Category Archives: controversy

1

Who will write the revolution?

Like most New Yorkers, I was shocked by yesterday’s grand jury ruling in the Eric Garner case. I only wish I wasn’t on babysitting duty last night and could have joined the protest that marched up the Upper West Side past our apartment–instead, I watched on TV with the roaring drone of helicopters flying low overhead our building. Creepy, to say the least, though it was a relief to see this morning that the protests were mostly peaceful and that the cops didn’t lose their cool.

But as I read the paper and tried to wrap my head around how the grand jury could possibly have let Pantaleo off when the video evidence seemed so crystal clear, it got me thinking both about the power of narrative and the role of books in other protest movements. Bear with me here, but I’d argue that when political and social change arises, especially here in America, books often play a prominent role, if not a central one–off the top of my head, I’m thinking of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, THE JUNGLE, SILENT SPRING, even up through ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.

And while, true, these examples come from a time when people didn’t have information available the way they do now, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the emotional connection people felt to these narrative and the characters therein ran far deeper than simple exposure to unknown atrocities. Particularly in a case like this, one power of fiction is to make sense of the world when our eyes tell us that something very wrong just happened, and yet we’re at a loss with how to deal with it or effect change.

So, as we struggle to deal with the Garner decision, I wonder if the power of a book-length narrative could help pave the way for the much-needed police reform. Whether it’s a fictionalized insider look at the NYPD or a novel from a victim’s perspective, maybe we need that emotional response to a book in order to help move us forward. So hey, if there are any writers out there who feel the revolution will not be televised but written, I’d love to hear from you…

3

Damned if we do?

Something like 20 years ago when I was a publishing newbie I came across a fascinating piece in The New Yorker about a rare disease in Africa that was positively biblical in its devastation.  I was, of course, immediately obsessed with this gruesome hemorrhagic fever whose survival rate was statistically negligible.  Frankly, and shamefully, I thought it was a great horror story and one happening far enough away that it posed no real threat to a young woman in New York City who wasn’t planning on traveling to remote parts of Africa any time soon.   I desperately wanted someone to do a book about it.   Jane, who was bemused by my weird enthusiasms (she’s grown accustomed to them in the two decades since), and I tried to contact a couple of journalists who might have direct access to information on the ground.  But while we were casting about without the help of e-mail and Skype,  it was announced that Richard Preston was working on The Hot Zone.  We had been scooped.

Preston’s book became a huge bestseller and it spawned a successful film.  Ebola entered the public’s consciousness much in the way it had for me, as something horrific that didn’t really affect us but which titillated us with the kind of fear a zombie movie might instill.  Today, of course, the threat is far more real and, with our porous borders, far less “over there.”  The world is quickly realizing that the spread of Ebola is a global health crisis and one that must be stopped in its tracks if we are to avoid even more catastrophic losses of human life.

So, as I obsessively read the headlines and listen to reports on NPR, I think, again, that a new book on the disease’s trajectory this time around is necessary and even imperative.  Except that the more mature me is  aware of the negative psychic and moral implications of capitalizing on tragedy in a way my much more clueless younger self was not.  And so once again an uncomfortable aspect of our business rears its head.  When is it too soon to write about tragedy?  What is the correct way to hype a big book touching on the suffering of thousands?  We in the publishing world, like journalists, are responsible for midwifing work that illuminates, enlightens, educates, and entertains.  But, we’re not in the trenches risking life and limb to get the story and making money off tragic events is sometimes hard to stomach.  So, do we pursue that book now or do we wait?

There are fascinating stories coming out of this current crisis and not just one book, I’m sure.  Where do you guys fall on the subject?  Should there be another Hot Zone?

1

Live Amazon-free or die

Perhaps it’s leftover patriotism from the World Cup, or that the calendar makes for a real three-day weekend this year, but it feels like the 4th is generating an extra dose of excitement and patriotic good will this year. Or maybe it’s just MY excitement for getting out of the sweltering city for a few days. Either way, I can’t wait for a weekend of beaches, BBQs, and family time—maybe we’ll even sing patriotic songs in the car…

So, in the spirit of freedom and rejection of tyranny that the 4th celebrates, I thought I’d quickly share this article from the Times  about Edan Lepucki’s California,  which I’m sure you’ve been hearing about. But the article is a nice summary of what’s been going on, especially for those of us who can’t stay up for the Colbert Report anymore. And maybe I’m stretching, but perhaps there’s a timely holiday parallel here, in how the current revolt against Amazon, through grassroots support, hard work, luck, and media savvy, created a bestseller. Heck, all we need is the French to jump on board, and we’ll have a good old fashioned American revolution!

Anyway, have a very happy 4th of July everyone. And if you do any book shopping this weekend, keep it local…

1

Intern Guest Post: Fan Fiction

Today we’re excited to welcome a guest contributor to our blog: one of our fabulous DGLM summer interns, Morgan Rath! Stay tuned after Morgan’s post to learn a little more about her.

Is fan fiction finally going to get its time in the spotlight? Fan fiction, a.k.a. fanfic, has been populating sites around the Internet for years. It gives writers a chance to create new stories involving some of their favorite people and existing characters. But following a new publishing deal from top publisher Simon & Schuster, fan fiction authors may have their chance to share their stories beyond just the Internet community.

Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books imprint made a six-figure deal for worldwide and audio rights to a One Direction fanfic piece called After by Wattpad writer Anna Todd. The first book in the trilogy is expected to hit shelves in November, with the second two following in January and March of 2015. The series is about 18-year-old Tessa Young who falls for band member Harry Styles’ handsome looks and love of Jane Austen. The book also features appearances by the other four members of the internationally renowned boy band.

Adam Wilson acquired the series for Simon & Schuster. He said that the publishing house will have to cut out some sections of the book due to its length; however, they are going to try to keep the story as close to the original as possible, while still making modifications to attract traditional readers.

After reading through slush-pile submissions that make you wonder if the writer ever paid attention in high school English classes, I can’t help but wonder if there is some potential in looking to fanfic for the next big hit. The stories, about people and characters that a large readership already loves, will surely have a sizeable potential audience and revenue base. Todd’s trilogy alone has gotten over 800 million reads on Wattpad.

But on the opposite, more realistic side of my thinking, fanfic is not always too well written. I have a very hard time with the notion that fan fiction will become a regular source of new publishable material.

In addition, is it right for an author to capitalize on an already established celebrity? Todd did not personally create One Direction or any of the boys’ personas. But she did dream up the story and supplemental characters surrounding them in the trilogy. And after all, aren’t characters in books generally based on some aspects of the author’s life experiences and acquaintances? We all find ourselves identifying with characters in books. If people were not familiar with the band members, or if the names in Todd’s trilogy were changed, they would just come across as normal characters.

I guess all the fanfic aspiring authors will just have to wait and see how well Todd’s trilogy does in the big leagues. In the meantime, what do you think about the Simon & Schuster deal? Do you believe that fan fiction has potential in the publishing world? Do you think it’s wrong for authors to write about characters they did not solely create?

Morgan Rath is from western New York and currently studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She may be pursuing a journalism degree, but Morgan’s true passion lies in the publishing world. For as long as she can remember, Morgan has loved to read. While most kids would go to the mall to look for clothes, Morgan would find herself spending hours in the Barnes & Noble browsing through all the shelves. When Morgan discovered that she could turn her love of reading into a career, she vowed that someday she would make her way into the NYC publishing scene.

Morgan is particularly drawn to Young Adult novels and Women’s fiction. She also loves a good romance, but nothing too cheesy. However, like any bookworm, her interests expand to all genres. It is safe to assume if you put a book in her hands, Morgan will read it.

If you’re interested in interning with DGLM this fall, or if you know of someone who is, contact Mike Hoogland.

 

23

The R Word.

On Friday night, I went to see a screening of the movie Dear White People, a wonderfully funny and warm but still very biting comedy about race relations on an Ivy league campus. (“Dear White People, the amount of black friends required not to seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, your weed man, Tyrone, doesn’t count.” ) The filmmaker, Justin Simien, said that he wants the movie to start a conversation—nothing gets better without a dialogue. He also cited as his inspiration great black cinema of the ‘80s and ‘90s and movies like Do the Right Thing that had things to say and left you feeling not just entertained but moved, sometimes uncomfortably so.

So race was at the front of my mind the next day when I went to the NYC Teen Author Book Festival to see some of my authors present on different panels. The audience was probably 90% white women in their 30s and 40s. This is an observation, not a judgment. But it’s something I kept thinking about because in the middle of New York City, that’s an awfully homogenous crowd.

I was not alone thinking about race that day. One of panels was called “Summer Reading” and the four authors discussed their novels, each set during the summer. At the end, an audience member stood up to say that she had been at the festival for two days and only seen one author of color. She also mentioned that she works with underprivileged teens in Hartford whose summers wouldn’t at all resemble those in the books being read from. She wanted to know what the panelists had to say about that.

It was an uncomfortable moment not just because a big issue was being raised but because my first thought was, “These four authors have nothing to do with planning this event and shouldn’t be asked to speak to such a large issue when they were just there to talk for five minutes about their particular novels.”

That’s a lie. My first thought was, “Please don’t let my client say anything stupid.” Listen, I’m an agent. It’s just in the bones.

Happily for me, my client on the panel, Gae Polisner, actually had a very thoughtful response, explaining that she writes fiction that comes from a very internal place and that her leads resemble her because she can only write from a place she knows and understands and just hopes that she touches on truths universal enough that they’ll resonate across the broadest spectrum of people possible. That is a great answer for an author. It does, however, leave some great big questions for an industry. Take a look at these articles by Walter Dean Myers  and his son Christopher Myers.

Those articles were spurred on by a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin showing that of 3,200 children’s books released in 2013, 223 were by authors of color, and 253 were about people of color. That’s less than 7%. To give some perspective, nationally, approximately 27% of the population is people of color.

Happily, I have easy answers to this diversity gap.

Ha! Just kidding. I don’t have easy answers. I actually don’t have any answers—just more questions. Like where is the root of the problem? Is it in the largely white make-up of the publishing industry? Are we weeding out material by and about experiences we simply don’t understand? Is there an institutional racism that hasn’t been broached yet? Is the problem that people of color aren’t encouraged to pursue careers in writing? Is it possible that there aren’t enough of these books being published because there aren’t enough being written? And, perhaps my own biggest question: are we too overwhelmed or scared to ask these questions because we don’t know what we’ll uncover about ourselves?

I won’t lie—I almost scrapped this blog post several times. It makes me nervous to bring up such a big subject because I don’t want to get it wrong. I don’t want to offend, and I don’t want anyone to cringe while they read it. But in the spirit of Dear White People, let’s do it. Let’s have the conversation.

11

Mad, bad and dangerous to know

It took me a while to read George Packer’s endless New Yorker piece about the evil empire.  No, not the Yankees, Amazon!  Most of what he writes about may be news for people outside our business, but all of us much maligned gatekeepers have long known that anyone who doesn’t spout Amazonian corporate-speak like it’s English will feel dazed and confused when dealing with Bezos’ army, and that the company’s strong-man tactics and culture of silence vis a vis the rest of the publishing world seem positively Orwellian.

But what’s interesting about the article is the fact that despite the behemoth’s disdain for publishing as an industry and book readers as a class, Amazon has managed to make books more accessible to a greater number of readers than any entity before it.  It has also, although publishers might deny it vehemently, injected a competitive edge (okay, desperation and rage)  into the book making process that has lifted traditional publishing out of its complacent, vaguely condescending status quo, and challenged it to think about itself and its role in the marketplace in a new way.

Progress?  Who knows?  But, the piece is a must-read for all of us who buy books, often with one click.   After doing so, I hope you’ll share your thoughts about the role Amazon plays for you as a consumer and as an author.

4

Literary letdowns

I’ve recently heard from some friends who have been disappointed with critically-acclaimed, wildly popular books. In some cases, I’ve recommended the book on the wrong end of a vicious verbal barrage. Imagine this:

 

 

 

 

 

Toss in a few more obscenities for good measure and now you get what I’ve been dealing with recently. First it’s THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen. Next, it’s INFINITE JEST. Even a couple of my most memorable childhood books have been slandered during this, the merriest time of year. If one more person puts down ENDER’S GAME or HATCHET

At first I thought my friends were being a little too harsh. They couldn’t see any of the, ahem, silver linings, in the aforementioned books. Then I thought back to those times I too had experienced that hollow feeling that follows the breaking of high expectations. We’ve all been there. Every one of us has cracked open a book hoping to turn that last page, clap the back cover closed, and look up to a new world with a fresh perspective.

