by Campbell Geeslin
Willie Nelson, 82, is the author of the bestselling It’s a Long Story: My Life (with David Ritz). The country singer promoted his book online by saying that it’s about “selling vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias while hosting radio shows and writing song after song, hoping to strike gold.” He struck a pile of gold at least once with his autobiographical “On the Road Again,” written with Sebastian Santa Maria.
He continued describing his book: “It’s a story of true love, wild times, best friends and barrooms, with a musical sound track ripping right through it.” He still plays 150 nights a year.
A review in The Wall Street Journal noted the rarity of Nelson’s long life as a singer. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse all died at age 27.
NO MORE FACTS: Nikki Finke, 61, was known as “the most feared reporter in Hollywood,” according to The New York Times. After her website, Deadline, was purchased by Jay Penske, the owner of Women’s Wear Daily and Variety, she was forced out. Finke got a handsome settlement but it came with a clause that barred her from writing about the entertainment industry online.
Instead, after flirting with an offer to dish Washington in place of Hollywood, she created a website “dedicated to fiction—short stories, novellas and excerpts--on the entertainment industry. It is called ‘Hollywood Dementia,’ and she plans to charge $1 to $3 to read a story when it begins publishing this year.”
Finke told the Times, “There are things I am going to be able to say in fiction that I can’t say in journalism right now.”
ALL FOR TRUTH: In 1891, Thomas Hardy wrote an “explanatory note” to the first edition of his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
Hardy wrote that “the story is sent out in all sincerity of purpose, as an attempt to give artistic form to a true sequence of things; and in respect of the book’s opinions I would ask any too genteel reader who cannot endure to have said what everybody nowadays thinks and feels, to remember a well-worn sentence of St. Jerome’s: If an offence come out of the truth, better is it that the offence comes than that the truth be concealed.”
ON THE OTHER HAND: William Faulkner said, “A writer is congenitally unable to tell the truth and that is why we call what he writes fiction.”
HIS VERSION: E. L. James has written a sequel to her mega-selling Fifty Shades of Grey series. It is the story retold from the viewpoint of “kinky” billionaire Christian Grey. The title is Grey, and The New York Times said pub date is June 18. It will have 576 pages and be available in both paperback and e-mail. PW said the first printing will be 1.25 million copies.
CHARACTER: Alvina Ling was the subject of an interview in PW’s Children’s Books for Summer Reading. Ling is editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
She said that she once edited a book in which she was one of the main characters. The Year of the Dog (2007) was written by her friend Grace Lin.
Ling explained: “Years ago . . . I told Grace, ‘If ever you write a novel . . .’ and she surprised me by saying, ‘Actually I have an idea.’ She didn’t tell me at the time what it was about, but the whole book was inspired by our childhood. Yes, I was a character, but it was delightful, everyone loved it. Of course, I am biased, but it did sell really well.”
OVERDONE: Richard Taruskin of El Cerrito, Calif., wrote a letter to The New York Times Book Review about an essay Cynthia Ozick had written about Harold Bloom’s The Daemon Knows.
Taruskin wrote: “You sure know how to pick them. Cynthia Ozick on Harold Bloom on the American sublime! An overwriter overwriting about an overwriter who overwrites about the overwritten! Sober Eegetes unite!”
LETTERS FOR SALE: A collection of letters written by novelist Harper Lee to a friend in New York will be auctioned by Christie’s on June 12. According to The Guardian, $250,000 is the expected bid.
In one of the letters, Lee wrote about her hometown, Monroeville, Miss.: “Sitting & listening to people you went to school with is excruciating for an hour—to hear the same conversation day in & day out is better than the Chinese torture method. It’s enough to make you give up.”
MORE WERE THERE: Attendance at this year’s BookCon in Manhattan was 18,000 for the two-day convention. That was 80 percent more than last year.
Next year’s BookCon is scheduled for Chicago, but Publishers Weekly said that publishers and fans want it to return to New York.
NO OUTLINING: Sara Gruen’s latest bestseller is At the Water’s Edge. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and their three sons.
She talked with Writer’s Digest about the way she works and said, “I don’t like outlining, because books are organic things. Sometimes a book doesn’t want to be written in a certain way. I structure my time. I get up and put in a full day’s work. Sometimes I get almost nothing done, and sometimes I get a lot of work done. It’s just being there at my desk even if I do nothing but look at my file all day.”
ON ILLUSTRATING: The late Maurice Sendak said: “To be an illustrator is to be a participant. Someone who has something equally important to offer as the writer of the book—occasionally something more important—but it is certainly never the writer’s echo.”
ANTI-THICK: Mohsin Hamid is the author of Discontent and Its Civilizations. In a Bookends essay in the June 7 New York Times Book Review, he wrote about small books versus thick.
Hamid said, “I think an artist can validly choose to value efficiency, to seek to do as much as possible with as little as possible. In fact, given the constraints all around us—the finiteness of time in a human life, of nature’s tolerance of our abuses, of available food and energy and clean drinking water—an aesthetic of leanness strikes me as just as appropriate to literature, and to one’s existence, as an aesthetic of expansiveness.”
WELL-PAID: Robert Hendrickson collected facts and fictions for his book, The
Literary Life and Other Curiosities (1981).
Pity the poor poets, he wrote before noting a pair of rare exceptions: “Among the highest-priced of all American poems was [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow’s “The Hanging of the Crane,” which sold for $3,000 in 1873. The highest-paid American poet, or versifier, was Edgar A. Guest, who averaged about $130,000 a year at the height of his fame.”
A couple of sample couplets from Guest’s poem “Picture Books”:
“What hand can paint a picture book
So marvelous as a running brook?
No human brush could ever trace
A droopin’ willow with such grace!”
WINNER: Last week, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, about $46,000 (L30,000), went to Ali Smith for her novel, How to Be Both. The New York Times said the book was “about a young girl in modern-day England and a painter in Renaissance Italy.”
LOGAN’S LAST? Lincoln Child’s new bestseller is The Forgotten Room. The Associated Press said that the fictional hero, professor Jeremy Logan, “tackles another baffling case—one that might be his last.”
Child is described online as a writer of techno-thrillers and horror novels. Seems odd that he’s quoted as saying, “I try to write about things, places, events and phenomena I know about personally. That helps make the novels seem more genuine.” Does anyone really expect a “genuine” horror thriller?
ON WESTERNS: Max Brand said about writing westerns: “There has to be a woman, but not much of one. A good horse is much more important.”
CHOICES: Stephen King was asked by The New York Times Book Review to name his favorite writers working today. King’s latest novel is Finder Keepers.
King replied: “Novelists: Jonathan Franzen, for Strong Motion, and Kate Atkinson for the Jackson Brodie novels, which are marvels of plot. Nonfiction: Rick Perlstein, particularly for Nixonland; Abigail Thomas; and Mary Karr. Journalists: Laura Miller. But I also get a kick out of the Filthy Critic, and Hondo, in The New York Post.”