Sunday, November 30, 2008

just finished reading

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison. Anyone else read?

book-buying world-savers unite!

So this movement has kinda taken off. Via the facebook group I found this blog, which writer Karen Dionne started to let book-buyers log in their purchases toward a common goal (1 million books!). All you have to do is leave a comment on the post. She'll log it in and use it to generate one of those thermometer thingies so you can watch us reach our goal!!

Right now, we're at, umm, like 500. But the future is before us!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

National Day of Listening

Friday was National Day of Listening, but I've decided unilaterally that the whole weekend is fair listening game. The goal is to collect a story from someone (and, if you like, share it on your blog).

If you listened to a story and blogged about it, please leave me a comment with a link to your post! I'm making a catalog of stories.

Here's the story I collected, based on an interview with the Aunda (my Italian great aunt, for those new to the scene). The story is about my grandmother, who is notoriously mean. Her husband, who has had some significant brain damage from strokes, has had to be removed from her house to a nursing home (or a "compilation home," as the Aunda calls it) because my grandmother would keep sneaking up behind him and whacking him over the head with a frying pan. Just an example.

"Your grandma wasn't always mean," the Aunda told me yesterday, if not in so many words. "She used to be so nice. Everyone loved her and said how nice she was."

"Wow, really?" I said, surprised. "When was it she started to get mean?"

"Oh, about the time she learned to talk," said the Aunda. [ha.]

"But it was our fault," she went on. "We spoiled her."

To whit. (Names muddled to protect identities.)

The Second Fortuna

My grandmother--the Aunda's older sister--had an accident twenty years ago, a month before her sixty-ninth birthday. She slipped on the narrow cement stairs going down to her basement some time around midnight, fell down the entire flight, and was knocked unconscious. Her brain began to hemorrhage and swell inside her skull. She would have died if my uncle, who worked at the power plant and had to be at work at 4 in the morning, hadn't found her there around three. A miracle surgery was performed on her and saved her life, but in the process the doctors had to remove a quarter of her left frontal lobe. Among other changes this effected on her personality and function, it exacerbated the meanness.

But the Aunda thinks the meanness goes way, way back, and ties to the other theme in my grandmother's life: the accidents. My grandmother has had tons of accidents, many of them no less dramatic than the cellar stairs episode. As a result, she's lived her entire life being protected and coddled by everyone around her--"spolied," in the Aunda's words.

My grandmother, like Vincent van Gogh, was a replacement baby. In 1914, her mother gave birth to a baby named Fortuna in their tiny mountain village. Her father, my great grandfather, went away to fight for Italy in World War I. He came back in 1918 but was only able to enjoy his baby daughter for a few months--long enough for them to take a formal portrait of the family of three--before Fortuna was killed by the Spanish flu.

In 1920, when my grandmother was born, the family rejoiced. She was born a year after her sister had died (just like Vincent! seriously) and so they named her Fortuna, too. Her mother, of course, was nuts with worry about her, coddling her and carrying her everywhere and making a huge fuss about everything. She wasn't going to lose her second Fortuna.

My grandmother, however, was so accident prone she seemed hell-bent on thwarting her mother's plans. The first accident was when she was three. Her mother was frying strips of eggplant over their open fire when Fortuna, too young to understand fire but old enough to understand eggplant, reached directly into the oil with her right hand and snatched a piece of eggplant. The result was fried right arm. She gave herself such serious third-degree burns, removing all seven layers of skin from her wrist all the way to her elbow, that she almost died from blood loss. The doctor was only able to save her arm by removing three layers of skin from her left arm and grafting it onto her right. The scars are still visible to this day.

The second accident came the next year. Tsa Rosina, a dubious kind of aunt, was supposed to be watching Fortuna when a neighbor, Tsa Chiara, came by for a chat. Rosina showed Fortuna to the back yard and gave her a piece of cheese to give to the pigs, then went out to the road in front of her house to talk to Tsa Chiara. Fortuna was approached curiously by a pig, who started snuffling around her and quickly discovered the cheese. Fortuna, who was around four, began to panic, and instead of dropping or scattering the cheese she froze up with the whole block clutched in her hand. The pigs swarmed her, knocking her over and taking the cheese, and, once the cheese was gone, snuffling and rooting in her hands and dress for more. She was tossed and trampled on the uneven cobblestones of the yard, and in the process entirely eviscerated by their sharp hooves. When Tsa Rosina heard the ruckus and came into the backyard to drive the pigs away, she found Fortuna on the ground, her intestines hanging out of her abdomen and her torso smeared in blood. Her face, however, was deathly white. Although her eyes were open, she wasn't breathing. Tsa Chiara, having at least some presence of mind, reached into her mouth to see why she wasn't breathing. She was choking on a clot of her own blood, the size of a fist.

Tsa Chiara wrapped Fortuna in swaddling underclothes, doing the best to keep the intestines contained, and then cocooned her in a blanket. They climbed an hour down the mountain, collected my great-grandmother (who, understandably, went nuts), and then climbed another hour to the doctor's. By the time they got there, the baby had lost so much blood her face was blue. And yet she got through that one.

The third accident happened the next year, when she was five. She was playing in the front yard of the church with her friend, Della. After awhile, Della got tired of playing and wanted to leave, but Fortuna didn't want to leave. A tussle ensued at the gate of the church, and eventually Della escaped by knocking the church gate open. Fortuna, who had been clinging to the other side, was beaned across the head and knocked unconscious. She still had a large scar on her temple from where she nearly bled out.

