Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Term of the Week: Women's Fiction

What exactly is women's fiction? If the book is targeted to women does that make it women's fiction? Does it need to be written by a woman? Does it have to have a female protagonist? Does it have to deal with women's issues, or simply more general issues but presented from a women's perspective? Is romance a must?

My own opinion is that it can be written by either a man or a woman. It needs to have a female protagonist. A relationship has to be one of the central themes (this could be a romance, mother-daughter, friends, sisters, etc.). I personally don't group romance novels in the women's fiction group anymore; I think they are worthy of their own category considering the formulaic requirements and multiple subgenres (regency, paranormal, historical, contemporary, gothic, etc.).

Why does it matter? It's not like book readers walk into the store and say "I'm going to buy some women's fiction today." But buyers for book stores use these labels all the time, and since they are the gatekeepers it means the rest of the industry uses such terms too.

Patrick Kenzie v. Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch

In one corner we have Patrick Kenzie, Dennis Lehane's Boston PI from his excellent series. If you're ever wondering what agents mean by a high end or literary mystery, this is a great example. Kenzie grew up in the Irish working class neighborhood of Dorchester, and he's tough enough and smart enough to negotiate the social and political currents of the city.

In the other corner is Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly's LAPD Detective. Harry is the definition of stubborn, constantly on probation for something, relentless in his pursuit for justice. His mother was a prostitute, and he spent much of his childhood in orphanages and foster homes. You could say he's got a problem with authority, but that would be understating things significantly.

In the past this would have been an easy vote for me. Lehane, in my opinion, is the best mystery writer in the business. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Connelly as well, I just think that Lehane spits out plots, settings, and characters that are as complex and intriguing as I've ever seen. But I have to say that Connelly's The Narrows has me rethinking things, especially when there's been nothing new from Lehane since 2000.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Agent Stories - Cameron McClure

Got a new agent story in from Cameron McClure at the Donald Maass Agency, aka Book Cannibal.

Shadow of the Raven by David Sundstrand wasn’t the first book I sold, but it was the first book I went on submission with. As a new agent, going on submission with your first project is simultaneously thrilling and demoralizing. You don’t know many editors (at least not that many editors who can actually buy books from you – all those editorial assistants you met at Happy Hour aren’t always helpful) so inevitably, you end up making some cold calls. I tried to channel that summer I spent selling Cutco – if I can sell a knife, I call sell a book! – but those tips were useless. The truth is, as an agent, all you’ve got is your list and your reputation. I once read that the most important thing in publishing is your memory. List, reputation, memory: none of these help a new agent. For a new agent, enthusiasm is key.

David was also the first client I took on. I found him in the slush pile when I was working as an assistant for Curtis Brown. David had queried my old boss because she represents Tony Hillerman, and Tony Hillerman had read his book and given him a nice blurb. Also, Shadow is similar to his books in many ways – it’s a mystery set in the Southwest (the Mojave Desert, to be exact), has a protagonist who's part Native American, and is written with such a strong sense of atmosphere that the setting is almost a character too. I read the book and thought it had a lot of potential, but couldn't get my old boss very excited about it. She was (and undoubtedly still is) extremely busy, and past the point in her career where she needs to take chances on first time authors. Nevertheless, I kept encouraging David, and I remember this being a rather frustrating time for both of us: he kept waiting and waiting, pacing a “trail of tears” back and forth from his mail box, and I was antsy as all hell to begin taking on clients.

Right before I left Curtis Brown for the Donald Maass Literary Agency, I called David to let him know, and he asked if he could submit the novel to me there. He did, and after some editorial work I signed him up and began submitting the book to editors. I'm a stubborn person, and this trait has served me well as an agent. Despite lukewarm responses, I firmly believed that given a chance, Shadow of the Raven (then saddled with the unfortunate title The Last Jackalope) would be embraced by readers. I had some close calls, but it took nearly a year before I received an offer from Thomas Dunne Books. The book was just published in February, and while it's too soon to tell how the novel is doing, the positive reviews have been very encouraging, as have the turn-out and book sales resulting from David's regional book tour.

