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Monday Morning

A Reminder of the Importance of Good Copyediting

Here’s an awkwardly punctuated sentence from a fall catalog that recently showed up in my mailbox, describing a novel coming out later this year, the name of which has been concealed to protect the innocent:

“By turns meditative, deftly observant, and scathingly analytical, [REDACTED] reflects the literary depth and breadth of authors, such as Philip Roth and Tom Wolfe.”

Yep: If you’re going to go to all the trouble to write a book, you’ll want it to reflect the literary depth and breadth of authors, sure enough. That extra comma is doubly unfortunate in that the writer in question is not primarily known as a “traditional novelist,” but is in fact a darn good one; even the accidential implication that it’s somehow surprising this person’s work is as good as “authors” is undeserved.

Lipton Ready to Share Her Agent-Acquiring Secrets

lauren-lipton-headshot.jpgLauren Lipton, WSJ columnist and author of the novel It’s About Your Husband, is about to teach her first mediabistro.com workshop —her three-hour seminar on how to get a literary agent will be held this Wednesday night (one of the last classes that’ll be held in mediabistro.com’s SoHo offices, by the way!), and she’s looking forward to the gig, which she landed after recommendations from fellow novelists (and mediabistro.com instructors) Brenda Janowitz and Kristin Harmel.

“I think writers worry about finding an agent as much, if not more, than they fret about the quality of their work,” Lipton emailed me over the weekend. “That’s a shame. When I was looking for representation, I was surprised to find the process far less daunting than I’d imagined it to be. My goal for the seminar is to have people leave feeling calm and hopeful, armed with tools to make their search more efficient. As a special parting gift, they’ll also get the name and phone number of a real, live literary agent who has agreed to let me pass out his contact information.”

Lipton will also be teaching an eight-week advanced workshop on writing chick lit novels starting in mid-May, “though I’m going to call it Advanced Women’s Fiction,” she says. (Still, when somebody from the class sells their manuscript, betcha I know how the cover will turn outand that’s okay.)

Literary Magazine Takes Roller Derby As Muse

roller-derby-artwork.jpgBarrelhouse is looking for your best writing about the roller derby: “fiction, essays, poems, whatever you got.” The finalists will see their work printed in the magazine’s next issue, with the winner receiving an original work of art from Cory Oberndorfer, which will be just as roller-derby themed as the picture at left but inspired directly by whatever it is that person has written. “This essentially means that you will become immortalized in two formats: your roller derby writing will appear in the pages of Barrelhouse, and will also be celebrated in or serve as inspiration for Cory’s work,” the editors explain. “Which will also be the cover of the next issue of Barrelhouse. So essentially we’re offering to make you a stone cold Mona Lisa style roller derby literary god or goddess whose roller derby writing will live on for all eternity.”

Well, geez, who can turn down an offer like that? I might just have to bust out my old research notes on the ’70s flick Kansas City Bomber

A Quick Peek Inside the Sausage Factory

harold-davis-pageproofs.jpg

Ever wonder what a book looks like before the pages are turned into a book? Harold Davis discusses the imposition proofs for his forthcoming Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers on his blog:

“Each of the large sheets of paper represents a signature of 16 or 24 pages that will be bound into the final, printed book,” Davis explains. “This kind of proof is about how the pages will be ordered on press, and definitely not about color reproduction (there are other kinds of proofs that deal with color). When imposition proofs are done right (as these are), they show the printer has thought carefully about how the pages will be printed on press because images with strong color bias are located in ‘columns’ on the same press form (each form represented by an imposition proof sheet).”

You should really see the original-sized photo for the full effect, though. Oh, and there’s another item in his blog that will definitely be of interest to visual artists, about how hosting his blogs images on Flickr led to nearly 1.5 million people viewing his work.

