by Campbell Geeslin
“The Internet long ago revamped publishing and bookselling,” wrote David Streitfeld in The New York Times. “Now technology is transforming the writing of fiction, previously the most solitary and exacting of arts, into something nearly the opposite. It is social, informal and intimate, with the result not only consumed but often composed on the fly.”
Wattpad is the new way to tell stories. More than 2 million writers produce 100,000 pieces of material a day for 20 million readers. For free. For nothing. Charles Melcher, host of an annual Future of Story Telling conference, told The Times, “Now that everyone’s been given permission to be creative, new ways of telling stories, of being entertained, are being invented. A lot of people are lamenting the end of the novel, but I think it’s simply evolving.”
Allen Lau, Wattpad’s chief executive, was interviewed at the company’s office in Toronto. He said, “Almost all our writers serialize their content. Two thousand words is roughly ten minutes of reading. That makes the story more digestible, something you can do when standing in line.”
Readers respond to the writers. The Times said that traditional publishing is watching Wattpad closely, “not only as a source of new talent but also for techniques to increase reader engagement.” But the writers go unpaid.
NOT A TEACHER: Stephanie Merritt is a critic and essayist who writes bestselling historical thrillers under the name S.J. Parris. In an essay in The Guardian she wrote, “Novelists are not history teachers. It’s not our job to educate people, and if we starting using words like ‘duty’ and ‘responsibility’ about historical fiction—or any fiction—we’re in danger of leaching all the vigor out of it with a sense of worthiness.”
IRE INSPIRED: Cynthia Ozick’s review of the complete works of Bernard Malamud in The New York Times Book Review prompted a couple of noted names to write in. In a footnote, Ozick admitted that she had not read Malamud’s The Natural because it had a baseball setting.
Daniel Okrent, author of The Ultimate Baseball Book, wrote that Ozick “might as well review the collected F. Scott Fitzgerald and leave out Tender is the Night because she doesn’t like France.”
Floyd Abrams, a lawyer in many literary cases, wrote that it is “failing altogether for a reviewer to comment on a book that she has deliberately left unread.”
WHAT IS HISTORY? Simon Schama’s 496-page The Story of the Jews has inspired plenty of media comment. There is also a companion five-part series on PBS-TV.
Perhaps a good history depends on the author’s narrative skill in joining true stories together over a long period. Jonathan Rosen, author of The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Schama’s imagination works like the plaster bones fitted in with the real ones when paleontologists put their skeletons together.”
Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World, wrote in Sunday’s The New York Times Book Review, “You’d think that the task of synthesizing the available information would be harder today . . . But Schama has pulled it off with opinionated flair and literary grace.“
ZAP2it took a different view: Schama’s book “sounds like a routine Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks cooked up just after the 2,000 Year Old Man.”
EARLY WILLIAMS: An unpublished short story by Tennessee Williams was found in his archive at the University of Texas. The title is “Crazy Night,” and it will be published in the next issue of The Strand.
According to The New York Times, the story “recounts a freshman’s drunken misadventures on the last night of school after the 1929 stock market crash and before the repeal of Prohibition.”
FANTASY HIT: Brandon Sanderson’s novel Words of Reverence, the second in a fantasy series, was No. 1 on the Times’s bestseller list last week. Sanderson lives in North Fork, Utah, with his wife and three children. He is a prolific writer, and also teaches at Brigham Young University. He is just back from an extensive book tour.
Sanderson’s online presence includes a website, blog and a store that sells signed copies of his books, decals, jewelry, tee-shirts and beanies. After his tour, his wife and business manager, Emily, wrote on the blog: “People are so kind to Brandon at signings, and I’m grateful for that. He comes home with . . . gifts from readers. Often some of those gifts are addressed to me!”
What does one give the business manager of a successful fantasy writer? Looked like fancy chocolates in the photo.
NO LAUGHING MATTER: Gary Shteyngart has written two widely praised literary novels and a funny memoir. Now he’s shifting gears and writing a thriller. The title will be Hotel Solitaire, and The New York Times said it’s about a young woman who “works in finance, travels the world and searches for her brother, who has mysteriously disappeared.”
Random House said it would be published in 2017. Here’s hoping they won’t edit out any of Shteyngart’s wildly original (or is it just Russian?) humor.
KINDLE OR CHAOS: K. Boomberg’s Crashed, the third novel in a trilogy, made the Times’s bestseller list last week. It was published in March and jumped near the top immediately.
A photo on the Internet shows that Boomberg is a brunette with bangs and long dark hair. She “lives in California with her husband and three children. When she needs a break from the daily chaos of her life, you can most likely find her on the treadmill or with Kindle in hand, devouring the pages of a good, saucy book.”
The jacket on Crashed says: “Crashing into love, racing toward forever.”
MAMMY’S TURN: A new spin-off from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind features Mammy, Scarlett O’Hara’s loyal maid, as the main character. The title is Ruth’s Journey, and the author is Donald McCraig, who wrote the earlier Wind spin-off, Rhett Butler’s People (2007). Mammy last appeared in Alice Randall’s parody The Wind Done Gone in 2001, which focused on her imagined daughter Cynara, half sister to Scarlett. The new story is due out in October.
ON KID LIT: Emma Donoghue is the author of Frog Music. In an interview in the Times Book Review on Sunday, she said she had a great deal of children’s literature on her shelves “not just because I like to read Doctor Dolittle to my kids, but because kid lit is often wonderful writing that adults would enjoy if a sort of snobbery didn’t prevent them from picking it up.”
MYSTERY: The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson was on last week’s bestseller list. This is Davidson’s 17th mystery novel and stars a fictional Goldy Schulz, a caterer and detective.
A HarperCollins’s Web page says Davidson “has been married to her husband Jim for almost 40 years. They have three sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.”
On Facebook, Davidson asked readers who find “any typos in the hardcover of The Whole Enchilada, please send me a message.”
So there’s another mystery: didn’t the book get a proper proof reading?
FETE: April is O, Miami Poetry Festival month in Florida, and poems will be almost impossible to avoid. They are pasted on mirrors in public bathrooms. Some poets will earn a free beer for every poem they write on a bar napkin (three’s the limit).
P. Scott Cunningham, the festival’s director, told The New York Times that happenings will include “Anything that’s not the usual poetry reading.”
An actor will be costumed as the poet Jose Marti. He will ride a white horse down Calle Ocho, giving out roses with poems attached.