Monday, July 30, 2007

Le Plus Ça Change...

I finished reading Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire At Four Mile Creek B&B early Saturday night, so I started poking around among the many old books in the sitting room. I leafed through a couple of 19th century cookbooks, thinking I'd score some good recipes. But cookbooks in those days were written for real cooks, not dummies, so the recipes comprise little more than a list of ingredients and rudimentary directions ("rub the flour with the butter"); one cake recipe even notes that the cook will have to guess how much flour to use. Oven temperatures are only sometimes given, and then just "quick" or "slow"; forget about baking times.

So I soon turned to a pile of novels, the topmost of which was The Virginian by Owen Wister, published by The Macmillan Company in 1902. Not being much of a Western fan, I was only dimly aware of the early 1960s TV series with Lee J. Cobb. Now I see on IMDB that there was a 1946 movie starring Joel McCrea, with the tagline, "The All-Time Best-Selling Love Story of the West... Now On the Screen In Spectacular Technicolor!"

I read the first few pages and the book sure didn't seem like a love story. I assumed that the nameless narrator was a man, yet the movie description begins "Arriving at Medicine Bow, eastern schoolteacher Molly Woods meets two cowboys, irresponsible Steve and the 'Virginian,' who gets off on the wrong foot with her."

Hmm...I think the book may have been changed just a wee bit for the screen; my impression was that it's the narrator who gets off on the wrong foot with the title character. I enjoyed Wister's unvarnished, yet eloquent view of the Old West--which by 1902, he wrote in a prefatory note (from Charleston, SC!), had already vanished:
And yet the horseman is still so near our day that in some chapters of this book, which were published separate at the close of the nineteenth century, the present tense was used. It is true no longer. In those chapters it has been changed, and verbs like "is" and "have" now read "was" and "had." Time has flowed faster than my ink.
However, here's a passage that 21st-century airline passengers will find all too familiar:
My baggage was lost; it had not come on my train; it was adrift somewhere back in the two thousand miles that lay behind me. And by way of comfort, the baggage-man remarked that passengers often got astray from their trunks, but the trunks mostly found them after a while. Having offered me this encouragement, he turned whistling to his affairs and left me planted in the baggage-room at Medicine Bow. I stood deserted among crates and boxes, blankly holding my check, furious and forlorn. I stared out through the door at the sky and the plains; but I did not see the antelope shining among the sage-brush, nor the great sunset light of Wyoming. Annoyance blinded my eyes to all things save my grievance: I saw only a lost trunk. And I was muttering half-aloud: "What a forsaken hole this is!"

Back in the Saddle

Cherokee & me at the end of the trail.

Darling Husband and I went away for the weekend, to the mahvelous Four Mile Creek B&B outside Glenwood Springs. Just up the road is the Sunlight Mountain Ski Area, which has a stable with trail rides. Friday afternoon, I screwed up my courage and told DH I wanted to go for a ride, and asked whether he'd like to go too.

He was: (1) not horrified by my wish; (2) game to go along (he'd ridden maybe three other times in his entire life). My Hero!

So on Saturday morning I heaved myself up onto Cherokee, a dead calm draft-quarter horse cross, and with DH aboard her boyfriend Butler, we went with about 10 other tenderfeet for a leisurely trek up the mountain and back down again.

It was SO wonderful to be on horseback again. I like neck-reining--I used my left hand, as the right one remains partly numb--but I still much prefer an English saddle and stirrups.

Now for more riding...AFTER I buy a super-deluxe helmet, per DH's vehement suggestion. I've had three horse-caused concussions and my poor brain can't take any more.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Enchanting Quotes

I just finished rereading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I keep forgetting the merits of escapism. There's no better antidote to the heat (upper 90s yet again...aargh!) and bad news than a magical story with lots of humor and a happy ending.

What a lovely flash of recognition I got when I came across these two lines, a few pages apart, near the end of the book:
Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain.
--Mr. Weasley to daughter Ginny

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
--Dumbledore to Harry
I remember cracking up with Boy Wonder over the first line when I read a British copy of the book aloud to him nine years ago. As noted in a previous post, the endpapers and back flap have reproductions of letters to JK Rowling from fans young and old. One from a girl "age 7 and a 1/4" says:
I loved Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. My mum loved it so much she would not let dad read any of it to me because she did not want to miss any of it as it was so exciting.
A 9-year-old girl, who read the book with her class, wrote (sic spelling):
I think all the class are enjoying it to but the only thing wrong with it is that you can't put it down.
Now to reread HP3.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

If Only It Were True

Headline on my recent Spam:
You've received an ecard from a Worshipper!
Sadly, I'm fresh out of starry-eyed devotees these days. Life sure is tough.

(And why doesn't "worshiper" correctly have two p's? It should be pronounced "wer-SHY-per.")
Edit: UK spelling is with double p's; US with just one. What gives?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry & Me 2

The Boy Wonder finished Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows in the wee hours this morning and handed it off to me this afternoon. I was all set to read it, but upon discussion with BW, realized that I could barely remember what happened in the preceding books. HP6 is a complete blank; I'd even forgotten who was the eponymous half-blood prince.

