Thursday, April 30, 2009

how swine flu started


[via one of my authors]

just finished reading

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. My review here. Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

i <3 nerds


My friend Kelly sent me this photoessay of MIT pranks throughout history.

Alas, it doesn't include my favorite stories (urban legends?), which are all related to crashing Harvard-Yale football games.

My favorite of all time was the summer the MIT kids came to the Harvard football field everyday dressed like jailers. Everyday, they scattered birdseed all over the field and blew whistles. (So you can imagine what happened at the beginning of the first home game when the refs ran out and blew THEIR whistles.)

Any good school prank stories?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

weekend venn diagram


JES has helped me make my epiphany a visual reality.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tuesday news

Happy Birthday, Harper Lee! You may have only published one book, but you made it count. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the things I think most Americans have in common. Via Harper's fellow Alabaman Anna Claire.

Despite the fact that it's her own novel's release day, YA and fantasy author (and lovable blogger) Sherwood Smith devoted her post today to reviewing two other YA/fantasy debuts (one of them my friend Cindy's). Talk about paying it forward, Sherwood. That's so cool I went out and ordered several of your books. Any Sherwood fans in the house?

Do you read books in translation? Why, or why not? When you read a translation, would you rather it were perfectly faithful to the original in content and language reflection, or would you rather it were more English-ified so it's more readable, even at the cost of cultural elements? (I got in a well-mannered fight with someone about this just yesterday; I subscribe to one of those opinions, but I won't tell you which.) Do you like supporting international literature, but secretly find translations daunting? (For me: check, and check--and I'm not ashamed to admit it, because I want to fix the problem.) This is a longer conversation that requires a whole post, but in the meantime check out this blog post. The specific topic addressed is whether or not publishers should print a translator's name on the cover of a book in translation, but it touches on many of the central issues. As an editor, I want to support translation and international literature as much as I can; but from the marketing side of things, everything's so sticky.

Confused about when titles should be italicized and when they should be in quotation marks? The Blood-Red Pencil editors provide a cheat sheet.

Now back to *my* red pen.

joyous fantastic day!!!!!

I've just... I've just been waiting for this for so long, it's hard to even type!!! Finally!! Cindy Pon's ecstatically wonderful debut, a young adult historical fantasy, hits stores today!!

Silver Phoenix is more than just a great read--it's already revolutionizing the fantasy genre with its spunky and loveable Chinese heroine, Ai Ling.

This book is the real thing--check out the starred Booklist review (starred!!! you know how often they give out stars?!):

If the cover image of a fearless Chinese heroine reminds readers of such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that’s intentional; the story inside will, too. First-time novelist Pon has a screenwriter’s talent for producing a sweeping saga, and in this, the first of two books set in ancient China, 17-year-old Ai Ling faces demons, monsters, and gods as she tries to fulfill her destiny. Frightened after a local man tries to blackmail her into marriage, Ai Ling resolves to journey to the emperor’s palace where her missing father was last seen. Along the way, she meets the handsome Chen Yong, who is of mixed parentage and on a quest to find answers to questions about his family that have haunted him his whole life. (In the story’s prologue, readers get hints about his origins.) As in most martial-arts movies, the story sometimes takes a back seat to the action, but Pon doesn’t stint when it comes to her characters. Ai Ling is a clever and determined heroine, Chen’s younger brother is a witty teen whose girl-crazy ways transcend the centuries, and even the monsters have dimension. Pon’s writing, both fluid and exhilarating, shines whether she’s describing a dinner delicacy or what it feels like to stab an evil spirit in the gut. There’s a bit of sex here, including a near rape, but it’s all integral to a saga that spins and slashes as its heroine tries to find her way home.


or the blurb from Meg Cabot:

“I couldn't put it down. Your heart will be racing, and you'll be aching for more. An addictive gem.”
~Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries and Airhead series


or the blurb from Alyson Noel:

“Beautifully written, lush, exotic, and romantic, with a gutsy heroine who defies convention to fulfill her destiny—Silver Phoenix has it all! Cindy Pon has penned a remarkable debut, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!”
-Alyson Noel, New York Times bestselling author of Evermore


Ok. I need to go calm down; I'm overly excited. Congratulations, Cindy!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

venn diagram for weekend with family at Madison Square Garden

The intersection of "Deadheads" and "geeky dad" turns out to be "Israeli folk dancing."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Publicity Secrets

[during publicity meeting]

Publicist #1: Well, we have some awesome news. NEW BOOK is going to be in HUGE PUBLICATION.

