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Sunday, June 26, 2005

She'd Be Great on TV

First, an image

And now, the paper of record

She'd Be Great on TV
by Rachel Donadio, The New York Times
. . . Chast perfectly captures the grotesquerie of today's publishing circus, in which writers -- and certainly publishers -- are grateful for anything that helps a reader hear that one small voice in the cacophony of the zillion-square-foot megastore. . . Hence jacket photos of writers looking as sexy as possible... Little, Brown has been promoting Elizabeth Kostova's Dracula thriller, ''The Historian,'' like crazy; in her author photo, she reclines languidly, a knowing glint in her eye . . .

* * * * * * * * * * *

An entertainment

The State of Things, circa 2005

Media maven: So what's the name of this woman you were telling me about?

Marketer: George. Interesting?

MM: Hmm. Maybe. Get some male readers. Camera-friendly?

Marketer: Well . . . Henry says that "She is magnificently ugly--deliciously hideous . . . in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end as I ended, in falling in love with her."

MM: Henry? That bald, nattering, a-sexual fellow? The Anglophobe?

Marketer: Phile. Anglophile. He's quite good, you know. And so is George. Geniuses, the pair of them.

MM: But ugly. Not just a little bit ugly. Magnificently ugly. Hey--maybe we could do something with that.

Marketer: You think so?

MM: Nah. Lemme see the picture.


& a final thought

George Eliot is among the foremost writers of her time. In spite of her gender, her looks, and her eccentric beliefs, she earned a prominent place within the Victorian literary canon.

Corey Mesler, Quixote in Memphis

Some years ago Corey Mesler wrote an interesting review of The Wolf Pit, and I have kept up with his pursuits since in my fitful mother-of-3 way. Corey is curious in his own right, in part because he pursues impossible windmills--that is, nigh-impossible in the current state of publishing and bookselling.

Corey's Windmills:

1. He and his wife own an independent bookstore of considerable note and history and have managed to keep the doors open despite the slings and assaults of all that is non-independent.

2. He writes poetry. (I know, I know. Yes, I write poetry--but I haven't accomplished 1, 3, or 4, although like every other innocent ninny in the world, I think it would be "fun" to have a bookshop!)

3. He has written a novel entirely in dialogue.

4. He has put the word "pandiculating" into a poem: (Last time I saw a picture, he had neither hat nor glasses...)

One of these would be notable; four is entirely against the grain of the American Way, circa 2005.

Here's his bio:

Corey Mesler's poetry and prose have been published in Paumanok Review, Poet Lore, Rattle, Dicey Brown, Cranky, Re)verb, StorySouth, Arkansas Review, Turnrow, Rhino, and others, and in a number of anthologies. He is the author of four chapbooks, the most recent of which, The Heart is Open, is due from Mayapple Press later this year. One of his short stories was chosen for the 2002 edition of New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, edited by Shannon Ravenel. His novel-in-dialogue, Talk, was published by Livingston Press in 2002, and received rave reviews from Lee Smith, Robert Olen Butler, and Frederick Barthelme. His next novel, We are Billion-Year-Old Carbon, is also from Livingston Press. He and his wife own Burke’s Book Store, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores.

Fantastic, dark and light--

Personal Lovecraftian health meter measure is at level 3:

Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.

Lesson learned: Never, never chaperone adorable small schoolchildren in the rain, especially if they haven't properly washed the bad little viruses and bacterial parties off their wee sticky hands. What is tiny can get you!

*** *** ***

The editor of Argosy (a must-be-discerning man who has published one of my novellas and will soon publish another), James A. Owen, has a sweet-sounding deal with Simon & Schuster:

I'm thrilled to report that David Gale, the Vice President and Editorial Director of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, has purchased my forthcoming illustrated novel HERE BE DRAGONS, (and optioned a sequel) for a very substantial sum. The deal includes World Rights, which, given S&S's success with Tony and Holly's SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES (among many others) was a no-brainer.We're not saying anything about the story itself except for what was said in the Publisher's Lunch Current Deals: that it's a period fantasy set in London during World War I. I'll also be painting the cover, as well as providing two-dozen full-page pen and ink illustrations in what has become known as my 'signature style' (translation: many, many pen lines). The first book is scheduled for publication on Simon & Schuster's Fall 2006 list.For information on current and upcoming work by James A. Owen, please go to

To see samples of that "signature style" from Obscuro, go to Apocatastasis:

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Gap in the Palace, with Lions

Aporia . . . I think George Puttenham defines that as a literary device called "the gap" in The Art of English Poesy (1589, or thereabouts.) The lovely Art is one of many desirable books in 25 boxes of books jettisoned between New York and North Carolina, many moves ago.

