This is Also Good Advice for Authors

Always be nice to everybody you meet. As soon as you leave town, word will begin spreading on the lecture circuit as to how difficult or cooperative you were. There’s no better gossip than “What an asshole!” a certain celebrity was and word will catch up with you fast. I always ask in each city, “Who was the worst celebrity you ever booked?” and the stories are told with obvious relish. Always do talk shows. They treat you nicely (limo, nice hotel) and, in certain sections of the country, virtually define what is “hip” to your target audience. Avoid lecturing in discos; the audience is usually not in the mood but if you can stand it, the managements are all semi-legal and you always get paid in cash. Finally, never act like you’re bored, even if you’ve heard the questions a million times. These people haven’t asked it before. Put yourself on automatic pilot, think about your laundry, a book you’re reading, anything. Always act like it’s the first time you’ve told a particular audience. Being on the lecture tour is a little like running for office. You must act popular even if you’re secretly contemplating suicide. Living the life of a third-rate Mondale pounding the campaign trail is better than working, isn’t it? Pull lever 6-C.

— John Waters, “Singing for Your Supper” (from Crackpot)

How Not To Get Publicity

98% of the publicists I’ve had the pleasure to work with have been extremely friendly and considerate. I appreciate their efforts to get books to me in time to review them and for interviews. I am respectful of their position and they are respectful of mine. I realize they are under the gun, that they are often underpaid and just barely getting by, and that getting their authors out there in a crowded marketplace can’t be an easy task.

Recently, I called back a publicist who didn’t follow through with me about a possible interview. I had emailed and telephoned her about it, but I hadn’t received a reply in a week. And I figured that if she really wanted to get her author out there, she would have contacted me in a timely manner or responded to my email.

Meanwhile, other publicists, perspicacious enough to understand that I needed to get my interview times nailed down a few weeks in advance so that I could plan out my prep time (The Bat Segundo Show is, after all, something I labor very hard over), set up interviews and got the books to me immediately.

Now when I called this publicist, I had already lined up about seven interviews over the next ten days. That’s a lot of books to read. And my policy is to never talk with an author unless I have read her book(s). Otherwise, what’s the point? This may seem an archaic position for some folks to parse, but the point of all this is to do serious legwork and to give a damn about what you’re doing.

Now I try to be as courteous as possible. And where some journalists might have disregarded the publicist, I called this publicist back to tell her that I was unavailable. I explained to her in very polite terms that I was extremely sorry but that I was overextended. Instead of giving me a chance to launch my goofy “We’ll always have Paris” routine, this publicist took great offense to my courtesy call, claiming that she did call me back and suggested that I was the discourteous one.

“Well, I didn’t hear from you in a week. And I called and emailed you. If you had talked with me last week when my slate wasn’t so full, we might have nailed this down.”

The publicist huffed and puffed at me and then demanded that I reschedule another interview at the last minute — one that she hadn’t been involved in setting up. I told her that this was unlikely, given that I had moved several things around to make this particular interview happen, which I had confirmed twice already.

Now I’m thinking that maybe this publicist was having a bad day. As an interviewer, I’ve often found myself regarded as some intellectual equivalent to a bartender or a cab driver — treated like an invisible man, if regarded at all. I don’t mind this. If anything, I find this amusing and it affords me a great opportunity to observe.

But when there’s an immediate assumption that I am expected to interview an author, when a publicist cannot understand that I am juggling about six thousand things and cannot devote all of my attentions to her author and that I have a life I’m managing on top of this, what kind of message does this send to me? Or another journalist? For an author wanting to build word of mouth, how can this be good for them? If you’re an author, do you really know your publicist?

I’ve been turned down by many authors and I certainly don’t take it personally. The least one can expect from a publicist is the same kind of professional courtesy. And maybe a few more Casablanca references.

Pissing Off Indies: The New “Business” Decision

Author Barry Eisler posts several emails (and several responses) from an exchange with an independent bookseller who was a bit dismayed that neighboring chain bookstores not only jumped a retail release date for Eisler’s latest, but let Eisler sign stock. Eisler sees nothing wrong with signing stock at multiple stores, chain or indie, and while some have quibbled over the bookseller’s “tactlessness,” I think some of the tactlessness can also be applied to Eisler.

