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Friday, October 31, 2008

Is the era of the print newspaper coming to an end?

Lost in the glut of dismal news and the world's preoccupation with the US presidential election campaign is a week's worth of bad tidings for the print newspaper you skipped through over breakfast.

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times announced that 75 of its newsroom staff would have to go.

On Tuesday, the Christian Science Monitor announced the end of its weekday print edition. Apart from a weekly magazine edition, you will only be able to read it online.

The publisher of the stable of magazines that includes globally recognizable names like Time, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated, is cutting 600 jobs.
Basically, the problem is because of YOU. And ME. Reading (and writing) online is rapidly replacing the print newspaper, along with the advertisements that paid most of the publishing costs of that newspaper, in the first place. As David Carr comments in his story for the Media section of the New York Times, "A single newspaper ad might cost many thousands of dollars while an online ad might only bring in $20 for each 1,000 customers who see it."
Add that to the fact that the three biggest entities that paid for print advertisements -- the car industry, the retail industry, and the financial services industry -- are in steep decline, the situation for paper newspapers is increasingly dire.
Can traditional print media survive at all? Or will we all be reduced to trawling the murky pool of the worldwide web for in-depth news and commentary?
Watch This Space.

Latest from Spy Mouse

Spy Mouse has emerged from a summer of reading books (and castles in Italy may have had something to do with it, too).

The whisper, it seems, is that an Australian author is creating a lot of interest in London. This is Stephen Scourfield, whose first novel, Other Country, was in the short list for the 2008 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book.

It is not, as it happens, his first book, as he is the author of several nonfiction volumes. Scourfield is also the Travel Editor of The West Australian, and according to his website takes quite spectacular photographs. One of these has been chosen to illustrate the publications page of the site, rather than an image of the jacket of Other Country.
I wonder why?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New series on women scientists

In the harbinger of what promises to be remarkably successful venture, book distributor Beagle Bay of Nevada has just announced that one of their clients, Stone Pine Press, has sold the Russian rights to a young adult book about female scientists.

This is Women Astronomers: Reaching for the Stars, by the rather aptly named Mabel Armstrong. The first in a planned Women in Science series, Women Astronomers describes the fascinating women who strived for the stars, from Hypatia of Alexandria through Maria Mitchell of Nantucket to astronaut Sally Ride.
Women Astronmers has won a silver medal in the Moonbeam Children's Awards. (Scan down to listing 17.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tony Hillerman passes away

Sadly, the great mystery writer Tony Hillerman has died at the age of 83, and Ron and I have read the last of his wonderful books.

Though Caucasian, Hillerman very successfully brought two Navajo detectives vividly to life, complete with their inner thoughts and private problems. Ovet the years, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, sterling members of the Navajo Tribal police in the gaunt, arid, stunning setting of New Mexico, have almost become members of the family. They were certainly part of the inspiration for Wiki Coffin, the half-Maori detective of my mystery series. And, while the color schemes of the distinctive Hillerman book jackets may not have been as spectacular as the desert the two native American policemen roamed, I have always enjoyed the use of stylized American-Indian figures.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A book jacket that breathes

It's funny, but you never think much about breathing. Until it's all you think about ...

Amber Thody has responded to Hugh Price's comment that blue and green are too cool and bland for selling book covers by pointing us to the latest book by twice-shortlisted-for-the-Booker Tim Winton of Western Australia.

Tim Winton, I find, writes about the sea, and the impact of the ocean on the human psyche, so it is only logical that the book jacket for Breath should be blue.

And wow, which jacket did Amber mean?
The one with the wave, farthest left, is the London edition. The lower middle one comes from Melbourne, while the one on the right comes from New York.
And I can't make up my mind which one I like best.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What jacket helps a book sell?

My last post elicited a very interesting comment from bookseller Amber Thody. Fascinated by the idea of jackets selling books, she confided that she found the cover of the Fall catalogue she had received from Canadian publisher Talonbooks quite enchanting.

So I asked her to send along an image of the cover that had fascinated her so -- which she very kindly agreed to do, adding:

I don't know if you can really see the pic clearly - it is a misty mystery of sepia forest growing up into typewriter keys. Not keys. The arm things that fly back and forth to the ribbon when you bang the keys. Do they have a name? Stampy arm-banging things. Anyway this is the one I want to hug and kiss and stroke every day.

The other one is HB Fenn's latest, and I included it because this is what southwestern Ontario looks like right now and it's beautiful. My route to work involves a lot of countryside and I go past immense fields of pumpkins. They are hidden to me in the dark mornings, but burst forth in the startling sparkly blue afternoons every day.

I would be interested to know what others think of these two catalogue covers. I love the one with the pumpkins. They jump out of the image, and make a statement -- because of perspective, atmosphere, and color. This feeling is confirmed by a conversation I had yesterday with one of Wellington's most wellknown sons, bookseller, publisher, and bibliophile Hugh Price. When I asked him which jackets sold best, he instantly said, "The warm colors -- red, maroon, orange. Blues and greens are cool and uninviting," he added.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New book on maritime leadership . . .

. . . and thoughts about book jackets

Admirals: The Naval Commanders Who Made Britain Great, by Andrew Lambert has just been published by Faber & Faber in the UK.

The book examines ten admirals, from Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham (1536-1624) to Andrew Cunningham (1883-1963). The author uses these individuals to trace the evolution of naval command over four centuries.

What a great jacket! Last night, our book group discussed what it is about a book that makes it irresistible (or otherwise) to pick up, leaf through, and eventually buy. The jacket was a major reason, along with the typeface of the title and subtitle. Everyone said they were turned off by misty pictures rendered in Victorian pinks and blues. Titles in funky fonts that resemble cellphone texts or crawl-bar messages were equally off-putting.

Author Lambert must be very pleased with this effort.

