Thursday, November 10, 2011
This year it’s time for an anniversary update, about the arbitrary process of selecting “winners.” Award winning fiction is not like award winning athletic events, played out in the open. Additionally, there are so many literary awards, many designed to raise money for the sponsors of these prizes who may break down fiction (and non-fiction as well) into dozens and dozens of sub-categories and charge more in submission fees than either the National Book Awards or the Pulitzer Prizes do. Okay, one can add on the back cover of a book that it won the Hollywood Book Award, or was a winner, gold, silver or copper finalist for another award, but these things do not add to book sales and are never publicized in the mainstream media.
I have the greatest respect for The National Book Awards and Pulitzer Prizes, for they are open and winners surely do flourish (I have the same respect for the Hammett Prize and Edgar Awards when it comes to mysteries). You pay your entrance fee and send five or six copies out to jurors and if the Gods are with you, the payoff is excellent. The National Book Critics Circle has some impact, but here, too, only books read by members are paid attention to, and the list of rotating critics who decide from year to year whose book is “worthy” of consideration, generally speaking, review books from one of the six conglomerate publishers that crank out, through their hundred or so imprints, 85% of what gets published, read and reviewed. No entrance fees are charged, but this NBCC Award is less than completely open.
This arbitrariness extended overseas this year, as regards the Man Booker Prize for fiction, when a great brouhaha arose when many in in the British literary establishment charged that Man Booker morphed from awarding their prize for excellent fiction to honoring commercial fiction instead, and these critics have decided to give their own award to restore a higher standard. First we export McDonalds to England, followed eventually by a decline in the excellence of a major book prize.
Here in the States the media covered well a press release from the Whiting Foundation announcing that TEN WRITERS OF EXCEPTIONAL PROMISE EACH RECEIVE $50,000 WHITING WRITERS AWARD. I suppose if any of us could afford to pay out $500,000 in award money each year, we’d get a lot of publicity for this, too. But it still remains a closed loop. Money talks but quality walks when it comes to promotion.
Another beef I have with promotion has to do with our reverence for youth rather than age, the prime example being the annual awards given by the National Book Foundation’s honoring “5 Under 35” each year. Why not honor, at the very least, “7 over 70?” In case the NBF wants to consider such a category, let me list five novels by writers who will be septuagenarians and octogenarians in 2012, and a sixth from an octogenarian we’ll be publishing in early 2013: These are Isaac: A Modern Fable, by Ivan Goldman; Looking for Przybylski by K.C. Frederick: An Unattended Death, by Victoria Jenkins: The Man on the Third Floor, by Anne Bernays; Knock Knock, by Suzanne McNear; and in early 2013 The Conduct of Saints, by Christopher Davis (and perhaps some other publishers could supply additional titles to the competition).
Ultimately, of course, some brilliant fiction is never considered for any prize at all; Man Booker only awards their fiction prize to citizens of Britain, Ireland, and Commonwealth nations first published in the United Kingdom. The Pulitzer and National Book Awards only give prizes to U.S. Citizens. And you can be sure that nobody at the National Book Critics Circle or The Whiting judges ever got to read about or consider Charles Davis’ Standing at the Crossroads (which we published this year), or his earlier novel Walk On Bright Boy. Charles is an Englishman, living in France. His novels were not published first in the U.K. He’s not an American citizen, but more a citizen of the world, who has also lived extensively in Africa and other parts of the globe. His novels have drawn accolades from the pre-pub reviewers (Kirkus, PW, Library Journal), a host of excellent bloggers, a few regional newspapers, but nothing from the important national newspapers like The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post. What follows is the very latest review of Crossroads, written by Claudia Robinson for the Luxury Reading web site on October 28 (it makes me wish there was a fiction award for Novel of the Globe, for I would surely like to nominate this book for it):
“It was danger that brought us together, danger that has driven us up the mountain, and it is danger that eventually jostles us unceremoniously into one another’s arms. Otherwise, it would not happen. Even if we had met in another place at another time in which the tender marrying of white skin with black was not condemned, we are too far apart in hope and in despair to be a likely couple. But when two people are pursued across a mountain by the Warriors of God, some coming together is inevitable.”
In a land torn asunder by violence, the hot, stifling air rife with the scent of impending war, two souls, polar opposite in every sense; color, religion, purpose, faith and drive, collide and implode with an unnamed need and desire, with a only a dry, unforgiving desert as their witness. Kate is a white scholar, seeking to put names to the atrocities done to human nature in the name of God, by documenting, and photographing, everything she sees. Her travels lead her directly into the path of a black, barefoot librarian, seeking to share the written word, it’s beauty and power, with all he comes across.
Inexplicably drawn to one another, the unlikely duo stand firm and fast against the regime, but a small victory is quickly discounted as the pair find themselves lost and pursued in the desolate and disparate mountains of Africa. Embodying and indemnifying everything the Warriors of God stand against, Kate and her barefoot librarian are pit against nature, mankind and themselves, as they defy the odds and attempt to stay one step ahead of death. Despite their hunger, their fear and the certainty they feel that escape is not possible, the two manage to find love in the wilderness, fusing their need for one another with the need to survive, to exist, to co-exist, despite their multitude of differences.
Written with painstaking detail, mellifluous grace and seamless eloquence, Standing at the Crossroads manages to at once engage, enchant and haunt the reader. An obvious labor of love, this tale of star crossed lovers, and their will and passion for justice at all costs, explodes across the pages in lyrical prose, that can’t be explained accurately, but must instead, be experienced.
Brilliant, intelligent, heartbreaking, Standing at the Crossroads is powerful and passionate, leaving readers to hold their breath, fists clenched, in alternating bouts of pleasure and pain. Only 159 pages long, it dares anyone who picks it up to put it down, proof positive, that sometimes, the best things do indeed, come in small packages. Sublime from start to finish. Rating: 5/5
I look forward to reading your comments about this posting, and hope you will sign up to be informed, automatically, when the next blog is posted.