Asking an independent for directions to Barnes & Noble, as G reports, strikes me as a particularly inconsiderate move, akin to tap dancing on a bier at a funeral. It is, after all, the indie booksellers who are offering the kind of passion (some would say economic foolhardiness) and word of mouth that gets people excited about books.

To ostracize an indie bookstore on the way up might propel you into the big leagues, but if that reign of glory ends, rest assured that those who run indie bookstores have long memories. (In fact, about six months ago, a clerk at a local bookstore told me about the shabby treatment that a certain high-profile author gave her at a reading from six years ago. Because of this, she, along with the other clerks, have gone out of their way to discourage people from buying this author’s books and have not given any of the books any preferential table placement. This is what happens when you treat clerks rudely.)

It seems to me that any author doing promotion or signing stock should be particularly sensitive to indie bookstore temperaments. How difficult is it really to listen, pay attention and be considerate to those who are actively selling and promoting your books? Particularly when the majority of author events occur in indie bookstores, not big box outlets.

[RELATED: Lee Goldberg has more thoughts.]

Bringing New Meaning to “Working the Room”

Eric Splitznagel: “When I went on a nationwide bookstore tour last May (to promote my memoir, Fast Forward: Confessions of a Porn Screenwriter), it seemed that everybody with even a casual interest in adult films showed up for my readings. Some of them were crazy. Not just a little eccentric, mind you. Clinically insane. In San Francisco, a man handed me a business card with a picture of himself having sex with his girlfriend. (‘That’s me!’ He screamed, pointing at the photo.) In Chicago, a strange fellow asked if I’d ever written a porno about fruit before taking a banana out of his pants and eating it in front of me.”

An Open Letter to Demanding Publicists I Don’t Know

Dear [insert name of anonymous publicist who I don’t know and who hasn’t bothered to use my first name]:

Thank you for your email. While I am certainly thankful for many of your colleagues’ packages in the mail (particularly when they pay close attention to my site and seem to grasp that I do, in fact, have a life), your email is yet another in a long line of nuisances, hastily fired off into the ether. Honestly, what were you thinking?

Like my peers, I do not understand why you think I must abdicate fifteen hours of my time to read your book, and only your book, and why you are so forceful about it — particularly when I have never heard of it (apologies on this front, but, for the most part, I steer clear of vanity presses and lunatics) and, by some remarkable antipodean panache on your part, have utterly no interest in reading.

No, I’m not interested in reading a self-help book. No, I’m not interested in a Beyonce biography. It would have helped if you had bothered to read my blog or tracked any of my numerous interests and obsessions. (There’s a handy category list to the right, if you’re interested.) It would have helped if you hadn’t referred to me as “Ms. Champion” (how could you have parsed Edward as an XX name?) or “Dear Dude” or any number of impersonal epithets that lack even a whit of wit or a soupçon of consideration. It would have helped if you had actually learned how to write intelligibly. And by “intelligibly,” I don’t ask for much: basic subject-verb agreement and consistent tense, as befitting a professional, much less a civilized member of the human race. It would have helped if you had offered me something more glaringly specific than “I’ve written an autobiography.” Well, that’s fantastic! I wrote about the slice of potato pizza I had the other night in my private journal, but I’m not out there emailing folks about it, demanding that they read my nonsense. It would have helped if you didn’t feel that you were entitled to have your author interviewed by me or your vanity press extolled by me or your author’s Toyota Corolla hand-washed and waxed by me. And, no, I’m sorry, but I won’t reproduce your press packet verbatim here. And I’m also a bit particular about who I give oral sex to.

Tell me, publicist. Why should I give a damn about your book? What makes you think that I am obligated to read it? Seduce me. I’m an easy lay when it comes to certain subjects and certain types. And I’m not exactly silent when I have an erection. That’s what your job is all about, isn’t it? An “autobiography” or a “novel” or any number of general terms are entirely useless to me. You may as well tell me that you want me to read something bound together in paper. Wow, that’s like every one of the several thousand books I have sitting in my house! That’s like any number of the numerous novels and autobiographies that I am sent on a numerous basis! Are you the kind of person who points to the sky and asks me what color it is? (It’s vermillion, in case you needed to know.) Do you really think I sleep with just anyone?