After chaperoning small children last week and being caught in two rains at various pleasure spots and in one flat-out downburst at the Fun Park (while driving a miniature two-seater race car with a pleasantly rotund, hungry, red-haired boy named Toby, too short to drive alone), I caught the big bad crud or the flu or something. Something evil, like the black goo that chases Howl in Miyazaki's new film, a loose interpretation of Howl's Moving Castle. Which I hear is not very accurate as to the book and needs to be either more true or less true. Nevertheless, I must see it, because I am a fan of Diana Wynne Jones' books and Miyazaki's movies, and my daughter adores the book.

The only thing that has caught my attention in this Time of Flu & Goo was the AP wire story about the little Ethiopian girl kidnapped by seven men and "saved" by lions who stood around her and then vanished in the forest "like a wish." Now voices of reason are saying that really the lions who saved her were probably about to devour her. . . However, it's just a little too Daniel-in-the-lions'-den to reason away: luminous and mythic, rather than ordinary. Not that being eaten by lions is ordinary, exactly.

It occurs to me that my agent is on safari right now, somewhere in Africa.

It's a big place.

More anon.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Overheard in New York: dialogue

I have a certain fascination with the perfectly ridiculous, xx-rated, and wonderfully horrible site, Overheard in New York. This is what American dialogue outside the box/book is really like.

One can find absurdities that relate to one's own concerns, such as (in my case) book sales or the lack thereof. This exchange puts mid-list marketing into perspective:

Russian woman: She's doing very well. Her book is doing well. She's already sold a lot of books.
American woman: That's great! That must be so exciting! Russian woman: Yes, she has already sold ten or twenty, I think.
--Union Square
Overheard by: Diana

Now why can't I adopt that attitude?

And you know, my publisher is at Union Square. Could be relevant.

Or you can find stimulating anecdotes about totemic animals like (in my case) chickens:

Man: That guy's got a chicken! Hey man, don't hurt the animals! He's gonna burn the chicken!
--Tompkins Square Park
Overheard by Alex Romanovich

This site reminds me of living next to the park in Albany, hard by the psychiatric center. Often I had to contend with mentally ill Yanks who wanted to admire, touch, or hold my precious children.

One day I realized that a man sprawled in the gutter was ogling my belly. You gonna have a boy, he pronounced in sonorous, positively oracular tones, waving his bottle in judgment. I'm always right.

He was right, as it happened.

Or this, at my local Price Chopper, semi-affectionately known in the neighborhood as the Ghetto Chopper:

Elderly man, peering over my shoulder: Some big f-ing breasts on these chickens.
Me, tickled: Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it?
E. b. m.: I get your drift, sister, I get your drift . . .

I liked the Ghetto Chopper because sometimes they had fresh okra. Small pods, too. Expensive, but who cared? You take what you can get when you're a foreigner.

Another time I was pushing a double baby carriage in the park when a bloodshot man, about 6'4", raced up to me: Do you know the way to route 9? he blurted out, maximum urgency lacing his voice. I checked to make sure the babies were battened down, moved to shield the carriage with my 5'3" body, and told him that no, I didn't. I did, of course, but I didn't want to get into it. Leaning down, the mad witless spit flying from his mouth, he began, I'll tell you how to get there . . .

There were plenty more, making confessions, weird or funny or plain old sad: Marly among the mad, mad Yanks.

What we need is a Southern site, with some overheard local color with possums and yard dogs and porch chickens and bottle trees and some everyday, down home testifying. Maybe a few crazies of our own, like Cooney, who afflicted my childhood. Get some dadgum balance into this thing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Strange Horizons: long ago and far away

Strange Horizons just picked up reprint rights to Tall Jorinda, a mythical story about a giant girl, set in my home stomping ground of the Carolina mountains. The naturalist William Bartram makes a cameo appearance, though he doesn't give his name, and I don't think many people have ever noticed.