Newspaper blogging

The ever-lively GalleyCat comments on a survey just released by the Online Journalism Blog, which reveals how deeply blogging has affected the traditional print media.

"We'd hazard a guess that at least 60 percent of all authors are doing some sort of blogging," observes editor Jason Boog, and strongly suggests that those authors should be comparing notes. How has blogging affected the style and depth of their writing? And has it provided an extra platform for telling great tales?

One respondent has already reported that he or she now thinks in hyperlinks. As an editor for the Indian news site, Instablogs, I would heartily concur with that: it is like the old days of writing academic papers, when thorough footnoting was vitally necessary, simply to protect one's scholarly reputation. URL links provide the same kind of cover-your-back credibility. I also find I think in photographs, as images give such a vivid dimension to the story.

In fact, I am seriously considering turning in my next book proposal in blog-post form, complete with links and wonderful pix.

An aspect allied to newspaper blogging I particularly enjoy is the "comments" section, where readers post their opinions of whatever has been reported or discussed, often with a blithe disregard of the proprieties. Many are ignorant, misspelled, and badly phrased, and rely far too heavily on foul language. Others, however, are wonderfully eloquent, and at times have a tongue-in-cheek humor.

A perfect example of this is the commentary to a BBC report of the drunken behavior of the graduating class of an exclusive Australian boys' school. Much of it was the usual outcry to "bring back the cane," plus a few reminiscent remarks from old boys of the school. But then there was "Sheila Outrigger of Melbourne."

"It was disgusting, these young lads were urinating in my fish pond, and kicking over my gnomes. I have never seen anything like it, I have lived here for 28 years, and my gnomes have never been attacked like this before," she exclaimed.

"They beheaded five of my gnomes and knocked over my brand-new bird bath," chimed in "Lucinda R.," also of that city. "It's a disgrace, they have no respect for others, and I blame, as always, the parents."

The entire class has been suspended from school. Undoubtedly, the gnomes are delighted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

VIACOM up for sale?

Well-informed speculation by Peter Lauria in the New York Post has it that mega-media-mogul Sumner Redstone, 85, may be forced to sell Viacom.

Viacom, no less, home of MTV, Nickelodeon, and Paramount Studios.

Another option is to sell off bits of CBS, such as a few radio stations, or publisher Simon & Schuster.

It's the credit crisis, of course. "Sumner needs more money," confided one of Lauria's sources. Apparently this simple statement is a textbook example of gross understatement -- according to a second source, Sumner Redstone is so deeply into hock with the banks that hold his collateral that sale of bits of the two huge empires may not solve the problem. Worst case scenario is to sell off all of CBS and/or Viacom.

However, it is not a sure thing, Redstone being a shrewd and seasoned negotiator.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is the Associated Press becoming an unaffordable luxury?

One hundred and sixty-two years ago, a bunch of US newspapers banded together to create a wire service, called The Associated Press, which would provide breaking news and instant headlines to the group, for a fee. It worked outstandingly well, and has been an integral feature -- an inner cog -- of American journalism ever since.

However, it seems that the cog might have fallen out of synch with the machine. The Media section in today's New York Times features a startling story by Richard Pérez-Peña, headed:
Some Papers in Financial Trouble Are Leaving the A.P. to Cut Costs

The latest defector is the Columbus Dispatch, which says it can no longer afford the $800,000 annual fee. Last week one of the country's largest chains, the Tribune company, announced it would drop out, saying that in an era where advertising revenue is dropping by 25%, it is forced to cut costs.

Other factors could be that the AP is competing with online editions of newspapers on the internet, or that the AP has moved away from its traditional role of providing breaking news into featuring oped-type discussions, which have been the province of the newspapers up until now.

It is yet to be seen whether this rebellion will extend to the thousands of foreign papers which also use the service.

Wellington misses out on City of Literature standing

In this morning's Dominion Post, Ruth Hill contributes the sad news that Wellington's bid for Unesco City of Literature status has been written off by the economic climate.

The campaign, which would have set Wellington alongside Melbourne and Edinburgh, promised a bonanza of millions of dollars, but was stymied by the projected cost of several hundred thousand.

The letter announcing the withdrawal of a previous application was signed by Wellington City Libraries' strategic marketing manager Duncan McLachlan. The plans had been scrapped, he said, "because of the global financial crisis and the council's need to focus on core services."

Wellington matched most criteria. Many of the country's leading literary lights live here, and it is also home to Victoria University's world-rated International Institute of Modern Letters. The National Library of New Zealand is here, as are the Alexander Turnbull and Beaglehole research libraries. There are several excellent bookstores, including quality independents, and stages both a literary festival and an international festival of the arts. There is also a quirky and popular Writers' Walk on the waterfront.

However, money talks, and finding sponsorship for anything at all, no matter how worthy, is getting harder all the time.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The words you use

This is not even about the written word, but the spoken word instead.
However, I found this story, written by Jessica Wapner for the science section of the New York Times, so intriguing I couldn't resist posting a summary.

In short, James W. Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, has discovered interesting things about people's choice of words in speech. It's called text analysis, and it consists of counting the different kinds of words a person says.
Excessive use of first person pronouns (I, me, mine) indicates insecurity and a sense of being threatened. When you are sick or hurt, you use first person words more often (I want water, please help me). As you get better, you gradually drop this use of egocentric terms. Liars, on the other hand, avoid first person pronouns -- undoubtedly because they want to keep the focus away from themselves -- and use negative words (hurt, ugly, nasty) instead.
There are more fascinating conclusions drawn. Those who are mentally alert are more likely to use causal words (because, since, therefore). Men use more articles (a, the, that, this) while women use more second and third person pronouns (he, she, they), probably because men are more concrete thinkers, and women are more empathetic.
The world of diplomacy and espionage is interested. Dr. Pennebaker has received a grant from the Army Research Institute to study how foreign leaders use language.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Leviathan -- and cat poetry

New Zealand economist Brian Easton sent me a ripped out page from The Spectator with a review of yet another whaling history, called (yet again) Leviathan.