So here’s the deal, publicist. I don’t care who you are, but if you can’t be troubled to address me by name or read my site, if you can’t be troubled to pique my interest, if you can’t be troubled to demonstrate either the reality (or the illusion) that you really believe in this book, then I will immediately shift your book to the absolute bottom of the pile (that would involve shifting you to Book #489 in order of reading priority, which means that I should get around to perusing your book circa 2009), assuming of course that you’re sensible enough to actually send me the book in the first place, which is the best way for me to read something. Asking me if you can send me a book (instead of just sending it to me and then following up by email) is a bit like sheepishly asking a girl if you can kiss her at the end of a date: it’s a bit embarassing for both parties. You just sorta do it.

I suggest you get in contact with your more successful contemporaries, who understand that a way to a girl’s a lit geek’s heart is through cognizance, creativity, consideration and, most importantly, a far from humorless disposition.

Your sincerely,

Edward Champion

[UPDATE: Maud reports that her site is listed in the Fall 2006 Crown catalog as an “online promotion and advertising” venue for Da Chen’s Brothers. She was listed without permission. (Also listed on Pages 53 and 71 are Bookslut, Beatrice, Authorbuzz, Dear Reader, Book Movement, Bookbrowse and Book Buffet. Did any of these sites lend their permission for “major online ‘teaser excerpt’ promotion?”)]

[UPDATE 2: On the subject of publicists who promote well, what Dan said.]

[UPDATE 3: In an unexpected development, Carla Ippolito has revealed herself to be the author of How I Fricaseed My Dog and Learned to Call It George, which Mr. Birnbaum has thoroughly raved about in the comments thread.]

[UPDATE 4: Scott Esposito offers his five cents on the issue.]

Attention Washington DCers

Tayari Jones is having a party on March 20 at Busboys and Poets. And aside from the fact that I can personally vouch that Tayari is both a good novelist and an exceptionally amicable person, the solipsists here, no doubt thinking “What’s in it for me?” might wish to know that there will be canapés and stuff.

But I’ll up the ante. If you’re a Washington, DC local and you email me a photo of yourself with Tayari AT Busboys and Poets, then, when BookExpo comes along in May (along with the expected cocktail shenanigans), find me and I will personally buy or abscond with (if they’re free) two drinks: one for me, one for you. And we will have ourselves a crazed chat for at least twenty minutes. Granted, it’s quite likely that I’d talk with you anyway. Among literary geeks, I’m a sociable sort. Fueled with enough liquor, I’d talk with just about anybody. Including the beverage in my hand or the sad man who plays the piano. But since incentive is the name of the game…

Amazon Author Blogs

I suppose the move was inevitable, but Amazon has started hosting author blogs. The highest profile name on the list is Meg Wolitzer, whose posts can be found here. But I can’t buy into the ethics of a retailer pushing a blog while simultaneously encouarging people to buy things. Whatever the merits of Wolitzer’s posts, however much she feels that “Anything that can get fiction on people’s radar is good,” I get the unsettling aura of Shirley Maclaine talking with the dead during an infomercial.

Even the language of Wolitzer’s posts sounds as if it’s been lifted from a sleep-inducing MBA seminar. One reads, “I feel that writers need to remind readers why they ought to read novels. Fiction writers need to put the truth about the world into their books. Actually, in some sense, they need to put the world into their books.”

If we switch “readers” with “consumers,” “writers” with “corporations” and books with “Coca-Cola,” we get the following entry: “I feel that corporations need to remind consumers why they ought to drink Coca-Cola. Corporations need to put the truth about the world into their products. Actualy, in some sense they need to put the world into their Coca-Cola.” We’re clearly leagues away from Paris Review-style insight.

Granted, it’s easy to argue that 90% of blogs are vapid. But even a lousy LiveJournal is written with a voice of integrity and authenticity, likely because the shady influence of advertising is far from the impetus.

