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Archives: April 2008

Why are Authors Selling Cars?

Ever since On the Road, there’s been a kinship between authors and cars, but recently Lexus and Hyundai have endeavored in a matter of branding gone wrong.larrry boots.jpg
I don’t know if you’ve caught Hyundai’s Dollars & Sense campaign, but I’ve been seeing a commercial where financial and fashion guru Larry Winget pops out of the back seat of a car to offer his sage advice. Even more suprising is that the driver recognizes him (well, he does have that tv show and an awesome collection of cowboy boots) in what’s a great plug for his book, You’re Broke Because You Want to Be. This strange campaign also features two other financial advice authors, Ray Lucia (Buckets of Money) and, Adam Smith (The Money Game). What’s sad about the ad is that I couldn’t for the life of me remember that it was for Hyundai, but clearly recall Winget.

On All Financial Matters Larry chimed in on the commercial:

“Well at least people are seeing the commercials! None of us are suggesting that you immediately run out and buy a Hyundai or any other car. I know I am not. My point in doing the commercial is that IF you need a car at least buy one that has cash back and zero percent financing.”

Now that’s what I call an endorsement!

It’s Fun When Alternative Bands Namecheck Writers!

My iPod may have room for several thousand songs on it, but I usually wind up obsessing over three or four over the course of a given week. These last few days, it’s been The Mountain Goats‘ “Lovecraft in Brooklyn.” This live version doesn’t quite replicate the particular intensity of the one on the Heretic Pride album, where John Darnielle‘s vocal anxiety builds up on the final verse to a pitch worthy of The Call’s Modern Romans (which I’m reasonably certain is the most prophetic album of all time, let alone the best rock album of the ’80s), but it’ll give you a basic idea of what has me hitting the repeat button over and over.

What’s your favorite song with a literary bent? Tell us about it in the comments—but no fair using One Ring Zero; that would be too easy.

And the Lifetime Achievement Award goes to… Peter Lovesey

Sarah Reidy, Director of Publicity from Soho Press, reports from Baltimore on the Malice Domestic Agatha Awards.

I had the pleasure of attending the Agatha Awards Banquet for Malice Domestic XX on Saturday, alongside Soho’s Marketing Director, Ailen Lujo. Despite the fact that the organizers had forgotten to assign Ailen and I seats, all worked out for the best. We found ourselves at table 44, alongside Jim Huang - owner of The Mystery Bookshop in Carmel, IN and a great Soho supporter. Later on, Margaret Maron - author of the Deborah Knott mystery series – and friends dropped in to occupy the empty seats. I had the pleasure of chatting with Ms. Maron’s husband, who recounted stories of mystery conventions past for me.

Find out who the award winners were and what was for dinner after the jump

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Hollywood Pros Who Have a Way with Prose


I’m told that the “On Page & Screen” panel I moderated Sunday morning at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books went well; Tina Dupuy of FishbowlLA gave it a friendly write-up, and from my perspective at the far end of the table, I think she pegs some of what I consider the best parts of the hour: entertaining anecdotes from from veteran TV producer Gary David Goldberg, the passion with which Mark Frost talked about using golf as a platform for discussing human character, the openness with which Animal House co-scripter Chris Miller conceded the difficulties in trying to write a memoir about his real college years (“I tried my best to tell it like it happened, but I was really hammered”), and Tom Epperson‘s stories about shifting from screenplays to a novel, The Kind One, which he’s now turning into a screenplay—and realizing that he’ll have to cut huge chunks of the story to get the film under two hours. And, as Tina reports, Epperson was also very kind when it came to eventually correcting the extra screenwriting credit I gave him during the introduction.

Speaking of that memoir comment: I had brought up the subject of “Margaret B. Jones” because it seemed particularly relevant to the subject of memoir, especially Miller’s artistic decision to switch to an omniscient third person narrator about one-third of the way into the story. (As he put it, when he got involved with the fraternity, he became part of an organism, and his story was caught up in the stories of all the others.) But, as Tina notes, the Jones issue was popping up in discussions all over the Festival—including at least one fiction panel where it seemed more than a little forced.

(Thanks to Nancy Mills for taking this picture of Miller, me, Epperson, and Frost as we were getting ready to head over to our auditorium once we found Goldberg—who turned out to be around a hallway corner just ten feet away.)

Franzen v Kakutani

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Last night at a Harvard event with fellow New Yorker staff writer James Wood, Jonathan Franzen said that “the stupidest person in New York City is currently the lead reviewer of fiction for the New York Times.” Franzen was of course refering to Pulitzer-Prize winning reviewer Michiko Kakutani, who, according to the New York Observer,

presumably got on Mr. Franzen’s bad side with her brutal review of his recent memoir, The Discomfort Zone. In that review, Ms. Kakutani wrote: “there is something oddly preening about [Franzen's] self-inventory of sins, as though he actually reveled in being so disagreeable.” Also: “Just why anyone would be interested in pages and pages about [Franzen's unhappy marriage] or the self-important and self-promoting contents of Mr. Franzen’s mind remains something of a mystery.”

But is Kakutani really the stupidest person in New York City?
Let’s see how they stack up and you can decide after the jump

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“Postcards From Yo Momma” Blog To Become A Book!

mom.jpgCongrats to Doree Shafrir and Jessica Grose on getting a book deal based on their Tumblr of mom emails, “Postcards from Yo Momma.” Hyperion executive editor Gretchen Young bought the book at auction, reportedly for less than Random House paid for the ‘Stuff White People Like’ book, but still, you know, some money! I am historically opposed to blog-to-book deals — who isn’t? — but I think I would be ok with this one even if these girls weren’t my friends. Know why? No one is pretending that the book will sell based on some perceived web-based platform — it’ll obvs be marketed as a Mother’s Day gift book, so people who’ve never heard of the blog will be likely to pick it up. So it’s less ‘Stuff’ and more ‘PostSecret but not a downer.’