We all hear a lot of stories about these huge multi-million dollar book deals - or at the very least, deals for high six figures. Obviously, this isn’t one of those stories. Most writers don’t get to name their price, or choose between six warring publishers, or buy a summer home with their signing payment. Most begin modestly, and with a lot of talent, even more hard work, and a little bit of luck, get bigger and bigger. And frankly, I find just as much inspiration in their stories.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter

I read Harry Potter 7 yesterday. I think this one is better than books 5 and 6, though maybe not as good as the rest. Like always, I think Rowling rushed the ending a little bit, cramming a lot of information into just a few pages. It felt almost like she had a set page length in mind and she realized towards the climax that she was running out of space and better hurry things up. Still, this was a wonderful read and overall I'm quite happy.

I hate to join in the ongoing discussion in the blogosphere about the impact/significance of Harry Potter in the book buying world, especially since there seems little left to be analyzed, but I did want to add a more personal thought.

I bought my book from the B&N in Union Square and then walked around the Farmers' Market, looking for some fresh vegetables. It was crowded, as usual for a Saturday, and it seemed one out of every four people had Harry Potter 7 in their arms as they walked.

I then stopped to get a burrito and had a nice chat with the woman next to me about how excited we both were to read the new Harry. We agreed that a sandwich is probably the best lunch food to accompany reading a book, as a burrito can get sloppy and often requires two hands.

As I walked home I kept seeing more and more people either carrying the book or sitting on a bench reading. I had a brief chat in the elevator with my neighbor about the cover. He thinks that the art for 7 isn't much different than the others, and I have to say I agree.

The kinship I felt to these fellow readers was rather overwhelming. It certainly isn't the cool thing to be walking around with Harry Potter in your arms, but we don't care.

Even Stephen Colbert is hooked.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Book Buying Saturday

I'm off to get Harry Potter (and also Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, on the recommendation of Maya Reynolds and Book Cannibal). Very excited.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Animal Magic

Sorry my posts have been a little sporadic of late - I'm afraid that's going to continue for a while, as I'm off on several exciting little trips - to Momentum (a Christian student camp thing), a couple of friends' weddings, and Youth Hostelling with the Carbon Copy. Will try and get a few quick 'hello's in when I'm near a computer, but otherwise... To placate you, Patch has made a return, in cartoon form.

Anyway, plenty of books to chat about before I head away. And when writing about Three Men In A Boat, I got thinking about animals in literature - Montmorency the dog being rather a wonderfully co
mic creation... Animals must be quite a tricky thing to pull off successfully in a novel, especially if they're made to speak - even the idea of introducing animals to a book brings out all sorts of unpleasant connotations of whimsy and saccharine kittens (actually, I can never dislike kittens in any context; throw more of 'em into novels, I say). When done well, though, novelistic pets can be witty, illuminating about the other characters, and a very valid contribution to literature. My favourite has to be the cat in Ivy Compton-Burnett's Mother and Son - sardonic, selfish and unfeeling, he is the most sympathetic character in the novel. Any other animal favourites?

...and so, of course, I went to scout out some other books on my shelves. To be honest, the chosen tomes merely have animals in their titles, but that's a valid alternative...

1. Tortoise by Candlelight - Nina Bawden
2. The House of the Deer - DE Stevenson
3. Lady Into Fox - David Garnett
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
5. Toad of Toad Hall - AA Milne
6. Mr. Fox - Barbara Comyns
7. Flaubert's Parrot - Julian Barnes
8. Love Among The Chickens - PG Wodehouse (my personal favourite title!)
9. Performing Flea - PG Wodehouse
10. Lobster Salad - Lynne Doyle
11. The Go-Away Bird - Muriel Spark
12. Animal Farm - George Orwell

So... which is your favourite animal in literature? And any other titles to contribute?

