Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

No writing teacher would allow it. Editors would turn pale.  But Roz Chast’s new memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, is written “in capital letters, underlined words and multiple exclamation points,” wrote Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times.

The memoir and the review are illustrated with Chast’s cartoons, “scribbly people go from looking merely frazzled and put-upon to looking like the shrieking figure in Munch’s “The Scream” – panicked and terrified as they see the abyss of loss and mortality looming just up the road.”

A small Chast drama between a mother and child also plays out on the cover of the May 12th New Yorker. That’s the Chast way to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Only Chast could wring laughs from such subjects.

FAREWELL: Philip Roth, 81, gave a reading at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y last Thursday.  He told a reporter for The New York Times, “This is absolutely the last appearance I will make on any public stage, anywhere.”

Roth set off peals of audience laughter with lines like, “He had never found a goy yet who could talk fast enough for him.”

FATHER’S LESSON: Jo Nesbo was the subject of a profile in the May 12 The New Yorker. The Norwegian crime novelist said that he got his plotting skills from hearing his father and relatives tell the same stories over and over. “For me, as a storyteller, that was my school. It wasn’t about the punch line but how they would build up the story toward the punch line. Now,” he said, “I get paid a king’s ransom for doing what comes naturally.”

Nesbo’s tenth novel about alcoholic detective Harry Hole is Police.

ALL IN THE FAMILIES: Guild member Peg Kehret’s new book, Two Voices: 54 Original Duologues for Teens, was co-authored by her granddaughter, Brett Konen.

Kehret said the editor for this book was the son of the editor of a book she had published in 1979.  She said, “I wonder how many authors have a thirty-five year relationship with a publisher.”

JOY IN AGENTING: In the June Poet & Writers, Susan Golomb was described as a “super agent” who also works as an editor. Clients include Jonathan Franzen, Rachel Kushner and William T. Vollmann.

Asked what she liked about her job, Golomb said, “I love the discovery of new writers. I love changing people’s lives . . . I love going out to lunch with smart people. It’s a lot of fun to go out with the nonfiction editors in election years because they always have political insight. It’s really good to be an agent. It’s tough, it’s stressful, and it requires a lot of work, but it’s very gratifying.”

FOUR ACTS: The actor John Lithgow is the author of nine books for children, including Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo.

In a review of children’s books in the May 11 New York Times Book Review, he wrote, “The seasons of the year tell a tale that resonates deep inside us. No matter where you start in the calendar, the passing of the seasons presents a beginning, middle and end that is hard-wired to our emotional metabolism. This applies equally to adults and children. A year is a drama in four acts. With a plot like that, you don’t even need a story.”

HEARTACHE AND HUMOR: Courtney Maum is a humorist and the author of a novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You. It will be published in June.

She told PW, “I tried to be honest in the writing. I do find, in life, both the heartache and humor in the same room together. Whether the humor is making you laugh depends on [whether] you’re the victim of the heartbreak.”

PSYCHOLOGY: Francine Prose’s new novel is Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. In a New York Review of Books essay, Prose offered an observation on “the psychological novel, set in the past, that focuses on language and characters.”

Books like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime “can give us the sense that we are reading about ourselves or versions of our friends and neighbors, people who, oddly enough, seem to have been born and died in another time and place.”

In a Boston Globe interview, Prose talked about books she enjoys: “I like inconclusive endings a lot. The first Y.A. novel I wrote apparently had an inconclusive ending because I keep getting letters from eighth graders saying they loved my book until the end. It never occurred to me when I was in eighth grade to write a complaining letter to an author. Apparently it’s O.K. now.”

MULTI-POETS: The American Scholar furnished a first line and invited anyone on the Internet to submit a second and subsequent lines.  These will be used to create a “crowd-sourced,” Shakespearean-style sonnet.

The first line, by poet David Lehman: “How like a prison is my cubicle.”

Lehman will select the lines to follow from those submitted.

He told The New York Times, “Contestants may want to keep in mind that the paradox of liberty within imprisonment is used by Wordsworth in his sonnet about the sonnet form: ‘Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room.’”

PROLIFIC: Since Nora Roberts’s first novel, Irish Thoroughbred (1981), she has written 210 books. Her latest, The Collector, is a bestseller.

How does she do it? PW said she writes eight hours a day every day. She told the Bergen County Record (N.J.) that she begins by visualizing a key character, incident, or setting and then writes a short first draft with the basic elements of the story inspired by that initial spark.

Roberts said in a newsletter on the Web that The Collector was inspired by her interest in what goes on behind all of those New York City apartment windows. “Remember ‘Rear Window’ and how much trouble it caused for Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly?” she recalled.

RESPONSE: The sexual violence and rapes in the TV adaptation of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series have gathered growing criticism.

The author’s response was quoted in The Guardian: “the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves. We are the monsters.  (And the heroes too.) Each of us has within himself the capacity for great good, and great evil.”

EARLY INVENTION: Antonia Hodgson is the editor-in-chief of Little, Brown U.K. She has also written a novel, The Devil in the Marshsea. This historical mystery will be out in June.

Hodgson told PW, “I love making up stories. When I was about four years old, I started inventing characters and stories and I’ve never stopped. . . .There’s a big difference between idly dreaming and writing a novel—but the spark of imagination is the same. . . . I’m used to having characters wandering about in my head.”

FETE: The annual PEN dinner was held at Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History May 5. Among the 650 diners were James Salter, Robert Caro, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Safran Foer, Martin Amis and Calvin Trillin.

Philip Kerr, a Scottish-born writer of more than 20 books, nodded toward a prehistoric skeleton and told The New York Times reporter, “Let’s face it, the novel is supposed to be extinct, so actually this is probably as good a place to host [this dinner] as any.”

THRILL MAKER: Gillian Flynn’s bestseller is Gone Girl. In an interview in the May 11 New York Times Book Review, she was asked, “What makes a great thriller?”

She said that a thriller provides a feeling of “queasiness that comes with knowing something is not quite right. It’s why I love unreliable narrators—there’s something so wonderfully unnerving about realizing midway through a book that you’ve put yourself in the hands of someone who is not to be trusted,”

DEATH:  Canadian Farley Mowat, 92, died May 6 in Ontario. The naturalist and fabulist was the author of 45 books. Translated into 52 languages, they sold 17 million copies. In one, Never Cry Wolf (1963), Mowat wrote about a wolf father: “Conscientious to a fault, thoughtful of others, and affectionate within reasonable bounds, he was the kind of father whose idealized image appears in many wistful books of human family reminiscences.”

“I was content from the first to be a simple saga man, a teller of tales,“ Mowat wrote of his aspirations as a writer. He was both and more, and

for many years, I gulped down both his fiction and nonfiction, escaping into an absorbing, Mowat-created world.

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