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Archives: October 2007

You Pick This Year’s Best Short Story Collections

short-story-sampling1.jpgWhen the 2007 Story Prize judges were named yesterday, I invited you to identify some of the short story collections you thought might end up on their longlist, in addition to my early suggestion of National Book Award nominees Lydia Davis‘s Varieties of Disturbance and Jim Shepard‘s Like You’d Understand, Anyway. Here’s what you’ve come up with so far:

  • Later at the Bar, Rebecca Barry

  • Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work, Jason Brown
  • Twenty Grand, Rebecca Curtis
  • Famous Fathers and Other Stories, Pia Z. Ehrhardt
  • Human Resources, Josh Goldfaden
  • Beethoven Was One-sixteenth Black, Nadine Gordimer
  • Sunstroke and Other Stories, Tessa Hadley
  • 20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill
  • No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July
  • Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, Vincent Lam
  • Dead Boys, Richard Lange
  • The Complete Stories, David Malouf
  • The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, Manuel Muñoz
  • Refresh, Refresh, Benjamin Percy
  • Throw Like a Girl, Jean Thompson
  • Mothers & Sons, Colm Toibin

Curtis, Percy, and Thompson are among the writers who have contributed to the “Selling Shorts” series at Beatrice.com, where I’ve also got some other prospective candidates. And I imagine we could come up with twice as many more, if we kept at it.

(clockwise from top left: Lam, Curtis, July, Percy, and Thompson)

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They Made a Movie of Radio Free Albemuth?!?

The Hollywood Reporter had a brief item yesterday about Alanis Morissette joining the cast of Radio Free Albemuth, a low-budget indie adaptation of a psthumously published novel by visionary science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Originally written in 1976, this book was the author’s initial attempt to tackle many of the themes in his more widely known novel Valis, including the process of writing himself into the story. Now, a PKD-themed blog is reporting that shooting on the film has already wrapped. The post passes along a note from director John Alan Simon: “Privately financed, the entire budget of the picture was less than the majors spend on catering, but this way we were able to make an adaptation that I think is very close in spirit to the original.” Like blogger David Gill, I agree in principle that this has the potential to be a great approach to handling the novel, which always had a bit of a samizdat feel to it.

UnBeige: The United Colors of Alice Sebold

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My colleagues at UnBeige spotted an interesting and colorful sidebar to a recent Entertainment Weekly profile of Alice Sebold, explaining just how The Almost Moon acquired that shade of red: Apparently, it came from a suggestion by her husband, novelist Glen David Gold, after she turned down Little, Brown‘s original yellow cover concept as too similar to that on her memoir, Lucky. “When I saw it, I was like, ‘enh,’” she told EW. “But I like the red better. I just think of it as Blood Mountain.”

RELATED: People Make Up Jingles About Almost Moon

An Editor’s Angstful Cry Draws Mixed Reactions

clipart-exhausted-worker.jpgThis morning’s anonymous complaint about the state of publishing affairs is already drawing responses from other GalleyCat readers. “Sheesh,” countered one senior editor. “When I read that post I seriously thought, ‘okay, now is the time when you TAKE YOUR WHINING ASS HOME AND START LOOKING FOR A NEW JOB.’” Sure, this editor continues, the pay ain’t great, and houses overpay for books all the time. “But we knew that when we became editors. Or if we didn’t, we cottoned on pretty fast. If this person has stopped loving books, thinks no one reads, and thinks it’s a dying industry, why hasn’t he/she changed careers?” (Although, this source notes, people in fat-paycheck fields like finance and law are just as miserable, if not more so.)

