Saturday, December 29, 2007

Book Publishing for Dummies

Kelly Powers of Obie Joe Media forwarded me an article by Howard Kurtz in today's Washington Post that had me shaking my head in disbelief/dismay:

Dennis Kucinich has an autobiography out, but very few people know about it.

That's because the Democratic presidential candidate has barely mentioned the book. In fact, he never signed a contract with his publisher....

"I've been exceptionally disappointed in the man," says Michael Viner, chief executive of Phoenix Books. After printing 20,000 copies and spending more than $100,000 on promotion, he says, he has seen the book sell 500 copies in two months.
Seems that the Ohio Congressman didn't like the contract because it--gasp!--required that he give Phoenix an option on his next book, and that he "would receive no profits until the company had recouped its expenses." (House rules prevent him from receiving an advance.)

It gets even better.

Kucinich also didn't deliver the book that the publisher expected. THE COURAGE TO SURVIVE only covers his life till age 21, and has nothing about his recent career (nor his gorgeous young redheaded Amazon wife, which is what we really want to read about). Nevertheless Viner rushed it into print for a November 1 pub date and paid for an outside publicist, who said that Kucinich had "recently apologized to her for his lack of effort."

The money quote is from Los Angeles agent Mike Hamilburg, who once represented Kucinich :
"I've been in the business a long time, and I just couldn't believe this was the case and why the publisher went ahead without a contract."
Which brings to mind the old joke:

Q: How do you make a small fortune in publishing?
A: Start with a large fortune!

And look at the cover:

I can't tell what the book's about--an interracial friendship maybe? (Is that little Barack Obama on the right? At least he knows to look at the camera.)

Somehow I don't think that John or Jane Q. Public, who may have had An American Tragedy shoved down their youthful throats, will be attracted by this blurb:
"Beautifully written, hypnotically good as Theodore Dreiser."--Gore Vidal

Nor by PW's summation on Amazon:
"This view on youth in the 1950s and the making of a conscientious leader should be of interest to a wide audience, regardless of personal politics."

Oy vey iz mir.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bella's Faves of the Year

I've been thinking of doing a list of the new books I most enjoyed this year. Then I belatedly saw A Year's Books Worth Curling Up With in today's New York Times, and was ignited into action. Great minds think alike: NYT critic William Grimes had two of the same faves (#1 & 2 below). Six of the books are by Brits and/or set in England*; apparently I'm an Anglophile. And six have Jewish themes*; apparently I'm Jewish.

The lucky 13, in random order:
  1. TROUBLESOME YOUNG MEN by Lynne Olson*
  2. THE INVISIBLE WALL by Harry Bernstein**
  4. KALOOKI NIGHTS by Howard Jacobson**
  5. PARDONABLE LIES by Jacqueline Winspear*
  6. MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin*
  7. LANDSMAN by Peter Charles Melman*
  8. DIZZY CITY by Nicholas Griffiin*
  9. LOOK ME IN THE EYE by John Elder Robison
  10. NO PLACE SAFE by Kim Reid
  11. LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan
  12. FORESKIN'S LAMENT by Shalom Auslander*

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Dumbest News Story of the Year

Headline & first graf on front page of today's Denver Post:
White Christmas chance is 50/50

A white Christmas — at least like the ones we thought we used to know — is as unlikely in metro Denver as a sane shopping mall experience.
Why this is dumb:
  1. We had a blizzard just before last Christmas, so it was very WHITE.
  2. As of yesterday, we had ca. 4" of snow on the ground, which
  3. IT'S SNOWING LIKE CRAZY RIGHT NOW. There is at least 5" of new snow, which is--you guessed it!--WHITE. (And of course our street hasn't been plowed, which further jeopardizes our plans for dim sum & flick.)
New Year's resolution #1:
Maintain subscription to the
New York Times.

However, there was this priceless jump hed in the Post's print edition:
BELLS: Pet pig ate Gift's chime sheet music

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Spook in the House. Who Knew?

In late 2001, I received an ARC of a book that made me laugh so much my face hurt: 10TH GRADE by Joseph Weisberg. I read it to the Boy Wonder and he loved it too.

After I did much pushing & prodding of his inhouse publicist, Joe came to the Virginia Festival of the Book in March 2002, during which he had guest stints at the Boy Wonder's school and Charlottesville High School. (Several of the kids wrote glowing recommendations of Joe and the book on Amazon right afterwards, which I'm sure helped sales.) Joe stayed at my house during the festival.

Subsequently we saw each other a few times in NYC and he spoke at a couple of my Book Promotion 101 workshops. Then we gradually lost touch.