Editor: Dang! How did you make that happen?!

Publicist #1: Psychotic pestering.

Publicist #2: No dignity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Further Excellent Links (Truth about Royalties, New Guinean Lawsuits, Middlemay, and Where Not to Sit on a Hot Day)

Wanna know what royalties on a NYT bestseller really break down to? Good, honest post with a real live royalty statement posted here.

Also, Travis Erwin found this painfully excellent story about a guy who got trapped by his beach balls. I don't mean the plastic ones.

Remember that bestseller GUNS, GERMS, STEEL? Yeah, well, now the author, Jared Diamond, is being sued by the New Guinea tribe he wrote about so "lovingly." Well, actually, his publisher The New Yorker is. Heehee. I find this very funny. Although I bet The New Yorker doesn't. Via Gawker.

And finally for today, I'll bet I can guess three things about you:

1) You've never read George Eliot's Middlemarch
2) You always thought you should have read it and felt vaguely guilty that you know you'll never get around to it
3) You really, really want to join Middlemay!! Middlemay is an 8-week online book club in which at least 6 of us are going to read Middlemarch in enstallments over the months of May and June. Check out the breakdown here, and join us! Brought to you by the Fill-in-the-Gaps Project, which now has more than 30 participants!.

this will absolutely make your day, 100% satisfaction guaranteed

Who doesn't love a little Ray Charles?!

Just maybe don't watch it at work, lest you accidentally start dancing along.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

email of the day

[from my assistant]

To: Moonrat
From: XXX

Subject: In case you need an editing break...

congrats, Briane and Lynne!

I love having awesome news on Tuesdays :) And I have a double whammy today.

Mischief maker Briane Pagel's short story "Don't Eat My Face" has been selected for inclusion in Graveside Tales' Harvest Hill anthology, due out Fall 2009.

Also, Lynne Griffin's debut novel, Life Without Summer, published by St. Martin's Press, is finally in bookstores!

Congratulations!!

Now who else hasn't been sending me awesome news lately? I know a bunch of you people are holding out! I love good news, so please loop me in.

Monday, April 20, 2009

do you believe in ghosts?

Periodically, I think of my childhood violin teacher, from whom I took lessons from the time I was seven through my sophomore year in high school, when she died at age 88 of breast cancer. Hers was the first funeral I ever went to.

I've had a number of dreams about her, especially in the last two years. The most vivid recurring one, which I always remember when I wake up, is me walking through her suburban neighborhood among piles of bright yellow fall leaves, knocking on swinging white New England plastic doors and asking if there is a Ms. Pleasant there. At last, I find a door behind which the alleged Ms. Pleasant appears, and it turns out to be my violin teacher, who opens the door and smiles and gives me a hug. (My violin teacher's name was not Ms. Pleasant, although it did begin with a P.)

These kinds of things happen every four or five months, I'd say. Sitting here editing this morning, I had a very powerful thought about her, which quite stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't remember the chain of thought that brought me to her, even right after the thought occurred, so I kind of listlessly Googled. There, in a note on her memorial scholarship fund, I saw that she died ten years ago today.

I do believe in the power of the subconscious to resurrect the relevant in eerie ways--for example, how is it that you always wake up exactly three minutes before your early alarm on the day you have a job interview?--but on some level I also wonder if she's out there, somewhere, in the miasma. If she is, I hope she knows how often I think about her, and how affectionately.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

just finished reading

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. My review here. Any other Sarah Waters fans out there?

some fun links for you

Inside Michael Jackson's crazy mind! Or at least his would-be auction house. Via Sarah Weinman.

NYT article on literacy in Roman times, back when you'd have to "rewind" a scroll for the next user.

Did anyone else, like me, not hear of thisiswhyyourefat.com until yesterday? It was advertised to me as "the most disgusting fattening food you'll ever see" but flicking through the pictures I'm just, well, appetized. Pictured here: the deep fried Cadbury Creme Egg, and the Hamburger Cake.


Also, GraphJam. Thanks to a very fruitful birthday party I went to last night, I have a whole new list of blog subscriptions. GraphJam is an uneven but often fabulous daily graph site. Scroll down for the Disney Kids venn diagram or the Horse flowchart.

All right, back to my reading list! Happy Sunday.

make your own thin mints

Oh my gosh. It's actually true. Recipe here.

Thanks, Jena.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday Morning Indie Rock Moment

I haven't posted about Wormburner in ages! Now they have a new video. Aren't they adorable?

