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Ron Hogan

Self-Publishing Success Makes Big Publishing Splash

Earlier this year, we told you about Notes Left Behind, a family’s self-published account of their daughter’s struggle with brain cancer, and the inspiration she continued to give them after her death, that achieved great success after an appearance on Good Morning America, which led to a significant deal with William Morrow just days later. The new edition of the book—which includes photographs of Elena Desserich and her family, along with some of the notes that she’d carefully hidden around the house for them to discover once she was gone, and the family did an interview Wednesday morning with the Today show…

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Wednesday was like “a one-day Cinderella story,” HarperCollins creative director Lisa Sharkey told us during a phone call yesterday afternoon; that eight-minute segment on Today led to an appearance on the AOL home page and “most searched” status at Yahoo! later in the day. “We’ve always been very big cheerleaders for the book, the family, and the cause,” she added, noting that proceeds from the book’s sale go to a foundation the Desserich family established to fund research into a cure for the pediatric brain cancer that took Elena’s life. “We really hope that it takes off as a book for parents the way that The Last Lecture did for adult readers.” And, she predicts, that desired uptick is likely to be spurred by the book’s arrival in actual bookstores this week, once browsers are able to see for themselves the care with which Morrow designed their edition.

AvantGuild: Memoir Isn’t Just Writing About Yourself

Walter Kirn gives members the inside story on expanding an essay he wrote for The Atlantic in Lost in the Meritocracy, a memoir of his “undereducation of an overachiever,” in the latest installment of the “Hey, How’d You…?” series. “After I wrote the essay, I had a sizable response in the letters of personal outpourings,” he recalls. “Everyone, it seemed, had been less happy than they were supposed to be and less well educated than they were pretending to be.” So he set out to write something bigger, but realized that all those experiences he had weren’t enough in and of themselves: “You think when you sit down to write a memoir that you have a story to tell because you have yourself and what happened to you, but that doesn’t make a character in a story… You can’t just record a sequence of events and have a narrative,” he explains. “The conventions of storytelling are even more important when you’re telling a real story than when you’re telling a made-up one.”

ag_logo_medium.gifThis article is one of several features exclusively available to AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, you can register for $55 a year, and start reading those articles, receive discounts on seminars and workshops, and get all sorts of other swell bonuses.

UnBeige: Extreme Makeover, Emily Dickinson’s Home Edition

UnBeige,’s design blog, alerts us to a ceiling collapse at Homestead, the house in which Emily Dickinson lived as a small child and famously spent the last three decades of her adult life, writing poems. According to a report in the NY Times, the plaster ceiling in the front parlor appears to have dropped so low from visitors’ regard Sunday afternoon that they heard it hit the ground. (The house is part of the Emily Dickinson Museum and was open for tours; no injuries were reported.)

Guernica Turns 5: Discount Tix for Birthday Gala Available

guernica-logo.jpgGuernica (“a magazine of art and politics”) is celebrating its fifth anniversary next week with a major fundraising event at Brooklyn’s powerHouse Arena, and GalleyCat readers who order tickets online can shave $15 off the listed prices (whether you’re going for general admission or the VIP sponsorship levels) by using the promotional code “guernicaat5.” So far, confirmed entertainment for the evening includes Jonathan Ames and DJ Didi Gutman from Brazilian Girls.

Andromeda Klein, Born Under a Cryptic Sign

When we met with Frank Portman to talk about his second YA novel, Andromeda Klein, we joked that it was a banned book waiting to happen… (Little did we know that, no joke, one school in Portland had already cancelled his appearance because of the book’s occult themes.)

