1. S. A. Griffin, a Los Angeles poet, actor, beatnik and longtime friend of LitKicks, is going to be filling the shell of a bomb with pages of poetry and touring the USA with it in 2010.
2. Here's another bombshell: the conglomerate that publishes Kirkus, a book review magazine, has been unable to sell it and will shut it down instead. Kirkus has a big presence within the book industry because it publishes early capsule reviews of many books, and is only known to most readers as the source of countless back-cover blurbs. It's unclear where publishers will now go to fill this back-cover blurb space. Here's more on the Kirkus shutdown from one of their freelancers.
1. A creepy publicity stunt involving flies carrying little paper advertisements at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Doesn't this make you feel bad for the flies?
2. San Francisco Beat/hippie poet Lenore Kandel has died at the age of 77. Here's an appreciation of her work by John Yates.
3. Carl Jung's awesome visual side.
4. A detailed financial biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (And why not? Money was certainly among his major themes).
5. East Village poetry legend and perennial Presidential candidate Sparrow and LitKicks poet Mickey Z. are creating a poetry anthology together and they say:
Calling all feminists, wizards, Queer theorists, ex-Black Panthers, Christians, Green activists, avant-gardists, Kabbalists, vegans, Hawaiian nationalists, kickboxers, Punks, Hip Hop evangelists, New New Leftists, pink-haired emo warriors, organic gardeners -- submit your work for "The Big Book of Revolutionary Poetry," edited by Sparrow and Mickey Z. Send up to 3 poems to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Go for it, I say.
6. Guernica Magazing is turning 5! Jonathan Ames, Howard Zinn, Katie Halper, Mia Farrow and David Byrne will be joining the party this Wednesday, October 28. Wish I could make it (but I can't).
7. The eternal philosophical battle over the real-life ethics of German intellectual Martin Heidegger goes on. Personally, I don't agonize over Heidegger's Nazi past, because I never thought much of his work. You can find the same message -- the utter immediacy of existence -- in Nietzsche or Kierkegaard or Sartre, and with a lot more finesse and humor.
8. Building a brain inside a supercomputer. And here I am just trying to get Drupal to work.
9. I recently posted about Fall 2009 books I'm looking forward to; little did I know that Orhan Pamuk and Kurt Vonnegut books were coming out too ...
10. Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid is rocking the cash registers. My stepdaughter reads these books and I think they're hilarious.
11. I love this, from McSweeneys: YouTube Comment, of e. e. cummings?.
12. HTMLGiant on Glimmer Train: "Winning one of their ubiquitous contests is like winning $2 on a $2 scratch ticket or a free small soda during McDonald’s Monopoly promotion." They also admit that Glitter Train was once "a decent, if not rather traditional literary magazine". I used to read them, but I don't read print literary journals much at all anymore.
13. If you've been reading my memoir, some of these events will be familiar: A History of the Internet from 1969 to Today.
14. Speaking of bygone times, one-time high-rolling community website GeoCities is shutting down. Caryn is sad about this, and xkcd posted a tribute.
2. Herta Mueller writes about Romania during the painful years of the Nicolai Ceausecsu regime, and coincidentally I've been reading a impressive new novel about the same subject, Velvet Totalitarianism by Claudia Moscovici. You can find an excerpt from the introduction on the author's MySpace page.
1. "Detroit Housewife Writes Play". That's how Joyce Carol Oates says she was received as a young beginning writer as she reminisced during a special event Monday night at the Smithsonian Institution. I've heard this writer speak before and in fact enjoyed it enough to want to hear her again (even though, to be honest, I haven't read a whole novel of hers since Black Water in 1992). This gathering found Ms. Oates in sharp and snappy form. She spoke of her stark one-room schoolhouse childhood, cited Lewis Carroll as her earliest literary influence, and charmingly called her interviewer "naive" for suggesting that she might ever allow her characters to tell her about themselves ("how," she asks, "would a character tell me anything?"). On a roll, Ms. Oates also scolded a questioner from the audience who asked if she'd met famous people such as US Presidents, telling him "perhaps there are more important people in the world than male Presidents for me to meet". As always, Ms. Oates' willowy manner and Pre-Raphaelite affect has a breathtaking impact on audiences, and the folks at the Freer Gallery ate her up. She should be in the movies -- she could win an Oscar. I still don't know, though, if I'll find the time to read her latest novel, Little Bird of Heaven.