I understand the need to market books, particularly given the oversaturated fiction market. But author websites seem to me a better way to do this. Not only do they serve as a reference point which is compatible with both buying the book (if desired) and finding out about an author, but in the case of such authors as Michelle Richmond, John Scalzi, Tayari Jones and Jennifer Weiner, they become blossoming entities which emerge from their initial purpose, leading to impassioned discussions about plagiarism, race and the stigma against chick lit. But I doubt very highly that these conversations could have developed had these respective sites been hosted by Amazon (let alone any monolithic sponsor) because the concerns of offending the boys upstairs or attracting a broad readership tainted the posts.

And here’s a question someone should ask: does Amazon “place” blogs the same way that Barnes & Noble cuts deals with publishers for placement? Is there some clickthrough rate tied into whether or not Meg Wolitzer, for example, will get placement on the main page? When the overwhelming reason to blog is to move product, surely the motivation behind the posts will be moulded to ensure presence and survival.

In the end, I think the Amazon blog is going to hurt Wolitzer more than it’s going to help her. What could have been a way for readers to elicit honest feedback from Wolitzer has turned instead into one of those Gap Kids commercials. Initially, you’re dazzled by the performance. But as the initial allure wears off, you begin cluing into the fact that it’s a commercial (in this case, the realization that Wolitzer isn’t going to rock the boat, much less provide anything even slightly subversive). My guess is that Wolitzer will be communicating with the dead, blogwise at least. Sooner than she thinks.

[UPDATE: Galleycat’s Ron Hogan challenges my assumption, suggesting, for example, that a Uzodinma Iweala essay (by comparison, a one-shot deal rather than a continuous commitment) appearing at Powell’s might be reified as “too corporate.” I should point out that, although Iweala’s essay appears on a major retailer’s site, at least Powell’s has made more of an effort to distinguish its content from its marketing, confining all marketing links in rounded yellow boxes. In other words, we have a clear separation between marketing and editorial rather than Amazon’s “anything goes” principle, with its links just under “Meg Wolitzer’s Amazon Blog” going directly to “buy this book” links. Ron is misconstruing my argument. Again, as I pointed out above, I raise no objection to the need to sell books (in fact, while I’m not a fan of advertising, I nevertheless applaud Media Bistro for placing its advertisements in clearly delineated squares so as not to mislead readers). My concern here is over the blurring of marketing and editorial and the impact this is likely to have on worthwhile content (meaning that Wolitzer’s blog is not so much about Wolitzer the author but Wolitzer the book merchant, for her books, without the pivotal distinction, are now contextualized as laundry detergent rather than as works of art). It is no less invalid an argument than the concerns raised earlier in the year over the Target-sponsored New Yorker or what’s referred to in the MeFi world as Pepsi Blue. (See also this OJR article about ethical standards in the blogosphere.)]

How to Get My Attention

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I didn’t get blasted by this SoulKool agent. But for any publicists who want to tickle my fancy, it’s actually quite easy to do: (a) read my blog and figure out what I’m interested in, (b) direct your emails to me personally, (c) have a sense of humor or a spirit of playfulness, (d) understand that I receive somewhere in the area of 3-20 books a week and that I obviously can’t read them all, (e) don’t expect me to necessarily love your book (I’m not a shill) and (f) realize that there’s pretty much only one guy running this site (and that includes research, production and engineering for each Segundo podcast, which is probably around 15-20 hours per show).

(And here’s a hint: three Segundo interviews came to be because publicists and/or authors factored in each and every one of those six points.)

Fusion City

I really wish I could make this, but other pressing obligations keep me chained to the computer (and likely will result in scattershot updates for the first half of this week). But if you’re in San Francisco tonight, check out Kate Braverman’s Fusion City, “a literary talk show,” over at Edinburgh Castle. She’ll be talking with Kim Addonizio, Charlie Anders, Katai Noyes and Michelle Richmond. Plus, there will be a performance artist named Daphne Gottlieb.

Author Publicity & Online Outlets

M.J. Rose conveys several stories about how some authors can be dismissive of both publicists and journalists. While 95% of the authors and publicists I have dealt with have been nothing less than amicable and accommodating, even when an author cannot be produced for an interview, I have, nevertheless, experienced a few variations on these tales myself.