Portman told us a bit about the tarot imagery that permeates the novel, which centers on a teenage girl (and practicing ceremonial magician) still coping with the death of her friend, and we went from there to talking about the accuracy of the story’s handling of occultism in general. “I thought I knew a lot about it when I started,” Portman admitted, “but I still had to do all kinds of research. It was a crazy odyssey… To write a novel about an obsessive character like Andromeda, you have to know a lot.” Rather than simply use the magic as a framing device or a plot point, he strove to make it both integral to the narrative and absolutely real—but in a way that still allows skeptical readers to accept what happened to Andromeda as manifestations from her own subconscious fueled by her voracious reading on the subject.

Andromeda’s efforts to preserve the occult section of her town’s public library are a major part of the story, and Portman was quick to point out how much reading and book collecting shapes modern-day magick. “Everybody in that world is very proud of their collection,” he said; the rarer the books, the better. “It’s a lot like record collecting.”

Speakng of record collecting, Andromeda Klein has a theme song (complete with references to Aleister Crowley and H.P. Lovecraft), which is also available as a 7-inch single. For the longest time, he revealed, he wasn’t sure what his character’s main name was. “Her name came to me while I was standing in line for bagels, and as soon as I thought the name, I had the tune for the song—all sorts of answers about her personality came from that.”

“The Apprentice Has Become the Master”: Once Her Assistant, Now Her Editor


Somebody told us a neat story about Laura Anne Gilman (foreground) and her latest novel, Flesh and Fire, which is that her editor at Pocket Books, Jennifer Heddle, used to be her assistant back when they were both at Roc, the Penguin Group fantasy imprint. Gilman confirmed the tale when I met the pair a while back. “I needed somebody who could hit the ground running,” she recalled, and an agent recommended Heddle, who was her assistant at the time; the “interview” took place in a hotel hallway outside a party at the Readercon convention. “Basically, I hired her and threw her to the wolves,” GIlman laughed.

“Laura always treated me as a partner,” Heddle says of their time together, and when Gilman left in 2004 to work on her writing full-time, it seemed like Heddle would step into her position, but Heddle had already been looking for a new professional base by then. “It looked as if I left because Laura left,” she reflected, “but the timing just worked out that way.” Pocket was looking to increase the size of its fantasy footprint, and Heddle came on board.

There was another house that was interested in Flesh and Fire, the first volume in a new fantasy series, but Gilman couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with Heddle again—although Heddle did feel a bit odd when she sent her former boss a revision letter after reading the manuscript… a letter that reflected everything she’d learned from Gilman as an editor. “What happened was she kicked my ass,” Gilman laughed, “and she was right. She came right out and said, this works, this sucks… As a writer, you have to trust the editor to make the right suggestions, and that she doesn’t have her own agenda for the work. The tone was set in the subject header of an email Gilman sent Heddle soon after: “The apprentice has become the master.”

Scene @ David Sax’s Save the Deli Party


After four years on the circuit, GalleyCat knows from book parties—and, let us tell you, cramming upwards of 400 people into Ben’s Kosher Deli Monday night to celebrate the publication of David Sax‘s Save the Deli has to be some kind of record. Which would be fitting, given the number of other world records being set in the room that night—granted, they were all in stunt categories like “most insults flung at a deli waiter in 30 seconds” or “most side dishes ordered in 30 seconds,” but a record’s a record. Sax (left) invited the owners from several of the delis he writes about in his book—a travelogue of the great delis still operating in North America (with a little side trip to Europe)—and brought in Jelvis, “the Jewish Elvis,” for musical entertainment, but you can’t go wrong with a free buffet… especially when it includes hot dogs, knish, potato pancakes, and several flavors of Dr. Brown’s. (And this picture doesn’t even show any of the corned beef or pastrami!)

