5 MobyLives.com



a MobyLives guest column
by Steve Almond

13 JUNE 2005 — Earlier this month, a writer friend of mine (I'll call him John Updike) called to do what us writers do best: complain about his latest royalty statement.
     "I can't understand a thing," he told me. "It's just this blizzard of numbers."
     "Did it include a check?" I asked.
     "I'm not sure I'm getting you."
     "You know — a check. If your book has earned enough to pay back your advance, they send you money. Royalties."
     "Very funny," he said, after a longish, literary pause. "You really are a joker, Almondini. Royalty checks! You almost had me there! I'll have to remember that one!"
     You can sort of see where the conversation was headed.
     And it occurred to me, as I was yakking away with old Johnny U., trading bon mots and joie de vivres and so forth, that we were — in terms of financial and cultural relevance — pretty much entirely in the wrong racket.
     I realized right then that I was tired of the constant rejection, tired of bad reviews, tired of living from All You Can Eat lunch buffet to lunch buffet, tired of having to explain to people that I wear the same clothes for weeks on end because, as an artist, the material world just wasn't that important to me.
     So I did what any self–respecting artist would do: I bought a ticket to Los Angeles and began pitching television shows.
     To the superficial observer, this change in career direction will look a lot like I am "selling out." In fact — until one of these shows gets the green light from the money people — nothing could be further from the truth . . . .

CSI: When Writers Perish

A group of intensely attractive forensic investigators uncovers a different dead writer each week. They then use the latest technology to piece together whether the writer died of starvation, drug overdose, or shame, while also having hot sex in their state–of–the–art lab.

Literary Tricks

Meet Layla and Jacqui, a couple of gorgeous MFA students who write by day Š and hook by night! Eager to "pay the bills" and "develop some decent material" they answer a local want ad for live models and decide to give the world's oldest profession a whirl. But uh–oh! Turns out the director of their program just happens to be a regular john. Will Layla risk blowing her cover by blowing him? The only way to know is to tune in to the series that brings new meaning to the term "banging a draft into shape."

Desperate Housewriters

A devastating portrait of suburban literary malaise, this hour–long drama follows the travails of a quartet of young, attractive writers (don't worry, we'll cast them) as they attempt to find meaning in their lives as house–bound, economically dependent artists living in a world of plumbers and ad copy writers, while also having hot sex in their state–of–the–art cabanas.

Stith Undercover

FBI Agent Lilly Stith has a terrible secret: in her spare time, she's a writer of gay erotica. Can her high–power law enforcement career survive the shame of this horrible double life? Follow Lilly as she tracks down mysterious serial killers and evil terrorists, while also attempting to find a respectable publisher for her new novella "The Vulva Conundrum."

The Protégé

The inaugural entry into the burgeoning world of literary reality TV programming, The Protégé gathers a dozen of today's hottest young writers into a small, enclosed space and offers them the ultimate prize: a big–fat book contract. But there's a catch: they have to be hand–picked by literary lion Norman Mailer! Watch as the young writers attempt to kiss Mailer's ass without actually leaving lip prints on his anus, and listen in as each week as The Boss tells a different contestant, "You're rejected!"

Written . . . in Blood!

Someone is murdering all the obscure, unpublished writers of the greater Santa Barbara area and special Agent Biff Hemingway — great grandson of you–know–who — is determined to squelch the killing spree. How? By channeling the renowned crime–fighting instincts of his forebear! Call this thrill–a–minute drama For Whom the Siren Tolls!

Agent of Mercy

Literary agent Mercy Urban is considered the top gun in the biz. Follow her exploits as each week she finds and seduces a new literary phenom, signs them to a financially exploitative contract, pledges to remain true to their art, then drops them like a hot potato when their Bookscan numbers prove disappointing.

Fear Factor: When Writers Vomit

What you see is pretty much what you get.

House of Sand and Schmaltz

Tom and Shane are a couple of writers barely making ends meet writing symbolist poetry. So imagine the hilarity that ensues when Shane's brother and sister–in–law die in a horrific car crash and our inky duo takes custody of their adorable one–year–old triplets, Shannon, Shania, and Shemp. Laugh as you watch Shane struggle to change a diaper and make formula, and weep (just a little) as Tom attempts to bond with his new charges while also keeping baby poop off of his manuscript.

Queer Eye for the Writer Guy

Carson and the gang are back to face their biggest challenge yet! Each week they'll find a new, allegedly heterosexual writer guy and attempt to overhaul their lives by buying them new teak furniture and empowering hair products. The big test will come at the end of each episode, when the writer guy throws a fancy dinner party for his non–writer friends during which he is not allowed to discuss his unfinished novel, or any of his recent rejection letters.

Blog & Order

Follow the travails of Marcus Templeton as he records, in punishing detail, the natterings of successful writers he wishes were dead, and shares his own insights on the publishing industry and why it has failed to recognize his manifest genius. But wait, Marcus has a secret identity! He isn't just a blogger extraordinaire. He's a world–class mercenary who settles literary fueds the old–fashioned way — with his trigger finger. Dale Peck, watch your back!