BW half-jokingly suggested that I reread the entire series before tackling book 7, as it references characters and events in the previous books. He also warned me that it's not very funny, whereas book 1 is wrily humorous from the very first sentence (he checked).

I thought, why the hell not? So today I gobbled up Harry Potter & the Sorceror's Stone. I have just a few pages to go, which will send me happily off to sleep, and tomorrow I'll start book 2. These are just my speed: it's too hot (near 100 the past few days) for any more "serious" reading and I could use some time in a magic place, with happy endings.

Sure wish I hadn't given away the ARC of HP1 and loaned the hardcover first edition of HP2 way back when. I never got the latter back and they're both worth a tidy sum now. Who knew that Harry Potter would be the biggest thing to ever hit publishing?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Witching Hour

I had to see the Harry Potter phenomenon through to the end, so at 11:40, the Boy Wonder and I toddled up the street to the Tattered Cover, and this is what we saw in the parking lot:

The scene directly inside:
Used to be most of the people waiting in line were preteens; now they're mostly teens and adults. Apparently the audience has been aging along with Harry. Case in point: the Boy Wonder has grown from about 4'6" to 6'4".

Scene on the main floor; most of the people are standing in line (BW is at bottom left with back to camera):

The Tatt's MC at 11:59 p.m.

And they're off! The line zipped along, as it was only for those with prepaid vouchers. People just exchanged a voucher for a book; no money changed hands and the cash registers were silent.

A young wizard waits his turn in line. (Another was trying a disappearing spell on the throngs ahead of him, but it didn't work.)

The Boy Wonder in line, grimacing at the horror of his doting mama not only breathing the same air as he and his nearby friends, but having the temerity to snap his picture.

And so to bed--with LOOK ME IN THE EYE, not HP7, which BW has in a death grip.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

Quick, what's wrong with these pictures?

Left: "Famous Author" Jennifer Solow. Right: Shomi authors Marianne Mancusi & Liz Maverick at last weekend's Romance Writers of America convention.

1) Too much glare on Solow's gloves and wig. She needs more makeup on her eyes; liner would really make them "pop."
2) Mancusi & Maverick's outfits are wildly inappropriate and an insult to the romance genre, its authors and readers. How dare they dress so scandalously--especially in Dallas?

There's a huge flap (more accurately, a tempest in the RWA teapot) over M&M, which I first read about on "No Such Thing as Bad Publicity?" over at PubRants. I left this comment:
I wouldn't have known those were "costumes" if Kristin hadn't mentioned it. They look like normal clothes to me--maybe a bit flashy for some tastes, but nowhere near some of the trashy outfits with plunging cleavage I saw at BEA when it was in LA. And those outfits were on regular folks.

If a costume helps you promote your book, why not wear it? Especially if you look good in it, as Liz and Marianne do. (We should all wear a miniskirt and thigh-highs so well!)

Nonfiction writer Eleanor Herman's been going in costume for years, to great effect. Novelist Mary Sharratt, inspired by Eleanor, has been doing it for her last novel, THE VANISHING POINT. Audiences eat that stuff up!
The controversy is raging over at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels. I took a peek at the comments yesterday, but bailed after maybe the 10th one. There are nearly 400 now. [Edit: That was so 4 hours ago; as of 5:15pm MDT there are more than 500.)

Today GalleyCat weighed in with A Glimpse of Stocking Scandalizes Romance Writers, Fans. (Nice tip 'o the hat to Cole Porter: "In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. Now heaven knows, anything goes!") 'Cat Ron Hogan noted: "even Nora Roberts declared the two women 'inappropriately attired... as writers in a public, media-attended event.'"

I just have two words for Roberts et al: PUH LEEZE.

Here are three more: GET A GRIP!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry and Me

Nine years ago, I was a regular reviewer of young adult fiction for Publishers Weekly. In spring, I received a galley of a YA novel fresh from the U.K. The book had me completely enthralled; I couldn't put it down. I vividly remember sitting in the brown wool club chair in my office, thinking, This is the best thing I've read since Mary Poppins.

The book was Harry Potter & the Sorceror's Stone. My starred review ran in July 1998, the first in the U.S. It began:
Readers are in for a delightful romp with this award-winning debut from England that dances in the footsteps of P.L. Travers and Roald Dahl.
I was thrilled when the second half of the sentence made it as a pull-quote. (I just Googled it: 387 hits!)

That summer, I drove from VA with the Boy Wonder (then 9) and dog Jenny to northeastern PA, land of BW's birth. We stayed with my friend Mary, whose children were 4, 6, 9 and 12. I brought along the galley of Harry Potter, and on the last day told the kids that I had a magical new book. Who wanted to hear it? They all assembled around me--except for the 12-year-old, who declared that he was "too old" to listen to stories.

As I read, the children crept closer and closer. By the end of the first chapter, they were huddled right by me--even the 12-year-old--their eyes wide, their mouths little O's of astonishment. I read until my voice gave out; the kids howled with disappointment when I stopped. I had to promise to send the galley to Mary once BW had finished it.