Cover Issues

Check out Bella Standler's ongoing "I Hate My Book Cover" series on her blog, Reading Under the Covers, which I stumbled upon via Kirsten Nelson's blog.

Three degrees of bloggerization, I guess.

Rachel Morgan v. Anita Blake

Lately I've been devouring paranormal mysteries in obscene amounts. I don't envision representing more than a few clients in this genre, but its something I really enjoy to read in my spare time. I love the limitless story lines, the creativity of the different worlds, and the moral complexity that fantasy characters can bring to a book just by their paranormal nature.

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files is far and away my favorite series, but I'm also a fan of Kim Harrison and Laurell K. Hamilton. I've been debating which I like more, but after a bit of thought I realized that Harrison wins. The writing is superb in both series, and Rachel Morgan and Anita Blake are both awesome characters, but ultimately, I just love Harrison's world a little more. How could I not when it was a genetically tampered tomato that led to the spread of a disease that wiped out half the human population? I've always been suspicious of tomatoes (at least in their raw form).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Term of the Week: Flow-through

I'm going to start with one that isn't subject to much dispute.

Flow-through (also called pass-through) means an accelerated payment of certain subsidiary rights income.

When you sign a contract, you usually grant the publisher the primary right to print, publish, and sell your manuscript in book form. You also grant to the publisher certain subsidiary rights in the work, and most often the publisher will then try to license these rights to a third party. Once a sale is made, the publisher and author will split any money received.

What subsidiary rights you license and at what splits depends on the book, the publisher, and your agent, but for the purposes of this post I'm just going to discuss what happens when the publisher does make a subsidiary rights sale to a third party. Typically the author's share of the money made from the license is paid to the author in the next royalty statement, which could be up to a year away. A flow-through clause requires that the money be paid to the author within a certain period of time - i.e. that the money flows directly through to the author without the normal delays.

Typically a flow-through clause only applies once an author has earned out their advance. Also, publishers almost always require that the sale for the license be for more than a certain amount of money in order to justify the cost for the extra bookkeeping. Finally, I've found that the more subsidiary rights you grant the publisher, the more likely a publisher will agree to include this clause.

Term of the Week Begins Today

Later today I will post the first entry in what I hope will become a running series called "Term of the Week." I'll post a concept or term and try to provide a definition or an explanation. Hopefully you'll chime in with your knowledge/thoughts as well, especially on the more nebulous stuff.

Getting an offer from an agent

No story today, I actually wanted to briefly mention something about submitting to agents. I received a really interesting query via my agency website submission form, and so less than an hour after the query came in I requested the first 30 pages. Less than a week later I received an email by this author informing me that they received an offer of representation from another agent and had decided to accept the offer. As a result, they were withdrawing the submission.

I actually read the first thirty pages and thought they were quite good, and was going to request the rest. I guess it's my fault for not reading the material fast enough, and I'm happy that the author got an offer. Still, I have to say that the writer didn't handle this properly at all. Sadly, it seems writers make this mistake all the time.

I encourage authors to submit to more than one agent at a time, and when a query comes in I am assuming you are. Still, its proper etiquette to inform other agents who have requested your material when you received an offer from another agent, and you should give them at least a little bit of time to finish reading the material, especially when they've only had something for a week.

Its comparable to agents submitting to editors. If I have an offer from another editor coming in, I'll let the other editors know and give them a bit of time to finish reading the submission and making a decision. Before advising my client to enter into a publishing agreement, I like for all options to be explored and pursued that make sense. The only time this doesn't happen is if the editor and publisher are a perfect fit for the book and they make a very good preemptive offer.

Agents shouldn't and usually don't give authors a deadline to respond to an offer of representation unless it drags on for more than a few weeks. So unless you're getting an offer from someone like Amanda Urban, who can and does sell just about every book she represents, there's no reason not to give other agents a bit of time. Not only is this basic etiquette, but is the smart way to handle making one of the more important decisions of your writing career.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Three Men In A Boat... is that all?