A new Newsletter will be posted on The Permanent Press website (http://www.thepermanentpress.com/) by day's end on November 11th.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Just as I exprienced blog fatigue, Christine Sheehan, our summer intern, aided by Cathy Suter, our managing editor (replacing Rania Haditirto, who is on maternity leave), decided to interview some of our current novelists. And so I offer you their interview with David Schmahmann, author of The Double Life of Alfred Buber, which I found fascinating. Small Press Reviews said that this novel “Reads like a lost Nabokov novel; the prose meticulously wrought, the plot deeply complex and psychologically layered, exploring the inner life of a man distanced from himself and reality by his own lies and a soul full of secret shameful desires.” My own assessment of Schmahmann's novel is that it is so rich and original that it deserves to contend for a National Book Award or a Pulitzer Prize.
I would add that on our Newsletter, we'll be posting another interview they did with Leonard Rosen, whose All Cry Chaos will be published in September.
Do let me know what you think of this particular feature and if you'd like to see more of them as blog postings.
Now on to the interview:
Throughout the book, you use vivid imagery in the description of
I was a lawyer in
What did you want the reader to feel about the unique relationship between Buber and Nok?
I wanted the reader to understand in the end what it was that Buber was experiencing in his life that drove him to seek the kind of companionship that he almost found with Nok. In the end I wanted the readers to not necessarily pass judgment on his moral choices but to emphasize with him as a man that was deeply lonely and motivated and doing the best he could to find fulfillment in the circumstances that he found alienating and distressing. In respect to Nok, I wanted to be sure that I created a person that wasn’t seen as morally depraved or a victim but as someone that was doing anything she could do to make the best of her life. I wanted to see if it was possible that they have a relationship of substance. Of course, it’s mostly in Buber’s mind and exists in his imagination.
Why did you decide to include Buber’s self-reflections in italics throughout the novel? Was there any underlying purpose for this other than exposing the internal dialogue of the character?
Buber, as you know, is not entirely truthful in how he tells the story and there are several layers to the narrative some of which are happening and some of which aren’t. The italics are really when Buber steps the furthest from the action in the novel and gets about as self critically elusive as he can. There are several sections where he tries to come to terms with his actions. For instance, when he is lying on a bed with Nok, he is craving something that he can’t achieve. They are interludes in which Buber tries to deal with the most troublesome parts of his thoughts.
Why did you choose to have the character of Nigel act as the conscience of Buber?
Because Nigel is sort of the linear authority in Buber’s life. When Buber first comes to
What is the writing process like for you ?
I write novels primarily because I have to process what I see and think. In the case of this novel, for instance, it’s a confluence of things in my life, such as the notion of being an outsider, being a liberal outsider and a white Jew in
Did you use your memories of
Yes. Buber comes from one of the two major towns in
Do you think that Buber’s more lifelike than we’d like to think?
Firstly, I have gotten a number of emails from people who’ve read it and who see either themselves or others in Buber. I have a sense that what I write about is far from unique. I’m not writing about someone who goes off on a sex tour. What I’ve attempted to do is to recapture and tell a story that’s been told many times before and best told in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: ‘In the room women come and go, talking of Michelangelo.’ My book is the way it is for a reason. Buber is beyond anything else we’ve talked about. He’s a man who has a deep and quiet longing for women, yet the understanding, friendship, romance and sex of women is totally unavailable to him. The Buber we see at the end is not the short fat man we see in the beginning of the novel. He sees himself as invisible to women and that creates a longing inside of him that he chooses to try and fill by going off on a sexual expedition. It’s about a man’s attempt to communicate in some meaningful way with women, and in Buber’s case it occurs in misplaced romances with a coworker and a housemate. He also is misplaced when he idly worships a man who works with him who proves to be unworthy. Poor Buber does not see the world in a truthful manner. The central solution for him is to find a woman who he is in love with, and
Do you think this book increases sympathy for both the bar girls in
I’m not writing about a lonely businessman. I’m writing about something in men that, to me, is something that exists. I don’t want people to pass judgment. I have no time for and am not interested in being politically correct; he’s just a man struggling with something and I’ve tried as best as I can to portray him. He is a misguided person trying to find his way. It’s simply an attempt to describe a life and a need to describe him in an artistic way. Anyone who passes judgment on him is misguided. If you read those books, life for these impoverished girls is quite dreadful. They’re pushed around, and these young girls have very difficult lives.
Do you have plans for another book ?
Of course! Writing novels is what gives my life depth. I have outlines for another novel that I’m very involved in but I’m very busy at the moment so it’s slowing me down. I’m working very hard on outlines for a novel that I’m going to call The Color Of Skin. It’s based on something that that I saw in southern
How long does it take you to write a novel?
It depends on if I’m involved in lawsuits. Usually, it takes about six to eight months. I’m very direct and focused. I close the door and immerse myself in the character. I have the arc of the story and storyline clearly set; it’s just a matter of the moment in time and having to juggle all the things going on. In three months time I should have a readable, full copy of my next novel.
What advice would you give to budding writers?
Don’t do it—go to law school, medical school, learn a profession and earn a living in a normal, critical way—whatever you do don’t become a writer except if in your heart you have absolutely have no alternative. You become a novelist because you absolutely have no other choice. In the waning days of the American civilization it’s not a way to make a living or a way toward career fulfillment.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
A few years back, Charles McGrath, writing in The New York Times Book Review, said that Elmore Leonard deserved a Nobel Prize for Literature, given his gifts for writing exceptional dialogue, creating memorable characters, an ability to tell a compelling story without wasting words (much as Hemingway could), and constructing inventive and taut plots. But of course, McGrath, being no dummy, realized this was not likely to happen, given the fact that mysteries and thrillers are step-children when it comes to major literary awards: no matter how literary they are, nobody takes them seriously as being on the same playing field as other novels lauded for style and substance (John LeCarrê, though a Brit, is the perfect example of this, for his mysteries never competed for Nobel or Man Booker Prizes). Forget the Nobel Prize. I can’t recall any mystery that was honored by either the Pulitzer Prize or a National Book Award during my 32 years as a publisher, and I welcome correction if I’m wrong.
