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Archives: April 2005

About as “Indy” as Coldplay

Chain bookstores may be bad, but that’s no reason to assume independent bookstores are any better. As Paula Katz argues in the debut issue of Work Magazine, “The fact is, a ‘corporate’ atmosphere can be created anywhere … with just a few, easy steps:

insist[ing] that all decisions be made unilaterally by someone who rarely comes into contact with the store; treat[ing] your employees as incompetent and interchangeable; cut[ting] costs even at the expense of employee satisfaction and dignity; and [not worrying] about the customers or the community.

The owner of the store at which I work does not make decisions from some headquarters thousands of miles away, but her visits to the store are infrequent and largely consist of sitting in the back office chatting with her friends on the phone. When she is around, she doesn’t bother to refer to us by name, instead she addresses us according to where we work in the store – either “Up Front” or “Downstairs.” Her edicts, such as the one eliminating the children’s book section and staff recommendations (incidentally, our two popular sections), are issued seemingly at random.

“Eventually,” Paula continues, “this bookstore will fail.”

But what is most frustrating is witnessing myopic business practices that should be reserved for huge corporations being put into practice in what should be a haven for customers and employees alike.

And What Universe Is This?

New York Magazine talks to Alicia Erian (left) about her debut novel’s title


How did you come up with such a provocative title?
The book had a different title initially–Welcome to the Moral Universe. It comes from a speech that Daddy makes to Jasira. Then I turned the manuscript in, and then my editor said, “Okay, new title.” I was flipping through the book just looking for words, and the word that kept jumping out was towelhead, and I thought, Oh, that’s horrifying–I could never call the book that. But then I thought, Well, this is a publisher’s wet dream–this has got to be the way to go.

Another wet dream for publishers? Hearing authors give in to publishers’ “horrifying” “wet dreams” … Because, at every point along the writing process, the key word is submission.

GC’s Monday Quiz,

via David Gates’ review of The Outlaw Bible for the NYTBR:


Who exactly qualifies as an outlaw and why? Let’s try a little quiz. Without looking at the table of contents, which two made the grade?

A) Bret Easton Ellis

B) Norman Mailer

C) Grace Paley

D) Raymond Carver

Time’s up: B and C. Mailer qualifies because he’s ”walked a tightrope over public opinion, often with a dagger in his teeth” — possibly an allusion to his stabbing his wife all those years ago? — for his ”hipster manifesto ‘The White Negro’ ” and his ”literary sponsorship of the criminal Jack Henry Abbott” (who’s also in the anthology). Paley has published ”highly acclaimed collections of short fiction,” but heck, so has Munro. Selling point: her antiwar, antinuke and feminist activism. So what’s wrong with Ellis and Carver? If you read carefully the stuff I quoted above — I can’t blame you if you skimmed — you’ll see why they don’t belong in the club of those who don’t belong in the Club. Patrick Bateman in Ellis’s ”American Psycho” is far more crazed and violent than Stephen Rojack in Mailer’s ”American Dream,” but he’s an I.P.O. kind of guy: out. Carver passes the trailer-park test, but his flintlike precisionism doesn’t fit the lava-flow aesthetic. Outlaws are not anal.

(Gates’ review, btw, is notable not only for its multiple-choice ardor, but its fearlessly facile critique of Alice Munro: “… Goon squads of editors and critics … keep the frightened masses buying superficially quiet fiction about superficially quiet people by Alice Munro …” As facile as it is, I’m endeared by its originality; I’d rather hear a new opinion I disgaree with than an obvious opinion well-put.)

Those Who Can, Teach

Often, writing teachers are has-beens, having tumbled down from the heights of their careers into career-flatlining jobs.

But, apparently, even programs as well-established as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop want writers on-the-rise, perhaps hoping that writers who still make writing their first priority are better at teaching students how to do the same.

From the NY Times‘ profile of Lan Samantha Chang, the new director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop:

The novelist Marilynne Robinson, who was on the seven-member search committee said, “We felt we couldn’t go wrong choosing any of the candidates.” The others were Jim Shepard, Ben Marcus and Richard Bausch.

But she noted of Ms. Chang that “her career is on the upswing, which makes her a valuable presence as an active writer.”

Further Reading: Birnbaum v. Lan Samantha Chang, November 30, 2004


GC’s under the weather, but should be back soon.

Hollywood on Regan

Hollywood locals talk to Lloyd Grove about Judith Regan’s upcoming move to the Hills:

“Judith has succeeded by going for the lowest common denominator,” said one movie-biz type. “While that makes her a standout in the book-publishing industry, it’s not really so special out here.”

“A few Tinseltown types,” however, do find Regan “special” enough to be “horrifying.” Acording to those insiders,

Regan has indeed been pitching her idea for a movie – never mind her earlier denials to this column – about a glamorous media figure who has a passionate affair with a police chief gone wrong.

In a couple of the pitch sessions, I hear, Regan’s descriptions of the sex scenes were NC-17 and “people were horrified,” according to one knowledgeable source.

