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Archives: March 2007

Scene @ Girlbomb Paperback Release Party

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Janice Erlbaum reunites with “Sebastian,” the “man of my dreams…[and] dazzling criminal club kid” who played a central role in the events depicted in her debut memoir, Girlbomb. This party at the Bowery Poetry Club to celebrate the book’s release in paperback from Villard, Erlbaum told me, was the first time she had seen her former boyfriend since then. She also told me about the DIY trailer she and some friends had created for the book, which summarizes her story a lot better than I can right now (although its safe-for-work-ness is borderline):

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Scottish Book Trust Responds to Jura Confusion

The Scottish Book Trust issued a quick clarification last week after I reported on the confusion surrounding the awarding of a one-month literary retreat on the Isle of Jura to Philip Gourevitch, said confusion arising because the program was originally announced for fiction and poetry writers only. Since then, the confusion has, in some circles, turned to outright frustration, to the extent that I’ve heard people question the seemliness of a literary jury which included New Yorker editor Alice Quinn giving its prize to a staff writer at the magazine. (Of course, you can’t hand out a literary award these days without somebody casting aspersions on either the winner or the judges, so I’ll leave the significance of this complaint to your individual deliberation.)

Scottish Book Trust CEO Marc Lambert welcomed the opportunity my email queries gave him to clear the air. “It’s important to The Scottish Book Trust that your readers understand that the judging panel brought a very high standard of consideration and knowledge to bear on the applicants,” he wrote, “and that the award was made on merit by a team of professionals eminently qualified to make exactly that judgment. As it happens, the independently arrived at decision of all five judges was unanimously for Mr Gourevitch. This being the case, your readers will recognise the mathematical impossibility of anything other than a very clear and straightforward result.”

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Penguin Going to Court on Plagiarism Charges

The long and grinding wheels of justice are finally about to find fruition in court, as literary editor Sam Leith reports on his blog for the Daily Telegraph. Back in 1994, Stu Silverstein decided to put together a miscellany of Dorothy Parker‘s uncollected verse. He selects and edits the book himself, gives untitled poems titles and does all the other things associated with editing a volume of poetry. After a round of submission to publishers, Penguin‘s offer comes in at $2000 and unsatisfied, Silverstein goes with Scribner. The book is published as NOT MUCH FUN.

Which is an apt descriptor of what happens next, for when Penguin’s Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker appears, the Uncollected section is essentially a verbatim copy of Silverstein’s book – down to editing errors and the titles he gave untitled poems. There’s not a whisper of attribution, either, says Leith, even though one of Penguin’s editors later tells the court she, quite literally, photocopied NOT MUCH FUN in preparing Penguin’s edition. A lawsuit is filed, and there’s much back and forth over the next 13 years, with Silverstein winning most of the battles but losing the most recent in the Court of Appeals.

And so, on July 17 at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse here in Manhattan, Silverstein will indeed have his day in court as his lawyers and Penguin’s face off in front of Judge John F. Keenan.

The Verdicts Come in on Magical Thinking Play

And so far, the reviews for the adaptation of Joan Didion‘s bestselling memoir THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING – playing at the Booth Theater until June 30 – are, shall we say, less than kind. “An arresting yet ultimately frustrating new drama,” says the New York TimesBen Brantley, and he’s being one of the more generous critics. Peter Marks at the Washington Post also wanted to like it but said the one-woman show starring Vanessa Redgrave “is too much like an austere alternative to “Oprah,” an adaptation that replaces the supple mystique of the book with the driest kind of earnestness.”

But most of the vitriol is dished out by the Wall Street Journal‘s Terry Teachout. He admits up-front he wasn’t a fan of Didion’s original memoir: “I found it hard to shake off the disquieting sensation that Ms. Didion, for all the obvious sincerity of her grief, was nonetheless functioning partly as a grieving widow and partly as a celebrity journalist who had chosen to treat the death of John Gregory Dunne as yet another piece of grist for her literary mill.” So when the show opens with a speech that, in Teachout’s words, “has all the subtlety of the proverbial blunt object,” he figures his reaction to the adaptation and to Redgrave’s performance (“she never lets you forget that she’s acting”) won’t be very positive. By the end, after which the lights obligingly go up on a billboard-sized reproduction of the glossy dust-jacket photo of the author and her family, Teachout “half expected Ms. Didion to be signing books in the lobby after the show.” Ouch.

Mosley Sued by Ex for Share of Income

The Associated Press reports that Walter Mosley, author of the Easy Rawlins detective novels as well as many other books, is being sued by his ex-wife for money she says he agreed to pay out of income from several of his books. Joy Kellman, married to Mosley from 1987 to 2001, says in court papers that Mosley owes her at least $500,000, plus interest, from earnings on 11 books as provided by their divorce agreement. Some of the books were published after their divorce.

Kellman’s court papers, filed Wednesday in Manhattan’s state Supreme Court, say Mosley failed to pay her 25% share of income from new editions or movie and TV versions of the books and from new formats such as audio books. Mosley also did not provide tax returns, royalty statements and other documentation about his income from 2001 through 2004, as required in the divorce agreement, until 2006, her court papers say, and much of the required information is still missing.