The last accident I'll talk about here--there are some others--came in 1940, just after the girls had emigrated to America. The family was sharing a third story apartment in the Italian ghetto, and Fortuna and her sister (the Aunda) shared a bed overlooking the street. One night, the Aunda was having trouble falling asleep, and so was lucky to still be awake when my grandmother had her nightmare. She dreamed she was being attacked by a rapist, and to escape him she pulled open the window and made every effort to jump out. My aunt was quick enough to catch her, but wasn't able to wake her from her sleepwalk and wasn't big enough to restrain her. She started screaming and woke her father, who ran into the room and pulled my grandmother off the windowsill before it was too late. The next day, he nailed a board across the window. Sunlight, it turned out, was too dangerous.

As a result of her affinity for disaster, everyone around her has spent their lives looking after and taking care of my grandmother. This, says the Aunda, has to go partway to explaining the rest.

What's the rest? Well, that's a whole other story.

[This message has been approved by Momrat.]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Goopy Thanksgiving Message

This post is going to be a bit like preaching to the choir. Plus, you guys already know how horribly sappy I can get. But I'll post it anyway.

Before I go into my Thanksgiving Goop, a short overview of events that you might like to "attend" in the near future:

-Tomorrow is National Day of Listening as proclaimed by NPR's StoryCorp. Anyone who listens/collects/posts a story tomorrow (or otherwise this weekend) should send me a link to your blog post; we're going to make a catalog.
-Tomorrow is also Black Friday. If you're crazy (like me) and going shopping, I bet you're Buying a Book and Saving the World!
-On Monday, December 1, Tess Uriza Holthe, author of WHEN THE ELEPHANTS DANCE, is subjecting herself to the Ed Ass Book Club.

Moving on to Thanksgiving Goop.

Last night, I went to dinner with Angelle and a civilian friend, Melanie. When conversation turned to blog friends, Melanie zoned out very comically.

It's funny to think that Angelle and I have a whole range of people in common that we don't "know" in the conventional sense (although, increasingly, we do). Blog friendships are funny and a little backwards because you begin by keeping in touch with someone and end by getting to know them, the opposite of the way things worked when we made friends in grade school and college. The advantage is that we know we like one another before we know what we have in common, meaning things like age, geography, and occupation are pretty meaningless. The possibilities, essentially, are endless.

A friend said recently, "Aren't you a little worried that you're mixing up your online friends with your real friends?" I said, "Uh, no." Because blogging is no longer "virtual" even in the most traditional sense of the word virtual.

Two quick examples, not that I need to remind you guys: In the last two months, you guys raised almost $5000 in real money for a friend of mine who needed help paying for chemo. Then, less than a month ago, you threw me a surprise party on my second anniversary--a party that maybe didn't have a punch bowl but had everything else a "real" party would have. Both these examples have nothing to do with things I have to offer on my blog; instead, they are kind things that real friends did without prompting. So much for "virtual."

This is a long-winded way of saying of the many things for which I am thankful this year, I am particularly thankful for all the people I've met in this blog circle. You give me much joy.

Happy Thanksgiving to all--I hope everyone, American and otherwise, is eating delicious foodstuffs today.

Love and kisses,

Your ratty friend

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

busy week (MORE Mischief news!)

Woops, I forgot to mention--our own Stuart Neville (aka Conduit) secured a US publisher for his debut novel, Ghosts of Belfast, which Harvill is publishing in the UK next year. Soho press is the lucky US house. Now we'll be able to read it on this side of the Atlantic, too!

Dear All Facebook Users

Join this group:
Buy a Book, Save the World

May our good ideas spread virally.

weight's off

I've been up to my chin in a particular project--if you know me, you know the one I'm talking about. The editing process was taking over my life, and there was so much work to be done that things like my NaNo (ha!) fell by the wayside. Uh, not to mention my social life.

Very, very late last night, the project left my desk for the last time. I'm so jubilant I'm almost delirious. So many people have worked so hard on this book that having it off is huge catharsis.

Thanks to all those who have born with me, forgiven slow correspondence for emails and blog comments, and been generally understanding during the whole process. I really appreciate it.

I have so many awesome blog topics that I've had to sit on over the last month and a half because I simply didn't have time to write about them. Now you guys are in for it. Nyuk nyuk.

what's up with you people?! (MORE Mischief good news)

I had heard rumbles about this a couple of weeks ago and am so happy to be able to announce it formally! Long-time reader Sarah Hina has just sold her debut novel, Plum Blossoms in Paris, to Medallion Press.

Drop by her blog for her inspirational story about how the deal came about--it's enough to help us all have hope in what people keep saying is a dark time. Congratulations, Sarah! Can't wait to see it in print!

Monday, November 24, 2008

one more for the Mischief!

Kelsey Timmerman, long-time Ed Ass reader, has his first book hit shelves today! Where Am I Wearing? is now available at a fine book retailer near you!

Kelsey, did you think you could lurk for this long and that I wouldn't catch on? Rookie mistakes. Also, can you resolve the controversy once and for all--is it in fact your headless torso on the cover? I know you've insisted it's not, but the rumors keep resurfacing.

morning message from Momrat (National Listening Day)

Momrat was listening to the StoryCorps on NPR, as she does. Have you heard of the StoryCorps? They're a radio program that basically goes around collecting oral history. It's a neat concept; in the end, most people have stories to tell, and sometimes it takes a stranger to hear them.