I also wanted to followup on Ron’s item from this morning. While I did not receive a return phone call back from the publicist, I think it’s likely that the September 28 interview in the Washington Post may have been set up already, and that the “all interviews are cancelled” line may have applied to any interviews that had not already been set in stone. Again, I don’t blame anyone here, nor do I take it personally. I’ll be the first to confess that I’m not the Washington Post. As an online outlet, I am pretty low on the totem pole. And as long as I’ve written for online outlets, even as a professional, this has always been the case. Some publishers understand websites and blogs and podcasts, and some don’t. Or simply won’t.

Lost & The Third Policeman

The Book Standard asks if a reference to Flann O’Brien’s great classic The Third Policeman on the television show Lost has had any sales impact. Aside from confusing O’Brien’s book with an O’Brien title I wasn’t aware of (The Last Policeman? Man, I wish that wasn’t a typo.), it’s revealed that Dalkey Archive ordered an extra print run of 10,000. Lost writer Craig Wright has also gone on record, suggesting that the O’Brien book would be “invaluable to fans seeking to unravel the island’s mystery.” I find this claim skeptical, given writer David Fury‘s remarks in Rolling Stone a few weeks ago, where he suggested that the show’s producers were making the story up as they went along, concluding, “It’s a brilliant trick to make us look smart.”

Subterfuge or no, at the time of composing this post, The Third Policeman has an Amazon rank of #1,518. And the Book Standard reports that Dalkey has shipped 15,000 more copies to meet increasing demand. That’s pretty remarkable for a casual reference in a hit television show. Of course, one wonders if these sales would have happened had Craig Wright not insinuated a tie-in. But if it gets people reading Flann O’Brien, perhaps they’ll devote their energies to discussing bicycle metaphors rather than deconstructing a highly addictive show that might be less profound and symbolic than we’ve been lead to believe.

Up Next from Ms. Skurnick: Check-Out, No Vacancy and Thank the Gods That This Isn’t the Bates Motel.

You’ve no doubt heard of Laila Lalami’s Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (and rest assured, we here at Return of the Reluctant haven’t even begun to start our coverage of that puppy; stay tuned; there’s something special in the works). But there’s another fantastic litblogger out with a tome. Lizzie Skurnick, aka The Old Hag, has just published a poetry collection called Check-In, which you can now order from Caketrain.

SF Katrina Benefit

From Stephen Elliott:

The Progressive Reading Series Presents:
A Special Benefit For The Victims Of Hurricane Katrina

When: Monday, September 19, 7pm
Where: The Makeout Room – 3225 22nd Street, San Francisco, (415) 647 2888
Price: $10 – $20 sliding scale
Proceeds to benefit the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Fund

What: Authors band together to help victims of Hurricane Katrina
Featuring readings from: Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), Firoozeh Dumas, Julie Orringer, Peter Orner, Daphne Gottlieb, Kaui Hart Hemmings, Truong Tran, Michelle Richmond, Anne Marino, Micheline Aharonian Marcom, Tom Barbash, and Michelle Tea

Where She Stops, Nobody Knows!

  • Video game developer Vivendi Universal, in search of a Tom Clancy-style name, has signed a deal to develop games based on Ludlum’s thrillers. Ludlum’s death in 2001 will no doubt ensure creative flexibility (or what’s known in the field as “pillaging in front of a gravestone”).
  • When you run out of television remakes to film, there’s always cheesy 1970s science fiction. The Cell director Tarsem Singh is on tap to remake Westworld. The Governator was originally on board to play the android played by Yul Brynner, but he’s a bit busy. A pity, given that he seems to play machines, whether cinematic or political, quite well.
  • Jim Crace’s The Devil’s Larder has been turned into theatre. Dominic Cavendish says there’s not much to chew on.
  • Christopher Sorrentino’s Trance gets a review in the Mercury News. Sorrentino is accused of being “more impressed with his own voice than the humanity of his characters.”
  • I report this only because Mr. Esposito tortured me by showing me his seven volume Rising Up set the other night. As noted last week by Bookdwarf, this weekend’s NYTBR featured an appearance by the Vollster. He takes on the new Nietzsche bio at length.
  • Newsday chronicles some of the ways that publishers are trying to generate new interest in titles. Many publishers are distributing the first two chapters of a novel. But one teacher by the name of Jackie Spitz remarks, “I only took it because I felt sorry for the people handing it out.” Our heart is all a-trembling over Ms. Spitz’s noble munificence. In fact, as I write these words, I am sobbing into an issue of FHM that I found in my next door neighbor’s trash, watching my tears stream down some beautiful lady bent into an unfortunate position that resembles modular furniture. But I’m also wondering why niche markets and such projects as Vidlit and the LBC aren’t mentioned in the article. When will publishers realize that randomly giving chapters away to ad hoc educators isn’t nearly as effective as targeting people who actually read?
  • Time asks Bret Easton Ellis how “true” Lunar Park is. Apparently, Jay McInerery wasn’t thrilled by his “cameo appearance” as a cokehead buddy.
  • A new book of criticism studying Irvine Welsh’s work is out. But the International Herald Tribune asks if Welsh deserves to be compared with other authors.
  • Is the great rock’n’roll novel at death’s door?
  • The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana: an anti-Proust novel?
  • The Boston Globe examines literary hoaxing.
  • Riverhead editor Sean McDonald talks with Mr. Sarvas.
  • And E.L. Doctorow takes Bush to task, suggesting that Bush does not know what grieving is.