2. I think it's great that Oprah Winfrey has picked Uwem Akpan's Say You're One Of Them as her next influential Oprah's Book Club selection. She has made several brilliant choices over the years, and Say You're One Of Them (which was reviewed on LitKicks here) is a bleak, straightforward book with a strong and highly focused humanitarian message about political violence against children in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Gabon. I'm sure Oprah intends this book is to stand alongside Elie Wiesel's Night on the bookshelf. The author, a young Jesuit born in Nigeria who has traveled through Africa and the world, is as much an activist as an artist, and the book is short on ostentation and long on horrifying truth. A lot of people -- adults and children, often together, often huddling in their own homes -- get killed in this book, but the book is no thriller. Oprah has made an unusual and brave choice.
3. Somebody recently asked "Should literary blogs get political?" Yeah, well, I think we should. It's not like critical issues aren't at stake, like the health care debate, which I find myself following carefully these days. I strongly support a health care bill and a public option, I am 100% behind Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as they deal with this difficult challenge, and I really like Will Ferrell's latest commentary on the whole thing.
I enter the Grand Hyatt in my usual fashion -- a crab-like scuttle down a hospital corridor-like passageway that connects this grandiose hotel to the bowels of the New York City subway. It’s my preferred entrance strategy: low-ceilinged, glaringly lit, anonymous. And in the case of ThrillerFest, the annual convention for international thriller writers, it seems particularly appropriate. If those soft footsteps behind me belong to him, I’ll at least have chosen a route that provides the dirty beast with little to no cover.
I ascend the escalator to the marble-drenched mezzanine and keep my head low. Forearms tensed, I’m poised to flee. The first sign of a tall, well-built Jack Reacher look-alike eager to crunch my head against the nearest bartop and I’m outta here. I figure there’s little risk of a Clive Cussler-esque maritime adventure, given how far ashore this rendezvous is situated (the Hyatt’s attention-catching waterfall aside). As for the chance of encountering the sociopathic Hannibal Lecter sort that used to populate the genre, well, that trend’s been waning a bit—anyway, if a gal’s aimin’ for the big city life, she’s gotta take some chances, don’t she?
My wild imagination aside, not to mention an inexplicable confusion of author and character, I’m in for a bit of a shock. As it turns out, thriller writers have next to nothing in common with their creations. The folks congregating at the elevator are calm, mostly middle-aged, predominantly male, outgoing, and darn nice. At registration, I’m warmly greeted by Kathleen Antrim, chair of ThrillerFest. Other equally cheerful volunteer writers load me up with materials and ensure I’m properly oriented. My outsider status may be a slight factor, but the vibe throughout the sessions I attend, even in the largest panels with the biggest stars, is casual and relaxed. Whatever narrative jams these scribes kickbox their way through or inner demons they unleash on their pages, in person this crowd is as friendly and laidback as a Sunday morning Midwestern tailgate.
ThrillerFest is an unusual hybrid. Divided into three parts, Craftfest, Agentfest and Thrillerfest proper, it’s part Breadloaf (the Vermont literary writers’ conference), part Bouchercon (the exuberant mystery fan convention). Born in 2004 along with the International Thriller Writers organization, this celebration of the suspense novel, a category distinct from mysteries for the works' emphasis on heightened emotions (or thrills) as opposed to more purely cerebral puzzle-solving, is still evolving.
The first two days are devoted entirely to the craft of writing with one afternoon set aside for meetings between aspiring writers and agents. The second two days are a mini-literature festival crammed with author panels and one-on-one interviews with special guests, among them Robin Cook, Sandra Brown, Katherine Neville and David Morrell. Interspersed are author signings, publisher parties, readings at local bookstores, and the usual amount of late-night camaraderie and imbibing. It all culminates with a glitzy dinner (this year at Cipriani on 42nd Street) where the annual awards are handed out by the luminaries of the field. Presenters this year include Sandra Brown, David Morrell, and David Baldacci.
The first session I attend is part of Craftfest. James Rollins, bestselling author of five Sigma Force novels, the movie novelization of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and more, is speaking on “Motivation and Pacing: How to Write 3 Novels a Year and Still Have a Life.” I’ve worked on some excruciatingly fast schedules in publishing, but most of my writers are solid 18 month (at least) per book kind of people. I’m curious to hear more about how the genre super-producers pull off their writing feats.
