Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Auto-Interview (which has nothing to do with cars)

I've thought it might be interesting to post a blog from time to time where some of our writers were interviewed. But rather than fall into the James Lipton trap where he would always ask his actor interviewees the same questions, I thought it might be more rewarding if the authors could interview themselves. Since Daniel Klein's The History of Now has just been published, without further ado, here is his Auto-Interview:

Walter Ygo: So tell me, Danny, what’s an old guy like you--and I don’t mean just chronologically old, I’m talking dentures, hearing aids, Viagra in the medicine chest old--so what’s an old guy like you doing writing his first literary novel?

Danny Klein: Well, Walter, truth is I wasn’t ready to write something like The History of Now until now because I’m a slow learner. It took me all these years of writing humor, philosophy, detective novels, and thrillers to learn the craft of long fiction. How to organize it, how to write it fluently, and perhaps most importantly for me, how to rewrite it patiently.

Walter: So what’s the deal with Permanent Press? It ain’t exactly Penguin Books, you know. And I can’t imagine they gave you much of an advance.

Danny: How true. The advance just covers a round-trip to Boston (taxes not included.) But these Permanent Press people liked the book for all the right reasons, they got it out before I bit the dust, and the principals there, Marty & Judy Shepard, are cute…Oh, and anyway, Penguin isn’t in the market for new fiction these days. But the good news is that Penguin bought the paperback rights to Tom Cathcart’s and my bestseller, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar for big bucks and then gave us a huge advance for another, Heidegger and a Hippo Walk through those Pearly Gates, so I could afford to go with Permanent.

Walter: I see that you call The History of Now a philosophically inclined novel. That sounds like hype to me. And a little pretentious on top of that.

Danny: Yeah, well, maybe I overdid that philosophy angle in the publicity. But philosophical ideas of historical cause and effect did play an organizing role in my mind when I began thinking about the book. Not heavy philosophy, just a guiding principle. Mostly it’s a story of life in a small town.

Walter: I see you live in a small town--Great Barrington, Massachusetts. So is this a roman a clef?

Danny: Jeez, Walter, are you talking French? Sounds a little pretentious to me. Anyway, no, it’s not a roman a clef--the characters are one hundred percent fictional. The geography and demographics of the town--plus a bit of the history--is patterned after Great Barrington, but not the characters. They could be from any town.

Walter: Okay, they always make me ask this one: Why did you become a writer?

Danny: My mother used to say it was the only work I could get where I could make a living telling lies. That was as close as she ever got to approving of my vocation…What can I say? I like making up stuff, love the English language, and in particular, I like working for myself…Anyway, at my age, it’s the only thing I do better than I did when I was younger. For everything else, it’s the other way around.

Walter: Fair enough. Okay, finally, how would you rate The History of Now in terms of contemporary American fiction?

Danny: It’s probably closer to old fashioned story-telling of the Richard Russo variety than, say, what younger writers are doing, say the late David Foster Wallace. I think it’s well written, for what that is worth, and the characters believable. But do I think people will be reading it years from now? No way, Walter.

Walter: Okay, I’ve had enough.

Danny: Me too.

That's it for Danny's interview, which I hope you've enjoyed. I'd be glad to receive other Q&A interviews from authors we'll soon be publishing (send to Also welcome are any proposals for other formats...or topics you'd like to talk about or have me address.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009


One of the great joys inherent in our annual Virgin Gorda vacation is letting go of schedules, waking when the mood suits us, reading on an uncrowded beach, snorkeling over one of the finest reefs in the Caribbean, watching incredibly beautiful sunsets and naming what we see in the cloud formations. The biggest decisions to make concerned where would we go to eat each night and what would we order. Judy and I could get away and know that The Permanent Press was in excellent hands, with our dream team of Rania Haditirto at the helm, aided and abettted by Susanne Gustafsson, our extraordinary intern from Sweden, and Stefanie Beroes, who heroically kept up with orders and collections. But I must say after 12 days of rest and recuperation, returning home and getting back to work was equally exciting.

Rania, who is 31, and Susanne, who is 27, provided a file containing more more than a dozen new reviews for upcoming titles, including two fine pre-publication reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for Hard Stop, Chris Knopf's fourth Sam Aquillo mystery due in May (to see these latest accolades and others go on to Chris's website:, and filled us in on the continuing success of Efrem Sigel's The Disappearance (now in its third printing) and Daniel Klein's The History of Now (ranked at 20,000 at earlier today). They also decided we weren't "hip" enough, so they've put The Permanent Press on Face Book. Frankly I don't understand the benefit of all this, but I'm not autocratic enough to say "Enough." Maybe they are on to something that I fail to see.

This possibility occurred when I read in today's New York Times that HarperCollins--a month after closing down their Collins imprint due to the implosion facing all of the conglomerate publishing giants--was starting a new imprint, It Books, that would focus "On pop culture, style, and content derived from the Internet, like a planned collection of Twitter posts called Twitter Wit." Another title for their 21 title fall list includes "The Style Strategy by Nina Garia, a judge on Project Runway." If that is "hip," I want no part of it.

It seems to me that "publishng" is a broad term that consists of two very different approaches that are increasingly apparent during this economic mess: a situation more aptly called "The Great Depression 11," rather than pretending we are in a "Recession." In one corner are those marketeers who seek to commission or hook on to something they believe to be trendy. And in the other corner are those who prefer to discover exciting writing that is more timeless. If I were a betting man, I would predict that It Books, headed by Carrie Kania will fail despite the blessings of Michael Morrison, president and publisher of HarperCollins, who said that "I think we've pulled together the best people wihin our company who are really interested in this and are targeting them to all work together to tap into the Zeitgeist."

Please, Michael, let me give you Webster's definition of Zeitgeist: The spirit of the time, the intellectual and moral tendencies that characterize any age or epoch. If Twitter and Style represent the moral and intellectual tendencies of today, I think you are simply trying to dress up dross with the lipstick of a "hip" German noun. Listen, if you are simply seeking to boost income, why not try starting a "Zeitgeist" greeting card line, like Hallmark, charge $5 for an envelope and a folded card, and stop pretending that It Books is some sort of novel approach. Here's another approach: Why not just try to discover more original books?

Whatever you do, Michael, here's my blessing for you: gesundheit! Or, as Danny Klein quipped, "There's nothing so dated as avant garde passe."