This, to me, is a knee-jerk insult to literary writers who are pigeonholed as belonging to this sub-class when it comes to being eligible for the major literary prizes. Chris Knopf, for example, can write five “Sam Acquillo/Hampton Mysteries,” and garner many honors and mystery prizes. Head Wounds was named one of the best mysteries of 2008 year by both Mysterious Reviews and Deadly Pleasures, and won the Ben Franklin Award for Best Mystery. But on a more inclusive level, he only qualify on the state level, as a three time finalist for the Connecticut Book Awards, where his novel Two Time (2007) and Philip Roth's Everyman were named runners-up for this award. The difference being that Philip Roth can compete for the big national book awards, whereas Chris (just as Elmore Leonard), faces a stacked deck in this regard.
A similar fate might be expected for Leonard Rosen’s first fiction, All Cry Chaos, which debuts in September. It is one of the most richly layered novels I’ve read in ages, as well as being one of the best mysteries. But Rosen’s novel goes far beyond that, portraying the disorganization, chaos, and senseless violence in today’s world, while at the same time bringing in Chaos Theory, mathematical models, and fractals—the organization of matter and the very nature of existence itself, which is the biggest mystery of all. One Catholic theologian reading the manuscript said that it proved the existence of God. Not being a Catholic, I can only say that it is in keeping with Taoist and Buddhist teachings.
I share McGrath’s feelings and believe that the only way to change this perception that mysteries are “second tier” novels is to take it head on, and that despite this existing stereotyping it’s incumbent for all publishers who value artful writing, and have mysteries to back it up, to start submitting their novels—as we are doing—for National Book Award and Pulitzer consideration, for I’ve seen a trend afoot where more and more gifted writers are trying their hands at mysteries and thrillers.
MORPHING INTO MYSTERIES:
In 1978 my wife, Judith, and I started publishing books, evolving, over the years, into doing fiction primarily. Publishing one title each month, for the most part, we established a reputation for literary excellence, culminating in the LMP/R.R. BOWKER EDITORIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD—the equivalent of a publishing “Oscar”—the winner being chosen from five finalists by electronic voting from colleagues in the industry. Since we began we’ve gathered more honorsper book than Macmillan, Random House, Penguin, Hachette, Simon & Schuster or Harper Collins—the Big Six of conglomerate publishers—including having a National Book Award finalist (Sandra Scofield), a Nobel Prize winner (Halldor Laxness) and a Nobel nominee (Berry Fleming). This year Kermit Moyer won the PEN/WINSHIP AWARD for Best Novel—the third time one of our writers gained this prize in the past seven years with Edward Delaney winning in 2005 and K. C. Frederick in 2008.
Up until 2008, we only published an average of one mystery a year from among the 5,000 submissions we received. This was not a case of our dismissing mysteries, for we make no discrimination between mysteries or other artful fiction. It’s just that few mystery submissions measured up to our standards, which are books that have multidimensional characters, from writers who are craftsmen regarding language, narrative flow, and plot; writers who do “original” work, grounded in reality and avoiding clichés. Yet among those few we selected were some exceptional writers, many of whom were Edgar Award and Hammett Prize finalists. In 1979 we re-introduced the work of Richard Lortz, whose supernatural thrillers (Dracula’s Children, Bereavements, and Lovers Living, Lovers Dead) were hailed by dozens of critics. We also published Domenic Stansberry’s first three noir novels, and Reed Coleman’s first four mysteries. But in 2009 the tide began turning when we published four mysteries, in 2010 five, three more are coming out this year, and eight are scheduled for 2012—half of our list. How to account for this transformation?
Firstly, the mystery submissions we’ve been receiving have greatly improved. We don’t get generic copies of Cromwells or Cobens or Crichtons or James Pattersons or Ken Folletts. These books are the provenance of large publishing houses just as movies featuring car chases, explosions, gun battles, and lots of casualties are the provenance of Major Motion Pictures. This underscores the short sighted stupidity of the large publishers who, looking to find their next “Major Best Seller,” have largely given up on taking a chance on good, literate, and relatively unknown mystery writers—or even known writers who haven’t sold a minimum of 10,000 copies when previously published, thereby failing to earn back the advance they received.
Why have we received so many well written mystery submissions? I believe—aside from people we launched earlier—things began changing once we published Chris Knopf’s The Last Refuge back in 2005. After reading his manuscript I thought it even more engaging than Elmore Leonard’s The Hot Kid, published that same year. And, unlike other writers who move on elsewhere, Chris gave us a total of five Sam Acquillo mysteries (Two Time, Head Wounds, Hard Stop, and Black Swan, (as well as a stand-alone, Elysiana—published in 2010). All these mysteries were published by Blackstone Audiobooks, all had terrific and widespread reviews, and the first four Sam mysteries were published north of us by Random House Canada. There were awards, and sales in seven other countries. The end result was that well over 30,000 copies of Knopf’s thrillers were read in
This led to Jodie Rhodes, a west coast agent, sending us Connie Dial’s police procedurals that we published in 2008 and 2009 (Internal Affairs and The Broken Blue Line). Connie, having worked her own way up the ranks from beat cop to detective in Internal Affairs, Homicide and, finally, to Captain and Commander of the Hollywood division of the LAPD, brought an authenticity to her mysteries that few could match. This was followed by four thrillers from two other agents: Eve Bridburg at the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Agency brought us Len Rosen’s All Cry Chaos, which had been turned down by all the major publishers (we‘ve already sold five subsidiary rights). Jill Marr at the Sandra Dijkstra Agency then brought us David Freed’s Flat Spin, coming out next year and two mysteries by Jaden Terrell, Racing the Devil and A Cup Full of Midnight, also due in 2012. Talk about complex characters and good writing! Freed, a Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter, has a protagonist who’s a down-and-out flight instructor, a former government assassin now working on his Buddhist nature, a love/ hate relationship with his ex-wife, and balances a tense and crisp story with laugh out loud dialogue. Terrell’s private eye still loves his former wife, has a son with Down Syndrome, and lives with a close friend, a gay man, who is dying of AIDS. These are all well drawn characters, nothing cardboard about them, and, here, again, we’ve already sold audio rights to Flat Spin and German rights for the Terrell mysteries to Rowohlt, a major mystery publisher, because they “loved” the character.Additionally there seems to be a trend from other authors we’ve previously published who are now writing and submitting out-and-out mysteries for the first time. We’ve published seven previous novels of Howard Owen, a renowned Southern novelist, whose Oregon Hill, is his first straight ahead mystery. And a second novel (but first mystery) from Victoria Jenkins, whose An Unattended Death will also appear in 2012.
