Zeitchik Bolting to California

Galleycat has the scoop on Steve Zeitchik, who is decamping Publishers Weekly for Variety. Zeitchik, in addition to being an able moderator, was careful to put small and independent publishers into the great picture through his and, like us, hoped to bridge the gap between the popular and the literary. We hope that the allure of Hollywood won’t taint his game or sully his glass table.

The Publishing Industry is All About Time Management

It seems that Windstream Publishing, who berated Stephanie Perry for giving Richard Bothelho’s Leah’s Way a bad review, can’t refrain from sending rude emails to anyone who dares to suggest that book reviewing is entirely separate from being a “liberal” or even being “religious.” Now poor Ron Hogan, one of the litbloggers who ran with the story, has been stung with further nonsense. Of course, if the book is as bad as Perry says it is, then the fact that multiple Windstream employees spend all of their spare time sending inflammatory emails to random people rather than devoting their time to quality control on their titles might suggest why.

Choose Your Own Adventure from a Freelance Writer’s Perspective

1. It’s close to seven o’clock. You’ve spent most of the day doing everything in your power to put off deadlines. Now the phone won’t stop ringing as you pound away on the computer trying to finish some bland copy for a nonprofit foundation. Nevertheless, you’re curious. Who could be calling at this hour? If you pick up the phone, go to 22. If you keep writing, go to 5.

2. John Grisham’s dull prose has you pondering why you never became a multi-millionaire. Tanenhaus repeatedly calls. Due to unexpected pressure from Times brass (they can’t justify paying an excessive word rate for a freelancer hanging on by the skin of his teeth and demand answers), Tanenhaus asks you to cut your 30-word profile down to 25 words. If you accommodate Tanenhaus, go to 4. If you stick to your artistic guns and stick with the 30 words you promised, go to 8.

3. The midnight oil has burned brightly like Kipling’s tiger. Savor this moment. The hapless drones who must march off to a nine-to-five job can’t possibly compete with this wonderful luxury of walking around the flat in jammies. Just as you revel in your superiority, your spouse, who has spent the day working for a state-funded planning department for scant pay and thankless distinction, arrives through the door. The spouse, suffering from a minor depression, wants sex. If you go through with this, go to 12. If you don’t, go to 14.

4. You can’t give the copy editors an answer. The ten cent words you’ve crammed into the slightly tightened blurb, the idea being that they would make you appear genteel and smart, don’t cut the mustard. You try negotiating with Tanenhaus for an additional sentence or two. But with the NYTBR going to press, there’s no time. Tanenhaus hires an intern to perform your work at one quarter the price. Meanwhile, with the kill fee long forgotten, you’ve had to suffer through another Grisham novel. You burn your entire library and decide that a screenwriting career might be in the cards.

5. Damn the Fleet Street hacks. Damn the amateurs. You’ve spent years working yourself up to this magnificent level of professionalism and poverty. Why stop now? You compose some 600 words on how John O’Hara, Richard Yates, or another dead white male hankering for a 21st century comeback has been unfairly neglected by the cognoscenti, little realizing that Alex, that smug trust fund kid you keep running into at cocktail parties, has already pitched Lewis Lapham on the same subject. But the piece is done. And you’re not exactly one to shun a dead horse. If you write a query letter for the piece you’ve just written, go to 3. If you decide to sleep off your energy, go to 18.

6. Sara Nelson is so impressed by your full-fledged attack piece that she appoints you an associate editor, which involves correcting atrocious copy when you’re not surfing the Internet. But it does mean free ARCs, even if the novel you had hoped to write before the age of 35 falls by the wayside. You eat well when you can afford it. And now that you have an actual job title, the spouse has some tangible vocational position that she can announce to her parents without fear of shame. You contemplate purchasing Connecticut real estate.

7. You bone up on M.F.K. Fisher. But it’s not enough. Tanenhaus watches the way you salivate over your shrimp salad. When the main course arrives, a waiter offers pepper. If you accept the pepper, go to 11. If not, go to 27.

8. Tanenhaus is satisfied and never calls you again. You don’t exactly have Rachel Donadio’s legs. But he does invite you to dinner, assuming of course that you’ll cover him. If you go to dinner with Tanenhaus, go to 7. If you prefer a home-cooked meal with the spouse, go to 13.

9. Sam Tanenhaus bemoans the lack of confrontational writing within your 25-word blurb. Where’s the Wieseltier or the Clive James feel? You have no answer. You meet with Tanenhaus at an upscale restaurant on the west side and he slaps you on the wrist with his portable ruler, which was specially constructed for him as a tchotchke from the good folks at McGraw Hill, who had hoped to ingratiate him. He dons a yarmulke, shouts to you that “He hef no son” and has two men throw you out of the building. You spend years in a padded cell, clutching onto a toy manatee named Simon given to you by Jungians to free you mind. It takes 27 years for you to fully recover. But that’s okay. By the time you’re sane, the flying cars have arrived.