Rollins, whose recent work The Doomsday Key hit the bestseller list at #2 upon release, is casually dressed in a blue blazer and jeans. He comes across as a genuinely nice guy, his speaking style somewhere between bedside physician and motivational coach. Like many writers in this genre, Rollins is self-taught and began writing only after a 20-year career elsewhere, in his case as a veterinarian. It’s immediately clear why he’s such a hit in the seminar room: he’s approachable, straightforward, and offers his aspiring charges the necessary combination of discipline (write 3 pages a day and in 30 days you’ve got a screenplay) and heartfelt encouragement from one who’s been there.
Rollins advises his audience to avoid the time suck that is social networking (put down those Facebook foto pasteups, folks) and to put limits on the marketing phase of publication, a brave strike in today’s desperate sales environment. He reinforces the message about his own 2-5 page/day writing schedule and then turns to advice on creating characters that trigger an emotional response in the reader. My sense is that while no one walks away feeling much closer to Janet Evanovich-style output, everyone is happy to have Rollins’s solid tips and the aspirants depart eager to renew their efforts. From an hour-long workshop, practicality plus inspiration of the sort that Rollins delivers is the perfect takeaway.
The next day provides further insight into how at least one hugely commercial serialist works. At one of the funniest sessions of the conference, no fewer than four co-authors (Paul Kemprecos, Jack DuBrul, Grant Blackwood, Justin Scott), a publisher (the wonderfully droll Neil Nyren, Senior VP, Putnam) and the president of a society for his fans (Wayne Valero) roast prolific action/adventure master Clive Cussler. Over thirty years ago, Cussler’s third novel, the thrill-packed maritime adventure Raise the Titanic, made huge waves. The former adman and underwater explorer enthusiast has been tossing off bestseller after bestseller ever since. According to his website, Cussler’s current following includes more than 125 million avid fans in over 100 countries. With sales figures like that, the Hollywood style production team computes. (And the impressive array of individuals on-stage doesn’t even include a key collaborator on the Dirk Pitt novels, Cussler’s son Dirk.) The division of labor quickly clarifies: Cussler outlines, plots, and nitpicks; the writers write. It’s a roast, so there’s lots of teasing, some sharper-edged than others, but the overall impression we’re left with is that Camp Cussler is a well-greased engine. Little wonder so much productivity and lively entertainment results.
After lunch, the final panels return us to the individual artists alone with their craft. In a session on what makes their characters tick, the discussion turns to self-analysis as Meg Gardiner admits her greatest fear is something happening to her children, George Dawes confesses his fear of becoming one of the morally compromised men he creates, Scott Pearson owns up to the fear doctors won’t, i.e. when surgery itself becomes controlled violence, and Lisa Black cops to worrying about murdering her mother.
Later, Jeffery Deaver, John Lescroat, Lisa Gardner, Jennifer McMahon, Joe Hartlaub, and Tom Rob Smith guided by session leader Carla Neggers discuss notching up the thrills with reversals and plot twists. In one of my favorite comparisons of the conference, Jeff Deaver likens being a thriller writer to being a comedian. (I’ve heard good comedy is deadly, but comedic thrillers?) We’re both illusionists, Deaver clarifies. Deaver sees his writing task as akin to Jerry Seinfeld's -- it's all in the setup and the subsequent wait. Deaver sets up what will happen where. He then stalls his audience to death. A reader shouldn't know the full extent of what’s coming until the final reveal. Only in the gotcha moment does all become clear. If the scheme’s to work, clues must be dropped and the reader has to be fully set up. “You can fool,” Deaver emphasizes, “but you can’t cheat.”
After four days of socializing, intense conversation about writing, insights from employees of the CIA, and even a session with ATF K9 tactical dogs, the only thing that’s actually been molested is my newly spinning head, unused as it is to the strange combination of such continuous stimulation and easygoingness. I’ve made it through ThrillerFest unharmed and yet strangely touched. I skip out before the banquet and after party (yes, I know the glamour-hounds among you are disappointed to miss out on this report; for the incurably curious the banquet was tweeted by @JasonPinter) but not without a bounty of books for my reading list. David Liss, Joe Finder, Tom Rob Smith, and Brad Meltzer are only a very few of those in attendance whose works I vow to finally catch up on.
For my exit, I stride out the Hyatt’s main revolving doors into the glaring sunlight of 42nd street, potential assassins be damned. Secrets have been revealed, the curtain’s been lifted. Time to shed all suspicions -- and those damn Method writing tricks.
