Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I'm kickin' this baby off

I read my first Fill-in-the-Gaps book, Rebecca, in two sittings. Turned out to be a good book to start with, I guess. Here's my review.

My only excuses for getting through this so fast are a very long bus ride, the fervor of a new project, and the fact that the book is so darn suspenseful. Anyone else read it?

Project Fill-in-the-Gaps logos

The delightful Emily Cross has gone and had special logos made for people participating in Project Fill-in-the-Gaps. (Click on Emily's link for a full range of size/resolution choices.) Thanks, Emily! These are awesome.

If you've decided to play and made a booklist, let me know! I'm very curious to see what everyone else is reading. Also, a bunch of us are going to be putting up reviews for what we've read on thebookbook, since reading our projects together might function to keep us all on track--or at least make it more fun! Let me know if you want to be signed up as a bookbook author.

It's not too late to participate in Project Fill-in-the-Gaps--and for those who've asked, you DON'T need to read 100 books, they DON'T need to be any specific kind of book, and ALL the rules are adaptable to your unique circumstance :)

Red-Headed Party!

In our latest chapter of Bestest News Ever! Our very own dear Jaye Wells's debut, Red-Headed Stepchild, hits stores today!

What can I say, Jaye? Can I say "I knew ya when"? Well, I'm going to say it anyway! ::tears of pride and joy::

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Project Fill-in-the-Gaps

Awhile ago, my friend Andromeda Romano-Lax, the author of the beloved novel The Spanish Bow, told me about a project of hers, which I've decided to totally rip off (sorry, Andromeda).

She collected a list of 100 books that she wants to have read in her life to fill in some of her reading gaps of classics and great contemporary fiction. She knew it was a monumental task ahead of her--we all tend to choose fun things instead of things we should read, right? At least I do--so she gave herself 5 years to try to get through the list, and gave herself 25% accident forgiveness, meaning if she finishes 75 titles in 5 years, she'll consider herself to have been victorious.

I'm copying her rules EXACTLY except I'm giving myself 5 years starting now and rounding up (ie almost 6 years...) so my goal will be to finish 75 of these 100 books by New Year 2015. I hope this window will also allow me to pick up other non-list books along the way (cuz let's face it, I will... I have a compulsive book buying habit).

My list was generated by the following criteria:
-snobby classics I've always wished I could tell people I'd read, but would never read otherwise because I can't imagine enjoying them (these will probably end up making up the 25)
-books that I've bought and owned for a long time, but haven't read because they're reeeeeally long and I am easily daunted by length at time of reading-choosing
-a book by each of the great Alices (Mattison, McDermott, Munro)
-everything I haven't read yet by Michael Chabon, my secret boyfriend
-select recommendations from friends
-some books I've been curious about and keep forgetting to buy/read
-the gaps filled in with Pulitzer and National Book Award winners

Interestingly, a lot of the books on the list appear to be by white male authors, which I generally don't read. I do wish there were more diversity on this list (hmm, a function of what the establishment has decreed award-worthy? maybe a little) and will try to make sure that the non-list books complement this list effectively. (To that end, please keep sending me book suggestions, forever and ever.)

1. Native Son, Richard Wright
2. Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
3. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
4. Watership Down, Richard Adams
5. Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow
6. Middlemarch, George Eliot
7. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
8. Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence
9. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
10. The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
11. Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon
12. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
13. Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe
14. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
15. Foundation, Isaac Asimov
16. House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
17. Persuasion, Jane Austen
18. Chocolate War, Robert Cormier
19. The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
20. Dead Zone, Stephen King
21. Underworld, Don DeLillo
22. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
23. Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust
24. Of Human Bondage, Somerset Maugham
25. Bless the Beasts and Children, Glendon Swarthout
26. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
27. While I Was Gone, Sue Miller
28. American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
29. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
30. The Radetsky March, Joseph Roth
31. Digging to America, Anne Tyler
32. Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
33. War & Peace, Leo Tolstoy
34. East of Eden, John Steinbeck
35. A Light in August, William Faulkner
36. The Conservationist, Nadine Gordimer
37. The Good Terrorist, Doris Lessing
38. Memoirs of a Good Daughter, Simone DeBeauvoir
39. Carry On, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
40. The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong-Kingston
41. Gotham, Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace
42. A Fable, William Faulkner
43. The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
44. American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser
45. Finnigan’s Wake, James Joyce
46. Sophie’s Choice, William Styron
47. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver
48. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
49. The Plague, Albert Camus
50. Miss Lonelyhearts, Nathaniel West
51. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
52. Charming Billy, Alice McDermott
53. Summerland, Michael Chabon
54. Farming the Bones, Edwidge Danticat
55. Silence, Shusaku Endo
56. Ulysses, James Joyce
57. Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Yukio Mishima
58. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
59. The Known World, Edward P. Jones
60. Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
61. The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot
62. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
63. My Antonia, Willa Cather
64. Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin
65. The House of Spirits, Isabel Allende
66. Herzog, Saul Bellow
67. The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow
68. The Boat, Nam Le
69. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
70. Three Lives, Gertrude Stein
71. Hounds of Baskerville, Arthur Conan Doyle
72. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
73. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
74. Possession, A.S. Byatt
75. Under the Net, Iris Murdoch
76. Housekeeping, Marilyn Robinson
77. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
78. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Haruki Murakami
79. Runaway, Alice Munro
80. In America, Susan Sontag
81. The Stories of John Cheever
82. God’s War, Christopher Tyerman
83. Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
84. A Model World, Michael Chabon
85. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
86. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos
87. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
88. American Pastoral, Philip Roth
89. The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
90. The Book Borrowers, Alice Mattison
91. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
92. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
93. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
94. Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
95. Empire Falls, Richard Russo
96. Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier
97. March, Geraldine Brooks
98. The Second Sex, Simone DeBeauvoir
99. Gilead, Marilyn Robinson
100. Werewolves in Their Youth, Michael Chabon

I'm putting a column on the side so, you know, I can brag about my progress (or non-progress).

