers are very generous about blurbs, given what a pain it is to be asked to read a book that wasn't on your agenda, just to do someone else a favor. But we all had it done for us early in our careers, so we try to help. Sometimes people turn you down because they're buried; I've done that, too. You can't take it personally, and it won't make or break the book.

And I know an author who has finished reading the manuscript who will likely give it a genuine rave because he was floored by it. So that blurb will be real, and worth something both to readers and to the publisher. But it's hard not to think of Robert B. Parker, another "blurb whore" who supposedly told the crowd at a book signing he did some years back that he either reads books or blurbs them. Knowing that, it kind of takes away any perceived value of his own praise on the back cover of a book, and makes me wonder who else engages in that sort of thing.

Ultimately, I suppose blurbing still has some value, but like anything else, one has to take it with a grain of salt. Because authors are, in the end, readers just like us, with taste issues and hidden agendas, so relying on their word is rather foolhardy. But then, that's where the recommendations game or trusted independent booksellers come in, and that's where they do their very best in making sure the right customer ends up with the right book.

The Orange Prize Longlist 

The Guardian is all over the newly announced longlist of the Orange Prize, given to the best book published by a female author in the last year:

· Brick Lane by Monica Ali (Doubleday)
· Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Bloomsbury)
· The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa (Viking
· Kith and Kin by Stevie Davies (Weidenfeld)
· State of Happiness by Stella Duffy (Virago)
· The Flood by Maggie Gee (Saqi Books)
· The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall (Faber)
· The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (Virago)
· Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller (Viking)
· The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (Flamingo)
· A Visit from Voltaire by Dinah Lee Küng (Peter Halban Publishers)
· Small Island by Andrea Levy (Review)
· Gilgamesh by Joan London (Atlantic)
· The Internationals by Sarah May (Chatto & Windus)
· Love by Toni Morrison (Chatto & Windus)
· Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fourth Estate)
· The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Cape)
· Ice Road by Gillian Slovo (Little, Brown)
· The Colour by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)
· The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus)

Some of the expected big names are on there: Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler, Shirley Hazzard, Jhumpa Lahiri--but some emerging debut novelists are there as well like the much-hyped Monica Ali and Audrey Niffenegger. I, for one, am hugely thrilled to see Stella Duffy on the longlist--though I still haven't read STATE OF HAPPINESS yet, I'm eagerly awaiting doing so and think her one of the finest social satirists and observers in fiction right now.

In any case, the shortlist will be announced on April 27 and the winner, up for a prize of 30 000 pounds, will be announced on June 8.

In related news, the Orange Prize has created a new award for "emerging talent." The winner will get 10,000 pounds, but unlike the parent award, short stories and novellas by debut female writers will be considered for this prize. The first winner will be announced next year to coincide with the main Orange Prize's 10th anniversary.

The Ides of March 

Which brings to mind my favorite quote about it: "I told him, Julie, don't go!" But I'll save any rhapsodizing about that particular sketch for another time, perhaps, and just go straight into the usual pile o' linkage:

And what's really, really hot right now? Japan, actually, as fans are clamoring for Japanese authors to be translated into English. The New York Times takes a look at two publishing companies, Vertical and Kondasha, that specialize in this subgenre.

This year's Book Expo America will be held in Chicago, but after that, it's going back to New York. And it looks like it'll be staged in New York every other year from now on, based on the smashing success of the 2002 BEA. Hmm, maybe one of these years I'll actually get to attend, and New York works pretty well (though Javits is kind of evil and cavernous, but hey, it is tailor-made for trade shows.)

Add Clive Woodall to the list of those who "struck it rich" based on one novel. His children's book ONE FOR SORROW, TWO FOR JOY has nabbed a $1M film deal from Disney, and now he can cut down on his working hours as a supermarket manager. Dude, I'd just quit the freakin' day job as soon as you possibly can.

Canongate Publisher Jamie Byng has been listed as one of the UK's most Influential Men Under 40, according to the Scotsman. Influential, certainly, but how about controversial? He's certainly that as well...

The achievements of women in publishing will finally be recognized in prize form. According to the Bookseller, "The Kim Scott Walwyn Prize, worth £3,000, will be awarded biennially to a woman who has made an outstanding contribution in any area of book publishing in the UK."

Patrick Anderson is quite keen on George Pelecanos' HARD REVOLUTION but does point out a salient fact, that many readers might shy away from Pelecanos's oeuvre because it's violent, drenched in soul music, and "takes racism for granted." Sure, they are not easy reads, but Anderson's final paragraph really pushes the bottom line across incredibly well:

But no one who lives in this city and reads fiction and cares about the world we live in can afford not to read these books. They are reports from front lines that are only a few miles away, unblinking looks at a reality that is all around us, that perhaps we think we have known for years, and yet most often we have never really known at all.

