June 26, 2005

BEA: The Last Post

Several weekends outside of the City prevented me from getting to the remainder of the BEA material I collected. But this weekend, I went through the material, eliminated a good deal of the quacks, and now offer the final installment of my BEA coverage.

Media Blasters is a publisher which specializes in translations of Japanese and Korean books. They've just produced their first original Japanese book called Death Trance, a tie-in to an upcoming film by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus). Frank Pannone told me that Death Trance features samurais, zombies, ninjas and magic. Media Blasters has been able to carve a niche, largely because it specializes specifically in shonen publications, aimed specifically at boys, and yaoi (pronounced "yowie") publications, which are gay romances aimed at woman.

Media Blasters isn't the only publisher specializing in dichotomies along these lines. Dark Horse Comics announced at BEA that it would be entering the field of Harlequin manga. The manga in question will be based on Harlequin romances. Dark Horse will be unveiling two lines: one for adults, one that is youth-friendly.

Agate Publishing arrived at BEA publicizing Freshwater Road, the debut novel by actress Denise Nicholas (star of Room 222 and In the Heat of the Night). Doug Siebold described it as "Mary Tyler Moore writing To Kill a Mockingbird." It's a coming-of-age tale about a young African American college student who goes to Mississippi to register voters in 1964. The book will be featured in the September issue of Essence. Agate also has a pocket relationshp guide called The Player Slayer, set for publication on Valentine's Day, 2006. The book is very tiny and is a "real world revision of The Rules." Of course, if you can't wait that long for this major publishing event, you can always just throw yourself into the dating pool, sans guide or books, and learn how to swim.

Fortunately, I found more pertinent tomes when I talked with Allan Kornblum of Coffee House Press. Aside from publishing Gilbert Sorrentino's latest novel, Lunar Follies, Coffee House has a memoir coming out this summer from U Sam Oeur called Crossing Three Wildernesses. Oeur lived through the Pol Pot forced labor camps (take that, James Frey!). Prior to this, he had studied for seven years in the United States. But what makes this memoir interesting is how Oeur was able to stay alive through Walt Whitman's poems, the Declaration of Independence and Kennedy's inaugural address -- all of which he had memorized and all of this while feigning illiteracy. Another Coffee House memoir is from poet Jack Marshall describing Marshall growing up in an ethnically charged household and Marshall becoming a writer in the process. Coffee House is also committed to publishing the short fiction of poet Kenneth Koch. Koch, who died only a few years ago, was primarily known as a poet (Random House has been publishing Koch's poetry), but Coffee House has been picking up the slack to get Koch's complete works published.

Akashic Books' Johanna Engels was kind enough to talk with me despite suffering from a cold . Their lead title for the fall is Marlon James' John Crow's Devil. James is a Jamiacan author and this is his debut novel. Akashic is perhaps best known for their city-based noir series and I was bemused to see that this concept is expanding to nearly every city on the planet. Since Brooklyn Noir did so well, Akashic has been branching out to Chicago, DC, San Francisco and Dublin (the four primed for the next season) and beyond (Manhattan, Baltimore, Twin Cities, L.A. and Miami compilations are also in the works). Engels told me that they keep the anthology editors local, people who have lived in the city for a while so that they can pull from local authors. The only exception to this is with Dublin Noir, where a more international mix has been effected. Joe Meno's Hairstyles of the Damned was Akashic's biggest success in its history. Meno fans will be happy to know that Akashic is publishing the paperback version of How the Hula Girl Sings.

I talked with Arcade Publishing the morning after Ismail Kadare won the Man Booker International Prize. Arcade has a dozen Kadare titles in print with another one coming in February (the new Kadare book called The Successor) that may be pushed up to October to take advantage of the prize. Arcade has been the exclusive American distributor for Kadare's work for the past eighteen years. Because there's been considerable debate over whether a literary award translates into sales, I tracked down one the heads of Arcade and asked if they had a specific sales strategy in mind. The sense I got was that Arcade is taking the award very seriously (more so than the regular Booker Prize award) and had commissioned their sales reps to begin work on sales sheets that very morning. The head couldn't be any clearer. He told me, "The regular UK Booker has an immediate effect in the U.S. It has for the past many years -- at least a decade. We're sure, and our sales reps are sure, that this award will too, especially when you look at the lineup over who Kadare was picked."