Anyone else want to play? You can obviously vary the rules/books/time frame to fit your circumstances.

Friday, March 27, 2009

a short true story (about laundry)

I have a cousin who is two years younger and 8 1/2 inches shorter than I am, but she is rather more robust of figure and somehow we were of fairly compatible clothing sizes. This meant that during my junior high period I would frequently receive allocations of hand-me-ups in big brown trash bags--mostly shirts, some skirts and dresses.

This whole pattern suited me fine, because I had already embarked on my Erasmus-esque dissolution and prefered wasting all my money on books instead of on stylish (or fitting) clothes. I wore those hand-me-ups, and I wore them hard. In particular, there was one turquoise long-sleeved ribbed tshirt. It fit better than anything else I'd ever gotten from her, and I wore it at least once a week throughout junior and senior high. Overly frequent washing led to some shrinkage, until it emitted a short line of midriff and was no longer appropriate to wear to school.

In college, I was on the crew team. In the winter, we had to go out on the water (which, by the way, is WET, and cold and splashes) wearing only skin-tight elements that wouldn't get caught in the oars. Thus was the turquoise tshirt reintroduced into my wardrobe; it basically fit the bill. So every weekday morning at 5:45 I would run a mile in that shirt to the boathouse, work out like a maniac, run back to my dorm, rinse it out in my sink, and hang it to dry for the next morning. I sweated in it, bled on it (rowers sustain various disgusting injuries), and wiped my poor desperately runny nose on it constantly (rowing in the winter=not nice).

Needless to say, when that whole piece of my life was over the turquoise tshirt was permanently retired. Would *you* ever want to wear that thing again?! But I didn't throw it away. I was a little nostalgic, and, after all, you never know what day might come. And indeed, in the, um, many years since it has come in handy during times of spring cleaning or winter gym-going (that one time I went, that other year).

Aaaand it came in handy this morning, when I put it on to wear to work. Yes, my friends, that is our current laundry situation.

Let it be known that Janet Reid is so worried about my person and health that she has offered to come over and do my laundry for me. (Actually, that was more than a week ago, wasn't it, Janet?) I politely declined. I'm a big girl; I can do my own laundry. Eventually.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rock Star Book Reading

Hey! My old buddy Chris Campion, author of the just-published memoir Escape from Bellevue (Gotham), was featured on GalleyCat!

The "reading" (which turned into a rock concert) was awesome, and the book has gotten some phenomenal reviews. Way to kick @$$, Chris!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

really funny video

"Uncomfortable Love Scenes" (although you need watch only the first minute)

Hedging Your Bets (or, Why, God?!)

I'm feeling for all the authors and would-be authors out there today. I don't envy you guys one little bit.

My secret boyfriend Michael Chabon (like, well, many others) declares that the secret to literary success is the trifecta--luck, talent, and hard work.

Fine, fine. Talent and hard work, yadda yadda. Wait for a second, though--let's go back to that first one.

Luck. That merciless bastard, Luck.

This is the thing about publishing you didn't prepare yourself for (how could you have?): all your hard work and talent may very well amount to absolutely nothing at all. All that matters is that you hedge your bets correctly. You know--roll snake eyes... let me count... at least six times in a row.

First: Hedge your bets about your writing's readiness. You--you and no one else--have to choose the right moment to try to shop the right book that you'll ever write to be your debut. Is your manuscript ready to attract an agent? Or do you need more time?

Some authors carefully write and then sit on 23 manuscripts before finally submitting their 24th to great success; some submit their first and have great success. And of course lots of people have no success at all. But the point is, what you don't want to do is end up in the initially tantalizing but ultimately disasterous scenario where somehow your book gets picked up by an agent, then by a house, only to fail in bookstores. Because then, you know, it's harder to sell your second book than it ever was to sell your first.

Second: Hedge your bets that you've chosen the right agent. You know, one who has the right connections to the editors who acquire the kinds of books most like yours (but without being SO like yours that they won't want another). Do you go with the absolute most impressive or famous agent on your list? And maybe risk getting stuck in their midlist? Or do you go with a lesser-known agent whose best friend is the editor at the imprint by which you're most dying to be published? What if you only get one offer from one agent, but that agent is very young and is only starting to make connections? Do you accept the offer in hopes of getting a deal, period, regardless of where or on what scale you're published?