The last Leviathan I read was a terrific history of American whaling by Eric Jay Dolin (Norton, 2007). This one, it seems, covers the same ground . . . poetically.
Apparently the jacket is the best part of the book.

Quote from Hoare's Leviathan (as quoted in the review):

If any animal were to evolve its own religion, what better animal than one that, for all its trials and tribulations, remains an immortal, omniscient power, a lingering shape in the ocean, beyond all human comprehension and physical dimension, forever spinning into space.

Oh, for heaven's sake. Who does Hoare think he is? The 21st-century heir of the great Herman Melville?
Having decided not to bother reading this book, I flipped over the page from The Spectator . . . and found a really neat piece of poetry. It's so good, I read it out to my husband, Ron, and it is so good that he actually listened.

It's written by Connie Bensley.

She called it, Feeding your cat.

The recalcitrant lock,
the gloomy hall,
the unfamiliar creakings
and sussurations,
the bored letters waiting
to be picked up.

The stink of lilies
drooping in their huge vase
on a ring of unlatched petals.
How suddenly you left for --
where was it? -- Los Angeles?

I can't find the cat.
But starlingly, she leaps out
like a trouper from
behind a curtain, tail up,
with an expression I read as:
About bloody time too.

When I bend over her saucer
she bites my hand. It might be
a love bite, and I decide to give her
the benefit of the doubt.

This is real poetry. I will be looking out for Connie Bensley from now on.
And it is evidence that the printed page yields accidental treasures that a simple link via URL does not.

Dean Koontz to write dog's memoir

Horror/thriller writer Dean Koontz has signed a contract with Hyperion to write A Bit Little Life, a memoir of his love affair with a dog.

According to the way he tells it, he and his wife adopted a dog from Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that trains dogs to be helpers for people with disabilities. The original idea was that the adoption would be a temporary affair, but the dog was disqualified by an injury, and the adoption became permanent -- luckily, because both owners had fallen in love with their new family member. So, according to Hyperion, the book is "the story of unexpectedly falling in love with a puppy in one's middle age and gaining a family member along the way."

Koontz first found the organization while researching a novel, and now is a major supporter.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rambles in the bookselling world

After lunch, I ran into Bridget Kinsella—who was wearing a Shelf Awareness badge. "Oh!" I said as she walked by. I've read Bridget's work in Publisher's Weekly for years. I don't know her enough to talk to her. But she stopped when she heard my outburst and we chatted a bit. That's when she told me Publishers Weekly had given her the heave-ho after 15 years. She's working for Shelf until she gets a "real job" (her words).

Thus runs a tidbit from the long and outstandingly interesting blog written at the recent bookfest staged by the NCIBA -- Northern California Independent Booksellers' Association -- by CEO of Beaglebay Books, Jacqueline Church Simonds (pictured right, with Clare Bell, author of Ratha's Courage, and Joel Mikesell of Cypress House).

Read all about it here.

Spin-off from a Nobel Award

Norton is moving quickly to bring out a paperback edition of Luc Montagnier's 1999 book Virus: The Co-discoverer of HIV Tracks its Rampage and Charts the Future.
Last week Montagnier was given the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of the virus that causes AIDS, and the book provides his first-hand account of that discovery process.

The book was not published in paperback previously, and Print-on-Demand mega-business Lightning Source is fulfilling immediate inventory demands while Norton awaits the regular offset print run.

National Book Award Finalists


Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project (Riverhead)

Rachel Kushner, Telex from Cuba (Scribner)

Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country (Modern Library)

Marilynne Robinson, Home (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Salvatore Scibona, The End (Graywolf Press)


Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf)

Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W.W. Norton & Company)

Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (Doubleday)

Jim Sheeler, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives (Penguin)

Joan Wickersham, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order (Harcourt)


Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

Mark Doty, Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (HarperCollins)

Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day (Louisiana State Univ.)

Richard Howard, Without Saying (Turtle Point)

Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press)

Young People's Literature:

Laurie Halse Anderson, Chains (Simon & Schuster)

Kathi Appelt, The Underneath (Atheneum)

Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied (Scholastic)

E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion)

Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Knopf)

The winners will be announced in New York on 19 November.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

British Library pays half-million pounds for Hughes archive

An immense collection of the letters, diaries, drafts of poems, and "innermost thoughts" of Ted Hughes has been purchased by the British Library.

Hughes, poet laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998, is often regarded as the finest English poet of the last century. A man of passionate feelings, his personal relationships were intense. His first wife, the American poet Sylvia Plath, committed suicide at the age of 30, months after he left her for Assia Wevill. Wevill also killed herself months after Hughes left her.

Some of the journals are as mundane as records of fishing trips, while others record his vivid dreams and his interractions with his family. Many are kept on used paper and in secondhand exercise books, betraying that he was a thrifty man, as well.

The Mystery of the Secret Service Watch

As the writer of the Wiki Coffin mystery novels, I surely do love a mystery -- and so I was instantly intrigued when I stumbled over the mystery of Barack Obama's watch.

"Barack Obama's Watches," runs the title of the webpage I flipped through while surfing. Well, I flipped, and then, highly diverted, returned and read more carefully.

There is a group who call themselves "watch collectors," who specialize in detecting the make and style of watch worn by various celebrities. In past years it might have been Paul Newman, Jerry Seinfeld, or Steve McQueen, but the current rage is Barack Obama. So what kind of watch does the presidential candidate wear? There lies the mystery.

Back in early 2007, it was a large, sporty, light-dialed watch, identified by most of the group as a fairly common TAG-Heuer, series 1000 or 2000 (these boys are technical).

