Category Archives: Uncategorized

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“That Was Taken Out of Context!”

Recently I’ve come across a fun account on Ye Olde Twitter that is tweeting out lines from PG Wodehouse without any context or citation:

For me, these are a super-fun way to re-experience an author I already love, and I’m now itching for a deep dive into the Wodehouse canon!

But I also got to thinking today about the importance of context, especially on Twitter. I’m sure we’ve all seen listicles on Buzzfeed, Someecards, etc., rounding up hilarious comments during live events, notable folks’ opinion on a current event, and other person-on-the-street-style reactions. These posts can be very fun, but is it always a good thing for a single tweet to be taken out of the context of your Twitter feed, where your regular followers and others in your social media circles are aware of your values and priorities, or may be following an ongoing conversation you were having that the compilation missed?

No one wants to be offensive or hurtful to others and it’s certainly important to be aware of your words’ impact on those who read them, especially in a public forum like Facebook or Twitter. And sometimes folks use the “out of context!” excuse to cover-up for views that are simply offensive. On the other hand, social media is a tool for sharing our personalities with others, especially when it comes to artists engaging with fans, and social media often provides a platform for important conversations about tough issues like racism, sexism, or homophobia. So it’s important to keep in mind that our social media posts can be taken out of context, and to be alert to hurtful or damaging statements in or out of context when using social media for genuine interactions and productive conversations.

What are your favorite tips for honest but respectful social media posts?  Any best practices you’ve found for limiting the out-of-context danger of Twitter?

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Death and Hamsters

Although Atul Gawande’s BEING MORTAL is my assigned DGLM office book-club book, I don’t think I can last until our next meeting without singing its praises in some public forum.

When I began in publishing, there was a certain truism that books on death don’t sell. When I was an editor, I looked at worthy proposals that were, according to conventional wisdom and my ed-board, simply too hard. Certainly there had been exceptions—books by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Jessica Mitford, Sherwin Nuland—but they just proved the rule. For the most part, the book industry reflected our entirely human propensity to avoid thinking about our own inevitable ends.

That Gawande’s BEING MORTAL—a work of such signal intelligence, readability and compassion–has sold so extravagantly, hitting #1 on the NYT bestseller list, is a sign that perhaps we’ve turned a corner. When my fellow DGLM-er Eric found out that I was reading BEING MORTAL, he told me it should be required reading for everyone. And he’s right. Funny, too, because all sorts of books are billed as universally relevant. But Being Mortal really, truly is.

In addition to weeping on commuter trains over my recreational reads (belated apologies to the dismayed lady sitting beside me), I also represent authors whose works engage mortality. Medical Humanities historian Brandy Schillace’s book, Death’s Summer Coat: What Death and Dying Can Teach us About Life and Living, which was reviewed today in the New Yorker.Com, is a wide-ranging and fascinating look across cultural approaches to death, while forensic pathologist Judy Melinek, co-author of the memoir Working Stiff, chronicled her work as a speaker for the dead. Another client, archaeologist Nicholas Reeves is at work on an excavation that aims to find a particularly ancient and famous corpse, Nefertiti (the ancient Egyptian approach to death, or the royal one, anyway, being that you can take it with you.) And I’m reading a proposal from author and neurosurgeon Richard Rapport on How We Don’t Die.

In any event, none of this has yet helped me with the particular challenges of explaining the certainty of death to my children. My younger son recently requested a pet hamster, one who (in contrast to his cousin’s late and much-mourned Hamchop) would not die. When I patiently explained that all living things die eventually, even people, he looked at me for a beat and retorted, “Yes, Mom. I know. All except my hamster.”

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Jessica’s annotated wish list

Stacey had a smart new take on this idea earlier this week, but since I’d be hard pressed to choose all the books I wish I’d represented (and it’s unseemly to appear greedy) I’m going to stick to script and lay out what I’m looking for in 2016, drawing examples from forthcoming books on my own list.