Momrat was chagrined to learn that they are touring the country looking for stories but that she already missed their stop in her area. She wanted to drag The Aunda and make her talk about making Christmas cookies.

She did want to make a public service announcement, though. Apparently the StoryCorps have declared Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) National Day of Listening. The goal on Friday is to listen to someone else's interesting story about their life. Coincidentally, Momrat and I had already acquired a tape recorder and planned to go visit The Aunda on Friday for an all-day interview (it's even marked in The Aunda's daybook) so we feel that perhaps the Story Corps is kind of the gods' way of smiling on our mission.

I have a crazy week coming up, and might not be able to post much. (Famous lies, I know.) But sometime this weekend I'll put up an Aunda story that is disseminated to me on National Day of Listening.

Anyone else game? Listen to a story this weekend, put it up on your blog, and drop me a link. We'll make a catalog on Monday.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

the rally monkey likes to read on the can.

Recent Can Reading (which I encounter on the windowsill by the toilet after they are, umm, officially selected) have included The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, Skateboarding Today, and European Cars.

Today, I sat down to notice a new selection: He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. Jessica Valenti, I think perhaps you need to rethink your subtitle!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

wazzup, weather gods?!

Last Saturday, I went out for the day with a sweater tucked in my bag, just in case, and walked around outside all day without needing to use it.

Today, I wore long sleeves, a sweater, a jacket, my winter coat, a hat, and a scarf, and was still freezing my caboose off.

One week!! One week to get from balmy to Siberian!

Friday, November 21, 2008

help meee

I don't understand Twitter!! I don't know what to "tweet" about. I joined a couple of weeks ago and have a nice healthy network of people... but nothing to say to them!

You know how, um, prolix I get. The only things I have to say that take under 150 characters are lists of foods I've eaten.

Advice, please...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

a little laugh for a time of busted bank accounts

email of the day

when do I know I'm going to buy a book--or pass?

Guest blogging today over at the lovely Writers Group.

just what I wanted to see today.

My company shares a corridor--and bathrooms--with a couple of other offices, including a boutique law firm. I approach the ladies' room from the opposite end of the corridor from which the law partners approach the men's room.

Lawyers, I've learned, are extremely efficient. For example, one of the partners is so efficient that he is in a regular habit of unbuckling, unzipping, and generally... prepping the equipment as he blasts down the hallway. It's just. lovely. Alas, this morning was not the first time I got to see much, much more than I ever wanted to.

Not that I think he's purposefully exhibiting or anything--he's so self-oriented that I doubt he's ever realized I (or anyone else, for that matter) exist. But can't it wait the extra half a second until he's in the men's room?

Also. You think a guy like that washes his hands afterwards?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sincere Apologies to Librarians Everywhere

I have had a very, very angry (but not at all unfair) communication from a librarian regarding this post, in which I advise readers to buy a book.

I would like to offer my sincere apologies to librarians and library communities everywhere. When I suggested that readers buy the book they might have taken out of the library this week, I did not mean to sound like I was saying "always buy books! Never go to libraries!"

Librarians, not only do I love and respect you (there have been many, many librarians in my life), but I also know my publishing company (and other companies) count on you. After all, YOU buy books from us! You buy the core number of books off most print runs, and in many cases you are the reason we are able to afford to print, and the reason a book gets published at all. This I am not exaggerating.

Here's to you, librarians of the world!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

December Book Club Pick

Sorry I'm so late in making the announcement! Our December 1 Book Club Pick will be When the Elephants Dance, a wonderful debut novel that was published in 2002. National bestselling author Tess Uriza Holthe will be joining us on December 1st for a Q&A.

I started the book on a bus ride a couple of weeks ago and found myself unable to go to sleep that night until I finished it. Here's a plot synopsis basically stolen from the Penguin site:

In the waning days of World War II, the Japanese and the Americans engage in a fierce battle for possession of the Philippine Islands. The Karangalan family and their neighbors huddle for survival in the cellar of a house a few miles from Manila. Outside the safety of their little refuge the war rages on—fiery bombs torch the beautiful Filipino countryside, Japanese soldiers round up and interrogate innocent people, and from the hills guerillas wage a desperate campaign against the enemy. Crowded together in the cellar, the Karangalans and their friends and neighbors tell magical stories to one another based on Filipino myth and legend to fuel their courage, pass the time, and teach important lessons. The group is held spellbound by these stories, which feature a dazzling array of ghosts, witches, supernatural creatures, and courageous Filipinos who changed the course of history with their actions. These profoundly moving stories transport the listeners from the chaos of the war around them and give them new resolve to fight on.

Special thanks to Ello and Precie, who independently recommended this amazing book on their blogs, like, months ago. Yay for book blogging!

Monday, November 17, 2008


Last week, I went to see Toni Morrison give a reading from her new novel, A Mercy. (I think I might have mentioned I kinda worship Toni Morrison.)

The interlocutor, Fran Lebowitz, told a little story about A Mercy. A year ago, she said, her friend Toni had forwarded her a copy of the rough manuscript, and she'd read it. Last month, Fran found out that she's be moderating this discussion, so she called Toni and asked if she should reread the finished version.

"Oh definitely!" said Toni. "I completely rewrote it."

So Fran reread it, and called Toni back. She was confused. She'd been expecting a catastrophic rewrite, and missed it. What exactly had Toni changed?

"Seventeen words," said Toni.

Working on my own revisions right now, I only have one thing to say. Toni,


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Paul Rudd Choreographs New Beyonce Video

This will make your morning (especially if you, like me, didn't watch SNL last night). Hint: Justin Timberlake is involved. It's pretty special.