Bulletproof Publicity

Last year, every other day brought a new article or weblog post about writers’ dire, dire need for independent publicists. Lately, though, the topic’s become less of a constant — even if, as Quinn Dalton argues on, there’s still a constant need for indy publicists’ supplementary services.

“I thought I could be pretty effective doing publicity for High Strung,” Dalton writes of her first novel. “I had been the director of public relations for an advertising agency for a number of years, and I figured that after getting great coverage for my clients, I’d do fine getting some for myself.”

[But] It’s a funny thing: Publishers want writers to be more media friendly, even savvy, but when writers promote themselves, they run the risk of being perceived as arrogant or grabby. I learned this, painfully, on a couple of occasions. So when my novel came out in paperback last July, I prepared a short but detailed media list, complete with pitch angles for the targeted journalists, and asked the in-house publicist assigned to me at the time if she would call these people–and not just leave a voice mail, but try to catch them on the phone, because a voice mail, like email, generally just gets deleted. The publicist could not see my point. “I just don’t think calling will help,” she actually said to me.

This is when I decided to hire an independent publicist for Bulletproof Girl.

L.A. Story: Regan Goes Hollywood

You want more recent information on Judith Regan, don’t you? We’ve got plenty

reganmoves.jpgAs you probably know by now, Judith Regan (pictured left, with a lipstick applicator on fire) has announced she’ll be moving ReganBooks to L.A. before the year’s end “to spend more time on television and film projects.”

According to Edward Wyatt of the Times, “The move could shake up an industry that has long operated in a parochial, Manhattan-centric fashion, even as technology has made the location of a company less important.”

The importance of Regan’s move, however, is twofold; the geographic shift mirrors another, more conceptual one, in the way publishling conceives of its relationship to non-book rights. Noting ReganBooks’ successes, the Times spotlights Wicked, the novel “that led to the Broadway show”; the article continues:

Ms. Regan lamented that she did not own any of the non-book rights to Wicked and cited it as an example of the kind of situation that, under her new contract, ‘will never happen again.’*

On a slightly different note, the Times also relays Regan’s intention to “bring a different idea of culture to Southern California.” Regan’s “idea of culture,” however, sounds suspiciously like the Borders near my mother’s house in West L.A.:

“I would like to create a cultural center,” she said, a sort of salon where authors could meet informally with people in the television and film businesses, with a bookstore and cafe, [and] space for readings or other cultural events…”

Read more

Fun (and Reading) After 50

B & N’s Sessalee Hensley talks to the York Daily Record about “hen lit” — more of an evolution than a trend, she argues:

… [Hensley] disputes the notion that such books are new, or that publishers have overlooked this age group — “It’s the bulk of their readership.”

“In the 1980s, it was more of the glamorous lifestyle novel ala Jackie Collins and Marilyn French,” Hensley said, responding via e-mail. “In the 1990s it was more of a family/relationship novel like Jane Hamilton or Amy Tan. Currently, it seems to be sort of the ‘starting over novel’ — be it mid-life crisis, divorce or widowhood.”

She said this type of fiction follows what’s happening with the baby boomer demographic.

“Career women were big in the ’80s, marriage and family was big in the ’90s and now, as we age, menopause, divorce, widowhood are the things happening in women’s lives and the fiction will reflect that.”

The title of this article, by the way, is “Fun After 50.” Because “menopause,” “divorce,” and “widowhood” so often blur into this for speed-reading editors.

Also, and more importantly: Do baby boomers really qualify as an “age group”? According to Hensley, “publishers [haven't] overlooked [the 50+] age group.” But Hensely then says that “this type of fiction follows what’s happening” with baby boomers, who (as far as GC knows) haven’t always been over 50.


You want more recent information on Judith Regan, don’t you? We’ve got plenty

reganomics.jpgJudith Regan talks to the Telegraph with the aim of contesting last year’s “breathtakingly unflattering portrait” of the publisher by Vanity Fair‘s Judith Newman. The result, however, only colors insides the lines already drawn by Newman:

Even [Regan's] boss, Jane Friedman, HarperCollins’s chief executive, has described her publicly as “a little bit of a loose cannon”.

That remark was “unfortunate”, admits Regan. “If I had the job of CEO I’d say: ‘Judith Regan is the most talented person in the world of publishing. She’s accomplished more than anybody else in the history of the industry and we’re lucky to have her’.”

And, then, as if readers weren’t already convinced that Regan should assign herself a publicist (of the Secret Service variety), the publisher goes on to inadvertantly call herself a witch, a pseudo-admission the profile can’t resist using for its closing:

…At a time when television presenters such as Simon Cowell and Donald Trump are doing very well out of being nasty, it seems like a perfect opportunity for someone who is as passionate as Regan. She says that in the clutter of multi-channel TV it is “strong personalities” that stand out. “The definition I used to have is: ‘Can somebody play you for Halloween?’ ” And could someone play her for Halloween? “I think I have a distinctive voice and I have a strong point of view. I’m certainly somebody who doesn’t mince words and tells the truth.”

That sounds like a yes.

Previously on GC:

  • Judith Regan and Halloween
  • Regan’s Top Ten Moments in VF