Third: Hedge your bets that you've taken the right manuscript development suggestions from all the cooks spoiling the broth. You wrote a novel; your crit group tore it apart. You rewrote it; your friends tore it apart. You rewrote it; your mother tore it apart. You rewrote it; your agent suggested 15 rounds of changes. You fought for some things, were flexible about others. All right. Now let's reflect--your book is 5% of what it was when you started. Fantastic. Are you ok with everything that's happened? Is it still a book that's true to you and what your initial dream was?

As an editor, I'm always the one telling people their initial dreams need some, uh, reconstructive surgery. That said, I do totally see the author's side. You only get to be a debut author once, and people are poking and prodding you in the direction they think will make you most likely to succeed. Are they experts? Yeah, some of them. Are experts ever wrong? Yeah, sometimes.

Fourth: Hedge your bets that your book is ready to submit. Here's the thing. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, an editor will only look at your manuscript once (that is, unless they saw some real promise there and specifically say they want to see it again). So obviously your agent is going to start submitting to your first-choice editors/houses. What if they all reject you because your manuscript wasn't ready? Or because they see it going in a different direction? How can you hedge your bets that your manuscript is closest to what your dream house would want without overriding your vision for your book?

Fifth: Hedge your bets on a publishing house and editor. Do you take that small offer from your absolute favorite house ever and risk falling by the wayside in their bottom midlist? Or are you better off at a small house with an enthusiastic editor (and, um, teeny-tiny distribution)? Where are your odds better? What if that editor ends up leaving or being dropped? How can you guess which options feel better as you're vetting? What if your only offer is one you're not enthusiastic about at all? Is it better to take it for the sake of being published, even not the way you dreamt, or should you hold out and try to write another book?

Sixth: Hedge your bets on your rights sales. Do you let your publishing house have World rights? Is your agent going to be able to sell those foreign and subrights her/himself? If you retain foreign rights in hopes of making more money, what'll you do if you can't sell any of them and end up just not seeing your book in any other countries? Crikey.

* * *

I do seriously sympathize with authors on all these fronts; I have a lot of friends who are authors and I've seen all of them go through these various jams (most people will run aground at one stage or another). Luckily (ha!) we here have one another, and the advice and ideas we share, so we've made a little of our own luck.

But do keep in mind these are all things to think about as you go rushing ahead. Don't be afraid to ask questions; the more knowledge you have, the luckier you'll be.

Also, in the wise words of Marge Simpson, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Don't be afraid to ask for help and attention at each step of the way. (You know--just be nice about it).

And as a final word, be your own advocate. The people who are most self-sufficient and proactive tend to be the luckiest. By default.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

this will actually change your life

the greatest creme egg video ever made

thanks, CakeSpy, my noble friend.

Savage Detectives

I finally posted my review (here) of Roberto Bolano's Savage Detectives. Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

Monday, March 23, 2009

finished reading

Finished reading WETLANDS, by Charlotte Roche. My review here. Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

Editors: The New Disenfranchised

Richard Curtis ran one of his classic articles today, this one, on instability in editorial careers, originally published in 1986. As with everything else he writes, the relevance is spooky.

His thesis is basically that the publishing industry's patterns of corporate acquisition cause editors to be constantly underpaid and living in fear of losing their jobs, which leads to more job-jumping, which leads to less book/author commitment--how much can we put into a book if we think we're about to get the axe? Let me borrow his paragraph, since he says it so well:
The most obvious, as well as detrimental, manifestation of this shift of editors' attention is job-hopping. As their love of books and authors is battered by all the firings and hirings, reorganizations, streamlinings, office politics, shuffling of responsibilities, and the buying and selling of the companies they work for, editors feel fewer compunctions about accepting job offers from other publishers. It's hard to feel company loyalty when corporate logos change with the frequency of automobile styles. Low wages have always prevailed in the editorial profession, but higher pay is not in itself a compelling lure for an editor contemplating a move to another company, unless it is coupled with a promise of greater job satisfaction. But if an editor is not getting such satisfaction, he's going to think a lot about his salary. It behooves us to think about how a $35,000 a year editor must feel when he listens to the complaints of authors making many times that amount. "Few of my authors make less money than I do," an editor told me, "and none makes less than my assistant."

To highlight his point, Richard created this list of "recent" mergers and acquisitions (effective 1986)--I think it pretty much drives the point home:

Appleton-Century-Crofts (a division of Prentice-Hall)
Prentice-Hall (acquired by Simon & Schuster)
Simon & Schuster (acquired by Viacom Corporation)
Atheneum (acquired by Charles Scribner)
Charles Scribner (acquired by Macmillan)
Macmillan (acquired by Simon & Schuster)
Little, Brown (acquired by Time Inc.)
Warner Paperback (merged with Little, Brown)
Avon Books (acquired by the Hearst Corporation)
Arbor House (acquired by the Hearst Corporation)
Fawcett Books (acquired by Ballantine Books)
Ballantine Books (acquired by Random House)
Times Books (acquired by Random House)
Pantheon Press (acquired by Random House)
Alfred A. Knopf (acquired by Random House)
Random House (acquired from RCA by the Newhouse
Bantam Books (acquired by the Bertelsmann Group)
Doubleday (acquired by the Bertelsmann Group)
Dell Books (acquired by the Bertelsmann Group)
Basic Books (acquired by Harper & Row, then deacquisitioned)
Crowell (acquired by Harper & Row)
Abelard-Schuman (acquired by Harper & Row)
Harper & Row (acquired by Rupert Murdoch's NewsAmerica
Playboy Press (acquired by Berkley Books)
Ace Books (acquired by Grosset & Dunlap)
Grosset & Dunlap (acquired by Berkley Books)
Berkley Books (acquired by G. P. Putnam's)
G. P. Putnam's (acquired by MCA, sold to Matsushita, then to
Seagram, then to Pearson Ltd.)
Pyramid Books (acquired by Harcourt Brace, renamed Jove)
Jove (acquired by Berkley)
Coward-McCann-Geoghegan (acquired by Putnam, then dissolved)
Dial Press (acquired by Dell, sold to Dutton)
Dutton (acquired by Elsevier, sold to JSD, sold to NAL)
NAL (sold by Times-Mirror to Odyssey Group, resold to Viking,
merged with Penguin)
Rawson, Wade (acquired by Macmillan)
Silhouette Books (acquired by Harlequin from Simon & Schuster)

