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Archives: March 2008

Hey, Check Out This Beam in My Eye!

A few people have emailed me a link to Bob Harris‘s list of seven words book reviewers have overused on the NYT Book Review Paper Cuts blog, and about half of them have suggested slyly that a certain Times reviewer makes abundant use of all seven. But before I started knocking other book reviewers, I thought I’d better check the files on the reviews I wrote for Publishers Weekly over the last three years, before I started blogging here full-time…

And, yeah, although I’d given up poignant by the end of 2006, and I’m convinced that the two times I used the word lyrical were totally appropriate (especially since one was about songwriting), I have fallen back on compelling, and craft as a verb, way too many times. At least I only used eschew once that I could spot, and I don’t seem to have ever used muse as a verb. And thank God, per Harris’s addendum, I’ve never used limn. Anyway, the topic is proving very popular with Paper Cuts commenters, so if you’ve got a pet peeve of your own, they may well have uncovered it already…

And how would you score?

AvantGuild: Fugging Their Way To the Top

When the Go Fug Yourself Girls came to New York for Fashion Week,’s Rebecca Fox got an interview that delves into the reactions from the celebrities whose bad fashion sense they target:

“I think for most actors, we are just a blip in their giant sea of US Weekly’s and other blogs [covering them]. They have other stuff going on,” says Jessica Morgan. “Stars we have heard from have actually been, by and large, quite delightful about it. Just because I don’t like your pants, I don’t think you are going to hell. I think people get that it’s in good fun.”

“Most of the cranky emails we get are from people who are like pretty low on the list and probably do their own Googling,” adds Heather Cocks. As for how they divvy up the fugging between them, she admits: “I don’t want to say it’s first come first serve, but it is what it is.” There’s also a lot of background on how they put together The Fug Awards, and the interest from multiple publishers that ensued…

ag_logo_medium.gifThis article is one of several features exclusively available to AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, you can register for as little as $49, and start reading those articles, receive discounts on seminars and workshops, and receive all sorts of other bonuses.

More Thoughts on the Sci-Fi Cover Debate

After reading Monday’s item about science fiction book covers that don’t scream sci-fi, which praised the approach taken by the UK division of Orbit, publishing director Tim Holman reflects on the US and UK covers for the new Iain M. Banks reissues, which Orbit is publishing in both markets with essentially the same cover images, just with slightly variant dressing. “If we felt that a book would appeal to a wider readership if it had a different cover in the US or UK, we’d give it a different cover,” he says. “But usually we don’t.”

UK editions above, US editions below

“We don’t really have any rules when it comes to covers, but there’s one thing we always do first when we’re discussing them: we decide what it is that excites us about a particular book/series/author. What makes it stand out? What makes it different to everything else out there? And then we ask ourselves: how do we reflect that in the cover approach?”

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Peggy Seltzer: Fourteen Minutes and Counting

margaret-jones-fakememoir.jpgThe op-ed section of Eugene, Oregon’s Register-Guard squeezes a few more inches of copy out of the scandal surrounding their local literary fraudster, Peggy Seltzer, with one more op-ed about Love and Consequences. Veteran journalist John Hurst takes a couple whacks at the handful of university professors who, in his characterization, “have been circling their academic wagons around her… with spirited public defenses of Seltzer’s moral right to lie.” In addition to Gordon Sayre, who defended Sayre’s lies as valid self-expression, there’s been the but-it-was-so-beautifully-written defense and the at-least-it-wasn’t-boring defense… all of which leads Hurst to suggest facetiously that maybe journalists should embrace a more freewheeling attitude towards the truth.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, Chris Lehmann catches up to the debate, echoing my comments during the first few days after “Margaret B. Jones” was exposed as a fraud that Seltzer delivered exactly what the industry wanted: “Here was a wrenching narrative of personal triumph over adversity,” he summarizes, “pitching a tough but sentimental ingenue against the lurid doings of a cruel, dangerous world.” Then there’s the usual stuff about James Frey and Holocaust hoaxers, before Lehmann sinks his teeth into a really sharp analysis of just how heavily Seltzer’s narrative played the victim card, and how “actively offensive” the portrait of inner-city society she crafted to resonate with liberal guilt fantasies really is.

Scene @ Doree Lewak’s Panic Years Party


A crowd of 20-somethings filled Union Square’s D-Lounge last night for the release of Doree Lewak‘s The Panic Years: A Guide to Surviving Smug Married Friends, Bad Taffeta, and Life on the Wrong Side of 25 Without a Ring, and GalleyCat‘s Amanda ReCupido was there to observe the scene:

“The book is a counterargument to the gung-ho wedding culture embodied in popular media such as The Bachelor and Say Yes to the Dress. ‘Too many young women put pressure on themselves to get married,’ Lewak said, describing the project as ‘the anti-Sex and the City.’

“‘People assume that single women want to be married and are saddened if they are not, but then if they DO want to be married, they are not considered independent,’ Lewak continued. ‘There are mixed messages for women, and unfortunately, we can’t win.’