Long ago I won the New Writers Award from Capitol: The Magazine of New York’s Capitol Region with Tall Jorinda. And was feted with a nice fat check that I needed and a reading at The Shaker Museum in Old Chatham and a lovely party--all hosted by editor-in-chief/publisher Dardis McNamee.

It was a sultry-hot July at the museum, and I was nine months pregnant. The first of three children was born not so many days after...

In all, we lived for four years in our tiny one-bedroom basement apartment. By the time we left, the bedroom contained a nightstand, a double bed, a crib, and a bassinet. At night, I liked waking and hearing the light breathing of babies, though we had to crawl down to the southwest corner of the bed to get out of the room.

Good times...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Self-publishing: Granny Tales

I went to school with Carrie Gates, who is an oral storyteller and a true child of the mountains and, in particular, the Little Canada community near Cullowhee, North Carolina. When she and I were girls, Little Canada was quite cut off from the remainder of the world by weather and bad roads. Carrie is one of the funniest people I know. Last summer, Linda Kinnear and I laughed our way through a seminar with Carrie at The North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Learning. Carrie remembered horrible and hilarious things about me and others that I had long ago jettisoned; I can't wait to see her again at this year's seminar. If this book is one-tenth as meaningful and enjoyable as being in her presence, it's a winner and proof that self-publishing can work.

Carrie wrote me this morning, and here's a clip from her letter: "I was bored with not having dissertation writing I could do over Christmas and early spring, although I did do my written comps and passed those, so I gathered up part of my collection of stories, polished them and published them. A small book of local mountain stories, Granny Tales: North Carolina Mountain Tales, I’ll include the info on the book. I’m going to give the seminar group info on self-publishing because it’s cheap and easy and a great way to introduce publishing to classes. I think I’ll ask every one up front to do a story during the week which we can make into a book. I’m figuring that into the budget, and since my director asked that we include that info in the seminar, I’m making sure we do! But I’m proud of doing the book, and have plans for future efforts."

Title: Granny Stories: North Carolina Mountain Tales
Author: Carmaletta Harris Gates
Category: Literature & Fiction Biographies & Memoirs History
Price: $ 7.95
Size: 5.5 x 8.5
Number of Pages: 124
ISBN Number: 0-9765676-0-1
Publication Date: April 2005

About this Book:

The mountains of western North Carolina are home to a vast array of plants, wildlife, and unforgettable people. This collection of local stories presents some of the mystery and awe inspired by the mountains and lives of those who lived in them. Life was hard and the people who survived had a rough life. Yet they found time to appreciate the humor of their every day existence. Carmaletta Gates, a local mountain story-teller, shares some of her favorite stories, gathered from the mountains and the people she loves within this book. Painters are sleek, brown panthers who scream in the dark of night, and create terror in the listeners. Snakes steal the very life from sickly children who cannot resist their charm. A local railroad tunnel echoes with the moans and screams of forgotten convicts who gave their lives so that the railroad could move forward towards the west. Farmers rely on clever animals to help provide meat for the table. Come and meet these long-ago pilgrims who bravely battled the elements and sometimes each other to survive deep in the western North Carolina Mountains.

About the Author:

Carmaletta Harris Gates is a storyteller from the mountains of Western North Carolina. A product of the mountains herself, she shares her heritage and culture with both readers and listeners. A first generation college graduate, she appreciates the innate intelligence and courage of her ancestors. She tells stories in her local area, and shares her storytelling skills with teachers across the state of North Carolina.

Book Review:

"I love it, every word. Carrie captured the oral tradition so well in her stories. It's all so natural. I want to steal all her paragraphs and put them in a novel. I wanted to thank her for doing this book, but it's kind of like thanking her for her life, though, isn't it? The stories just grab the reader, and then, dang, keep them reading the next one". Randy Russell, author of Mountain Ghost Stories and Ghost Dogs of the South.

