Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Man Who?

This whole episode with South Carolina governor Mark Sanford disappearing for days kept ringing a bell for me. I think I finally figured out why.

A character in one of the Fletch mysteries by the late Gregory McDonald--the 1983 novel Fletch and the Man Who--engages in similar behavior. Caxton Wheeler, the governor of an unnamed state, is in the middle of a heated campaign to lock up his party's nomination for the presidency. [Seems to me I'd heard Sanford's name mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.] Governor Wheeler has a history of disappearing, regularly, for days at a time. His wife, his family, his staff--no one knows where he goes, except for Flash Grasselli, his trusted driver-valet. Flash is dedicated to The Man Who and as tightlipped as they come. There are rumors of booze, of drugs, of women, but since no one really knows anything, nothing gets reported. As it turns out, there is another woman--sort of. "They think he's with some woman," Flash tells Fletch. "In a way, maybe he is." Before Wheeler was married, he had a relationship with a woman who died young. She owned a remote cabin that they used to enjoy together, which she left to him in her will. So when the pressure started getting to him--three or four times a year--Wheeler would summon Flash and sneak off to the cabin. And what did he do there? Sleep--sometimes for 16 hours at a time. Sleep and read mystery novels. After a few days, he'd tell Flash it was time to go back.

Differences between Governor Mark Sanford and Governor Caxton Wheeler:
-Wheeler didn't lie to anybody about where he was going; he just never explained.
-Wheeler didn't break his marriage vows.

Similarity between Governor Mark Sanford and Governor Caxton Wheeler:
-By the end of Fletch and the Man Who, Caxton Wheeler has no chance of ever being elected president of the United States. Neither does Mark Sanford.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

With a Good Speed-Reading Course, You Could Probably Cut That Time in Half

I'm taken with this story from the Book Bench blog at the New Yorker about a guy who wrote a book that will take 1,000 years to read. I hope he's got a good copy editor--he'll feel pretty stupid if, 600 years from now, they find a typo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back Flacking

I have resumed my book flacking activities, part of the time anyway. I'm working on a freelance basis for Planned Television Arts, known as PTA, a division of Ruder Finn. They've been around for years and are one of the leading book publicity firms. I worked with them often when I was on the publishing side of the business, so I knew what I was getting into. They're a great bunch of people and very accommodating: I'm doing a lot of it from home, with some time in the PTA offices in New York. We'll see how it works out for everyone involved, and where it might lead.

I've alerted many of my media contacts that I'll soon be hitting them up again for author interviews and such. They thought they were rid of me heh heh, so the collective groans and muttered expletives that greeted my news were quite impressive. (Actually, the response has been very gracious and encouraging.)

Meanwhile, having been away from it for four or five months now, I can tell you unequivocally and without fear of contradiction that commuting really sucks, even once or twice a week. Particularly worthy of note are the exquisitely excruciating twists NJ Transit injects into the experience. How do they come up with that stuff?

Friday, June 19, 2009

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

10:00 am: J.K. Rowling
Discussing the origins of her popular novels, Rowling reveals that the Harry Potter books were inspired by Satan, and that through them she plans to seduce the world's children to witchcraft and sorcery and usher in Armageddon and the thousand-year reign of the Antichrist as foretold in the Book of Revelation. She also discloses that her next book will be about cute little bunnies.

11:00 am Ian McEwan
McEwan discusses his difficulties coming up with book titles, and admits that his novel Saturday probably should have been called Thursday. He also reveals that his 1998 novel Amsterdam was supposed to be called Rotterdam ("I always get those two mixed up," he says).

2:00 pm: Roundtable
Naomi Wolf, Tom Wolfe, Paul Wolfowitz, and Wolf Blitzer discuss Fox in Socks.

4:00 pm: Roundtable
Michael J. Fox, Vivica A. Fox, Jeff Foxworthy and Fox Butterfield discuss Beowulf.

6:00 pm: Roundtable
Dee Dee Myer, Yo-Yo Ma, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Boutros Boutros Ghali yadda yadda about Absalom, Absalom!

8:00 pm: The State of American Publishing
Authors Nevada Barr, Richard Florida, Gary Indiana, and J. California Cooper compete in skeet shooting, track & field events, and Greco-Roman wrestling to determine who will claim this coveted title.

10:00 am Malcolm Gladwell
The author of Blink discusses his work-in-progress, Trim, about why some people never seem to get a haircut even though they really really need one.

11:00 am Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Seditious Peatbog, the tragic caterer from Great Expectations, who waits decades for Miss Havisham to pay for her wedding reception until finally he rots in his chair.

2:00 pm The Selling of the Classics
Scholars discuss how product placements found their way into classic works of literature. Topics include Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Dumas's Three Musketeers, and repeated references to Starbuck's in Moby-Dick.

6:00 pm Antiquarian Bookseller
Rare book dealer Seymour Glib recounts his lifelong love affair with books and the many pleasures it brought him, until his wife found out. Glib describes romantic weekends in Tahoe with a Gutenberg Bible, long walks on the beach with a Shakespeare First Folio, and acts of intimacy performed in motel rooms with the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Bloomsday

Today is Bloomsday, a day to celebrate James Joyce's novel Ulysses and its protagonist, Leopold Bloom. The entire story takes place on June 16th, 1904. Bloomsday is typically celebrated with public readings of the novel and a tremendous amount of drinking.