Can Literature Breed Better Decision-Making?

sandra-sucher-headshot.jpgI was sifting through the latest Harvard Business Review over the weekend when I came across an interesting one-page interview with Prof. Sandra J. Sucher (left) about hacking her HBS class on “The Moral Leader” into an executive book club. To some of you, this may seem self-evident, as Sucher explains how discussing the moral dimensions of a literary work like The Remains of the Day provides an environment with sufficient distance from the workaday world to allow readers to explore the character’s moral choices without self-imposed psychological restraints, and how a group conversation can lead to new insights. “Most of us believe that our moral views are self-evident,” she says. “Hearing people present arguments you had never thought of is one way to strengthen your own moral reasoning skills.” So, for the article, she draws upon her curriculum to create an executive reading list (PDF download) that ranges from Machiavelli and Sophocles to Allan Gurganus and Russell Banks. (See, too, a longer interview with Sucher that discusses her philosophical underpinnings in more detail.)

For me, the article sparked a series of marketing questions. I know book publishers have become proficient at marketing “book club books” to socially-motivated book clubs, and business books to business people. What I don’t know is how good the industry is at marketing “book club books” to business people, or how one would go about doing that. But I’m thinking the increasing popularity of the “business fable” genre might demonstrate a hunger among executive (and aspiring executive) readers for powerful storytelling that publishers could tap into… and then you have to ask yourself, do you play it safe by sticking to the classics, or do you open things up and try to expose this class of readers to contemporary writers, some of whom might even be flying under the radar? And all this comes before the logistical questions of how you make the audience aware of the books… Do you have any ideas?

The Last Whiny Editor Email I’ll Ever Run

“I have been an editor for 13 years,” says an anonymous gripester, “and… I have never in all my experience seen such a dumbing down of books.”

“One look at the NYT bestseller list will convince anyone that I am right,” the complaint continues. “The top two books are not really books, but book-like objects produced by TV personalities. The writing is so poor, but the attitude among publishers is who cares? Tom Brokov [sic] has book [sic] on The Sxties [sic], but would it have been a bestseller if he had not been on NBC for years? Coming in number 4 [sic] is a stupid little book by Anna Quindlen about how her lab taught her life lessons. You have got to be kidding me.”

Well, either the person who wrote this letter doesn’t work at Random House, or he or she does work there and has some serious Kate Medina issues… And is this person really trying to argue that there’s no distinction to be made between Glenn Beck‘s An Inconvenient Book and Stephen Colbert‘s I Am America (And So Can You!)? Or that this list is so much worse than what people were buying 65 years ago?

Sure, there’s books on the current bestseller list that don’t impress me at all, and it could definitely use some more women writers besides Quindlen (and Allison Silverman on the I Am America committee), but there’s also a commendable three-title run by Knopf of books by Oliver Sacks, Joseph Ellis, and Geoffrey C. Ward, along with other strong books by authors like Tony Dungy, Alan Weisman, A.J. Jacobs, and David Michaelis, covering a diverse range of subjects. (On a completely unrelated note, our national obsession with memoirs continues unabated; if you throw in the reflective elements of Brokaw’s BOOM!, eight of the top ten nonfiction bestsellers fall into that category, and ten of the top fifteen.) And it’s almost too obvious to point out that the bestsellers are only the barest fraction of what’s available to readers.

But the whining didn’t stop there. If only.

Read more

Bells Are Ringing: Book Community Weddings

dittmar-bruno-wedding.jpgCongratulations to HarperCollins Children’s Books senior publicist Melissa Dittmar (left), who was married last week to film marketing director Stephen Bruno. Their wedding was featured in the NYT Sunday style section, along with that of National Book Award-nominated* poet Moira Egan and Damiano Abeni.

*Additional research, prompted by a tip from a reader, indicates that Ms. Egan was only “nominated for a National Book Award,” as the Times phrased it, in the sense that her publisher submitted the book for consideration.

Self-Published Fantasty Epics, Ghostwriters, Scammy Agents, and Plagiarism: It’s a Literary Perfect Storm!

This story’s a month old, so I apologize to those of you who may have already read about it, but for those of you who haven’t, it’s pretty amazing: On October 11, Jane Litte of Dear Author posted a sarcastic “Top 10 Tips for Plagiarists, all of them aimed at subtly accusing Lanaia Lee of ripping off the recently deceased fantasy writer David Gemmell‘s Dark Prince in her self-published novel Of Atlantis. And we’re not talking Kaavya Viswanathan-style swipes of an apt phrase here and there; we’re talking word-for-word, only changing character’s names, for the entire first chapter.