Toilet-Based Promotion

Jeff digs up this mysterious Craig’s List job listing, which involves a $100,000 all-expenses paid duty to drive across the country with a toilet seat on his head to promote Toilet: the Novel (a book written by the the maybe late, maybe alive Michael Szymczyk and published by the vanity outfit Authorhouse). There are apparently three positions available. This would seem out of step with previous Toilet-centric lucre. A previous ad placed on the Washington D.C. Craig’s List paid out a meager 35 dollars for an afternoon’s work.

Now when we were at BEA, we observed a gentleman with a toilet seat on his head who was walking the floor. He was essentially ignored by all concerned. It was remarked by one of our colleagues that this gentleman had appeared the previous year and had received some local newspaper notice and a quick mention in Publishers Weekly. He’s even sneaked onto the Wikipedia “existentialism” page.

If someone has so much money to burn, we’re wondering why they would go to all this trouble. After all, $300,000 (assuming Szymcyzk has it) can probably buy more than a few TV spots, newspaper ads, and probably set the Vidlit folks up for a good clip. When we see a toilet seat, we don’t exactly think “literary novel.” We think toilet reading. Is this some Masonic conspiracy or the result of an out-of-control, Howard Hughes-like eccentric?

Some casual Googling reveals Szynczyk as a rambling philosopher who has received blurbs from the likes of Stephen King, Will Smith and Quentin Tarantino (who can say if these are real or illusory or kindly boiler-plate responses?). Further, Szymczyk was apparently banned from the Frankfurt Book Fair for an anti-Bush presentation.

Szymczyk might be an able activist, but we’re wondering if he’s either a crank or a misunderstood genius — perhaps attempting to upstage Gerard Jones. Of course, if Szymczyk wants to send a copy of his book to our PO Box, we’ll be happy to offer a careful report. He’ll still have to learn the difference between an “advanced copy” and an advance copy.

Author Websites: A Case Study

Jonathan Lethem’s site appears to have undergone a major overhaul. In addition to a snazzy redesign (with truly bizarre Toho-inspired artwork for Gun with Occasional Music), Lethem’s uncollected work has been assembled in one spot — including an essay called “Donald Sutherland’s Buttocks.”

Now while I can’t find any specific reference point on the website for a Lethem completist, something that lists everything Lethem has written and which book(s) it can be found in, Lethem’s openness here (which appears inspired somewhat from Michael Chabon) is the right way for an author to run a website. The sooner that authors and publishers realize that having a silly splash page and scant information about a book is no way to get people interested in it and the more they embrace providing sizable samples of the author’s work, book tour schedules, a comprehensive catalog — in short, information and lots of it — the better it will be for everybody.

David Francis Bay Area Readings

Word on the street is that Australian writer David Francis, once part of Mark’s Three Minute Interview series, will be in the Bay Area reading from his novel, The Great Inland Sea. He’ll be at the Book Passage in Corte Madera on August 3 at 1:00 PM, Black Oak Books in Berkeley on August 3 at 7:30 PM, and the Capitola Book Cafe on August 4 at 7:30 PM. (Apparently, Mr. Francis is intimidated by my hometown and won’t be making a stop here. Which is too bad, as the Young, Roving Correspondent would have been happy to talk with him. His loss. He missed out on a vodka-soaked kiss from Mr. Segundo too.)

