Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Rogue Elephant

When I heard that Sarah Palin's forthcoming memoir bears the title Going Rogue, I looked up the word "rogue" in the dictionary and immediately wondered if anyone in Palin's camp had bothered to do the same. (Knowing of Ms. Palin's dysfunctional relationship with the English language, I never dreamed that she would personally undertake such research, but surely someone on her staff could have cracked the old Websters.) Here's the listing in its entirety, courtesy of

rogue  [rohg]

1. a dishonest, knavish person; scoundrel.
2. a playfully mischievous person; scamp: The youngest boys are little rogues.
3. a tramp or vagabond.
4. a rogue elephant or other animal of similar disposition.
5. Biology. a usually inferior organism, esp. a plant, varying markedly from the normal.

–verb (used without object)
6. to live or act as a rogue.

–verb (used with object)
7. to cheat.
8. to uproot or destroy (plants, etc., that do not conform to a desired standard).
9. to perform this operation upon: to rogue a field.

10. (of an animal) having an abnormally savage or unpredictable disposition, as a rogue elephant.
11. no longer obedient, belonging, or accepted and hence not controllable or answerable; deviating, renegade: a rogue cop; a rogue union local.

1555–65; appar. short for obs. roger begging vagabond, orig. cant word

1. villain, trickster, swindler, cheat, mountebank, quack.

The specific association of "rogue" with elephants ought to be a rich source of PR opportunities for the Republican Party.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week

Over on Classics Rock! we're marking Banned Books Week 2009 (September 26-October 3) by featuring songs based on frequently challenged books. So far we've had:
"Sneaking Up on Boo Radley" by Bruce Hornsby (To Kill a Mockingbird)

A roundup of songs inspired by Joyce's Ulysses

A roundup of songs inspired by The Catcher in the Rye

"Here Comes That Rainbow Again" by Kris Kristofferson
(The Grapes of Wrath)

"Lord of the Flies" by Iron Maiden (Lord of the Flies)
I have no idea what's going to be featured tomorrow. If you have any ideas, get over to Classics Rock! and submit 'em!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Extreme Embargoing

Publishers with newsworthy books often employ the embargo, a tactic that keeps the book under wraps and away from reviewers, the media, and anyone else in order to preserve its news value. As we saw with Ted Kennedy's True Compass, this is hardly a foolproof technique--the New York Times broke the embargo on the Kennedy memoir almost two weeks before the book's on-sale date. The same has happened with other recent embargoed titles.

Now I've come up with a surefire, 100% guaranteed way to make sure no one will ever break an embargo again. I reveal all in an essay in this week's issue of Publishers Weekly.

And remember: Embargo is not the French word for snails.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol--Just the Italics

"It's buried out there somewhere."

The secret is how to die.

Drink it....You have nothing to fear.


I am just blocks from the White House.


The Temple Room.

The secret is how to die...

The Supreme Worshipful Master.

They will never know my true purpose here.

Throat cut from ear to ear. . . tongue torn out by its root. . . bowels taken out and burned. . . scattered to the four winds of heaven. . . heart plucked out and given to the beasts of the field--

Tonight...something is taking place within these walls that has never before occurred in the history of this brotherhood. Not once, in centuries.

"May this wine I now drink become a deadly poison to me. . . . should I ever knowingly or willfully violate my oath."

My God, they know!

Soon you will lose everything you hold most dear.

Chapter 1
I can't breathe.

I can't breathe. I've got to get out of this box!

Almost there....Just hold on.

The other man I never want to disappoint.

Breathe, Robert...

A taxi stand for the rich and famous.


My uniform?

No chance....Little nooses.


So this is how the other half lives.

No stone left unturned.

A few billion dollars in the bank doesn't hurt either.

Arriving under a veil of secrecy...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dan Brown Phones It In

So I'm reading The Lost Symbol and by Sunday night had gotten all the way to Chapter 3. (Italics always slow me down!) In that chapter, Robert Langdon receives communications from mentor/father figure/plot device Peter Solomon. What struck me is that Peter Solomon's complete phone number appears in the book, not once but twice. And on facing pages. It's not one of those phony '555' numbers they always use in books and movies either. It's 202-329-5746.