Victoria Strauss picked up the story from there, as, after first defending her novel as entirely original, Lee blamed a ghostwriter for everything. Strauss believes that story, because the party Lee named, Christopher Hill, is infamous among writers and agents for his duplicitous practices—even Lee had been alerted to his reputation.

“I find it completely plausible that the ripoff of Gemmell was Hill’s work, not Lanaia’s,” Strauss writes. “It would be absolutely typical of Hill to do something like this to screw over a client—especially one who’d twigged to his scam. His whole deal was false promises and head games, fakery and bullshit and general psychological torment. If she’d never read Gemmell, there’s no reason why Lanaia would have recognized that stolen chapter.”

Oh, and then there’s the detail of Lee’s erratic hypertension and how “I’m not suppose to have any stress, but the last 48 hrs, I have had enough stress for a lifetime.” And she’d really just like to put the whole thing behind her, as commenters on Making Light noted: “[If] you keep dogging me I could have another stroke,” Lee writes, “contact my agent and attorney, I’m sure no one wants [my] blood on their hands.” Then somebody named Cheryl Pillsbury shows up in the comments claiming to have helped broker the relationship between Lee and the publishing company that she paid to publish her novel, and telling people they should watch what they say about any of this or they could get themselves sued or otherwise subject to karmic payback, and everybody has a good laugh at her, because she’s an even worse writer than Lee is apart from the passages Hill swiped from Gemmell. Also, if you Google “Cheryl Pillsbury,” little of what comes up lends her credibility. And it goes on and on for over 1,000 comments, and another 400+ at Dear Author. Wow.

NYT ‘s Last Ditch Effort to Recloset Dumbledore

dumbledore-headshot.jpgNYT cultural critic Edward Rothstein finally catches up to J.K. Rowling‘s revelations about Dumbledore’s sexuality, and authorial intentions be damned: “It is possible that Ms. Rowling may be mistaken about her own character,” Rothstein argues. “There seems to be no compelling reason within the books for her after-the-fact assertion. Of course it would not be inconsistent for Dumbledore to be gay, but the books’ accounts certainly don’t make it necessary.”

If you’ll recall, the first option in our poll about the news was “I don’t care what Rowling says—not Albus!” And that’s pretty much what we’re dealing with here:

“Ms. Rowling quite consciously makes Dumbledore a flawed, more human wizard than [Merlin or Gandalf],” Rothstein argues, “but now goes too far. There is something alien about the idea of a mature Dumbledore being called gay or, for that matter, being in love at all.”

“Alien” in this context sure seems a lot like a synonym for “icky.” I mean, I’ll give some credit to the argument that the tragedy that drives Dumbledore’s adult life isn’t falling in love with a boy who turned out to be the wizard equivalent of a fascist, but falling in love with the wizard equivalent of fascism, but to suggest that Dumbledore’s reaction was implausible if this were really about sex? As others have pointed out over the last week, Dumbledore’s adult life—minus the cosmic battle of good and evil, of course—fits perfectly within an all-too-conventional stereotype of the “doomed homosexual” who spends his life denying himself because he was caught out in one tentative relationship in his youth and/or it ended badly.

Frankly, it would all be a lot more interesting if Grindelwald and Dumbledore had been more explicitly cast in the mold of Leopold and Loeb, and that was the tragedy Albus regretted all his life.

Talk About Your Exquisite Corpses: Mystery Writers Assemble Evidence on B&N Chat Board

Over at the “Crime Book Club” message boards on the Barnes & Noble website, Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai has started up a round-robin hardboiled mystery called “Passing the Torch” with a guy walking into the narrator’s office and collapsing dead on the floor. From there, the story already been expanded upon with contributions from fellow mystery writers Duane Swierczynski and Jason Starr, but you don’t have to be a pro to participate—any reader is invited to move the plot forward with a few paragraphs. “I’m not promising that the story will make a ton of sense when we’re all done,” Ardai wrote when he told me about the venture over the weekend, “or even that it will ultimately get completed, given that things like this sometimes peter out, but we do plan to have fun along the way.” So far, they’re off to a pretty good start.

(And, yes, I know that technically this isn’t a true example of “exquisite corpse” technique, because that depends on contributors knowing next to nothing about what their predecessors did. But it worked for the headline.)

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