Hilarious skit via Gawker

Also, if anyone's feeling a little sappy this morning, check out this post and scroll down to the last comment. This is particularly recommended for Cindy, Chris, Ello, and Precie. If you're not feeling sappy, under NO circumstances click that link.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Saturday Morning Indie HipHop Moment

I saw this guy in concert for the first time this week. I think it's high time we all had a little uber-socially conscious indie Filipino hiphop artists. He's also a pretty great showman.

Get Over by Koba

Friday, November 14, 2008


James told me he's participating in at this grow-mustaches-for-charity event that happens in the month of November (description borrowed directly from the Movember site):
At the start of Movember guys register with a clean shaven face. The Movember participants, known as Mo Bros, then have the remainder of the month to grow and groom their Mo (Australian slang for moustache), raising money and awareness along the way for men's health and the fight against prostate cancer.

So cool! Hope we're going to have before-and-after photos!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

as long as we're talking about what's wrong with book publishing

$7 million advances for celebrity books. GalleyCat, you know I love you, but how dearly I hope your source was wrong about this.

Huge advances like this will never earn out, ever. And this is money blown that might have been spent on any number of other things that you and I talk about here each day. It's like we're talking about the smart things to do, and no one's hearing us.

I have to run to an appointment, so I don't get to sit here and bore you with my top ten reasons about why huge advances for famous people suck. But does anyone disagree with me? Except maybe Sarah Silverman's agent?

things the rally monkey says

[YT types away furiously at a manuscript long into the night]

RM: You know, in the Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows one Christmas where Ebenezer Scrooge has a girlfriend.

YT: [not looking up] Yeah, so?

RM: Well, Scrooge decides that working at the counting house is more important than his relationship, and that he wants to devote himself to his job. And then she goes away and he gets old all by himself. He neglected his girlfriend and ended up alone!

YT: Are you comparing me to Ebenezer Scrooge?!

RM: No. Because at least Scrooge made money at the counting house.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

quote of the day

"Jake laughed...'I was just kidding. We don't have to play Strip Scrabble. Strip Scrabble is for lecherous nerds.'"
--Petropolis, Anya Ulinich (202)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

varying perspective

I'd like to personally thank Anonymous 12:22, who made the following comment on my post about how publishing is a returnable industry and why the economic downturn hurt us so much:

Um, no. Unprofitable industries need to fold. The bookstores need to fold. Book publishers need to fold. And editors need to fold, too. They need to fold someone else's undies at the laundromat.

There have been millions of books published in centuries past. We don't need any more.

Anon, while I do not profess to be talented at folding laundry (my own or others'), I have to admit you do make one point I agree with. Unprofitable industries need to adapt. If they can't, they deserve to fail.

But I think you will find there are a number of people who don't want the publishing industry to fold, for their own reasons as well as for anything you might say about free speech and/or available media. That's why people like us want to help bridge the gap. (Also, seriously--does anyone who reads this not buy tons of books anyway?)

So what can the industry do to make sure your help is more than just a last-ditch effort? Hopefully this scare will help them (us) revise The System.

Some ideas for you, publishers: (Several of you also commented to this affect, which leads me to believe it must have some sense about it.)

-Lower print runs.
Print closer. Don't count on huge laydowns. Sure, it means books are less likely to be bestsellers. But how many books become best sellers anyway?

(which leads to)

-Higher prices. Sure, you've kept prices low, because you wanted to get out as many copies as possible. Instead, be a little more conservative--put a slightly higher price on your book, sell only to the people who want it a little more than average, and make a little more money per copy.

(Besides, higher prices will lead customers to...)

-More online retail.
The discount per cover price is steeper on online vendors; if consumers know they can save 30% by buying online instead of buying at a chain store, what's to stop them? Things are going to move in this direction, anyway, so we have to stop counting as much on the physical stores.

(And, dare I say it?)

-Look into solutions to the awful returnable system.
Sure, retailers aren't going to jump at the chance to forfeit their sweet returns deal, but how about a percentage cap? Eg you can only return up to 40% of the stock you buy from us per title, or something along those lines. Retailers will order more conservatively, maybe even a lot more conservatively, but the system is so flawed that at the moment they are costing us money and making us none. So really, is it that terrible a solution?

Some of my thoughts.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New York Times--apparently it's not just the little guys floundering

Thanks to my anonymous friend who sent me the link to this article about the NYT's net worth.

If that's the state of one of our country's most revered news sources, I can only wonder how everyone else is doing...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

reflections on an 89th birthday party

I went to the Ancestral Home for the weekend. On Saturday, I saw The Aunda. I explained to her we were going to the 89th birthday party of a family friend, whose name is Cy (he and his sweet late wife introduced my parents). "But I'll stop by here again before I head home," I told her.

"After that old guy's bur-dey?" she asked.

"Old guy? Whattaya mean, old guy?"

"You say he 89," she said.

"That's mean," I said. "If he's old, what are you?"

"Me, 87, no 89."

But anyway, that's not the point of this story. The point is at his birthday, Cy made a speech, which he promised us was not a fable. I really wanted to share it:

In 1945, when he was deployed to Rome to help with the Allied recovery effort, Cy was stationed in the Citta Vecchia. In the middle of it all was a crumbled down church, within rings of homeless or nearly-homeless people in rags, working on getting their pieces back together.

