Wednesday, March 29, 2006

VaBook III - More Fabu Fotos

From dinner on Saturday with a much smaller crew (6 instead of 13) at Southern Culture...

(right) Victor Navasky of The Nation and writer Deirdra McAfee.

(below) Mr. GalleyCat himself.

Earlier in the day, writer Digby Diehl and I snuck off to Keswick Hall, an Orient Express property, for a blissfully serene High Tea amongst The Quality Set (gotta love the screaming red UVa Cavalier-printed pants and not-quite-matching yellow golf sweater sported by one of the guests). Here we are, stuffed on scones and all sorts of other goodies.

It's not much, but we call it home...(I wish!)

VaBook Festival II - Fab Fotos

Ron Hogan of GalleyCat wasn't the only person wielding a camera in Charlottesville last weekend. Here are some pix I brought home in my trusty Canon PowerShot.

From dinner on Friday over "comfort food with a twist" at Escafe...

(below) Novelist Melanie Lynne Hauser.

(right) Novelist Masha Hamilton and Robert Gray of Fresh Eyes Now.

(left) YA author Sharon Baldacci regales novelists Daniela Kuper and Judi Hendricks with a funny story.

(right) Novelist Leora Skolkin-Smith.

(below) Novelist Lynn Isenberg and David Kipen, author & NEA Literature Director.

VaBook Festival I

Well, I needn't have obsessed about that closeup (or maybe someone at CSPAN read the post below), as BookTV didn't show up to tape my "Journalism Then & Now" panel last Saturday--though they interviewed panelist Victor Navasky earlier in the day. Unfortunately, Margo Jefferson of the NYT was ill and couldn't attend, but Digby Diehl, Stephen Farnsworth and Navasky held down the fort with panache and passion.

Farnsworth observed that TV news these days focuses more on car chases, celebrities and the weather than on important events and issues. And he's obviously right, as there were maybe 50 in the audience, whereas an earlier panel on weather in the same venue had a crowd of 200+ spilling out the doors. What Mark Twain noted is still true, though: "Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it."

During the Q&A session, someone asked about the "liberal bias" of public television. Farnsworth quickly flipped through his book, THE MEDIATED PRESIDENCY, and cited statistics showing that coverage on "The News Hour" was no more positive for Clinton than Bush. (I just love a man--or woman--with facts at his fingertips!) In essence, the media aren't any more "liberal" now; it's public perception that has changed. And as we know, perception almost always trumps reality.

Monday, March 27, 2006

"It's the Writing, Stupid"

That was my response to a question from an aspiring writer at my "From Manuscript to Cash Register" panel on Saturday at the VaBook Festival. As I explained to her, I in no way meant to demean her intelligence. However, like far too many wannabes, she was focusing on extraneous details rather than on what matters most: her writing. In her case, she was obsessing over cover art, illustrations and a marketing plan. Others--and you can see them in droves at Miss Snark's and Kristin Nelson's blogs, and elsewhere--waste countless bytes fretting over whether query letters should be in Times Roman or Courier, or if an agent will be put off by extra stamps on an envelope because postage rates went up. (I wish I was making this up!)

As I said to the 200-odd people in the audience--many of them studiously taking notes--whether you're a reviewer (as I am); or an agent, editor, publisher or bookseller, as were the panelists*, every time you crack open a galley or manuscript you want to be entranced by the writing; the rest is just gravy. Make us cry, make us laugh, thrill us, scare us--but make us fall in love with your writing.

*Simon Lipskar, Writers House agent; Starling Lawrence, editor-in-chief, WW Norton; Catharine Lynch, assoc. publisher, Putnam/Riverhead; and Robert Gray, Fresh Eyes Now.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I'm Ready for My Closeup--Just Don't Get Too Close

Fortunately my nose-to-the-windowsill incident last Sunday didn't result in a black eye (or two)--though the doctor did say to Darling Husband, "When are you going to stop beating your wife?" The doctor told me to use Liquid Bandage on the cut--another of the great inventions of the 20th century, along with penicillin, oil-filled electric radiators and rope caulk. But I do have this prominent (to me, anyway) scab on the bridge of my nose and I discovered yesterday that Liquid Bandage is not very compatible with cover stick. The Show Must Go On, though; I'm just hoping that the Book TV cameraman won't be zooming in for any super-tight shots at today's "Journalism Then & Now" panel at the VaBook Fesival. I just checked the Book TV schedule and, unlike in previous years, they're not running any events live. Hmmpf!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Don't hold the phone!

