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Archives: September 2005

Prize Watch

yiyunli.gifA Thousand Years of Good Prayers has only been in bookstores for a week, but the short story collection has already garnered Yiyun Li (left) the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. It’s the largest prize available for a short story collection, and quite an accomplishment for a debut writer such as Li–the shortlist included established pros such as Tim Winton, Alice Hoffman, and David Means, as well as fellow first-timers Bret Anthony Johnston and David Bezmogis.

The O’Connor comes with a prize of €50,000, which converts to just over $60,000–twice the level of the Rea Award for the Short Story, which was announced at roughly the same time. Ann Beattie became the twentieth writer to receive the Rea, which doesn’t honor specific stories or even collected works, but seeks rather to point out “significant contribution(s) to the discipline of the short story as an art form” (on which basis Beattie’s been eligible ever since the prize was created in 1986). “Her prose has become known for its vivid particularity, the details of the way we live,” wrote jurors Sherman Alexie, Ron Carlson, and Tess Gallagher. “But her stories have insisted on their place in American letters because of her ability to imply the way the human heart confronts the confusion of attachment and loss.She approaches the intricacies of contemporary life,layered and frazzled as it is,in such a way that we accompany characters who sometimes find their lives softly caving in or imploding. There is a complexity in her best work that reveals new gradations of the oldest emotions.”

Meanwhile, the Mercantile Library is reinventing itself as a center “devoted entirely to the art of fiction,” and one of the first steps in the process is presenting Nan A. Talese with the newly created Maxwell E. Perkins Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Field of Fiction. Talese, the senior veep at Doubleday who’s run her own imprint since 1990, has published a slew of great fiction writers, including (very selectively on my part) Peter Ackroyd, Margaret Atwood, Pat Conroy, Jennifer Egan, Aleksandar Hemon, Ian McEwan, and Barry Unsworth.

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J-Franz Trails After Vidal;Ben Marcus Could’ve Guessed!

Last February, Gore Vidal popped up in the New York Times Book Review with an appreciation of James Purdy, which included a lengthy plot synopsis of the 1967 novel Eustace Chisholm and the Works–occasioned by the republication of that book (and a few other Purdy works) by Carroll & Graf. This week, as the judge for the Mercantile Library’s Clifton Fadiman Medal, given annually “to recognize a work of fiction by a living American author who deserves recognition and a wider readership,” Jonathan Franzen selected Eustace Chisholm.*

Like the Max Perkins Award (mentioned earlier today), this prize is part of the Mercantile Library’s big fall launch for its Center for Fiction. As executive director Noreen Tomassi puts it, “At a time when high-quality fiction is facing hard times, it is our intent to create the same energy and support network for fiction as those tireless advocates of poetry were able to develop in support of poetry” two decades ago. If Ben Marcus hears that, he’s probably going to be grinding his teeth more than a little bit–as I noted a few weeks back, Marcus thinks Franzen’s one of the worst possible candidates to play spokesman for literary culture and has devoted a lengthy, pointed Harper’s essay (partially online) to explaining why. In it, he describes Franzen indirectly as

“…the writer willing to sell short the aims of literature, to serve as its fuming, unwanted ambassador, to apologize for its excesses or near misses, its blind alleys, to insult the reading public with film-ready versions of reality and experience and inner sensations, scenes flying jauntily by under the banner of realism, which lately grants it full critical immunity.”

Considering that, as Marcus elaborates, Franzen finds James Joyce and William Gaddis overly “difficult,” it’ll be interesting to see if readers can figure out what he admires about Eustace Chisholm. The Mercantile’s press release does offer the tantalizing hint that Purdy’s fiction “reflects his obsession with exploitation and abuse of innocents, disjunctions within ordinary families, loneliness, and the mid-century’s subculture of homosexuality, sexual experimentation and depravity.” Apart from the “mid-century” tag, you could say that sounds like The Corrections, at least in a general sense…

Mind you, in the interest of disclosure, I’m not criticizing the selection by any means, nor would I be in much of a position to do so, since I was recently part of the litblog co-op trying to “draw attention to the best of contemporary fiction…in a flooded marketplace,” and we just picked an author who’d been profiled in the Times, too–deservedly so, I’d say.