1. Literary thriller and psychological suspense: I like a sophisticated, labyrinthine plot, the sort where the carefully constructed puzzle stands up to a stiff post mortem. Examples are Beth’s Hahn’s THE SINGING BONE, a story that riffs on folklore and fairy tales to examine the limits of guilt and the fallibility of memory, and Christopher Yates’ dark and twisty tale of university life, BLACK CHALK.

singing bone

black chalk

2. Memoir that works on two levels: first, as a focused personal narrative of discovery, transformation or resilience (etc.) and additionally as a story that engages some larger social, cultural or historical theme. Examples are THE WORLD’S EMERGENCY ROOM: The Growing Threat to Doctors, Nurses and Humanitarian Workers by Michael VanRooyen, or INVISIBLE MAN, GOT THE WHOLE WORLD WATCHING: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith.

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3. Popular science or history of science, related in lively, lucid and even playful prose. Like Tim Jorgensen’s STRANGE GLOW: The Story of Radiation or Luba Vikhanski’s IMMUNITY: How Elie Metchnikoff Changed the Course of Modern Medicine.

strange glow

immunity

4. Narrative history that reads like fiction, that uses the prism of individual lives to explore the larger historical context—and a particularly shining example is Bill Lascher’s EVE OF A HUNDRED MIDNIGHTS.

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5. And of course, I’m always on the lookout for literary fiction that shows me the familiar made fresh, and the world in a new way. Valerie Trueblood’s Criminals: Love Stories is almost impossibly insightful, and the worlds contained in her short stories are as dense and breathtaking as in any Russian novel.criminals

This list is necessarily a brief one, and it does not preclude my interest in other subjects–women’s issues, muckraking journalism, historical mystery and biography–just to name a few favorites.   And I’m always open to something new and unexpected!

I look forward to hearing from you in the coming months.

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Thanksgiving is here again

I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is here already. The last year seems to have raced by with many, many changes in my life. Usually, at this time of year, my husband and I spend the holiday in Florida visiting his family and our friends. This year, however, my father-in-law Sam Schwinder and my old and close friend Rena Wolner (a former head of Pocket Books, Berkley, and Avon) passed away and so we will be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner around our dinner table here in Manhattan along with my daughter, my son, my son-in-law and my two adorable grandchildren. I will think about Sam and Rena on that day, as I am very thankful for having had the chance to know, love, and learn from them.

I am also incredibly thankful for so many other things: the talented, brilliant, funny people on my staff (we are now 14 strong), my wonderful clients, my colleagues at the many publishing houses and other agencies we do business with. My business partner Miriam Goderich helps me run our company and think through the numerous issues we face every day. She is the best editor I have ever worked with and a stabilizing force in a world that has lots of highs and lows. I am so grateful to her. My daughter Jessica Toonkel is a talented reporter with Reuters and a superb partner to her husband Brian and mother to her children, eight-year-old Elena and almost-two-year-old Leo. I am incredibly proud of her. My son, Zachary Schwinder who is about to enter Officer Candidate School for the Marines—I am both frightened for his safety and oh so proud of his goal to keep our country safe. My kind and wonderful husband and partner Steve who is by my side through thick and thin and has been since I met him almost 30 years ago—I am so very grateful for him and his love.
I encourage each of you to think about those things and people you are grateful for at this time of year. And, if you like, I would love you to tell me what they are.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. May it be filled with peace and everything delicious!

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Good as gold

Getting a mention of one’s book on network television is kind of a Holy Grail for authors these days. It’s right up there with being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s  Fresh Air.  Network attention was exactly what my client Chris Grabenstein got a couple of weeks ago, in the most serendipitous way. Chris’s Middle Grade adventure Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is beloved by kids all over the country, who are eagerly awaiting the sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, in January. But Chris had no idea that it would turn out to be part of a major gag on Seth Meyers’s late-night show. On the pretext of forming a new family, Meyers and his brother interviewed a series of kids on camera. They asked one little girl the question, “What’s your favorite book?”  And she immediately answered, “Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.” That led to a prolonged improvised comic riff on the title between the brothers Meyers. Licensing restrictions prohibit me from embedding that clip into this post, but suffice it to say that Chris’s phone started ringing off the hook. He also got a nice Amazon ratings bump.