Thanks, Richard. We all like a little pity-party in appreciation. It kind of makes me shiver every time I'm reminded that it's always, always been this way--the fear of the axe, the low wages, the challenges to building loyalty to a list/company/group of authors. I wish I knew what to do to fight it. (More indie presses?)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

ypopretumoc dlo ro m

se, hett .)sdrawkcab ,rap som eht rof( mt epyt Ii sa sdrow eht nilbmarcs si retupmoc ym wohemos tubdenppah iht yhw ro woh aedi on evah I

or, painstakingly typed backwards--

my poor old computer is inverting words as i type them. this may be the death knell.

Book Club for 4/1: THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, by Simon Winchester

Just wanted to leave a little reminder... April 1 we'll discuss THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, the strangely thrilling account of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.

I've finished reading already! I know some of you have, too, since you guys recommended it to me.

Looking forward!

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Sorry about the comment moderation, guys. I've been chasing an entrepreneurial spammer all morning who's putting up porn and gold sales links on ALL MY POSTS and it's making me so angry my EYEBALLS are bulging. The rally monkey is duly afraid.

RAR entrepreneurial spammers!!! You made me do this!!

small goals for weekend

-do laundry (umm, ok, this is rather a large goal. just physically large... the pile fills an entire room of my house at the moment. but it comes at the top of the list for a reason. i dont own that many clothes.)

-do my taxes (weep)

-read 1 manuscript for next week

-go to the gym once

-eat a waffle sandwich from Dunkin Donuts

Hmm, I wonder where I'll start?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

why I <3 NY

Today, I made a subway friend. She turned out to be a chef (although, unfortunately, recently laid off) from the Galapagos Islands. We talked about Dunkin Donuts--her favorite is the Boston Cream, although I went on and on about the new waffle sandwich--and she asked me how I decide how much of an author's book I cut while editing (answer: it varies).

We didn't exchange names, but if I ever see her again I'll ask.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Really, Ma'am, I Tell You This for Your Own Good (or, Step Away from the Phone)

This afternoon, my assistant put through a call. Since I trust my assistant, I picked it up even though it hadn't come through my direct line. She knows only to send me agents with queries, not crazies or slush authors.

Alas, she was outwitted on this one occasion.

"I'm calling you on behalf of a literary agent to see if you'd be interested in a particular manuscript," said the caller.

I sniffed a rat immediately. "I'm sorry, what's your name?" I asked.

"*My* name?"

"Yes, *your* name."

"Well." A pause. "My name is Jane Smith."

"Ok, Jane, and you're--"

"The book I'm calling about," Jane jumped in, "is rather unlike anything else out there, so the literary agent suggested I give [Your Company] a call to see if it's a good fit for you. You see, it's a combination of photo essay and personal reflection, telling the author's memoir in an illustrated novelistic fashion."

[Do I need to comment on this pitch? Or its total lack of pitch, rather?]

"Hmm," said I. "At first blush, it doesn't really sound--"

"Well," she butted in again, "the reason I'm calling you is--"

"Jane," I interrupted (two can play this game). "What is the author's name?"

"The *author's* name?"

"Yes, the *author's* name."

"Well." A pause. "I'm the author, but my literary agent told me specifically to call your company, so if you'd hear me out--"

"Ma'am, let me jump in," I jumped in. "I'm afraid this book doesn't sound like anything we could--"

"Well, if you'd hear me out, you'd see that--"

"MA'AM." This time I raised my voice a little. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have to run to a meeting." I suffered a brief battle of conscience. Was she lying to me? Had she secured some lying hack of an "agent" who told her to cold-call editors? Or had she invented an agent in order to try to get editors on the phone? I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. "I hope you don't mind one quick word of advice," I said (quick indeed--it was hard to get a word in edgewise; I could hear her trying to break in again on the other end of the line). "If you have a literary agent who is telling you to call houses directly to pitch your book, that agent is doing you an incredible disservice."

"I think not," she said, her voice scaling upwards. "If you had *listened* to me properly you would have heard me say I was calling *on the agent's behalf* to--"

[Note to unpublished authors: does it make sense to you that an agent would ask you to call a press on that agent's behalf? I mean, really? What does the word "agent" mean?]