"Then suddenly," writes Jeffrey M. Stein:

Then suddenly, something strange happened late in the year 2007. In the place of this rather common TAG-Heuer, the experts spotted a huge black Panerai; others saw a black-dialed Carrera re-issue; and still others saw a Royal Oak, something that Governor Schwarzenegger might wear. Wow!! Could this be true? That rather than switching from the TAG-Heuer to the nondescript Timex or Casio, Senator Obama was actually stepping up his horological game? Could it be that he had gone from Wal-Mart to Wempe? What would the pollsters say? What would McCain say? Could this man of the people, the law professor and community organizer, be wearing a high-end Swiss watch? What would the Japanese say? Suddenly, the watch guys began to spread the rumor that Obama was also a watch guy! Read more ...

I loved this guy's style -- and I also loved the mystery. What had happened to Obama? Why had he changed his watch from so bland to so melodramatic? Jeff Stein, a consummate detective, tracked down the change to a specific date: August 4, 2007, Obama's 46th birthday. And the watch was a special issue Secret Service Watch, obtainable only at the Secret Service Store, and sold only to agents of the Secret Service.

Obviously, it was a birthday present, which must have come from Barack Obama's minders. But why? A Fox News blogpost solved the mystery. Obama is a nice guy to work for, if you go in for that line of work -- at Christmas, he invited the Secret Service detail on duty in for dinner, and invites them in, too, to help watch games on TV. He also plays hoops with them. In a word, they liked him so much that they had clubbed together, and given him a very special present.

Blogging cost a guy his job

Novelist Christopher Buckley is the back-page columnist for the conservative mag, National Review, which was founded by his father, William F. Buckley. Well, he was until very recently. Then he wrote a long, thoughtful, reasoned endorsement of Barack Obama in his blog, Daily Beast.

As it happens, Christopher's dad, who famously said he took pains to sort out the conservatives from the kooks, would have had little trouble with his son's decision. Nonetheless, so much angry mail and canceled subscriptions arrived in a deluge of reader backlash, that the political novelist decided that the best move was to resign and get out of the target zone.

New book by author of Pomegranate Soup

Some time ago, our book club read and discussed Marsha Mehran's Pomegranate Soup, the story of three sisters, refugees from revolution-torn Iran, who set up a little restaurant in a suspicion-torn Irish village, and beguile the citizens with their exotic, delicious food.

We liked the vivid character descriptions, and tried out some of the recipes, starting with lavender-mint tea. We sipped and decided it was rather too sweet, but were intrigued enough to try it again, with a lot less honey. The other meals were winter-hearty stuff, well fitted for Irish villages. I tried out one with meat and beans, and finished up with a cassoulet, which was great.

According to Publisher's Lunch, Mehran has sold the concept for another book, intriguingly called The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty. Narrated in the tradition of Thousand and One Nights, it is set in pre-revolutionary Iran and present-day Los Angeles. The story follows the lives of four Iranian women and their American-raised daughters, who for years gathered weekly on the carpeted rooftop of "Scheherazade's Beauty Palace" to drink tea and tell stories, and who are now reunited for a three days leading up to a family wedding.

Look for it to be brought out by Putnam (UK).

Tidbits from the Frankfurt Book Fair

The mood, among German publishing houses, anyway, is upbeat. While lots of publishers feel dismal about economic prospects, most think that business will stay pretty much the same. The digital future zooms near, which led to a lot of discussion. While about 42% of exhibited material is traditional books, a whopping 30% is digital. What does the future hold? No one knows. Meantime, the rather confusing advice from the Germans is not to move too fast, but don't hang back, either.

According to mega-bestseller Paolo Coelho, the book is still king, but this is just a precious interval before www takes over. He chides the publishing world for not being innovative enough, and recommends using it to give away digital content for free. Copyright problems might raise their heads, but "we are facing a new era, so either we adapt or we die. However," he hastily added, "I did not come here to share solutions, but my own experience as an author."

On a personal note, I agree with him. Digital books are a great research tool -- IF they are searchable. For a relaxing read, I put the digital book away, and buy or borrow a "real" book. There is nothing like the feel of paper in your hands. I particularly like library books, because of the aura of those who have been before you, and left dogears, notes, and strange bookmarks that are often as interesting as the content.

But, for real innovation in the use of digital media, have a look at this! Talk about thinking outside the square! But I digress.

The naming of the Booker Prize winner should trigger more interest in the Fair, and books in general. One hopes so, anyway, for all shortlisted titles have recorded dismal sales. The total lifetime sale figure for all six, taken together, is 32,342 copies (via Nielsen Bookscan).

Perhaps they should give away digital copies free.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Paul Krugman wins Nobel Prize

No, not another literature prize. But I could not resist announcing that the wonderful Paul Krugman, whose comments on the economic situation appear every week in the New York Times and are read avidly by self and friends, has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Not for his lucid prose in his opeds, however. He gained it in recognition of his groundbreaking "analysis of how economies of scale can affect trade patterns and the location of economic activity."

In the citation, the Swedish Academy says:"What are the effects of free trade and globalization? What are the driving forces behind worldwide urbanization? Paul Krugman has formulated a new theory to answer these questions. He has thereby integrated the previously disparate research fields of international trade and economic geography."

He has also published an Important Book called The Conscience of a Liberal (Norton, 2007)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Yasmine Gooneratne named Jewel of Literature

In Sri Lanka, the title "Sahithya Rathna"―“Jewel of Literature”―has been awarded to scholar and writer Yasmine Gooneratne, in recognition of her outstanding contributions in the fields of university education, creative writing and literary criticism.

Professor Gooneratne taught English literature at Macquarie University, where she was also the Founding Director of the Postcolonial Literature and Language Research Centre. She has published and edited more than 25 books, including English Literature in Ceylon, 1815–1878, a pioneering study of the history of English literature in Sri Lanka. In 2001 she was a recipient of India’s Raja Rao Award for her outstanding contributions to the literature of the South Asian Diaspora. In 1990 became an Officer of of the Order of Australia for contributions to literature and education, and was invited to be the inaugural Patron of the Jane Austen Society of Australia.

