Rudolfo Anaya and Friends

It’s probably a stretch to call this a review but I’ve been a Rudolfo Anaya fan for many years, back to Rio Grande Fall in 1996. PI Sonny Baca is the main character although the rich Spanish culture of the southwest often takes center stage. Sonny first appeared in Zia Summer. I don’t know if these books are still in print; hunt them down and check them out.

Gwenda at Bondgirl has a wonderful post about her secret life as a YA author; she shares the writer’s angst about first drafts, critique groups, rewrites and more rewrites. She’s very eloquent as she ruminates on the private struggle to complete a book.

Booksquare has a link to Elizabeth Spier’s article on the gender gap among prominent bloggers; it’s not specific to literary blogs but addresses male to female ratios in other categories.

I finished reading Drama City by George Pelecanos. It’s a very fast read with a deceptively simple set-up; hopefully I’ll have a review for Friday. I started The Effects of Light by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. This is a debut novel that should do very well; I’m planning to review All This Heavenly Glory by Elizabeth Crane if I ever recover from my fan boy awe of her skills as a writer.

Meanwhile Sam Lipsyte dropped a note to say he enjoyed the review of Home Land last week. At some point in the next few weeks the review will appear on the front page of Backspace; see, you don’t need the Washington Post or the New York Times for book reviews. The paper boy won’t throw your favorite blog into the rose bushes either.

Publishing in Communist China

BEIJING–Book City. Five floors, government owned. Population, 230,000 titles. Mike Meyer reports:

Book City is overwhelming. The din, the eager customers, the slippery stacks of oversized paperbacks — hardcovers are less common — whose covers call out: “I Was an American Police Officer,” “I’m Only Raising You for 18 Years” and “Chinese-Style Divorce.”

After a decade in China, I thought I’d seen it all: murder, jail, aliens, rodeo. But nothing prepared me for its publishing industry, in puberty.

Meyer says the printing and distribution of books is open to private industry in China, but the publishing part of it is solely state-run. That is, the Chinese communists try to reign in all publishing, but are currently tolerating private publishers who operate in something like organized crime rings in order to gain ISBNs for publishing a title.

Library Odor

San Luis Obispo County librarians have officially declared their intention to remove malodorous patrons if the stench is unbearable. Of course, some say this infringes on public rights, but I think those people don’t want to approach judging a person’s lifestyle choices, hang social decency. No doubt, the librarians will employ ample common sense. For instance, if I can’t breathe in your presence and you are not headed for the door, I will ask you to leg it.

A Few Questions to Adam Fawer of Improbable

I’m glad Kevin reviewed Improbable last Wednesday because I have recently emailed author Adam Fawer about becoming a writer. Fawer’s last day job was COO of About.com. I asked him if leaving that position was a big risk.

AF: It depends how you look at it. Financially, yes, I suppose it was. I was making a great living and had good job security. However, I was also spending a lot of my time laying off employees and making budget cuts, which quite frankly, I hated. In the end, I decided I’d rather take a risk and be poor and happy rather than play it safe and be rich and depressed.

After I quit, I told myself I’d start looking for a job if I didn’t have a completed manuscript and an agent within six months. Six months later, I had the former, but not the later, so I started up my job search. However, before I found a new position, I got an agent.

So, at her recommendation, I decided to rewrite my novel. Again, I put myself on a timeline. I decided that if I couldn’t finish it and get it sold within six months then I’d go back to work. At the end of the six months, I had finished it, but my agent hadn’t sold it, so I took a job. Two days later, HarperCollins bought the English rights. That was over a year and a half ago. Since then my agent has sold translation rights to my novel in six other languages.

Phil: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Continue reading

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte

The Friday Review this week features Home Land released by Picador. It’s been sent back for a second printing after the novel had been rejected by two dozen major publishers. Sam Lipsyte’s Odyssey through the travails of book buying as we know it became a story as Sam was lifted from doom on the shoulders on his editors then passed to lit bloggers such as Mark Sarvas, who tracked the novel’s progress up the Amazon charts with a fervor not seen since Dick Clarke called us cats and kittens. Lizzie Skurnick aka Old Hag wrote a marvelous review in the New York Times. Home Land found its footing despite the rocky start.