Today I finished Three Men In A Boat. I suspect that isn't how this day will go down in family history, since it was also the Carbon Copy's graduation - one of those events which is extremely exciting for about four seconds, and quite irrelevant for the remaining hundreds of hours. Even so, it wasn't too bad, and I made a respectable "wooo!" when Col tramped across the stage, which he claims not to have heard.

The other thing of note is that I have joined the list of links on Susan Hill's blog - thank you Susan! If you've found Stuck-in-a-Book that way, then welcome, welc
ome, welcome. Even if Susan doesn't like Jane Austen...(!) Personality Test Results In Soon For Everyone. Maybe.

Back to Jerome K. Jerome. What a wonderful book! Three Men In A Boat is far too well known to get onto my list of fifty, but I'm still going to shout about how funny and well written it is. When I lent someone a book of AA Milne's sketches from Punch, they responded by saying Jerome's book was similar, and they are right. Though a 1889 book (according to my Preface) it feels much more 1910/20s than Victorian - lots of litotes and hyperbole in turns, absolutely everything is anthropomorphised (very amusingly) and basically the book is style, not plot. In fact, the 'plot' is that three men, er, go boating. Not forgetting Montmorency the dog. From this, the narrator 'J.' produces more a series of anecdotes than a narrative, though there is a central thread of the c
urrent outing, running, if you will, like a river through... no, sorry, too much. If you're looking to read a multi-layered Victorian novel, look elsewhere - but for an uncomplicated laugh, you can't go far wrong. And the postcard-bookmark I used was Ernest Proctor's Porthgwarra (c.1926) which I bought in a gallery in Cornwall.

Have they ever made a film of Three Men In A Boat? Somehow, I can't see the complete absence of plot working very well on the big screen...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Layin' Down the Law

I was having some wine with my friends Sarah and Rob on Saturday night, and it came out that they've been reading my blog. Their comments were that I was "no-nonsense" and that I really "laid down the law." They meant this as a compliment, and I took it as one, but I after some thought I've decided I am going to try to spice things up a bit with a few stories.

At some point soon I'm going to share my own story of an interesting experience with placing a client's work, and every now and then I'm also going to talk a bit about what I'm reading or watching. My fiance is always quick to remind me that she is the funny one in our relationship, so don't expect anything too earth-shattering!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Housing Development

Hurray! I have somewhere to live next year. Regent Street is my new address, though it is a humble row of Victorian houses in Oxford, rather than a premier London road on the Monopoly board. So far, we only have three of the required four housemates, but I'm sure we'll find the fourth - and from 1st September this year, my blogging will come from this building here. Though hopefully not from either of these rooms, as I've requested a room which doesn't face the road...

Friday, July 13, 2007

50 Books...

I've posted pictures of this book a couple of times, exemplifying either its attractiveness, or the fact that it contains short stories, but I've never really commented on its contents properly. And Kate Chopin's Portraits was always going to be an inclusion on my 50 Books You Must Read... and here it is, as we reach (just about) a quarter way through the list.

I came across Chopin in 2004, when dovegreybooks started up their Postal Book Group. The idea was - indeed, still is, as it is still going strong - that you select a book, and a nice notebook, and send them on to a given address. Repeat every two months, and eventually your book comes back to you with a notebook of comments, and you'll have read lots of other, interesting books, across which one might not have come, were it not for the group. Great fun. I sent off AA Milne's The Holiday Round, whilst dovegreyreader - or just plain Lynne as we knew her then (I mean we k
new her as Lynne, not as plain Lynne) - sent Kate Chopin's The Awakening. I read it in a caravan in Devon, one of the last books I read before heading off to university. And I loved it. I wanted more.

That brings me onto Portraits. You know by now that they're short stories - but when Chopin does short, she really does short. Some are less than two pages in length, and these, to my mind, are the most successful. They either hinge around a specific denouement or surprise - like 'Desiree's Baby', give or take an accent or two - or are miniature portraits (!) of characters. M
y favourite of these is 'Boulot and Boulotte', a tiny story about twelve-year-old twins, deemed old enough to buy shoes; they go and select them at the market, but are incredulous when asked why they return barefoot: "You 'spec' Boulot an' me we got money fur was'e - us?" she retorted with withering condescension. "You think we go buy shoes fur ruin it in de dus'? Comment!"