10. You decide that if Top Ramen and Stove Top are the fruits of hard labor, then this freelance gambit really isn’t worth it. You open a co-op in Seattle and specialize in organic vegetables. Two of your friends regularly give you hugs.

11. The pepper makes you sneeze. And you let loose a booger that makes Tanenhaus slightly uncomfortable. If you tell Tanenhaus that the booger was the result of a childhood trauma that you’re too embarassed to go into the details over, go to 21. If you offer Tanenhaus a napkin, go to 23.

12. You’re intimately familiar with your spouse’s contours and genitalia What a dependable port in a storm! Unfortunately, you should have listened to your high school gym coach. Don’t let it all loose before the game. There’s the 2,000 words you have to bang out tomorrow for Elizabeth Spiers. But sore from the previous evening’s gymnastics, you sleep in untll 2 PM and find yourself distracted by daytime soaps. Your editors don’t forgive you and you go back to grad school to get a master’s in zoology. Your freelance career is over.

13. The spouse points to the copious collection of Top Ramen in the cupboard. The spouse points out that the check from the Iowa Herald Press, the “shitstorm piece” you spent several days celebrating over, has yet to clear. If you dine on Top Ramen, go to 10. If you decide that Allah is on your side and you take the spouse to a nice restaurant, go to 19.

14. Sure, let the spouse suffer. You’re an artist, dammit, and the last thing you want to feel is relaxed. It’s that dependable edginess that’s kept the checks coming in. But your spouse has tired of these excuses. The spouse forces you to sleep on the couch. You wake up the next day and shuffle around the refrigerator for a bite to eat. But your spouse decided to move back to the parents and take all of the food. Your credit cards are maxed. There isn’t a single sou in your wallet. And collecting unemployment would be a detriment to your pride. But since there’s none of Cheever’s bread and buttermilk, you die of starvation inside of two weeks. But at least there’s the work to stand the test of time.

15. Despite three years of Spanish in high school, they don’t want to talk. You meet Jorge, the guy who runs the place. You don’t entirely hit it off and find yourself sleeping with the fishes. So much for journalistic credibility.

16. The new Sunday book review format has made this a lot easier than you initially thought. Hell, you might even get a MacArthur Genius Grant out of this. Just when you’re about to submit your blurb to Tanenahus, however, you get a call from Sara Nelson. Nelson has observed your bouncing around. Hell, she’s an expert at it. She offers the magic carrot of writing a Grisham review for Publisher’s Weekly. 800 words. Time to tear that onerous attorney-turned-author a new one. If you accept Nelson’s offer, go to 6. If you stick with Tanenhaus, go to 9.

17. You promise Reichl that you’ll find an angle. Mad with glee, you shake on it over the phone. $500 for 2,000 words. A so-so sum, but a veritable miracle. But you don’t know anyone other than the Puerto Ricans who run the donut shop down the street. And Reichl and her fact checkers demand sources. If you talk with the donut shop owners, go to 15. If you make up your sources, go to 20.

18. You fall upon the dumpy futon. You haven’t eaten since noon. And with no spouse around to second-guess your appetite and your need for sleep, you find yourself pinned to the futon for several days. The spouse, viewing you as a responsible adult, doesn’t count on the last-minute rescue call from Sam Tanenhaus, who expects you to write a 30-word review of the latest Grisham as a dare. You accept. If you write the 30 words without reading the novel, go to 16. If you’re an ethical type who must read the novel before writing the review, go to 2.

19. You enjoy a prix fixe menu at an upscale bistro. You declare bankruptcy, but thanks to recent lax legislation, your debtors are able to incarcerate you. Your spouse divorces you and gets booked on a daytime talk show with the theme, “My Spouse Thought He Was a Freelance Writer and Didn’t Know When to Quit.” Years later, you win first prize in a public access version of American Idol, but you’re not nearly as successful as Jonah Moananu. You found a leper colony in Carmel, California, but have difficulty finding bona-fide lepers.

20. When the blogosphere reveals what a liar you are, you declare yourself Jayson Blair’s illegitimate cousin. You appear on Larry King, sobbing like Jerry Falwell. Hayden Christensen plays you in the biopic.

21. Tanenhaus replies, “If pain’s your game, write a memoir, kid.” You send a proposal to Random House and, to your surprise, they agree to publish 5,000 Boogers of the Soul, your childhood memoir. You win the National Book Critics Circle Award and get tenured at a prominent Eastern university.

22. You’re not really one for discipline, are you? Your spouse has taken on two full-time jobs to support your artistic temperament and this is the thanks she gets?