But since he’s Australian and Mr. Sarvas insists that he’s “a bitchin’ literary fiction novelist” (which we believe translates into “No Banville, but he’ll do in a pinch”), we figured that giving him a holler wouldn’t harm anyone, save the other Australian novelists who we’ll now have to plug. Dammit.

Okay, so the new deal is this: If you’re an Australian novelist and you plan on being in the Bay Area, it is now this site’s policy to plug you.

The Dirty Art of Author Publicity Photos, Part 1: Jennifer Haigh

jenniferhaigh.jpgPHOTO DESCRIPTION: Ms. Haigh doesn’t smile. She wears an austere “we mean business” look on the safe side of the nihilism fence, provenance enough for the Barnes & Noble crowd. She wears a black dress that reveals a bit of leg. The bench has been positioned so that we don’t really see it. In fact, factoring in the cleavage pushed forward into an expanse of black, the overall effect appears to be an author ready to mount the table. And then there are the positions of her hands. Her right fingers fold over to draw our eye to her leg. Curiously, her knee has been cut off.

WHAT WE THINK THE BOOK MIGHT BE ABOUT (based on the photo): A dark and tawdry tale with potential erotic riffs, but without the benefit of a knock-knock joke.

WHAT THE BOOK IS ACTUALLY ABOUT:Baker Towers tells the rich, enveloping story of one Polish-Italian family in the small Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Bakerton – where the sardonically named “towers” of the title are two huge heaps of sulfurous waste from the mines. When it comes to employment, Baker Brothers, the mine-owning company that dates back to the 1880’s, is the only game in town.” (Janet Maslin)

Coffee-Deprived Roundup


A Day in the Goddam Life (with apologies to Lenin and all other despicable leftists who object to modifiers like “goddam”), a new feature that will run periodically on Return of the Reluctant, follows local residents through their daily routines. But rather than dwell upon the obvious success stories, it is this publication’s hope to profile those who do not have the security blanket of an expendable income. The first installment is about Horace Krum, an aspiring writer living in poverty. Mr. Krum doesn’t enjoy being used as a yardstick, and we suspect that this is one of many reasons why he’s been denied his fame and fortune. That’s exactly why this profile is “about Horace Krum,” the same way that the average penis pump owner’s John Thomas is “about two inches” or a typical shitstorm from the Weinstein brothers is “about 7.4 on the Richter scale.”

For eight years, Krum hasn’t received a single notice from the public. He spent much of that time ingratiating himself with the affluent. He courted rich heiresses. He gardened several homes, often pruning the shears with his shirt off. Krum, however, didn’t quite have the upper body development that bored rich ladies are bound to notice. So he tried his hand at love letters. Alas, poor Krum was terrible here too.

Eight years of toiling for the attentions of some noble benefactress and eight years of writing stories. For eight years, Krum tried to be noticed. He received boiler plate letter after boiler plate letter: “Dear Ms. Krum: Thank you for submitting your story. Unfortunately, it does not suit our magazine’s needs at the present time. Please don’t send anything more to us. Ever. Frankly, you suck. Cordially, Tiny Tim Tender, Production Intern.”

Which is why our intrepid reporter followed Horace Krum for a day. What’s it like to live the life of a failed writer?

8:30 a.m. We meet in Horace Krum’s studio apartment, which he shares with his roommate Biff. The apartment’s located in a tenement. Krum sleeps in a closet, which allows him to save about $100 a month on rent. Biff, who introduces himself as a gentleman fond of “personal space,” tells us “to get the hell out.” Krum collects two suitcases: one containing his typewriter, the other containing things to work on.

Krum tells me that he’s trying to whip himself into shape. He tells me that it’s important for all writers to have a physique honed by Nautilus, because the book world has become increasingly reliant upon “sexy, fuckable authors” that they can send out on book tours. Unfortunately, Krum can’t afford a gym membership. So we end up jogging together in Krum’s neighborhood. Our tennis shoes crunch down on crack vials. We nearly run into a vagrant’s shopping cart taking up the whole of the sidewalk. And, about five minutes into the exercise, we are both mugged.