Next day in the car, BW, who was on fire to find out what would happen to Harry Potter, volunteered to read the rest of the book aloud (he didn't inherit my motion sickness). So for 9 hours that's just what he did--though after awhile we agreed that he should give up on giving Hagrid the same accent that I did (I'm good at Britspeak). I think he finished reading just before we pulled into our driveway. It was the best road trip ever.

Once home, BW looked up Harry Potter on Amazon and posted his enthusiastic review, in the course of which he found out that the sequel was already out in England. Mary's mother, who lives in London, was going to be staying with her soon. So I pleaded with Mary to ask her mother to bring over the second book and then mail it to me. Deal!

A few weeks later, we received a copy of the UK edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which I duly read to BW. (It has the most adorable endpapers: copies of letters to JK Rowling from schoolchildren praising the first book.) The following spring I was assigned by PW to review the book, so I read it again. My review, again starred and the first in the U.S., ran in June 1999. Here are the first and last sentences:
Fans who have been anxiously awaiting the return of young British wizard Harry Potter (and whose clamor caused the Stateside publication date to be moved up three months) will be amazed afresh, and new readers will likely join Harry's delighted legion of followers, for this tale is even more inventive and exciting than its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone....Rowling might be a Hogwarts graduate herself, for her ability to create such an engaging, imaginative, funny and, above all, heart-poundingly suspenseful yarn is nothing short of magical.
I wasn't assigned to review Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but with BW's pleas ringing in my ears, I got PW to send me an extra galley. We brought it with us on vacation to Chincoteague, and every spare moment we were inside (there were many; it was a rainy week), BW shoved it at me with the command, "READ!" So I did. I think I read the entire book aloud in just three days; that was the most TV-free beach vacation ever.

By the time the fourth HP book came out, I was no longer writing for PW, and so couldn't snag an extra galley. Though BW did suggest--several times--that I could perhaps just, you know, ask. I couldn't and didn't, so we joined the screaming mob for the Harry Potter midnight party at the Charlottesville Barnes & Noble. What a scene! Kids were literally jumping up and down in excitement, some of them while perched atop their fathers' shoulders. No way BW had the patience for me to read the book to him; he was going to gobble it up all by himself. Fine by me; I didn't relish reading any more doorstops aloud. (I have great empathy for Jim Dale and Stephen Fry.) But being the Mean Mom, I forbade BW from staying up all night to finish the book, so he spent all of Saturday reading it in bed. (I have a picture somewhere of him in his jammies, HP in front of his face propped up on the comforter.)

Book Five came out when we were at the beach. I'd called ahead to reserve a copy at the one little bookstore in Chincoteague. The guy who took the call seemed bemused that anyone would want to do that for a kids' book. We showed up to buy it as the store opened Saturday morning. Two people had been there already, but there was no one behind us. Again, the guy was scratching his head over all the fuss. (More proof--as if any was needed--that Chincoteague is The Resort That Time Forgot.)

For Book Six, I didn't even bother to think about attempting to get into the Charlottesville B&N party. BW got dropped off there and was #200-odd in line. Sometime after midnight, I hung around outside, viewing the insane crush inside and thinking NFW would I want to be in there. BW stayed up reading till some ungodly hour, then finished the book by 9pm Saturday.

And now for Book Seven.

I feel that I should mark the close of the Harry Potter Era in some way. It's not only the end of the series, but also the end of BW's boyhood, as he turned 18 in May. I live just a few doors down from the Tattered Cover, which is putting on a big bash, so I suppose I'll go over when BW does. Of course he preordered a copy, and I'm sure will stay up most of the night to read it (maybe Sunday night too), which means I'll get a crack at it by Monday. No problem; I can wait to say goodbye.

Contests on Two Coasts

Ever-prolific author Warren Adler (War of the Roses, etc.) is sponsoring his second annual short story contest. The theme is New York City:

Born-and-bred, out-of-towner, tourist for a day, or just longing and dreaming to visit, you’ve got a story about New York, some moment or snapshot you feel evokes this mad, exciting city and the fascinating people at its core.

Maybe you’ve already written it and have it buried deep in your desk drawer or in the bowels of your hard drive. Or maybe it’s still bouncing around your head, waiting for that chance bolt to strike you.

Try telling it in no more than 2,500 words and you might share it with the world.

There's a $15 dollar entry fee; deadline is January 15, 2008. Full info here.

Way out West, AbeBooks is sponsoring a Steinbeck Festival Contest. The winner receives two weekend passports ($300 value) and two nights' accommodation at the Steinbeck Festival (Aug. 2-5) in the Salinas Valley. Don't delay--enter today!

A Mighty Hungarian Heart

My first tomato of the, millennium... a Hungarian Heart.

I've been growing tomatoes (or trying to) for most of my adult life. I started by planting seeds in a window box in my 6th floor tenement walkup in NYC one spring. I got my first stunted little tomato in December. I didn't know the flowers needed to be pollinated; I suppose some house flies eventually did the job.