Clearly I was being encouraged to call and say hello to Peter Solomon. When I dialed the number Sunday night, I got a recorded greeting--a man's voice saying, "This is Peter Solomon, leave a message," along with a warning that the mailbox was full.

Wow! I thought (in italics). An interactive Dan Brown novel! Hours of fun!

Here's the weird thing. Just now, as I was preparing to post this, I called the number again. The message had changed slightly. Now it says, "Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system." A man's voice says, "Peter Solomon," then the message picks up with " not available. The mailbox is full and can not accept any messages at this time." Peter must be having trouble retrieving his messages since his right hand was chopped off and displayed in the Capitol Building. [Note to self: Be sure to insert a spoiler alert before that last sentence.]

I'm trying to see what's going on here. There's no overt marketing angle that I can see, unless Dan Brown and his publisher are in league with my wireless carrier. I'd like to think it's just that someone has a sense of humor, but I'm too cynical and have been around too many marketing campaigns to believe that. And why did the message change? If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

11:00 am Breaking News: Bestselling Author Sells a Lot of Books!
The New York Times, Reuters, Entertainment Weekly, and media organizations around the world are reporting the astonishing news that Dan Brown's new book The Lost Symbol has sold a lot of copies. TV networks interrupted their regular program schedule with updates on this extraordinary development, and newspapers had to tear out their front page advertisements to accommodate it. The fact that the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, perhaps the bestselling novel of all time, turned out to be a success has been described by one breathless commentator as "the stuff of 80-point headlines." In this segment representatives of several major retail outlets crunch numbers to figure out just how many copies have been sold. First day sales estimates for The Lost Symbol run the gamut from tons to scads, with some industry analysts suggesting that gobs is closer to the mark, and others that it could go as high as a whole slew. Borders reports that it is too early to have specific information, but place the number somewhere between a passel and a heap. Barnes & Noble reports that in the first twenty-four hours they sold umpteen oodles, and Amazon says that when they combine sales of Kindle ebooks with those of the traditional hardcover, they arrive at a figure approaching eleventy-bazillion copies. Brown's publisher has already announced plans to go back to press, with the reprint quantity set at beaucoup shitloads.

3:00 pm Literary Escort
Call girl Ashley Dupre, the "escort" whose shenanigans with luv-gov Eliot Spitzer led to his resignation as governor of New York, vents her frustration at not being able to land a book deal. Dupre concedes that part of the problem may be miscommunication. When publishers talk about escorts, they're usually referring to nice middle-aged women in VWs or hatchbacks who drive authors to interviews with people who haven't read their books. For her part, Dupre admits she may have misunderstood when a publisher insisted on a "blow by blow" account of her activities with Spitzer. She still likes the idea of getting an advance, as she always insisted on payment up front, and vows to continue her efforts to find a publisher for her memoir, It's Been a Business Doing Pleasure With You.

10:00 am Oprah's Book Club Selection
A rebroadcast of Oprah Winfrey announcing her latest book pick. As with her previous selections, it isn't I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

4:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Wee Bernie. The spiritual kin to Little Nell and Tiny Tim, Wee Bernie is a saintly child who dies at a tragically young age when he is force-fed a bed warmer in Martin Chuzzlewit.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Amish Amore
For those seeking an exciting new reading experience, The Wall Street Journal suggests Amish romance novels as just the thing to get your barn raised and set your butter churning. A panel discussion of the genre reveals that, like other romance novels, these books feature hunky cover models, but dressed less like half-naked pirates and more like the guy on the Quaker Oats box--picture Fabio buttoned up to the neck in his "for gut" clothes. Another distinguishing characteristic is that in these romances, bodices are more often mended than ripped. These so-called "bonnet novels" are popular among mainstream readers, but many Amish women admit to reading them under the quilt, indulging in titillating depictions of illicit hand-holding and the provocative use of buggy whips. Some Old Order Amish communities don't approve of the books, however, with many church leaders saying they would flush such literature down the toilet if they had indoor plumbing. The program concludes with a young Amish woman sharing her enthusiasm for the genre, followed by a hidden-camera recording of an authentic Amish ceremony in which she is shunned by her community for appearing on TV.