Date: Wed., March 22 -- though it could be any day in the current century.

Location: Airport ladies' room, Charlotte, NC -- though it could be any city in the U.S.

Heard from the next stall: Tinkle tinkle, Ring ring, tinkle tinkle, ring..."Hello?...Oh hi, Linda! How are you?...I'm fine, I'm in the ladies' room at the airport. I'm peeing [tittering laughter]. As soon as I'm done, I'm going to get my baggage and go home...Yeah, I'll call you when I get there...OK, bye."

Please, could we all agree (the sooner the better) that:
1) Just because you can use the phone everywhere doesn't mean you should use it in the can.
2) Some activities should remain private.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hey, Kids: Let's Play Spot the Allusion!

Coming soon to the small screen, a new animated series being produced by National Geographic:

Aimed at kids ages 6-11, "Iggy Arbuckle" follows the misadventures of a hiking, climbing, singing, thrill-seeking "nature-freak" pig and his faithful sidekick Jiggers, a high-spirited, fast-talking, industrious beaver. Together, the pair enjoy (and sometimes barely survive) incredible escapades in the Kookamunga wilderness as they brave hot, sticky swamps, tropical rain forests, off-kilter critters, eccentric wildlife and other natural phenomena that are anything but natural. (2005 press release)

Now, let's see...Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (photo above) was a silent-screen comedian whose thrill-seeking misadventures included a drunken party over Labor Day 1921 that culminated in the death of starlet Virginia Rappe. Arbuckle was arrested and tried--3 times!--for her death. He was ultimately exonerated, but his career tanked and he died in 1933, just after filming a comeback role in the Vitaphone short, "In the Dough."

As my anonymous correspondent noted: "No jiggers there; Fatty likely drank straight from the bottle." Therefore, in light of this history, I suggest that Jiggers the beaver be renamed.

How about Ginny? No...wait...

Ooh, I've got it! Here's one that today's groovy kids will really dig: Rapper!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Should've Stayed in Bed

I woke up at 6:30 this morning (not on purpose; I was exhausted from cleaning house for the first time in 6 weeks and had gone to bed early). My slippers were across the room, and as I shuffled around in the gloom trying to get them on, I lost my balance. I grabbed hold of Darling Husband's little wooden desk chair, and for a split second thought I was OK. But no, the chair toppled over and I pitched forward, smacking the bridge of my nose on the windowsill. ("What nice big windows," I exclaimed when I first viewed the house. "And look how low the sills are!") Next I heard breaking glass: the top of my head had smashed into the window pane.

"Wha-wha-what's going on," Darling Husband asked groggily. (He'd gone to a concert and hadn't gotten to bed till 1 a.m.) I told him and he bounded over to inspect the damage--with slippers on, as he always has his by the bed.

Fortunately, we have long, thick curtains, so I didn't hit bare wood; or worse, glass. Still, I had an almost half-inch gash on the bony peak of my nose. (Good thing I wasn't wearing my glasses; also that they're wire-rimmed, so the bridge sits above the cut instead of on it.) Ten minutes later, instead of sipping tea and reading the Sunday paper, I was back in bed with a Band-aid on my nose and an ice pack on my face, while Darling Husband picked up glass inside and out.

So now I have a sore nose and a roaring headache. I'm fervently praying that I don't end up with black eyes, as I'm moderating four panels at the Virginia Festival of the Book next weekend, one of which is going to be taped by Book TV. In the meantime, I might be investing in some pancake makeup--or a veil.

Moral: Keep your slippers by your bedside and never get up any earlier than you have to.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

In the Mood for Chinese?

I laughed so hard I nearly cried when I read the menu and commentary at, by an American living in China. Here's a taste:

black bowel and cowboy leg? Add candlelight and you have yourself a date.

Thanks to Susan Ito at ReadingWritingLiving!

Friday, March 17, 2006

And the prize for misleading headline goes to...

OK, how would you interpret the banner hed below? It topped a half-page ad for Volvo in today's Denver Post (just below a review of "V for Vendetta").

Swedish Automaker Linked
to Nation's Overpopulation

If your mind runs along the same elevated track as mine, you immediately start thinking of passionate couples taking advantage of the Volvo wagon's roomy interior. (Darling Husband's response when I showed him the ad: "People really like to fuck in their cars.") And then you think, "Hey, wait a minute! Sweden isn't overpopulated!"