2009 ITW Awards, below, courtesy of International Thriller Writers. For excellent coverage of that’s new and happening in thriller world, see Sarah Weinman’s excellent blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.
ThrillerMaster Award: David Morrell
In recognition of his vast body of work and influence in the field of literature
Silver Bullet Award: Brad Meltzer
For contributions to the advancement of literacy
Best Thriller of the Year
The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver (Simon & Schuster)
Best First Novel:
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central Publishing)
Best Short Story:
The Edge of Seventeen by Alexandra Sokoloff (in Darker Mask)
(Photo of James Rollins by Greg Fitzgerald, BookReporter.com)
The second time, in 2007, I got invited to the parties but didn't know what to do at the parties once I got there. I walked the convention floors feeling excluded.
This time, it was my own friends hosting the parties, and I walked the convention center floors feeling entirely comfortable. So now I have finally adjusted to Book Expo -- the one USA book industry convention that the entire industry actually shows up for -- just at the moment that many in the industry began to question whether a radical shift towards digital publishing will become necessary in the next year, whether book publishing is in permanent decline, and whether or not there will even be another Book Expo next year.
Attendance is down and fewer galleys are available, but the spirit of innovation is up. I'm sure the economic problems currently obsessing booksellers have more to do with poor consumer spending and less to do with the digital revolution, and so I couldn't stand to sit through a Saturday morning panel discussion about whether large commercial book publishers "still hold the keys to the kingdom", or a later one about how book reviews are changing. The probability of hearing a single fresh thought at either event seemed slight, so instead I saved my event-going for a panel called 7x20x21, organized by Ami Greko and Ryan Champan and offering free-form inspiration from Lauren Cerand, Chris Jackson, Pablo Defendini, Debbie Stier, Matt Supko, Jeff Yamaguchi and Richard Nash. At 7 strictly-timed minutes per speaker, nobody had time to do anything but speak from the heart. Let's forget about the future of the book for a moment and talk instead about the future of the panel discussion: 7x20x21 is a good template for other event organizers to follow.
A "blogger book signing" sponsored by NetGalley.com was a real hoot. I enjoyed sharing my hour with Sarah Johnson, who writes about historical fiction at Reading the Past. I had never heard of several other literary bloggers I shared this schedule with. I gather that many of them specialize in specific genres or areas, and that several are more obsessed with the constant stream of newly published books than I am (personally, I'm also excited about what books are coming out next year, as long as next year is 1863).
But most of these sites also feature the characteristic I value most in a literary blog: an authentic human voice. Here's the whole gang, for your checking-out enjoyment: The Book Maven, Presenting Lenore, Follow the Reader, Maw Books, GalleyCat, Tools of Change for Publishing, Books on the Nightstand, Beatrice.com, Booksquare, Jenn's Bookshelf, The Swivet, Book Club Girl, Booking Mama, My Friend Amy, The Friendly Book Nook, Beth Fish Reads, Pop Culture Junkie, She is Too Fond of Books, Hey Lady! Watcha Readin'?, Reviewer X, My Cozy Book Nook, Book Reviews by Jess , Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Personanondata, Sharon Loves Cats, Janicu’s book blog, The Big Picture, The Olive Reader, Literary License, Stephanie’s Written Word, Bookrastination, Every Day I Write the Book, Reading the Past, Literary Kicks, Wands and Worlds, Mother Reader, Teleread, Laura’s Review Book Shelf, The Tome Traveller's Weblog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, Bat Segundo, The Abbeville Manual of Style.
I could say more about Book Expo 2009, but I can't compete with the Twitter tag for currency. Is the book biz in trouble? I just don't think so, based on the enthusiasm I've spent the last three days soaking in.
After I left BEA Sunday morning I was exhausted and slightly sick of the scene, but I found myself at Penn Station an hour and a half later with some time to kill. Naturally, I spent the next twenty minutes in a bookstore.
It's so cool that Book Expo 2009 is taking place, literally, in a crystal palace, otherwise known as Jacob Javits Center in New York City, alongside the Hudson River where only recently a pilot made these words famous:
"We're gonna be in the Hudson."
Indeed we are. Captain Sullenberger is at the Book Expo, so is Clarence Clemons and Steve Tyler and Tina Brown. I'm in there somewhere too -- I'll be part of the blogger book signing at the Firebrand booth, Sunday morning at 10 am. Please come down and say hi if you're at the Expo.