Karp Diem

So the first offerings from Jonathan Karp’s new Warner Twelve imprint are making themselves slowly known, and it should come as a surprise to no one that there are some very big names signing on the dotted line.

First up is satirist and neocon Christopher Buckley’s new novel BOOMSDAY, the premise described by Publishers Marketplace as “a fiery female activist opposed to Baby Boomer excess convinces the government to solve the Social Security crisis by offering Boomers incentives to kill themselves at retirement age.” Ouch. Controversial, but somehow apt…

Speaking of Christophers, Mr. Hitchens has not only hooked himself with a brand-spankin’ new agent — oh, some guy named Steve Wasserman — but also joined up with Twelve for his next rant-heavy work GOD IS NOT GREAT, which PM describes as “asserting that religion does more harm than good in the world, and aiming to show how society would benefit if faith remained personal rather than public.” This should definitely not surprise anyone familiar with the ways of the Hitch.

Finally, Karp picks up something a little quirkier: Julie Checkoway’s WAITING FOR HOCKNEY, the true story of a guy so obsessed with Marilyn Monroe that he devoted a decade of his life to creating a life-size blow-up doll of her, no matter that it upt him in debt for 250 grand.

So three down, nine to go — who will be next to join the Cult of Twelve?

It’s Neil Gaiman’s World,We Just Live in It

gaiman.jpgFrom Gaiman’s blog:

“You know, I don’t generally stop to reflect, and am, to the exclusion of most other things, rather exhausted right now, all things considered, but I suspect that I’ll always look back on this week as being one of the especially good ones–it’s not every week that you have a big budget movie start shooting on the Monday… learn that your novel has gone to number one on the Times list on the Wednesday, and have the little film you made come out on the Friday. It’s got to be special.”

Filling in the blanks: the film that’s just started shooting is Beowulf (with Ray Winstone in the title role and Crispin Glover as Grendel), the one that’s coming out tomorrow is MirrorMask (the illustrated screenplay of which is suh-weet), and the book is Anansi Boys (which I’m taking with me on the plane this weekend, lucky me).

And if all that weren’t enough, last week he revealed that he’s still keeping a hand in the comics game, reinterpreting Jack Kirby’s Eternals. Most readers here probably aren’t comic book geeks, so let me just say: way cool.

For Your Kids, It’s Entertainmentand a Civics Lesson

It’s been Banned Books Week all week, and as always I’m amazed at the books people try to throw out from their local libraries: I know what problems certain groups have with books like Heather Has Two Mommies and The Chocolate War, but My Brother Sam Is Dead? Huh? Anyway, if you take a look at the 100 most challenged books, as complied by the American Library Association, Judy Blume’s name comes up a lot. Tonight (6 p.m.), at Manhattan’s Donnell Library Center Auditorium (20 E. 53rd St.), she’ll be reading from one of her banned books, along with Deborah Hautzig, Robert Lipsyte, Walter Dean Myers, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Peter Sis, and Rita Williams-Garcia. Each of them has run afoul of various bluenoses over the years, for one reason or another–Sis, for example, seems to have drawn fire simply for writing a children’s biography of Charles Darwin. Meanwhile, librarians like Ann Dutton Ewbank continue to fight the good fight.

If you can’t make it in person, try to catch the webcast. Either way, it’s free.

Talk About Your Scared Straight Experiences

I caught up on my New Yorker backlog while I was on vacation last week, including the Malcolm Gladwell feature on Rick Warren (which isn’t available online yet, but gets talked about here and here). So the next time we drove into town for lunch at the local indie bookstore/café, I picked up a copy of The Purpose-Driven Life, to learn more about its message. “Now if we get held hostage,” my wife joked, “we can just read that to him and we’ll be free.”

ashley.jpgTurns out, reports Jennifer Brett of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and, the next day, Edward Wyatt), it wasn’t just the book. In Unlikely Angel, a memoir co-published today by HarperCollins subsidiaries Zondervan and Morrow, Ashley Smith (left) reveals that just before she kept kidnapper Brian Nichols up all night talking, she gave him the last of her crystal meth stash to get on his good side. She turned down his invitation to share the drugs, however, and writes that she’s remained clean since then. In an interview with Brett published today, Smith says, “I think everything I did was the way God wanted it to happen…The person who runs my life now is not Ashley. It’s Jesus. I don’t make a move without saying, ‘Guide me, lead me.’ I put others before myself now. It was just all about me. Now it’s about making a difference.”