The new Kadare book, The Successor, deals with the man in line to be the successor to Hoxha, the Albanian dictator. The main character is Hoha's number two man, willingly shifting with the political tide . But the day before he is due to be named ruler of Albania, he committed suicide. Either that or he may have been murdered. Kadare has framed his next book around this murder mystery that also explores the horrors of Communism and how it affects people's lives.

As alluded to in my previous post, I talked with Chris Roberson, the publisher for Monkeybrain Books. One of their more intresting books is a collection of essays devoted to Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe. Monkeybrain is offering a nonfiction anthology, Myths for the Modern Age, which collects Farmer's uncollected essays and fleshes out the Wold Newton concept with several other writers (including Jess Nevins) and is edited by Win Scott Eckert. Adventure! is an all-genre, all-adventure anthology edited by Roberson that includes science fiction, Westerns, and fantasy. The only restriction on the contributors was that the stories "had to contain a healthy dose of adventure." There are contributions by Michael Moorcock, Kim Newman, Kage Baker and comes out in November.

Justin, Charles & Co. specializes in pop culture-based books, such as a Douglas Adams bio written by Mike Simpson and a guy's guy book for the perfect Las Vegas weekend. (In Justin, Charles' defense, I should also point out that they also publish crime fiction.) But I was more interested in film critic's James Berardinelli's reviews, of which a second volume is forthcoming. Steve Hull told me that the first collection sold well enough to warrant a second volume. Beyond being a mere collection of Berardinelli's work, there are extra chapters on DVD easter eggs and the best special edition director's cuts. Apparently, one of the key decisions to publish Berardinelli was that he receives a substantial number of hits and is considered by Hull to be the most widely read Internet critic.

On the crime fiction side, Justin, Charles' big book is Richard Marinick's Boyos. The story behind the book is quite interesting. Marinick started off as a Massachusetts State cop who decided that there was no money in this. So he started robbing armored cars. He ran an armored car ring in Boston for eight years and was caught. He did ten years in Massachusetts State Prison. While in the hoosegow, he earned a college degree and decided that he always wanted to be a writer. Upon release from the joint, he went to work as a union tunnel worker and worked on Boyos for years. Every day, Marinick would work on the book -- in the tunnels, in the pouring rain. Eventually, the book was published.

After several attempts, I was able to track down Paul Cohen, the head of Monkfish Publishing. Monkfish specializes in spiritual books, but he was also the man who published the infamous Gerard Jones' Ginny Good. (Perhaps not so coincidentally, Gerard Jones recently emailed me, among 16,000 others, with news that he's put up MP3s of a Ginny Good audio book in progress, which can now be found at his site.) Like the rest of us, Cohen found out about Gerard Jones through an article. He liked Jones' voice and got a copy of Ginny Good (after not particularly caring for The Astral Weekend) and decided to publish it. I asked Cohen if he considered Ginny Good to be a spiritual book and he told me that he did, calling it "the epiphany of a generation." Specifically, Cohen was struck by the importance of family and relationships seen in Jones' book, which he considered deeply spiritual. One thing I didn't know was that Cohen employed David Stanford, Ken Kesey's longtime editor, to edit the book.

Of course, no BEA report would be complete without a look at some of the more unusual products. Toronto's Marilyn Herbert offers Bookclub-in-a-Box. What might this be? Well, you get a complete guide, support materials, pamphlets that could be handed out to readers, custom bookmarks, and a sticky pad to take notes -- in other words, a prix fixe menu which covers all bases. Or not. I asked Herbert if she had recipes for scones or perhaps an ideal way of setting up a table. She told me that she hadn't, but that recipes were in the works.

What troubled me about the Bookclub-in-a-Box concept was how literal-minded it was. Herbert showed me a Life of PI sample and the thick bundle of information revealed copious efforts to reveal every possible enigma (such as how did Richard Parker, the tiger, get his name). What's more, Bookclub-in-a-Box hadn't bothered to contact any of the authors they profiled. So many of their answers are unilateral. Then again, who knows? Perhaps this concept might play well in the sticks.

Posted by DrMabuse at June 26, 2005 11:48 PM

Some of us in the sticks would never purchase a "bookclub in a box." Seems to me bookclubs are decidedly suburban.

Posted by: Kelly at June 28, 2005 06:10 AM