I must have mash-ups on the mind, but I'd like to publish an edition of Ulysses that injects all the monsters and nymphs and sorceresses from The Odyssey into the novel--not metaphorically, but literally. It would be great to suddenly have a giant cyclops striding down O'Connell Street, gobbling up Dubliners by the handful. Ideally this would occur in Episode Four, just as Leopold Bloom is defecating in the outhouse, which would put our hero at a particular disadvantage. Wouldn't this be a great mash-up? Wouldn't this generate a terrific lawsuit?

Meanwhile, in honor of Bloomsday, I've posted a list of songs relating to Joyce and Ulysses over on Classics Rock! It's already been featured in the publishing industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, tweeted by Ron Charles of The Washington Post, and Facebooked by Deirdre Donahue of USA Today. Happy Bloomsday!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Snatcher in the Rye

Here's how I'm going to make my fortune: I'm writing an unauthorized sequel to John David California's unauthorized sequel to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. My book will turn the Holden Caulfield series into a trilogy! It's what the kids nowadays are calling a mash-up, combining characters from The Catcher in the Rye with plot elements from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I'm calling it The Snatcher in the Rye.

The plot: Holden Caulfield has finally realized his dream of working in a big field of rye where children are playing. His job is to catch them before they fall off a nearby cliff. It doesn't pay much, but since there aren't a lot of employment opportunities of this sort, Holden considers himself lucky to have it.

One morning Holden notices that overnight, crop circles have appeared in the field of rye. He soon learns that these elaborate designs are a message from an alien race! They come from a planet almost exactly like earth, except on their planet they don't have to dial '1' when making a long-distance call. Turns out these aliens do all their writing in crops. A field of grain is their preferred medium for writing and information storage, and they have long since run out of room on their own planet, even with abridgements. They picked up an old radio broadcast from earth that mentioned "amber waves of grain," and have come looking for something to write on.

Holden tries to convince the authorities that the crop circles are an advance warning of a secret alien invasion. No one will listen to him, mostly because they can't understand why anyone would give advance warning of an invasion if it's supposed to be a secret. Holden is further hampered in his efforts by the fact that he's about 103 years old. Even kindly Dr. Miles Bennell won't listen because he's too busy hitting on Becky Driscoll.

Back at the crop field, Holden finds strange seed pods growing amidst the rye. They soon turn into exact duplicates of the children, who are then replaced by their emotionless alien doppelgangers.

The story ends with Holden running into traffic in the middle of the Interstate screaming, "They're phonies! All of them! Can't you see? They're all a bunch of goddam phonies!"

Lawsuits welcome.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Catcher in the Rye Got Caught

I'm pleased to report that the list of Catcher in the Rye-related songs posted on my Classics Rock! site last Friday drew some attention. Gloria McDonough-Taub at CNBC featured it in the Bullish on Books blog on the network's web site, and gave it a shout-out on Twitter as well. Ron Charles at the Washington Post also tweeted about it. And Deirdre Donahue of USA Today posted it on Facebook.

I guess it pays to have two blogs. Perhaps I should start a third....

Friday, June 5, 2009

Phony Baloney on Rye

J.D. Salinger has emerged from self-imposed obscurity to sue everyone involved in publishing 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, an unauthorized sequel to his classic The Catcher in the Rye. Can you imagine how that filing reads?

"With regard to the following:
The book;
The author;
The author's pseudonym;
The agent;
The publisher;
The editor;
The copyeditor;
The distributor;
The guy who did the cover art
the Plaintiff contends that they're all a bunch of goddam phonies."

Over on my other blog, Classics Rock!, I've got a roundup of songs that reference The Catcher in the Rye (by Green Day, Guns N' Roses, and many others) that somehow dodged the Salinger litigation bullet.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No Argument Here

William Scheckel, who shared a Fox & Friends segment with me a couple of months ago, is working on a book. I don't mean he's squinting at someone else's turgid prose, struggling to get to the end of a chapter before he nods off. I mean he's writing a book of his own.

He's done a lot of writing in the course of his marketing career, and much of it has been published--unfortunately, under other people's names. Now he's finished with secret identities. He's taking a stab at writing his own book, using his own name, from scratch. And he's decided to make that process transparent by chronicling his progress in a blog called Writing in the Sun. The name has a double meaning: Metaphorically it shows that he's putting this writing adventure out there for everyone to see; literally it means that he's writing the book and the blog from "a comfortable deck chair on our sunny welcome-mat of a front yard." It'll be interesting to see if he changes the name of the blog when he moves indoors next fall.

Apparently the book is about arguing. I'll be checking back to learn additional details as he reveals more in future posts. I hope you'll check it out too, because I encouraged him in this venture (see his first post) and if it doesn't work out, I'm going to hear from him. I'd really rather not get caught up in an argument with a guy who's writing a book about arguing. Next thing you know I'll be a case study. Good luck, William!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Book: The Sequel

Perseus Books pulled off an amazing feat at BEA over the weekend. Last week I posted about their "Book: The Sequel" promotion, in which readers were invited to submit the first line of an imagined sequel to a famous book. The deadline was last Thursday, and over the next 48 hours they edited, designed, and published a collection of the best submissions.

Book: The Sequel is available for pre-order on Amazon and other online retailers, and will be in bookstores June 15th. A preview of the book is available online, and they're still accepting submissions for the web site.

I'm happy to say at least one of my submissions made it to the finished book:

The President was pleased with his new education bill, in which students with good grades would be swept to Heaven in The Rapture, while poor performers would be kept back to repeat a grade and suffer eternal damnation.
--from No Child Left Behind (sequel to Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins)

Incidentally, all proceeds from this book benefit The National Book Foundation.