As you can see, Chopin often adopts typographical means to portray black or Creole vernacular - I find this quite wearying, quite apart from being a potential p.c. minefield. But the quality of Chopin's writing more than rises above these issues (Chopin does, I must add, show a great deal more respect to other races than many of her other late-Victorian contemporaries... can one be late-Victorian and not British? Well, you know what I mean.) She uses language in a sparing but powerful way, and is great to flick through and pick stories arbitrarily. That's how I read it, anyway. And, if nothing else, the cover is great...(!)

Book Through Thurs... er, Friday

Sorry, I always seem to forget it's Thursday when it's Thursday... at the moment, am fiddling around with trying to get a house next year (need another housemate, but want to get the house before someone else does... bah)... anyway, this will be a little fill-in, as it is surely Thursday SOMEWHERE in the world... are Australia behind us or ahead of us? Not sure. It's either just-Thursday or almost-Saturday there, anyway.

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:
1. In your opinion, what is the best translation of a book to a movie?
2. The worst?
3. Had you read the book before seeing the movie, and did that make a difference? (Personally, all other things being equal, I usually prefer whichever I was introduced to first.)

1. Remember this post? This is quite an easy one, because my favourite film is The Hours. In terms of translating the book to the screen, I think it's fairly accurate, and certainly faithful to the feel of the novel. Michael Cunningham was certainly happy enough to do a commentary on the DVD.

2. Without question, Winnie-the-Pooh. It was a film, wasn't it,
not a TV series? Either way, it was a travesty. Amusing, yes - but why-oh-why did they feel the need to jettison EH Shepard's amazing illustrations? Why was Christopher Robin American? Why was Rabbit on drugs? Why Gopher at all? Nothing makes me seethe quite as much as the Disneyfied Winnie. Oh, and Mary Poppins, whilst a great film, bears very little resemblance to P. L. Travers' books.

3. I always try to, and feel quite cross when people don't,
but must admit to seeing Memoirs of a Geisha and The Shipping News without ever having read them, and only read Notes on a Scandal this week, despite seeing the film when it first came out. Bad Simon.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Universally Acknowledged

Thought I'd answer a question from the comments, with this post. Linda asked what edition these Jane Austen novels were - and that's a good excuse to show you them all! They're Book-of-the-Month Club editions, from 1996, published in the UK by Softback Preview. And they're gorgeous! They were bought for me by Our Vicar's Wife and Barbara-from-Ludlow when we went on a book-buying trip to Blaenavon, the Welsh equivalent of Hay-on-Wye. I don't know how the town is faring now - certainly business hasn't been booming on the two occasions I've visited. A shame.

I expect most of this blog's readership has read all six Austen novels, and there probably isn't anyone here who's not read at least one... so the question is, which is your favourite? I think you can tell a lot about a person by which Austen novel is their favourite... own up!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

And my responses to electronic submissions...

As a follow up to my previous posting, while I will respond to every query sent via the website, my responses will be short if I don't want to see the material. Please don't ask me to give you names of other agents that you should submit to or my reasoning for passing - I will provide neither. If for some reason you don't get a response from me, its likely because you didn't include a proper e-mail address or you have one of those anti-spam verification programs.

Also, you should note that I most likely will not respond to electronic queries sent to me directly, as compared to the website.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Judging Books By Covers

I've always found the adage 'don't judge a book by its cover' rather strange. In its metaphorical sense, all well and good, but surely, in the realm of books, it isn't sound advice? A huge amount of money and expertise is spent in making sure the covers to books are pertinent and, what is more, attractive to the buyer. When wandering around a bookshop, I'm never going to pick up an unknown author without the aid of the cover artwork - whether I buy or not is another matter, but my initial guide has to be the exterior.