Happy Saturday!

things the rally monkey says

RM: Last night, I dreamed I had two girlfriends.

YT: Oh yeah? Was it a sexy dream?

RM: No, it was a terrible nightmare.

YT: Why? What happened?

RM: Well, in my dream, I came home from the grocery store with *two* heavy bags of groceries. And when I opened the door, you were both sitting there on the couch in your nightgowns blogging.

Friday, April 17, 2009

unholy bacon Friday

Apparently Friday has become Random Food Posting day, and Writtenwyrdd wins the prize today for these bacon-related links.

First, did you know that John Scalzi put bacon on his cat? Ya, he did. It's right here. Also, now he's the world authority on bacon, so if you have any bacon stories you should send them all to John Scalzi, right now.

Second, are you throwing a cocktail party and simultaneously really, really bored and ambitious? Because then you can make these awesome bacon cup appetizers!! And since I'm a pagan without any religion, I can eat them any day, even Friday. (Sorry to all observant Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and vegetarians, none of whom can eat bacon today.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

things the rally monkey says

[on my having gone drinking with the publicity department]

RM: We talked about this *last* time this happened. You can't roll with those people. They're the major leagues. You're seventh grade girls' intermural.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why Don't We Throw Some Money at It! Like, 5 Bucks! (or, Book Marketing)

Last week, I got some very interesting responses to my post about the New York Times article on author advances. The point that seemed to stick out to people the most was this one:

I wish more agents pressed for marketing commitments than high advances.

You can follow the correspondence to see people have come down with valid arguments on either side of the issue. But I want to go ahead and point out some things we haven't talked about here yet.

I've done some soul-searching about practicing (as an author) what I preach (as an editor). Say, hypothetically, I were in the future to write a book and get a book deal. Honestly, if I were suddenly to be offered a huge book advance for my debut novel, would I turn it down? Umm. Turn down money? [Frantically checks credit card bills, etc, searches soul further, etc.] Probably not. I wouldn't turn it down. Ok. But let's revise the scenario a little. Say I get two offers, one of which is for a larger advance, the other of which is for a smaller advance but includes a marketing commitment. Now here I would think very, very seriously. After all, I don't want this to be the last book I write--I want it published well, to lay the groundwork for a brilliant future career.

So let's talk about this very sticky area of book marketing, and how you as an author can strategize with your agent to try to capitalize both on your publisher's abilities to come through and on your own (ostensibly limited) resources. There are ways! By "marketing," I mean specifically where money can be spent on your book to make it go as far as possible. I don't mean publicity, which is a different thing; publicity is free, but marketing often leads to publicity.

(Caveat: I'm assuming, going into this, that you are a dynamic and dedicated author, meaning you're willing to commit time and energy to marketing yourself. I don't mean you have to quit your job to do this or anything, but I do mean you have to throw yourself in. Please be one of those authors; they're my favorite.)

First, nothing, no amount of money or luck, guarantees publicity. Remember that Jesus, despite his professed connections to The Big Guy, didn't really get publicized until he was hundred of years dead. However, money and luck both make it much more likely that publicity will happen.

To cover their bases, publishers allocate a marketing budget for each title. In order not to go bankrupt, this budget is usually 5% of billing, meaning the company plans to spend 5% of the dollar value of what they anticipate shipping of that particular book. (The net worth is more than 5%, often much more, depending on the percentage of returns on a book, but that's a whole other story.)

Now it's generally agreed that the one thing that is far, far more important than anything else in the world in selling a book is that said book be present and available in bookstores. Bookstores cleverly figured this out awhile back, and now charge for the privilege of increased bookstore presence. This is called co-op. See the stacks of books on the "new fiction" table? Or the pretty Mother's Day endcap display on your local bookstore's aisle? All that placement is paid for by the publisher, and we compete for the honor of paying for those slots. There are so many books that want to be co-oped that vendors get to pick and choose.

Co-op costs an arm and a leg--on average, a dollar a copy. If you do some quick math, you'll see that co-op basically eats up the entire marketing budget for any given book. Yeah, unfortunate.

What publishers tend to do is "borrow" marketing budget from the books that aren't anticipated to "need" it, meaning books that won't score co-op. What YOU want is for your book to be one of the borrowers, not the borrowed from.

What this also means is the belt has already been tightened for marketing, and we haven't even started yet (although phew! at least we're available in bookstores). What is traditionally thought of as marketing--that is, ads, etc--are just way, way too expensive for book publishers. There are some exceptions, but generally, in the real world, ads are not even worth talking about. So let's think creatively.