In spite of her long absence from Sri Lanka she acknowledges with fondness ‘the good fortune to have been born in Sri Lanka and to grow up and be educated there at a golden period of the island’s cultural life’.

The citation for the Sahithya Ratna Lifetime Achievement Award was delivered on 14 September in the presence of His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Honorary doctorate for popular New Zealand author

It’s not often Tessa Duder is lost for words, but the author, editor and playwright admits to being “gobsmacked” when she got word she was being awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato. Gobsmacked and honoured. “It’s a huge honour, especially when I see the other writers who’ve been awarded before me – Janet Frame, Don Stafford, Maurice Gee, Margaret Mahy, Michael King. I’m moved and flattered,” she says.

An inspiring story of sponsorship

Jacqueline Church Simonds, CEO of BeagleBayBooks, the energetic small press that is distributing the latest in Clare Bell's fantasy series, Ratha's Courage (see my earlier post), sent me a few attachments today, saying, "I thought you would be interested in this charming story of how an unrelated hobby became the genesis of a writing career - all from the kindness of SF writer Andre Norton."

* * *

Andre Norton, the "Grand Dame" of science fiction, was known for encouraging and helping young writers. One such writer was Clare Bell, author of the Named series. Back in the 1970s, Bell created elaborate creatures out of pipe-cleaners and other materials, which she sold at science fiction conventions and elsewhere.

The creatures came to the attention of Norton,
who ordered a gryphon based on the one in her book, The Crystal Gryphon.

When she sent the gryphon to Norton, Bell slipped in a copy of her recent Star Trek fan-fiction. To her surprise, Norton contacted her and asked if she had written anything original. She had, and she sent Norton a copy of the manuscript. Norton saw promise in it, and sent it to her editor,
Margaret K. McElderry. That manuscript eventually became Ratha's Creature, published in 1983. Ratha's Creature won awards from the International Reading Association and the Pen Center, and was a nominee for the Locus awards.

Bell's creatures are still attracting attention today. They were a hit at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) show this past weekend, where Bell was signing copies of her newest
book, Ratha's Courage.

According to the School Library Journal, the "critters" also attracted attention the previous weekend at the second annual Kidlitosphere conference in Portland, Oregon.

Albert Goldbarth, Amy Hempel Win Literary Prizes

Earlier this week, at a ceremony in Chicago, the Poetry Foundation named Albert Goldbarth the winner of its annual $25,000 Mark Twain Poetry Award, which honors humor in American poetry.

The inimitable GalleyCat reports: This week also saw Amy Hempel's talents as a short story writer recognized with the presentation of the $30,000 Rea Award. As the prize's stewards like to point out, this isn't a lifetime achievement award, and it doesn't recognize any single published collection or even an individual story—it's supposed to be about nothing less than 'originality and influence on the genre.'

Author of Jewel of Medina not being showcased at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Because the US publication date of Sherry Jones's Jewel Of Medina has been moved up from the original release of October 15, Beaufort Books publisher Eric Kampmann says Jones will stay in the US to promote rather than visit the Frankfurt Book Fair as originally planned.

Well, the early release is the reason given for her non-appearance. Kampmann assured the Bookseller, "This is nothing to do with threats or fear, it is simply because of the acceleration of publication."

The offices of UK publisher Gibson Square remain closed following the firebomb attempt earlier this month.

Nobel Prize in Literature Announced

And surprise, surprise, it is not an American -- just as Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which administers the award, predicted in a very controversial pronouncement. (American lit. is too insular, he said -- see my earlier post.)

The winner is prolific French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio.

According to an article in Label France, a magazine published by the French government, his work reflects concerns about the health of the planet, the intolerance of Western thought, and a fascination with Native Americans.

So there is American input, after all. But does this mean that Americans will read his books? Probably not, according to the abstract of an interview with GalleyCat.

Bulls and bears, and the Dow index

Yet another shock announcement: Stocks have plunged again, and the Dow is under 8,600 -- and this in an era when hitting 10,000 was considered pretty drastic. "This is the virulence of a bear market that we have not seen in a generation," declared one CEO.

We all know (I think) that a bear market is one that falls, and a bull market is one that rises. The statue of a bull outside beleaguered J. P Morgan is an icon of Wall Street. But what is the origin of the terms "Bull Market" and "Bear Market"?

In California, during the goldrush and even earlier, entrepreneurs used to build a sort of stadium to entertain those with gold dust or coins to spend. This was a sand arena surrounded by a stout high fence, known as a 'pit.' A newcomer to town would notice first that the posts on the inside of the fence had been clawed and gnawed, evidently by some large and angry animal. If he had read the posters plastered to the walls of the local buildings, he would know that animal was probably one of the fabulously large bears native to the area. If the sand was trampled and bloodied from a previous contest, he would guess that the blood had come from a bull.

A forerunner of the bull and bear fights that were so popular in early California was the good old English custom of bear-baiting, a favorite spectator sport of Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth. In England, a bear was chained to a post set near enough to the edge of the arena to make the contest exciting for the nearby spectators, and then dogs were released into the arena. The dogs were replaced as they were killed or maimed, until they ran out of dogs―in which case, the bear was the winner―or else the bear was killed. To enliven the brutal sport, other animals might be matched against the bear, and often this was a bull.
In California, grizzlies―which roamed the forests in their thousands―were trapped and carted, snarling and ripe for battle, in cages to the arenas. Once chained to the post, it was usual for a bear to scrape a deep hollow in the sand, where it lay like a shaggy rug while it waited for what was to come. Often, dogs were sent in first, in an echo of the English sport. Their job was to worry and infuriate the bear. While this was going on, the audience arrived, often from many miles away, as bull and bear fighting was hugely popular. The men watched from horseback, while a special dais provided elevated viewing for women and children.