It rarely happens. And we’re let down. Now’s the time to share. Let’s get all of the whining out the way right now and enjoy the rest of the holiday season. What books didn’t live up to your expectations?

7

Slow reading

Now that New York State schools have adopted the Common Core curriculum, a lot of us parents are mystified by the new rules for academic success as determined by the educational powers that be.  One of the things that my husband and I keep getting stuck on is how much of an emphasis is now placed on speed.  Our third grader must answer math problems in less than four seconds per problem, for instance.    Given that most of my math is done either on my iPhone calculator or my fingers, I have no moral authority to speak about that one, but when they tell me that eight-year-olds have to read a certain number of words in one minute in order to establish reading “fluency,” well, that’s when the tic  in my left eyelid becomes pronounced.

Which, as many things do on this blog, leads to a shameful confession:  I am a slow reader.

Given the thousands of pages I read in the course of a typical month, people assume that I took that speed reading course they used to advertise on television back in the day.  I did not.  I am the kind of reader who compulsively reads every word and who pauses often to swirl a particularly juicy adjective around or take loving note of an exceptionally well turned phrase.  When it comes to work, I sometimes hate that I am so slow–my manuscript piles reproduce like Tribbles, after all.   On the flip side, I think I am a much more insightful reader and editor as a result of my tortoise-like approach to the material in front of me.

Thing is, I read books the way  I eat dessert.  I want both experiences to last as long as humanly possible so the enjoyment derived from them will be prolonged as well.  What good is a bowl of ice cream if the primary experience is brain freeze from slurping it down too quickly?  Similarly, what’s the point of speed skating through a great novel or non-fiction narrative only to be done and on to the next?  Don’t we already live our lives doing constant hamster sprints as we struggle to keep up with the masses of information being thrown at us?  Shouldn’t we take a stand and force ourselves to read deliberately, thoughtfully, patiently, discerningly…slowly?  Wouldn’t that be better for our intellectual development as well as our souls?

I think the world needs less fast tracking and more thinking it through.  And, I’m not the only one.  Hopefully, my kid will learn that writing can be savored, not just devoured, that it is not just a means to an end but an end in itself.

What say you?  Is fast reading an important skill in the internet age or is there more value in the slow(er) processing of information?  And, how long does it take you to read an average book?

 

 

 

2

Literary meltdowns

This past Sunday night, I went to a concert and witnessed something I hadn’t seen in a long time—a genuine, on-stage, rock-star meltdown by Brian Fallon, the lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem. You can read all the particulars here, but suffice it to say, it was genuinely weird, uncomfortable, irritating… and yet perversely memorable.

Anyway, back at my desk here in Book Land, I started thinking about comparable literary meltdowns. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an author completely lose it on stage—maybe not since college, when I saw Noam Chomsky go bananas when too many students asked him about the Middle East. But of course, the history of the written word is littered with tantrums, explosions, and even a gunshot or two. (That’ll teach you to mess with Hunter S. Thompson!)

So, let’s have some fun—when was the last time YOU saw an author really lose it? Or, if you’ve never seen one in person, what’s your favorite meltdown story? And after witnessing/reading about said meltdown, did it enhance the author or diminish in your eyes?

12

Covers and gender

Not sure what’s in the air, but there’s been an awful lot of chatter about covers and gender lately. Lauren just sent me a link to this piece, and then there was this, which reminded me of this.

I’m forever fascinated/disturbed by the accepted wisdom that boys don’t want to read about girl characters, but girls will read about anything. First, I’m just not sure it’s true. I don’t think we have the marketing information to back it up. But second, and more importantly, if that is the case, what the hell are we all doing wrong in raising our boys? Are we still such a sexist society that for girls to read about boys is acceptable, but for boys to read about girls isn’t manly?

The pieces above raise interesting questions, and I’m curious to hear how you think this affects you. Do you think your audience is limited by a gendered cover? And do you find yourself writing for one gender or the other purposefully? If so, what do you think that means for our culture?