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Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Alison Flood, in a post to the Guardian Books Blog, is having a lot of fun with what must be the most over-written book blurb ever composed.

For those not in the know, it is common for publishers to solicit pre-publication comments for new books, particularly if the writer is a first-time author for that house.  The comment is supposed to be short as well as laudatory (a dozen words is ideal), and is printed on the back of the jacket, or at the bottom of the book description on the flap.  A very good example is the blurb that was written for Tupaia by celebrated nonfiction writer Eric Jay Dolin (Leviathan, Fur, Fortune, and Empire), which reads: 

"Joan Druett’s wonderful and captivating book vividly brings to life the fascinating contributions of an amazing explorer and cultural ambassador, Tupaia, who for too long has been relegated to the shadows of history. And in the process, she puts a well-deserved dent in the legend of Captain James Cook."

See what I mean?  Short, succinct, enticing, and eminently quotable.  It is exactly what the publisher wanted, and warms the cockles of the author's heart, too.  Nothing over the top, here.

Well, on the Guardian blog they are laughing about the blurb written by novelist Nicole Kraus for the latest novel by the much-decorated David Grossman, To the End of the LandNot only is it over 130 words long, but it is embarrassingly effusive.  "Vary rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same," she begins.  "Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before." 

Grossman is "the most gifted writer" she has ever read, she goes on to aver, and not just because he is imaginative, energetic, and original, but also "because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity." 

If only Herman Melville had received a blurb like that for Moby-Dick, we might not have taken so many years to discover that it is a classic . . . or maybe not.  Does this quotation from this massive blurb make you want to read the book?  Or avoid it at all costs?  Now, there's a hot subject for debate!

The Guardian blog invites you to write a similar blurb for The Da Vinci Code.  To take up the challenge, click the link.  If you don't want to take up the challenge, still click the link.  Some of the entries are very funny.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


The CENTRAL COAST WRITERS, a branch of the California Writers Organization (100 years old and founded by a group that included Jack London), has a happy idea for communicating writing skills and accomplishments.  Why not sit in a beautiful arbor on a summer's evening with a glass of wine in hand, listening to one of the writers talk about his or her work?  A happy hour indeed!  And it happens once a month.

I'm not a member, I must confess; nor have I ever been to the Californian valley where this happy event is staged.  But it just so happens that I have been communicating for years with this month's speaker, Walter Gourlay (pictured), who is an authority on "Billy Bob" otherwise known as William Robert Stewart, flamboyant trader and supercargo in the early days of US-China trade.  And I had the pleasure of sharing coffee and chat with another writer in the group, Paul Karrer, when he was in Wellington a couple of weeks ago.

The next Happy Hour will be on Wednesday, July 14th 5:30 to 7:30 P.M.
Where: Baum & Blume Carriage House – 4 El Caminito Road, Carmel Valley Village

As hinted above, it will feature Walter Gourlay, national treasure and local icon, reading from from selected war memoirs set in Italy during WW II. Attendees can sit in the shade of a jasmine arbor as they listen, choose from an appetizer or full menu, and bring their own wine for a corkage fee. Questions: Pat Hanson: 831-601-9195.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bulwer-Lytton contest "won"

The winner of the 21010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for seriously bad writing is won by a Seattle woman, Molly Ringle.  As she wryly confesses, she only writes bad fiction when she fails at good fiction, and she would rather not say how often that happens.

The sentence that snared her the prize is truly gross, a marvel to behold:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvois with a kiss - a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.

I was intrigued to find when I went onto the Bulwer-Lytton competition site (where "WWW" means "Wretched Writers Welcome") that there are a number of categories, and much eloquent evidence that there is more than one seriously (or hilariously) bad writer out there.  Scanning through the various winners, runners-up and "dishonorable mentions" had me rocking with laughter.

Three favorites:

Please Mr. Fox, don't take your magic back to the forest, it is needed here in Twigsville!" pleaded little Isabel, but Mr. Fox was unconcerned as he smugly loped back into the woods without answering a word knowing well that his magic was only going to be used to make sure his forest would be annexed into the neighboring community of Leaftown where the property values were much higher.
-- Pete Watkins, winner: Children's Literature

As Holmes, who had a nose for danger, quietly fingered the bloody knife and eyed the various bady parts strewn along the dark, deserted highway, he placed his ear to the ground and, with his heart in his throat, silently mouthed to his companion, "Arm yourself, Watson, there is an evil hand afoot ahead."
-- Dennis Pearce, Runner-Up: Detective category

The wind whispering through the pine trees and the sun reflecting off the surface of Lake Tahoe like a scattering of diamonds was an idyllic setting, while to the south the same sun struggled to penetrate a sky choked with farm dust and car exhaust over Bakersfield, a town spread over the lower San Joaquin Valley like a brown stain on a wino's trousers, which is where, unfortunately, the story takes place.
-- Denis Doberneck, Runner-Up: Purple Prose.


Two-times Pulitzer winner William S. Merwin, one of the country's most distinguished and productive poets, has been named Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry of the United States.

Wow, that is a mouthful, but fully deserved.  As Philip Kennicott observes in The Washington Post, Merwin, a resident of Hawaii, has explored the usual poetic themes "with uncommon rigor, clarity, ecstatic vision and depth."

He also quotes from a 1967 poem, which the poet (then forty years old) called "the anniversary of my death."

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment ...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

TUPAIA, the progress

Okay, more about TUPAIA.  Yes, I know, I know that I have not updated progress for some time.  Well, the book is into production with Praeger, having slid smoothly into the process once I had been prodded into providing ...


And here it is.


1. In the beginning

2. The Dolphin

3. The Red Pennant

4. The Queen of Tahiti

5. The State Visit

6. Tupaia’s Pyramid

7. The Endeavour

8. Recognizing Tupaia

9. Tupaia’s Mythology

10. Return to Raiatea

11. Tupaia’s map

12. Latitude Forty South

13. Young Nick’s Head

14. Becoming Legend

15. The Convoluted Coast of New Zealand

16. Botany Bay

17. The Great Barrier Reef

18. The Last Chapter

Commentary and Acknowledgements




I've decided that a new polyglot Pasifika language is mysteriously and wonderfully blooming in New Zealand.  Already we talk about kai when it is ready to eat, whanau for a supportive group, and pat the puku when we are full.  I was amused the other day when I bought coffee and a muffin at a roadside cafe on Kelburn Parade.  The handsome young Polynesian male who carried them to my table observed as he set down the muffin, "Watch out for the manus."

Well, manu is the word for "bird" all over the Pacific, as far as I know.  When I looked at him inquiringly, he elaborated with a gesture at the sliding doors, "The little manus, they fly in from outside."

And sure enough, I shared my muffin with a remarkably companionable sparrow.

It reminded me of a while back when I was talking rugby with a Samoan.  He reminded me (unnecessarily) that the Samoan rugby team is called Manu Samoa.  "The flying Samoans," I said.  He looked amazed, and then laughed.  "Right on!" he exclaimed.  Now I wonder if my free translation has taken off in Apia.