With increasing numbers of gifted novelists putting their skills into creating quality mysteries, it’s time, I think, for The Pulitzers, the National Book Awards, and the National Book Critics Circle Awards to stop treating those who write mysteries and thrillers as poor relations when it comes to judging the very best fiction being produced in America.
As always, I welcome your comments.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Germany had just decided to start phasing out all their nuclear power plants, and Israel had abandoned the construction of their first plant—both nations concluding that this form of energy posed an unacceptable threat to human life. At the same time, Steven Chu, Obama’s energy secretary, a long-time nuclear advocate, was pushing for further development of this power source. Yet, on April 2nd the Business section of The New York Times, the headline on page 6 was this: Despite Bipartisan Support, Nuclear Reactor Projects Falter. According to this report “In an effort to encourage nuclear power, Congress in 2005 voted to authorize 17.5 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors. Now, six years later, with the industry stalled by poor market conditions [because the private companies were not interested in putting in 20% of their own funds to get this done—considering it a bad investment] along with the Fukushima disaster, nearly half the fund remains unclaimed. But Congress, at the request of the Obama administration, is preparing to add $36 billion in nuclear loan guarantees to next year’s budget.” Thus 44 billion of taxpayer money is being put aside to develop new nuclear plants, while Obama’s budget request for alternative energy sources, like wind and solar, came to only 3 billion dollars.
The New York Times ran a front page story on April 27, headlined Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant, detailing the cover-ups that “allowed Tokyo Electric, to do what utilities least want to do: undertake costly repairs,” after a whistle blower reported serious defects at the plants. Instead the agency asked the company to inspect its own reactors, and that played a significant part in the tragedy that hit Fukushima, “A ten year extension for the oldest reactors suggests that the regulatory system was allowed to remain lax by politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and industry executives single-mindedly focused on expanding nuclear power… and who all profited from it, by rewarding one another with construction projects, lucrative positions, and political, financial, and regulatory support.…and that is the problem, critics say, that non-transparent, collusive interests underlie the establishment’s push to increase nuclear power plants.”
This, of course, is exactly what Karl Grossman documents in his book Cover-Up, as it applies to America’s nuclear energy proselytizers.
Given this mix of nuclear disasters, debates, and nations going in opposite directions concerning nuclear power, one might have hoped that Julie Bosman, the “book news” reporter at The New York Times might have taken note that we, as publishers, had just released Cover-Up as a free public service book. But that did not happen. Her column on April 26 proclaimed Aspiring Authors Get Help Online, announcing that Penguin was setting up a new website called Book Country, a place where “aspiring novelists” of “genre fiction” can post “writing samples or manuscripts” which could be read and critiqued by other users in this “community… a place for agents and editors to look for new talent; and eventually the venture will offer a suite of self-publishing services this summer that will include e-book and print publication. This will generate revenue for Penguin by those who want to self-publish their books for a fee by ordering printed copies. (The books will bear the stamp of Book Country, not Penguin, and the site is considered a separate operation from Penguin.)”
It sounded to me like a masterstroke of marketing: offering Online Help For Novice Authors in its headlines, but, by the end of the article, it just seemed like another empty promise; the setting up of a vanity press division of Penguin.
While I’ve sworn off criticism of The New York Times book reviewers (having made my points over the last year and a half and having grown tired of repeating myself), this vow didn’t include giving a reporter a free ride. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to fault Julie Bosman if what she covered were things assigned to her. And so I left a phone message, followed by an email asking her how it was that this Penguin piece came about and letting her know about Karl Grossman’s recent awards. She never did respond.
On May 7, Bosman struck again, writing an article in the Arts Section about Bookish.com. The “news” was that Publishers Were Making a Plan: A ‘One Stop’ Book Site. Turns out that Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Hachette have their own web marketing sites “but few people go there, so they’ve banded together to form a new site, called Bookish.com—hoping it will be a catch-all for readers in the way that music lovers visit Pitchfork.com. But its one stop shopping only for books (and imprints?) of these three biggies and their XYZ imprints. “Said David Shanks, the CEO of Penguin, We think it would all be really good if we could come up with a site that embraced the amazing marketing materials that publishers have been doing on their own sites and put them on to one site…with the purpose of answering the question for the consumer, ’Which book should I read next?’.” They were also hoping to select books from at least 14 participating publishers.
How helpful is that to readers, learning from these three giant conglomerates what books of theirs they should read next?
I googled Bookish.com to ask some questions not covered in Bosman’s “reporting.” First I had to fill out a form requiring me to give them my email address and also list my favorite childhood book. I put in Curious George. Once I filled out the form I was promised I could now contact them with my question. What follows is my May 8th email to email@example.com
Reading about Bookish both in PW and in Julie Bosman's New York Times article raises questions that I hope you can answer.
1: Paulo Lemgruber was quoted as saying that you would be selecting books from at least 14 other publishers in addition to those from S&S, Penguin, and Hachette. In considering what these “14 other publishers” mean. Might they be imprints of one of these big three (such as Grand Central, Little Brown, Avon, Harper Collins, William Morrow, Dutton, Plume, Putnam, Viking, Free Press, Pocket Books, or Scribner—from among the 40 or more imprints they own)? And will all titles of your big three be listed? Or only select ones?
2: Might the "14" consist of titles or imprints from other conglomerates like Random House, Harper Collins or Macmillan for example. Or might they be from small independent presses, such as Graywolf, Beacon Press or Seven Stories Press, for instance?
3: What are the charges for an independent press, assuming they could come on board? Would they be based on the list or by particular titles?
4: David Shanks at Penguin said the intent of Bookish.com was to inform the reader "What Book should I read next?" Since Lemgruber said he took inspiration for sites such as Rotten Tomatoes (an invaluable site as it separates the good films from the ordinary and from the truly rotten ones), how do you handle a book that gets poor reviews? Just skip it? Or put a good face on it?