Possibilities for Borders UK Buyout

Sir Richard Branson is considering a 50m pound bid for the Borders books chain in the UK, in what would be a major expansion of his retail operations. According to a report in trade magazine Retail Week, the billionaire tycoon has requested detailed information on the 70-shop chain from Merrill Lynch, the investment bank which is handling the sale.

But Branson faces quite a lot of competition, according to Publishing News. Industry observers believe that David Roche, Border’s CEO on the UK side, will try and mount an MBO for the company following last week’s shock announcement from its parent company that it intended to sell its UK, Australia and New Zealand operations to concentrate on the domestic US market. Speculation increased this week that a breakup of the company is likely too and that former Ottakar’s boss James Heneage may find himself involved, too. One observer said: “David would love to take the company – he’s ambitious and well-regarded, and is probably one of the more capable people to be able to front an MBO. Borders US has to sell it within a time window in order to save face, because they’ve gone so public on it and in order to keep the UK team engaged. If David can get the backing, he might get it at a good price.” Roche himself simply said: “All options are open.”

Observers point out that an MBO will, obviously, require backing. Analyst David Stoddart at Teather & Greenwood said: “I can’t believe that the private equity fraternity hasn’t had a good look at HMV and drawn their own conclusions. They’ll have to make an assessment of the exit price they’re likely to get after three to five years.” Figures of between �50m and �70m are being suggested for the group, with Richard Ratner at Seymour Pierce saying: “I don’t think it will go for very high money and it could be broken up. An MBO is possible. Apart from WHSmith cherry picking, you’ve got to rule Smiths out. Waterstone’s might be interested in the odd store I suppose.”

Richard & Judy Agency Launches Literary Arm

Publishing News reports that PR agency Taylor Herring Herring, has launched a new literary arm to develop its work in the book world. The agency, which promotes the Channel 4 coverage of the Galaxy British Book Awards and other Richard & Judy book initiatives, has appointed Ben Tisdall, formerly of Midas, as its Head of Arts and Literature. Taylor Herring Joint MD, James Herring, commented, “We have had a unique insight into the literary world in the past few years and believe that we can offer dynamic, imaginative and exciting campaigns that will propel authors and publishing clients into areas of the media that others can’t reach.”

Stuff What I Found on Teh Intarwebs

⇒The musicblog Moistworks has been running guest essays from the literati all week, including GalleyCat pal Christopher Sorrentino‘s personal revelations filtered through a jazz prism and some MP3 picks from Rick Moody, who’ll probably end up as a GalleyCat pal one of these days, once he gets to know the current team better.

Edward J. Renehan, Jr. alerts us to the story of a British schoolteacher forced out of her job because she writes gothic erotica in her spare time, including a novel about “a 17th-century vampire who lusts after women after being drugged with ecstasy.” Never mind how they got ecstacy to the 17th century; this is just uncool. I love how the local rep of the National Association of Head Teachers is all, “Sometimes things happen which make a teacher’s position untenable and this is the best outcome for all concerned, especially the teacher who leaves without a stain on her character.” Right, except for the part where she’s known the rest of her life as the woman who had to quit her job for writing vampire porn. At least her students stuck up for her.

⇒Based on the trailer for Stardust, this all-star adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s fantasy novel is either going to be Totally Freakin’ Awesome or Ladyhawke for a new generation. Although maybe it’s just the presence of Michelle Pfeiffer that’s making me think of that less rosy option. At least we can be reasonably certain young Charlie Cox’s accent won’t slide all over the place…

Book Keeping: Behold Jane Pratt’s Legacy

bookkeeping-logo.jpgIn the latest installment of “Book Keeping,” a series of articles available exclusively to mediabistro.com’s AvantGuild subscribers that reveals the backstories behind recently published books, Marisa Meltzer and Kara Jesella spill the dirt on Sassy, or, more precisely, they explain how they came to write How Sassy Changed My Life, a history of the influential ’90s girl’s magazine. As Meltzer describes the process, “It’s one of those things where you can’t believe your job is to sit and drink tea in Green Point and discuss Kim Gordon and the 90s, and her incredible importance.” Hell, I’m practically an expert at all that, except the Green Point part; clearly my problem is that I’ve been giving it away…

Getting a Publishing Job Almost as Difficult as Getting Published

So reports the BBC on the current state of the publishing industry’s employment climate, especially with regards to minority hires. Minority groups have typically been under-represented in the industry – a situation demonstrated by a 2004 survey commissioned by the Arts Council which found nearly half of those in the profession did not believe it was “culturally diverse”. Even those who have fulfilled their dream of working in the industry are still frustrated about its recruitment methods and attitudes to candidates from atypical backgrounds. Perhaps the disparity between London’s minority population (28%) and those working in London-based publishing houses (14%) indicates the larger problem.

“There are plenty of jobs out there in publishing for which people can apply but for some reason ethnic minorities are just finding it that much more difficult to get in,” says Sandy Officer, a production assistant at Hodder Headline who was taken on by the company on a special 12-month traineeship scheme in 2005 and subsequently securing a full-time job with the firm. “This industry is very much based on who you know and the contacts you have and you only find these contacts if you are already within the industry,” she says. But Penguin‘s Helen Fraser defends those in senior positions from any charges of myopia. “It is not the job of publishers to try and adjust social problems,” she says. “They are, above all, looking for writing talent. You can’t push them out of the way to change the social mix.”

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