A few years later I was living in the wilds of northeastern Pennsylvania and running a seasonal plant nursery. My tomato plants grew lushly, but I got very few fruits due to (take your pick) not enough rain, too much rain or early frost.

From PA I moved to Maine, and I knew better than to bother with growing tomatoes there. But then I moved to Virginia. Tomato Central! Over the course of several summers, I spent well over $300 on tomato plants, cages, stakes, fertilizer, compost, etc. But my yard was overhung by many shade trees, most notably oak and hickory. So the spots that were sunny in late March, when I optimistically planted my garden, were in shade by June.

Thanks to the oak and hickory, my yard was also Squirrel Central. And squirrels, I soon learned, have a nasty habit of waiting till a tomato is almost ripe and taking just one bite out of it, rendering it useless except as compost. I thought I'd lick the shade and squirrel problem by planting tomatoes in tubs on the sunny patio right behind the house. The plants did much better, but the squirrels marauded just as much. I ultimately got just two edible tomatoes; amortized out, they made the $4.99/lb ones at Whole Foods look like a bargain.

I gave up on growing tomatoes, but for my last two summers in VA we still ended up with pounds and pounds of them (blackberries too) fresh from the garden. Just not from my garden. I used to walk Jenny in and around a community garden by some woods not far from my home. There was one old guy who grew blackberries on his plot, and another who grew scores of tomato plants. But by midsummer, the guys would stop coming around and the fruits would be rotting on the vine. So I started carrying a large bag (or two) when I walked the dog.

Now I'm in Denver, on a narrow, sun-blasted city lot. I've planted several trees, but it will be a long time till they can sustain any squirrels. Though our yard here is maybe 1/5 the size of the one in VA, Jenny spends a lot more time outside because it's completely fenced in. The few neighboring squirrels stopped coming by thanks to her and the ever-vigilant Max, who spends most of his time outside (though right now he's splayed out on my desk for his afternoon snooze).

So with high hopes, this spring I planted five tomato plants--three heirloom varieties from the Denver Botanic Gardens and two from Home Depot. They're in full sunshine and planted near the back porch, so they get lots of attention. (To be honest, there's only about 30 feet directly behind the back porch, so in fact most of the backyard is near it.)

I was--and continue to be--inordinately thrilled that our tomato plants have actual tomatoes on them. WITH NO BITE MARKS! The very first one that ripened (see pic above) is a rambunctious heirloom variety called Hungarian Heart, which is already exploding out of its 4' cage. Its fruit sure looks like a real heart; we made lots of heart jokes as I cut into it at dinner last night. It tasted great: sweet, juicy, no acidy aftertaste. Can't wait for the others!

Monday, July 16, 2007

What's the Story?

New Yorkers of a certain age will recall the local TV ads for short-lived electronics store JGE, starring a pudgy guy with a heavy Brooklyn accent, which began, "Hey Jerry, what's the story?" I must have watched a lot of TV, because after nearly 35 years I can still recite most of Jerry's spiel verbatim.

Thing is, every product needs a "story." This includes books. (They're a product too; get over it.) It's not enough to tell the world that you've written a good book and people should read it. You have to have a story, beyond the one told in your book, that will reel people in.

Seth Godin recently wrote on his blog:
The art of marketing is not finding more money to do more marketing. It's figuring out how to tell a story that spreads with the resources you've got.
Jeffrey Goldsmith, advertising veteran and publisher of Caffeine Society, told attendees at one of my workshops to do something he said is common in the ad world, but which blew us all away:
Write the newspaper headline you'd like to see, then create an event to generate that headline.
Say you've written a novel about a woman whose life changes via tango lessons and you have a reading scheduled at your local bookstore. There's nothing very newsworthy or interesting to anyone beyond your nearest and dearest in the headline, "Mary C. Green, author of TWO TO TANGO, to read at The Book Nook."

But how about this headline: "Roll back the carpet! Tango passion sweeps The Book Nook." Same author, same bookstore. But instead of a plain vanilla reading and Q&A, Mary gives a brief talk about tango and how it swept her--and her heroine--away, followed by a demonstration by local tanguistas, and perhaps even a quick lesson for the audience. All with background tango music, of course; and maybe some tango CDs for sale too.

Setting up the tango event won't cost much money (tanguistas are always happy to show off), though of course it will take a lot more preparation than a regular reading. But it probably will attract a much bigger audience, as well as get the word out that Mary and her book are fun. And because Mary is smart, she will have gotten the local tango society to announce the event in their newsletter and/or on their website, and she will have sent out a postcard mailing to everyone on their list. So all the tanguistas will be there along with Mary's crowd, plus people lured in by headline #2. With any luck, the local paper--and maybe even the TV "happy news" team--will cover the event too. And of course Mary will send pix and a write-up of the event to GalleyCat and other literary and tango blogs--plus her editor and publicist--and post same on her website.

Quoting Jerry, "That's the STAW-REE!"