5: And what was the purpose of having anyone looking at your website, having to answer what our favorite book from childhood was in order to get your email address?
In any event, I look forward to hearing back from you by email or by phone.
Guess what? The email bounced back as undeliverable, because the address had yet to be set up.
What sort of “book reporter” writes a piece about a new site without even checking it out? The answer seems clear: a reporter who accepts self-serving press releases as news; a reporter who knows very little about investigative reporting and doesn't check her own sources. No wonder there was no interest in Karl Grossman’s book…but I venture that there surely would have been if Penguin had done a free download of this informative book.
On April 27, Publishers Weekly reported a Parker Series to Continue at Penguin With New Writers. “In a deal cut by Robert B. Parker's estate, Penguin's Putnam imprint will continue to publish two of the author's most popular series—Spenser and Jesse Stone—under the co-authorship of writers Michael Brandman and Ace Atkins. The Spenser series debuted in 1974 and is made up of 39 novels; the Jesse Stone series began in 1997 and is comprised of 9 more.” (This marketing ploy, hiring another author to continue writing a series under the name of a famous dead one, is nothing new. Five years ago, Harcourt Brace, under their Houghton Mifflin and Mariner imprints did the same thing with Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series, using Max Allan Collins to write four more Hammer books). Another great marketing ploy.
Not reading Bosman regularly I don’t know whether she covered this story yet or not. I did read a lovely interview she had with Bob Loomis this past month, who was retiring from Random House. She also wrote a story about Philip Roth winning the Booker Prize, which gave as much exposure to Carmen Callil the founder of the UK based feminist Virago Press, who withdrew from the three judge panel in noisy protest after the other two judges decided to give Roth this major prize. Callil referred to Roth’s work “the Emperor’s Clothes. He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe... I don’t rate him as a writer at all.” Callil sounds more like the founder of The Harridan Press. Personally, I think the story should have been about Roth’s remarkable achievements. But that’s another issue.
But back to the question of whether Bosman is in service of the Arts or Marketing. She writes frequently about things that appear in Publishers Weekly much earlier. Marketing stories like the ones I cite properly appear in Publishers Weekly, for they are interesting to other publishers, but have little to do with “Book Reporting” in the Arts section of The New York Times. If Bosman were writing these sorts of columns in the Business section of the Times, all well and good. But writing this sort of stuff for the general public (assuming it wasn’t assigned to her)—for book readers—would seem to me irrelevant, for these are really “marketing reports” at best, and “Pimping for Penguin” articles at the very wost.
I welcome your opinion.
Monday, April 25, 2011
How things have changed! We tolerate our military involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya because nobody is drafted. The war-makers hire private contractors like Blackwater (who have outnumbered the service men in Iraq), who enhance a smaller military of people who’ve enlisted as careerists, and the only people inconvenienced are National Guardsmen who never expected to be pressed into action.
As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown on April 26, we face a much greater threat to human life than the Vietnam War, and it’s RADIATION, which reared it’s ugly, hidden head once again, following the tsunami and the damage to Japan’s nuclear power plants. But since there is no draft or quick loss of life that keeps this in the foreground, it’s relatively easy for the energy companies, their spokesmen, their lobbyists, their minions in Congress (led by New Mexico’s Senator Pete Dominici, until he retired in 2009, as reported in my previous blog), and other representatives in government to soothe fears with deceptive statements. It’s already started to fade from the front pages of newspapers and newscasts. You don’t hear much about it on NPR, and there are few reporters who know enough about the history of the nuclear industry to want to present truth rather than perpetuate official fiction Thus, the current generation finds it relatively easy to go about their lives without questioning and demanding that we put an end to this continuing threat to life. The major focus of mainstream media are spokespeople repeating the mantra that “there is only a slight risk” of that happening here, or that “Japan was an aberration,” and discussions about “how we need this energy to sustain our economy.” Lots of dramatic footage about the destruction caused by the tsunami, but as for the nuclear meltdown the only widely covered human casualties were about a couple of workers who stepped into a pool of radioactive water and were seriously injured.
Yet during the week of April 11, The New York Times did report that the radioactive discharges coming from the nuclear plants in Japan will continue pouring millions of gallons of radioactive waste into the ocean and air for at least nine more months. It was a minor story, wasn’t picked up in any of the major TV networks or Fox News or MSNBC. Nor were there any daily follow-ups.
This attempt to soothe fears is not a new one. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), set up as a proponent of nuclear energy, still claims that only 4,000 people died as a result of Chernobyl and, because of an agreement made with the World Health Organization, the WHO is not allowed to contradict the results of this claim. But Dr. Janette Sherman, from the Environmental Institute, Western Michigan University,, toxicologist and editor of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, by Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko, in a recent 29 minute interview on You Tube, hosted by Karl Grossman exposed this lie. Published by the New York Academy of Sciences two years ago, this book estimates that more than one million people have died so far as a result of that 1986 explosion. Their expertise is beyond doubt (Yablokov, a scientist and prominent member of the USSR parliament, was the Environmental advisor to Boris Yeltsin, while Vassily Nesterenko, a nuclear physicist, who died in 2008, was the director of the famous Institute of Nuclear Physics in Minsk who, after Chernobyl, dedicated his life to exposing the Soviet cover up, setting up an Independent Institute for Radioprotection, BELRAD, with over 30 staff members, while devising spectrometers for body scans tracing radioactive cesium. His contribution to this book came from the data he began collecting in 1990. His son, Alexei, who worked with him took over the directorship of BELRAD after his father’s death). This video is MUST viewing, just as their book is MUST reading, though you are not likely to have heard about it or seen it discussed or reviewed in USA Today, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, or even the McClatchy newspaper chain, though it is surely a baseline of what can be expected from the Japanese disaster.
Three weeks ago, there was a press conference called by Friends of the Earth to hear Alexey Yablokov discuss the implications of the Fukushima meltdowns based on his research concerning Chernobyl. Many journalists from the foreign press corps attended, but none from our papers of record, The New York Times or The Washington Post. They missed hearing or reporting that Yablokov fears that deaths from radiation exposure will exceed those of Chernobyl because of the incredible population centers close to the melt-down sites in Japan.
