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Archives: August 2006

Naghib Mahfouz, 1911-2006

naghib-mahfouz.jpgThe Associated Press and Reuters file two of the first dispatches on the death of Nobel winner Naghib Mahfouz. Egypt’s most famous writer had been in generally poor health since an assassination attempt in 1994 by militant Muslims offended by his writing, and had been hospitalized for the last month. “Many classified him as a 19th century-style novelist,” his biographer told an AFP reporter, “but in my opinion he surpassed many of the greats from the West.”

Sci-Fi Awards Show Marred By Boorish Groping

The members of the World Science Fiction Convention (i.e., everyone who ponied up the registration fees) gathered in Anaheim last weekend for their annual meeting to hand out the Hugo Awards for the year’s best science fiction, but soon after the awards ceremony ended Saturday the online chatter over who won what turned ugly as word spread that when Harlan Ellison accepted a special committee award—roughly the equivalent of the lifetime achievement Oscar—he took the opportunity to grab the breast of the woman who handed him the prize, awards show master of ceremonies Connie Willis (who, coincidentally, was also the recipient of a Hugo for best novella that evening). As audience member David Goldfarb described the incident:

“The two of them hugged, in what I assume was a pre-scripted moment—although I could easily be wrong. As they came together for the hug, Ellison moved his hand so that it would land on Willis’s breast. Willis immediately grabbed the hand and moved it to her shoulder. The whole thing was over very quickly. There was a little bit of rumbling from the audience; but by the time I (and, I guess, much of the audience) realized what had happened, Willis was already continuing as though nothing untoward had occurred.”

By the next day, however, another fan reported, “At the closing ceremony Connie said something like ‘If someone wants to start a petition for Harlan Ellison to keep his fucking hands off of me, I’d be willing to sign it!’ Or something like that.” (We tried to reach Willis to confirm or clarify this, but our phone call has so far gone unreturned.)

Tor Books editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden was the first major industry figure to condemn Ellison on his blog, while author Rachel Manija Brown posted about how she’d fended off Ellison’s wandering hands earlier that day. “I was a big fan of his writing when I was a misunderstood teenager,” Brown added in a later comment, “but he does not seem to have matured at all since he was a misunderstood teenager—and most teenagers have a much better sense that other people should be treated with respect.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Ellison appeared to realize he’d screwed up, though several observers interpreted the string of apologetic remarks posted to his official website as self-serving. “I’ve called Connie. Haven’t heard back from her yet. Maybe I never will,” he says. “What now, folks? It’s not as if I haven’t been a politically incorrect creature in the past.” (True enough: Ellison is as famous for his public behavior as he is for his writing.) For younger writers like Alan Deniro, that just might not be good enough. “How must a woman just entering the field feel about this? Younger female readers?” Deniro asks. “What could they possibly think about this? Could they possiblly think anything good about SF/F? As a field? A community?” His publisher, Gavin Grant, adds that people like Ellison are “taking all the fun out of being in the genre and not inspiring anyone with anything but horror and the urge to vomit and throw out their books.”

Brad Meltzer’s Humble Beginnings as “Guinea Pig”

Two of the biggest names in comic book writing trade notes with each other at the Wizard website as Brian Michael Bendis interviews Brad Meltzer, who explains how he got his start writing for DC Comics:

Green Arrow at that point in time was their number-one superhero book, thanks to [the title's first writer, filmmaker] Kevin Smith… And they said, ‘Brad, if we put you on the book, you might sell some novels, but no one knows you in comics. So everyone will stop and say, “Who’s this guy Brad Meltzer, and why did DC just give him their number one superhero book?”‘ As Schreck explained it, I was a guinea pig. He told me, ‘If you fail, you fail on a huge stage—and if you succeed, you succeed on a huge stage.’ And at that point, it’s all about the writing. And I’ll take that challenge any day.”

Well, he succeeded, as you’ll remember from recent news items noting the cross-promotion of his latest novel and comic book series. Bendis gets Meltzer to talk about hanging out with Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush to research that novel, The Book of Fate, finds out how he wound up in the background of Woody Allen’s Celebrity, and delves into the nitty-gritty of writing flagship superhero team books (Bendis is, after all, the scriptwriter for Marvel’s New Avengers and the forthcoming Mighty Avengers).