This is particularly unfortunate for Krum, because he had $200 in his wallet. This was much needed cash. Krum had sold his beloved collection of first edition O. Henrys, so that he could make this month’s rent. A hard decision, but he needed to keep a roof over his head. But Krum remains optimistic. He tells me he’s sent four stories out this week. One of his stories, “They Had Brunch at Denny’s,” is 6,000 words. Krum has high hopes for this one. He’s submitted it to Waverley Wonders, a small literary magazine that pays 4 cents a word. That’s $240 before quarterly taxes.

10:30 a.m. We return to Krum’s apartment. Biff is gone. He’s headed off to his job as a butcher. I notice that the wallpaper is peeling. Krum quickly flattens down the wallpaper. He shows me a thick file filled with rejection notices, all of them from this year. Most of them are bad photocopies. Some include marked up copies of Krum’s stories. I find one which reads, “Unbelievable! Have you ever slept with a woman?” “And that was really odd,” Krum tells me, “because that was a coming-of-age tale involving two boys.”

I point out to Krum that Waverley Wonders hasn’t published a story longer than 2,000 words in its entire run. “Oh, they will,” winks Krum. “Just you wait.”

11:00 a.m. Krum usually writes between 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Except today, because he knows that I plan on buying him lunch. He needs to be done before Biff comes home. Aside from short stories and essays, Krum’s also “messing with a romance novel, partly historical, set in Larry Ellison’s home.” He writes his stories on a typewriter because he cannot afford a computer. He steals paper from a local Kinko’s. This is because he has a friend who works there, who hates the job, and wants to “stick it to the man.”

“How often do you eat?” I ask. Krum opens two doors of a cupboard. One of the doors falls off its hinges. Inside the cupboard are endless packages of Top Ramen. He gets these at Costco.

Krum has been lucky enough to be invited to a few poetry readings. And he attends these because he can count on free hors d’oeurves, which provide additional sustenance. This diet hasn’t boded well for Krum’s digestive tract. But Krum tells me he’s kept up his energy, thanks to the additional additives in the tap water.

12:00 p.m. I take Krum to Chevy’s, largely because Krum’s keen on the calories he can get from the endless chips. He orders three margaritas and eats four enchiladas. He begins to slur his words and bemoans “that muddafugga Biff.” He then declares himself a genius and tells me that New York will never understand. I point out that he’s still writing and sending his stories out regularly. He then apologizes to me for being an ass. He hasn’t been able to afford the luxury of liquor for a long time.

1:00 p.m. Back at Krum’s apartment, I ask Krum if he has a girlfriend. He dodges the question, pointing out that he used to enjoy cooking, back in the days that he had a day job. “I haven’t cooked anything in years,” he laughs. “Haven’t been able to afford even the basic staples. Man, can you imagine the kind of food that Larry Ellison could afford?”

2:15 p.m. Krum kicks me out of his apartment. It must be the margaritas, but I think it also has something to do with cutting into Krum’s writing time. I walk away with growing respect for Krum, a man with almost no resources trying to crack a cruel industry. Perhaps someday, the world will appreciate a man like Horace Krum. That is, if he doesn’t die of starvation first.

Ad Hom to Ad Hom

maxbarry.jpgDale Peck isn’t just a bitch, but he’s an hubric mofo who compares his Moody blues to both Edmund Wilson and Virginia Woolf. (And, of course, the standard Coleridge line.)

Judy Blume is on the defensive. Her book, Deenie, deals in part with masturbation. But Hernando County elementary schools are pulling the book from their shelves.

Chica has a nice roundup of author photos. Me? I’m still squirming over Max Barry’s photo on Jennifer Government (see right). The book, which was so bad that I gave up on it (and I rarely do this), is terrible enough with its amateurish prose and failure to live up its central idea. But Barry himself looks instinctively like a new fraternity pledge who barely made it into the house. And I’d say the photo has helped me to hate the book more. Which isn’t good. Because I’d prefer to just erase the book out of my mind and reclaim the time I invested.