Well, never mind. You bang out about 500 words, most of it rubbish. You look to the empty bottle of whiskey, the telltale flask you put on your desk in honor of Faulkner but never bothered to replace. Nothing to drink, but the phone’s still ringing.

Bored out of your gourd, you decided to pick up.

It’s Ruth Reichl. She was amused by one of your essays that appeared in the Voice and now she’s interested in having you write something about donuts. You hate donuts. You’re a bagel person. In fact, you don’t see what’s so gastronomic about those sugary monstrosities that have long been the dinner of choice for the fuzz. And you’ve already got five things to finish by Saturday. But the liquor cabinet is empty and you could use a pick-me-up. And this is Ruth Reichl. If you accept the assignment, go to 17. If you say no, go to 25.

23. Tanenhaus accepts the napkin and replies that you have guts. He’s willing to give you the cover essay if you can get published in the New Yorker before the winter. If you accept his offer, go to 24. If not, go to 26.

24. You throw yourself on the knees of David Remnick at a philanthropic function. You offer to draw cartoons. Remnick hires you as a human model. You spend an evening in a frozen and recumbent position, observing various millionaires eating canap鳠off your naked back. Remnick, however, to his credit agrees to put an essay you’ve written in the “Talk of the Town” section. Tanenhaus gives you the cover essay. Real health insurance isn’t far behind.

25. Ruth Reichl tells you that you’re making a foolish mistake and vows to smear your name at the next cocktail function. She hangs up, shortly before declaring you a rank amateur. The Voice stops taking your work. You have difficulty and, with the spouse pissed off with you about royally screwing up an opportunity, you consider a safe career as a taxidermist. Your friends remark that there’s more life in the dead birds than there ever was in your writing. You abandon your writing career and purchase a two-bedroom home in Ohio.

26. You decide to rail against the machine, becoming the editor of a new blog, Flaubert Liked Tennis. The blog gets quoted in the New York Times. You get all sorts of free books but the lacrosse lessons aren’t successful.

27. “Son, that’s the ballsiest move I’ve ever seen a freelancer make in a four-star restaurant,” says Tanenhaus. You’ve ingratiated yourself into the machine. You take Deborah Solomon’s interviewing job and prove yourself even more vicious with your questions than she did, earning the enmity of all bloggers.

Thoughts Between Coughs

It’s been linked several places, but this excellent thread is a must-read for any aspiring writer. Any neophyte may want to spend their time reading James D. McDonald’s advice rather than subscribing to Writer’s Digest.

Sarah has some good followup to the McCrum article about publishing changes, raising the validity of proposal/synopsis only justification for a contract. But one thing she overlooks is that the new synopsis trend may very well reflect a profit-driven industry looking to cut corners wherever possible. Short-term profits with little concern of the book’s gestalt or long-term profits based off of constant communication between author and editor? You make the call. The goal, lest we forget, is to get people to buy the books. And the longer the book, the less susceptible it is to editing. (See Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, for one.) There’s the additional financial advantage of a long book purchased and then remaining unread on most people’s bookshelves.

Mergers, Revelations and Glorious Kooks

The Independent notes that separate literary entities are being killed by their corporate parents. HarperCollins recently killed off Flamingo (home to Ballard, Lessing & Coupland) and Random House threw Harvill into Secker & Warburg, turning it into “Secker Harvill” and forever expunging Warburg, Orwell’s publisher, from the label. When asked about how this will alter diversity, a HarperCollins rep replied, “What do you think literary fiction is? Some kind of affirmative action?” In unrelated news, Bell Curve authors Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray are said to be at work on a new book, The Book Curve, whereby 1,000 pages are devoted to explaining why popular fiction sells more than literary fiction, and proving that some publishing executives have less attention span than the average reader. (via Literary Saloon)

Maud has been interviewed by the Gothamist. Among some of the more interesting revelations: Maud turned down the lead in an Off Broadway revival of The Verdict. Every morning, Maud practices her jujitsu on waterbugs that have a mean height of six feet. (Mr. Maud apparently cowers from anything remotely entomological.) Maud also single-handedly disarmed a posse of Remington-firing Confederates in Brooklyn. She reports that her combat moves were inspired by Carrie-Anne Moss kicking butt in The Matrix.

The Sydney Morning Herald interviews Isabel Allende. Allende’s quite the eccentric: She starts all of her books on January 8, she thinks about Zorro while having sex with her husband, and holes up in her office writing for 8 to 10 hours a day without speaking to a single soul. She also dresses funky, though the Herald couldn’t get specific answers on this end. I wish I was making this paragraph up, but I’m not.

In one of the most anticlimactic journalism moves seen from the Grey Lady this month, the Times reports that the Doyle-Joyce fracas is simmering. Really? 1,000 words to state the obvious in a major newspaper? Sign me up.