"Ma'am," I said. "Listen, I'm trying to be helpful here. Any good agent never asks an author to call a press directly--it will only undermine your reputation if your agent is unwilling to make the call him or herself, and will hurt your chances of submitting successfully to that press. Your agent should be the one researching whether the book is appropriate for the company and approaching the editors. Otherwise you're only going to end up having intensely uncomfortable conversations like this one."

"YOU'RE WRONG!" she shouted at me. "I've spoken to companies all morning, and you are THE ONLY PERSON who's been rude to me!"

"Ma'am," I said sadly, for I had not meant to be rude, "I'm not trying to be rude; I like to help authors and I'm trying to give you helpful advice."

"You absolutely ARE rude. You are rude and egotistical and are putting me down as a cheap way of giving yourself a power trip."

"I'm very sorry you feel that way," I said, but she had already hung up.

Humm. The whole conversation bummed me out for the rest of the day. Was I rude? I was direct, definitely, maybe more direct than I normally am (I'm really, really, umm, circuitous usually, especially about rejections). But I'd heard in her voice a franticness that made me afraid she would try to keep me on the phone explaining and re-explaining herself.

Why did I try to talk? Why? Blech. I DID want to give her the benefit of the doubt, and it backfired. Perhaps she had invented the agent, and got hostile with me when she felt like I was about to out her. Or maybe she really has been deluded by one of those fake "agents" who tell authors to approach presses directly (I know about plenty of fake agents, unfortunately, and just as unfortunately, they seem to mobilize and encourage the least focused and most easily excitable authors). In which case, I wish that instead of getting hostile she had bothered to hear me out--I would have been happy to give her some quick editorial advice her pitch if she'd let me finish a sentence.

I wasn't in the least afraid of blogging about this, because I know Jane Smith doesn't read my blog. We've talked about why cold-calling an editor is a terrible idea before, so she would have known I WAS trying to be nice.

rounding out Asia-themed music video week!

Thanks, Ello, for this awesome Korean pop video of the Wonder Girls!!

Yes, there are pretty 60s-style R&B costumes and some sweet girl-group guy-bashing, but because it's from Ello, you can rest assured there's a potty humor twist, too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Publishing 911, What's Your Emergency?

Oh MAN this is funny!!! (via my good buddy Janet, queen of all things salacious and necessary)


What is WRONG with me. I've already made THREE SEPARATE purchases on Amazon today. BLECH. Someone please chop up my credit cards.

Happy St. Patricio Day

I don't really have any Irish family, so instead of Ireland I'm celebrating the Philippines today with this rap video, Children of the Sun by Deep Foundation.

Disclosure about this video: I came across it on Facebook, and upon watching realized I knew not one but two of the rappers--one is a former colleague, the other is a boyfriend of a very good friend. But yeah, it made me cry a little.

You go, guys!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

"The publicity for some books doesn't end with publication. Publication is just the beginning of the yellow brick road--yellow because there's gold on it."

Hey. May we all take heart.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

it's that time of year

they've delivered the new phone books.

Saturday morning indie rock moment

Ok, it's not quite indie rock. It's one of my favorite artists of all time, though, trying to make a new break into the Americas again. The feel is really old-school R&B, just so you're not too surprised.

Utada--Come Back to Me

Friday, March 13, 2009

for Alexander Chee fans

Hi everybody who loved Edinburgh--Alexander has a really lovely essay up on Granta today. It's a portrait of his father.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

things i've read recently that i haven't had time to blog about

INHERITANCE, Lan Samantha Chang

sooo many things to say; hope i'll get around to them shortly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Publishing by Omission (or, Fighting Racism from Your Very Own Nightstand!)

I've been sitting on this little article for awhile, not sure quite how to write it. But I'm going to try today. Many people smarter and better-versed than I have brought up a little problem we have in publishing, but it looks like that's not going to stop me from saying it in my own little way.

But before I start, I want to say this is not a rant--it's a brainstorm for productive change. I look forward to your thoughtful insights.

So I guess I'll start here. Racism sucks. It sucks even more in publishing, since mass media is basically the only "thing" with the power to reach lots of people fast, and instead, for the most part, media generators--book publishers among them--find that it is comfortable, happy, and money-padded to carry on with the status quo, give people what they're used to, and ignore the problems. But yes indeed, racism we have.

The thing about racism, particularly among well-meaning people, is that it's not overtly, deliberately malicious--most of it is just passivity, or, like I said, people doing again what made them money before. There are some (profound and terrifying) exceptions, examples of actively racist and/or bigoted publishing. But the majority of our sins are sins of omission--of failing to represent authors (and/or characters) of color the way we do white authors.

I'll borrow the words of Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, who writes that some examples of passive racism include "letting exclusionary hiring practices go unchallenged, of accepting as appropriate the omissions of people of color from the curriculum, and of avoiding difficult race-related issues... All that is required is to maintain business as usual" ("Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" 11).***

Dr. BDT is talking about life and the work force in general, but an awful lot of that applies freakishly to publishing. Publishers have a limited number of slots on a given list, so when a strong-selling (white) author comes back with a second book, it's hard to say no to it--you've already seen how it performs. Similarly, if a similar book appears by a new author, it's awful easy to say yes--seems like easy, sure money. Now round out your standard list-filling for financial security with some standard misunderstandings or platitudes about what readers want and expect, and boom! You have a top-down problem. Writers of color aren't disadvantaged, per se; it's just that white authors are very, very advantaged. You know. No one's trying to be mean. (Or, at least, most people aren't.)