Order/Contact Info:

This book can be ordered from:
Bradley's General Store
PO Box 459, 52 Front Street Dillsboro, NC 28725
Cost is $7.95 (retail) plus tax and shipping,
(shipping should be around $2.00 to most of the US).
Call or email for quote and indicate whether the book should be autographed.
Also call for wholesale and volume terms.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Rats in the Slush Pile: on randomness in publishing and marketing

I’ve been reading Eric Mayer’s responses to Michael Allen’s lengthy essay, On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile. While I was morbidly fascinated by Rats itself, my opinion is that first-rate work tends to be noticed. If agented, it’s often noticed immediately by publishers who hire smart, discerning editors (another boggy phrase). But as an editor peers into a category that’s a bit lower, choosing becomes more difficult. The world is awash in competent and well-written books. Shall it be apples or oranges? Does it make any difference which book or apple one picks if they’re all of comparable caliber?

Even at the ‘very best’ houses, an editor will admit that some books are lesser but “fill out” the list. The choice of those books is, to some degree, random. This isn’t so much because editorial taste is random but because it doesn’t make that much difference which book one picks out of a pool of relatively equal books. People who edit magazines often have a harder time choosing the final third of the contents from a heap of manuscripts; the first third was obvious, the second third fairly clear.

Of course, much that is ephemeral and rides the spirit of the moment is chosen and praised. That’s a given. And there's a certain randomness and luck there. Moments flee by quickly.

Where I believe randomness comes into play most fully is in how a book sells after it is published. Nothing can entirely make up for a publisher not pushing a book, no matter how good it is. And most books don’t get pushed. Almost all books depend on the ARC and the review copy. Will some of them be noticed anyway? Will great reviews even make any difference? Will the author’s kicking and struggling for notice do anything other than distract from the next book to be written? Will Lady Luck run her fingers along the spine and open the book to the title page and begin to read? All that’s in the realm of the random.

Much randomness is due to the material whirl of our times: a sort of kaleidoscopic confusion. The nineteenth century believed that taste was a subject matter that could be mastered. We, on the other hand, often rejoice and revel in bad taste and promote the sheerest trash. That everybody knows it to be so doesn’t make the reader’s effort to find a good book any easier. (On the other hand, a well-written commercial book is better than a tedious high-falutin' one, so there is trash and there is trash.)

As for publishing stories and poems in magazines, I think much randomness is eliminated by careful choice of venue. Hurling things out the door may result in some sales, but picking thoughtfully is key. Key, that is, once the story is as good as it can be. I’ve been guilty of thinking a story or poem done and deciding later that it needed to be expanded or made over or deposited for quick mulching in the nearest landfill…

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Luck, "Northwest Passages," the Templeton storm, & chickens


Just after I opened my letter saying that "An Incident at Agate Beach" ("Argosy Quarterly" 3) was being picked up for the Northwest Passages anthology, an indigo-colored storm blew out of the west and flashed through Templeton in a hither-and-thither tornado-like pattern. Took me straight back to waking up in Carrboro (the former mill town attached to Chapel Hill) on the morning after Hurricane Fran, except that the houses here are historic and the fallen trees here are not pines but maples and oaks and hemlocks. And it was pleasing to get power back this morning rather than in excess of two weeks.

The Foote House has lost its overhangs, and the main ridge has broken apart. Across the street a big maple lies overthrown in the Christ Church graveyard. It has flattened one of the ancient cherries that make such a lovely spring alley up to the church that Fenimore Cooper renovated in the Gothic manner and, it seems, to his own self-satisfaction. The fallen canopy intimately embraces the old gravestones but doesn't appear to have broken any, so far as I can tell. Another tree drags on the lines outside the Tudor-style rectory.

An enormous fir from the grounds at Riverbrink, built on the old hanging grounds with the bricks of Cooper's Otsego Hall, hovers-- perfectly horizontal--twenty feet above the road. But the house and gardens and Chinese pavillion are safe. Riverbrink stands just slantwise across the street from Lakelands, perhaps the most beautiful house in the village. It has lost, it appears, five ancient trees, and a leafy canopy tops the porch. That house has always seemed magical with its perfect federal center-hall proportions, its porch, its setting; I walk by and see the lake through the front door. Everywhere one looks--the Clark houses, the Clark Center, the village streets--the heads of trees are at their feet.

The van was our only home casualty. A major limb off the ash tree shattered the (almost brand new) windshield into a baggy glass net. It smacked down right by the driver's side door, and yes, I was very glad that I'd paused and been staring out the kitchen windows instead of rushing out before things got any worse. It was the hour of child-ferrying...

