Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

With all the fuss over J. K. Rowling’s pen name in the news, Carmela Ciuraru, author of Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms and writing in the Wall Street Journal, offered up an especially prolific practitioner:

Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese poet who died in 1935, used more than 70 pseudonyms. According to Ciuraru, he gave each “distinct physical characteristics, astrological signs and prose styles. Their literary output was astonishing, and they were known to savage one another’s work. To this day, no one knows the motive behind Pessoa’s relentless self-multiplying. ‘I’m the empty stage where various actors act out various plays,’ he wrote.”

Maybe Pessoa was just having fun.

MORE: Several writers were invited by The New York Times to choose a pen name and describe what kind of book their fictional author would write.

Carl Hiaasen’s most recent novel is the bestselling Bad Monkey. He said that his pseudonym would be Rick O’Mortis. Describing that fake’s book, Hiaasen wrote, “I envision a series of vampire-romance novels set at an assisted-living facility in post-apocalyptic Boca Raton, Fla. Perhaps there could also be trolls and pythons.”

THE DIFFERENCE: Judith Thurman is the author of Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, which won the National Book Award in 1983. Thurman wrote in The New Yorker: “Novelists generally don’t make good biographers (novel writing seems to be a work of high-minded betrayal and biography a work of dirty-minded fidelity).”

CASTING: Boris Kachka’s Hothouse has nothing to do with raising delicate flowers. It tells the story of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which regularly turned out bestsellers when it was at its “hottest.” In an August 2 interview, Kachka was asked by The New York Times, “If cable TV decided to adapt Hothouse, whom would you cast as Roger Straus and Robert Giroux?”

Kachka said, “I think for the older Straus and Giroux, Dustin Hoffman and Anthony Hopkins might be ideal. Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey could do nicely in a more cartoonish version. On the younger, improbably handsome end of the spectrum, I think Josh Brolin has the Straus swagger and Colin Firth, Giroux’s Anglophile repression.”

DYNASTY: “Children of the Pen” was the title of the cover article in The New York Times Magazine on August 4. The long subtitle: “You might not write horror. (Though two of them do.) You might not be a novelist. (Though five of them are.) But if you are part of Stephen’s King’s family, you definitely have great stories to tell.”

The writers are wife Tabitha King, son Joe Hill, son Owen King, Owen’s wife Kelly Braffet and the father of it all, Stephen.

How did this happen? At bedtime Stephen and Tabitha didn’t tell stories to the children. The children told stories to the parents. It must have become a habit.

SCENES: Elizabeth Strout is on the cover of the August issue of The Writer. Her new novel is The Burgess Boys.

In an interview, Strout said, “I mostly do not plan anything in advance. I’m not a planner I’m not very organized, so I tend to write in scenes, and they’re not necessarily in order at all. What I will try to do when I sit down to work, particularly in the first stages of a book, is to write what it is that I’m seeing or feeling most urgently at that moment. And then hope that it will find its way into the overall tapestry—if it doesn’t, it just ends up on the floor.”

LITTLE LIBRARIES: More and more hotels, including chain operations, are installing books in their lobbies. The object is to get guests to spend more time—and money—in the hotels’ restaurants and bars, rather than going outside.

WARNING: E.B. White wrote: “I sometimes doubt that a writer should refine or improve his workroom by so much as a dictionary: one thing leads to another and the first thing you know he has a stuffed chair and is fast asleep in it.”

TRIBUTE: James McBride is the author of The Color of Water. A new book, The Good Lord Bird: A Novel, is to be published August 20. Asked for the name of his favorite novelist, he said Toni Morrison. He was interviewed in The New York Times’ August 4th Book Review.

McBride explained, “Morrison is like John Coltrane. She can play anything. She plays off the horn, like Coltrane did. She busts through the form. Coltrane’s music demanded listening. Morrison’s work is the same. It simply demands attention. There is no living author like her.” McBride himself is also a musician.

GOOD NEWS: Donal Ryan lives in Limerick, Ireland. He wrote two novels, sent them to publishers and agents and, over three years, got 47 rejections.

Then an intern at Dublin’s Lilliput Press found The Thing About December in the slush pile and an editor at Doubleday discovered The Spinning Heart. Ryan had a two-book deal.

It was announced last week that The Spinning Heart was a selection for the Man Booker Prize long list.

This happy story made the editorial page of The New York Times where it was said that such stories “allow us to believe that our luck could change at any moment; that if we persevere beyond the point of reason and perhaps good taste, we may finally succeed.”

INGREDIENT: “All writers need a strong quotient of self-regard for that momentous leap onto the blank page in the morning,” wrote critic Charles Isherwood in The New York Times.

FAREWELL: John Graves, 92, died July 31 at his home near Glen Rose, Texas. He was the author of Goodbye to a River, Hard Scrabble, and From a Limestone Ledge. The first book is about a canoe trip he and his dog took down the Brazos before it was dammed. It made Graves a Texas legend. The book’s first sentence was quoted in his New York Times’ obituary:

“Most autumns, the water is low from the long, dry summer, and you have to get out from time to time and wade, leading or dragging your boat through trickling shallows from one pool to the long channel-twisted pool below, hanging up occasionally on shuddering bars of quicksand, making six or eight miles in a day’s work, but if you go to the river at all, you tend not to mind.”

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