Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

What do creative people need in order to create? Peace and quiet? Deadlines? A daily word count?

Most writers can’t bear noise, but James Joyce worked “with his family hollering around him” while Mark Twain’s family kept their distance, blowing a horn in emergencies rather than knock on his door.

The tolerances, habits, and idiosyncratic prompts of the writing life are the subject of a new book, Daily Rituals. The author is Mason Currey of Brooklyn. The book began life as a now-defunct blog.

“A lot of writers,” noted the July 1 New Yorker’s “Briefly Noted” section, “worked on [self-imposed] minimums, the most famous being Trollope’s 2,500 words each morning, before going to his day job. (Yeats said that he never got more than five or six good lines in a day.)

V.S. Pritchett said that the really great artists ‘never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.’”

An NPR reviewer of Daily Rituals repeated an old quote from Joyce Carol Oates: “Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a very dirty peanut across the floor with your nose.” The prolific Oates made that crack many years ago. Her nose doesn’t show the damage.

DROPPED: Southern TV chef Paula Deen stewed up a real mess. In a deposition for a lawsuit brought by a former employee, she admitted she had used racist language, and a succession of sponsors dropped her like a deep-fried potato.

Random House had been scheduled to publish her next book in October. That book was canceled despite the fact that it hit No. 1 on Amazon.com as orders poured in. The New York Times said that many fans were “springing to her defense.”

Last year, Random House signed a five-book contract with Deen. That was canceled too.

PRIVATE STUFF: The British Library recently bought a W.H. Auden diary he began in 1939. The poet had just come to America.  World War II was underway.

Several quotes from the diary appeared in The Guardian, a couple of which Auden might have expected to remain private: “It is impossible to listen to music and get an erection at the same time.” And on a strange custom of the New World,

“the American habit of washing one’s hands after pissing, as if the penis were an object, too filthy for any decent person to touch.”

The library will put the journal, which had been owned privately, on display in August.

GOOD NEWS: Thanks to digital advances in mobile devices, audiobooks are flourishing. On Page 1 of Sunday’s New York Times, it said, “A recent survey by industry groups showed that audiobook revenue climbed 22 percent in 2012 compared with 2011.”

It’s a welcome development for authors and publishers, and especially for a growing number of actors who serve as readers. They were the point of the article.

ON THRILLERS: Adam LeBor is the author of The Geneva Operation and The Istanbul Exchange. He described the qualities of a good thriller in the June 30 New York Times Book Review.

Thrillers, LeBor wrote, “require obfuscation, mystery and deception [looped] though a maze of switchbacks—ideally strewn with the dead bodies of double agents, dupes, femmes fatales, sinister businessmen.”

Thriller writer Alan Furst told LeBor that it was important “not to give too much away too soon and to move the story along to keep the reader hooked.”

A whisper on Page 5 should echo on Page 205.

TALE OF INDIA: Amish Tripathi’s first novel, The Immortals of Meluha, was rejected by more than 20 publishers. Self-published, it became a bestseller in less than a week. One and a half million copies were sold this spring.   It is the first volume of the fastest selling book series in the history of Indian publishing.

Tripathi was quoted in the July issue of The Writer, “When you are writing, you have to be completely cut off from the world and not care a damn about anyone else’s opinion. Write from the honesty of your heart. But once you’ve finished your book then you have to figure out: Okay, how do I sell this thing?”

The author, a banker, told the Hindustan Times: “I think I was lucky to have advisers who had nothing to do with publishing. In an industry, the people with the freshest ideas usually come from outside.”

TOP FIVE: Amazon reported that the best-selling title so far this year was a business book, StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.

In order, the next four were: (2) Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, (3) Inferno by Dan Brown, (4) Oh, the Places You Go! by Dr. Seuss and (5) Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, M.D.

HOW-TO: The headline in PW said: “The Author as Entrepreneur: Changes in Technology and the Law are Transforming the Way Authors Finance Their Books.”

One of PW‘s examples was author Michael J. Sullivan, who went the indie-band route to raise $30,857 from 861 backers via Kickstart for his new novel, Hollow World.

Another crowd-sourcing venture, PubSlush, based in New York City, was described by PW as focused “on helping new authors find their audiences. Authors post samples of the books to raise money and receive actionable marketing analytics, which helps them self-publish their books or release them through traditional publishing houses.”

FIRST LINE: In a letter to a friend, J.R.R. Tolkien told how one of his famous books happened. The bored Oxford professor was grading student papers when an unexpected idea came into his head. He remembered: “On a blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why.”

ONE WRITER’S LIFE: In a Wall Street Journal review of Tim Parks’s latest book, Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo, Ben Downing describes a life that could be an author’s dream. Downing is the author of Queen Bee of Tuscany, published last month.

He wrote: “Among living writers, is there a happier example of expatriation than Tim Parks?” Parks moved to Verona with his Italian wife in 1981. Their home is in Italy, but he has maintained “his essential identity as an Englishman, a semi-skeptical outsider looking in. . . . Italy has provided his sensibility—comic, punchy, inquisitive, at once earthy and cerebral—with just the right milieu to act upon.” Parks has written 15 novels and 10 works of nonfiction.

The review ends with: “The book is no Ferrari on rails but instead something much better: a slow train so thoughtfully appointed that one never thinks to look out the window or care about the destination.”

BIG GAP: Books published for children are almost all about white children. That was a topic for discussion 50 years ago.  Librarians and teachers are still asking, why so little diversity? NPR brought up the subject again because books about Latinos and African-Americans continue to be rare.

Nearly a fourth of all public school children in the U.S. are Latinos, but only 3 per cent of children’s books are by or about Latinos. The Census Bureau was quoted: “Nearly half of today’s children under five-years-old are non-whites.”

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, a librarian in Rio Rancho, N.M., has written and co-authored several books about African-Americans.  She believes that if children don’t see themselves in a book, then they may lose interest in reading. Nelson said, “They don’t think there is anything in books about them or for them.”

SCARY: Richard Matheson, 87, died June 23 in Calabasas, Calif. He was the author of I Am a Legend (1954), The Shrinking Man (1956), Hell House (1971) and many other terrifying tales.  Several of his books became movies. Stephen King wrote that Matheson “was a seminal figure in the horror and fantasy genres, as important in his way as Poe or Lovecraft.” Above his desk, Matheson had a sign that said: “That which you think becomes your world.”

SHIFT: Philip E. Slater, 86, died June 20 in Santa Cruz, Calif. He was the author of the bestselling The Pursuit of Loneliness (1970), a book that advised people to avoid playing life safe and caused him to drop out of his successful career in academia. He went on to write or co-write six volumes of sociological criticism and dozens of plays and novels.  The New York Times quoted him: “The experience of losing everything and finding I was having a wonderful time opened me to experiences I otherwise would not have had.”

 

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