Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Oprah Winfrey can sell books and so can Stephen Colbert.

Colbert, whose America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t, is published by Hachette, has been waging a fierce public counter offensive against Amazon’s freeze play on Hachette book orders.

His latest weapon in the good fight was a first novel by a young writer named Edan Lepucki, whose California isalso published by Hachette.

“We will not lick their monopoly boot,” said Colbert as he suggested that viewers pre-order California from independent bookstores. The upheaval caused by Amazon, Colbert told his audience, “is toughest on young authors who are being published for the first time.” He also recommended the novel to his 6.6 million Twitter followers.

The book, published last Tuesday, has become “one of the most pre-ordered debut titles in Hachette history,” said The New York Times, quoting a company spokeswoman.

Lepucki’s book tour was expanded, and she signed 10,000 copies at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. The original print order of 12,000 copies has been expanded, too—to 60,000 copies.

Last Sunday’s Times Book Review described California as a novel “in which characters traverse a cross-section of mid-collapse landscape, framed by the gradual decline of civilization.”

PETITION: Two weeks ago, bestselling author Douglas Preston began circulating a letter that encouraged authors to write Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, asking him to “resolve its dispute [with Hachette]. . . without hurting authors and withholding, blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to customers.”

PW said the “letter went viral” and 300 authors signed on. These included James Patterson, David Balducci, Joseph Finder, Stephen King and Nora Roberts. David Maraniss, associate editor of The Washington Post, which Bezos owns, signed on too.

An Amazon spokesman responded: “We look forward to resolving this issue with Hachette as soon as possible.”

SUCCESS PAYS BIG: John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars has been wildly successful as both book and film. It has been on the bestseller list for 130 weeks, and the film has earned $166 million worldwide. It’s turned Green’s earlier books into gold to be mined.

Paper Towns (2009), another Green novel, is being adapted for the screen by the producers and screenwriters who made Fault.

Now, The Guardian reported that actor Sarah Polley, who has directed three movies, is writing a screenplay of Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska (2006).

ALL GENRES: Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood is the eighth book in her Outlander series and a No. 1 fiction bestseller.

Her Wiki entry describes her novels as “historical fiction, romance, mystery, adventure and science fiction/fantasy.” In an interview, she explained that she doesn’t “write in a straight line at all. I just write bits and pieces and then glue them together.” She described what she writes as “enormous historical fiction, with a sort of romantic thread running through it.”

Gabaldon wrote her first book to learn how to write a book. Since then, she’s sold about 26 million books worldwide.

CRITIC: Ezra Pound turned critic after he read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. “At last, an unprintable book that is fit to read.”

MUSEUM IN INDIA: A three-room house in Motihari, India, where George Orwell was born in 1903, will be restored and turned into a museum. The house was declared a protected site in 2010. The government of Bihar state hopes the museum will draw tourists to the remote area in northeastern India.

Most of Orwell’s manuscripts, letters, recordings, photographs and diaries are at the University College in London. Orwell’s son, Richard Blair, said he is in favor of sending facsimiles of some items to Motihari. “Nothing is impossible,” Blair told The Guardian. “But I need to consult other members of the archive committee.”

RESEARCH READING: “My primary interest as a writer is bringing compelling historical events to life as vividly and accurately as I can,“ Daniel James Brown said. His The Boys in the Boat is currently a nonfiction bestseller. It tells about the University of Washington’s rowing crew in the 1939 Berlin Olympics.

Brown lives outside Seattle with his wife and their two daughters. He said when he’s not writing he might “be chasing bears away from the bee hives,”

He told an interviewer at Powell’s Books that when he decided to write a book about rowing, “I sat down to read Seabiscuit [by Laura Hillenbrand] and The Amateurs [by David Halberstam]. Both of them, in very different ways were, to some extent, models for me. I admire those books very much. I learned a lot by thinking about my own story while reading them.”

BACKGROUND: “I loved Sparkle Plenty, a little girl in the Dick Tracy comic strip, for her gumption,” Lynne Cheney told The New York Times Book Review. She was describing what she read as a child growing up in Casper, Wyo., in the 1940s. “And Wonder Woman was our action heroine. My friends and I ran and leapt and defended the good and the true, inspired by Wonder Woman’s strength and power.”

Cheney has never wanted for gumption or drive. She just published her 15th book, a biography: James Madison: A Life Reconsidered.

FATHER’S ADVICE: The paperback of Sue Grafton’s W Is for Wasted will be out in August. That leaves only X, Y and Z. She said in 1993 that the title of the last book in the series would probably be Z Is for Zero.

In the same interview, with Naomi Epel in Writers Dreaming, Grafton quoted her father, C.W. Grafton, a lawyer who wrote mystery novels on the side. He told her, “It is miracle enough that I have an idea translated into marks on a page and someone else can read those marks and have the same idea appear in their minds.”

Grafton continued by saying, “His feeling was that a writer’s first obligation was to keep communication clear and simple. He never wanted me to tamper with language or punctuation or spelling because he felt that would muddy the whole process of communication.”

OBSERVATION: Francine Prose wrote in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, “I imagine that most writers would rather their work not be defined by gender, or race or country of origin, but rather by what they write. For don’t all writers (and for that matter, all human beings) secretly or not so secretly, believe that they are unique, that each of us exists in, belongs to and defines a category of our own?”

REJECTION: In 1933, Samuel Beckett wrote a story called Echo’s Bones. His editor rejected it with the following: “It is a nightmare. It gives me the jim-jams. People will shudder and be puzzled and confused.”

Eighty years later the story is being published for the first time. The New York Times book reviewer Dwight Garner described it as “Rude, surreal, death-haunted, sex-addled, dry as a bone.” Garner declared: “His paragraphs unfurl like parades, notations on life’s sick pageant. . . . this story is a wide-awake delivery system for snot.”

ADDING ON: A new edition of Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, includes a discarded first chapter and other deletions, earlier drafts and alternate titles. One discarded first sentence: “This is a novel about a lady.”

It has an introduction by the author’s grandson Sean Hemingway, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum. He said “While the material has been discussed at great length by scholars, it hasn’t been brought together in this way before, and it hasn’t been accessible to the general public.”

The author’s only surviving son, Patrick, 85, told the Times that the added material “makes for more pleasurable reading and perhaps understanding.”

LIMITS: “There is only so much a writer does,” the late Gore Vidal told Charles Ruas in Conversations with American Writers.

Vidal commented on two writers above: “I use somewhere the idea that every writer has a given theatre in his head, a repertory company. Shakespeare has fifty characters, I have ten, Tennessee [Williams] has five, [Ernest] Hemingway has one, [Samuel] Beckett is busy trying to have none. You are stuck with your repertory company and you can only put on plays with its characters.”

THE END: William Wordsworth said, “Great is the art of beginning but greater is the art of ending.” Carl Sandberg asked, “What is there more of in the world than anything? Ends.”

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