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Archives: October 2006

Scene @ Jack’s Widow Party

PR chief (and Lunch at Michael’s regular) Peter Brown threw a reception at his Central Park West digs last night to welcome Eve Pollard, the former editor of London’s Sunday Mirror and Sunday Express, and celebrate the American publication of her novel Jack’s Widow, which depicts Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as a CIA intelligence asset and agent. After spotting Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff and HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman in the foyer, I caught up with Pollard, happily chatting with NYT writer Alex Witchel. Witchel explained to me that one of her first jobs in journalism was as Pollard’s assistant when she launched Elle twenty years ago; she also revealed that she’s quite close to completing her own second novel (after 2002′s Me Times Three).


Although the mood at the party was thoroughly festive, the initial response to Pollard’s novel has been less than elated. Yesterday’s Page Six contained an item about the Kennedy clan’s displeasure (incorrectly identifying the book as a HarperCollins title rather than William Morrow, and then as always forgetting to mention the Post’s corporate connection to the publishing house), while Washington Post thriller critic Patrick Anderson slammed the book as a “ghoulish piece of trash.” On the other hand, Sherryl Connelly at the NY Daily News thought the book was “an altogether tantalizing could-have-been” that “expertly weaves the facts of Jackie’s life into [Pollard's] fiction.” (Which, to be honest, is a rather odd assessment, considering the historical distortions Anderson catches…and the fact that every line of JFK or LBJ’s dialogue in the scenes I read on the subway home sounded less like Kennedy or Johnson than like stilted British functionaries. Which was a bit disappointing, as I was totally set to run with the premise…I mean, c’mon, Jackie O as spy? That’s thriller gold you’re working with!)

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Finally, a Fake Writer We Can Admire!

rohan-kriwaczek.jpgRohan Kriwaczek (right), whose An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin has charmed publishing observers on both sides of the Atlantic with the sheer thoroughness of its hoax, dropped in on McNally Robinson a few days ago to check the store out before tonight’s “concert appearance,” where he’ll be playing the violin as well as taking questions about the book. The funny thing is, after some bookseller in Iowa went to all the trouble of figuring out the con, a blog purporting to be by the director of Leipzig’s MuseumZeitraum makes an effort to restore the patina of authenticity, claiming that the history “debunked” as fake is in fact real.

Well, the museum seems to exist…at first. But a little more searching on Google turns up evidence this is yet another hoax, and a very elaborate one at that. Seriously, I haven’t seen a pledge this elaborate since my visit to LA’s Museum of Jurassic Technology, which was the subject of Lawrence Weschler’s delightful Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder. Now the question is: Are these two separate fantabulist schemes, or one big one?

Obama Not Quite So Goody Two-Shoes?

Peter Osnos was the publisher at Times Books back in the 1990s when literary agent Jane Dystel approached the house about a memoir by one of her clients, a Harvard law school grad named Barack Obama. That, as you might recall, led to the publication of Dreams of My Father in 1995. Well, Osnos has kept track of his young author, who of course has gone on to tremendous political and publishing success since Crown revived Dreams two years ago, and what bothers him about that steady upward climb is Obama’s decision to dump Dystel as his agent and hire Robert Barnett, the attorney who handles literary affairs for just about everybody on the DC A-list, then cutting a seven-figure book deal with Crown before being sworn into the U.S. Senate…in other words, before the income would require public disclosure.

While recognizing that Obama’s business decision is “completely legal and entirely within his rights as a writer,” Osnos is still disappointed at how quickly the senator has cashed in on his high-profile arrival on the political scene. “I just wish that this virtuous symbol of America’s aspirational class did not move quite so smoothly into a system of riches as a reward for service,” Osnos observes, “especially before it has actually been rendered.”

Telling Tales for Fun and Profit

The LA Times’ Johanna Neuman reports on an increasing trend of Washington politicos publishing their memoirs – warts and all, and the warts usually belong to other people. These days, Neuman writes, book parties have replaced cocktail hours in Washington social circles, and power is no longer measured in proximity to the Oval Office but in phone time with Bob Barnett, book agent for Bob Woodward and other aspiring political literary stars. Things have gotten so bad that the 8 a.m. staff meetings at the White House have reportedly gone chilly, with participants reluctant to express their views for fear someone at the table is taking notes or planning revenge—by the book.

“Everybody now has to think whenever they say anything about how it will look in the page of a book,” said Peter Osnos, a former Washington Post reporter who is founder and editor at large at PublicAffairs Books. “You’re saying something with the mike open. Is that a deterrent to free speech? Sure, but that’s life.” And expect a whole lot more in the kiss-and-tell front – but also remember that for the glut that appears on shelves, there’s probably ten times that amount that gets turned down before publication’s even possible…

Soap Opera with a Superhero Twist

What with the staggering success of AS THE WORLD TURNS’ 50th anniversary tie-in mystery novel, OAKDALE CONFIDENTIAL, it’s no surprise that Proctor & Gamble, the soap’s parent company, would want to repeat the same deal with its other flagship TV show, GUIDING LIGHT. But not in the way you think. As the NYT’s George Gene Gustines reports, GL has jumped aboard the comics bandwagon by giving longrunning (and long, long-suffering) heroine Harley Davidson Cooper (played by Beth Ehlers, left) superpowers—and the results run both on TV (starting tomorrow morning, though a sneak preview is online) and in book form, with an eight-page comic by Alex Chung & Jim McCann, “A New Light,” that debuted last week as a backup feature in select Marvel comics. (Reactions from comics fans have been decidedly mixed, with Ron lending his own two cents to the debate at Newsarama.)