2:00 pm Down These Mean Streets a Man Must Go...
Copies of the late Ted Kennedy's embargoed memoir True Compass were leaked almost two weeks before the book was to go on sale, resulting in a premature New York Times feature story and review. The New York Observer reports that the publisher, Hachette, has hired a private detective to look into the matter "but would not elaborate on his or her identity or specific objective." Here a panel of mystery editors speculates about what kind of detective a publishing company might hire. Would this P.I. get $50 a day plus expenses? Exercise the little grey cells? Observe and deduce? Or just stay home and tend to the orchids? Opinions vary, but there is agreement regarding the specific steps the detective would follow in pursuing the investigation:

1. Assemble the servants for questioning.
2. Crawl around on the carpet with a magnifying glass.
3. Drop in on the vicar for a cup of tea.
4. Get hit on the head in an alley and black out.
5. Go home and tend to the orchids.
6. Uncover corruption at the highest levels of the book distribution process.
7. Gather all the suspects and reveal the identity of the leaker.

The panelists also unanimously conclude that Thursday Next is the most likely detective for the job--she has by far the most experience in books.

11:00 am How Now Dan Brown?
"Today" Show host Matt Lauer discusses his series of daily clues to locations featured in Dan Brown's forthcoming blockbuster The Lost Symbol, on sale next week. Security surrounding the book has been so tight that even Lauer was only permitted to read a heavily redacted manuscript consisting of just adverbs. He remains tightlipped about plot details, confirming only that a Harris Tweed jacket features prominently in the book. Anticipation for The Lost Symbol has reached a fever pitch in the media and on the Internet, with the hottest speculation devoted to the question of what Tom Hanks's hair will look like in the movie.

2:00 pm James Patterson
The bestselling author discusses his new contract, which calls for him to write no fewer than 17 books over the next three years. During the interview Patterson demonstrates the work habits that enable him to be so prolific, typing on three keyboards simultaneously (one for each hand, and a third that he pecks with his nose) while clutching Sharpie pens in the toes of both feet so he can sign additional book contracts.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Maybe It's the Wind

I recently caught 3:10 to Yuma, the 2007 remake of Elmore Leonard's short story, featuring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale (the first version came out in 1957 and starred Glenn Ford and Van Heflin). In the opening scene of the new version, a family hears noises outside at night, and the wife says, “Maybe it’s the wind.” I'm pretty sure it's the first line in the film.

That rang a bell and sent me flipping through Leonard's 1990 novel Get Shorty. Sure enough, in that book, an actress named Karen Flores is famous for saying almost the identical line in a cheesy horror movie called Grotesque, Part Two. [From Chapter 2 of Get Shorty: The maniac's up on the roof ripping out shingles with his bare hands; inside the house the male lead with all the curly hair stares grimly at the ceiling as Karen, playing the girl, says to him, "Maybe it's only the wind."]

A-ha, I thought. Is this an Elmore Leonard inside joke, or am I just seeing patterns that aren’t there, like those people who see the Virgin in grilled cheese sandwiches? I was the flack on several of Leonard's novels, starting way back with Glitz in 1984, so I decided to drop him a line to see if I was right.

Nope. Apparently I am like those people who see the Virgin in grilled cheese sandwiches. No inside joke, though Leonard did say, "I'm wondering if Maybe It's the Wind is a title. It hints at menace, since you know it isn't the wind." That'll have to wait, however, because at the moment he's at work on his next novel. "I'm now on page 217 and wondering what happens next," he said. "It's No. 44. And I have a TV series coming out next spring on FX, based on a short story, Fire in the Hole. But that isn't the show's title. We're still working on that." Maybe they could call that Maybe It's the Wind.

I told him I'd probably quote him on this blog, a medium he remains suspicious of. "I have a feeling emailers and bloggers are young," he said, presumably excluding me from that characterization. "They often make reckless remarks about things they know nothing about. I'm seeing if I can get through this life without ever touching a computer keyboard." His note was typed on his beloved manual typewriter.