But when will the biographer see the money?

David Bret has a penchant for writing celebrity bios, including those of Rock Hudson, Elvis and Judy Garland. So it’s no surprise that he’s mining similar territory for his next work, but what’s more intriguing is that the deal’s been announced – but the pub date is, to put it one way, open-ended.

The Bookseller reports that Bret’s biography on Elizabeth Taylor has been signed up by Mainstream, but they won’t publish till after the actress’s death. “A glance at the blurb suggests why Mainstream will not publish until the subject cannot sue: the publisher promises a portrait including ‘many spiked interviews and information which other biographers have shied away from revealing’.” Of course, considering Randy Taraborrelli‘s new bio (cover at left) reveals quite a few dishy details about La Liz, how much can Bret really dig up at this point?

Chick Lit Writers Embrace Their “Literary” Peers

sarah-nicola-emma.jpgNanny Diaries co-authors Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin (center and far right) were among the chick lit luminaries who went to Housing Works last night to toast Sarah Mlynowski (left) and her co-author, Farrin Jacobs, on the publication of See Jane Write: A Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit. I also spotted Harlequin executive editor Magaret O’Neill Marbury (Jacobs’ former boss back when she was editing Mlynowski’s novels for Red Dress Ink) in the crowd, and asked her what she thought about this whole chick lit/not chick lit furor. “I was never offended by the term,” Marbury said. “I’ve chosen not to let it become a dividing line.” Mlynowski was equally inclusive: “All these writers in both collections are fantastic writers,” she said during the evening’s Q&A session, “and I’m glad to see they’re all getting read.” Jacobs, meanwhile, seemed to have had her fill of the debate: “I think the not chick lit writers and chick lit writers should face each other in a dance-off,” she quipped as she signed her book for fans.

Finalists Announced for Marshall Prize

The Academy of American Poets and The Nation announced the five finalists for this year’s $25,000 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, awarded annually to the best volume of poetry published in the United States, yesterday. They are:

  • Christian Barter, The Singers I Prefer (CavanKerry Press)

  • Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven (Knopf)
  • Dorianne Laux, Facts About the Moon (W.W. Norton)
  • Eleanor Lerman, Our Post Soviet History Unfolds (Sarabande Press)
  • Ron Slate, The Incentive of the Maggot (Mariner Books)

The winner, to be determined by a jury consisting of Carl Dennis, Tony Hoagland, and Carol Muske-Dukes, will be announced in November.

John Mark Karr Walks (Sorta);Morrow’s Mystery Book Back Up for Grabs?

What does one part of that headline have to do with the other? Well, as we speculated wildly a few weeks ago, one of the better guesses about that totally-under-wraps William Morrow fall special was the prospect of Mark Fuhrman blowing the JonBenet case wide open, and with Colorado’s prosecutors declining to take Karr to court, there’s room for a new provocative “solution” to the murder.* I mean, I still think the book is going to be Christopher Andersen delivering the goods on Michael Jackson, but Fuhrman’s certainly another Morrow asset that could be described as “a proven author who will tell the story everyone wants to hear” about “a shattering, provocative and mesmerizing true story,” which would be a reasonable description of the Ramsey killing.

It’s not like I know one way or the other; this is all just speculation guided by industry experience. Here’s another guess: When that one-day laydown hits on September 12, whatever the subject of this book is, it’s going to be on the front page of the New York Postjust like they did with Michael Bergin’s “I Nailed John-John’s Wife” tell-all, another ballyhooed literary property from HarperCollins and News Corp.

*Of course, he still faces those kiddy porn charges in California, so it’s not like he’s out of the woods yet.

Sarah adds: Then again, it could be something else entirely, thanks to what one tipster just pointed out: Borders has it listed as being shelved in British History, which also jibes with what I’ve been hearing over the last few days that HarperCollins US is essentially taking the lead from its British counterparts. The tipster also points to chatter on a LiveJournal blog for Borders employees, where speculation focuses on – wait for it – Princess Diana.