Lev Raphael is back with his mystery roundup for the Freep, and the verdict: so-so on the newest Kinky Friedman, mostly positive for the new Robert B. Parker, and a bigtime rave for Laurie King's THE GAME.

With St. Paddy's Day around the corner, Katherine Powers of the Boston Globe takes the time to expound on the virtues of Flann O'Brien. I have one of his books in the TBR pile (thanks, Jen!) and hope to get around to it soon, once I'm finished with those pesky review copies to read.

Mark Haddon is interviewed by the Canadian Press about, well, the usual stuff, really. He's still amazed by the success and acclaim of CURIOUS INCIDENT and talks a bit about his next project.

Elmer Kelton is one of the few writers who specializes in Westerns in the throwback-y sense, and the Denver Post really likes his latest one, VENDETTA.

Yesterday I linked to Dan Rhodes' tribute to Patrick Hamilton; now Laurie Thompson offers up a similiarly glowing tribute to the WWII-era English author in the Independent.

Wait, hold on a minute--didn't we have this fight last year with Fox News and Al Franken? Just replace "Fair and Balanced" with "Stupid White Men" and Fox News with HarperCollins and well, you get the drift....

And finally, Lauren Henderson goes to the hairdresser and emerges....with straightened hair? Hah? Is she gonna keep it? I wonder if we'll see the fruits of her labors in the next author photograph....

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Ode to my favorite bookshops 

As no doubt I've mentioned a zillion times on the blog, I spent a fair amount of my time in Manhattan working at Partners & Crime, one of the four mystery bookshops in the city. The New York Daily News profiled each of them over the weekend, although they designate Otto Penzler's Mysterious Bookshop as the best of the bunch. Me, I like 'em all and always will. Every time I go back to New York, I have to spend time (and a fair amount of change) at each place, although in some instances, I stay much longer than the average customer.

So, here are my own impressions of each place:

Mysterious is the Collector's Paradise. You go up the stairs (which are kind of scary) and the entire top floor is devoted to first edition hardbacks. If Otto doesn't have it, he knows how to get it and from where. They also have a really nice stock of UK paperbacks, and I've replenished a few backlists from shopping there. I admit that it's the shop I know the least because for some reason, I had amnesia about the location (yes, it's behind Carnegie Hall, but it's amazing how many times I'd get lost if I walked from my school towards there) but the last few times I've been there, the customer is greeted by Dan, who mans the paperback section. He's pretty cool.

Murder Ink is on the Upper West Side and has been for many, many years. Because I lived there during my NYC days, I haunted the shop a lot (probably too much, if you ask certain people there, but what the hell.) But along with the rows and rows of out of print stock, shelves of paperbacks and hardcovers that greet you at the window and are located in droves in the high shelves (the better for authors to sign stock with), there's Gus. I love him. He's a shaggy dog of some breed (I forget which) and he would alternate between sniffing the grocery bags I inevitably carried while browsing and sleeping on the floor in a distinctly catatonic manner. Tom Cushman, the manager who was interviewed for the DN piece, is someone I really enjoy talking to during my visits. He doubles as a literary agent so his knowledge of the book business is extensive--and often times, rather caustic. But whenever I think I'm letting my idealistic, pollyanna outlook get the best of me, I go chat with Tom for a hefty dose of cynicism. And more importantly, he knows his stock and the business inside out.

If there's a reason why the owners of Black Orchid refer to their customers as a loose, sprawling family, it's because it's absolutely true. Bonnie and Joe are amongst the nicest and kindest people I know. It's easy to love them because they care--about books, about the genre, about people. They befriend authors and it sticks. They have a loyal customer base, and people who would never dream of mail-ordering from another shop. Though the shop, on E. 81st between First and Second, is not the easiest to get to, it's worthwhile every time, because one never knows who's going to drop by. The last time I was there, I talked to Bonnie for a bit and then a friend of mine who had literally just arrived from England turned up, and we had a very nice chat as well. So yeah, it's a family thing, and it's great such a community of book lovers exist.

And finally, my "home" shop. Partners is really the only mystery bookshop that's set up for proper event signings, as it's got plenty of room in the back for seats and the author to do his or her spiel. There's also an extensive UK section--both first edition and paperback--because of the owners love for the UK and their desire to make imported books available to their customers. Because it's in Greenwich Village, equidistant between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, P&C gets a lot of walk-in traffic, but they have a good base of mail-order customers as well. And the staff certainly knows its stuff--can't put much past the two Maggies, Kizmin, and Kate Nesbit, who manages the store and coordinates author signings. I learned a hell of a lot working there, and had I not, I wouldn't be as deeply knowledgeable of the book biz in the first place.