And then you read this inane and ungrammatical pseudo-reportage:

IRVINE, Ca. -- With people living longer than ever and the US population continuing to climb at alarming rates [I agree; there are way too many mountaineers], some experts are pointing to Swedish automaker, Volvo, and their obsession with safety as a root cause of this trend.

Translation: Too many people is a bad thing, and Volvo is responsible for the badness. should drive an unsafe car in order to trim the surplus population. Call it "vehicular eugenics."


That's what I shrieked when I got to the paragraph below, in a WWD story headlined “Borrowed Memories.” Seems that former London fashion writer Emily Davies signed a $900K (!) deal with Simon & Schuster for her memoir, How to Wear Black: Adventures on Fashion’s Front Line, pitched as “a cross between The Devil Wears Prada and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.” Problem is, WWD discovered that none of the several fashionistas cited in Davies' proposal have any recollection of meeting her. Further, her quotes from those encounters appear to have been lifted from “The Glamour Girl’s Guide to Life,” a 1998 New York Times article by Monique P. Yazigi.

Davies, who reportedly departed The Times of London last year amid an inquiry into her expenses, responded to WWD’s questions with a statement defending her actions in the proposal. Saying it was “not intended for public consumption,” Davies claimed, in effect, that it was easier for her to give prospective publishers the flavor of her memoir by appropriating other writers’ words than by relying on her own memories. “The first thing I did when I began putting together my proposal…was to dig out a mass of notes, cuttings and stories I had assembled over the years.…Although I used these notes in the proposal, there would be no question of my using any unoriginal material in my finished book.”

As the Brits would say: Pull the other leg; it's got bells on it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sunday Philosophy Club*, U.S. chapter

Plato & Aristotle, "The School of Athens" by Raphael [see edit at bottom]

From an LA Times story headlined "Murderer Tells Jury of Gang's Strength," about the trial of prison gang leader Clifford Smith:

Wearing prison scrubs and an eye patch that he slipped on and off during questioning, Smith described how the Aryan Brotherhood empowered a three-man commission to oversee drug running and killings in prisons nationwide and developed a reading list for prospective members, including writings of Plato, Nietzsche and Machiavelli.

The good news: Prisoners are reading the classics!

*apologies to Alexander McCall Smith

Edit: Hey, wait a minute! After having studied "The School of Athens" in art history a gazillion years ago and seeing it any number of times since, I just noticed that Raphael made a howling error: There were no bound books in Plato & Aristotle's day. They had scrolls.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Famous Last Words

Max Yasgur's farm, Bethel, NY

We replaced our ancient, buzzing stereo speakers this past weekend. To celebrate, Darling Husband went digging deep into his massive vinyl collection, and at my behest unearthed the Sha Na Na album, "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay!"

In addition to endearingly naive profiles of the band members (Rich Joffe "will major in both English and Goverment"; Alan Cooper "has conducted Jewish high holiday services in a Miami old age home"), the album sports a double-page collage of New York Times articles about rock 'n' roll and the Woodstock festival.

One clip, headlined "Farmer with Soul: Max Yasgur," features the following passage, which resonates eerily:

His red barn, fronting on Route 17B, with its long line of parked cars, displays a big sign reading "Free Water." He put up this sign when he heard that some residents were selling water to the youngsters at the festival.

He slammed a work-hardened fist down on the table and demanded of some friends:

"How can anyone ask for money for water?"

Call Me Alceste

Courtyard in Pézenas, France, one-time home of playwright Molière; taken by yours truly last summer (sigh...)

Here's why I don't critique unpublished work, especially by fledgling writers.

From Molière's "Le Misanthrope":

Oronte: you are a man of brilliant parts, and to inaugurate our charming amity, I come to read you a sonnet which I made a little while ago, and to find out whether it be good enough for publicity.

Alceste: I am not fit, sir, to decide such a matter. You will therefore excuse me.

Oronte: Why so?

Alceste: I have the failing of being a little more sincere in those things than is necessary.
Lifted from a comment on "Will You Read My Novel?" at Miss Snark, the Literary Agent. In a related vein, see If I Let My Fire Go Out, How Can I Warm My Neighbor? at MJ Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype.