Category Archives: genre

6

Life Stories

The other day I was excited to hear that Neil Patrick Harris is publishing a memoir this fall, and told my friend Brian about it. “What?!” Brian yelped. “Already? He’s only 40!” I was a little surprised by this reaction – NPH has been in every corner of showbiz, from TV to film to internet series to Broadway. I’m certainly interested in a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his fascinating and creative life.

But Brian’s response got me thinking about the genre of memoir itself, and whether there’s a difference between memoir and autobiography. For some readers, autobiography and memoir may be synonymous terms for any story of a life that is written by its liver. For others of us, autobiography is based on chronology, while memoir focuses on a theme, experience, or period. For example, Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles is a hilarious and moving account of his upbringing and early career, peppered with anecdotes about his best friends Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson – yes, that Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson. I think of this as autobiography because of the linear narrative. In contrast, Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi is both a Hollywood gossip-fest and a moving account of struggling with an eating disorder. And Cheryl Strayed’s Wild relates the months she spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which turned into a powerful way to process and grieve her mother’s death. The latter two might not tell a full story of their authors’ lives – and those authors might not have as prominent a place in history – but they are still worth reading for their candor and introspection.

Whether you call it autobiography or memoir, many readers can’t resist the lure of a true story well-told. Keeping the nuances in mind might help you as you structure your own personal story or refine your narrative non-fiction projects.  (But I will tell Brain to cut NPH some slack considering that Justin Bieber has published TWO memoirs. At the age of 20, he’s not even old enough to enjoy a writerly glass of whiskey while he writes his third!)

Do you distinguish between autobiography and memoir? Whose yet-to-be-written memoir would you be most excited to read? What true stories do you recommend?

 

 

 

0

Something “new” for me

This piece from last week’s  New York Times attracted my attention and although I totally disagree with the notion that just because the facts concerning a non-fiction book have changed since its original publication, its content should be arbitrarily updated, it did make me think about non-fiction in general.

For many years, most of what I represented was non-fiction and then recently and very deliberately (and because I truly love it) I have been concentrating on fiction, all kinds of fiction – commercial and literary – and have had great success with indie authors and more traditional types.  But my yen for good narrative non-fiction is still very strong and I would love to see some new ideas.

Of course, as you all know, in this category the author needs to have a solid platform and the credentials necessary to write authoritatively on a subject – these things have become increasingly important. And there has to be a great story, one with a beginning, a middle, and an end. With those elements, I would love to consider some compelling new nonfiction in the areas of science, history, biography, politics, and business.

I hope that some of you reading this blog will keep this in mind, send me your work, and spread the word.

12

These have been an extraordinary couple of weeks. My home town is still without power in the wake of hurricane Sandy, and my kids are still out of school, making today’s “snow day” a redundancy for my little truants.

Cold and dark as my house may be, I’m among the fortunate—the devastation that Hurricane Sandy has wrought is heartbreaking.  My own family’s “indoor camping” adventure lasted only as long as the relatively mild weather.  When the mercury plummeted, we left for warmer, brighter lodging with family and friends.   My experience of reading by candlelight (charming for the first ten minutes, headache inducing thereafter) has filled me with new-found respect for Abe Lincoln, and most everyone who lived before the advent of electricity.

My older son has missed nearly two weeks of school, so what he sees as astonishing, magical good luck has become a source of increasing consternation to me.  I’ve been cobbling together lessons of my own, which are effective only as much as they increase my appreciation for teachers, who probably do not use m&ms to teach arithmetic.

I’ve been doing lots of reading aloud, which is fun, and also looking for books suitable for my six year old to attempt on his own. We’re not in our own home, so “on level” storybooks are few and far between. Still, when I’m not reading books, drafting worksheets, or monitoring the utility company’s “three day plan” (now in its 9th day) I’ve been thinking about post-apocalyptic fiction–environmental devastation, fuel shortages, breakdown of civil society, etc.   Disasters, even those for which we prepare, are fearsome reminders that dark imaginings we channel into fiction are not entirely fanciful.

Post- apocalyptic/dystopian fiction is not a genre in which I have read widely or recently;  I can think of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, Octavia Butler’s Earthseed Books,  a novel from some 15 years ago called Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, in which civilization just sort of petered out, Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s Utopia, David Brin’s The Postman ( I think I read this in high school, ditto classics like Farenheit 451 and 1984)  I realize this is woefully incomplete: what other books should I add?