One day, Cy passed a man in a torn shirt that looked like it hadn't been washed in weeks. The man was really thin, as though he hadn't eaten much in a long time. He was the kind of person Cy was supposed to be helping.

Then a collector for the church rebuilding fund walked by. When the collector held out the basket to the ragged man, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins, which he dumped into the collection basket.

Cy said to the man, "You're obviously in need of that money. You could have used it to eat or wash your clothes. Why did you give it all to the church rebuilding fund?"

"I wanted to be a part of making something beautiful," the man told him.

Rally Monkey says "Eff that. I would have used the money on food." But for me, the story resonated.

thanks to everyone who's saving book publishing this weekend!

Here are the books I bought:

[location: Barnes & Noble]

MONA IN THE PROMISED LAND by Gish Jen: I was browsing innocently and noticed Gish Jen's name on a bunch of spines. I realized that I recognized the name--she's blurbed for a lot of the type of books I read--but had never read a single thing by her! This is a slender volume that promises to be about Jews and Asians, so basically what's not to love?

GIRLS OF RIYADH by Rajaa Alsanea: I was totally on my way out of the store when I realized I'd never read a book that took place in modern Saudi Arabia. In fact, the closest thing I've read is a pretty dry history of Islam that bothers with Saudi Arabia only through like the 1200s. Plus the cover was just so... wow. I hope it's good.

ALCATRAZ VERSUS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS by Brandon Sanderson: I bought this for my dad, who saw a list of the 5 best fantasy titles of all time and had read the other four. He's also a big Wheel of Time fan, and (for those of you who aren't as geekily into the whole saga as some of us are) Brandon Sanderson has been tapped to write the 12th and final book in the series now that the author has passed, so my dad feels like he should sample some of his other oeuvre. He's promised to lend it to me when he's done.

That's all. Of course, the weekend is hardly over.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Momrat called on her lunch break

to tell me she's "LOVIN!" the galley I sent her of one of my upcoming novels. Yay!! She's the toughest critic. <3

Thursday, November 06, 2008

C[r]ash Flow (Or What Went Wrong in October in Book Publishing)

It's the only thing I'm thinking about recently, so I'm going to go ahead and kill the elephant.

Let's talk a little bit about what happened in October.

You've heard about the massive layoffs at Doubleday; you've heard about Harper's terrible state of profit, BNN's worst quarter and projected year ever, and the closing of Impetus, an indie press (which, as I'll explain below, I don't think was Impetus's fault even vaguely).

Yes, there's a crisis.

However. Anyone who wants to talk about "the death of publishing" can leave the room. I'm at the beginning of my career and I plan on being an editor for a long time; a lot of you are yet-to-be-published authors and I'm sure you're equally intent on not seeing book publishing fold (not that it's going to; that's ridiculous). So instead I want to talk about what's actually causing the problem--it might help us come up with solutions for protecting what's important to us.

I don't think anyone's being really straightforward about what exactly happened, and a lot of it is not very complicated.* The crux of the problem is that book publishing is a returnable industry. That means that say Big Chain Store (BCS) agrees to stock a book that my company publishes. They buy 100 copies at, say, $1 a piece (to be easy). They give me $100; I send them the books. Two months later, they didn't sell any, so they send them back. I have to give them $100.

Keep in mind a couple of things about this system that don't work in the publisher's favor:
1) Shipping costs. Books are heavy.
2) Production fees incurred by the publisher (because, unfortunately, we can't return the books to the printer).
3) Inflation. Haha.

Why do publishing companies put up with this? Yeah, it's stupid. But it's an industry standard, and if we don't let BCS have the option to return books, they simply tell us they won't stock them. They can carry CDs and calendars and greeting cards, instead.

All right, but this has been the case for awhile. So what went wrong in October?

As you MIGHT have heard by now, we're having some kind of economic hardship (or something like that). So people spent less cash in September and October. So bookstores sold fewer copies in those two months, and were hit hard like all the other businesses in the country and in a lot of the world.

However, BCS and all its chain compatriots are counting on Christmas sales to save them. They need to stock up! They need to plump their stores with new enticing merchandise so they can convince customers to save them from foreclosure!

Where to get the cash for all the holiday books they needed to stock in October and November? Three. Guesses.

In October, bookstores returned so many books that most publishing companies had more coming into them than going out of them. For some companies, the incoming number was more than several months' outgoing.

Although bookstores are suffering (and how), it was the publishing houses that had to absorb the cost of this cash flow creator. This is why Impetus, a relatively new indie company without the history to survive this shock, folded. Some houses lost so much money in returns in October that profits from the entire rest of 2008 have been negated. Can you imagine? Losing enough in a month to destroy your entire year? (Keep in mind that publishing is a very low profit margin enterprise in the first place; now see how if one month involves more outgoing than incoming money you can easily undo the good of an entire year or more.)

Now you can see the ripples that are happening, the layoffs, the dwindling advances, the precautions about acquiring anything in this climate. If publishing companies are shelling out money to publish books that bookstores only bother to stock for a minute and a half, we are all going to hemorrhage money until there is nothing left standing.

This would be a bad situation for more than the sake of my job or your future novel. It's about a lot of things--education, hampered information dissemination, conglomerations swallowing mass media, censorship. Whatever. I could extenuate, but I'll spare you. The point is, when you have a problem, the best thing to do is try to solve it.

For anyone who cares about the book publishing industry and wants to do their part, there's one simple action step:

Buy a book this weekend.

Just buy one.