The point is, each store complements one another, and while I suppose they compete, I never really viewed them as competitors per se. Different neighborhoods, different strengths and weaknesses. Tom Cushman thinks Murder Ink will "be around a while," and I agree--but I also think all of them will stick around in some form or another, and hope to hell that's the case. New York is fortunate to have as many knowledgeable book people who devote their energy to crime fiction, and I'm glad I was one of them, at least in a small part.

Addendum--even more crime fiction links 

That's what I get for compiling the update over a 24 hour period--then I go ahead and post it and find I've missed out an all sorts of goodies. Sticking to the mystery stuff, let's turn to:

More reviews of George Pelecanos' HARD REVOLUTION. Gary Dretzka at the Chicago Sun-Times shows how the book is a master class in writing dialogue, while the Philly Inquirer is more straightforward--they loved the book.

Les Roberts, creater of the Milan Jacovich PI series, occasionally contributes a column to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and this time, he's all over the map. He enjoys Caroline Carver's new book DEAD HEAT, really rips into Reed Farrel Coleman's REDEMPTION STREET for "clunky dialogue" (wha? Did we read the same book?) and he also reviews the newest by Carolyn Hart, calling her "the queen of traditional mystery in America."

Gerry Boyle, whose most recent novel is PRETTY DEAD, writes a series centering around New York journalist Jack McMorrow. He talks to the Portsmouth Herald about his career, the Jayson Blair business, and what he's working on now.

Henry Kisor's column at the Chicago Sun-Times spends much of its energy wondering if Robert B. Parker's on autopilot with his latest Spenser novel. He need not wonder--isn't it obvious? But like Kisor, I agree that Parker's upcoming novel, DOUBLE PLAY, sounds fascinating. Set in 1947, it focuses on a man hired by Branch Rickey to bodyguard Jackie Robinson in 1947. Yeah, I'm sold.

And finally, two new stories in Val McDermid's Save Our Short Story online anthology are up: one is by noir and sci-fi writer Chaz Brenchley, while the other is by Ron Butlin.

Back with the weekend roundup 

And oh, where to start? Why, with that unique coyness of Marilyn Stasio, who takes ever so much care to write non-blurbable copy. But it's a style, and it works, and she manages to get excited over several of the latest crime fiction releases, like Laurie King's THE GAME, John Dunning's THE BOOKMAN'S PROMISE, Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza's SOUTHWESTERLY WIND and Olen Steinhauer's THE CONFESSION (which, incidentally, I'm reading now.) Stasio is less thrilled with the new Robert B. Parker, but even that's not a surprise. Those who like him will keep on reading him, those who don't, well, won't. Simple as that.

And as for the rest of the Book Review, in the dying days of the McGrath years? Smartly, they elected to make Tom Perrotta's LITTLE CHILDREN their featured review, because I suppose it really would have been unseemly to trumpet Jack Shafer's smackdown of Jayson Blair (Schadenfreude only goes so far, after all.) Meanwhile, Margo Jefferson tries to go against the shifting tide that's blanching at the memoir craze. But I wonder: didn't Laura Miller do a similar piece a few months back? Or am I just hallucinating (lack of sleep will do it every time.)

Next up: my new favorite paper, and--what's this? Hans Blix's memoir? Why, I remember when it was just a wee bairn, the deal reported on by Publisher's Lunch. Now it's fully grown and under the scrutiny of the watchful eye of the WaPo. Anyway, they dig it, emphasizing its timeliness and critique of what went wrong in the search for those pesky WMDs. Otherwise, there's a rather unenthusiastic review of Aaron Hamburger's debut collection on what it's like to be Jewish and gay in Prague (good lord, talk about marginalizing oneself) and the Brad Meltzer Show; episode one: Brad tells us his inspiration for writing thrillers. Episode two: Marie Arana (and not, as the web monkeys would have you believe, Scare Monger) interviews Meltzer about his newest bestseller, THE ZERO GAME, and other new projects. Finally, Michael Dirda serves up his take on a new biography of Anthony Burgess of CLOCKWORK ORANGE FAME, but whose works have slowly fallen out of print since his death in 1993.