Some of the unfortunate products of the time-honored establishments run like this:

-Lots and lots and lots of books by white authors! Like, most of the books that get major marketing billing from trade companies.

-"Pet project" or "ethnic" books by authors of color taken on to "diversify" a list! Only, you know--they should be "ethnic" in a way readers will understand. That's why you see one "ethnic" splash, and then lots and lots of kitten would-be splashes following. Sigh. This also leads to phenomenon like the racialized "Other" in mainstream fantasy--keeping the "ethnic" characters in an exoticized context that makes them easier to swallow for white readers (you've seen this in everything from Dune to The Wheel of Time). A whole other debate, but here's a taste over here at this blog, in which well-known fantasy writer Elizabeth Bear's blog hosted a long and hurtful debate (the whole blog fiasco is being called race!fail 09).

-A general perpetuation of a separate but equal publishing system--people acquiring what they know from agents they know, agents learning to specialize their pitches, and a widespread building of walls between separating communities who let one another specialize.

And more insidious consequences of those three central tenets. They get insidious quickly after that point; just imagine the damage privileged media does when it only represents one angle, or how the people profiting from that arrangement say hurtful things in an effort not to feel responsible.

The point is, we want our national literary culture to reflect our country--diverse, complex, and interesting in thousands and millions of ways, not on one very limited way. It's in everyone's interest to break down these accidental dumbnesses, and the first step is building awareness that there are problems.

What can I do to help this? Well, that's "easy." Obviously, I'm trying really, really hard to acquire books that represent overlooked perspectives of our beautiful, complicated populace, and I'm shying away from things that remind me too much of things I've already known and seen. But I need help--after all, I don't control the money, and I can't control the chains or their understanding of their markets. If I by a great book that the chains don't see a market for, it doesn't really matter how great the book is. The battle is for getting mainstream review coverage and national stocking on a much more diverse collection of books. And why should the chains take a chance and think outside the box (the box they've built themselves) when they're making (some) money the way they're going now?

So what you, personally, can do is kind of simple. Just *think* about this when you're buying, borrowing, and/or reviewing books. Take a little affirmative action in your TBR list. It sounds cheesy, but it's not as obvious as you'd think--most of what bookstores and reviewers are throwing in your face are going to be books that are part of that mainstream we're trying to get away from. You'll have to make a positive effort to look around for other suggestions than what you're getting from most venues. But if you buy books by authors of color, those authors will become more successful, and will get the chain's ($$$) attention. If you show up at your local library and request titles they're not used to carrying, they're going to have to start thinking about their stocking orders, too. If you blog about a book that hasn't gotten mainstream coverage, you're personally making a difference by making yourself a review venue.

Luckily, a lot of people are doing a lot of work on this already. Carleen Brice, for example, is one of the major reasons I've been thinking so much about this whole issue recently. Her blog's mission is to bridge the distance between the Fiction and the African American Fiction sections in the bookstore. Here's a fantastic recent post about memorable female characters--a perfect starting checklist. I hope people who read this will cough up other site or source recommendations.

I'm here to be proactive--that's my schtick. So please, everyone, help out with your ideas and suggestions.

***I do recommend that everyone read this book. It helped me understand and be much more aware of the world around me, and how to make a difference.

hot young Shakespeare!

They've found a beautiful new portrait of my secret historical boyfriend, Shakespeare! Thanks, JacketCopy (here's the article).


Someone disable my Amazon account!! This can't go on any longer!! They'll find my dessicated corpse under a literary avalanche I never got around to reading!!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

no thanks to you!!! (or, the Acknowledgments page)

Jonathan Black wrote this article in the American Spectator decrying the Acknowledgments page many authors choose to include in their books. Mr. Black goes to town on authors big and small for such sins as respecting the memories of late influences and thanking your spouse for patience and loving support. Some choice sound bites: "The acknowledgments page cannot make a bad book better, but it can ruin a good one."

I have at least two cents to say about this. I work in publishing, and love acknowledgment sections. They help me find the agents of authors I admire so I can try to acquire similar books (yes, several of my own book contracts have come from acknowledgment sections). So you could say they're a form of career help pay-it-forward.

Besides, I know how much hard work goes into making a book, and lots of people are involved. Especially these days, when books are workshopped, polished, and perfected by many hands. I know that if I were to write a book, I literally wouldn't feel comfortable publishing it without giving a nod to the many, many people without whom the book wouldn't exist in its current form. As a publishing professional, I LOVE being thanked. I have a shelf full of books that have my name in them. I know I'm not the only person who likes being acknowledged. Why not let an author generate goodwill?

He quotes Sarah Nelson usefully:
"It used to be a writer spent 20 years alone in a room," says Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly, "and came out with an ink-stained manuscript and made a deal with Bennett Cerf. Now it's publishing by committee. Everything's sales and marketing and publicity."

A sad but true tale (don't get me started... the Committee is a topic for a different day). But since that is our world, the world of the publishing Committee, why can't we thank?