What you are likely to read about is James B. Stewart’s new book Tangled Webs, headlined “How American Society is Drowning in Lies.”
On April 19th Stewart was interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition, and his book is being covered everywhere: by the networks, by the newspapers, promotional tours, book readings, and book reviews. Stewart claims that he finds a surge of deliberate lying by people at the top of their fields, and says that these false statements undermine America. He writes, chiefly, about the damage caused by Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, and Bernie Madoff: people who lied only because they thought they could get away with it. The Daily Beast, reprinting Newsweek editor Tony Dokoupil’s column, under the headline “America's Top Liars” writes that it’s “a good thing, then, that we have Stewart to play The Ethicist, retrying Bonds but also Martha Stewart, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Bernie Madoff—and nailing some ears to the post. “Somebody has to,” says Stewart,” with modesty, I presume.
I can readily envision James Stewart appearing on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or on the Colbert Report, or Diane Rehm’s Show or Chris Matthews or Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC shows. Or even on PBS or Fox News. But it’s hard to envision Karl Grossman, who has been exposing the most dangerous liars of them all—the nuclear energy advocates—for the past three decades on any of these programs. Certainly, we’ve contacted these major media bookers and producers, but none have even responded. Nor has Julie Bosman, writing about the book business in The New York Times, ever thought it was newsworthy for a publisher to give away free downloads of Grossman's Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power, though she will report all sorts of stuff about reshuffles at major publishers, launches of new imprints and, before her time, the book news reporter would cover stories about Stephen King’s free downloads of his writing.
This is not to say that word is not getting out about Cover-Up. Since the tsunami and our offering free downloads of his expose, Karl has been heard on hundreds of independent radio stations, reaching tens of thousands of listeners. We’ve had nearly a thousand hits since first reporting that Cover-Up was available for free downloading on our website, and many people and anti-nuke groups have picked it up and circulated it. Karl appeared on Bev Smith’s show on American Urban Radio Network, the largest African American owned network with over 300 affiliated stations. He’s also been interviewed at the four major Pacifica stations (KPFK in Los Angeles, WBAI in New York City, KPFT in Houston, and WPFW in Washington DC) and these programs have been passed on to Pacifica’s network of 150 affiliated community radio stations. This also happened at Earthbeat Radio, an independent show produced by the Institute for Policy Studies (at Pacifica’s and The Real News Network’s studios at WPFW FM in Washington, D.C.). Earthbound Radio is syndicated to over 60 affiliates of their own in North America.
Then, there is "The Real Deal", an internet radio program broadcast hosted by James H. Fetzer, Ph.D., McKnight Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota Duluth, a two hour show, to be broadcast on April 27th. This three night a week show also goes out to a host of other college stations. There was another extensive interview on another college station, with Tonya Brito host of "A Public Affair" on WORT, 89.9 FM in Madison, WI, which also circulates elsewhere, covering the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the situation at Fukushima nuclear plant, and nuclear policy in general. Tonya, as have many others who have booked Karl, mentioned that The Institute for Public Accuracy has identified him as an expert on these topics. I would say that he is THE EXPERT for this information. Karl also did a show on KGAB radio in Cheyenne, WY, whose coverage includes southern and central Wyoming, western Nebraska, northern Colorado (including the metro Denver area )and western South Dakota, with it’s programming going to more than 300 affiliated stations, as well as one with Donald Lacy, Producer/Host of “Wake Up Everybody” on KPOO 89.5 FM San Francisco.
Print coverage for Cover-Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power, started with Publishers Weekly, which ran an excellent article on our decision to do a give-away edition of Cover Up several weeks ago, and has also hosted an ad in their online edition allowing people to click and download Karl’s book. And the IBPA’s (the Independent Book Publishers Association’s) forthcoming issue will be going out to a couple of thousand members and subscribers, covering this same news story with a link to the download (would that Dwight Garner, the excellent non-fiction book reviewer at the daily New York Times, be as interested in reviewing this vitally important virtual book as is blogger Amy Steele, who is downloading and considering it for review on her Entertainmen Realm.com site). Need I mention a host of articles in The Huffington Post and at other websites. Locally, an excellent piece appeared in the April 22 issue of Dan’s Papers by Elise D’Haene—a weekly widely read in the Hamptons and New York City—letting its readers know how to download a free copy of Karl’s book. And both Karl and I appeared on WPBB-FM (Peconic Public Broadacasting) for an interview hosted by Bonnie Grice.
Now here is the final irony of the past few weeks. Karl appeared on Iranian television (PressTV, an English language program based in Tehran, but with a recording studio in New York), taking questions, and decrying the use of nuclear plants and the Iranian government’s desire to keep producing nuclear material. Karl also had an op-ed piece in the Jerusalem Post making these same points(afterwards Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would cancel Israel's proposed nuclear plant to be built in the Negev because of the Fukushima disaster). It is quite amazing to me, that Karl’s expertise is respected abroad, but that he has not gotten any significant play in America on the Establishment media, nor from the major NPR radio programs and supposedly “progressive” television networks like MSNBC and the PBS stations. This, despite the fact that Grossman has pioneered investigative reporting and environmental journalism in a variety of media for over 30 years. The narrator and host of award-winning environmental TV documentaries and the author of three books on environmental and energy issues, his articles have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, The Nation, Columbia Journalism Review, E, The Environmental Magazine, Covert Action Quarterly, Extra! and numerous other publications. Karl is the recipient of numerous honors, including the George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism. A full professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury he teaches Investigative Reporting and Environmental Journalism. Instead, the influential Diane Rehm had Steven Chu, a nuclear power advocate for decades before becoming President Obama’s Secretary of Energy on her NPR show on April 25 to talk about nuclear power plants in view of Japan’s meltdowns. On April 26, she is having James Stewart talk abut his book Tangled Webs. That same evening Chris Matthews is also interviewing Stewart on his MSNBC Hardball show.