A few months ago I saw the Bloomsbury USA fall/winter catalog, and there were Joe's name and picture alongside the title of a new novel: AN ORDINARY SPY. I knew he'd been writing, and had occasionally wondered when he'd be published again. So I was thrilled for him. But wait: what's this in the book's capsule description? "A former CIA case officer’s novel..."

WHOA!!! My funny, charming friend, who shares my love of Dim Sum Go Go and even helped arrange for me to meet his mother (described by Malcolm Gladwell as a "connector"; alas, the meeting fell through at the last minute), was a CIA spook?!?!?!

One just never knows, do one?

Read Motoko Rich's glowing review and interview in today's NYT: From Undercover to Between the Covers, and Joe's opinion piece in the Washington Post a week ago: With Spies Like These . . .

Unfortunately I was unable to snag Joe again for VaBook. But I can't wait to read the book!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Things Could Always Be Worse

Daumier: Le Malade Imaginaire

My primary goal for my trip to Maine, apart from helping my ailing mother and stepfather, was to stay well. I thought I'd accomplished it, then Tuesday night I came down with fever and chills. Those were followed a day later by what I'll term the "weight-loss phase," which still continues, albeit with less ferocity.

Yesterday, looking a bit peaked and green, I had a 2nd appointment with a surgeon who's going to remove what my orthopedist termed a "big-ass tumor." It's a lipoma, an apparently benign fatty mass about the size of a duck's egg, nestled amidst layers of muscle under my right shoulder blade. It was discovered during a CT scan after my equestrian fiasco 1-1/2 years ago, but I was told I could ignore it for a while, as there were several urgent injuries to deal with. Now it can't be ignored any longer, so it's coming out on January 2. For those keeping score: this will be surgery #7, medical facility #6 (3 hospitals, 2 surgical centers, 1 endodontics office).

Fun, huh? But wait, there's more!

This morning at 7:00, I was lying on my side in bed and shifted my hips a fraction of an inch, which caused an explosion of pain in my lower back. How well I recognized it: a herniated lumbar disc that's flared up several times in the past, usually in December during or after a viral illness. I thought I'd pass out when I had to walk all of 15 feet to the bathroom, clutching the doorframe, towel bars and sink for support.

In a footnote to yesterday's post, I wrote that one of my mottos is, "When the going gets tough, the tough go to bed." So that's where I am--flat on my back, a pillow under my knees, Max cuddled under my left arm with a paw resting on my hand. Good thing I never dipped into the Valium while in Maine, as threatened, because it's the only thing that eases the spasms. (The disc flared up when I was in France several years ago, and I was popping those little yellow pills like Pez. I called it my "Valium de Loire" tour.)

Edit 12/21:
Per my D.O. today, the spasms emanated from my sacrum, not the herniated disc. I've been up & about for several days now; traded the Valium for popcorn & chocolate.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Much Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth

Two months ago, an author friend graciously agreed to blurb a consulting client's debut novel, which has a similar theme. I was happy, my client was happy. She was told not to send out any ARCs herself; her editor would take care of it. So she did as she was told.

Then last night I received a chatty email from the author, at the end of which she mentioned that she'd never heard back from my client.


I shot off an email. My client responded today, chagrined. Seems her editor never sent the ARC, as promised. The book is off to press soon, so it's too late to put any blurbs on the jacket. Besides, she wrote, her agent (at Big Agency) and editor (at Big Publisher) "got all defensive when I asked them to please send out to authors, saying, ‘Nobody reads the author reviews on the back of books anyway.’"

My tactful reply: "That's a load of crap."

Darling Husband's response: "Big Publisher's new policy is not to use blurbs by other authors on their book jackets? Oh really?"

My advice:
Email the author with apologies & ask if you can still send her the ARC. Then do it yourself. You can use blurbs in press materials & on your website; they don't go to waste. You can bet if some big-name author writes a glowing blurb, Big Publisher will splash it at the top of their press release in a New York nanosecond.

From another client with another Big Publisher, who was told that the ARCs for her June book would be ready soon after Thanksgiving:
Found out on 12/11 (after emailing my editor's assistant as to when are galleys coming, since editor said they'd be soon and wanted to discuss blurbs, yet hasn't responded to 2 emails) that, "Oh... sorry. I'll be sure to keep you in the loop from now on! They've been pushed back to 2/21!"
Moral: The world is filled with wankers.* But do not yell at them; send effusive thanks & holiday goodies instead. You want them to feel guilty, not resentful. (And if you haven't heard back after 2 emails, pick up the phone.)

*One of my mottos. Another is: When the going gets tough, the tough go to bed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Now, Let's All Take Deep, Cleansing Breaths...

The NYT has a story today, In India, a Rare School Shooting, which contains this arresting sentence:
The boys had been quarreling for several days, Mr. Balan said, so much so that the principal had called their parents to school and recommended meditation.
Now there's an enlightened school principal! (More likely an unenlightened--or nonexistent--proofreader.)

I Agree with a Hard-Core Evangelist!

Insulin shock: the front desk at Babyland General Hospital.

The Denver Post is full of stories about the weekend shootings at area churches. One, Shooter's lessons strict, rule-driven, details the "ultra-religious home-school curriculum" endured by gunman Matthew Murray.

Seems that Murray's parents adhered to the tenets of evangelist Bill Gothard, founder of The Institute in Basic Life Principles. (Check out the pic of smiling white guys in white polo shirts on the home page.) According to the Denver Post:
[The IBLP curriculum] advises young men and women to live at home until their parents release them and counsels parents to choose marriage partners for their offspring....

Gothard's teachings have been criticized by other conservative Christians who allege he has deviated from true Bible teaching and that his stand against rock music — even Christian rock — suspicion of modern medicine, belief in spiritual roots of disease, and opposition to women working outside the home and "evil" toys are wrong.
My response: EWWWWW!!!

But here's something I agree with, though for the wrong reasons:
Gothard warned followers in a 1986 letter that Cabbage Patch dolls can cause "strange, destructive behavior."
Twelve years ago, I and the Boy Wonder (then almost 6) visited my long-lost eldest sister in the mountains of Georgia. As a lark, she took us to BabyLand General Hospital, where Cabbage Patch dolls are "born" (under mock cabbage plants) and "adopted" (by suckers, including what appeared to be men) for upwards of $200. The BW and I were exhibiting much destructive behavior by the time we exited, gasping for fresh, unsweetened air.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Wildean Wisdom...and Idiocy

Oscar Wilde was an excellent companion during my trip back from Maine two days ago. Here are some more quotes for the ages.

From An Ideal Husband:
...when the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.

I am always saying what I shouldn't say. In fact, I usually say what I think. A great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood.

Well, she wore far too much rouge last night, and not enough clothes. That is always a sign of despair in a woman.

All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation of the next.

Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear. Just as vulgarity is simply the conduct of other people. And falsehoods the truths of other people. Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself. To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.
From The Importance of Being Earnest:
In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.
However, the following lines in An Ideal Husband--the first was spoken not once, but TWICE-- made me groan aloud:
A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. A woman's life revolves in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life progresses....A woman who can keep a man's love, and love him in return, has done all the world wants of women, or should want of them.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We just got 4+ inches of snow and I'm not driving anywhere today, as the Denver Sanitation Dept doesn't believe in plowing all those pesky side streets--like mine. They should send their workers for training to Portland, ME. Those guys REALLY know how to clean up snow in a hurry.

Hanukah's done tonight--not that we've done anything about it this year, what with my 'rent duties & Darling Husband's business busyness. Just two weeks from today it's Christmas, and this year I'll be singing--and eating--along with Brandon Walker. Watch:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hanukah Yoks

A friend sent me a link to My Menorah. Ya gotta see it, especially if (like me) you heard more than you ever needed to of The Knack.

A Snatch of Conversation

I'm back from my dutiful daughter detail in dark and snowy Maine. Didn't know what I was going to write about next, and then I read today's batch of deal announcements in Publishers Lunch. This conjures up many mental images, all of them hilarious:
Dr. Marie Savard with Carol Svec's CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR VAGINA, an informative and entertaining guide to women's health that combines snappy, on-point opinions with hard core facts about sex, libido, hormones, and other medical facts of life, to Mary Norris at Globe Pequot, by Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (World).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bella's Sense of Snow

OK, so I didn't totally hate it here in Maine, as you can see from these shots of Royal River Park, Yarmouth, where I used to walk my late, lamented dog Katie.

But I'm sick of winter already and it's barely begun. After several days of balmy weather, it's snowing in Denver, just in time for my arrival home tomorrow.

NOTICE: I am done with shoveling snow this season; now it's up to the menfolk at home.

Quote for the Day

I'm making my way through one of my stepfather's two copies of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (he also has multiples of Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad, and probably a few others). Here's an ever-fresh tidbit from "A Woman of No Importance":
Mrs. Allonby: They say, Lady Hunstanton, that when good Americans die, they go to Paris.

Lady Hunstanton: Indeed? And when bad Americans die, where do they go to?

Lord Illingworth: Oh, they go to America.