One of the thing Jonathan Black comes down hardest on is the style of many Acknowledgments pages, praise he calls "syrupy." Perhaps that's a matter of taste. I LOVE reading acknowledgments section of a book, regardless of whether it was fiction or nonfiction, and particularly when it's goopy and revelatory. I'm a big fan of the cult of author personality--I'm at least as interested in the author as the book, which some people would say is a bad thing, but there it is--and I love to read about what an author things about the people s/he loves. Sometimes I cry when I read them. Yes, it's true.

So anyway. So what if I have ulterior motives? That's only ONE of the points. It's not like a page in the back of a book is bothering anyone. I say, authors, acknowledge away.

Friday, March 06, 2009

did you know Fagin was Jewish?

Thanks to my invisible interesting news source (who knows who she is), who posted this fascinating article about the character Fagin in Oliver!, by Charles Dickens.

I'm plagiarizing wholesale here:

Wikipedia's entry on Fagin told a story I was not familiar with. Fagin is Jewish; this is unstated but obvious in the movie, and stated outright in the book, which calls him "the Jew" far more often than it calls him by name. According to the Wikipedia entry:

Dickens claimed that he had made Fagin Jewish because "that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew. He also claimed that by calling Fagin a Jew he had meant no imputation against the Jewish faith, saying in a letter, "I have no feeling towards the Jews but a friendly one. I always speak well of them, whether in public or private, and bear my testimony (as I ought to do) to their perfect good faith in such transactions as I have ever had with them..."

Fagin is a fence, and part of the criminal underworld of Victorian London. It may in fact be true that fences were generally Jewish. However, Fagin was the only Jewish character who had appeared in Dickens's work up till that point. In fact, he's one of the only Jewish characters in the English literature of the period. And while he is portrayed somewhat sympathetically in the movie (he's a criminal, and occasionally violent, but he's also much kinder than the law-abiding Mr. Bumble), in the book he is an evil man who embodies every single nasty anti-Semitic stereotype that existed at the time, from hunched shoulders to a nasal voice.

In other words, Dickens may have said that he was not anti-Semitic, but any modern person who reads the character, and Dickens's defense, is going to roll their eyes. If Dickens were on LJ and making this case for himself, people would mock him and his pantsless self all over the Internet. Even if we go all alt-universe and try to imagine an LJ with Victorian sensibility (where some degree of anti-Semitism is socially acceptable)...no one would buy his claim that he harbors no prejudice and it's just a coincidence that the only Jewish character he's ever written is a viciously stereotyped villain.

Here is where the story gets interesting. In 1860, Dickens sold his London home to a Jewish banker, James Davis, and became acquainted with him and friendly with his wife Eliza. In 1863, Eliza wrote to Dickens to call him out for the portrayal of Fagin, saying that Jews considered the character "a great wrong" to them.

Dickens responded (eventually -- I would be interested to know if he attempted first to justify his portrayal of Fagin to his Jewish friend) by trying to repair what he'd done. He started revising Oliver Twist, working backwards, and removed all mention of Fagin's Jewishness from the last 15 chapters. In one of his final public readings, he had removed all the aspects of Fagin's description that were anti-Semitic stereotypes. And, in 1865, in the book Our Mutual Friend, he apparently put in a number of Jewish characters, all sympathetic.

So, to recap: Dickens was, at times, defensive. (It's not anti-Semitism! My fence character is Jewish because all fences are Jewish! It's pure coincidence that there has never been another Jewish character in any of my books!) But when taken to task by someone who said, in so many words, that this character had wronged her and her people, he took the criticism to heart and took steps to try to do better.

I stumbled across this story a few weeks after RaceFail started and was frankly kind of boggled to find a discussion of controversy surrounding cultural appropriation and Writing The Other from well over a hundred years ago. Damn, these discussions have been going on for a long time. But -- I think it's worth noting that

(a) You can be a really good writer, good enough that people are still reading you a hundred years later, and you can be generally a decent human being with progressive political views, and you can still fail at this stuff.

(b) Being a good (or even a great) writer and a good person and all the rest doesn't excuse you from trying to do better.

And also

(c) This conversation has happened before. This conversation will happen again. The bad news is that the supply of clueless people seems to be endless, and this conversation is exhausting and disruptive and draining for the people who repeatedly find themselves drafted as educators. The good news is that these conversations do accomplish stuff. With each iteration, there are people who learn, do better, and speak out. And while the supply of clueless people seems to be endless, some of them will Get It, and be there to speak out the next time around.

Anyway. I am sharing this mostly because I found the historical perspective fascinating.

ETA: It is clear even from the Wikipedia entry that Our Mutual Friend fails in its own set of ways. Writing overly romanticized, saintly, sentimental depictions of The Other is its own variety of Fail. But I will cut Dickens some slack for being a Victorian, and credit for making a sincere effort, as I imagine his friend Eliza did.

So interesting. I grew up with Oliver (the musical version), and always thought Fagin was an Irish name (...).

This makes my feelings about Dickens even more confused than they were after I read Parallel Lives.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


I started booting this effing computer at 6:28 this morning and THIS (21 minutes!!) is how long it took to let me open a browser.

It is six and a half years old, one of those Dell laptops that were recalled because they kept catching on fire. But... but... we've had such a great life together.

Anyone know of any good computer deals (must be a laptop--need to be able to edit at cafes etc) that DONT involve Windows Vista? I'd love a Mac (have one at work) but can't afford one.