Forgive this analogy, but it seems to me that when Rome was burning and Nero was fiddling, mainstream media would have devoted more space to the Emperor’s violin recital than to the fires themselves. This is why any truly civilized and concerned society—and its major news sources—need to have a discussion about which issues and which liars to cast a spotlight on. Are celebrity liars at the top of the list of liars posing a threat to us? What is wrong with a country where exposing already exposed liars is “news.” A country where Karl Grossman, who knows more about the lies, past and present, that led to making the public think this form of energy was worth having, has not yet been afforded the opportunity to present his case to a significantly larger audience.
Last week I focused on some new material from Karl’s updated edition: how Obama advisors Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod have profited from the nuclear industry, and how Energy Secretary Steven Chu came from being the director of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories as a forceful advocate for nuclear power, though I’ve yet to read about it in The New York Times or hear about it on national television or radio despite sending out a press release entitled “OBAMA BAMBOOZLED BY TOP AIDES,” This failure to report real news of this sort might account for why our President is still bullish on having taxpayers fund new nuclear reactors in the USA. Equally possible is that our President, who campaigned against nuclear power while running for office, is so busy raising re-election funds that he finds it necessary to cozy up to business and energy interests to show them how friendly he can be toward them. How else can one explain his appointing Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric’s CEO as chairman of this new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness? GE reported earning $14.2 billion in worldwide profits but, like Exxon, paid no taxes. Better yet, GE received a tax rebate of 3.2 billion. Additionally, since 2002, GE has laid off one-fifth of their American work force. Now this is very good for GE’s competitiveness when they pay no taxes, but very bad for job creation when all their jobs are being shipped overseas. It reminds me of the myth that Charlie Wilson, Eisenhower’s Defense Secretary propagated years ago, that “What is good for General Motors is what’s good for America.” And of course, there is still another tie here to the nuclear industry: GE has played a big part in building nuclear power plants around the world, including planning the ones in Fukushima, despite critics having opposed GE's design as far back as 1972.
I conclude this posting with testimony that has escaped memory or reportage, as cited in the first edition of Cover Up thirty years ago, which I paraphrase:
“Admiral Hyman Rickover, heralded as the ‘father’ of the nuclear navy, was also in charge of building the first nuclear power plant in the United States in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. But Rickover eventually came to realize the dangers posed by nuclear energy. In a farewell address before a committee of Congress in 1982, he said, ‘I'll be philosophical. Until about two billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on Earth; there was so much radiation you couldn't have any life. This was from cosmic radiation around when the Earth was in the process of forming. Gradually, about two billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin. Now, when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible. But every time you produce radiation a horrible force is unleashed and I think the human race is going to wreck itself. We must outlaw nuclear reactors."
Again, I ask you to download Cover Up right here, if you haven’t already done so, and keep spreading-the-word…and the word is “Truth,” or “Truthiness,” as Steven Colbert would have it. Because what we need now is our own Tsunami, a better one which will wash away the biggest liars of them all and the so called “News Network” that provides cover for these Nuclear Pinocchios.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Over the March 28 weekend, all of us at The Permanent Press (Judy, Rania, Cathy, and I) were aglow as we traveled to Boston for the PEN/Winship and PEN/Hemmingway Award ceremonies at the JFK Library to celebrate Kermit Moyer’s winning the Winship Award for his novel The Chester Chronicles. It was the third time in the past seven years that one of our writers won this prize, with Edward Delaney winning it in 2004 for Warp & Weft, and K.C. Frederick winning in 2006 for Inland. The glory started in the weeks leading up to this event when three other novels on our 2010 list were also cited for literary excellence. To Account for Murder, by William Whitbeck won the Michigan Notable Book Award while Liza Campbell’s The Dissemblers is one of the finalists for ForeWord Magazine’s Literary Fiction Award. And Georgeann Packard’s Fall Asleep Forgetting, was named one of five finalists for two Lambda Literary Awards: their Bisexual Fiction Award and also for the Lesbian Debut Fiction Award.
At the same time that we were basking in this good news, it was hard not to think about the nuclear meltdowns and radiation dangers coming from the damaged nuclear reactors in Japan particularly since, in 1980, we published Karl Grossman’s Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power, with a second edition in 1982. Karl personally gave the book to Governor Mario Cuomo who thereafter challenged—successfully—the opening of the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island. Karl’s revelations resulted in a setback for the cozy relationship between the energy companies, governmental agencies, and officials that kept assuring the public that they were safe when their own memos made it clear this was not the case.
When Cover Up first came out, here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about it:
"Closing with testimony by leading environmentalists here and abroad, Grossman's powerfully documented book is tough-minded evangelism for the anti-nuke movement. A veteran reporter for newspapers, radio and TV in New York, winner of journalism's George Polk Award, Grossman crams into this text facsimile documentation ordinarily found in appendixes. A growing phalanx of writers, including Nader, John Gofman, Commoner et al, have developed the evidence that peacetime nuclear power presents great hazards, immediate and long-term, on a world wide scale. Grossman describes (with excellent photos, drawings, etc.) how nuclear power works and how disasters can happen. From inside sources including statements by federal and corporate officials, he makes a strong case for the view that giant nuclear energy corporations have taken extreme measures to hide the shocking facts about nuclear power, and are now stalling development of other energy sources in order to protect their huge investments."
We sold 18,000 copies of Karl’s book in a three year period and then, in the past decade, let it go out of print. The result is that all the reporting about the catastrophe in Japan focuses on the dangers posed by the current crisis, but few people under 50 know how this disingenuous and dangerous technology got started and why. And already, we are being assured that Japan’s plants are not like ours, and ours are far safer, when in fact none of them are safe.
When the meltdowns and radiation leaks emerged in Japan, I asked Karl if he wanted to do an update for a possible third edition, and he wrote a 14 page preface bringing things up to date, showing, for instance, how President Obama’s chief advisors, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, have profited financially from the nuclear energy industry and that his energy secretary, Steven Chu, emerged from the U.S. governments national nuclear laboratory system as an advocate for using nuclear power. My hope was that we could interest a large publisher to take a reissue on as a public service, but we could find no one interested in doing this as a quick and timely release.
