Sunday, April 10, 2011

Soup and Salad: An Author's Pre-Tour Tour, Steinbeck Stretches the Truth, Alan Heathcock Sings Away the Pain, Tax Tips From David Foster Wallace, A Different Kind of Book Proposal, Movie News, Siobhan Fallon's What-Not-To-Do Book Tour, Covers & Blurbs, Karen Russell Picks Favorites

On today's menu:

1.  At Shelf Awareness, Sara Gran writes about the The Pre-Tour Author Tour, in which she visited bookstores in advance of the publication of her forthcoming novel, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead.  For three days, Gran writes, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sent her on the road to schmooze with booksellers in New York and New England:
The idea was to introduce me to the booksellers, talk with them about the book, and to let them know that we appreciate the hard work they do not only my books, but all HMH titles....Booksellers who had already read Claire had intelligent questions, and those who hadn't seemed ready to pick it up next. I'd love to attribute the response to my writing talent (and I'm not modest, I like my book!), but as we all know, brilliant books come out every day that fall through the cracks.  Unfortunately, brilliant no longer cuts it. Best idea of the trip: taking booksellers out for nice meals (or bringing such to them). I remember what it's like to work in a bookstore: it's tough, sweaty work moving those boxes around, and to have a lunch or dinner where you get to talk about books instead of moving them is a treat I know I would have appreciated. Everyone was relaxed and we got to speak in a less formal, more fun setting.
I say that's a brilliant marketing idea and proves that the need for authors bonding with merchants has never been greater.  Nothing can beat the enthusiasm of a bookseller pressing your novel into the hands of a shopper who's just asked, "Can you recommend a good book?"  And Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead certainly looks like a good one (blog readers may remember I briefly spotlighted it in an earlier edition of Front Porch Books.)

2.  John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley may not be entirely.... truthful, reports The New York Times.
All told Mr. Steigerwald estimates that Steinbeck spent no more than a couple of nights in the camper itself, and says, “Virtually nothing he wrote in ‘Charley’ about where he slept and whom he met on his dash across America can be trusted.”
Really?  A novelist stretching the truth?  I'm shocked!  Shocked!

3.  At New West, Jenny Shank has an outstanding interview with Alan Heathcock (Volt) who talks about taking readers out of their comfort zone, walking the fine line between subtlety and obscurity, and how movies--especially those of Roy Rogers--have impacted him as a writer.
NW: Roy Rogers comes up in a couple of stories--"Smoke" and "Fort Apaches"--what do you think he represents to the characters in your stories?
AH:  Roy Rogers is kind of the quintessential American man, in that he gets into a scrapes in just about every episode of his TV series, and yet also sings lovely ballads. For me, it represents the duality of the man who is called upon to fight, to destroy, and then must soothe himself, alone—in this case on a horse and riding the range. Yet Roy is so far from reality. Some of the fistfights on his show are brutal, actors flying over tables, windows breaking. And yet there is never any blood. Never. Why? Because that’s what we all want to believe—that you can fight, can destroy, without there being blood. I have a great fondness for Roy Rogers while at the same time understanding the damage that kind lie can produce. We can’t sing away the pain once the punch is thrown. This is a point my books hits upon again and again. Volt is basically an episode of Roy Rogers, just with the blood on-screen, and without the singing away of pain.  [read more...]

 4.  From beyond the grave, David Foster Wallace offers these tax tips as gleaned from his posthumous novel The Pale King by the folks at GalleyCat.  Here are some of the audit "triggers" found in the novel:
1. “Who’s got unusually high charitable deductions compared to averages for his income level?”
2. “Who’s in a largely cash business?”
3. “Who’s getting divorced? … divorces tend to generate unusally high net revenue from audits.”
4. “[L]ook for large dips in income or spikes in deductions.”
On one level, The Pale King is about the day-to-day operations at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Ill.*  As with every DFW book, the novel has many levels.  I'm just starting to explore them--crawling on my hands and knees, LED headlamp sweeping the cavern of his brain as I make my way forward.  I received my copy three days ago and, thanks to an insufferable head cold, got up in the middle of the night, went out to the living room, and started reading The Pale King.  After two hours and 75 pages (yes, I'm a slow reader), I didn't want to quit, but my heavy eyelids insisted otherwise.  First impressions:  the novel is disjointed, there are paragraphs which suffer from Faulknerian swell-and-bloat and go on for pages and pages, and each chapter introduces a new set of characters who in the way of most government employees tend to have the shape of cookie cutters around the edges; but goddamn if The Pale King isn't some of the best writing Wallace has ever produced.  It's Infinite-Jest-good, maybe even better.  (Though, again, it's still early and I haven't gotten to the deepest parts of the cave yet.)

