by Campbell Geeslin
Juan Felipe Herrera, 66, former poet laureate of California, was named U.S. Poet Laureate last week. The New York Times said he was the “son of migrant farm workers whose writing fuses wide-ranging experimentalism with reflections on Mexican-American identity.”
Herrera told the Times, “I feel like I’m on one of those big diving boards. I was on a really high one already, and now I’m going to the highest one.”
“It’s a little scary,” he added. “But I’m going to do a back flip and dance as I go into it.” His collections include Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream and 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border.
The Times’ Dwight Garner said that Herrera wrote about the “Greyhound bus stations of the soul. He understands people who are drained from the day’s hassle.”
NO CASH: “There’s no money in poetry,” poet-novelist Robert Graves said, “but there is no poetry in money either.”
TRANSGENDER: Sam Martin is the author of a semi-autobiographical story, The Most Handsome, about a transgender teenage boy who falls in love with an older boy on the beach at Cape Cod. The publisher, Duet, specializes in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer fiction.
Martin works at Starbucks in Washington and writes at night. He was quoted in The New York Times: “My goal was to write stories that would have helped me feel less alone at that age.”
In August, Scholastic will publish George, a middle-grade debut novel about a boy who knows he is a girl but doesn’t know how to tell his family and friends. The author is Alex Gino, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area and identifies himself as genderqueer.
LEG CLUE: J.K. Rowling’s third Robert Galbraith novel, Career of Evil, will be out Oct. 22. The Guardian said that the plot kicks off when the fictional detective Cormaron Strike’s secretary, Robin Elliott, receives a package containing a woman’s leg.
FICTION COMES TRUE: Joshua Cohen’s new novel is Book of Numbers. He was writing about a struggling novelist named Joshua Cohen who was ghostwriting a memoir of a billionaire founder of a Google-like technology company—also called Joshua Cohen— when Edward J. Snowden leaked hundreds of thousands of documents that revealed the U.S. government’s surveillance of its citizens and the role that tech companies had played in assisting it.
Cohen, 34, told The New York Times, “The world made this book true while I was writing it, which of course is the paranoid’s greatest fantasy. The question now is not, ‘is this true,’ but ‘How can we live with it?’”
CONTINUED: Sabaa Tahir’s first novel is An Ember in the Ashes. It is a big bestseller on the young adults lists. Tahir grew up in her family’s 18-room motel in California’s Mojave Desert.
She wrote about her book’s success on her website: “Of all the awesomeness of the past few weeks, one moment stands out: when Penguin finalized a sequel to Ember. . . the sequel gave me my heart’s wish: to tell the story I need to tell. To stay with the characters who have become such a huge part of me.”
NOTED: “A clarifying note will be added to the e-book and to subsequent print editions,” said a publisher’s statement about Primates of Park Avenue, a memoir by Wednesday Martin, a social researcher.
This came about, The New York Times said, “after a report that there were factual errors in the book.”
Martin said she had “immersed herself in the ways of the well-heeled women she met during her years on the Upper East Side.” She said she lived there with her husband and two children for five years. The New York Post published real estate records that said it was three years. “The Post also noted other inconsistencies in the book’s chronology, including mentions of a fancy macaron store that, in fact, did not open in New York until after Ms. Martin had moved away from the upscale neighborhood.”
ANTI-BLUES: Tom Robbins, 82, is the author of 11 books. He wrote in The Wall Street Journal that he was working on his first novel, Another Roadside Attraction (1971), when he heard the Beatles sing “Hey Jude.”
“I identified three themes in the lyrics—liberation, transformation and celebration. . . . All three themes were already part of my literary aesthetic, but I had been listening to a lot of blues back then, and instead of lamenting one’s troubles, here was Paul in ‘Hey Jude’ exhorting Jude—John Lennon’s son Julian, and, by extension us—to just seize misfortune and ‘make it better.’ It was an anti-blues. . . .
“It seemed the Beatles were expanding the definition of the pop song at the very time I was trying to bridge the gap between popular and so-called serious fiction.”
WAR STORY: Filmmaker Steven Spielberg has bought the rights to the story of the WikiLeaks saga, according to The Guardian. That newspaper was one of the five outlets used by WikiLeaks to reveal U.S. documents and cables relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
WINNER: Jack Livings is the author of The Dog, a collection of short stories set in China. It won the $25,000 PEN prize for debut fiction.
FROM FINLAND: Finland’s Matthew Lawrence is the author of Freya and the Myth Machine. PW said the “international hot property” for young adults is about an ancient Norse goddess. It has been bought for the U.S. by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
REAL MYSTERY: Francine Mathews is the author of 25 books of mystery fiction, including a series titled Jane Austen Mysteries. She writes historical mystery fiction under the name Stephanie Barron.
Mathews's latest stand-alone novel is Too Bad to Die, a real-life thriller about eight days in the life of James Bond-creator Ian Fleming when he was an intelligence agent.
Interviewed by literary007.com, Mathews explained: “When you’re attempting as a writer to embody a person who actually lived, you have to absorb as much of his or her life as possible—and that includes not simply biographies, but what I would call tangential matter: the culture of the time in which he grew up, the ethos of the schools and the class that educated him, the seminal historical events that shaped not only his life but his milieu and his friends.”
ALL STORIES: The U.S. and British covers for the late Terry Pratchett’s final Discworld novel, The Sheppard’s Crown, appeared on Twitter. The U.S. cover features bees, and the U.K. cover has Tiffany, a pretty young witch, with a cat.
There is a quote from Pratchett’s A Hat Full of Sky: “There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.”
IN TOUCH: David Ezra Stein is the author and illustrator of 13 books for children, including Because Amelia Smiled (2012).
Stein told PW that he enjoys creating something that “tickles that childish part of me.”
One of his characters in Interrupting Chicken, a Caldecott Prize winner, is a chicken that interrupts constantly. “I try to think of characters who have a funny way of being in the world, and put them into situations that cause tension.”
ON HOLLYWOOD: Judd Apatow is the author of Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy. He was the subject of the By the Book interview in the June 14 New York Times Book Review. Asked to name his favorite books about Hollywood, he said, “The Devil’s Candy by Julie Salamon, captured the process of making a movie in a painful fashion. Five Came Back, by Mark Harris. The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg. Kazan on Directing. Not My Father’s Son, by Alan Cumming,
“The last time I was with Mike Nichols he recommended the Charlie Chaplin biography in Peter Ackroyd’s Brief Lives series. When I got home he had already sent it to my apartment.”
COVER MAN: Paul Bacon died June 8 in Fishkill, N.Y. Over a 50-year stretch, Paul Bacon, 91, designed jackets for 6,500 books, including the bestsellers Catch-22, Portnoy’s Complaint, Slaughterhouse-Five, Ragtime, The Power Broker, Jaws and Shogun.
Bacon explained in a Print magazine interview in 2002, “I always tell myself: ‘You’re not the star of the show. The author took three and a half years to write the goddamn thing and the publisher is spending a fortune on it, so just back off.’”
Bacon worked with the editor Robert Gottlieb for many years. Gottlieb said, “He didn’t see himself as a sensitive artist; he was there to serve. If you rejected the first one, he was happy to do a tenth one. We worked and worked until it was right.”