Most of the books I own are old hardbacks, which are now bereft of their dustjackets. Apparently it was once commonplace to discard these upon purchase, or soon after. So when an attractive cover comes along, I'm even more appreciative. When I find a beautiful one, I just love looking at it, like any other piece of artwork. So I hope you don't think it shallow of me that I've perused my bookshelves for my favourite covers. We can even make this into a little vote - do comment and say which is your favourite. The main picture, since I chose an odd number of books, is Kate Chopin's collection of short stories, Portraits, and the one I like best.

1. Monday or Tuesday - Virginia Woolf - the sublime Hesperus at their best.
2. The Summer Book - Tove Jansson - you all know that I love this book! The cover just invites you to dive in.

3. Faster! Faster! - EM Delafield 4. Mr. Pim Passes By - AA Milne - these two are some of the few old hardbacks I have which are still cloaked in dustjackets, and rather beautiful ones. They don't have the vivid colours of modern covers, but both lovely pieces of art in themselves.

5. Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen - my collection of Austen novels all come with close-ups of contemporary clothing. A great set, and this one is my favourite
6. William-An Englishman - Cicely Hamilton - I chose this as representative of Persephone Books, since it's their first one. Beautiful, sof
t, dove grey covers.

7. The Matisse Stories - AS Byatt - a book 'about' an artist ought to be beautiful, oughtn't it?
8. Queen Lucia - EF Benson - another series of great arty covers, and this my favourite of the six

9. Emotional Geology - Linda Gillard - an old internet friend, and a book published by Transita press. They do such wonderful covers, especially on their first publications.
10. Five Quarters of the Orange - Joanne Harris - these covers made a publication trend all of their own, quite deservedly.

Is it any coincidence that I've read all these books? And when I haven't read over half the books I own, these covers must be doing something right. Let me know your favourite.

Monday, July 9, 2007

(Don't) Keep The Woolf From The Door

First off, a big well done to Carole! I haven't got an email from you yet, though (Yahoo is playing up a bit) so do let me know - what do you think about taking your pick from the current '50 Books You Must Read...' list? They are down the left hand side - only eleven to choose from so far, but hopefully something you'd like, Carole - if you don't mind the book being secondhand, as most of those are out of print. Oh, except no.8, which is impossible to find... In related news, I was excited to see my 'umble blog mentioned on the BAFAB blog. How exciting, and another thanks to BAFAB for their great idea!

Now, I've blogged about Virginia Woolf before. Possibly more than any other author, come to think about it, so forgive me if I do it again. I still have the feeling that mention of Ginny brings people screeching up to a blank wall - Susan Hill has run her Woolf For Dummies, and bloggers great and disparate have mentioned her, but I still always feel the need to apologise, to find 'starting points' for Woolf. Truth is, she's not a difficult author, not if you don't start off with The Waves. But you do have to give her all your attention, just for a little bit... and so, if there really any people out there still unconverted, please turn to The London Scene.

The lovely people at Snow Books sent this beautiful book to me - it's a slim volume, and produced exquisitely. I even stole the picture from them. Must mention Suzanne Burton, before I forget - wonderful illustrations, Suzanne. You can see one on the cover, and they head up each of the essays. Oops, dirty word. These are 'essays', six of 'em, describing various areas and activities in London, but don't go thinking you'll need to reference footnotes and look up Latin epigrams. These are more musings - intellectual musings, but musings nonetheless. I don't know London very well, and I have the feeling this book would be even better if one did, but even with my yokel unfamiliarity, this collection is intensely evocative. Comissioned by Good Housekeeping in 1932 (imagine!) these have never been published together since - apparently the final essay (and the best) was lost until recently.