PEN World Voices Kicks Off Tonight

Just a quick reminder that PEN World Voices starts its six-day festivities tonight with, among other events, Mia Farrow and Bernard-Henri Lévy talking about the situation in Darfur at the prompting of Los Angeles Times Book Prize-winning novelist Dinaw Mengestu. There’s also a suite of short films inspired by writers like Sylvia Plath, Paul Bowles, and Gertrude Stein, with a live appearance by John Giorno, the subject of the documentary Nine Poems in Basilicata. GalleyCat‘s occasional remote correspondent, Amanda ReCupido, will be attending several of this week’s events, and I’m looking forward to her coverage!

The 2008 PEN Literary Gala Was Fancy

yang tongyan.jpgThe PEN literary gala, a fancy fundraising dinner held under the whale in the Natural History Museum, is sort of like publishing’s prom. Editors who are there to pad out the tables their respective houses have purchased, borrow something black-tie and try to pretend that they’re at ease hobnobbing alongside Tina Brown and the kind of heavily bejeweled, taut-faced ladies who attend this type of benefit a couple times a week. For an hour before the dinner, people mill around the T. Rex in the lobby politely refusing passed hors d’ouvres, drinking free drinks, and whispering ‘Omigod is that Toni Morrison‘ to their friends (It was!).

Morrison was being honored with the PEN/Borders Literary Service Award. The night’s other honorees included U.S. Veterans Administration nurse Laura Berg, who was investigated for sedition because she criticized the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, Chinese writer Yang Tongyan (pen name Yang Tianshui– pictured), and Kho Tararith and the Nou Hach Literary Project of Cambodia. They got the First Amendment award, the Freedom to Write award and the Freedom to Publish award, respectively. One magazine editor I talked to had tried to bone up on Yang Tongyan’s work before the ceremony, but had been unable to find anything online that wasn’t in Chinese. “I bet there are less than 10 people in this room who’ve read his work,” he mused. Well, yeah.

I wasn’t about to be a jerk and ask any of the famous people there what their favorite Yang Tongyan poem was. Those famous people included: Gary Shteyngart, Gay Talese, Frank McCourt, David Remnick, Michael Gross, and Dave Zinczenko. Oh and yes, Tina Brown — in a black dress, looking super hot.

The “Sullen Punk Rock” Version of Vidal & Didion


When The Runner and Only Love Can Break Your Heart showed up together in my mailbox, I was impressed not only that David Samuels was getting two hardcover nonfiction books published simultaneously, but that he’d designed the jackets himself—so, I asked him recently, is that his own handwriting on the cover? No, he emailed back:

“It is a freehand approximation of the handwriting of the 1980s graffiti artist and clothing designer Stephen Sprouse that was scanned into a computer and reformatted as a character set. I have always loved Sprouse’s handwriting and I thought there was something about the Sprousian sensibility that connected with my own writing style.”

Samuels had originally recruited Milton Glaser to do the cover design, but after some creative differences emerged, he decided to tackle the project himself—negotiating into his contract with the New Press that he’d get three tries at creating his own covers before they approached anyone else. “I felt confident that I had enough command of the basic language of design to turn out something that would speak to the reader about the form and content of the work, though my chief virtue as a designer is probably the fact that I read my own books,” he says. The American flag on Only Love Can Break Your Heart is his handiwork, drawn in magic marker in a deliberate homage to Gore Vidal‘s United States; “I wanted it to look like a version of Vidal’s book as imagined by a precocious, sullen punk rock fan in the back of his high school English class.”

He adds that the books were always conceived of as one grand project. “The idea was to publish a Slouching Towards Bethlehem-style collection in tandem with an LP version of one piece to form a two volume set of my American-themed works, ” he explains, observing that in practice, readers often wind up liking one volume way more than the other: “Reviewers who love The Runner tend to be a bit bored by the collection, and reviewers who love the collection see The Runner as baggy and too personal.” You can judge for yourself tonight at Brooklyn’s Book Court, where Samuels will be reading from at least one of his books…

Sometimes I Wonder If Augusten Burroughs And James Frey, Like, Hang Out Ever.

augusten.jpg“The enduring myth of the American memoir as a precise form is bullshit and needed to go away,” James Frey told Vanity Fair in an upcoming profile — the “last interview” Ron mentioned earlier. “Although the experience was a nightmare, if I started the process of ending that myth, I’m perfectly fine with it. I’ve said all along that I never wanted my books published as memoirs.”

And wait — is there an echo in here? Alleged fake memoirist Augusten Burroughs, who’s also doing an image-rehab press tour in anticipation of his next book (his “first memoir in five years”), tells New York‘s Sam Anderson that the memoir genre has “spun out of control,” and that today’s “memoirs” are like inbred puppy-mill puppies.

It’s not like these two dudes are on the exact same page re: the whole ‘If you’re going to write a book about experiences you call your own, a book that people will buy because they relate to and sympathize with specific experiences you purport to have suffered through, it should be as truthful as possible’ issue, though.

“Burroughs says he rarely reads other memoirs, but when he does he expects the truth. ‘I find the privileged white girl writing about gangland morally corrupt,’ he says. ‘I have a problem with that. I would feel manipulated. JT LeRoy? I would feel really violated. People sort of think now, not ‘Do I have a story to tell?’ but ‘Can I think of a story I could write and call a memoir?’ And it’s unfortunate because it becomes the focus in the media …’”

Gosh, how unfortunate, right? How have we come to this pass?