24 Hours (in the Life of a Writer)

This innovative drama follows one aspiring writer, Stan Kaplansky, through a single day, minute by minute, in 24 tension–filled episodes. Stan is hard at work on his great American novel, a post–modern roman a clef called "The Cheese Syllogism." Watch as Stan labors over his masterpiece for minutes at a time before drifting into a haze of enraged self–pity. Watch as he prepares ramen noodles for breakfast and waits for the mail to arrive. But the heart–stopping drama doesn't stop there. An on–line interactive supplement will allow fans to copy edit Stan's work!

Steve Almond is the author of The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories. Excerpts are available at BBChow.com.

Link to this column.

©2005 Steve Almond

Previous columns:

READING TO CHAIRS . . . When Quinn Dalton showed up at a bookstore to read from her new book, she was greeted by . . . empty chairs. In a guest column, she asks herself, "Why bother?"

THE KILLER POET . . . When a big haired poet asks the literary gumshoe to whack a librarian, he feels the weight of the whole world of poetry on his shoulder. Will he do the right thing?

WHERE THE NOVEL'S HEADED . . . Jonathan Safran Foer's new book has a lot of people talking about post–modernism and the novel. But David Barringer thinks the novel is going in another direction — inside.

BOOKS IN GROCERY STORES: A TESTIMONIAL . . . After his mainstream publisher didn't want his second novel, Larry Baker got an idea about how to sell his second book himself when a flash of inspiration came to him in the local grocery store.

ANATOMY OF A HOAX . . . When Paul Maliszewski heard Michael Chabon tell a false story about a real writer, he wrote about it. So what led the New York Times to cover Chabon's hoax with an attack on Maliszewski featuring testimony from Dave Eggers?

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Friday 17 June 2005

In Letters: Real stories . . .
MobyLives readers write in with the real story behind the Qing Dynasty dictionary, the real story on returns, and more . . . in the MobyLives letters section.

Despite harsh criticism, Foetry seems to be winning the war, says major report . . .
"Poet and critic William Logan, an English professor at the University of Florida, says, 'The facts at Foetry are mostly right, the tone mostly shrill. Reading it, I feel caught between being grateful and being annoyed.'" That may sum up the overall attitude about Foetry, but as Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter Alex Tizon notes in an in–depth, front page profile for the Los Angeles Times of Foetry founder Alan Cordle, the first part of Logan's statement—the part about Foetry getting its facts straight—is having an enormous impact on the poetry world. "Cordle has shaken up the establishment," writes Tizon, and has become perhaps the "most feared," and certainly "the most talked–about" figure" in poetry. But the article goes deeper than merely profiling Cordle — and discussing the negative impact of his work on his relationship with his wife, poet Kathleen Halme — into an insightful overview of how poetry contests became such a dominant part of the American poetry scene: "American poetry became contest–driven after decades of waning public interest. Major publishing houses, squeezed by a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that resulted in higher taxes for unsold inventory, stopped publishing poetry books in volume." Now, poet and Distinguished Professor of English at Iowa State University Neal Bowers tells Tizon that Foetry "confirms what anyone involved in poetry over the past 30 years has known for a long, long time": Poetry contests are "rigged." So what made Foetry different from all the others who complained during that time? Says Tizon, "What transformed Foetry from another obscure arty website with an attitude was Cordle's penchant for research. Like an investigative reporter, he solicited tips from insiders and used open-records laws to get information from contest organizers. Then Cordle did what no one else had publicly done: He named names." The result, says Tizon, is that after decades of inertia, the scene is now changing rapidly: After Foetry revealed conflicts at the University of Georgia Press poetry prize, long–time series editor Bim Ramke resigned, poetry world superstar Jorie Graham announced she would no longer judge poetry contests, and the school has changed its contest rules to instruct judges to "avoid conflicts of interest of all kinds." In addition, "Two organizations influential in the poetry world — the Council of Literary Magazines & Presses and Associated Writing Programs — this spring began discussions on developing standardized guidelines for poetry contests." What's more, the issue has "gotten the attention of the pantheon of power" — earlier this month Cordle got a phone call from Dana Gioia, head of the National Endowment for the Arts, "to offer support for Foetry's goals." Some of Cordle's enemies, however, continue to heatedly deny him credit for anything more than malice. Says Janet Holmes of Boise State University, who runs the Sawtooth Poetry Prize, which was accused by Foetry of giving out conflicted awards, "I'm sure Alan [Cordle] would like to take credit for all this. The truth is it's a good time to have this conversation."

Woman who convinced Atlanta killer to surrender gets book deal . . .
The woman who convinced Atlanta courthouse killer Brian Nichols to surrender by talking to him and reading passages from Rick Warren's The Purpose–Driven Life, has signed a deal for a memoir. As Greg Bluestein reports in an Associated Press wire story, "Ashley Smith's Unlikely Angel will be co–published this fall by the Zondervan and William Morrow divisions of HarperCollins." Zondervan, as Bluestein notes, is also the publisher of The Purpose–Driven Life. The 26–year–old Smith, who was "bombarded with offers," pledged to give part of the proceeds to "a memorial fund in honor of the shooting victims." "I believe that God is calling me to use this opportunity to not only turn my own life around but also to inspire others to do that, too," she says.

