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Archives: February 2008

John Scalzi Wants Your Big Ideas

johnscalzi-headshot.jpgOne of the reasons I put John Scalzi‘s Whatever in my ultimate blogroll last week was a series of posts he’s run called “The Big Idea,” which he recently folded into his own site after debuting it on AOL’s “Ficlets” blog last year. THe premise is simple: Guest authors discuss one of the central ideas that drives their book, and how it factored into their writing. Because of Scalzi’s own background in science fiction, many of the contributing authors also hail from SF, like Phillip Palmer, but he’s also got literary writers like Jami Attenberg taking part. And now he wants more.

If you’re an author, an editor, or a publicist, you want to know about this, because Whatever has a readership that hovers nicely between 30,000 and 40,000 unique visitors most days, “most of whom,” as Scalzi notes, “like books and learning what’s new in the bookstores.” His contact guidelines are straightforward—and this is, to my mind, perfect proof that there’s an audience for smart and engaging content that introduces readers to writers and vice versa.

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VIDEO: Short Fiction Keeps Getting Better and Better

Before Wednesday’s Story Prize ceremony, I took a quick moment with prize director Larry Dark to discuss the current state of short fiction:

“There are people who feel like because it doesn’t have a huge audience, it’s not healthy, but artistically, it is super-healthy. The quality of the stories we’ve been reading, the books we’ve been reading—I can’t imagine there was a better time for short fiction artistically… I keep thinking there’s going to be a lull one year, and it can’t possibly be as good as the year before, and they keep equalling or surpassing them.”

LA Times Announces 2007 Book Prize Finalists


LA Times Book Review editor David Ulin began this year’s announcement of the paper’s Book Prize finalists with a tribute to Dutton’s Brentwood Books, the independent bookstore that recently announced it will close in April, reiterating the feelings of loss so many have expressed since the news broke early Monday morning. Then Kenneth Turan took the podium to read out the finalists in the nine different categories. I wouldn’t say there were many major surprises in the shortlists, although there were a lot of “that’s nice that they spotted that one” selections, like Stewart O’Nan‘s wonderful novel Last Night at the Lobster, or Rebecca Curtis‘s short story collection Twenty Grand in the first fiction category—where it was joined by Pamela Erens‘s The Understory, from tiny Ironweed Press. And the fact that Harcourt‘s stake in the mystery/thriller category consists of two novels in translation was an interesting twist—actually, now that I think of it, the fact that the entire mystery shortlist consists of European writers might be worth discussing…

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Elsewhere on Commie Girls and Olsen Twins

schoenkopftexas.jpgFormer OC Weekly columnist Rebecca Schoenkopf chats with FishbowlLA blogger Mayrav Saar about Commie Girl in the O.C., the collection of articles Verso is publishing this summer, and how it was born of necessity:

“I quit my job, and I was lying on my bed in the sunshine for two weeks. I was utterly bone-deep relaxed. I was lying around watching my ass grow, and I loved it. After two weeks, my mom called and started bitching at me and telling me I need to get a job. So I went back, and of course I didn’t keep my clips, so I had to copy and paste everything from the Web site.”

Now that the book’s done, says Schoenkopf, “I am still looking for jobs… Hopefully, I can be the editor of my own paper somewhere.” Meanwhile, UnBeige,’s design blog finds something to look forward to from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen‘s Influence: It’s going to be designed by Rodrigo Corral, whose most famous jackets include A Million Little Pieces, The Subject Steve, and a bunch of Chuck Palahniuk novels.

Should PW Tighten Up Its Subscriber List?

clipart-pw-bouncer.jpg“The thing that Publishers Weekly hasn’t figured out is they’ve got what the other guy doesn’t,” a literary agent emailed me yesterday, reflecting on Reed Business Information sales speculation. “Everytime I list a deal on Publishers Marketplace, I get a flurry of really stupid queries from people who are clearly just querying anyone with a live email address.” (She claims she isn’t alone, and that more and more agents have stopped including their email addresses in deal announcements because of all the useless queries.)

“What PW has is exclusivity,” she says. “If they had a deal database available only to the magazine subscribers, it would be a huge success, because to have a PW subscription means you’re not a one-horse operation… I’d love to report deals to the trade only.”