My daughter has always said that the ash tree is lucky for us, despite the fact that it hurls brickbats in high winds, and once tore down the utility lines.

And in some secret, roundabout way, I do feel very lucky and blessed.


The first reason--minor compared to what came after--I felt lucky yesterday was in having a story accepted by Northwest Passages: A Cascadian Odyssey. That's because the letter claims that editor and writer Cris DiMarco read 1,035 stories before he made his final selection. He received more than a thousand tales about a narrowly-defined subject. The fact that I had one that "fit" was sheer coincidence. Were the other 1,034 also coincidence? That suggests an astounding number of stories floating about the world. Just 1,035 is a bit sobering. In fact, daunting. That it's daunting to me is why I am not an anthologist. The book will be launched at Cascadia Con in Seattle. I've never been to a Con and don't entirely grasp what goes on, but I like the rabid enthusiasm of con-goers.

3. Best chicken quote of the day

Right after the power swept in and set the lights and radio going, I caught this on NPR Morning Edition:

"Chicken waste has made northwest Arkansas what it is today."

4. Best woe-in-publishing discussion of the day

"Choice overload," at The Reading Experience.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

"Ingledove" reviewed as "crossover"

Despite a dire case of post-picnic drowsiness, I'm glad to see a brand new review of Ingledove. "YA titles include very good books" is a dual review of Ingledove and Lance Marcum's The Cottonmouth Club by Greg Langley, Books Editor of "The Baton Rouge Advocate." He writes that "one of publishing houses that has jumped into the battle for YA readers is Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and two recent publications -- both with Louisiana ties -- are fine examples of how this kind of book can transcend the YA classification."

I'm always glad to be in a Louisiana paper--especially The Baton Rouge Advocate--because I remember my years in Gramercy and Baton Rouge as a golden time of magic, wonder, and fishing. To leave was to be cast out of Eden.

Here's a clip that compares the landscape and its inhabitants to Tolkien but says that it's distinctive:

What follows is a wonderful fantasy tale that can only be compared to J.R.R. Tolkien's work. In fact there is a wizard -- the Witchmaster --who leads a quest into a cave under a mountain and there is a monster stalking the heroes as well as little people and fairies. Don't assume, however, that because of the plot similarities to The Hobbit and Tolkien's other works that Youman's book is derivative in either plot or setting. This is very much an Appalachian book, and Youmans' poetic writing style is certainly her own.

And here's a summing-up clip:

In Youmans' capable hands, the story progresses and Ingledove grows with each challenge she meets. It's a character-drive tale with a strong plot filled with danger and threats but also with great beauty. Ingledove is a book that will delight and enthrall both young adults and adults who are young at heart.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Against blogging; about writing

All the things you can talk about in anyone’s work are the things that are least important. It’s like the ballet. You can describe the externals of a performance—everything, in fact, but what really constituted its core. Explaining something makes it go away, so to speak; what’s important is left after you have explained everything else. Ideally, if anything were any good, it would be indescribable.

--from Edward Gorey, Ascending Peculiarity

That's already in My Commonplace Book, but I've been quoting from it all week. You have to love a man who went to the ballet wearing white tennies with his big fat fur coat. I suppose Gashlycrumb is the father of Lemony Snicket, but I wish Gorey Himself could still be with us, scritching away at his cross-hatched pictures.

* * * *

Reminders to myself about writing:

1. Don't talk about unfinished work.

2. Remember how a simple and utterly beautiful thing like "The Song of Wandering Aengus" can put to shame all the lesser words said or read around it.

3. Don't be clever.

4. Unlearn, unknit, unstitch what they told you in school, until the well-made straitjacket goes back to its source and is a billowing field of Georgia cotton, with a mule and plough on the horizon.

5. For advice to writers, there's not much better than Auden's instructions at the end of "In Memory of W. B. Yeats." That will serve, in the dark and in the desert.

6. Keep that good news secret a little longer!

7. Read the story out loud before you fire it into the universe. Let the ear be the final arbiter.

8. Mutter, lots.

9. Cast out the demons of marketing before you sit down at the library table.

10. Don't write about "what you know."

11. You know nothing.

12. Chase joy, life, gusto--