Buy your sister a book instead of a sweater for her birthday; buy your friend who can't even make toast or boil water a beginner's cookbook; buy your company's receptionist a novel you liked because most people probably ignore him/her (it's always a her, though, isn't it?) and you'll make his/her day.

Buy your holiday gifts now. Instead of a CD for your brother, buy him a book on his favorite recording artist.

Instead of going to the library this one week buy the book you were going to read--it might only be a difference of a couple of bucks in the end. One day this week, make a peanut butter sandwich, skip going out for lunch, and buy a paperback.

Got an anniversary? Skip chocolates; fiction is sexy.

Got a non-reading friend with a birthday? Buy them a book and tell them it's high time they got over it. Or, more kindly, that you're doing it to sponsor your own future writing career. Or blame me if you must; I can take it.

It doesn't matter what. It doesn't have to be a literary fiction hardcover. If could be a $5.99 mass market nutrition guide, a $4.99 young reader chapter book, a Harlequin romance. Your money will still prevent returns of other books--literary fiction is usually the first to go--and will trickle down to the publishing companies, who will then be more likely to be able to afford to publish unprofitable literary fiction. Even if it's not by your favorite author or your favorite publishing house, your favorites will be indirectly affected.

It doesn't matter where. Sure, buying at the chains will help against the returns, but you can help out the publisher with your purchase no matter how you get it, even on the internet.

I'm not saying this for purely selfish reasons. I work with books because I love them and think they're important, not the other way around.

*insert here the eternal and immortal invitation for anyone who knows better to please correct me

she tried to keep it from us!!! (one more for the Mischief!!!)

She sneakily hid this post on a different blog, but I've sniffed her out!! Kimberley Griffiths Little has just been contracted in a three-book deal with Scholastic for two middle grade novels and one YA novel! Look out in stores near you soon for THE HEALING SPELL, SECRET RITES OF THE GODDESS, and THE TRAITEUR'S DAUGHTER.

Congratulations, Kimberley!

Haiku Winner Impossible to Pick

While I ruminate the choices, normal blog post publishing will resume as previously scheduled.

It's interesting how because of current events I'm not writing about any of the topics I'd planned out for November. Hmm.

In the meantime, I distract you with further contest entries!!

Ratty breath – baited
Waiting for the perfect read
Yuck – slush – ill fated
--Kim Kasch

i have a craving
for maple glazed pork belly
get in my belly

no never again
will i wash the laundry drunk
i hate you red sock


Above the sea of
Brightly coloured petals I
Wave farewell to you.
--Ann Victor

Harder. More. Faster.
Syllable count S and M
Haiku grunt and moan

Mom said don’t mix whites
I told her that was racist
(I just like new clothes)

Splash tonic, no lime --
don't forget ibuprofen.
Wake me tomorrow.

Moonrat heaves a sigh
For her contest ends today,
And no more haikus.
--Ann Victor

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

some more haiku

(and this awesome limerick byKiersten)
There once was a rat named Moonie,
who gathered a group, quite loony,
they were her mischief
their spirits she lifts
That rat icon makes them all swoony.

A laundry tetrology by Froog:
One load, once a month.
For an editor, laundry's
Low priority.

Stacked quarters waiting
And laundry basket bulging –
Never any time!

No time for drying;
Apartment reeks of mildew;
Damp clothes on the line.

Clothes start running short.
All moulder in the basket.
Last pair of knickers?!

some more by the tireless Froog
Hours of thankless toil:
The task seems never-ending.
Manuscript of Doom.

Always too much work,
But Friday karaoke's
Her consolation.

The dashing author
Charms all with his words, his smile.
Alas, he's married.

what a day! (celebrating me)

I love you guys so much! There has been much hilarity and a surprise party over the course of a grueling day at work, and I can't tell you how much it all means to me! Here are some highlights of nice things that have happened.

You all wrote me a million haiku for my haiku contest. I'm really excited to go home tonight and post a bunch more, because they're just too good to be true. For full disclosure--I was talked into doing the haiku contest by the subversive Miss Ello, who told me I needed to celebrate my anniversary somehow. Turns out she was distracting me from a plan she and her nefarious cohorts had been working on for months!

Ello, Precie, Chris Eldin, and Cindy put together this amazing surprise party that made me very emotional. There are a bunch of AWESOME contests and prizes--I don't know who keeps innovating these blog contests, but they should think about taking up book publicity. They'd rock some industry socks.

There's a whole column of contributing bloggers down the side, all of whom have linked up, posted, and been part of the party--how many friends I have! MomRat was so worried I'd never be socialized; thank you all for making her feel better about her progeny.

Cindy Pon painted me this beautiful orchid.

Andromeda somehow created pencils that say "I Make Mischief" and ""--my first professional marketing materials!

Froog, after months and months of hemming and hawing and choosing 70s tv stars and athletes instead, has finally elected me his fantasy girlfriend. High time, Mr. Froog, is all I have to say.

Thank you all!! More to come.


Oh my god. You people are too much.

LOOK what they made me!!! Go here!!

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

"It's a beautiful day. I can finally look people in the face again and smile."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Number of hours I waited in line this morning to vote.

Hurrah for record-breaking turnout!

Monday, November 03, 2008

working late

It's been a long, hard couple of weeks at my job. I'm dang lucky I love my projects, because I've gotten to spend SO much time with them recently!!

But I need to thank everybody who's been sending in haiku contest entries. I have seriously been laughing my @$$ off every couple of hours when I receive a new email, and it's helped me survive my weekend!