I hope people don't get angry when I say an author advance helps the willing author commit to publicity on their own. Of course, you worked hard on your book and deserve to get paid for it. But a little investment back into the book on your part might make it have longer legs and make you more money in the long run. Nora Roberts, who one might say has a knack for making money in publishing, recommends authors recommit 1/10 their advance to their own marketing efforts. I like her number, although I'll say it varies on your specific scenario and the amount of your advance. But that's a good starting place.

What this means is that there are ways you, the author, can allocate money of your own to help the book as much as possible. But there are also ways that a little money spent by your publisher can go a long way. So do have your agent get on the phone with the publisher and ask for a marketing and publicity call with the entire team. Be forthright about what you're willing to put in, and also, be ballsy about asking for some reciprocal commitments. Squeaky wheel, etc. Knock, and the door shall, etc. You'd be surprised.

A couple specific ideas for opening up the conversation.

The Internets!! Does it sell books? It's hard to say. It certainly makes or breaks your presence as an author, although as of yet only about 5% of book sales happen online. In the meantime, it's still crucial to be accessible on the internet so people (and reviewers) can find information about you, follow your news, look up events if you have them, etc. (Preaching to the choir here--is there anyone reading this, ahem, blog who thinks the internet doesn't matter?!)

A little dinero down to make sure your web presence is accessible, pleasant, and fresh is worthwhile. This does not have to be much dinero at all, but probably even the cheapest routes are going to involve a couple hundred bucks changing hands (unless you're an HTML wizkid yourself). Alas, this one's on you. Your publisher is probably not going to offer to pay for your website, and if they do, they're going to want to put it under their own domain name so they can control content, which frankly isn't as much fun for you or your fans.

But for marketing online, your publisher also has a number of options for complementing your presense, ranging from very cheap to rather costly. For amounts of around a grand a piece, there are book club servers like bookreporter.com, which helps target book clubs around the country by providing newsletters, reviews, and reader guides to make books more accessible. There are also industry-targeted newsletters that essentially act as internet coop, and author write-ups that are distributed to indie booksellers around the country. These are internet options that might contribute to mainstream store placement.

The book tour! So about that old adage that the author tour is basically useless--it's totally, perfectly true. It's also totally, perfectly untrue. You just have to do it right.

First, as an author, you hopefully have a community (you've joined facebook already, right? that will really help you figure out where, geographically, your friends are). You should "tour" the places that would automatically love to have you no matter what--your local bookstore, library, and/or school, or the place where you grew up and where your parents/aunts/neighbors have 15 zillion friends who want to come pinch your cheek cuz you've done such a good job and gone and gotten your book published, wooja wooja. Don't underestimate the power of proud relatives/neighbors. They should be mobilized. Should your publisher pay to fly you there? No. That's a waste of money that would be better spent elsewhere. But they sure as heck can help you coordinate your next family visit, or your next vacation to wherever, to see if they can't hook you up with an event that's relevant or will sell books. You can't always score an event, but if your publisher realizes you're not asking them to shell out to take you somewhere, you'll be surprised at how many strings they can suddenly pull.

To be noted about events: you must (must must must must must must) be prepared for the possibility that not a single person will show up. That's why it's best to plan events in places where you have at least a modest fan base, or some kind of occasion at which to speak on whatever your topic is. If you accept that going in, any actual book sales will be gravy. Also, reinforcing community participation makes you beloved, and don't underestimate how powerful grassrootsism and communityism can be. So converse with your publist about this.

Also, it's nice to remember that book tours need not involve your entire corporeal self. You may also astroproject your spirit! Or just your voice, for example. Your publisher can choose to cough up for a radio satellite tour--which doesn't involve travel and silly hotel and air expenses, but there is a small chunk of change--usually about three thousand dollars--associated with booking these events. Radio is rather a big expenditure, especially since it may lead to zero book sales, but this is often a commitment worth fighting for. The reason? Tape. Tape of a teensy radio show--you in an awesome interview--might inspire bigger radio shows to pick you up, and heck, maybe that will lead to TV or other media commitments. And not that it necessarily makes sense, but... TV sells books. Yes it does.

I suppose I've written enough for today. But I wanted to get the conversation started. May we all journey together toward better and more cooperative publishing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

email of the day

[From my assistant]

To: Moonrat
From: XXX

Attached: A reader's report on that novel, and a special image from me to you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

When the Flock Changed

In most excellent news, Maud Newton's short story/novel excerpt was chosen as Narrative Magazine's Story of the Week, which means we can all read it for free here!!