Feminist Press Celebrates 39th Anniversary

feminist-press-2009gala.jpgLast night the Feminist Press at the City University of New York (the oldest continuing women’s publisher in the world) celebrated its 39th Annual Women Write the World Gala, and—just as in 2007 and 2008, we asked Amanda ReCupido (the creator of The Undomestic Goddess website) to cover the event for GalleyCat. Honorees as this year’s event included authors Arianna Huffington and Taslima Nasrin, along with human rights lawyer Rhonda Copelon and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (who was unable to attend due to a late vote in the Senate). ReCupido writes:

“Copelon spoke about the need for human rights in the United States, especially when it comes to laws protecting reproductive health care and abortion. Luckily, she said, ‘there is a new generation of activists emerging to see this through.” Huffington echoed her call, saying that “younger women are ushering in a new world.’ Nasrin spoke about the need to separate state and religion in every country, saying that ‘education and economic freedom alone is not enough.’ She also addressed the issue of human trafficking around the world, stating that ‘no one is free until all women are free.’”

Each of the women honored have left an indelible mark on women’s progress, and Huffington reminded the crowd that each and every one of us has the power to enact change. ‘We need to stop looking for someone to save us,’ she said. ‘Look in the mirror and find the leader within.’”

Concord Prepares Free Anthology on Money

concord-freepress-logo.jpgIt’s always sort of bugged us that we’ve never gotten around to writing about Concord Free Press, the independent publisher that literally gives away its books (encouraging readers to make donations to charitable organizations and individuals in need), so when we saw news on the Entertainment Weekly book blog of a new Gregory Maguire novel released into the wild, we were delighted to see the house was still going strong—and then we found out from Concord board member Ron Slate about an anthology he’s assembling for publication in 2010 called IOU: New Writing on Money.

Slate is looking for great writing in a variety of genres—short stories, poetry, prose poems, memoir, and essays included—and you can submit your material for consideration until the end of January 2010. If your work is accepted (and you’ll find out in a month if that’s the case), you’ll be giving it to Concord for free, but as per the house’s standard operating procedure, you’ll retain all the rights and if you can sell it again, more power to you! (In fact, the first Concord offering, Stona Fitch‘s Give and Take, generated so much buzz that St. Martin’s has picked it up for republication next year.) You will receive five copies of IOU when it comes out next spring—but Concord hopes that you’ll pass at least four of them on to other readers.

(Slate has set up an IOU Facebook discussion group, so members can follow the conversation about the book, and its subject matter, there as well.)

The Two Dust Jackets of Mathilda Savitch


You may recall that we love finding out why a book cover changes between the ARC and the published edition, so when we met playwright Victor Lodato at the launch party for his debut novel, Mathilda Savitch, a few weeks ago, we came prepared to ask him about the switch Farrar Straus Giroux made with his dust jacket.

“I met with the art department at FSG, and they were very open to my ideas,” Lodato said of the cover selection process. “I mentioned a number of things, but I said that I really like silhouettes, and I mentioned that I thought something that looked like a strange storybook for children would really work.” The art department came up with the illustration at left (which is still being used on certain European editions, hence the “Roman” tagline in the middle). “Both my editor, Courtney Hodell, and I thought this was a great cover,” he recalled, “but maybe it just needed to be… sexier in some ways. It was a little cold. So they wanted to play with some other ideas.”

Lodato spent two days looking through art books at Strand Books until he came across a copy of Travelers, a collection of photographs of snow globe sculptures created by Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz. He brought the book to Hodell, and says she was as enthusiastic about the images as he was; FSG finally settled on “Traveler 48 at Night” for the final cover image.

Lodato explained that he still liked both covers, that they were both relevant to the novel’s story of a young girl’s journey into the underworld to find answers to her questions about her older sister’s death. “I like the playful interpretation of this child going on a frightening adventure,” he says of the original, “but this one…” He moved on to the final cover. “The novel’s about a child alone in an emotionally frozen landscape, and she’s trying to figure out lots of things, from where her sister went to death in general. And this just seemed very resonant to that.” (New Yorkers can judge for themselves when Lodato reads from Mathilda Savitch at KGB Bar this Sunday [Oct. 25] at 7 p.m.)

We’re hard-pressed to pick either one as “better” than the other, too—but what do you think?