I know I'm not supposed to be judging until tomorrow or something, but I HAVE to share some of these (in no particular order, with no particular favoritism, chosen largely at random, and this is only a taster).

To revive the chi
Salt and sea together fresh
Sushi is the best.

--Absolute Vanilla

These jeans don't smell yet.
Didn't I just wash these socks?
Sniff test: one more day.


Chabon waits, bathing
in Hendrick's gin and tonic
misty with desire.

--Colleen Lindsay

Long, slender, supple
Creamy central explosion
Fills my mouth—Twinkie.


too cheeky, one ass
mooned latest manuscript. rats!
stained page four: ice cream?


Young Michael Chabon
writes Jewish bisexuals
holding sausages


Bombay Sapphire Gin,
I name my dog after you...
and my four children.


Heaven: whole leaf tea
infused with jasmine flowers
sipped with pen in hand.


If it hadn't been
for the gin this haiku would
have run to seventeen syllables rather than omigid I've lost count and will someone please kiss me i feel so depressed.


Chabon-Mots for Michael
Redoubtable scribe
Fulgent, Unoppugnable
Drop Ayelet, love me!


Special credit to those who managed to work in more than one theme!!!

Sunday, November 02, 2008


I vow this is the first and last time I'm posting on my progress, because I remember from last year how little NaNo news mattered to non-NaNo-ers. But.

As of midnight, I wrote 6,732 words (I'm not doing another word count until Sunday at midnight, otherwise there is just too much temptation to erode all daylight boundaries and taboos). I knew I needed to crank out everything possible this weekend, because Monday is Monday of Doom for various job-related deadline-oriented reasons. However, I've used up all my carefully planned notes, and can't imagine how I am going to plow forward from this point.

Also. The veins on the tops of my hands are twitching and spasming. When I look away from my computer screen, I see nothing but silver and purple swirls. My eyes ache and my mouth tastes like aluminum foil. How do you survive a whole month of this, seriously?! And... I KNOW I need to come back to this tomorrow, in a way I can't even really explain on a blog. But HOW DO I MAKE MYSELF?!?! How will I even get out of bed?!

Hmm. Probably too late to be blogging. Good night and good luck, as they say.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

November Book Club: THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, by Sherry Jones

Welcome to the November Book Club meeting!

For the ease of commenting and paging, this post will contain a short interview with Sherry Jones, and the post below this will contain some discussion topics.

Please feel free to propose other discussion topics! This book is a rich and intriguing subject from several perspectives.

Interview with Sherry Jones, author of The Jewel of Medina

Thanks again for stopping by today, Sherry. We'll start with my standards. How did you land your agent?

I began querying agents before The Jewel of Medina was really ready. That's a common mistake we beginning writers make, I've heard: We get so darned excited about what we're doing, and we're so convinced that the first draft is golden, that we lose patience and perspective! The first agent I queried was Carolyn Jenks, the agent who sold Anita Diamant's book The Red Tent. She loved the first three chapters but then she said the remainder "failed to sustain my enthusiasm." I vowed not to send it out again until it was finished.


When I finished the first draft, convinced it was a ready-made literary gem, I decided to shop it around. I called author Paul Vandevelder, whom I'd written about for the Missoulian newspaper in Missoula, Montana, and asked if he had any contacts. He called Natasha Kern, who agreed to read the manuscript -- and who sent it back a month later with a long, detailed letter about how much she disliked my book! I felt so frustrated. "I don't have any idea what I'm doing," I told my then-husband, who suggested I hire a professional editor to help me get the book into shape. I found a couple of "book doctor" services recommended, if I recall correctly, in Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents, and hired a freelance editor. Daniel Zitin was tremendously helpful, telling me that what I had was NOT a novel, but rather "a series of interesting vignettes." Following his advice I re-wrote the book, then found another editor to help with the second draft. After that, I wrote to Natasha again and asked if she'd re-consider, and she said yes. One month later, she called and said she loved it! So I guess I could say that the first agent who read my complete manuscript took me on as a client!

That's quite a romantic story about how you and Natasha found each other; I have read about what a great team you guys are. So, how did you get your book deal?
Natasha sent my book to 21 publishing houses, then set a date for an auction. One publisher made a pre-empt offer but it was small, since the house was a smaller house. Then Random House made its offer and we accepted it. We were thrilled with the $100,000 advance for a two-book deal. Of course, I didn't get it all at once. I got part at signing, part on acceptance, and would have received the rest in three more increments over two years.

What was the moment you decided to write about A'isha?

I was working out in the gym (strength metaphor alert!) and thinking about what I'd read about her. I realized that I hadn't been able to stop thinking about A'isha, and so I knew I'd finally found my subject after more than 40 years of wanting to write a novel but having no idea what to write about.
You've had so much more press coverage than most debut authors would ever get; do you think it's been more of a good thing, or a bad?
It's been great publicity, but it's been hard on my book and, at times, on my soul! Plenty of people seemed to derive great pleasure from trashing "The Jewel of Medina" when they hadn't read it, and now people want to say it's not well-researched. But it is, very thoroughly researched. Fortunately, a German Islamic scholar just published a piece in FAZ newspaper lauding the historical accuracy of the book and hailing it as an important contribution. Whew! Now, whenever my book gets attacked again, I can go back and read his comments!

Also, I'm hearing that a number of Barnes and Noble stores are declining to display my book. That's a drag. If not for all the controversy, they'd have it out front-row-center.

