by Campbell Geeslin
Ewan Clayton is the author of The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing. He is a Brit, a former monk, a calligrapher and teacher. A reviewer of his book said, “He brings his craftsman’s perspective to his history of the Roman alphabet from its start to its finish.”
In an interview with PW, Clayton said, “Two things [about writing] fascinate me. First, the act of writing itself. Making contact with another surface and then moving across it in a sequence of movements, it’s like a dance or a kind of free-running in a city of letterforms as you surmount the challenges that each new combination of shapes throws at you, and always you keep your flow going. The second thing is what happens to a document after it is written, the activity that surrounds it.”
GOOD NEWS: PW said that “booksellers have found that offering self-published titles from local authors is a good way to distinguish their stores from online discounters and big-box competitors.” No longer does a self-published book have to be a lonely orphan.
SCI-FI SHIFT: Tom Shipley writes a column on science fiction for The Wall Street Journal. Recently he noted: “Fifty years ago it was just possible to make a living from sci-fi short stories….Not so now. Only three of the old mags are still printing and the market demands blockbuster novels. Yet the urge to write shorts is as strong as ever. Online venues pay peanuts but proliferate all over, and original anthologies come out faster than one can keep track.”
“The great thing about anthologies,” Shipley has found, “is that they act as ‘tasters,’ so you get to know authors you may have missed on the bookstores’ crowded shelves.” He believes there “are a lot of prolific talents…out there, all competing vigorously for our attention and producing many new angles, many unexpected treats.”
MORE EROTICA: The trio of Fifty Shades novels created a boom in erotica-spiced romance. Publishers have been looking for more hot stuff, and writers are delivering.
Sylvia Day has written 28 romance novels and is one of the bestselling authors in the genre. She has recently stepped up the erotica, and St. Martin’s Press has just paid her eight figures for two new novels that. The first will be out in 2015.
Do readers want still more of that wonderful stuff? Carolyn Anbar, a buyer at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., told The New York Times that sales of the Fifty Shades books have dwindled to only a few copies a month. She said, “at this point, the whole genre has definitely died down for us.” Or just pausing, catching a breath before the next hot writer comes along.
END OF AN ERA: Command Authority by the late Tom Clancy (he died October 1) and Mark Greaney was an immediate bestseller when it came out last month. All of Clancy’s 17 novels have been bestsellers.
Retired General Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, paid tribute in PW: “What made his books so popular throughout the world, especially among the military, was how he immersed himself in the things he wrote about….Some things that actually have happened over the years bear some resemblance to scenarios that he put together. Tom could sense things and see things in a way that others couldn’t.”
INNOCENT: E. L. Doctorow’s new novel is Andrew’s Brain. In an interview in this week’s New York Times Book Review, he talked about his reading habits: “Sometimes I put books down that are good but that I see too well what the author is up to. As you practice your craft, you lose your innocence as a reader. That’s the one sad thing about this work.”
OZ DID IT: Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book is a novel, The Signature of All Things. In the January AARP Magazine she wrote about how L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz series changed her life.
“These books taught me to love reading,” she said, “but more important, they taught me to love adventure, and to believe in the heroism of adventurous little girls from small family farms….who were able to set out on wild voyages of discovery.”
WHAT PARIS MEANS: Ellery Washington is a writer who teaches at Pratt. He wrote about “James Baldwin’s Paris” in Sunday’s New York Times travel section.
Washington said Baldwin had left New York for Paris “to escape American racism–an escape that he believed literally saved his life and made it possible for him to write.” Washington, who lived in Paris for a while as well, concluded “Even if France is no longer a haven for people of color, Paris remains a beacon, a vital connection to a time when, for many of our most important artists, writers and political thinkers, a much-needed shelter was sought and found.”
FIRE MAKER: Helen Carr is the author of The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H.D. and the Imagists (2009). In an essay about Amy Lowell in The Wall Street Journal, Carr wrote that “appraisal of Lowell…has come slowly, gaining momentum only in the last 10 years.” Lowell died in 1925 at the age of 51.
A member of one of Boston’s best known families, she was portrayed as a
misguided spinster, “overbearing and risible; mocked as an obese ‘hippopoetess’”
In her day, female poets were expected to be modest and retiring. Lowell was neither. “Hurling bombs is my specialty and I admit no second in the art. Poetry may be a temperate subject in other hands—I assure you it is liquid fire in mine.”
Carr said a new book about her, Amy Lowell Anew by Carl Rollyson, suggests that the world finally is catching up with the lady volcano.
SOB: A murky photo of a retail store’s multi-level interior ran in The New York Times last week. The caption said: “Rizzoli Bookstore, whose Old World charm, chandeliers and big storefront windows make it a favorite of authors and book lovers, is losing what was it’s home for 29 years on 57th Street.”
Another much-treasured dinosaur must find a new cave or cash in its chips.
NEXT: The world is waiting for the concluding novel of Hilary Mantel‘s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, a guaranteed best-selling finish to the chancellor’s tale launched in the bestselling Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. But Mantel’s next will be a collection of short stories—The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, due out in September.
POET’S BIO: Susan Cheever has written a biography, e. e. cummings: a life, of the lowercase poet. He was a friend of her father, John Cheever, and in an excerpt in the February Vanity Fair, Susan Cheever describes her memories of the legend. Cummings died at 61 in 1962.
Pinned on her wall is a letter about army experiences written to her father. The playful poet diddled with the language and spelling: “listen moi aussi [I too] have slept in mmuudd with a kumrad’s feet in the corner of my smile.”
“In his almost three thousand poems,” writes Cheever, “he sometimes furiously, sometimes lovingly, debunked anyone in power—even death.”
ODD COUPLE: Roger Ailes is head of Fox News. William Randolph Hearst was publisher of sensational newspapers. Ailes is a wealthy man, and the TV news channel he runs for Fox has many devoted fans. Hearst had great success and many devoted followers.
An article in the January 20th New Yorker by Jill Lepore, a professor at Harvard, uses several biographies of Ailes and Hearst to illustrate the one trait they had in common: mixing news and entertainment.
In 1988, Ailes wrote a book titled You Are the Message. Lepore concludes that “Ailes was an entertainer. He’s also a bogeyman.”
A contemporary newsman of Hearst said that he “was largely a projection of his readers.” Orson Welles, whose Citizen Kane was based on Hearst, said, “Such men combine a morbid preoccupation with the public with a devastatingly low opinion of the public morality and moral character.”
HER GOAL: “I like to shock myself a little,“ Lorrie Moore told PW, “and I hope to jolt the reader a little bit as well.”
Moore’s seventh book, Bark, is a collection of short stories. It will be out in February. Moore said in an interview, “You know, when I write a story, it doesn’t feel as if it has any relationship to anything I have written before, and that’s why I’m interested in writing it….I never look back where work is concerned.”