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Salm No Longer Handling SD’s Book Reviews

As noted by Publishers Marketplace earlier this morning, a publicist friend of San Diego Union-Tribune book review editor Arthur Salm passes word along that, months after the public outcry over cuts to his section, the veteran journalist has been reassigned by his editors to a metro beat. (After which, it’s rumored, the book reviews might get cut even further under new editor Bob Pinkus.) But that doesn’t mean Salm’s giving up the literary life—he’ll be leading an in-store discussion with legendary crime writer Joseph Wambaugh Saturday afternoon at the Mysterious Galaxy bookshop.

An attempt to contact Salm and confirm the new assignment, or to learn whether he’d be doing more such events in the future, was unsuccessful.

Finding the Short Film in Your Novel (for Less!)

Jean Marie Pierson had a perfect hook for a book trailer to promote her debut novel, No Good Girls: The story had originally begun as a screenplay—Pierson had been an aspiring filmmaker in collage and beyond—and when she converted it to a book, she kept the original format for the opening scene, a conversation in a diner between the protagonist and her two best friends. “It’s not a device,” she explained recently via email. “It’s actually part of the plot.” As she elaborated in an online essay about the shoot, “The scene itself, which may seem like an introduction to the characters, is really a foreshadowing tool for the story. Meaning, pay close attention to what each character says as you might see it happen in the book.”

But, on a pragmatic level, she had a self-contained scene that shows off the personalities of her three main characters and requires a minimal setup. So, over the space of an evening last Decemeber, Pierson and a five-person crew (director, sound, camera, and makeup, plus one assistant) took over Brooklyn’s New College Diner and shot this short movie—with some of the best production values I’ve seen in a book trailer so far. Because she had so many friends in the crew, though, Pierson was able to keep her costs down; she estimated that the full budget for a project of this scope might be somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000 otherwise:

“I just happened to have the background and some connections to do it myself,” she emailed. “I also love this stuff so although it was an enormous amount of work and time, it was fun. For me, I was revisiting my film school days. But it’s entirely too complicated of a process to start it yourself if you go at it alone. You could wind up spending an enormous amount of money and time with a product that doesn’t look all that great in the end.”

So what do you do if you want to make a trailer for your novel, and you don’t want it to look homemade, but you don’t have $5,000 or friends who’ll do you a favor? There are ways to look sharp on a low budget, if you approach the project with a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and a solid plan for getting it done.

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Look What Kavalier & Clay Hath Wrought

harry-brod-headshot.jpgDid you see the notice in the Publishers Marketplace deal lunch last week for Harry Brod (right) and Superman Is Jewish?: How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice and the Jewish-American Way. The book, which Free Press will publish in the summer of 2010, is billed as explaining how “the history of comics is the history of America and the history of Jews in comics is the history of Jews in America.”

At GalleyCat, we hold both those propositions to be true, and not just because of our longstanding admiration for Michael Chabon and David Hajdu. We’ve also got the expertise of veteran Marvel Comics editor (and instructor) Danny Fingeroth, who published Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero just last fall. His PW interview (with fellow ’80s Marvel Bullpenner Peter Sanderson) hits most of the book’s thematic points, including his interest in universalizing the question—in Fingeroth’s words, his history can be defined beyond the Jewish question as exploring “the sparks that are ignited when people struggle, consciously or unconsciously, with the balance between their individual and their group identities.”

Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what Prof. Brod—a philosopher whose previous work includes a consideration of Jewish masculinity, along with other men’s studies issues—brings to this fertile discussion area.

Book Sales Off to Good Start in 2008?

Following last week’s announcement of a 4.7 percent increase in bookstore sales for the month of January, the Association of American Publishers released its own statistics on book sales yesterday, claiming a 7.2 percent increase in sales over the same time frame.

Possibly interesting details: A 21.9 percent drop in children’s and YA hardcover book sales is matched by a 28.2 percent increase in children’s and YA paperbacks. Adult paperbacks jumped up 37.6 percent, while hardcovers posted a modest gain of 4.2 percent. And both audiobooks and e-books continue to rise, by 16.8 percent and 26.1 percent respectively.

Come Aboard, PEN’s Expecting You


Dale Peck and Colum McCann were among the literary players recruited to join a group of media types on the Queen Mary 2 last week for the unveiling of this year’s PEN World Voices schedule. After riding a bus from SoHo to Red Hook, and passing through all the security checkpoints, we were greeted with Champagne in the ship’s ampitheatre and, eventually, welcomed by the commodore, who made a series of vaguely suggestive remarks about his ocean liner in rich, stentorian tones reminiscent of Geoffrey Palmer before passing the microphone on to World Voices organizer Caro Llewellyn and PEN president Francine Prose, who noted that the week-long literary festival is “not only interesting and fun but also increasingly important and useful.”

“This isn’t just a random collection of great authors,” she added, after running through some of the biggest names among the 170 scheduled guests. (Bernard-Henri Lévy talks Darfur with Mia Farrow! Joyce Carol Oates has questions for Umberto Eco!) The theme of this year’s festival, “Public Lives/Private Lives,” promises to be a lively one, possibly encompassing everything from government intrusion into privacy to bloggers spilling their most intimate secrets online.

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