One the other hand, my book and its sequel now have publishers in the U.S., Serbia (where it went all the way to number 1), Russia, Macedonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy (published in October by Newton and Compton without incident), Germany (coming out Nov. 3 by Pendo Verlag), Denmark, Poland, Albania, Slovenia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Spain, Brazil, UK, and Portugal.

Are you excited to write about the next chapter in A'isha's life?
Yes, the sequel is finished and in the hands of Beaufort Books' editors. There is talk of bringing it out this spring in the US and in Germany. That's very exciting, because it's a better book! It covers the time in A'isha's life after Muhammad's death, when she really came into her own as a political being. It also provides the point of view of her nemesis, Ali, so the reader gets a much more well-rounded portrait of both A'isha and Ali. My working title is "A'isha and Ali," although that will probably change.

I also envision a third book in the trilogy, about Sukayna bint al-Hussein, the great-granddaughter of Muhammad, the granddaughter of Ali. She was an early Arabic feminist, living in Mecca during the height of that's city's intellectual glory, and a fascinating woman. Another inspiration!!!

Discussion Questions for November Book Club: THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, by Sherry Jones

All questions by Ed Ass, from her personal point of view. I'll put the questions followed by my brief thoughts (I'll try to not put down my whole opinion so that there is something left to discuss!).

1) Some of the criticism The Jewel of Medina has received since publication has been about the fact that there is a lot of sex (and preoccupation with sex) in the novel. Do you think there is too much sex in the novel? Do you think it was appropriate for Sherry to talk as she does about the (imagined) personal marriage details of one of the world's great religious figures?

From my unsolicited opinion, this is hardly a problem--the book is about the experiences of a young teenage girl who is locked in close confines with a growing number of other women. As if her own hormones and budding sexuality aren't enough of a reason for her to be thinking about sex around the clock, her own survival in the harim depends on her ability to conceive a child. I can't help but think that any other treatment of the topic would have been unrealistic.

2) As we know from all the media hullabaloo around the publication of Jewel, the topic of Islam and its early history is not often addressed in pop culture. Of course, Sherry herself confesses that there are many details of A'isha's story that no one knows, so the best we can ever get is fiction. At the same time, historical fiction is a great vehicle for education, and it seems possible that the fact that Islam is such a "taboo" subject in mainstream "Western" media may be a reason that it is often misunderstood or ignored, despite its obvious relevance in our global society. What do you think--is it more harmful to not publish at all on a topic that is sacred to many people, or to publish unverifiable fiction on a sacred topic?

To me it seems like a shame not to publish--I've always found my most vivid appreciations of history come from historical fictions I've read and absorbed because they were told in an engaging style I was familiar with. Historical fiction is the vehicle that has introduced me to literally countless topics I have gone on to research seriously (ie by reading nonfiction about them!).

At the same time--I'll admit--I do worry about the authenticity of voice from an author who obviously comes to the topic with the same outsider eye that I do, and about what outsider prejudices are [totally inadvertently] inflicted on the subject and characters.

This is a Catch-22, since a non-familiar voice wouldn't reach as many readers, and might not be interesting or publishable to our very commercial media world. But in my opinion, it is always preferable to publish--as long as the content isn't irresponsible or posited for the reader as if it were the gospel truth (forgive the simile). I think that as long as the author is honest about the fact that he or she has fictionalized details (and, let's hope, the audience understands what that means) it is much more helpful than harmful to have the fiction circulating among readers.

3) Sherry has told us and others that she did tons of research for this book--and I'm inclined to believe her wholeheartedly. Was there a particular moment in the novel that you felt was particularly vivid for you, or one that made you feel like the book helped you come to clearer terms with history?

One of my favorite moments in the book is at the end of Chapter 31, when the professedly pagan-to-the-death wife of one of Muhammad's erstwhile enemies is moved to convert because she witnesses Muhammad's forgiveness. Her conversion triggers a conversion of the rest of the town around her.

The early success of Islam in drawing huge numbers of converts has always been really interesting to me. To take an obvious example, Christianity was an oppressed and tiny subset of the population during the life of Christ and for a long while afterward. Islam, however, had already done some significant catching on before the death of the Prophet, and was widespread enough to survive a major doctrinal schism only a few decades later.

In college, I took a class on the history of Islam--a survey course that unfortunately didn't dig very deeply. I remember during a discussion section I brought this question up--what caused so many people to convert to Islam in such a short period of time? My professor was the one who shut me down--she said you can never question what inspires a religious conversion; it's a personal matter. The rest of the class piously nodded. I was shocked, actually, and still am, that this was the [only] answer I got out of a university history class. I think that was my first real inkling that conversational doors are regularly closed in the name of PC.

I've thought back on this moment many times since then and resented it--I don't understand why it's a question I can't ask. I just wanted to understand a fact of history, and I've asked the same questions to myself and others of many other religions (and have heard other people do so). I didn't (and don't) mean it rudely, only curiously. Of course, historians never like to answer any "why" questions; academically it's safer to dismiss theories than to suggest them.

For this curiosity, Sherry's book scratched an itch. She presented several ideas, founded in history, that offer a possible explanation for why the people of Medina, Mecca, and other nearby cities and kingdoms were as receptive to Islam as they were. I appreciated the way Sherry treats Islam as a political as well as religious force, the way the umma is a social community as well as religious fellowship.

[As moderator, I'll forgo answering the next two.]

4) Do you think Sherry makes any controversial points in the book?

5) In the end, do you feel that Muhammad was presented favorably or unfavorably? What about A'isha? Is she a sympathetic character, or not?