Amazon celebrates ten years on the lam . . .
The company has yet to make a profit, and is reputedly over a billion dollars in debt, yet to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Amazon.com is throwing itself a huge party on 16 July. According to a company press release, the party will be hosted by Bill Maher and feature performances by Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, and others, "as Well as Readings from Best–Selling Authors and Never–before Seen Footage from Top Films." (As the release goes on to note, the footage is from the Lord of the Rings film series, which Amazon sells on DVD.) The release also notes that the event, "a special thank–you" to customers, is sponsored by Chase, which is also "featured on the media player from which the performances will be streamed live from the Amazon.com gateway."

Harry Potter and the Enough Already Syndrome . . .
Although it has become standard to look upon the release of a new Harry Potter book as a good thing for the book industry, a time that reinvigorates traffic to bookstores and, more importantly, generates a lot of sales, there is a dark side to the now–institutionalized mega–phenomenon, observes Alex Beam in his Boston Globe column. For example, with the next Potter book scheduled to have the now–typical huge launch on its 15 July release date, Leo Landry of Brookline's The Children's Book Shop tells Beam that the midnight release parties have gotten a little out of hand. Landry says the first mega–launch, for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2000, "was a blast, because it was so unexpected. Now it's become a little more painful, because there is all this party shopping. We hear some other store is really pulling out the stops, and we say, 'Well, we have chocolate frogs.'" Nor can indys compete with the severe discounting put on by chains and Amazon.com, "is again offering what looks like a loss leader to stifle competition." Then there is "the inevitable counter–crusade from publicity–mongering Christians condemning Rowling's celebration of sorcery and witchcraft." For example, there's Richard Abanes, author of Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick," which Beam covered upon its release four years ago. Asked for comment on the new Potter book, Abanes castigates Beam for what he wrote four years ago: ''You labeled me a Christian educator, rather than what I am — i.e., a nationally recognized, best–selling, award–winning journalist who writes on cults, the occult, and world religions, who has written several books on social–religious issues."

Hail & Farewell: Ned Chase . . .
Edward Tinsley "Ned" Chase, one of New York's more prominent editors who specialized in political books such as that of President Harry S. Truman, has died at age 86 after a long illness. As a New York Times obituary notes, Chase worked for Hyperion, The New Yorker, New American Library, G.P. Putnam's Sons, Times Books, Macmillan and Charles Scribner's Sons. He is survived by his wife, Ethelyn Atha Chase, former chairwoman of the Academy of American Poets, and four children, one of whom is actor Chevy Chase.

Literary fame, not being all it's cracked up to be . . .
"Ten days from now," observes The Scotsman's Tim Cornwell, Albanian author Ismail Kadare, the winner of the first–ever Booker International Prize for Literature and "hailed as a literary genius, is to come to Edinburgh to be awarded a £60,000 prize for a lifetime of writing." There's just one problem: although famous as a literary city, none of Edinburgh's bookstores seem to have any of Kadare's books in stock. A spokesperson for the Booker says, "Part of the goal has been to bring writers like Kadare back into profile." Meanwhile, says Cornwell's report on it all, "publishers yesterday were in a frantic race to get any of his works into the city's bookshops after a casual inquiry by The Scotsman revealed that none were on sale."

For example, rewriting "Yes, yes, yes" to "You bet your ass" took a year and a half alone . . .
"In times gone by it was the censor who kept James Joyce's work from the silver screen but a new movie celebrating his novel Ulysses, has been delayed for different reasons," reports a BBC News wire story. The new movie was delayed for ten years, says the story, because "That is how long it took to create a script that condensed the complex novel to less than two hours screen time." However, director Sean Walsh finally completed the movie, which stars Stephen Rea and Angeline Ball as Leopold and Molly Bloom, and it premiered in Dublin yesterday.

London writers make nice; civilians cross street . . .
London's biggest book awards "appear designed to exclude as much as to enthuse; a mirror, perhaps, of an insular society with secretive, snobbish traditions," says Urban Fox in a Times of London article. Fox notes, "The annual Man Booker prize, open to fiction writers from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, was, until the creation of a parallel international prize this year, in practice the prize that rewarded all English–language fiction that was not American. And the Orange prize is for novelists — as long as they are not men. And feeling left out makes people angry, especially in a touchy community of writers whose collective appetite for vinegary white wine and tribal feuding would put many a warlord to shame." Meanwhile, June is when some of the most lucrative prizes are awarded: the Orange and Samuel Johnson prizes are each worth £30,000 ($55,000), while the new Man Booker International prize is worth £60,000 ($110,000). Thus, says Fox, "June has traditionally been a time for invective, fallings-out, and gratuitous viciousness." This year, however, something bizarre has happened: "none of the usual skirmishes have begun." Seemingly stunned, Fox asks, "Has peace broken out on the London book scene?"