Years after graduation Lewis Miner, Eastern Valley High, class of ’89 hasn’t gotten much done. Lewis has a thing for leg warmers, a fondness for sloth and a devotion to his version of Catamount Notes, the alumni newsletter. From the novel’s opening page to Lewis’ valedictory near the end Home Land is constructed around the simmering remains of high school politics and the canned prose of the alumni newsletter. Lewis and his friend Gary are as you left them after throwing your cap into the air; these guys never left, they just got older.

Tethered as he is Lewis aka Teabag addresses his Catamounts the way Cicero spoke to the Romans; he begs, he pleads, he scorches the earth. After he reconnects with his nemesis, Principal Fontana, and the leg warmer goddess, Jazz Loretta, Lewis actually realizes his desire to warn his peers of the dangers of achievement. “Don’t confuse the issue. Don’t duck the question. Don’t get preachy with the choir. Don’t mention anything, even in jest, at the airport. Don’t be born into difficult circumstances…don’t struggle with depression, don’t struggle to pay the bills.”

Teabag’s manifesto makes the entire novel worth reading; you may stumble here and there, Catamounts, after all, the main character has been banished from the mall. It would’ve been a travesty if Home Land hadn’t been published. Highly recommended.

Blue Collar Lit

There are many paths to developing an interest in literature, and to take that a step further, becoming a writer. Some jobs lend themsleves to reading and daydreaming provided certain preconditions exist; it’s tough to read while operating a forklift, but easy to daydream as long that big red button on the console can be mashed in with the palm of your hand.

Years ago in lower Manhattan I was employed as a claims investigator. My principal qualification for the job was foot speed; at nineteen I could outrun all the middle aged men in the department in what my supervisor called the ‘five yard dash.’ The five yard dash is what insurance investigators do when the subject of the inquiry threatens you with a heavy object; a guy threw Gravity’s Rainbow at me and I was hooked. For weeks I read this monstrous tome at my desk while typing reports on theft, vandalism, wind driven objects, suspicious fires. My supervisor would stop by and heft the book a few times a day and shake his head. “So, you’re saying this guy…attracts V-2 rockets, is that what you’re saying?”

My supervisor on White Noise. “This guys wants white noise? He should work here.”

Focaults Pendulum “The earth rotates. This is news?”

Valley of the Dolls “Good book. Maybe a great book. Get over to Queens. Somebody burned down a warehouse and we got coverage on the contents; five hundred gross of brassieres. I smell a rat.”

More anon.

Kevin Guilfoyle's Revenge

The NYT has a book review of Kevin Guilfoyle’s novel Cast of Shadows this weekend written by Spin contributor Mark Schone. I don’t know if the men are related by marriage, drinking buddies, or complete strangers, but Schone has nice things to say about Guilfoyle’s novel while acknowledging the subject of cloning to be fair game for literary reservations.

Last week Galley Cat quoted an email from an anonymous source; the courageous emailer ripped Guilfoyle and the novel he rode in on leaving GC to ponder a broader issue; was Guilfoyle’s association with the Morning News bound to lead to a softball review by his editorial peers? GC recuses herself on the grounds she hadn’t read the novel, but it seemed a bit of disservice to Guilfoyle. A casual reading of her column might’ve led readers to believe that she was dissing the guy.

Conspiracy theories aside, Kevin Guilfoyle can balance the unidentified flying snark with a full review in the Times. It takes longer to write a novel than it does to write an email; I think it’s fitting that Guilfoyle got an actual review of his work while the anonymous source is relegated to the bush leagues. Galley Cat could even cover the real story, Guilfoyle’s novel.

Talk it up

Yesterday was World Book Day for the UK and Ireland. No, I don’t know why it isn’t the UK and Ireland Book Day or why it isn’t Book Day in the rest of the world. Stop thinking about it.

This year’s theme was “Spread the Word.” A survey, conducted for The Booksellers Association (I believe), shows that sales are highly influence by personal recommendations. BBC News reports, “Other factors which are said to influence readers’ book choices are the synopsis on the back cover, the jacket design – but much fewer people are swayed by advertising campaigns.” These factors as well as reader faithfulness to an author or “author loyalty” are the meat and potatoes of bookselling.

[Enter The Lit-Blogger, stage right]