 

12

Dreaming

The other night I had dinner with New York Post columnist Cindy Adams and  I told her that I am always having trouble deciding what to write about in my bi-weekly blog entries and I couldn’t imagine how she came up with at least one interesting and fresh idea every day.  Then, she described the column she had to do for later in the week asking people how they would spend their time if they could do anything they wanted.

So, (and this is related to the post I did two weeks ago) it got me wondering what writers wish they could write if they weren’t writing what they currently do?  Would they switch from fiction to non-fiction?  Would they go from adult mysteries to children’s picture books?  Would they go from cookbooks to memoirs?

So I am putting the question out there.  If you could write something different than what you  currently write, what would that be?

7

Typecasting – good or bad?

So last Thursday I read this interesting  piece  in The Wall Street Journal and it got me to thinking (again) about whether being slotted into a category is a good or bad thing.

I say “again” because long ago when I was the publisher of World Almanac Publications and my employer wanted to branch out into areas far from our popular reference book line, I went to the book buyers – Dalton, Walden, and Ingram – and asked them their opinion.  Every one of them opined adamantly that no matter how good these proposed books might be, they wouldn’t buy them from us.  We were the publishers of popular reference books, they said, and that is the way it was going to stay, as far as they were concerned.  Ultimately, the decision was made by my colleagues to go ahead with the new products.  Knowing what would surely happen, I left the company and became an agent, and that publishing program ultimately failed miserably.

So, what about someone like J.K. Rowling and her foray away from the Harry Potter world into the adult nonfiction category?  Notwithstanding the success of The Casual Vacancy, should she have taken this chance?  And if the book doesn’t sell up to expectations, what will that mean to her career?

Many of my talented self-published clients ask this same question.  They understandably want the ability to publish in more than one category, but the question is, always, will their readers, their fans, “follow” them?  I often find myself advising that an author should build up his/her sales in one category, become a best seller and then do whatever s/he wants.

A terrific example of this is Mitch Albom. Michael Crichton is another author who mixed it up in his bestselling novels. And what about all of the thriller writers recently who have found their way into the children’s category?

So, I am curious as to what you think.  Should an author, bestselling or not, publish in more than one category or would they be better served by “sticking to their knitting”?

5

Diversity

One of the greatest things that publishing has done for me (besides pay my rent, for which my landlord is surely grateful!) is broaden my horizons dramatically.  As the DGLM old guard will surely attest, I showed up here as a huge snob, albeit a snob without much love for the classics.  This meant, as you might imagine, there wasn’t much variety in the books that I enjoyed.  Much of the advice I received when I started here was along the lines of “Get over yourself” because of my great wiser-than-thou proclamations on what was just not good enough for me.  It’s actually a testament to his restraint that Jim has never punched me in the face, actually.  I was insufferable.

 

But more than that, I was wrong.  Holding books to a high standard is important, and I still do it, but it took me a while to recognize that books don’t all have to serve the same purpose to be worthy.  Now I’m lucky that when I found myself in Barnes & Noble yesterday, where I’d gone for a magazine but needed to buy a book to hold to my 2012 rule about not walking out of any bookstore without a new book in my bag, I felt like I had all the choices in the world.  Ultimately I was weighing my options between a book of critical cultural essays and young adult historical fiction—a debate that took me about 7 minutes of standing thoughtfully near an escalator, deciding whether to go up or down a floor.  But I could just as easily picked up a new paranormal romance or thriller, or a sports book or political polemic.  That’s the great thing about books—whatever experience you’re looking for, there’s always different book to turn to.

 

Working in publishing, particularly as an agent, I find I sometimes forget that not all readers read this way.  When selecting a book for the book club I started with friends, several people decided to bow out based on the choice, because it’s not their kind of thing.  It startled me to realize that I’m not the kind of person who’d feel that way anymore—if it wasn’t my kind of thing, I’d want the social pressure to read it and experience something new.  I might still have my tastes and preferences, but I’m now someone who is always willing to give a book a shot.

 

What about you?  Do you stick to what you know you love (because, frankly, whatever the category you’re unlikely to run out of books!) or branch out?  Do you love books across genres and categories or prefer to stick to one or two?  And if you’re a writer, how do you think the diversity or lack thereof in what you read impacts your writing?


1

Did your city make the cut?

The Huffington Post came out with a great article today about Amazon’s second annual list of the most well-read cities in the US. This list is, of course, based on Amazon’s sales, and as the Huffington Post points out, doesn’t properly represent places where a lot of people are still visiting traditional bookstores. Indeed, our own city doesn’t make the top ten, but I’d like to think that’s because you’re never far from an independent bookstore or a Barnes & Noble.