Bad news for author of book on the economics of dog massages in Arizona rose gardens . . .
If you know an author, no matter how successful, you've heard the complaint: Their publisher failed to publicize their book sufficiently. But Adam Langer's friend Lissa Warren, a publicist, tells him, "The thing about authors is that some of them just don't get it." Intrigued, he polls book publicists for their side of the story in this Book Standard column, including Nicholas Latimer, head of publicity for Knopf, Erin Cox of Simon & Schuster, and leading independent publicist Lyn Goldberg. Most say more or less the same thing: as Warren puts it, "They think they should get on Oprah, but their book is about the economy of Japan. They've written a book on massage for dogs and think it should be reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. They think they should hit USA Today's bestseller list but their book is on a niche topic—like rose gardens in Arizona—and the print run is only 2,000 copies."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Thursday 16 June 2005

Sanders coalition in Congress votes down Provision 215 of Patriot Act . . .
Late yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives voted to "block a provision of the USA Patriot Act that makes it easier for federal investigators to review the records of libraries and bookstores on national security grounds." According to a New York Times report by Carl Hulse, the House, in a 238–187 vote, sided with critics who said Provision 215 of the Act "was an excessive grant of authority to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department that threatened privacy and fundamental constitutional rights." Hulse reports that a "coalition of liberals and conservatives," led by Vermont congressman Bernie Sanders, said the vote "should send a message to the administration that lawmakers are leery of maintaining all elements of the law" set into place in the days after 9/11. "Congress has begun to hear that civil liberties and privacy issues are important to Americans," said Sanders. According to Hulse, Sanders is "already working with members of the Senate" to combat "any effort to overturn the House action." Sanders observed that, "We didn't win this by three votes. I think that today's vote that will tell the Senate and the House that, wait a second, the American people want some thoughtful reexamination of the USA Patriot Act." However, administration support of Provision 215 remains strong. "Bookstores and libraries should not be carved out as safe havens for terrorists and spies, " said Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella, and President Bush has said he will veto the legislation.

PREVIOUSLY: A report in The Book Standard by Anna Weinberg profiles Sanders' effort and the coalition of book industry, librarian, and rights groups working with him: "If one of the least–popular parts of the much–maligned USA PATRIOT Act falls in the next several days, it will be thanks in large part to United States Rep. Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.) and the support he's had from the publishing industry. . . . [Sanders] has been working closely with the Campaign for Reader Privacy, a joint initiative of PEN American Center, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers and the American Booksellers Association." However, reports Weinberg, "Sanders and his associates in the book business form only one part of an increasingly motley coalition. They're joined in their opposition to 215 by the ACLU, the American Conservative Movement and the Gun Owners of America, along with many Independent, Republican, Democrat and Libertarian politicians, all of whom agree that Provision 215, which, after all, covers all business sales, is an insidious violation of privacy."

RELATED Sanders has been organizing against the Patriot Act from its inception, as "rarin' librarian" Jessamyn West detailed in a report for MobyLives in 2003.

Duh, follow the money: Deep Throat signs with an independent . . .
After reports that even Judith Regan had turned him down, and despite widespread speculation that he was too infirm to get any serious offers from conglomerate publishers, Deep Thorat has signed a book deal — with an independent publisher, according to a late–breaking New York Times report by Edward Wyatt. "Universal Pictures and PublicAffairs have agreed to pay close to $1 million to buy the film and book rights to the life story of W. Mark Felt," says Wyatt. PublicAffairs publisher Peter Osnos said "the book would be published next spring and would combine Mr. Felt's recollections about his life and his relationship with Mr. Woodward with material written by John O'Connor, the lawyer who wrote the Vanity Fair article" that broke the story. Universal, meanwhile, acquired film rights "for development by Playtone, the production company owned by the actor Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman."

800 pound gorilla see, 800 pound gorilla do . . .
Canada's largest chain bookseller is mimicking America's: Indigo Books & Music, aka Chapters/Indigo, "is quietly stepping up its in–house private label book publishing, essentially becoming a rival to some of its own supplier–publishers," according to a Globe & Mail story by Marina Strauss. She reports that, in a move reminiscent of Barnes & Noble's move into publishing, Indigo "has aimed over the past year to boost its so–called self–publishing business, which often allows it to offer lower prices and Canadian exclusives . . . The retailer teams up with publishers to produce, for example, hardcover classics with 'gorgeous' illustrations at $7.95 for an abridged version, or $12.95, unabridged." Strauss notes it's "yet another example of the blurring of the lines as merchants increasingly look to carry exclusive items — produced specifically for their stores — to give them an edge, draw more customers and trim costs." On the other hand, she observes, "The push on private label books comes as publishers themselves are moving more into booksellers' territory by launching e–commerce websites to sell books directly to consumers — a move that is worrying the retailers."

Edward P. Jones hits the trifecta . . .
In a ceremony yesterday at Dublin City Hall, American writer Edward P. Jones "collected the annual IMPAC Dublin Literary Award along with a check for $120,000" for his first novel, The Known World, which last year also won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award. As an Associated Press wire story reports, " A five–judge panel selected Jones' work as the best among a list of 147 novels, which had been nominated by 185 libraries from 51 countries worldwide. Libraries in four U.S. cities — Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., Richmond, Va., and Springfield, Ill. — nominated The Known World." As the AP story also notes, the book was ten years in the making for Jones, and "In the decade he spent writing the novel, he lost his job as a proofreader for the trade publication Tax Notes, and lost touch with much of the publishing world. When he finished his manuscript, he was so embarrassed by the delay that he notified his agent by letter, instead of by telephone." As an Agence France Presse wire story notes, during that time Jones "won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award for his debut collection of stories, Lost in the City." The AFP report also notes, "The only literary award which pays more than IMPAC is the Nobel literature prize, which rewards a body of works rather than a single book."

