We now have up a Feedburner feed. It can be accessed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/segundo. New show coming in a day or so.
The next show will probably include two author interviews and the Bat Segundo crew hopes to get this up no later than Monday. This week, we’ve lined up five more authors for future shows. We’re committed to making the Segundo Show a weekly reality. Keep watching these pages for future updates. (And if you’re an author who’d like to talk with our young, roving correspondent, please feel free to drop Mr. Segundo’s agent, Edward Champion, a line. He can be reached at ed AT edrants.com.)
Okay. Looks like we’re now up and running with the whole podcasting thing. Special thanks to Jay Allen for helping out the neophytes at the Bat Segundo Studio with the RSS stuff.
Our third episode is our first conversation with Jonathan Ames — this one, in relation to Wake Up, Sir! Ames would be the first writer to appear twice on the program, returning to Show #25. He would later be involved with various film and television projects. But we talked with him way back when.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Still bitter, but surprisingly articulate given multiple Grey Goose martinis.
Author: Jonathan Ames
Subjects Discussed: Subconscious influences, environmental decay, secret references, John Buchan’s The 39 Steps, autobiogaphical parallels, P.G. Wodehouse, Somerset Maugham, the correct pronounciation of Anthony Powell, sartorial parallels, baldness.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
The second Bat Segundo program involves several interviews conducted at BookExpo America 2005, which were strung together into a program. At the time, Bat Segundo hadn’t quite figured out what it was about. Even the Bat Segundo character at the beginning isn’t entirely defined. But this program does provide a modest glimpse of the publishing industry in 2005, which was before ebooks — especially when one considers the passionless money-grubbing jerk that Johnson has since dishearteningly transformed into. Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians had just started Melville House, with David Kipen (formerly of The San Francisco Chronicle) publishing a short book called The Schrieber Theory. These conversations were recorded at the Melville House booth.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Dismayed, fascinated, and deluded.
Subjects Discussed: The state of publishing, the early days of Melville House, Lewis Lapham’s trip to India with the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Mia Farrow getting kicked off of Frank Sinatra’s yacht, the Saturday Evening Post, the Melville Manifestos, pamphleting through small inexpensive books, how to beat the two year book production cycle, the difficulties of selling books, B&M stores willing to buy anything that sells even if it comes from an iconoclastic figure, difficulties with Amazon, stores that object to book covers, not putting blurbs on books, Stephen Dixon, alternatives to the auteur theory, Shriner vs. Schreiber, Ring Lardner, Ben Hecht, Paddy Chayefsky as a natural existentialist, Altered States, The Americanization of Emily, contending with rewrites in considering the screenwriter as the center of a film’s strength, corralling the Schreiber Theory with Citizen Kane, William J. Dowling’s Beatlesongs, Monty Python writing credits, Robert Towne and Personal Best, Billy Wilder’s writing partners, Nicholas Meyer’s adaptation of The Human Stain, publishing unproduced screenplays with Red Pen, Robert Rossen, Charlie Kaufman as a brand, Double Indemnity and Raymond Chandler, Dalton Trumbo’s letters, nonexistent people getting credit for screenplays, Quentin Tarantino’s Silver Surfer contributions to Crimson Tide, Richard Corliss’s Talking Pictures, special DVD collections by writer, and turning screenwriter names into adjectives.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Johnson: We’re trying to harken back to the pamphleting age when books were journalism and were news. And we think now that with the failings of the mainstream media that books can take up a lot of the slack and perform that function again. [Johnson refers to the "Melville Manifestos" line, which was abandoned sometime around 2006 for less risky and more mainstream Melville House books.] So we’re going to be doing a series of short books. Maybe not reprints. But maybe we saw a journalist writing about something and we said, “Look, do you have a polemic about that? Do you have a manifesto about that? Do you have a short investigation about that that would make a good, hard-hitting, inexpensive book?” We’re trying to make these small inexpensive books that are just more timely than is used to. Melville House — Valerie can chime in on. We’ve become unfortunately famous for making books really fast. And it’s been really killing. But we do think that books can be made on shorter than the two year cycle that’s normal in publishing. And maybe that way, we can make up for what’s going on in mainstream media.
Correspondent: I’ll get to you, Valerie, very soon. Because I don’t just want this to be the Dennis Show. But in terms of the two year cycle, what is your average sort of cycle for a Melville House title? And how do you go about doing this? Maybe Valerie might chime in with how that’s done.
Merians: Melville House cycle. My goodness. Usually we see something, fall in love with it, and run with it as fast as we can. Unfortunately, publishing does have certain constraints. It’s a very slow-moving beast. And we’re trying to speed it up a little bit. But we’re getting tired. But the usual cycle for a book is about a year and a half. But, for us, I would say it’s about nine months really.
Johnson: It really varies.
Merians: It really does vary. I mean, we did a book in three weeks. And that was very exciting and almost killed it. But it was worth it. So the best thing about Melville House is that we’re small and light and we can adjust quickly if we see something we feel needs to be out in front of the public and we feel we can get it out there fast.