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Liberté, égalité, felicité

Those were the words on the wedding cake when Darling Husband and I were married in Maine on Bastille Day 11 years ago today. The day before had been stinking hot, followed by torrential rains--the edge of hurricane Bertha. A friend got onto one of the last flights out of DC, but my eldest half-sister, Mikele, never made it out of Florida. Too bad, because as DH reminded me this morning, our getting married was her idea. I was all set to live in sin with DH, but Mikele (who's a year older than my mother) told me that we should get married for the Boy Wonder's sake. It seemed like a good idea at the time...and it still is.

Some Enchanted Evening
DH and I were going to celebrate for two nights. (Hey, why not? The only vacation we're taking is a weekend near Glenwood Springs at the end of the month.) So last night we went out for a romantic dinner at the Indian restaurant I discovered during my post-dental walk on Thursday (see post below), Bombay Clay Oven. On the way there, I realized that I hadn't told BW where we'd be, then remembered that I was carrying my cell phone--and there'd be no reason to call us anyway.

Just as we were about to scrape up the dregs of the sauces from our fantabulous meal--the best Indian food either of us has had outside of London--my cell phone rang. What the...?

"Yes, dear," I said drolly. His voice panicky, BW told me that the toilet had overflowed in the downstairs bathroom, water was all over the floor and dripping into the basement. What should he do? I told him where to find old towels to mop up, and said we'd be home soon. SIGH. But we still polished our plates before we left.

Once home, we determined that the overflow was clear water from the tank (whew!) and that the leak was only through the hole around a heating pipe. I called Kevin the plumber, who came by this morning and fixed the problem. No extra charge for a Saturday call, as he lives nearby and we've paid him many thousands of dollars in the past year to redo the heating and plumbing in our "remodeled" house.

This afternoon, DH and I took Jenny for a walk in a gully along Cherry Creek, where nearly everyone lets their dogs run free. We stood in the shade under a tree by a waterfall while Jenny enjoyed her favorite activity: barking at the water, making splashes and biting them. We were all peaceably enjoying ourselves (if you discount the incessant barking), when all of a sudden, a policeman came scampering down from the bike path up above. He gave us a citation for having a dog offleash--never mind that he was the only other person there and she was just standing in the middle of the creek. The fine was $50, which we didn't think was so bad until DH read the fine print on the citation: another $10 for a "bureaucratic fee" (as if the $50 doesn't go to the bureaucracy), plus $20 for a "victim assistance fee." What victims--the bacteria in the water, the sparrows frightened off by Jenny's barking? Next time I'm taking her where the creek can't be seen from the path.

Some Enchanted Evening II
DH and I were going to continue the anniversary festivities by grazing at various establishments downtown, but it looked like rain (which blew over yet again...damn!) and I was tired. Plus--and I know this is neurotic, but I've had a lot of bad luck lately--I was afraid that something bad would happen, as bad things happen in threes. (Never mind that I've had way more than 3 bad things happen to me.) So we did the next best, and way cheaper, thing: ate Popeye's chicken at home, along with a fresh green salad I made as a healthy counterbalance. Then DH and I watched a DVD "rockumentary" (so-called, but with no nod to Spinal Tap) of Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds" concerts in London, during the latter part of which I brushed Jenny. Good vibrations, and nothing bad happened--at least not to me. But while we were watching, two squad cars blocked our street and police arrested a guy in a pickup truck two houses away. This kind of thing never happened in our quiet little cul-de-sac in Charlottesville.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


This morning I was supposed to get knocked out in order to have a crown put on my top right front tooth (#8, in dental parlance). It and its two neighbors to the right got banged up last year thanks to Gomez the horse, and all required root canals. Since then, #8 died and turned a lovely shade of shirt-cardboard gray; hence the crown.

Only after nearly 13 months the tooth is still sore, which isn't supposed to happen. Likewise, my broken nose and arm aren't supposed to hurt anymore, but they do too. (People keep sending me goodwill messages, "I hope you heal quickly!" I thank them for their kind wishes, but tell them it's way too late for "quick.") The dentist never got my message last week that I needed to talk with him, so we had a belated conversation after I'd been anxiously waiting in the knock-out chair for 10 minutes. Result: I have to go back to the endodontist to take another look at #8 before I get the crown.

So I was turned loose at 8:45, a good mile from home, carless and hungry. I could have called a cab or gotten my friend Paula to give me a ride, as she was going to pick me up after the surgery anyway. Instead I decided to walk--it's cloudy and blissfully cooler today--and am I ever glad I did.

The way home lay through the leafy and boutiquey Cherry Creek North shopping area, so my first stop was at Peet's Coffee, where I had a mocha and an apricot hammentash. (Yeah, I know it's a Purim treat, but I'm glad to be living in a place where hammentashen are readily available. There were rugelach too.) I finished off the mocha while strolling and came across an Indian restaurant, Bombay Clay Oven, that I didn't even know was there. (So much for online searching!) Wish I'd known about it yesterday, when I met Paula for lunch elsewhere. Next time.

I hadn't really walked around CCN since last year (I'm not much of a boutique shopper) and I usually avoid it when driving, so I saw everything with fresh eyes. Since most of the stores weren't open yet, I had the sidewalks pretty much to myself and could window shop at my own pace. I sighed longingly over the cunning shoes--many of them on sale!--artfully displayed in one window. A waste of time and breath, though, as my feet are size 12-1/2. (I mostly wear men's shoes.) But a girl can dream...