Alas, she devilishly keeps us waiting for the rest. WHERE IS IT, MAUD?!?! Pleeease write it so we can read it. Thanks.

Amazonfail

makes me sad; doesn't really matter if it was an accident or not. There's a problem when too much of our media availability is controlled by one source.

(I know, I should talk, right? You kettles are all black, all of you!! But maybe this will be what breaks me.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

New York Times' take on author advances

I know you guys know it all already, but this article is still a little fun.

Duly noted:

-7 out of 10 books don't earn out their advances

-S&S is "watching every penny" in the recession, which they announce the same week they pay $4.8 mil for Audry Niffeneggar's second novel

-publishers are so dumb they can't seem to throw off the very advance system that's bankrupting them, because they still compete with one another for "the best books"

I do think it's a little interesting that one of the authors interviewed thinks that his six-figure advance "allowed [him] to work for less than minimum wage for three years." I wonder when the last time he looked at minimum wage was? That attitude frustrates me a little; there are a lot of people (frankly, a lot of us right here at this blog) who manage to work a job to support us and who find time to write even though no one is paying us a penny. What makes an advanced author worth so much more?

And of course, on certain levels I have to take the publishing company's side--a six-figure advance is actually a fairly huge risk. Our profit margins are SO SLIM that most six-figures will fall into those 7 out of 10 books that never earn out. (If you want proof, go look at the hardcover price of the first edition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, which came out exactly 20 years ago, and then calculate for inflation--you'll see book prices are not keeping up, not even close.)

The system frustrates me. I wish more agents pressed for marketing commitments than high advances. I wish (usually already published) authors didn't feel entitled to large lump sums unless they knew they would earn out. I wish publishers would stop being jackasses about competing with one another and instead put their money and attention into publishing well.

Ok, enough ranting out of me for today.

Friday, April 10, 2009

happy salad Friday

Look what my Secret Source found on Vegan Lunchbox.








Personally I like the sheep :) Apparently, you can buy these full-sized posters.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

just finished reading

Anyone else read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey? My review here.

editor's sad lament

Dear Publishing Gods,

Hi, yeah, it's me again. We really gotta talk.

So you know which book this is about (since you're the Publishing Gods, I'm assuming you're omniscient, probably omniscient third). But let's refer to it as Very Nice Book. My question to you is, why are you not making "it" happen for Very Nice Book?

Right. You're going to shout at me for looking a gift horse in the mouth, right? You're going to say, "Now, Moonrat, we gave you Very Nice Reviews for Very Nice Book. We also gave you Very Nice Media Highlights, and Very Nice Coop Placement in Major Chain Stores. We gave you Very Nice First Printing, and Very Nice Rights Sales. What more could you possibly want?"

This is the thing, Publishing Gods. How could I have all those Very Nice Things, but no Very Nice Book Sales? What went wrong? We have, by all accounts, a lovely appealing cover, a stellar title, an afforable price, and an enchanting topic. We got great blurbs, tons of buzz, and, as You mention, tons of store presense. So why is no one buying it?

I'm very sad, Publishing Gods. I feel like I followed all the rules, and I thought I was at the conjunction of "hard work" and "everything going my way." But I can't MAKE people buy books (that is, except for my mother; I've made her buy three).

Maybe You could give me some kind of hint. If there's a hoop, You know I'd be happy to jump through it. Even if it's on fire and there's a rabid bear on the other side.

Your baffled and mystified servant,

Moonrat

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

happy wednesday video

Take a minute or two for this one. It's worth it.

This is SO the kind of thing I would end up getting involved in.

Monday, April 06, 2009

things the rally monkey says

RM: I hate this grocery store. It's ALWAYS packed! I HATE it here. I want to move to a different neighborhood where you can go shopping after 5 pm or on weekends.

YT: I have an idea. How about I quit my job and become a housewife? Then I'll have time during the day to go shopping when it's not crowded.

RM: Let me tell you how that would work out. You wouldn't make it to the store. You would blog, watch Netflix, and not wear any pants. That's what would happen.

Asian fantasy

Sci Fi/Fantasy readers--my buddy Ello is hosting a discussion over at The Enchanted Inkpot about fantasy themes in Asian literature: which ones are common in American fantasy novels, and which ones should be more common, because they're so awesome.