Et Jésus pleuré . . .
"Vanity publishing houses in France have been accused of gross incompetence after apparently failing to recognise the manuscript of one of the greatest French novels — Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert," reports Adam Sage in a Times of London story. The hoax was perpetrated by editors of one of the country''s leading newspapers, Le Figaro, who "sent a copy of the 19th–century masterpiece to five of France's biggest vanity publishing companies," with only the title and names of the lead characters changed. None recognized the novel, although several offered to print 200 to 300 copies for fees ranging from €3,360 ($4,061) to €4,800 ($5,800)

Dictionary as storage room . . .
A first–ever dictionary of the Chinese–Manchu language, meant to "preserve the official language of the Qing Dynasty, China's last imperial dynasty that lasted from 1644 to 1911," has been published. As an article in The People's Daily reports, Manchu was the official language until the Qing Dynasty was deposed and replaced by a republic, at which point "Manchu finally gave way to the Chinese, or Mandarin." The new dictionary, "which contains nearly 1.1 million characters," was compiled by a "public security official" named Zhao Shengli in what proved to be a 15–year effort.

"Lethal jollies" with poetry criticism . . .
The "best poetry critic in America" is William Logan, says Vanity Fair columnist James Wolcott in a commentary on his personal blog. He says Logan "must be tired of being compared to Randall Jarrell, but such is one's fate when one writes as wickedly, knowledgeably, and uncompromisingly as he does." Wolcott says Logan had some "lethal jollies" in a review of Jorie Graham's recent book, Overlord, which was about the Normandy invasion. Wrote Logan, "Graham's lack of any sense of proportion reduces the argument of Overlord to something like 'On the one hand, my kitty has AIDS; on the other, a whole lot of guys died on Omaha Beach.'"

Answering the question: Can you read too much? . . .
Literary people often have favorite writers they quote perhaps a bit too often to their friends. But in a frightening commentary for The Onion, Tucker Vorhees describes his descent into a state of mind where he's wonders, "Did I say that, or did John Updike?" He explains, "It's sort of like that part from Updike's In The Beauty Of The Lilies. Do you remember? Where it's Tuesday, and Clarence is driving with his wife, and he says, 'Helen, I have been having an affair with my receptionist. I want a divorce.' It's in the third chapter, I believe. Although, having given it a moment's thought, it occurs to me I may have conflated that with something that happened to me roughly half an hour ago."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Wednesday 15 June 2005

In Letters: About the Christian v secularists propaganda war in Iowa . . .
A former B&N writes in to say it isn't only in Iowa that people are stuffing propaganda into library books . . . in the MobyLives letters section.

The real story of Deep Throat — and the Nixon White House — continues to unfold . . .
Even two weeks after he was revealed to be Deep Throat, W. Mark Felt's "role as the most famous anonymous source in US history was even more complex and intrigue-loaded than the newly revised public account suggests," says a startling report in The Nation by David Corn and Jeff Goldberg. "According to originally confidential FBI documents—some written by Felt—that were obtained by The Nation from the FBI's archives, Felt played another heretofore unknown part in the Watergate tale: He was, at heated moments during the scandal, in charge of finding the source of Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate scoops. In a twist worthy of le Carré, Deep Throat was assigned the mission of unearthing—and stopping—Deep Throat."

Their demands still unclear, NYPL begins executing publishers . . .
The New York Public Library has announced that "it is making 700 books — from classics to current best sellers — available to members in digital audio form for downloading onto PCs, CD players and portable listening devices," reports an Associated Press wire story. "Users can listen to digital audio books through a computer, burn them to CDs or transfer them to many portable devices, library officials said," says the AP. "Digital audio books are available for free to members through the library's Web site. Users can borrow up to 10 digital books at a time, and after 21 days the materials will be automatically checked in and made available to others."

Not playing on a iPod near you: Harry Potter . . .
Anyone looking for the new Harry Potter book to come out electronically is going to be disappointed, says Hillel Italie in an Associated Press wire story. "J.K. Rowling has not permitted any of the six Potter books to be released in electronic form, not even during the peak of the e–book craze a few years ago." But the author's personal opposition isn't the only reason there are no Potter e–books, says Italie. " . . . the greatest problem is the lack of a popular reading device, a handicap that has held back the whole e–book business from the start." Jason Campbell of HarperCollins tells him, "It's not like we haven't tried this market. We've done R.L. Stine and (Meg Cabot's) `The Princess Diaries' and it didn't work. `Princess Diaries' has been our most successful young adult series in e-books, but it pales in comparison to e–book sales for Michael Crichton." Says Linda Leonard of Random House Children's Books, "There's just not a market for books that don't have appeal to adults, because they're the ones with the devices at this time. It is kind of frustrating. Kids are tech savvy, but we can't reach them."