Nobody can take credit for a break like this one—it was just luck of the draw that this little girl happened to be such a big fan of the book.

Actually, Meyers has turned out to be a great friend to the reading public.  He regularly features novelists as guests on his show—something few late-night network talk show hosts are doing these days.   Recently, not only big names like Stephen King and George R. R. Martin have been guests, but newer, younger writers like Marlon James, Joshua Ferris, and Hanya Yanagihara have all been on Meyers’s show to promote their new books.

Meyers’s interest in contemporary fiction is certainly a boon to both authors and the public. But he shouldn’t be a minority of one. There’s no reason Fallon, Kimmel, Corden, Colbert, or the yet-untested Trevor Noah shouldn’t hop on board. As many of us know, writers can be articulate, entertaining, and very funny people. They are often highly sought-after as party guests. What better qualifications for being on a talk show?

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Fail Fast or Succeed Slowly?

I know that the “fail fast” mantra of the tech world is not universally accepted, but  I’ve heard it repeated frequently enough to wonder at its wisdom. In the world of Silicon Valley start-ups, a fast failure yields lessons learned, some takeaway that will leave the entrepreneur better positioned to monetize his or her next idea. But here on planet publishing (an alternate and occasionally dystopian reality peopled with fewer angel investors) I think “succeed slowly” makes more sense. Publishing is a long game–a marathon not a sprint–and good books take time. A work in progress can pass through several unsuccessful iterations before it sells, and the learning curve (though painful) is an essential part of the process. Writing is one of the few fields in which the totality of a practitioner’s lived experience counts as on-the-job training. I’ve seen writers whose first (several) attempts at authorhood flopped go on to become “overnight successes.”

Hemingway’s iceberg theory of writing—the notion  that a writer should omit details in order to allow the reader to fully apprehend the whole—could just as easily be applied to the process of becoming a writer.  Most of the time, every visible published work floats atop a submerged mountain of failures, false-starts, and otherwise discarded manuscript pages sturdy enough to down a Titanic.

I’m no Luddite, but I’m skeptical of the fail fast preachers and their proselytes. Of course, the book business has little in common with the tech industry—no snack filled break rooms, no on-site dry cleaning , no  IPOS. As far as I can tell, conversations via emoji are still rare (and I dispute the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words, because really, can a winking smiley moon face ever be  le mot juste?) but here I’d say that’s just as well.

What do you think—can/should writers fail fast?

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London Calling

I’m off to London, catching the tail end of events connected to the London Book Fair and attending a conference on literary translation at Oxford. I love London unabashedly, with the kind of nostalgia-tinged enthusiasm folks reserve for the place that was their first trip abroad, their first experience with independent city life.  I studied in London as an undergraduate and have returned at every opportunity I could manage. (I still mourn the demise of the Virgin Atlantic 99£ fare, which bore me across the ocean on an editorial assistant’s salary.)  In London I find a wonderful mashup of my childhood fantasies (surely there is a wardrobe into which I may wander? A chance to swoop past Big Ben and fly straight on ‘til morning?) and the rich, contemporary, polyglot literary scene that exists atop it,  a palimpsest of history, language and cultures.  Like many bookish kids, I was an Anglophile. I grew up reading C.S, Lewis, E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Noel Streatfield, J.M. Barrie, and later Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Iris Murdoch, A.S. Byatt—and the list goes on. Although it dates me to admit it, I was already a full-grown muggle and working in publishing when a colleague brought me back a first UK edition of Harry Potter and urged me to read it. I was foolish enough to pass that copy along to a friend, who passed it to a friend, who passed it to a friend who never quite returned it, but I found my way back to Hogwarts later, and also found ample consolation in the magical landscapes of Philip Pullman’s Oxford, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and in the less fantastical (but no less transporting) works of post-colonial experience—books by writers like V.S. Naipul, Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, and Zadie Smith.