Ellen Wheeler, the executive producer of “Guiding Light,” said the idea for a collaboration came from another Marvel comic book milestone: the July wedding of the Black Panther and Storm, an X-Men character, whose dress was conceived by Shawn Dudley, the costume designer for “Guiding Light.” After that, it was simple: “Let’s call them to see if there’s anything to talk about,” Wheeler said.

Indeed there was, though creating the script for “A New Light” was a balancing act, according to McCann. He said he had to give readers enough information about GL’s characters and also fill them in on Marvel superheroes and villains. “I tried to make it as universal and as accessible as possible for both sides,” McCann said. “I threw in a couple of little things for GUIDING LIGHT fans, so they would know I really did my homework on their show.”

Spin Control kicks in for Rubenfeld

With the post-mortem on how and why Jed Rubenfeld‘s much-hyped debut novel THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER didn’t meet its expectations now a few weeks old, it’s time for the spin to take over. But since Bookscan reported a 47 percent jump in sales the week the Wall Street Journal article ran – showing that yet again, all publicity is good publicity – maybe there’s something to the AP running its profile of the Yale-based constitutional law professor now, and not beforehand.

And Rubenfeld does give some clue to his future, in that he’s not sure if he’ll write a second novel. He wrote the first draft of “The Interpetation of Murder” in six months because the history and ideas moved him. “This book, this was my way of not doing law,” he says. “I still don’t think I’m really a novelist. … I think that I was able to write this book because it didn’t require someone who was really a novelist.” Then again, maybe it’s spin moving against the grain…

AP Comes Late to the Pessl Party

Jed Rubenfeld isn’t the only author the Associated Press has taken its own sweet time getting around to covering. Another story went out over the wire yesterday afternoon profiling Marisha Pessl two months after everybody else had dealt with her—and once again depicting the young writer with the sort of hazy, glowing adulation that Sarah predicted way back when. The funny thing is, for all Mark Kennedy’s claims that Pessl’s “very easy to hate,” what with being young and “book hot” and critically acclaimed, he never bothers to offer up any evidence that anybody hates Pessl beyond a passing acknowledgment that “some have groused that the book is too long and that the second-half thriller seems to come from nowhere.” At least the New York Times tried to fuel the flames a bit in its attempt to imbue Pessl’s otherwise cushy path to publication with some degree of drama.

Probing YA Writer’s Absence from Borders Shelves

As FishbowlLA co-editor Kate Coe has discovered, Jim Webb isn’t the only novelist getting grief for racy prose—Veronica Mars writer Aury Wallington has published a young-adult novel called Pop!, and she’s getting some flack for the juicy parts. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that in recognition of Wallington’s contributions as a instructor, the company’s West Coast office is throwing a book party for Pop! next week.)

popart.jpgKate reports: Borders, according to a Book Standard column by Jessa Crispin, won’t be stocking the novel. The book, which has enjoyed a generally good critical reception, concerns a seventeen-year-old virgin and her quest to have sex; Wallington wrote it as an homage to Judy Blume’s Forever.

FBLA called Ami Hassler, children’s buyer for Borders Group (we didn’t actually expect to get her on the phone, but sometimes we just get lucky). Hassler told us that Warhol-style covers don’t do well and that a quote attributed to her in Crispin’s coverage was not in reference to Pop!, but rather to another book.

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She decides what gets stocked at Asda

Though the Bookseller’s feature on head book buyer Steph Bateson ran a few days ago, it’s still very much worth repeating. For how did a 30 year old PhD candidate become one of the biggest players in the UK publishing world? Answer: by joining up with the supermarket chain Asda on a whim and rising through the ranks.

She saw the books buying position advertised internally when Toby Bourne, now at Waterstone’s, was promoted to buying manager of books, news and magazines. “I loved reading”–Paul Auster and Michael Connelly are among her favourite authors–”so I thought I could combine my interests with my job. I was lucky to get it.” There was much to learn. “The books sector is very different from other industries that Asda works with. But Asda needs books to be supplied like every other product in terms of service levels and our distribution framework. So understanding that balance was a challenge. It is still a frustration that books are not simply coming into our depot from publishers when and how we want them, so that we can get them on shelves.”

Bateson is quite open about how Asda fares next to its main competitors, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. “Tesco’s point of sale is brilliant. Sainsbury’s have made good progress this year. W H Smith has too many offers. What we do really well is seizing on new releases, and we are the driving force on price–some publishers don’t like that and some do.” But the changing price points bother her. “I have been asking publishers why a chick lit or crime book is 7.99, and it is because they can get away with it for a brand author. But 99% of the books that are 7.99 we can do without. They are cheating the customer, who is paying a different price for similar books.”

Marine Corps Memoirist Defends Webb’s Fiction

nate-fick.jpgAfter preparing my initial summary of the artificial controversy over Jim Webb’s novels late last night, I glanced over at my bookcase and spotted my copy of Nathaniel Fick’s One Bullet Away, which longtime readers may recall I consider one of the best-written memoirs in recent years, and decided to send off an email to the former USMC officer asking if he had any thoughts about Webb’s Fields of Fire. “It’s one of the top two or three iconic books about the Corps,” Fick (right), who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, replied. “I’d venture to guess that 98% of Marine infantry officers have read it—most of them more than once. It’s as good a description as I’ve seen of leadership under fire.”

“This blow-up by George Allen et al is a classic case of those without talent or experience in a particular area attacking those who have it,” Fick added, “go[ing] after others’ strengths to mask your own weaknesses. I hope he gets hit with some serious blowback.” The full political impact won’t be known until next week, but in the meantime, the attack on Webb has had one discernible impact: the paperback edition of Fields of Fire is currently one of Amazon’s top 600 bestsellers. (Sadly, I didn’t think to check on that ranking days ago, when the iron was really hot…)