Correespondent: Well, for other publishers who hope to maybe publish something out in three weeks or definitely less than the year and a half cycle, do you have any tips to impart?
Merians: Oh my.
Johnson: Don’t do that.
Merians: Don’t do that. It hurts. There’s a reason why we have a nice leisurely cycle. It’s a big country. It’s got to get distributed throughout the United States. Everyone has to learn about it. All the booksellers.
Johnson: That’s the issue. I mean, the business. The structure.
Merians: It is the structure of the business.
Johnson: People really don’t understand. Most writers, published authors, don’t really understand how the apparatus works. And it’s very complicated. And there are many parts. And the business itself doesn’t like books made at a step beyond a certain speed. Because you have to make booksellers aware of a book. That involves a catalog. That involves a certain amount of time to make the catalog.
Merians: Sales reps on the road.
Johnson: Sales reps need to go out and represent that book. You need a certain amount of time to physically make the book. Which is a longer time than you would think. You need a month process to fully distribute a book. And so that’s why the average mainstream publisher, the conglomerate publisher, likes to have about an eighteen month or two year cycle of processing a book. So when we crash a book, as it’s known, it’s a fight. It’s a real fight. Where you have to go to people out of schedule and beg them for their attention and their time and the space in their store. I mean, the book Valerie mentioned that we did now was a book that we did right after the election last year — the presidential election — and we were trying to get places in stores in December. The busiest month of the year for booksellers. And they’ve already got their store full. They have no space left. So it’s quite a struggle. And that’s why these times are kind of standard. And if you want to go against that, it’s a fight. But publication is a fight anyway. So we decided to take it on every now and then when we feel it’s worth it. And luckily for us, people have responded when we’ve done it. But there could be a time when nobody responds. And then we’re both be in physical pain and other kinds of pains. So there are risks.
Correspondent: One last question. There have been repeated struggles of other publishers trying to get books into chains. To get into the Barnes & Nobles and the Amazons, etcetera. Have you faced anything along those lines? Any problems?
Johnson: Not really. We have had a lot of success with the chains. And I say that as someone who for years, as you know, Ed, was a great critic of the chain booksellers. I do feel that they’re having a negative impact on our culture. But as a businessman, I can’t say that they turned down my far left political book, for example. If they think it’s something — it’s a pretty straightforward business deal. If they think they can make money off of it, they’ll buy it from you. It’s really that simple. Where it gets complicated is in kinds of pressures that you are under for the look of a book, for display money, for different kinds of display deals. [Note: Melville House does not pay any co-op money.] There, the big boys are the 800 pound gorilla and they might throw their weight around a little bit. But I can’t say that I felt — and they know who I am. I’ve walked into many a meeting with a Barnes & Noble executive where they said, “Oh, you’re that Moby Lives guy.” [Note: Before Moby Lives was folded into Melville House, becoming a desperate, attention-seeking, and neutered shadow of its former self, it was, as any Web Archive trip can attest, an iconoclastic and entertaining corrective to mainstream book news.] “You’re that guy that wrote about us. Oh, we like this book. We’ll take 2,000.” So I have to hand it to them. I mean, really, the behemoth for us is Amazon. Not the brick and mortar stores. Amazon is always a complicated one to deal with. And they’re very difficult. They’re very difficult. They’re difficult in a business sense and they’re difficult in an informational sense. Because every single one of our books, I believe, that’s up on Amazon right now has some crucial bit of information wrong. A price. A title. An author. A publisher. A pub date. An ISBN number. That we can’t get them to fix no matter what. So there’s all kinds of issues with Amazon as a huge behemoth retailer, but not with the real world stores.
The first Bat Segundo program features David Mitchell, who talked with me by telephone on October 6, 2004 while on paperback tour for Cloud Atlas. Mitchell would appear again in a two part in-person interview on Show #54 and Show #55 to discuss Black Swan Green. And he would appear a third time on Show #350 to discuss The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which oddly enough was discussed in its prototypical form during this discussion.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Disoriented and quite surprised by Jorge’s enthusiasm.
Author: David Mitchell
Subjects Discussed: Puzzle box narratives, the deficiencies of North American reviewers, William Faulkner, the presence of islands in Mitchell’s fiction, the early roots of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Luisa Rey, Stainslaw Lem’s Solaris, investigations into fate and chance, the use of corporations as verbs, Sloosha’s highly stylized vernacular in Cloud Atlas, being overwhelmed by imagination, the continental drift of language over time, intergenerational neologisms, Mitchell charting Americanisms in his notebook, thinking consciously about language while getting older as a writer, language as a mystical concept taken for granted, visual words vs. spoken words, American dialect, British linguistic purists who view American and Australia dialects as corrosive, Nabokov, dialect that’s a quarter tone out, considering a less prolix Melville, literary blogs, references to the act of writing in Cloud Atlas, Elgar, Greek philosophers using dialogue as a means of inquiry, why writers write about other artists, writers who write about writing perceived as literary masturbation (and other related taboos), David Markson, Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Mitchell’s “single stroke of a myopic president’s pen,” George W. Bush, humanism, the human world being made of stories, areas of existence where ideas can gem with impunity, writers compared with other vocations, why humanity needs stories, the UK cover for Cloud Atlas, Mitchell’s input on book covers, why Cloud Atlas came out in paperback in the States, and attracting younger readers.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: Do you need five minutes to get sort of acclimated? And should I call you back?