My own literary map of London would surely be less beautifully detailed than the one I found on-line, here and below. I’m not much of a cartographer and there are titles here that I’ve not read—but  it would be fun to make a personal version.  What books, or what city, would feature in your own literary map? What book would you nominate as the quintessential London read?

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Angels Among Us

 I’m thrilled to be the new kid on the block here at D&G, one of the classiest and most respected agencies in the business. This is a great team of people to be working with.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about libraries and librarians. My client Chris Grabenstein’s Middle Grade adventure THE ISLAND OF DR. LIBRIS just published on March 24, and it’s already been embraced by the same librarians who loved Chris’s recent bestseller ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY. When we’re kids, we take plenty for granted. Throughout my childhood, librarians were just always there, and I never really appreciated all they did for us, or what courageous warriors they could be.

It is librarians who have always been the first line of defense against book-banning. It is librarians who struggle, in the face of constant budget cuts, to keep their stock as full, wide, and up-to-date as possible. And it is librarians who are determined to get kids started reading early, and to encourage them to keep reading beyond the age when they are distracted by sports, TV, and video games.

But sometimes they take that extra step and become heroes. It’s no wonder that we now have The Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity. Inaugurated by Daniel Handler and the American Library Association last year, it is presented at the Summer ALA conference. The first winner was Laurance Copel, who was honored for her work in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. This year, on June 28, the recipient will be Scott Bonner, director of the Ferguson Public Library in Ferguson, Missouri. What did he do to reap this award? Let’s start with the fact that he kept the library, located just a couple of blocks from where armed militia were clashing with protestors, open and active throughout the unrest following the Michael Brown shooting.  Amidst the surrounding rioting, looting, and violence, Bonner hung a sign on the library’s entrance:  “Stay strong, Ferguson. We are family.”

All through those disturbing weeks, with the local school system shut down, Bonner recruited volunteers, teachers, and church groups to provide educational activities for up to 200 children per day. He organized community groups to offer a wide range of programs and services to help affected local citizens and businesses to recover. Bonner, the sole full-time librarian on the staff, had started on the job only weeks before, yet he instantly became a mainstay of the community right when Ferguson needed one. He even brought the Small Business Administration into the library to make low-interest loans and aid available to local Ferguson businesses. So successful was Bonner’s outreach that his programs become SRO, and he had to expand activities into rental space in the church next door.

I had the pleasure of speaking briefly with Bonner on the phone last week. He sounded solid, unassuming, and down-to-earth as could be.  But in my book, he, like so many other librarians, has a pair of white wings on his back, and walks a few feet off the ground.

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Snow Day!

Much of NYC shut down yesterday afternoon so that people could get home early and stay safe and warm through the predicted 2-3 feet of snow that Winter Storm Juno was predicted to dump on us. The subway system, commuter trains, and bus lines closed at 11 pm, which was also the curfew for all non-emergency traffic on the roads.

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Columbus Triangle in Astoria yesterday afternoon

And while NYC didn’t get as much snow as Long Island and other parts of New England –“just” 11 inches so far here in Queens – the DGLM office is nevertheless closed today. In this happy age of Wifi and smartphones, a lot of our business can carry on close to normal. I think everyone in publishing is excited for a day out of the office to get caught up on the manuscripts piled up on our e-readers.

And because I was homeschooled, I never got to miss school during even the blizzardiest Michigan winter. So I’m working from the comfort of my couch, catching up on submissions, finishing a couple promising manuscripts, and maybe even sneaking peeks into the amazing David Foster Wallace Reader I picked up at my local bookstore this weekend. I am emailing in my pajamas until at least lunch time, and counting it as a Snow Day.

If you’re snowed in, what are you reading today? Any tips for making the best of a unexpected work-from-home day?