I deliberately walked up a street I'd never driven on, and saw many houses and gardens to engage my interest. I'm sure that one little cinder-block cottage in a big yard is due to be a tear-down sooner or later. It's surrounded by big, fancy architected houses; the developers must be licking their chops. I imagine the owners as an elderly couple that's been there since the house was built (in the 1950s, judging by its style). I hope they hold out for a long time.

Things I learned while walking around:
  • There's going to be an outdoor screening of "Raiders of the Lost Arc"--apparently about daredevil mathematicians--at Fillmore Plaza next week.
  • A new Denver health ordinance prohibits any canines except guide dogs on restaurant patios, per a sign on the door at Peet's. After reading it, I petted two Westies and stepped around a golden retriever that were tethered to their masters' chairs on the sidewalk patio. Then I walked around dogs on the patios at two other coffeehouses. So much for the health department. (Why is a regular dog--but not a guide dog--on an outside patio a public health hazard anyway? I'm sure a guide dog has no fewer germs than any other dog.)
  • The free swim schedule at the Congress Park pool, which I keep forgetting about. It's just a few blocks away and is only $3 a pop for adults. My tax dollars at work! Might as well take advantage.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"I Hate My Book Cover!" 7

From Deborah Grosvenor, Grosvenor Literary Agency:

I always get involved when there is a jacket issue. This can be an emotional issue for writers. They want to be proud of the book they are holding up with their name on it. As one editor once said to me, a bad jacket for an author is like a blemish that appears on a teenager's chin right before the prom. No one else notices, but it's all that they can think of.

I find that the most effective way to get a jacket changed is for me to convey an author's heartfelt objections to the publisher in a reasonable way. In most instances, the publisher will respond with some form of change. In one case, however, we'd reached a complete impasse, with the publisher refusing to change their preferred jacket in any way, and my client refusing to be associated with the book if they moved forward with their jacket. It finally took a meeting between me and the editor-in-chief and publisher to present my client's case, as well as my client expressing his obvious distress directly to the editor, to get them to change the jacket.

So, yes, authors should always feel they can call on their agent to intervene when there is a serious jacket issue.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"I Hate My Book Cover!" 6

From Rosalie Siegel, International Literary Agent, Inc.:

The author should involve the agent when she is unhappy about cover art.

First and foremost, agents put a clause in every contract that gives the author, if not approval of the jacket design, consultation. So if there are problems in this regard, they are not only a matter of taste, they can become contractual issues.

Authors care more about the cover of their book than publishers sometimes realize. The most difficult situations I've encountered in thirty years of agenting have to do with persuading publishers to meet authors' requests for a different jacket.

I suggest to all my authors going into the publishing process that in the event they have an idea for their jacket--or possible illustration in mind, or in their top drawer, that they would like to see on the jacket--it should be taken up with the editor very quickly, at least by the time the manuscript is delivered. Worst-case scenarios are when an author loathes a jacket and the publisher has to go to print. This must all be discussed in a timely fashion.

Recently I find that publishers are intent on pleasing their sales reps for the chains. We sometimes hear that a particular cover design must be used to please the marketing people, or the stores.*

The important factor is the author. The book is the author's baby. It must be clothed in a manner that is pleasing to the author as well as the publisher and his sales reps. Agents are authors' advocates; so yes indeed, I get very involved in advocating for my authors when it comes to jacket art.

The late Laurie Colwin chose the cover art for her novels. She was deeply devoted and thankful to her publisher for this privilege. She often mentioned to me how much it meant to her to be able to do this.

It usually is not the publishing entity whose feathers are ruffled when an author doesn't like her cover, but rather the specific art director or "marketing" person who is behind the sample offered to the author.

One of my worst experiences was with a first novelist, who loved the sample cover she was shown. I loved it also. It was sheer perfection. Right before going to press, the art department realised that they had not cleared permission to use the artwork on the cover, and they took it off, and went with other artwork that was truly insipid. This was a catastrophe--to go from such a gorgeous jacket to such a mediocre one because nobody had thought to obtain permission for the illustration on the jacket. Since the art department had come up with this cover, it never crossed my mind that they hadn't cleared permission to use this exquisite drawing.

An author should involve her agent with a problem with the cover, because our function is to be problem solvers, and to negotiate tricky situations. From long experience I know how deeply authors feel about their jackets, and how they hate it when they feel the cover misrepresents them and what the book is all about. An agent will do her diplomatic best to get a cover changed for an author.

*The stories you've heard about "She Who Must Be Obeyed" at B&N are true. --Bella

"I Hate My Book Cover!" 5

From Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary Management:

When an editor sends the author their initial cover ideas, the editor usually writes some variant of, "We love it, and hope you do, too!" Quite often, though--I'd say about 90 percent of the time--the author doesn't love the cover, so here's how I ask my authors to handle things:

1. DON'T PANIC. Start by sending back a warm response to the editor (no matter how much you hate the cover), à la "Thanks so much for sending this - I'll get back to you shortly about it."