We turn now to the Guardian (which I would very much like to be my next favorite paper, if they'll have me) and they celebrate Salvadore Dali's centenary. An odd man, certainly, but why let his eccentricites surpass his artistic achievements, especially, if you believe Robert Hughes, Dali's work is up there with Picasso? On the books side, I'm surprised--happily so--that Tom Franklin's HELL AT THE BREECH is now available in the UK. Xan Brooks thinks it brilliant, thus agreeing with my own conclusion when I read the book a couple of months back. Gorgeous storytelling, heartbreak, and some fine, fine writing. Meanwhile, Jim Dodge rhapsodizes about a writer's best friend: imagination, Dan Rhodes argues the case for Patrick Hamilton, the unjustly neglected author of HANGOVER SQUARE and other tales of deepest, darkest wartime London, Lucasta Miller talks about the difficulty of choosing a biography subject that will actually lend itself to scrutiny, and Gail Rebuck declares that the written word is more powerful than ever, even in an age of constant bombardment of television, video and digital images.

The Globe and Mail is fairly sparse this week but even so, they manage to spice things up a little bit with Jessica Warner's roundup on the best books about pot. They've come a hell of a long way since Emily Murphy railed against its evils back in the 20s, and hey, let's not forget about REEFER MADNESS (a movie, granted, but still.) And also, Rebecca Caldwell, who's doing a nice job covering the book beat for the paper, takes a look at the upcoming London Book Fair and asks the seminal question: so where, if at all, does CanLit fit in the overall scheme of publishing? My answer? It does, but just barely, alas.

Over at the Sun-Sentinel, the lead feature is an interview with Khalid Hosseini, author of the critically acclaimed THE KITE RUNNER. He's still rather amazed at the success of the book, as all he was trying to do was tell a story of his native Afghanistan, never realizing it would strike such a chord in American and UK readers. Also, Oline Cogdill puts aside book reviewing this week for a look at Sleuthfest, one of the few mystery conferences geared strictly for writers.

And as for more isolated bits of news:

Happy St. Paddy's Day! Um....OK maybe not, but Helen Doogue at the Sydney Morning Herald talks about her Irish heritage living in Australia, and ponders the whole Irish thing in general.

Great sex is hard to have, let alone write, but evidently, Natalee Caple's MACKEREL SKY has set a new benchmark for literary lovemaking, if you believe Keith Nickson of the Toronto Star.

The David Peace interview where, among other things, he slags off Granta is finally up at the Telegraph's site. I have also been told that my copy of GB84 is forthcoming. I really really hope so.

Everybody Googles. Hell, I just used the term as a verb. But it's just a robotic program, with no thought as to what it's actually looking for. Are such programs on the horizon? Joel Achenbach certainly hopes so, and looks at a few promising candidates.

Debut authors Keith Hunter and Ian Reynolds are faced with the usual quandary: how to promote their work? Their answer is to take a cue from the BookCrossing site and leave 300 free copies around Manchester for people to take home and try. Will their efforts succeed? Only time will tell....

Allen Massie ponders the whole centenary business. Should some authors languish in obscurity while others remain permanently in the public eye? He uses the curious career of Christopher Isherwood as a springboard for ideas on the matter.

With those new, updated-for-the-21st-century Nancy Drew books hitting bookstores, maybe it's a good idea to reflect on just how many changes the Titian-haired wonder has undergone in the 70+ years since her inception. Kari Wergeland does just that in a feature for the Seattle Times.

John Dunning talks to the Rocky Mountain News about his sudden surge in output (his new novel is just out, and a subsequent Cliff Janeway book will be on shelves next year) and why he's not such a great fan of mysteries: "I don't mean to be snobbish about them, but I find mysteries hard to read. . . . I very seldom find one that isn't written for the best-seller lists." Whether it was a misquote or just a throwaway comment, it's not worth the time to argue the point, really.

And finally, how else to end a weekend roundup without tipping the hat to Robert McCrum? He gets on his high horse (amusingly so) about authors' reactions to the proposed elimination of recommended retail prices (or RRPs) and issues a nice reality check, that really, folks in Britain had never had it so good compared to the "small, dark overheated bookshops" and books were "badly printed, sloppily edited, horrible to look at and impossible to find":

That's the real cultural revolution: the shift in the balance of power from the publisher to the bookseller. Thatcherism, which made the market king, empowered the bookseller and put the publisher on the defensive. For the past 10 years at least, most published writers in Britain and America have enjoyed a golden age of remuneration, publicity and, yes, sales scarcely dreamed of before. In 2004, the author's lot, though far from ideal, is better than it has ever been.

I don't know whether I fully agree with his assessments, but as usual, McCrum's screed is thought-provoking, as ever.

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