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Archives: August 2006

Scene @ Subway Chronicles Party

fishman-holman.jpgBoris Fishman and Amy Holman were among the writers who dropped in at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights last night to celebrate the publication of The Subway Chronicles, a collection of essays about, well, what it’s like on the New York subways. Editor Jacquelin Cangro hosted the reception at the far end of the museum, in a room decorated with old transit signs, while I chatted with author Elise Juska about her recent vacation in Maine, where she completed work on her latest novel, and said hello at the cookie table to Lucinda Rosenfeld, who brought her infant daughter, Beatrice, nestled on her shoulder.

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FSG Enters Book Trailer Arena W/Flourish

Lorin Stein hasn’t just acquired, edited, and translated Gregoire Bouillier’s The Mystery Guest for Farrar Straus Giroux—he’s also produced (or conceptualized, if you prefer) a short promotional film for the novel directed by music videomaker David Teague, playing up what Details described as the book’s “Mrs. Dalloway as directed by Woody Allen” aspects:

Let’s Not Forget the Hugo Winners

John Scalzi emailed last night with a slight criticism of our reporting on the groping incident at last weekend’s Hugo Awards ceremony: “You post about Harlan [Ellison] grabbing tits but not about the results of the Hugos (save for a single small link in the Boob-gate story)? Shame! Shame!” he chides me. “There are some great stories there,” he continues, “such as Tor editor David Hartwell (SF’s very own Susan Lucci) finally getting a Hugo after umpteen million nominations, Betty Ballantine’s grand diva (in a good way) entrance and appreciation, and Robert Charles Wilson’s awesomely deserving and yet surprising Hugo win for Spin, which beat out four really strong contenders, including, uh, my own book. Where’s the love, man?”

Duly noted, and praise for Spin seconded! Also among the evening’s big winners: Scalzi himself, who picked up the John W. Campbell Award, presented annually to science fiction’s “best new writer.” If you haven’t read Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades yet, you really should, and keep an eye out in October for The Android’s Dream.

The lure of the series character

Why do readers crave continuing series where characters appear over and over again? (This is a question that pops up a whole lot over at my own blog, since it applies rather heavily to the mystery field.) The Telegraph’s Helen Brown investigates this phenomenon on the heels of Michel Faber‘s just-published short story featuring Sugar, the character of his bestselling THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE. In his introduction to the collection, Faber quotes from the cardboard box full of letters he received from readers of The Crimson Petal. So many people wanted to know where Sugar and her young charge Sophie went: “Australia? New Zealand? Back up North? Please – if you know – give us an idea. We worry about Sophie!!”

So what’s going on here? Noted SF writer Michael Moorcock explains his own rationale for writing series characters is based on what he read as a child. “I loved [JUST WILLIAM] because I identified thoroughly with him. He was given to asking adults sticky questions, and few red-blooded kids could fail to love him. In a sense, Wodehouse’s characters were the same – rather bewildered by the cruel world, as it were. John Carter came a bit later. With him, it wasn’t so much the character as the landscapes.” Ah yes, the creation of worlds where characters can pop in and out – that’s a popular idea, too.

Series is associated with genre fiction but look how many literary writers – John Updike, David Mitchell, Julian Barnes & Anthony Trollope did recurring characters or series. And then there are the metafiction types, like Jasper Fforde having his way with the classics in his Thursday Next & Nursery Crimes series. But perhaps the most enduring mysteries are those offered up by readers themselves. “I wish I knew what became of some of the readers who took the trouble to write to me. The man who had cancer and read The Crimson Petal in hospital: is he still alive? The prostitute who said she was leaving the game and returning to education: did she? But I will probably never know.”

Petty Larcenist Jeopardizes Literary Vanguard

Shame, shame on the thief who walked off with $3,000 from an n+1 fundraiser, as reported in yesterday’s NY Sun. “It was the nicest party we’ve ever had” until the money disappeared, said founding editor Keith Gessen, but then he also told the reporter “our office manager got into a fight with his girlfriend and had to leave the party, and he’s usually the guy who watches the cash box.” So what the heck happens at the not-so-nice parties, we’re wondering? Seriously, though, those funds were earmarked to help pay for the tote bags they gave away at the party (one of which was probably used during the getaway), not to mention “a pamphlet on the avant-garde” the guys were hoping to publish later this year. (Thanks to emdashes for the lead.)

All China all the time

The Beijing Book Fair is underway, so it’s fitting that a number of news stories are filtering out about China and its untapped market for publishing industry to tap into. First out of the gate – what a surprise – is HarperCollins, which announced a series of new cooperative initiatives in China. They include the distribution of select Chinese works overseas, the publishing of Swordbird in the U.S., U.K. and China, and the launch of, an online Collins English-Chinese dictionary, according to a press release issued yesterday.