2. Sit down and carefully, systematically, identify what the problems are. Make a list of all of these issues. When you do that, you’ll often see that there are not as many problems as you first thought--that by switching the color from, say, puce to blue, everything falls into place. These could be any (or all) of the following:

a) Font: A lot of times it boils down to the author liking the cover but disliking the font that's used for the title, or the author's name, or the endorsements, etc.

b) Colors: Colors that are jarring, or detract from the message of the book, or seem somehow inappropriate, or are downright ugly.

c) Organization: Too much going on, not enough going on, title overshadowing the visual elements, or title too small; and so forth.

d) Specific elements: A stock photograph that doesn’t fit the message of the book, or too large, or too small; or odd graphics; or any number of specific components that set your teeth on edge.

3. Now that you’ve identified the problems, make a list of things that you liked about the cover (even if it’s only that they spelled your name correctly).

4. Contact me (i.e., your agent) with a list of your concerns, and incorporate my feedback into your list. (But please note that I tend to be a bit more hands-on than many agents; if your agent really isn’t involved in the process, you may have to work this out without him/her.) Do the same with your friends, colleagues, and whomever else’s opinion you trust.

5. Go to your local bricks-and-mortar bookstore. (Really; make an effort to go to a real bookstore, not Amazon or Physical book covers look different from virtual ones, and you want to spend some time and get this right.) Go to the section where your book will go, and study the covers of the already-published books.

a) Personal preferences: Determine what elements do work for you, personally, on those covers. Go through that list again in Step #3 and isolate the various elements on other covers that do work. Write them down.

b) Bestseller elements: Take a step back (always trying to stay within your genre, if at all possible) and look at the bestsellers. Do any of them have common elements?

d) Stay grounded. One thing I often see, with first-time authors, is that they want a full-cover photo of themselves on the front cover. “But look,” they’ll tell me, “Dr. Phil’s mug is plastered on his book, and Jane Fonda’s on hers!” Be realistic; recognize that face recognition is an important element to selling, for example, celebrity-driven books, but if your book isn’t celebrity driven, then it’s a different kettle of fish. If you don’t have comparable face recognition with the public, having your face plastered on the front of the book can actually be a turn-off to some readers.

6. Write a letter to your agent (or, if your agent isn’t involved in this process, I guess to your editor) along the following lines:

a) Opening:
Dear agent/editor:Tthanks so much for sending the cover. I really like it--please thank the art department for all their hard work! I have a couple of minor concerns (or minor tweaks, or whatever) that I was hoping they could address.
The trick here is to be grateful, completely nice, absolutely nonthreatening, and complimentary of the art department (no matter what you think of what they handed you). Downplay all of your concerns, no matter how many or how prevalent they are. Also, no matter how many people you’ve shown the cover to and who agree with you, keep it personal-- keep it to “I.” Don’t say, "I’ve shown the cover to my book club group / my entire town / everyone at Walmart, and all of us agree that this is the most revolting, inane, and morally reprehensible book cover in the history of the world."

b) Praise: Start out by listing, briefly, the stuff that does work for you (see Step #3). "But I want to start by saying that I really loved their use of vomit green on all the characters’ faces. It was arresting and bold, and really conveyed my hatred for the human race in general."

c) Problems: Here’s where you go in, as softly and as gently as possible (and, finally, this is your chance to use all those qualifiers that Strunk & White told you that you were never supposed to use as a writer: “a little”, “somewhat”, “slightly”, etc.), to list your concerns. Try to keep this section as short, clear, and nonjudgmental as possible. "However, I’m wondering if having all the human faces be that shade of green may be a little off-putting for some readers. I also was a little concerned that having the hearts dotting all of the i’s may send the wrong message to a few people, since this is a male-oriented, action-adventure novel."

d) Solutions: Keep in mind that the art department tends to think visually. If you just talk at them, you may be doomed. Here’s where all your hard work in the bookstore will pay off. "I was looking at some book covers the other day, and I noticed that most of the ones that really seemed to work all had characters with flesh-tinted faces – for example, XXX and YYY." Provide a few examples--even give links to the cover, or perhaps (but this is dicier) paste in a jpeg of the cover itself.

e) Conclusion: A warm ending, again repeating how much you appreciate all the time and thought that’s gone into the book cover.

7. Have your agent forward your letter to the editor, with a cover letter of his/her own. If your agent’s busy or not involved, of course, you may have to send this yourself. But I really like to be involved with this, and I think it helps the author’s case if the agent agrees with the author. (If your agent doesn’t agree with you, s/he’ll probably tell you, and that may be food for thought, as well.)

8. You may have to repeat this process several times; in each case don’t get frustrated, shrill, hysterical, or defensive. Be warm, lavish with praise (no matter how undeserving), and decide which battles are worth fighting and which are worth capitulating.