And so, let’s modify Ron’s guess: it’s Christopher Andersen, but he’s going back to the well already mined for THE DAY DIANA DIED and DIANA’S BOYS. Will this new effort be the completion of Di’s memoirs, as one Borders type wonders? Or something else entirely? Better guesses can be sent our way, as always…

Jonathan Franzen’s photo fountain of youth

So as is my habit, I check the New York Times’ website around 7 PM in the evening, which is when they refresh the books section. And while Michiko Kakutani’s review of Jonathan Franzen’s slim memoir THE DISCOMFORT ZONE is same old, same old, what jumped out at me was Franzen’s current author photo (right). Because it looks awfully, awfully similar to the infamous snapshot that adorned the back cover of 2001′s CORRECTIONS (left).

How can that be? Well, it helps that both shots were taken by Greg Martin, who’s no stranger to the author photograph. Though unavailable for comment as of this writing, I can’t help but wonder why Martin decided to go back to the same photographic well for Franzen redux – perhaps since it proved so successful (and controversial) the first time around, another go-round couldn’t hurt?

(Ron asks if those are new frames, because they kinda look like new frames; they look mostly the same, but maybe the ovals are just a smidgen smaller, or maybe Ron’s just imagining things. Also, he misses that little inkling of a New Wave swoop over Franzen’s forehead. But the smile is nice; Franzen should smile more often!)

More on Hyperion’s new Women’s Fiction imprint

Though the news was reported eons ago, the NYT’s Motoko Rich has a more detailed look at Hyperion‘s brand new imprint geared towards women. More to the point, Voice, headed by former Viking editor Pamela Dorman and Hyperion publisher Ellen Archer, is specifically focusing on women from their mid-30′s and older and will have a resolutely anti-chick-lit bent, they said. The first five titles will begin to be marketed to Hyperion’s sales force next month, beginning with Leslie Bennetts‘ THE FEMININE MISTAKE and also including Claire Cook‘s LIFE’S A BEACH and an anthology edited by Karen Stabiner.

“I felt that I, as a 44-year-old woman, working, married and a mother, did not see my life reflected in any of the media stories,” Archer said, referring to newspaper and magazine articles chronicling the battles between working and stay-at-home mothers and the choices that educated women were making to quit their careers to raise families. “I wanted to create a demographic of women in their mid=30′s to later that could better illustrate the landscape of a woman’s life.”

Some industry folk questioned whether women really needed an imprint of their own when they already buy a majority of published books. “Pam’s a good editor, and I’m sure she’ll do a good imprint,” said David Rosenthal, publisher of Simon & Schuster. But, he added, “I’m always wary of ghettoization.” And so Voice has recruited an advisory panel to help focus on what women in the 30something-and-up age bracket really want. “When I go to a bookstore I’m looking at a million books, and I’m not quite sure where to go unless I get a recommendation of a friend,” said Andrea Wong, an executive vice president in charge of alternative programming at ABC Entertainment and a member of the advisory panel. “But I can look at all of the books that are published by Voice and see it as somewhat of a guide for women.”

Being nice is the new black

Newsday’s Pat Burson tries to forge a trend out of three books that have something to do with, oh, being nice, genuine, normal, that sort of thing. Because the usual drill is that three of something makes for a trend piece, and so Brian Tracy and Ron Arden‘s THE POWER OF CHARM, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval‘s THE POWER OF NICE and Piero Ferrucci‘s THE POWER OF KINDNESS all get their due here.

First, charm. “I think mostly you recognize charming people by the way they make you feel,” Arden explains. “Their focus seems to be being interested in you – what you think and what you have to say – and far less about themselves.” Then, niceness, explained in the book’s first chapter because the authors declined being interviewed. “Our culture has helped to propagate the myth of social Darwinism – of survival of the fittest – that the cutthroat ‘me vs. you’ philosophy wins the day. … Yet this completely contradicts the way we have run our business and our lives.”

And as for kindness, “[it] is much deeper than courtesy,” Ferrucci explains. “It has to do with warmth and with respect and with patience.” It starts with being honest, he says. “Sincerity is the first quality of kindness. Don’t be kind if you don’t want to be kind because then it is an effort, and we just become more tense. If we don’t want to be kind, that means we probably have some of our needs to be taken care of first.”