Kelvil: I am afraid you don't appreciate America, Lord Illingworth. It is a very remarkable country, especially considering its youth.

Lord Illingworth: The youth of America is their oldest tradition. It has been going on now for three hundred years. To hear them talk one would imagine they were in their first childhood. As far as civilisation goes they are in their second.

Bella on the March

I took my stepfather to the doctor the other day and passed the time in the waiting room by reading The Notes, the free weekly rag published in Yarmouth, Maine. It was full of the news of the recent passing of 95-year-old founder Ken Larrabee, whose economic views, as columnist Bob Jorgensen fondly recalled, "embraced a philosophy that was somewhere to the Right of Attila the Hun."

But the really important news is that there were ads for:
  1. BELLA By The Falls in Yarmouth, offering "card reading, crystal & integrated energy healings and much more!"
  2. CicciaBella slippers, for sale at Meredith's Stationery & Gifts in Yarmouth.
And in Freeport, I saw a sign for Isabella's Stickey Buns Cafe.

However, I can't say that I'm overjoyed by my name being associated with integrated (or even segregated) energy healings, butt-ugly booties or a typographically challenged coffee shop.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Why I Left Maine V

7:10 a.m.

Wish I could observe Pearl Harbor Day in...oh...Pearl Harbor instead of the aptly named Gray. Maybe I'll just go out for Japanese food; the wasabi will heat me up.

P.S. 11:45 p.m.
I brought my mom some sushi--the perfect antidote to nursing home food. With my Pearl Harbor Day duties done, for my own lunch I had pad thai with a friend from high school days.

Quote for the Day

Oh, nowadays so many conceited people go about Society pretending to be good, that I think it shows rather a sweet and modest disposition to pretend to be bad. Besides, there is this to be said. If you pretend to be good the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.
--Oscar Wilde, "Lady Windermere's Fan."

Wilde could have been writing for the current batch of presidential candidates--or most any candidates, actually. I think The Astounding Stupidity of Optimism is as catchy a title as The Audacity of Hope.

Why I Left Maine IV

8:30 a.m. Heat wave! It was 2°F an hour earlier.

Looking on the bright side, this was the one day I didn't have to worry about the mosquitoes or poison ivy at Scarborough Marsh (below), where I went for a walk so the 'rents could be alone together for the first time in nearly two weeks. BTW, those low rays are from the noon sun.

P.S. It's 2°F outside again; I dread what it's going to be in the morning. Oh, and snow showers are predicted for Friday evening. Sure hope they don't keep me from kicking up my (lug-treaded) heels with friends in Portland.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why I Left Maine III

View from the front door this morning, 15 hours after plowing & 3 inches after shoveling. A lot more of both has been done since.

Current temp in Gray: 20. ARGH.

Current temp in Denver: 68. SOB!

More snow is forecast here for Friday. Sure hope it doesn't:
a) prevent me from leaving, or
b) follow me back home; last year's blizzards are all too fresh in my memory.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Why I Left Maine II

3:15pm yesterday in Scarborough (left) & today in Gray.

I've shoveled my way down the stairs and walked a half-mile through the snow to pick up the mail. My reward: Dark chocolate and cranberry liqueur!

Tomorrow my stepfather's supposed to come home. My reward: Valium!

P.S. It's still snowing, driveway remains unplowed.

Hot Maine Action

Better than TV: the view outside, as painted by Mom.

Ayuh, it shoah is snowin' out thay-uh. Translation: I'm staying in today. I cleverly left my camera in the car, which is down a gazillion steps (did I mention that the 'rents live in the House o' Stairs?) and 50 feet away, so can't take pics of the busy scene just out the window. Instead, above is a watercolor Mom did of it last spring (her paintings are for sale here). The only difference now is that the goldfinches are in their dull winter plumage, and go one at a time inside the feeder to hog it to themselves.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Driving in Circles

The Grand Tour: Gray to Topsham to Scarborough to Portland to Gray.

Mom was transferred to rehab yesterday, after having knee replacement surgery on Wed. She had a list of three facilities she wanted to go to, all between Gray and Portland. None could take her, so she ended up in Scarborough, another 15 minutes further from home.

Meanwhile, my stepfather (age 77) is still in Maine Med in Portland. Monday morning he's having angioplasty and a stent put in a coronary artery. He was thinking that:
1) he's going home on Tuesday.
2) he'd drive the car home after I pick him up at the hospital.

I told him:
1) "We'll see." (His favorite response when I was growing up.)
2) "You've gotta be kidding!"

Also meanwhile, yesterday was Baby Brother's birthday. He recently moved from Gray to Topsham, so I was invited to visit him and family in their new house.