When should--and shouldn't--an author involve the agent with editorial or publicity problems?
When I sell a book, I sit down with the author and tell them that I suggest that they cc me with all their correspondence to/from the publishing house. I may not respond, but that way I can monitor what’s going on, and head off any potential concerns before they become bigger issues. (I realize that a lot--if not most--agents don’t work this way, so this is something that an author really needs to establish, very quickly, with the agent.)

So the long-and-short answer, for me, is that I want to be involved with any potential editorial or publicity issues way before any of the parties knows that there are even any issues, so I can help smooth things out for everyone. But again, I know a lot of other agents don’t work this way, so I’m afraid that I’m probably the wrong guy to answer this question. [Actually, he's the right guy!]

"I Hate My Book Cover!" 4

From Simon Lipskar of Writers House:
It is simply part of the agent's job to work with the publisher and author in order to publish the book in the best conceivable way. A strong and effective cover is one of the most important parts of this process, so choosing not to involve your agent if you're unhappy with a proposed cover is literally insane.

My answer to problems with the cover, with editorial, with publicity, with anything else to do with the publisher: Call your agent, call your agent, call your agent.

Monday, July 09, 2007

"I Hate My Book Cover!" 3

From another agent:
In my own experience, I've found most editors to be open to the thoughts of writers on such matters. My suggestion is that the writer view the proposed cover and offer input (which we always make contractual). If the author is running up against a brick wall and feels strongly that a change is necessary but not forthcoming, THEN the next step is to involve the agent.

"I Hate My Book Cover!" 2

From agents who requested anonymity (#3 is my favorite, for obvious reasons):
  1. Authors lean on their agents differently. Some are by nature more self-sufficient than others. Different agents have different parameters. That said, I like to be in the loop as much as possible, both to keep tabs when things are going splendidly and to help course-correct as early as possible when there's a threat of author unhappiness--I'm there for the troubleshooting and for the celebrating. I hate having to catch up after a relationship starts to turn sour. I represent the author but don't automatically side with the author. If I agree with the publisher I do my best to argue the publisher's case. If I agree with the author, I'll argue on the author's behalf as energetically as possible, hoping in the end to maintain and manage overall harmony and a successful publication. I'd hope if an author wants the agent to be involved, the agent would step in. This applies to editorial or design disagreements.

  2. Usually, an editor will send the cover/jacket design to the author and agent at the same time. I will await the author's response before coming in with any opinion of my own. You can negotiate for cover/jacket consultation for the author in the Agreement with the publisher. Most publishers will not grant an author cover/jacket approval. There are exceptions, of course, for major authors.

    I think an author should involve her agent in any dispute with the publisher regarding cover/jacket design, publicity, or editorial issues, etc. That's the agent's job, really. The author should remain above those issues with the publisher. You want the author/editor/publishing house relationship to be a happy and healthy one. It's the agent's job to advocate on her client's behalf. It's okay if the publisher takes issue with the agent, not so much if the publisher takes issue with the author.

    Also, it's important to remember that sometimes the publisher knows best. They're the ones selling the book. They may think their cover works--and works well. So, it's always good to remember that. Authors are generally not cover designers.

  3. C'mon, you know the answer to that: Authors should always ask their agents if they have any question or problem with their publisher. It's our job to work with our clients throughout the process, not just to sell a proposal or manuscript.

    Who the f&#% cares about "ruffling feathers" at the publishing house? If the cover sucks, an author and his or her agent should do whatever it takes to get it improved.

"I Hate My Book Cover!"

I was talking to an author recently, who confessed that she strongly dislikes the jacket art for her first novel that's coming out next year.

I asked, "Did you talk to your agent about it?"

"No," she said. "I didn't want to bother her." Instead, she's negotiating with her editor for a new design, but the prognosis doesn't look good.

This is a common situation, especially for first-time authors, and I've been asked several times how best to resolve it. I usually tell people to talk to their agents. However, in the case of one new author with a small press, I researched cover designs and stock photos, and the publisher ultimately gave her a glorious new cover that she loves.

Still, the issue has been weighing on my mind, so I emailed several agents, asking:
  • What do you think: Should an author get the agent involved when there are problems with the book jacket? And if so, how to do it without ruffling feathers at the publishing house?

  • When should--and shouldn't--an author involve the agent with editorial or publicity problems?
Proving once again that Great Minds Think Alike, agent Kristin Nelson shot back that she had just written a blog post on this very topic, Public Service Message Take Two:
When you receive the brand-spanking new cover art and you hate it, don’t go with your first impulse of wanting to pick up the phone to call your editor. Trust me, an author’s worst moment is seeing cover art they hate and this is not the time to have a conversation with your editor when emotions are running high. Don’t do it. Call your agent instead. We are trained to handle it.
Julie Hill wrote:
I urge my clients to at least ask every question that arises, preferably by email so I can think on it a bit. If I do not think I can be of help, I refer them to their editor or publicist--if a new book, the inhouse publicist too.

NOTE: I'll always go to bat if it is something I really can contribute to the task at hand. A few more phone calls toward a happy author is always worth it. A bad cover, for example, is a huge issue for everyone concerned.
Bad covers = bad sales.
I'll post more responses as I get them.