A front page story written by Eric Lichtblau in The New York Times on Friday, March 25, told the story of how Pete Dominici, a four term Senator from New Mexico (with one of the worst environmental records in Congress), became the front man sponsoring the reemergence of the nuclear power industry after Chernobyl, when most lawmakers felt future plants were dead in the water. But with massive campaign contributions from the energy companies (always a source of his campaign funding), their lobbyists, and public relations people, Dominici became the political front man for a campaign to soothe public fears with the same tall tales and deceits that Grossman had earlier documented, and to keep taxpayer subsidy money flowing into these energy companies.
I sent an email to Lichtblau along with a PDF file of the projected third edition, telling him that the material Karl unearthed back in the late 70's proving industry and government collusion was worthy of a Pulitzer Prize if he, Eric, can keep digging and letting citizens know the full history of this energy source, how it began, and how it continues to lobby and lie about safety.
I’ve not heard back from Lichtblau, but want to keep going forward. And it seems to me, and to Karl Grossman as well, that the best thing we could possibly do is to give Cover Up away immediately. It's that important and that timely! So here’s the deal: read this book for free on your computer or by printing out the PDF file, and send it along to everyone you know, by email, Facebook, Twitter, and blog, and encourage them to do the same thing. Just click on this link and let us, collectively, go viral with this information.
We’re not interested in making a nickel off Cover Up. Let William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, make a profit from 20-year-old Bristol Palin’s ghost written Not Afraid of Life due out this summer. Our passion in publishing has always been the good feeling that comes from doing worthy books, which trumps profits any time.
Hope to hear back from you.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Success stories abound in the media, with success being measured in many different ways. For some it’s gaining riches, for others surviving calamitous injuries or illnesses (Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), achieving artistic stardom or acclaim (the premise of American Idol), having a break-out Best Seller, giving birth to a healthy child after being told conception is not possible, ending conflicts by diplomacy rather than warfare. The list is endless, but we all love it when, against great odds, someone succeeds. Remember the joy so many people around the world felt when an African American was elected President of the United States. But this Egyptian story certainly stands as one of the Ultimate Successes of our day, for it gives hope to so many others that things are possible despite the so-called immovable obstacles placed in front of people. It reminds us that, despite the odds, good things are possible.
How does one measure success if you are an author who has written an extraordinary novel? Or if you are the publisher of such a book? Take Charles Davis, for example, whose first novel, Walk On, Bright Boy, was released by us four years ago. I suppose Charles felt successful in getting his novel published, having it picked as a “Book Sense Selection” by The American Booksellers Association, and having had translation sales in Russia and Poland. ForeWord magazine described this short novel, that takes place during the Spanish Inquisition, as “A haunting, gothic novel that speaks to contemporary collusions of political expediency and religious faith.” And yet, when all is said and done, only 450 copies were sold. As his publishers, Judy and I are happy to have discovered and published Charles and to continue to publish him, for he is “the real deal.” Yet, from our point of view, it was not the sort of success we would have wished for him. This is the arbitrariness of this business. If there were a God who loved good fiction, these numbers would have been increased a hundred-fold. But I think He/She/It is indifferent to literary fiction.
Still, we’re releasing, with hopefulness, his next 160 page novel, Standing At The Crossroads, this month. I know of no one who can pack such power and suspense—while contemplating big issues—into so few pages, and once more the advance reviews were exceptional, with Kirkus calling it “An absorbing novel of evasion and pursuit,” and Library Journal describing it as “An exciting and thoughtful adventure story as well as a subtle political and philosophical meditation on Sudan’s long-term tragedy,” while The New York Journal of Books said it was “A remarkable journey through the real and imagined landscapes of civil war-torn Africa.” Perhaps the Gods will be in a better mood this time around...
For ourselves it is a joy to be part of the aforementioned community of lovers of quality fiction, among whom are the editors and publishers of Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist. And of bloggers like Sheila Deeth, Amy Steel, Ann Hite, Julie McGuire, Heather Teig, Wysteria Leigh, Allison Campbell, Amy Kersnick, Jim McKeown, Marc Schuster, Vera Pereskokova, Karl Wolff, Maggie Ball, Judi Clark, and others. And of columnists like Judith Applebaum, Ted and Rhonda Sturtz of the online New York Journal of Books, book critic Joan Baum, whose radio reviews originate on NPR Connecticut, and Jay Strafford at The Richmond Times Dispatch, who is particularly fond of good mysteries. All of these good people have consistently covered so many of our titles. As have critics at Library Thing and Good Reads. And at least 10% of all the writers we’ve published who keep reading our galleys and help “spread-the-word” about the other books we publish.
The latest examples of these reviews are those Marc Schuster wrote for Thomas Rayfiels’s Time Among The Dead. Wisteria Leigh’s review of Chris Knopf’s forthcoming Black Swan, and Amy Steele’s review of Joanna Higgins’s Dead Center.
Staying alive and being able to publish fine fiction for 32 years, is truly a blessing that this whimsical God has bestowed, and none of it would have been possible if this community didn’t exist.
Yet, between the last paragraph and this one, I watched Wael Ghonim on 60 Minutes. This 30 year old Google executive whose posts on Face Book served as the major catalyst in bringing about the Egyptian revolution was asked what he attributed the success of this movement to—other than the social networking that made it possible. Repeatedly he said it was “the stupidity of the regime. Without that none of it would have been possible” and that they never realized how disconnected they were from what so many people wanted.
His comments made me realize that we, too, owe a good part of our success to the stupidity of those running the six major publishing conglomerates who sell, through their various imprints, 85% of the books bought in the United States. So I thank them, as well, for rarely taking a chance on relatively unknown novelists, for failing to stay with writers whose early efforts didn’t sell at least 10,000 copies, and for pinning most of their hopes on fiction by name brand authors and on novels that might appeal to the widest audience instead of more demanding and sophisticated readers. Without your failures, dear people, even with our supportive community, we would never have had a chance of succeeding.
More success stores about out own books can be found in the Newsletter section of our our Website.
I look forward to reading your comments after February 28, when Judy and I return from our vacation on Virgin Gorda.