Once the bear was well roused, and the spectators were assembled, the other main feature of the program was released into the arena. This was a wild bull, itself tormented to a pitch of ferocity. The bull's only chance of survival was to charge the bear at once, head lowered to gore him through the chest, and then fling him up through the air. This was quite a challenge, as the grizzly could weigh more than one thousand pounds, but occasionally happened. More usually, the grizzly countered the charge by rising to his full height, massive and utterly fearsome. Setting claws and teeth into the bull, he dragged him down, sinking slowly backward into the hollow, and taking the bull with him as the crowd roared for blood.

Originally, it was an entertainment staged and enjoyed by vaqueros. During the goldrush these fights became commercialized, with particularly large and fearsome bears―given jazzy names like 'General Scott'―being valued at $1,500 or even more. The fights were advertised weeks beforehand. Tickets cost $1.50, and after 1853 were taxed by the legislature. "The scene was gay and brilliant," wrote one spectator, enchanted by the dust, scent, and excitement of the crowd, the jingle of golden coins and silver spurs, the rattle of horse leathers, the cries of the hawkers, the showily dressed women, and the brightly striped serapes worn by many of the men.

It is said that Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, was so impressed by one such "gay and brilliant" scene that he coined the phrase "bull and bear" for the ups and downs of the financial market. As a successful bull tosses the bear, so a "bull market" is one that rises. A "bear market," on the other hand, is like the bear that lurks in its hollow, rises to its menacing height, and then implacably drags the bull down.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Contest is Won, the Flame is Gone

Following a week of blazing books, GalleyCat's fiery contest has now ended. For those who have forgotten what it was all about, the editors staged a contest for the name of a book, or poem, or any published work, which proved so controversial when it came into discussion that it ruined a relationship, and destroyed a budding romance.
"Thanks" -- they say -- "to everyone who submitted tales of burned out love and flaming passion for books." The final list has been created, and a number of readers will be receiving a copy of Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, compliments of Algonquin Books.

For the very amusing judge's final decision, read more>>
I can't say I have had many entries for my own informal contest -- the books that made the most difference in your life, and changed your way of thinking. But then again, I haven't even thought of a prize.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A blog for nautical books

Nautical fiction writer and internet genius, Richard Spilman, has started a blog to promote nautical fiction - the OldSaltBlog

When he announced this to me, along with a very kind rave about Wiki Coffin, the half-Maori detective of my own historical maritime mystery series, he said it was a blog devoted to nautical fiction. However, the Old Salt Blog offers even more than that. Rick also features a fascinating two-part discussion called "Evolution of the Nautical Hero - From Lord Cochrane to the Wellington Hurricanes," of which the second part is a discussion of writers who are breaking out of the Cochrane archetype.

Puzzled? Probably so. The Wellington Hurricanes is our local rugby team, and some of the players have unwittingly supplied inspiration for descriptions of Wiki and his fellow Polynesian seafarers. (See the "Wiki Coffin" page on my website.)

Friends love to guess which one might be the model for Wiki himself -- which led to a rather amusing incident. I was passing through the foyer of the Crowne Plaza Hotel during this year's Auckland Reader's and Writer's Book Festival, when I spied the team captain, Rodney So'oialo.

"Rodney!" I hollered, racing up to him. Bless the boy, he stopped and waited with a questioning smile. "My brother thinks you're Wiki Coffin," said I. The smile only slipped a trifle, and broadened when I wished him luck for the game against the Auckland Blues that night. The Hurricanes lost, but never mind. There's a place for them in heaven.

Essential art history texts for budding historians

On September 29, TimesOnline (UK) ran a list of art history texts considered basic needs for students of the discipline -- without comment. Obviously, they are awaiting those, which should make future reading interesting.
Oddly enough, a title in the list was a feataure of my childhood -- the Vitruvius study of architecture. I see that the text is now available online,at the Perseus site, but what I pored over for many hours was the wonderful illustrations.

From Berger's Ways of Seeing

Baxandall, Michael, Painting and experience in fifteenth century Italy : a primer in the social history of pictorial style, Oxford University Press,1988

Berger, John, Ways of Seeing, Penguin Books Ltd, 1990

Burke, Peter, The Renaissance, Macmillan, 1997

Clark, T.J., Farewell to an idea : episodes from a history of modernism, Yale University Press, c1999

Collings, Matthew, This Is Modern Art, Phoenix, 2000

Fernie, Eric, Art history and its methods : a critical anthology, Phaidon,1995

Gombrich, Ernst, The story of art, Phaidon, 1995

Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood, Art in theory, 1815-1900 : an anthology of changing ideas, Blackwell, 1998 & Art in theory, 1900-2000 : an anthology of changing ideas, Blackwell, 2003

Honour, Hugh & Fleming, John A., World History of Art, 2002, Laurence King Publishing 2005 (7th ed.)

Panofsky, Erwin, Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art (1939); Meaning in the Visual Arts, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books

Pointon, Marcia, History of art : a students' handbook, Routledge, 1994

Preziosi, Donald, The art of art history : a critical anthology, Oxford University Press, 1998

Nelson, Robert and Schiff, Richard, Critical terms for art history, University of Chicago Press, 2003

Harris, Jonathan, The new art history : a critical introduction, Routledge,2001

Rubin, Patricia Lee, Giorgio Vasari : art and history, Yale UniversityPress, c1995

Sylvester, David, Interviews with Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1987; About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-2000, Pimlico, 2002

Tavernor, Robert, Palladio and Palladianism, Thames and Hudson, c1991

Vasari, Giorgio, Lives of the Artists, A selection, translated by George Bull, Penguin Books, 1987

Vitruvius, Marcus, Ten Books on Architecture, Harvard University Press, 1914

Watkin, David, A History of Western Architecture, Laurence King Publishing, 2005

Welch, Evelyn, Art in Renaissance Italy, 1350-1500, Oxford University Press, 2000

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Australia to charge royalty on art resales

Oh boy, I am getting further and further away from posting about words, publishing, more words, and books -- but this is really mind-bendingly wonderful. In Australia, artists are to get royalties on their works!

Australia's federal government has proposed a five per cent royalty on the resale of visual art to benefit the original artist who created the work.

Arts Minister Peter Garrett announced the new scheme Friday, after a meeting with state and territory arts ministers in Alice Springs. "By enshrining in law the right of artists and their heirs to receive a benefit from the secondary sale of their work, we are building an environment where the talent and creativity of visual artists receives greater reward," Garrett said.

The royalty would help struggling artists make a living from their work and also would help their heirs, he said. It would apply to works by living artists sold for more than $1,000 and would continue to be collected for a period of up to 70 years after their death.

"We have designed the scheme in such a way that we are providing a copyright for visual artists and their heirs and successors," Garrett said. Artists will have that right for their lifetime plus 70 years, consistent with copyright under the Berne Convention.

The law, which could be passed by the Australian Parliament by the end of the year, is expected to be particularly helpful to struggling Aboriginal artists, who were invisible until the corporate rich suddenly realized that Aboriginal art looked really great on pearl luster walls. Many outback painters live in poverty and are willing to sell their works for low prices. But international demand for work by Aboriginal artists has led to a hot market for their work, which benefits dealers and auctioneers.

"Warlugulong 1977," a distinctive work by late indigenous artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (pictured above), set a new record for Australian Aboriginal art sales last year. The large canvas blending ceremonial ground paintings and European-style maps was sold to the National Gallery of Australia for $2.4 million Australian. A dealer had bought the work for just $2,500. Tjapaltjarri died in 2002.

Garrett compared the resale royalty for visual artists to the royalties earned by other creators, such as authors and music composers. Arts Law Centre Australia executive director Robyn Ayres called the deal "very significant for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists.""It's a recognition of a right that has been recognized overseas in some countries for many years."

Unfortunately, as the scheme is administratively complex, it could be some time before artists see any money.

Puns, at a time when humor is necessary

According to Ed Baker, publisher of Yachting magazine, people with mere money are having problems with the meltdown in the market, but people with wealth couldn't care less. Marianne Richards, who manages super-yachts in the Antibes, says, "There might be a tiny bit of 'Oops, my shares have just dropped, I shouldn't.'" But people with real money get over it fast. "They might feel a bit guilty and say, 'I can't buy that today, I'll see what the stockmarket does' - but they'll call the next day."

And what do they call for? According to an article in the Guardian, written by Angelique Chrisafis, and repeated in today's Auckland Sunday Star-Times, people are buying super-super-super yachts like never before. While Capitol Hill, not to mention most of the world, was panicking about sub-primes and the credit crunch, last weekend's Monaco Yacht Show proved that the mega-rich have never been richer. Some of the floating palaces they have been buying resemble cruise liners -- cruise liners costing up to $400 million, equipped like fortresses, because the prospect of piracy is almost as worrying for these merchant barons as the possibility of foreclosure is for ordinary people.

All we ordinary people can do is shake our heads and laugh, just as the human race has been doing for perhaps 700 million years. And here is a sampling of what is flying about the internet, leavened with puns:

From the City of London:
"What is the difference between a pigeon and a merchant banker?"
"A pigeon can still put a deposit on a Ferrari."

If you had purchased £1000 of Northern Rock shares one year ago they would now be worth £4.95; with HBOS, earlier this week your £1000 would have been worth £16.50; £1000 invested in XL Leisure would now be worth less than £5; but if you bought £1000 worth of Tennents Lager one year ago, drank it all, then took the empty cans to an aluminium re-cycling plant, you would get £214. So based on the above statistics the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and re-cycle.

The puns come from the Japanese banking industry:

In the last 7 days Origami Bank has folded.
Sumo Bank has gone belly up.
Bonsai Bank announced plans to cut some of its branches.
Yesterday, it was announced that Karaoke Bank is up for sale and will likely go for a song, while today shares in Kamikaze Bank were suspended after they nose-dived.
Samurai Bank is soldiering on following sharp cutbacks whilst Ninja Bank is reported to have taken a hit, but they remain in the black.
Furthermore, 500 staff at Karate Bank got the chop and analysts report that there is something fishy going on at Sushi Bank where it is feared that staff may get a raw deal

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Word of the day -- MAVERICK

MAVERICK is a word bandied about a lot. At first glance (or hearing), I was irresistibly reminded of the TV series, a favorite more years ago than I care to count. But, like a number of commentators to various New York Times political blogs, I thought it would be interesting to explore the word.

My Concise Oxford dictionary tells me it is an "unbranded calf or yearling; masterless person, rover; stray."

"Masterless person" doesn't seem quite the right definition for the way the word has been used in speeches, comments, and debates, of late, so I turned to my "Standard Desk" American dictionary, courtesy Funk & Wagnall. This entry proved rather more informative: "1. U.S. An unbranded or orphaned animal, as a calf, traditionally belonging to the first person to claim or brand it. 2. U.S. Informal One who is unorthodox in his ideas, attitudes, etc. [after Samuel A Maverick, 1803-70. Texas lawyer who did not brand his cattle.]"

Well, shucks, it sure is fascinating to learn that the word "maverick" derives from the name of a lawyer who refused to follow the law. But how does this relate to the use of the word today? And, in the real world of the western cowboy, what does it really mean?
I found someone who speaks from experience in a comment posted on one of the NYT blogs. Royce Williams elaborated on the term in intriguingly ominous terms, saying: "Out here in the West, a maverick is an unbranded range bull. You can't trust them; can't turn your back on them, even for a second. And they are not afraid of the horse you are riding. You bring in a bull to improve genetics in the herd, and the maverick will kill it."