I threw in my readerly experience--Laurence Yep's YA fantasy books, and Jeanne Larsen's (now unfortunately out of print) fantasies set in different Chinese dynasties. Any others?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

desperate times. i need me a hookup.

I only got my sticky fingers on one box of Thin Mints this year, and the effin' rally monkey ATE THEM ALL. I am LIVID.

Does anyone know any Girl Scouts who want to do a little business?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

just finished reading

The Book Borrower, by Alice Mattison. My review here. Anyone else read? Any thoughts?

Friday, April 03, 2009

oh hey, we found us that resident masochist.

Emily Cross has been the masochist--I mean, volunteer--to put together a blog community where Fill-in-the-Gaps people can all come and commiserate--I mean, read and log their reading--together!

Here's the baby new group blog:

Project Fill-in-the-Gaps

We can share lists, see what other readers have our books in common, and celebrate our successes. Also, cross things off! That's my favorite thing to do with a list by far.

Obviously, Emily, count me in.

too much editing.

poopy.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

things the rally monkey says

Disquisition on the Cookie Monkster

RM: You say that you're like the Cookie Monster, but you have to understand what the Cookie Monster really is. He doesn't just eat delicious chocolate chip cookies. He eats any type of cookies, and all the cookies present. And there are some pretty crappy cookies in the world. You on the other hand are kind of picky about what you like. The Cookie Monster has no discretion whatsoever. If he were a drug addict, he'd be the kind of drug addict that would stick himself with someone else's used needle. He doesn't care about anything but cookies. He'd eat cookies out of the trash.

[for those who thought it impossible to treat any subject too seriously]

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

starred Mischief review!!


Yet more bestest news ever! Cindy Pon's delicious YA fantasy, Silver Phoenix, just got a starred review in Booklist!!
If the cover image of a fearless Chinese heroine reminds readers of such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that’s intentional; the story inside will, too. First-time novelist Pon has a screenwriter’s talent for producing a sweeping saga, and in this, the first of two books set in ancient China, 17-year-old Ai Ling faces demons, monsters, and gods as she tries to fulfill her destiny. Frightened after a local man tries to blackmail her into marriage, Ai Ling resolves to journey to the emperor’s palace where her missing father was last seen. Along the way, she meets the handsome Chen Yong, who is of mixed parentage and on a quest to find answers to questions about his family that have haunted him his whole life. (In the story’s prologue, readers get hints about his origins.) As in most martial-arts movies, the story sometimes takes a back seat to the action, but Pon doesn’t stint when it comes to her characters. Ai Ling is a clever and determined heroine, Chen’s younger brother is a witty teen whose girl-crazy ways transcend the centuries, and even the monsters have dimension. Pon’s writing, both fluid and exhilarating, shines whether she’s describing a dinner delicacy or what it feels like to stab an evil spirit in the gut. There’s a bit of sex here, including a near rape, but it’s all integral to a saga that spins and slashes as its heroine tries to find her way home.

Everyone should run off and reserve their copies on Amazon--these first editions are going to be worth a lot of money very soon!

April Book Club Meeting: THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN: A TALE OF MURDER, INSANITY, AND THE MAKING OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY by Simon Winchester

Welcome to the April 1 Book Club Meeting! Today, by popular demand, we have Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman, which was a bestseller when it first came out in the United Kingdom in 1998 and the United States in 1999.

The story centers on two protagonists (for etymologists out here, I'm not going to get into a debate about whether it's possible to even have two protagonists in a story; we'll have to take that up later).

The first, Professor James Murray, was the brains and brawn behind the Oxford English Dictionary. He sat at the head of the dictionary's organizational committee for decades, and was not unlike certain other publishing professionals I know who can't stop taking work home and manage to alienate and annoy their friends and family because they simply don't know how to say when. His thoroughness and commitment are a large part of why the OED is the nearly comprehensive monolith it is today.

The second character is the eponymous madman: Dr. W.C. Minor, an American and a former army surgeon during the Civil War. A paranoid intellectual who was probably schizophrenic, Dr. Minor eventually got too neurotic for the US Army, and was allowed to escape to England, where he murdered a man for no particular reason and ended up in a lunatic asylum for the rest of his life. The thing about lunatic asylums is that they turn out to be very conveniently peaceful places to do nothing but sit and meticulously catalog every word in the English language.

Thus through a flier requesting volunteers to help with the dictionary entries were the two men brought together. Their correspondence and, eventually, strange friendship would continue over twenty years.

I won't say anymore now. Let me know your thoughts!