The Independent talks to Marjorie Blackman. Her Noughts & Crosses children’s book trilogy examines race relations in an unknown country.

Regina Taylor’s Drowning Crow looks like a fascinating update of Chekhov’s The Seagull. If you’re in New York, it’s playing at the Biltmore. The Times also has a 26-second video excerpt of Alfre Woodard giving Anthony Mackie hell.

And Stephen Fry goes nuts: He’s called the Hilton sisters “a pair of bloody whippets,” Sting “false,” and damns Americans for believing that the key to happiness is thinking about themselves. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortuantely, given the recent Dean demise), Fry wasn’t running for public office.

Quick Links

Apparently, self-publishing at the office pays off. Bruno Perara wrote a novel called Little Murders Among Partners. The book portrayed his co-workers for what they were. The firm fired him. But a mediation court ruled that Perara was unfairly dismissed and awarded him £50,000. So if you can’t get that lucrative advance, I suppose there’s always the unexpected rewards of the middleman.

Mao’s little red books still bear influence.

Edwin Abbott’s Flatland has been mined once again for inspiration (after Rudy Rucker’s Spaceland) — this time, for VAS: An Opera in Flatland, which takes a biogenetic approach. For those interested in the original Flatland, public domain has effected its availability. Fun stuff, if you never read it. (via The Complete Review)

B&N fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley is drunk with power, albeit unknowingly. Even worse, all thrillers are inexplicably held up to a Barbara Kingsolver litmus test.

And, apparently, writing is good for your well-being. Too bad that your life expectancy is slim if you want to be a full-time professional. Go figure. (via Moorish)

On the Run

Move over, Ali (Muhammad, not Monica). MIT scientist Michael Hawley has created the largest book. And he has the Guinness credentials (the record, not the beer) to prove it. Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Kingdom is 5′ X 7′, 112 pages and costs $2,000 to produce. Hawley’s charging $10,000, with the balance going to charity.

Madonna’s interested in a Ph.D. I don’t know what’s more frightening: the idea that Madonna has intellectual pursuits or this photo. (via Bookslut) [UPDATE: Well, goddam. Maud reports it’s a hoax! That’s what I get for racing through the newswires in a hurry.]

Richard Kopley has tracked down an unexpected Hawthorne inspiration source: an anonymous novel entitled The Salem Belle.

Hilary Clinton: “‘I love independent bookstores. I tried to go to as many of them as I could on this book tour. I had promised to try to go to the top markets and I’m slowly but surely checking them off.” Funny. The Simon Says site seems to be down, but she sure seems to be hitting a lot of Barnes & Nobles.

[Insert your obligatory Moses/Rasputin/Unabomber/Nostradamus-Hussein comparison here. Ha ha.]

Heft, Hate, Outlines and Vanity

Looks like Vollman’s got competition. Muhammad Ali’s definitive life story weighs 75 pounds, runs 800 pages, costs £2,000, and includes over 3,000 photographs. The mammoth bio, however, is a team effort, with contributions by Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe. However, Greatest of All Time does suffer from an unfortunate acronym.

The Bakersfield yokels are hoping to ban Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from classrooms. Because anything dealing with sexual abuse and racism is, you know, “provocative.”

Patrick O’Brian’s unfinished 21st book in the Aubrey-Maturin series is being talked about for possible publication. O’Brian had an outline and a few chapters. But thankfully HarperCollins doesn’t plan on hiring a ghostwriter.

Forget Zoe Trope and the Gen Y spokesperson fracas over at Moby Lives. Factor in vanity presses and there’s plenty of speakers to go around, albeit unreadable ones. Mom and twelve year old are trying the self-publishing racket.

And is this headline the case of an overtaxed copy editor ready to slit his own throat because of all the Xmas hype?

Literary Grandson to Launch Unexpected Career

mailerbaby.jpgIn response to the recent news that 25 year old John Buffalo Mailer, the youngest child of Norman Mailer, will be taken over the reins of High Times, Return of the Reluctant has learned that Ishmael Harris Bellow, the illegitimate grandson of novelist Saul Bellow (and little-known son of Adam Bellow), age 2, will become editor-in-chief of Playboy Magazine.

“We needed credibility,” said original founder Hugh Hefner. “Someone in touch with the next generation’s tastes.”

The decision to hire Bellow came hot on the heels of other noted family involvements (Drew Barrymore’s mom and Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister, to name two pictorial collaborations). Magazine insiders report that the Bellow decision, not unlike the Mailer hire, is nothing less than a desperate attempt to boost sales of a magazine that has lost its cultural relevance.

“Hugh Hefner is the worst publisher of his generation,” said Dale Peck, who then declared Playboy “homophobic” because it had refused to publish his stories.

“Goo goo ga!” replied Bellow, who then demanded to be burped and had two unpaid editorial interns close the door to his spacious Manhattan office.