photo: Rich Addicks/AJC

And continuing the vapid blond celebrity theme

As Publishers Marketplace reports:

Paris Hilton’s YOUR HEIRESS DIARY: Confess It All To Me, an opportunity for fans to channel their own inner heiress as Paris shows them how to get the most fun and excitement out of every single day, to Trish Todd at Touchstone/Fireside, by Dan Strone at Trident Media Group (world English).

Does “channelling my own inner heiress” include getting my Sidekick hacked and snaring Greek billionaire shipping magnet heirs for no good reason? Awesome!

In other news, Jenna Jameson’s book will just have a naked picture of her on the cover

I admit that I was one of those poor saps who wandered over to the “new paperbacks” section and saw this cut-out image and wondered what book this was. Then I read today’s LA Times Piece and got it:

The paperback publisher of Tom Wolfe’s unevenly reviewed latest novel “I Am Charlotte Simmons” is hoping that a dramatically redesigned cover–and a youth-oriented marketing campaign, complete with a contest featuring a trip to Cancun–will help draw young adults to the book, mocked by some reviewers who found the septuagenarian author’s accounts of campus sex life unconvincing.

Oddly, the cover of the paperback, omits the name of the novel altogether. “Big publicity and marketing campaigns for big authors are to be expected,” said Michael Cader, the editor of two industry publications, Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Lunch. But “a paperback cover that has the author’s name in huge letters and neglects to include the book’s title at all is very unexpected, and very unusual.”

Darin Keesler, marketing director of Picador USA, the novel’s paperback publisher, said that the decision to leave the title off the cover was partly a design issue, partly a nod to Wolfe’s fame. “We were able to do it because Tom Wolfe is in many ways a brand, a star.”

Well sure, but there’s one fundamental problem with this: the fabulous teen/college crowd that they want to market to? Most of them couldn’t care less who Tom Wolfe is. Why not leave his name off and just have it written by Charlotte Simmons?

Still, Picador has grand plans for the paperback tour, even if the description keeps causing me to giggle convulsively:

On Wednesday, Wolfe, 74, still plans to read from the novel at New York’s Cooper Union with Touré, a 34-year-old novelist and pop culture commentator who has worked for MTV and CNN and whose work Wolfe admires. (“He is–if you can imagine this–Oscar Wilde as street thug,” Wolfe said last May.)

Yeah, use that as a blurb there,Touré.

In His Own Little Corner Office

Playbill reports that Simon & Schuster VP Bill Gaden is leaving publishing for a new career in musical theater. As the senior vice-president and general manager of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, a position created just for him, Gaden’s mission, according to R&H prez Ted Chapin, will be “to help the company continue to run efficiently, while working with the extraordinary team we already have in place to maximize potential for the copyrights and authors we represent.” And that includes a lot more than just Rodgers & Hammerstein; their theatrical publication wing’s recent triumphs include six Tonys for The Light in the Piazza. Of course, not every musical can be a hit: their Andrew Lloyd Webber holdings may include Cats, Evita, and Jesus Christ Superstar, but don’t expect any revivals of his flopped adaptation of Wodehouse, By Jeeves, anytime soon. Not to mention the stage version of Footloose… Personally, if I could get Gaden’s ear, I’d be pushing for a revival of Free to Be… You and Me, but then again maybe I’m just throwing in all these references because I know Rachel will dig them…

I’ll Buy That for a Dollar!

fencmag.jpgI’d like to be able to suggest I was the first to comment on the Suicide Girl gracing the “summer fiction” edition of Fence, but Josh Corey beat me to it. Still, the story’s getting a bit more play this week: Maud Newton revisits the issue, so to speak, in light of Sunday’s Boston Globe story. Not that Rebecca Wolff has anything new to add, apart from accusing all us bloggers of “nattering” about the cover; she just continues to defend the creative decision as a marketing experiment: “I’m closely monitoring point-of-purchase sales–but of course it’s not experimental at all, since it’s long been proven that sex sells.”