An image that's a long, long way from the lovable footloose gambler played by James Garner in the first TV series. My, how a word can change.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nobel prize for literature -- US books too insular to qualify

Any American who is hoping to find his or her name in the shortlist for the Nobel Prize in Literature next week had better brace herself (or himself) for a big disappointment.

Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which administers the award, has declared that the literature scene in the United States is too insular and ignorant to compete with the European equivalent. "Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world," he informed The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Asked for elaboration, he said that American writers were "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture ... The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."

Naturally, there has been an outburst of affronted reactions. Harold Augenbaum, executive director of the foundation which administers the National Book Awards, said he would rather like to send Engdahl a reading list of American literature.

Not a bad idea. Wasn't John Steinbeck a Nobel Prize-winner?

GalleyCat has been running a competition recently asking people to submit the names of books that have destroyed budding relationships. I've toyed with the idea of running something similar myself, asking people to submit the titles of books they consider altered their lives -- made something within themselves adjust. My own list would include quite a few U.S. greats, including Steinbeck. Others would be Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird. And of course, Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville.

Other suggestions welcomed. European books included, of course.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Political books

Can one predict political outcomes by looking at book sales?
Probably not, but it is amusing to look at the ratings of books penned by or about current candidates, and see how they are doing.
Kaylene Johnson, author of Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned the Political Establishment Upside Down, must be delighted with her unexpected success of her subject, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, lauded by Fox News as "a politician of eye-popping integrity." Sarah is currently ranked 171 on the list.

Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, has a book out called Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics. He has a longer tale to tell, a reader finding the book "one of the best ... eye-witness accounts of the most significant events of the past thirty-five years." The book is ranked 16,584, which might augur badly for the debate (9 pm Eastern Time, October 2).
So how are the presidential candidates doing? Both have two memoirs on sale.

John McCain's Faith of My Fathers stands at 1890, while Why Courage Matters is ranked 2639.

Barack Obama has a pen with popular appeal: Dreams from my Father is ranked 210, while Audacity of Hope is standing at 120.

Had a manuscript rejected lately?

Been rejected by Academy Chicago?

Poets & Writers, the largest non-profit organization to serve creative writers in the United States, reports that a bookkeeper employed by the 33-year-old independent publisher has been sending back submissions off her own bat, without bothering to go through the proper process. She has no editing or manuscript assessment skills, and her motives are an unsolved mystery.

Jordan Miller, co-founder of Academy Chicago, said authors whose work is promising enough to warrant rewriting normally get a handwritten letter, while writers whose work isn't suitable get a printed form with handwritten messages filling certain blanks. The bookkeeper simply sent in the printed form, with no annotations. As he remarked, it was a coldblooded sort of communication. Aspiring authors who had received an unpersonalized rejection are urged to re-submit their work.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

2008 Banned Books Week

Judy Blume, author of five banned young adult classics, appeared with a stellar line of authors, including Sara Paretsky (didn't know any of her books had been challenged in any way) at the annual Banned Books Read-Out, co-sponsored by the American Library Association and the Chicago Tribune.
Brought forward from its usual timing, the event was unusually well attended, thanks to Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, whose views on books such as Daddy's Roommate have been the subject of intense speculation.
A lighthearted commentary on this appears on a blog run by The Haphazard Gourmet Girls, which is running a series called "Civilization is Cooked Without Books," featuring recipes devised and devoted to banned books, including Sarah Palin cupcakes. (Illustration pictured.)

What constitutes good sales for a literary novel?

The ubiquitous GalleyCat reports an interesting answer to an interesting question posed to editorial-assistant-turned-blogger "Moonrat," on her very interesting blog, "editorialass":

What constitutes good sales for a literary novel?

And her answer?


"If you sold 7,000 or more copies, in hardcover, of your literary novel, you're a star," she elaborates. "If you've sold between 4,000 and 7,000 copies, in hardcover, of your literary novel, you did a damned good job. You're what they call a 'strong seller.' You're also in a good position to place your second novel well, with your current publisher or elsewhere.

"If you sold between 2,000 and 4,000 copies of your literary novel, you sold pretty strongly. You're still in a good position to have your publisher want to take on your second project, or to comfortably find a home elsewhere.

"If you sold below 1,500 copies, your publisher is probably disappointed, although they will never tell you that. Instead, they will tell you that debuts are hard, and literary fiction is nearly impossible. Both these things are true."

As she goes on to comment, these numbers are specific to literary fiction, but surprisingly adds that "commercial" fiction is going to have only slightly higher expectations behind it. A lot depends, of course, on the size of your advance . . . where the magic words "earning out" come into play. But it appears that the basic magic starts at selling seven thousand hardbacks.

Paperbacks, because of reduced profits plus smaller royalties, meaning it takes longer to earn out the advance, are a different story.

Medina "Suspended" In UK

The Jewel of Medina stalled yet again.

Alan Jessop, managing director of Compass, the sales company for the UK's Gibson Square, has reported to the Bookseller that Martin Rynja "has put publication in suspended animation while he reflects and takes advice on what the best foot forward is." The book was supposed to be published in the UK on October 15. Jessop added, "Everyone is going to have to be patient. This requires some careful thinking."

Suspended animation? The suspense is killing us all!

The London Book Fair, Monday 20th — Wednesday 22nd April 2009.

As regular as birdsong in spring, the London Book Fair is one of the major world events where book, audio, serial, TV, film, and digital rights are negotiated and sold. Billed as "a unique opportunity to hear from authors, enjoy the vibrant atmosphere and explore innovations shaping the publishing world of the future," next year's Fair will be held at Earl's Court, London, UK, in April.

To register as a visitor, and for more information on The London Book Fair go to