Another industry insider is more sympathetic. “I have to agree that the profits the big mega-houses bring in do not necessarily indicate industry (or cultural) health,” this reader says. “The current profit margins are a bubble, and anyone who fails to see that (or ignores it) is foolish.” Then he zeroes in on the emotional core of this morning’s post: “I think the book industry is struggling to get good people, and it has had an effect.” He describes his own experience with receiving a $28,000 offer for an entry-level editorial position at a big house. “I thought it was a joke,” he recalls. “I’m not wealthy, I have loan payments, how could anyone in my situation accept? They couldn’t offer more, and sadly, I had to decline.” (He says his current position with a smaller publisher pays better, and comes with more experience-building responsibilities.) “I’ve met a great number of people who left publishing because it was impossible to continue,” he concludes. “I think houses need to stop expecting people to make bad decisions in their lives by taking low-paying jobs, as if they were doing the people a favor. Get the best people into publishing—they’ll be stronger, more profitable companies in the long run.”

Almost Moon Doggerel Sweepstakes Completed

With all the hoopla over just where the dead body in Alice Sebold‘s The Almost Moon went, I completely forgot about the unauthorized Almost Moon jingle contest I wrote about earlier this month. Lady T announced the winning entry on her blog this morning, and here it is:

“Alice Sebold made her Lovely Bones,
with readers both near and far.
Now,with The Almost Moon approaching…
Life’s twists become most bizarre.”

In fairness, it really is the best of the entries shown. And the contest was announced before the reviews started coming in, or somebody surely would’ve submitted “I can’t tell where the bodies are.” It’s not the most accurate representation of the plot, but it rhymes! And that’s what counts.

(“The critics will begin to spar”? “Let’s listen to it in the car”?)

You Have Your Doubts About “Trick Lit”

In yesterday’s item on the so-called “trick lit” phenomenon, Seth Godin confided to me that he really didn’t have a specific book in mind when he coined a term for “a chick lit novel that pretends to be something else,” but was working from something his son had told him about a while back. That aspect of the case drove a lot of your responses. “I find it rather amusing that Seth Godin coined a new literary term based on a book he hadn’t even himself read—and one he can’t even remember the title of,” said book reviewer Kelly Jane Torrance. (As Jane Berentson laughed, “Got to love those accountable bloggers!”) “Why just chick lit?” adds Bella Stander about the alleged bait-and-switch. “What about dick lit, or mystery, or history, or ‘literary fiction,’ or humor, or whatever… lures us in and then leaves us disappointed/bored/annoyed by the third chapter? As a reviewer and avid reader, I’ve lost count of how often I’ve encountered such a book.”

All that said, some of you knew exactly what he was talking about. “You think I would’ve known better,” says one editor, “but Blind Submission pulled me in with promises of an insider’s look at publishing and agenting that I thought was going to be really fun. Turns out it was really nothing more than bad boss, boyfriend angst, and a young woman willing to be run into the ground to somehow miraculously start her own agency at the end.” One publicist said The Emperor’s Children turned out to be “total chick lit,” and Torrance separately had her own take on that subject: “It starts out with a fair amount of make-up talk, and you could describe the storylines of two of the main characters in such a way that they sound very much like those in those pink-covered books… But because it’s by Claire Messud, you won’t get anybody suggesting such a thing.” Exactly. (Before you start getting all elitist literary on me, remember, I’ve long maintained the boundary between chick lit and social satire is often a marketing call.)

As reviewer Jen Miller pointed out, though, sometimes the opposite of Godin’s theory holds true, and a book has the outer trappings of generic chick lit but turns out to be something more. She cites Allison Winn Scotch‘s The Department of Lost and Found and Rae Meadow‘s Calling Out as examples. Each “played up what could be seen as ‘chick lit’ factors on the jacket copy,” Miller thought, “almost [as if] to rope chick lit readers into more serious fiction.”

Sure, Jerry, That’ll Defuse the Situation

seinfeld-letterman.jpgI didn’t actually watch Letterman last night, but the AP has a recap of Jerry Seinfeld‘s appearance, where he ended up talking about the controversy over his wife’s cookbook. “The books came out at the same time,” Seinfeld said of his wife’s Deceptively Delicious and Missy Chase Lapine‘s The Sneaky Chef, which actually came out six months ago. “So this woman says, ‘I sense this could be my wacko moment.’ So she comes out… and she accuses my wife. She says, ‘You stole my mushed-up carrots. You can’t put mushed-up carrots in a casserole. I put mushed-up carrots in a casserole. It’s vegetable plagiarism.’”

You know, the whole thing seemed to be going so smoothly, just about to vanish into the woodwork, really, and then Seinfeld has go and call Lapine a “wacko” on national television. And, now that I think of it, wasn’t the last time he was on the show the one where he cleared a space for Michael Richards to apologize to America for his racist invective? Maybe Larry David can get hit by a scandal next, and Seinfeld can come back on the show to defend him!

Wandering “Book Festival” Contest Goes Global

Bella Stander has a new blog entry on her suspicions about a new literary event called the London Book Festival (not to be confused with the London Book Fair). Her skepticism is provoked by the fact that this festival, ostensibly to promote “books that deserve greater recognition from the international publishing community,” ultimately seems a lot more like a contest, including a $50 administrative fee for each book entered. So she did some digging, and discovered that this London event is the latest production from JM Northern Media LLC, which has put on similar events in Hollywood (for “books that deserve greater recognition from the film, television, game and multimedia communities”) and New York (for “books that deserve greater recognition from the world’s publishing capital”). And last week’s DIY Book Festival, for books that were either “self-published or
issued by an independent publishing house.”

Stander still doesn’t think much of the idea, especially after she unearthed a powerful dose of Miss Snark‘s scorn. “It’s brilliant,” she elaborated when we touched base about the post. “Collect $50 for each book (I’m sure hundreds, if not thousands, come in), spend a few thousand dollars on the prize & awards dinner, and pocket the difference.” Some observers, however, have been willing to cut the organization a little more slack. “They do spend quite a bit of money they get putting on their shows,” was one response to the Snarkfest. “It is not take your money and run time.” So maybe one might just write it off as a perpetual press release generating machine. Then again, for some people, that’s bad enough.

“Long Tail” Expert Gives Publicists Short Shrift

In his day job, The Long Tail author Chris Anderson is the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, where, he reports on his blog, “I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam, it’s PR people… Fact: I am an actual person, not a team assigned to read press releases and distribute them to the right editors and writers.” In order to deal with the problem, Anderson moves first offenders to his killfile, whether the person sent him a press release or put him on a mailing list without permission—and then he went and published his entire hitlist for October online. “If their address gets harvested by spammers by being published here, so be it—turnabout is fair play.”

The post has already garnered a lot of attention across the blogosphere, but it’s worth noting again here for the lively debate that ensues in the comments section, and for what book publicists and online marketers can learn from it (and you seem to agree, based on the number of people who forwarded the link to me this morning). Whether or not you think Anderson is overreacting to the problem, the solution from the PR perspective is pretty simple. As one commenter summed it up, “To be effective, build relationships, not lists.” Of course, that raises an interesting question: How easy do the media outlets make it for publicists to start making those connections?

DISCUSS: Is Anderson’s “one strike” policy effective? And if editors want publicists to make relationships with them, how open do publicists really feel the editors are to their overtures?

Junot Diaz Wins Sargent First Novel Prize

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Junot Diaz (center) with fiancée Elizabeth de Leon and Riverhead editor Sean McDonald; photo by Christopher Peterson

While I spent Monday night at the CLMP spelling bee, Beaufort Books associate publisher Margot Atwell went to another literary fundraising event—the awards ceremony for the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction awards banquet, where Junot Diaz won the second annual John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. “During the cocktail hour before the main event,” Margot emailed me last night, “I was asked more than once if I was one of the writers being honored. Perhaps I seemed writerly, or just out of place among the well-heeled supporters of the Mercantile Library who were drinking, chatting, and bidding on luxury trips and gifts in a silent auction.”

“After we had been herded into the banquet hall, we were seated around tables whose centerpieces were stacks of artfully arranged, venerable-looking hardcover books. Then we were informed by one of the many literary movers and shakers who stood up to introduce the event that we were there ‘to eat and give awards,’ a succinct summary of what took place over the next two and a half hours.”

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