“We are committed to working closely with China’s publishing industry and are excited by our partnership with The People’s Literature Publishing House,” said HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, who is in China to speak at the Beijing International Publishing Forum. “As a global publishing company, we see English translation of Chinese literary works as an under-served category and therefore an opportunity. Commenting on the agreement, Liu Yushan, President of The People’s Literature Publishing House, said, “It is our goal to enable people around the world to appreciate and enjoy works of Chinese literature. Our cooperation with HarperCollins will enable this.”

Penguin, too, is taking some of its properties into the Chinese market. The Guardian reports that classics such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist, Crime and Punishment and Moby Dick would be translated into Mandarin and sold under its logo in the world’s fastest growing book market. The first 10 novels will go on sale in November under a licensing deal with a local partner that could eventually see the UK firm marketing Chinese literature and the works of Marx and Engels to a population of 1.3 billion people.

It’s a Known World After All

Edward Jones‘ THE KNOWN WORLD won a whole bunch of prizes when the novel was published some years back, and for good reason – it was brilliant. So no wonder he and his new collection of stories, ALL AUNT HAGAR’S CHILDREN, is getting rapturous review attention and print media shoutouts from the New York Times, where William Hamilton looks into the semi-reclusive author’s relationship to his native Washington, DC, depicting African-Americans through the ages and his writing ethos, which is heavily dosed with realism.

“When people come to you, characters, and they’re doing or saying something, it’s almost always a particular place that I have to situate them,” Jones said. “I don’t want to create some sort of imaginary street in Washington, because that’s not the world that I knew.” What he did know was a small space that housed his mother and his sister together with him for many years until finally, he moved out in 2004 to a Gothic revival apartment complex on Embassy Row. It’s not about living the rich life, but having comfort. “Because of all the stuff we went through when I was a kid,” he said, mildly hissing the word ‘stuff,’ “I don’t ever want to eat another cabbage sandwich.”

Michael Tolkin is no Player Hater

Otherwise he wouldn’t have brought back Griffin Mill, star of his 1988 novel THE PLAYER, for another go-round in the sequel. And a lot has changed in Hollywood, exemplified by one throwaway line in RETURN OF THE PLAYER: “box office was down, it would never return” that makes executives quake in their books in real life. The NYT’s David Halfbinger talks to Michael Tolkin about his life in the movies, why he’s gone back to Griffin Mill and the seeming death of the heroic structure that supports most “big” movies of late.

“I don’t think America’s had a good movie made since Abu Ghraib,” Tolkin said, before clarifying that he’s talking about big movies, not the minuscule ones that have met the industry’s quotas for unembarrassing award nominees. “I think it showed that a generation that had been raised on those heroic movies was torturing. National myths die, I don’t think they return. And our national myth is finished, except in a kind of belligerent way.”

So how, then, can Hollywood be a “positive force in nature,” as Tolkin attests? “I do think the movies help bring people together,” he said. “If there was an Arabic cinema that was as good as the Asian cinema, there’d be less tension in the world. I believe that. When the movies were good, America was more popular in the world. The movies showed the world something really powerful, and that vision was so powerful that the movies were restricted, totalitarian regimes tried to keep the movies out because they were so powerful. The American myth is the little tailor that could, the yeoman who can grow up to be president, the humble log cabin leads to the emancipation of the slaves. That’s the most threatening idea in the world.”

IPPY Nomination Season Kicks Off

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2007 Independent Press Awards, which will recognize the best books of 2006 from independent, university, and other small presses, including self-publishers. Thare are 63 separate categories, from general fiction to short stories to something called “visionary fiction” (presumably because “story loaded with New Age cliches” didn’t sound quite as impressive), and nonfiction categories from history and science to coffee table books. There’s also two categories for the best print and online marketing campaigns, and ten regional awards for fiction and nonfiction. Nominations will be accepted for a $70 registration fee until April 2007; winners will be announced at BookExpo next summer.

B&N Stock Dips As Feds Announce Probe

The Forbes website has an item about Barnes & Noble’s acknowledgment of a federal inquiry into its stock option practices, with Justice Department attorneys making an official document request last Friday. “The company is one of many suspected of backdating its stock options to boost profits for those receiving them,” according to Forbes. The Wall Street Journal has more on this alleged malfeasance, following up on its coverage of the issue from last month, when B&N announced its own internal investigation in the wake of a shareholder lawsuit. “A review of securities filings shows that Barnes & Noble granted stock options to senior executives at monthly lows,” the paper reported then; the two examples they cited were option handouts involving chairman Leonard Riggio and CEO Stephen Riggio.