Getting more insular may seem like a counterintuitive strategy, but to borrow a page from Seth Godin, it’s about “spending all your time finding products for your customers instead of searching for customers for your products.” It’s an approach that requires cultivating intense customer loyalty; you might lose some customers by narrowing your focus, but you should be able to make it up by being the source for the objects of desire your customers all have in common. And, as today’s anonymous source points out, sometimes what doesn’t come with your services can be as attractive as what does… Whether it’s the right approach for PW and the other brands in RBI’s portfolio, though, remains to be seen.

VIDEO: Fame Hasn’t Changed Jim Shepard

I caught up with Jim Shepard shortly after the ceremony presenting him with the fourth annual Story Prize had ended, and this is what he had to say for himself:

I also got reactions from novelist Karen Shepard (Jim’s wife) and short story writer Amy Hempel

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Scene @ Tom Dolby’s Sixth Form Party


“Popped collars abounded last night at the release party for Tom Dolby‘s latest novel, The Sixth Form, at the Rugby Ralph Lauren store at University Place,” reports Amanda ReCupido. “The young, hip crowd mingled amongst khaki pants and copies of Dolby’s book as they enjoyed foosball, tunes from DJ Johnny Dynell, an open bar, and hors d’oeuvres of American classics like PBJ, grilled cheese, and popcorn, all courtesy of Dean & DeLuca (I admit, it’s the first time I’ve ever paired jelly with Merlot).

“When I caught up with the man himself, he explained his choice for the unique event location: ‘It’s right downtown in the heart of it all,’ he said. ‘I wanted to draw a younger, edgier crowd.’ And draw he did. Somewhere around a table of angora sweaters, I ran into Daniel Vosovic from last season’s Project Runway (pictured with Dolby above), who told me about his own book, Fashion Inside Out, coming this fall. ‘But I’m no writer compared to this guy,’ he said, motioning to Dolby. ‘He’s in a class all of his own.’”

Party Hopping: Champagne, Cake, & Fancy Dresses


Kristin Harmel (center) is flanked by fellow chick-lit authors Lauren Lipton, Brenda Janowitz, Alison Pace, and Sarah Mlynowski at the book party threw Monday night at Touch to celebrate the publication of Harmel’s latest two novels, The Art of French Kissing for adults and When You Wish for YA readers.

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Jim Shepard Wins 4th Story Prize


Jim Shepard, the winner of the fourth annual Story Prize, chats with fellow nominee Vincent Lam after the ceremony, held last night at the New School. Accepting the $20,000 prize for Like You’d Understand, Anyway, a clearly moved Shepard had nothing but praise for Lam’s Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures and Tessa Hadley‘s Sunstroke and Other Stories. “They focus with economy and grace our empathetic attention,” he said of the two collections. “They compel our interest in lives other than our own.”

During the presentation, each of the three authors read from their work and then sat down for a brief interview with prize director Larry Dark; Shepard discussed how he came to write “The Zero Meter Diving Team,” an emotionally wrenching story that interweaves family dynamics and Chernobyl, comparing the Soviet Union’s chronic denials that there were any flaws in their nuclear energy program with the way families might say “Uncle Billy doesn’t have a drinking problem, when I’m pretty sure he does—his liver just exploded.” How’d he latch onto Chernobyl as a short story subject? “I’m enough of a nerd that I’ll take a big pile of oral histories of Chernobyl out of the library just because I want to read it,” he admitted; that led to him recognizing an emotional theme that could work as a story, after which the deeper research began.

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Celebrating the Legacy of Things Fall Apart


When Amanda ReCupido and Tracy Bova went to Town Hall Monday night to observe the all-star tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Chinua Achebe‘s Things Fall Apart, they weren’t allowed to take photos inside the event—but at least we have a glimpse of the crowd that gathered to honor the legacy of Africa’s most prominent literary figure, as a parade of authors humbly offered touching tales of how Achebe affected and ultimately changed their lives.

“Edwidge Danticat remarked that Achebe’s name alone helped remind her of her own heritage,” ReCupido reports. “Chris Abani, who first began his speech in his native tongue and then switched to ‘the more primitive language of English,’ told an amusing story of a woman in an airport asking him if he knew Okonkwo, the novel’s protagonist, (because, don’t all Nigerian writers?). Abani recalled reading Things Fall Apart in four days, publishing his first short story in response to the novel two weeks later, and never stopping from there. ‘It’s central to everything we do,’ he said of the book.”

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