And even more meanwhile, the weather predictors have been trumpeting a forecast of 6 to 12 inches of snow, starting late tonight thru Monday, with more snow showers on Tuesday. To me, snow is God's way of saying, "Stay home!" Which means that I'm going to be sitting tight in Gray on Monday, and maybe Tuesday too. Which means that I had to go see everyone TODAY.

And so this morning, after raking up some of the masses of leaves and pine needles from the parents' parking area (at the end of a 50-yard sand driveway, off a 1/2-mile private sand road), I set off on my rounds. First stop: Topsham, 45 minutes northeast, where we stuffed ourselves at the brunch buffet at the Sea Dog Brewing Co., in an old mill overlooking the swirling Androscoggin River.

Second stop: visit with Mom, an hour southwest. She's also in a lovely location, right next to Scahborough Mahsh (Maine speak for Scarborough Marsh). I left at 3:30 because IT WAS ALREADY GETTING DARK (!!!).

Third stop: visit with stepfather at Maine Med, 15 minutes northeast.

Fourth stop: dinner in Portland with old friend and wild man painter George Lloyd, just 5 minutes from Maine Med. (Everything in Portland is nearby; as I noted during my first visit years ago, it's just like a city, only smaller and cleaner.)

Fifth stop: Hannaford's in Portland, for essentials (Earl Grey tea, lemons, honey, chocolate chips) in case I get snowbound, 3 minutes from George's.

Sixth stop: back to Gray, 30 minutes northwest. The nice lady at the I-95 toll booth told me that the forecast is for 12 to 18 inches of snow. GACK! I lined up the cars at the edge of the parking area so as to make optimal room for Johnny the Snow Plower. Fueled by green tea and a post-dinner venti Peppermint Mocha, I raked up the rest of the pine needles and leaves, and placed three snow shovels (2 big & 1 little, just in case) by the front door.

Let it snow.*

*But let the power stay on.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Why I Left Maine

View outside the kitchen door at 4:53 PM. Note pitch darkness beyond.

I nearly got blown off the road while driving Mom's car to Maine Medical Center today. In Gray, it was 11˚F at 10:00 a.m. The temperature didn't get much above 20˚ in Portland, with winds gusting to 30 mph. Every step outside was a cryogenic dermabrasion session.

My stepfather asked me whether I missed Maine, which made me wonder whether he should be in the mental ward instead of cardiac. My answer: "Not in winter!" And that was before the sun started setting; by 3:30 p.m., it was just clearing the treetops at the horizon. As you can see from the photo above, it was totally dark before 5:00. UGH.

And--oh joy!--here's the WGME weather forecast:
All Eyes On Our Approaching Storm
Our artic [sic!] cold front moved through Friday night ushering in the coldest air of the season so far.... This will be a classic Nor'easter... Expect 6"-12" right at the coast and 8"-14" inland and mountains.... If the storm tracks just a little more to the East we could all see 12"+ of snow.
On the bright side, while rooting around the kitchen, I found a stash of dark chocolate and a four-year-old bottle of Mom's incomparable cranberry liqueur. So if it snows, I'm well stocked.

Pitching Agents IV: Online Resources

For more info and advice on how to pitch your work, see:
For how NOT to pitch, see:

Pitching Agents III: The Slam

A wonderful literary agent offers advice on what to do during a pitch session:
  1. Relax. This is a conversation between two polite, professional adults.
  2. Do your research. Read the Web site and otherwise carefully research any agent you're going to talk to, so you know if they're someone who might even have a chance of being right for you (and vice versa).
  3. LISTEN. After your initial pitch listen carefully to what the agent has to say. Don't argue. You can ignore what you hear later if you want, but for the moment you're getting free consulting from someone who makes a living in publishing, so take advantage of it.
From other agents:
  1. Agents and editors, for the most part, who offer to listen to pitches at a writers conference do so by choice. They want to hear the author’s pitch; they’re looking for, or are open to discovering, a new author and talent. So don’t be shy or scared.
  2. Open up your session with a one-sentence description of your book and its audience. If it's a novel, you could also discuss the arc of the storyline IN GENERAL.
  3. You may be asked for other book ideas you are working on, so be prepared to talk about them.
  4. Whether requested or rejected, use any remaining time for questions. This is really an opportunity for authors to interview agents and find out if it's the right agent for them. Ask about the agent, the agency or general publishing news.
Naturally, the last word goes to Miss Snark:
If an author finds himself trapped in an elevator with me, the only thing I want to hear is, "I've got a bottle of hooch and I want to share."