RIP: Scott Young . . .
"Canadian journalist and author Scott Young, who was also father of Canadian rock star Neil Young," has died at the age of 87. As a CBC News wire story notes, Young was a war correspondent during World War II and later became a popular sports columnist for Globe & Mail. But he also "enjoyed wide success as a novelist, short-story writer and popular historian," publishing some 40 books, including Neil and Me, about his relationship with his famous son. About that relationship, the CBC report notes, "It is said that Neil Young's first musical abilities were encouraged when his father gave him a ukulele for Christmas in 1958."

Chicago fire burns again . . .
The author of the book Great Chicago Fires has been arrested in Chicago for arson. As a Chicago Sun–Times story by Maureen O'Donnell reports, former firefighter David Cowan was also the co–author of To Sleep with the Angels, a book about a 1958 fire in one of the city's Catholic parishes that killed 92 school children and 3 nuns, a book O'Donnell calls it "one of the saddest Chicago books ever written." Cowan was scheduled to sign copies of his books at Chicago's Printers Row Book Fair last weekend but instead he was arrested and faces charges of setting fire to a church where he had been fired as a janitor. His wife, who spotted him running from the fire, "He wanted it [the fire] to be seen. It was just a cry for help."

From those wonderful people who gave us golf: Book of the Year award goes to poetry collection . . .
This year's official Scottish Book of the Year Award has gone to a poet, reports Phil Miller in a brief story for The Herald. The £10,000 prize went to Kathleen Jamie for her collection, The Tree House. Jamie also won the Forward Poetry Prize last year for the same collection.

My God is better read than your God . . .
In the stacks of the religious section of the West Des Moines Public Library, a battle is apparently taking place: Someone is stuffing "Christian pamphlets" inside books about non–Christian religions, while someone else is stuffing "cards stamped with the message of a secular organization," according to a report in The Des Moines Register by Tom Suk. "Christian pamphlets with titles such as 'Jesus Christ is God' were placed in about 50 library books about Judaism and Buddhism," Suk reports. "The pamphlets were printed by the Voice of God Recordings, which is headquartered in Jeffersonville, Ind." Meanwhile, "Other books in the library's religion section showed a small plastic card with the wording, 'You do not need a god to live a good life.' That card noted the Web site for the Iowa Secularist organization based in Iowa City." Library director Ray Vignovich says, "This is not the first time that I have known this to happen, but it is the first time at this library. Unfortunately people try creative ways to express their points of view or suppress the points of views of others."

Spark notes. . .
In his regular "Small, But Perfectly Formed" column at Bookslut, James Morrison files an appreciation of Muriel Spark, author of such classic short novels as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means, and The Abbess of Crewe. "There can be few living writers so expert at the condensed, every-word-must-count brilliance of the finest novellas," Morrison says. In fact, he notes that her "long and continuing career as a writer has consisted most importantly of a singular collection of bleak, funny, and often savage short novels." He also notes that Spark, when asked if she could write longer books, replied, "Yes, I do . . . [but] there's nothing I can do about it. I feel I should give them something more to take home for their money." Morrison also offers a list, and description, of those of her titles he considers most significant.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Tuesday 14 June 2005

Frankfurt announces focus country for this year's fair: Korea . . .
"The literature and culture of the tense Korean peninsula will be the main focus of this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest such event," organizers announced yesterday. As an Associated Press wire story by Matt Moore details, that "focus" will include not only Korean publishers as well as 30 Korean authors, but also "theater and dance performances, symposia and a Korean garden," and "films, photo exhibits and seminars from Korea that focus on its past, present and future." However, fair president Juergen Boos said that although both North and South Korea will be featured, "efforts to bring North Korean writers and officials to the fair were unsuccessful."

Turmoil at Lambda Foundation? . . .
Just days after the ceremony handing out the annual Lambda Awards for gay and lesbian fiction, a Queertype report by Jameson Currier says "Things seem to be rapidly changing at the Lambda Literary Foundation," the organization that sponsors the awards. Currier says the staff of the Foundation's publication, the Lambda Book Report, has been dismissed, and that another of the organization's publications, the James White Review, and a writers conference sponsored by LLF, "may be suspended." Capping it all off has been the apparent resignation of the Foundation's executive director, Jim Marks. Currier says his attempt to "clarify what had transpired" regarding Marks' departure resulted in an e–mail from the Foundation reiterating that Marks had resigned. it said the LLF's Board of Trustees "are evaluating the impact of this resignation and factoring it into other structural plans discussed at the June 3, 2005 Board meeting. It is expected that other announcements will be forthcoming."

Publishing industry strives to help readers perfect their tans . . .
Sales of audio books are "soaring" in Great Britain, and "the UK publishing industry is about to be hit by the same revolution that has overhauled the music world – the iPod–friendly download," says Anthony Barnes in a report for The Independent. Growth has been especially explosive during holidays—last year's summer sales increased 40 percent over the previous summer, and they're up another 35 percent so far this year. What's more, publishers and retailers are encouraged because it's more than just "beach books" that are selling. Reports Barnes: "Listeners have embraced more challenging reads and classics that they had not managed in their usual reading schedules. Joyce's Ulysses was an audio top seller last year, as were Tolstoy's War and Peace, Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca and Charlotte Bronté's Jane Eyre." Joel Rickett of industry magazine The Bookseller, offers one explanation: "Many people going on holiday want something for the beach or the flight but they don't want to have to cart it around all the time they are away." Barnes suggests another: "For many audio converts it spells the end of that awkward search for the perfect balance between comfortable lounging position and maximum exposure to the sun. Now they can simply slip in their earphones and press "play" without worrying about white patches from book shadows."

Publishers as retailers really pissing off booksellers . . .
Publishers big and small in Canada, as elsewhere, are "preparing to boost their business by selling directly to consumers from their websites, a move that has booksellers spooked about being squeezed by their own suppliers," reports Marina Strauss in a Globe & Mail story. Things seem to have become particularly heated now that giant conglomerate publishers Penguin and Pearson Education will begin sales from their websites within the next year. "Everybody seems to think they're a bookseller now," says Pat Joas, a bookseller and president of the Canadian Booksellers Association, ". . . you're sort of looking over your shoulder all the time thinking, 'What's next?'" But Strauss reports that "even though Penguin.com trumpets markdowns," Penguin Canada president Ed Carson says the move is not "meant or even designed to compete with the retail business." He says, "I don't think any publisher has visions of becoming Amazon or Chapters. We certainly don't." Joas doesn't seem to buy it. "It sets a dangerous precedent," she says. "At the very least, we can assume that it's going to threaten the livelihood of many booksellers."

Horse, out of barn, wanders off . . .
The original store of Canada's largest bookselling chain, Chapters, the store that represented "the first strike in the invasion of the big–box book retailer revolution," is closing, being replaced by an outlet for the Winners discount clothing store chain. As Rebecca Caldwell reports in a Globe & Mail story, after Chapters began in the store on Toronto's Bloor Street, " Armed with volume sales, huge discounting policies, in-store coffee shops and, later, entire sections devoted to knickknackery such as candles and gift wrap, independents such as Lichtman's and Edwards Books and Art were laid waste by Chapters' wake. Iconic bookshops the Book Cellar and Britnell's, the oldest family–run store in Canada that sold its first volume in 1893, would also close in the post–Chapters era." The manager of the University of Toronto's bookstore, Nick Pashley, tells Caldwell, "There's a kind of symbolic value seeing it go. It was the first superstore in Toronto. . . . But I don't think it's going to make a huge difference to independent booksellers because there really aren't any more in that neck of the woods. They've all been driven out a long time ago."

They will, no doubt, be hanged . . .
Two men caught in a police sting operation trying to sell early copies of the new Harry Potter book (see last week's MobyLives news digest) have been arraigned in a British courtroom and charged with theft. As a BBC News wire story reports, 19–year–old Aaron Lambert is accused of " stealing two copies of the book from a distribution centre in Corby," as well as possessing a "replica handgun" used to threaten a report from the Sun newspaper, to whom he was attempting to sell the books. Also charged was Christopher Brown, 37, who is accused of participating with Lambert, of possessing an "offensive weapon," and of "handling the stolen books."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Monday 13 June 2005

Watergate cover–up continues in Deep Throat coverage, says Rich . . .
In a fiery New York Times commentary, Frank Rich considers the coverage of the recent outing of Mark Felt as Deep Throat, noting for one thing that the oft–quoted remark "Follow the money" was never uttered by Deep Throat, at least not according to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All The President's Men. It was a piece of fiction written by William Goldman for the movie version of the book. But "This confusion of Hollywood's version of history with the genuine article would quickly prove symptomatic of the overall unreality of the Deep Throat coverage," says Rich. "Was Mr. Felt a hero or a villain? Should he 'follow the money' into a book deal, and if so, how would a 91–year–old showing signs of dementia either write a book or schmooze about it with Larry King? How did Vanity Fair scoop The Post? How does Robert Redford feel about it all?" Meanwhile, Rich says, Watergate "is once again being covered up" — such as when one of the major perpetrators, Charles Colson, is quoted on NBC's Today Show "condemning Mr. Felt for dishonoring 'the confidence of the president of the United States.' Never mind that Mr. Colson dishonored the law, proposed bombing the Brookings Institution and went to prison for his role in the break–in to steal the psychiatric records of The Times's Deep Throat on Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg. The 'Today' host, Matt Lauer, didn't mention any of this — or even that his guest had done jail time." But, Rich continues, "Had the scandal been vividly resuscitated as the long national nightmare it actually was, it would dampen all the Felt fun by casting harsh light on our own present nightmare. . . .The current administration, a second–term imperial presidency that outstrips Nixon's in hubris by the day, leads the attack, trying to intimidate and snuff out any Woodwards or Bernsteins that might challenge it, any media proprietor like Katharine Graham or editor like Ben Bradlee who might support them and any anonymous source like Deep Throat who might enable them to find what Carl Bernstein calls 'the best obtainable version of the truth.'"

Showalter off her meds again . . .
In a Los Angeles Times commentary that starts by saying "most Americans seem ambivalent about [Michael] Jackson's guilt or innocence," then says in the next sentence that the "accusations of homosexual pedophilia" against him "have struck a deep chord of moral outrage," Elaine Showalter compares the Jackson trial to that of Oscar Wilde in 1895 (wherein the great Irish writer was convicted of breaking English law "criminalizing male homosexuality," sentenced to two years hard labor, and died soon after his release). Says Showalter, "Wilde too was a celebrity, as a writer and as a performer. . . . Like Jackson, Wilde was seemingly brought down by self-destructive acts." She notes that Wilde got in trouble when the father of one of his lovers accused him of being gay and Wilde sued him, which eventually led to the homosexuality trial. "Similarly, Jackson attracted the attention of the law when he told a British interviewer in a 2003 TV documentary that he had 'slept with many children' in a bed and believed that 'the most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone.' He too became caught up with an eccentric parent charging that her son had been molested." Showalter does admit to some differences between the two cases, such as that Wilde used the trial as an occasion for a courageous and stirring defense of "the love that dare not speak its name," while "Jackson has denied he is gay . . . ."

News flash: "Good cheer" spotted at BEA . . .
While most reports on the recent BookExpo America convention have painted a gloomy portrait of the book industry, Amazonia author James Marcus describes a decidedly more upbeat scene in his Los Angeles Times report. ". . . the mood on the convention floor was notably upbeat," he says. "You could sense it in the animated bustle of the crowd. When Mark Twain kicked off the very first meeting of the American Booksellers Assn. in 1902, he addressed an audience of 60. This time around, more than 25,000 people registered for the convention, and they all appeared to be clogging the aisles, grabbing up promotional items — key chains, shortbread cookies, voodoo dolls, refrigerator magnets — and spreading good cheer."

The George Bush school of openess, lesson # 42: Rowling says she'll talk to press again, as long as she can appoint reporters . . .
Eighteen–year–old Emerson Spartz was asleep at his Indiana home when the telephone rang at 9:00 am and a voice with a Scottish accent said, "Hello, Emerson? This is Jo. You do believe me, don't you?" It was, he soon learned, the increasingly reclusive J.K. Rowling, calling to tell him that he was one of two Americans she was going to allow to interview her when her new Harry Potter book is released in July. In a Times of London report by Jack Malvern, Spartz says, "At first, I thought it was extremely odd. I thought 'Why would she want to talk to me'?" Malvern explains, "Rowling has refused to grant interviews to British journalists for two years." In Britain, "Her only contact with the media on the release of the new book will be through 'cub reporters' under 16, who will be selected for a 'press conference' through competitions." In the US, Rowling selected Spartz and 24–year–old Melissa Anelli, both of whom run Potter fan sites — Spartz runs Mugglenet, and Anelli runs The Leaky Cauldron.

RIP: Richard Eberhart . . .
Richard Eberhart, whose poetry won a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, and numerous other awards, and who, as a professor at Dartmouth College, was "admired for mentoring generations of aspiring writers," has died at his home in Hanover, NH at the age of 101. In an Associated Press wire story, Eberhart's former colleague Jay Parini says Eberhart's poetry was "intensely lyrical," and made him "on of the finest American poets." Eberhart once said of poetry that, "Poems in a way are spells against death. They are milestones, to see where you were then from where you are now. To perpetuate your feelings, to establish them. If you have in any way touched the central heart of mankind's feelings, you'll survive."

Down but not out . . .
A new website, Reader of Depressing Books, shows off two interesting angles of approach to literary coverage: the titular interest in "depressing" books, and a unique style of writing that is half prose, half verse. In this review of the work of Lorrie Moore, the anonymous author notes that, "people generally like it—deem it acceptable and important—when problems / are concrete, like cancer or immigration, but do not like it—call it / self–indulgent, unimportant, and selfish—when problems are complex, like / feeling sad or strange or doomed for no easily explainable reason/ but really, people / talking about 'art' here/ why do people feel depressed? / not because of one single thing, like cancer or immigration, and not because / of being self–indulgent or weak–minded, but because of the cumulative effect/ of the following, all of which are real things / that we will all die one day, that time moves in one direction and we only / get one chance to get things right, that we are conscious things and so are / conscious that other people are thinking things that we will never truly / understand. . . ."

Self–publish and perish . . .
At his "Weekend Stubble" blog for The Collins Library, author Paul Collins files this item about "an odd bit of authorial lore": the fact that "the first automotive fatality was a bestselling author." Noting coverage from various sources —including a local newspaper report, "Appalling Accident: Sudden Death of the Hon. Mrs. Ward," — Collins explains that Irish writer Mary Ward was killed on 31 August 1869 when she was thrown from a steam–driven car. He notes that "her self–published Sketches With The Microscope became a Victorian bestseller when it was reissued under the title A World of Wonders Revealed By The Microscope."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Visit the mothership:


(from Dalkey Archive)

(from Soft Skull)



This week's poetry:

"The Ball Between Us"
(from GwynethLewis.com)

"Night, Open Field"
(from Fence Magazine)

"||||| ||||| |||||"
(from Aught Magazine)

This week's fiction:

"The Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need"
(from Potion Magazine)

"Beneath the Shingles"
(from 12 Gauge)

Special edition:

First posted in October, 2001, Alicia Ostriker's anthology of poetry that she turned to after the 9/11 attacks — including the work of Stephen Dunn, C.P. Cavafy, Marianne Moore, and others — is far and away the most popular link ever posted on MobyLives. Find out why.


All material not otherwise attributed ©1998–2005 Dennis Loy Johnson.