I'll be posting a full report this weekend, and here are just a few thoughts in advance:
• Dedi Felman (co-founder of Words Without Borders and former Simon and Schuster editor) and Richard Nash (former Soft Skull chief) are apparently launching some kind of new media publishing venture together. I missed their event so I don't know the details, but I know this is a power-packed team.
• I see there's a panel called "Book Format Fusion: Why Trade Paperbacks are the Format to Embrace". Well, well, well. What a crazy idea. I wonder who practically held his breath till he turned blue saying the same thing a year and a half ago.
• I'm looking forward to the unveiling (advance copies only) of the next Katharine Weber novel, the follow-up to her Triangle. She'll be signing at the Random House booth on Friday.
• Lev Grossman is appearing on Friday in a panel discussion blandly called "Discussion on the State of the Publishing Industry", along with Steven Johnson, Tom Standage and Chris Anderson. Lev Grossman's upcoming novel is apparently called "The Magicians" and is about a boy who is suddenly enrolled in a magical school. Come on, Lev. I don't mean to get on your case because I know there's a good writer inside you. But your last novel Codex wanted to be Da Vinci Code, and your new one is trying to be Harry Potter. Please tell me high school vampires aren't next.
Anyway, if I run into any LitKicks readers at the conference I hope you'll say hello. I'll also be at a so-called "Tweetup" downtown on Friday night. And if you're not at the Expo but want to join the discussion you can follow and comment on the events on twitter, or just follow me if you only want the choice bits.
I've been working hard, and I really need this three-day weekend coming my way. Hell yeah!
Another surprise guest will be writing this weekend's review of the New York Times Book Review. Check back on Sunday for, I hope, a wholly new perspective.
Till then, just a few links for a happy Spring day.
1. I've always thought Henry David Thoreau's Walden could be the basis of a great play or film. Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence (Inherit the Wind) tried something like this with The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, though this play did not place the center of action in the cabin by the pond. A new play called Walden: the Ballad of Thoreau is making the rounds, and may be showing up on public television/radio as well as on stages around the world.
I don't know anything about this actual play, but I know it's a good idea. A lot of drama took place in that little cabin, and I hope this play captures the essence of the work as well as it should. I assume that the actors in the image above are portraying Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau.
2. Fordham University in Manhattan (NOT, as previously reported, Fordham's campus in the Bronx) will be hosting "Woolf and the City", a Virginia Woolf conference, featuring insights from Anne Fernald, Roxana Robinson and many others.
3. Also at Fordham, Ron Hogan and the Mercantile Library have put together quite a lineup for a fiction writer's conference.
4. The long-anticipated film based on Leora Skolkin-Smith's novel Edges now has a title and a website. I thought Edges was a fine name for a story about Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine, but the film will be called The Fragile Mistress, and that sounds fine too. Can't wait to see this one.
5. A website about the psychology of fiction. Oh, is that ever fertile territory ...
I'm not sure how long my attack of literary boredom will last, but I hope I'll be all better by the last week in May, when I plan to attend Book Expo 2009 in New York City. I'll even be participating in a blogger book signing during the weekend (more about this soon) so I sure better wake up soon. I tried to cure my boredom with a Wells Tower book, but that didn't help.
Anyway, while I'm here, just a couple of literary links to share:
1. All about Sholom Aleichem.
2. Open Book, a new literary TV show.
3. Tao Lin ponders the meaning of everything at the Poetry Foundation blog. (Sample question: "Do Blogs Help People Accept Death?")
4. Soft Skull lives on!
Have a great weekend, and don't forget to stop by this weekend to check out the guest review.
There’s a certain kind of author whose cool sneaks up on one so quietly, hastily, and tardily that the only legitimate response for the (otherwise) well-read savant may be to reject this problematic writer, now the ne plus ultra of the literary set, out of hand.
If you’ve been "in" on said raconteur from their fledgling steps into the raw publishing world, it's a different tale. When one's own anointed few break out to the big time, it's like hitting the trifecta on Derby Day. "Ah, yes," you airily proclaim, "I’ve been reading Ian McEwan since The Cement Garden." ("Say what?" retorts the late-to-the-party Atonement fan.) Or "Yes, yes, I saw the NYTBR, but haven’t you read Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist? But you must. It was clear way back when that with a quick wit like that, he’d soon be on to ever more dazzling things."