To that end, the lovely folks at Huffington also provide people in the #1 town of Alexandria, VA with a list of alternatives to Amazon. Still, it’s always interesting to see who’s buying what online.

Which leads me to my questions for the day: What are the top genres you tend to buy online? And which ones do you tend to buy in person?

I’m going to investigate my own book buying habits tonight, and I encourage you to do the same!

3

Genre Trends

Interesting piece in Salon about the (arguable) demise of chick lit that includes a broader survey of genre trends that have come and gone.

Laura Miller writes “What kills a genre isn’t always clear. Supposedly, the readership for the western turned to urban crime fiction sometime in the 1970s. Why? Were they simply tired of cowboys and gunslingers, or had the myth of the Old West been too thoroughly undermined by counterculture critics and Native American activists?” You can still find battered old gothics in junk shops and used bookstores, but as an instantly identifiable genre they’re no longer being published.

Other “expired genres” she cites include gothic novels, adventure novels a la H. Rider Haggard’s SHE and Horatio Alger rags-to-riches stories. Can you think of others? Or have you watched the fortunes of a favorite genre decline and fall? If so, do you care to speculate on the cause of death?

Here is one micro trend that I’m rather enjoying: namely, the other-cultures-create-better-parents polemic (see Amy Chua’s ubiquitous Tiger Mom and the present coverage of Bringing Up Bebe.) Perhaps my own wide-eyed expat experience in Cairo colors my reaction, but I’m sympathetic to the feelings of amazement/niggling inadequacy that author Pamela Druckerman channels.  The whole time I lived in Egypt, I felt faintly astonished by the comportment of Egyptian children, who accompanied their parents everywhere as a matter of course and seemed as indulged and adored as American youngsters, but infinitely more patient.  I’m not quite ready to write a book on my own unscientific musings, but I’m looking forward to other cultures weighing in, surely China and France cannot dominate the conversation!

9

Fantasy as a Reading Rite of Passage

Adam Gopnik’s review of the newest addition to the Eragon series in last week’s New Yorker caught my eye (not because I’ve read these books, though as my sons gets older, I look forward to reading them together) but because Gopnik writes about the always-interesting relationship between kids and fantasy.  He writes “Of all the unexpected things in contemporary literature, this is among the oddest: that kids have an inordinate appetite for very long, very tricky, very strange books about places that don’t exist, fights that never happened, all set against a medieval background.” I’m not sure it’s so odd, and indeed, I remember a time in my own reading life when I had an insatiable taste for magical books, almost to the exclusion of all else. That I outgrew it, or that my tastes broadened, or that I found less fantastical settings equally appealing might argue for my emergent Muggledom. Or perhaps, like Susan in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, I became interested in nothing “except nylons and lipstick and invitations” though as a girl, I hated this aspect of the final book, and could think of no worse fate.  In any case, Gopnik’s point is that it is not the otherworldliness that draws young readers. “Kids go to fantasy not for escape but for organization, and a little elevation, ” that it offers “familiar experience in intensified form.” He describes the Twilight books as representative “not so much the life that a teenage girl would wish to have, but the one she already has, rearranged with heightened symbols.”

What do you think? Did you go through a fantasy phase? What drew you to it then? Do you read it still?

5

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I’m here in New York this week, experiencing the lovely weather.  It doesn’t quite feel like fall at the moment, but it’s nice to see some trees changing, and the nights are a bit brisk.

It seems fitting that our book club meeting tonight is all about women’s fiction, which we read over the summer.  Women’s fiction, during the summer, at least, seems to be all about the beach.  The book I read involves four friends in their thirties renting a beach house, where they drink wine and share secrets, leading to better understandings of one another–and themselves.  I think a few of the books that other people read have similar set ups. Though I didn’t like my book (for a number of reasons), I do have to say that I enjoy a good beach read during the summer, as I know many people do.  Summer books seem to be lighter, more easily digestible, but perhaps a bit disposable.  They’re like the summer flings: enjoyable but fleeting.

But now comes fall and the “serious” books.  For our next book club, we’re all reading a heralded literary novel, one with stellar reviews and blurbs.  This book is quieter and slower, and will not be read in an afternoon.  Maybe it’ll feel a bit like going back to school.  My own reading patterns tend to follow the seasons, though I wonder if that has to do with my mood or what publishers are releasing.  Do I read the lighter books over the summer because I’m feeling light, or because that’s what’s dominating the shelves?  Now that I live in the land of eternal sunshine, I’m beginning to think it’s the latter!

What about you?  Do you read different types of books depending on the season?  Or are you able to ignore the marketing?