Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Neil Gaiman is sensitive.  He doesn’t want anyone to refer to his books as fantasies. They are tales in which magic things happen. Titles include Sandman and The Graveyard Book. Among his long list of awards are the Newbery and Carnegie medals, the Hugo and the Nebula. He also dabbles in screenplays for movies and TV and just about everything else. The British-born writer lives in Cambridge, Mass.

His latest bestseller, with a June 18 pub date, is The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It’s a short novel of less than 200 pages, but it was the excuse for a major spread in Time magazine.

Gaiman told Time that this new book is “an accidental novel. I don’t know how I did it.” Thanks to magic, impossible things happen. He said, “I love writing stuff where I get to set the rules.”

The Guardian asked Gaiman about his politics. He said, “In British terms I am somewhere in the fuzzy middle of ‘Why can’t we all be nice to each other?,’ and ‘I really don’t like people exploiting other people’—yet in American terms, that puts me so far to the left of any political party that my politics out there are considered irrelevant.’”

FACELESS: The jackets of 18 recently published books have photographs of the backs of women; two of the books show the backs of three women.

The coincidence was noted by Chloe Schama, an editor at The New Republic, in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review.  Schama wrote: “The ubiquitous book-cover back suggests to potential readers that the book is about bodies and the forces contained therein, and there’s nothing wrong with that—in fact, it’s a fairly accurate description of all novels.”

LIKE US: Judith Flanders is a British journalist and historian who writes about the Victorian era. Her latest book, out in July, is The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime.

Flanders was asked by PW: “How do you approach writing history?”  She replied, “While most people are interested a bit in history ‘from above’ (i.e. [from the perspectives of] kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers), everyone loves history ‘from below’—how people just like us dealt with daily life. That’s what all my books focus on.”

C.S.’s CURE: The following quote is from a new biography, C.S. Lewis: A Life, by Alister MGrath. Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend: “Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago.” Does a computer keyboard work as well as ink?

PLAYER: The late George Plimpton’s bestselling books about boxing, football and trapeze flying were called “participatory journalism.” Plimpton took up each sport and wrote about the pains he suffered, often with humor.

Tom Bean, one of the makers of a new documentary, Plimpton!, talked about the biographical film in the July issue of Vanity Fair. Bean said, “George was full of surprises. He would sort of pop up around the edges of these important moments in history. For example, he was standing next to Robert Kennedy when he was assassinated. . . .George was almost like a Wasp Zelig or an intellectual Forest Gump—it was interesting to see him suddenly appear in history.”

A BOOK IS BORN: Pianist Jeremy Denk wrote an essay about his early years of studying music, “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” for The New Yorker. Random House has signed him to expand the piece into a book.

Denk e-mailed The New York Times: “I hope it doesn’t sound silly to say that for me there is a connection between the task of piano playing, trying to find the elusive combination of nuances that bring the phrase alive, and the search for the ‘perfect’ combination of words to express something.”

WHY Y/A: When bestselling Florida author Carl Hiaasen wrote his first novel for young adults, he thought there would be just one.  But Hoot became a movie and sold two million copies.  So he has written four more.

Bad Monkey, however, is Hiaasen’s most recent novel and it’s for adults. It was an immediate bestseller. He admitted in an interview for The Wall Street Journal that Y/A books are easier to write. They take him just half as much time as an adult novel—about six to nine months.

Hiaasen said, “Kids love it when you make fun of grown-ups, and I’ve been doing that my whole life in the newspaper business and the novels, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch.” He’s now working on his fifth Y/A novel.

And he continues his column for The Miami Herald. He explained why: “It keeps you on the hamster wheel. The muscle keeps getting exercised.”

FILM ON THE WAY: E.L. James’ erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Gray, has sold 70 million copies, and a woman, Sam Taylor-Johnson, will direct the movie version. Wall Street Journal contributor Heidi Mitchell wrote that many readers had left the book unfinished because they “found it to be far from the fiction they were comfortable with.” Is it possible to be too naughty these days?

HOW-TO: Kelly Williams Brown, 28, an advertising copywriter in Portland, Ore., came up with a new way of producing a book. She asked Facebook friends and “wise random experts at bars” what skills they needed by the time they were 30.

The result was Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. Several bits of advice were quoted in the The New York Times Style section Sunday. Sample: “No. 163. Live your life as though everyone in the office has plastic, featureless doll crotches.”

The idea for the book has been optioned for a television series.

RETIRING?: Alice Munro, 81, told an editor of Canada’s The National Post, “I’m probably not going to write anymore. And, so, it’s nice to go out with a bang.”  Her latest collection of stories, Dear Life, had just won the Trillium Book Award of $20,000.  The presentation ceremony was June 17. The Guardian reported that she has hinted at retirement at least twice before and asked, “Does she really mean it?”

RECIPE FOR FUN: The New York Review of Books provides a welcome service—republishing books that never should have gone out of print.

A recent one is Junket Is Nice (1932) by the late Dorothy Kunhardt. Her famous book is Pat the Bunny and like Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, is a gift for just about every newborn child. Little ones deserve Junket Is Nice too. Maybe grandmother will remember how to make the real junket.

WORK PLAN: Adam Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford.  His The Orphan Master’s Son won this year’s Pulitzer for fiction.

In the July issue of The Writer, he described how he works: “I go to the library for six or eight hours and I write, and then I go home to my wife. On my laptop, I usually have two documents open. One is the narrative I’m working on, and one is usually a blank page that I can make mistakes on, play around with and throw those words away. At the end of the day maybe I’ll have a paragraph, maybe I’ll have a page of work, and then I’ll move it over to the story I’m actually writing.”

EXHIBIT: On June 21, the New York Public Library opened an exhibit entitled “The ABCs of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” There are almost 250 books on view plus related objects like Pooh dolls, a toy car from The Phantom Tollbooth, and William Blake’s illustrations for Songs of Innocence.

MEETING: The battle over the proposed interior renovation of the landmarked New York Public Library and the closing of its largest circulating library, the Mid-Manhattan branch, continues even as NYPL president Anthony Marx pushes for demolition to begin this summer. The process of moving research books from the stacks under Bryant Park to New Jersey has already begun. Architecture critics and library lovers who claim that the expensive renovation— estimates run to $350 million— has been green-lighted without sufficient attention to public opinion will get what may be their last chance to speak up at a public meeting Thursday, June 27, at 250 Broadway, Room 1923, 10 a.m. Will any of them turn up in a lion suit?

BACK TO BASICS: Amanda Hocking made news last year when she was paid more than $2 million by St. Martin’s for rights to her previously self-published series, Watersong.

The New York Times reported that she had sold another series to St Martin’s because, she said, “I’d rather focus on my writing instead of stressing about formatting and pricing and book covers and finding editors.”

The new series, Kanin Chronicles, will be a paranormal trilogy for young adults. The first volume is expected next summer.

GIFTED: Vince Flynn, 47, died June 17 in St. Paul. He wrote 14 thrillers, and 15 million copies were sold in the U.S.  His protagonist, Mitch Rapp, was a hired killer, sometimes for the CIA.

In 2010 Flynn said in a radio interview that he was dyslexic, but that he thought that was a plus.  The New York Times’ obituary said Flynn imagined shadowy plots and ways to foil them. He said that his stories required a lot of “filling in the blanks. That’s a dyslexic gift.”

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