5.  I've heard of book proposals before, but never a proposal in a book.  Debut novelist Christopher Currie asked his girlfriend to marry him by way of a message embedded in the acknowledgements.  No word on whether or not the book got down on bended knee.

6.  In movie news: Director Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men) is teaming up with screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) on one of the first major big-screen adaptations of an Agatha Christie novel in about 20 years: Crooked House....Here's one I never expected: What to Expect When You're Expecting, the bible for soon-to-be-parents (including my wife and I many years and three children ago), is being adapted into a film "in the vein of Love, Actually and Valentine's Day....For fans of Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (coming this summer), here's a sneak peek:

And for those of you who are fans of Raymond Carver (present company leaps out of his seat and raises his arm, waving and straining and hooting in unabashed Horchak-fashion, "Ooo!  Ooo!  Me!  Me, Mr. Kotter!"), here is the trailer for the Will Ferrell "dramedy" based on Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance" (which might be a good Ferrell movie but looks like a lousy Carver adaptation because there's just too much of an uplift, complete with hugs and indie-pop songs and dialogue like "You're a good person, Nicholas"):

7. Here's another account of Siobhan Fallon's What-Not-To-Do-On-A-Book-Tour Book Tour to promote her debut collection You Know When the Men Are Gone.**  This time, she returns to Fort Hood, Texas and decides to take a pre-appearance drive-through of her old neighborhood:
       But just when you think you might have done everything right for one whole day of your life, I am going to remind you of something foolish you might have done earlier that afternoon. You may have driven around your old neighborhood in the incredibly obvious Lincoln Continental that your publishers sent to indulge you. Be warned that if you make that mistake and ask your driver to swing by your old house, he might decide to stop in the middle of the street and show you a picture of himself with Sean Puffy Combs from the last time Puff Daddy was doing a concert at Fort Hood. While the driver is scrolling through his cell phone pictures, you might see all the children in the neighborhood, who were just playing dodge ball on your old yard, stare at that big black car, then start to scatter for their homes, and it might even seem like they are screaming. That's when you will ask your driver to hurry up and drive away but for some reason he will just take his time making a K turn in the middle of the street, then hand you his phone to show you a picture of his Texas-bred football playing son. I tell you all of this, because when you are smiling at Barnes and Noble, signing books and chatting away, the woman who lives in your old house will peer at you, a little embarrassed, and asked if there is any chance that you drove by her house earlier? She will be with a couple other of your neighbors, who will also be staring at you a bit oddly. And you will feel yourself go all red and wonder if you should lie, but you will nod, and she will tell you how there has been a pedophile loose in a dark car, how the entire neighborhood was worried sick all day when their children came sprinting in talking about a big black car lurking.
       This will now be part of your legacy, how you wrote a book about Fort Hood, and when you came back to town, you scared the hell out of all your neighbors' kids.
       But it will still have been a close-to-perfect day.

8.  At The Awl, six writers talk candidly about covers and blurbs, including Mark Jude Poirer:
The cover they chose for Modern Ranch Living, however, sucked and continues to suck today....I’m not sure why this happened, but I have a theory. First off, my editor left Miramax Books before the novel was released, just before the cover was chosen. She had been much more than an editor—she was my publicist and friend, and she had made sure that my opinions were considered in the creation of my covers. And I trusted her. When she moved on, my main contact became my publicist, who rarely returned calls or emails and ended up quitting Miramax Books in the middle of my book tour. I imagine he just lost the mock-ups and didn’t bother to tell anyone until it was too late, and a clueless 19-year-old NYU intern chose my cover on her first day in the chaotic offices. And now I’m left with this crappy cover for my fourth—and I believe my best—book. Cry me a river.  I certainly wouldn’t pick up Modern Ranch Living in the bookstore. The bland cover screams bland novel. Actually, it doesn’t scream anything. It mumbles.

9.  I've always liked The Barnes & Noble Review's "Guest Books" feature in which prominent writers pick works which influenced them, but I especially liked this one from Karen Russell (Swamplandia!) in which she gives Flannery O'Connor, Russell Banks, and Ray Bradbury some love.

*A place which exists only in Wallace's imagination.  The Simple Ranger website has an interesting sidebar on Wallace's relationship to Peoria: "Section 1: Will It Play in Peoria?"  The Ranger wasn't impressed by The Pale King's opening chapter; me, I was bowled over by Wallace's imaginative twists of language.
**Which I have finally received from Amazon and hope to get to just as soon as I finish The Pale King.

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