Mitchell: That’s really considerate of you. But I’ve just spent about three minutes getting acclimated and I’m fine and I’m ready to go. Full of energy and ready to sound witty, casual, and competent.
Correspondent: Okay. First off, I wanted to thank you very much for this interview. Also, thank you very much. I really enjoyed your book.
Mitchell: My pleasure, Edward. I can’t hear that often enough. Thank you very much indeed.
Correspondent: I’ve read all three of the books and I’m incredibly impressed with your talent. And it’s just been an absolute pleasure to sift through your puzzle box narratives. And I do want to say that first off. Of course, you’ve heard that endlessly, I’m sure. (nervous fanboyish laughter) But no amount of praise is good enough.
Mitchell: Well, I’m very grateful and thank you very much. And it’s very impressive that you do so much research for your interviewees. Because as you probably may know, it tends not to be the norm in North America. So thank you.
Correspondent: Yeah, I know. It’s been a mystery to me too. I have a couple of questions here I guess we can start with. First off, my question to you — and this, again, is getting into what we were just talking about, about North American reviewers — is how would you answer critics who — I’m not going to name any particular names, but how would you answer to the ones who would claim that your book is unreadable?
Mitchell: (laughs) In a non-conceited way, I’m not sure if I would answer them. If that’s someone’s honest opinion and if it’s coming from a position of integrity, then it’s simply — I can’t accuse them of being wrong. I can’t accuse them of being disingenuous. If it’s really what they feel, then I regret it. But that’s really it. That’s kind of my answer to the question really. I’m happy enough that I have enough readers and reviewers who think that the book is readable. So if some individuals feel that it isn’t readable, then I wish them happiness and a long life. I hope that they find some more readable books in.
Correspondent: Well, you can always give them William Faulkner’s answer. And that is “Read it four times.”
Mitchell: (laughs) I will store that away for the next interviewer.
Correspondent: Okay. Well, I also wanted to talk about the motifs that appear in your books. I noticed that are a lot of things — islands, in particular. You’re very interested in islands, whether it’s Clear Island in Ghostwritten, the island where Eji is in number9dream, and, of course, the infamous islands in Cloud Atlas. And I read John Walsh’s profile in The Independent ["David Mitchell: Fantastic Voyage," now unavailable online] and apparently your fourth book [what was later to become The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet] has a manmade island called Dejima. And I’m curious as to why you seem to think, why are you attracted to islands?
Mitchell: That’s a really good one. A very good question, Edward. By the time you get to your fourth book, you notice these seams or things or motifs. Perhaps they are themetifs, where a theme and a motive overlaps. But you notice these things. They keep rearing their heads. And it’s not really because you’re consciously putting them in book after book after book. But there must be another group of mes that are inside me, who made themselves manifest when I write. In the same way that we have the common experience of, apart from ourselves, making the selves manifest when we dream. Why? You’d sort of need to ask the psychiatrists that I do not have that question, I think. A longing first…actually, if you hold on a moment, I did a short piece for a Dutch film crew who were over and were doing this really short documentary earlier in the year. And in this very notebook, I did write a short piece about this. “Islands.” [Mitchell flips through his notebook over the phone.] Is it okay if I dictate this over the phone? It’s about twelve lines long, I think, in answer to your question.
Correspondent: That’s perfectly fine. Yes!
Mitchell: (reading from notebook and annotating with asides as he goes along) Islands keep cropping up in my work. I can count ten in my first three novels. And the novel that I want to start on this year will be based entirely on Dejima (a Dutch East Indies outpost in Nagasaki). My earliest books were actually maps of imaginary continents. Obviously not literally books. But that’s sort of how I, where I look back on my child forms of play. I think the part of my brain that now writes novels, that’s how it was occupied when I was, say, eleven years old or something. But my earliest books actually mapped imaginary continents. My parents were artists. So there were always big sheets of cartridge paper around the house. Just one sheet would keep me happy for hours and hours as I invented archipelagos, topologies, and poponomies. Islands are perhaps the geological expression most similar to novels. They’re both protected from and cut off from mainland reality. They often have their own customs, dialects, flora, fauna, a limited cast of characters. And the pubs have their licensing hours, by which they I mean they have their own laws. The past tense tends to be more visible on islands. Family roots tend to be deeper and more bound up in the landscape. Because it costs too much to cart away heavy rubbish. Discarded tractors, dead TVs, and so forth. It just tends to be left to decompose gently in the elements, reminding everyone of who or what it once was, like public memento moris. Lastly, it’s no accident that utopias and paradises are usually set on islands. That’s kind of what I had to say then. And I still kind of stand by that. It doesn’t quite answer your question. But it sort of hedges around it a bit.