(This solicitation for advice excludes my father, who has been patiently sending me computer coupons for... what, Dad, three years? Please, no "I told you so"s--it's just too painful. Sob.)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

a week of good news!

It's a good week for the Mischief! Our dear friend Wendy Cebula has landed herself an agent, the very excellent Rebecca Strauss at McIntosh & Otis.

Congratulations, Wendy!

love sucks.

Ok, so I have a zit. Who doesn't have a zit now and then?

And maybe it's a fairly large zit. But does that mean it's appropriate for the Rally Monkey to give it a voice over (in approximately the register of James Earl Jones)?

Or to come home, kiss me hello, and then kiss my zit hello?

Or to walk by me where I'm quietly working away on my computer and start squeezing my head?

"Your zit told me it was the original, and you were the growth," he said. "I was just trying to pop you to get my original merchandise back."

Monday, March 02, 2009

re: the pink jump suit

I came home from work today to find this lovely email from a very dear and very old friend who apparently stalks me on my blog:

Dear Moonrat,

I was going to post this on your blog. But I thought maybe it was too mean.

Oh my goodness gracious....

I am no fashion expert but you seem to need brightline rules. Here they are:

1. Under no circumstances wear anything that was given to you by your mother, aunt or any other female relative. This especially includes cousins. It does not include sisters. The right to revoke this privilege in the future is expressly reserved.

2. Stained clothing is not work appropriate.

3. "Themed" clothing is not work appropriate, even if given to you by the Rally Monkey.... perhaps especially if given to you by the Rally Monkey. This includes shirts with pictures of poo.

4. Warmth is paramount. Thus, said pink jumpsuit may be worn in extreme situations. For example, it is excessively cold and your normal coat is stained with poo. #4 requires a degree of discretion on the part of the wearer.

Hope this is helpful.

it's cold, people. geez.

This is a public service announcement for anyone out there who, like me, didn't realize that pulling a pink zip-up track suit jacket over your work clothes is apparently a crime against humanity.

Why does one HAVE a pink zip-up track suit jacket, you ask? Well of course because one's 87-year-old aunt gave it to one. And yes, of course one has matching pants.

Sniffle. No one understands me.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Book Club: EDINBURGH, by Alexander Chee

Welcome to the March Book Club meeting! Today we're talking about Edinburgh, Alexander Chee's rather elegant debut novel. A short synopsis:

Fee is a twelve-year-old soprano in an all-boys choir in Maine, and only one of the victims of the choir's director, who chooses his favorites among Fee's best friends to molest. As Fee struggles to come to terms with his own sexual identity, he watches the consequences of what he and his friends have endured mushroom.

I found this novel impossible to put down. And luckily, Alexander Chee stumbled across my blog here and offered to subject himself to the classic interview questions.

Moonrat: So, Alexander, tell us how you landed your agent.

Jin Auh at Andrew Wylie found me at a reading at the Asian American Writer's Workshop in 1995, when it was down in the East Village. It was an open mike. She gave me her card, having liked the story I read. Years later, as in, 8 years later, I ran into her at a David Leavitt reading (she also represents him), and she knew so much about my career, I was really impressed. I was very unhappy with my representation, as my hardcover publisher had filed for bankruptcy owing me money and my agent of the time said there was nothing she could do, even though there were things to do. After I fired her, I called Jin and two other agents interested in representing me. Jin indicated she was willing to see what I was looking to do next, and met with me, and I gave her two proposals, with writing samples. She took me on, quickly addressed the issues I was having and sold my second book in a 9-day auction, as a partial.

This is contrasted with the sale of Edinburgh, which took nearly two years. And which, after my first agent was unable to sell it to a major house, I sold by myself. I nearly wept at the difference.

Jin, it should be said, is my third agent, and after signing with her I thought, This is what it is supposed to be like, to have an agent. You want someone who gives you the freedom to work and not worry, and who'll make sure you're well-taken-care-of. That's what she is to me. And she knows how I work, I think, better than I do.

My advice is, then, open mikes are not a waste of your time. Agents really do scout there.

Moonrat: Yay for open mikes! I've always believed that, too--they help approval seekers like me add new friends on Facebook. So now tell us about your book deal.

It was like two guys in a basement on 26th St., who decide to make you a star.

My first book deal was initially a small one, a very small indie house deal, that turned into a major house deal when Picador purchased the paperback rights. My hardcover publisher had never before published a living American author. I was a test case for them, they liked to joke. They did well by me, getting me reviewed in many places and creating a lot of attention for the book. Everything went well except for that part about their filing for bankruptcy. But that wasn't personal to me. It just made problems for all of their authors who were alive. I'm not mad at them. I really do wish things had worked out for them.

Moonrat: Yay for small presses! It's nice to hear a little dream story like that.

Ok, wait, wait. Let's go back to how you mentioned you've already sold your next project!! Can you tell us what exactly this book we're waiting so desperately for is about?

In the works next: The Queen of the Night, my new novel, which I'm finishing March 31. Another novel, Saint Spencer of the Lost, will come a few years later. And a memoir/nonfiction novel, Koreanish, like my blog of the same name---a novelistically structured memoir.

Also, I'm making comics now. But I don't know what that will be yet. I'm making an autobiographical comic with drawings of me as different superheroes---Superman, Batman, Green Lantern.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for asking.