These essays move between the public grandeur of Westminster Abbey and the House of Commons, and the private detail of Mrs. Crowe's social parlour, and those shopping on Oxford Street. In under a hundred pages, Woolf encapsulates every aspect of social and historical London, in her ever-precise and enveloping language:
And again the moralists point the finger of scorn. For such thinness, such papery stone and powdery brick reflect, they say, the levity, the ostentation, the haste and irresponsibility of our age.
Yet perhaps they are as much out in their scorn as we should be if we asked of the lily that it should be cast in bronze, or of the daisy that it should have petals of imperishable enamel. The charm fo modern London is that it is not built to last; it is built to pass. Its glassiness, its transparency, its surging waves of coloured plaster give a different pleasure and achieve a different end from that which was desired and attempted by the old builders and their patrons, the nobility of England.

How... how Woolfean.
But don't forget, she is more than capable of humour: in Mrs. Crowe's drawing-room 'if anyone said a brilliant thing it was felt to be rather a breach of etiquette - an accident that one ignored, like a fit of sneezing, or some catastrophe with a muffin'.

Because I've blogged about Woolf a few times, I'm going to repeat a cartoon. It still makes me laugh.

Electronic Submissions

As of this week, my preference for querying is via the agency website. In order to encourage this change, all queries sent through the website will be responded to regardless of interest.

Queries may also still be sent by regular mail.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Introducing Patch the Wonder-Dog

Well, I don't have dovegreyreader's feline resources, more's the pity, and the Carbon Copy was reluctant to cover himself in sticky tape and roll on a pile of names... so I had to look elsewhere for assistance in choosing the BAFAB winner... introducing Patch! Here he is. Patch Woof Thomas, which is his full name, is only a month-and-a-half younger than me, and doesn't let me forget it. He came for my first Christmas, and whilst I have now grown taller than him, he's had the advantage of new paws. Don't know who's looking better for 21 years, really. Anyway, he volunteered to help me choose the BAFAB winner.

So I carefully wrote out all the entrants na
mes on little bits of yellow paper, cut up from unused paperchains from Christmas '05, and put little bits of sellotape on them...

...and Patch rolled through them until only one was left on the floor...
...and the winner is...

Congratulations Carole Bruce! I'm afraid I can't find an email address for you, so I do hope you're checking back to see if you've won. Email me with your address, ar - I think the most suitable book to send is The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, since it is the first one in my '50 Books You Must Read...' list. Unless you have it already, Carole, then we'll think of something else!

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Just to remind you that BAFAB week is nearly up - you have until the end of Sunday to enter your name (for non-UK readers, that gives you about a day from this post...) - so pop along to this entry, if you haven't done so already.

But, you might ask if you've forgotten, for what does BAFAB stand? Here's a few ideas...

or perhaps...


Probably not...

Friday, July 6, 2007

grains of salt

Be careful what you read out there... without naming names, I've now stumbled across a few blogs that have either incomplete or erroneous information on them.

There's one blog in particular that has really raised my ire over the past year. Just recently they inaccurately described the ongoing debate between Simon & Schuster and authors/agents over the publisher's out of print clause. In another posting they had incorrect information about agents posting queries on the web. Now I'm not saying you have to have legal training before commenting on these things, or that you need to have professional experience that extends beyond rejecting queries, but at the least you need to make sure to properly educate yourself on the issues before discussing them in a public forum.

You'll note that on this site and any agent site that I link to we try to talk about only the things we know about, and always make sure to tell you when something is our own opinion, as compared to an industry-wide feeling. I know that caveats can get annoying, but we live in a world and work in a business of caveats. If the blogging agent isn't pointing this out along the way then I suggest you take the information they are providing with many, many grains of salt.


Thank you very much, lovely people at Hesperus Press, for sending me a pile of books the other day. You are nice folk. I've seen a few other people review The Calligrapher's Night by Ghata, and Wings by Mikhail Kuzmin, so I decided to go for Sarrasine by Honore de Balzac. As usual, imagine the accent.

Hesperus' copy, pictured, has both 'Sarrasine' and 'A Passion in the Desert'. The latter is a short story; 'Sarrasine' is one of those short-novella-long-short-story things which only seem to happen in Europe, and hasn't been given a proper name in English yet. It is a framed account of a sculptor, Sarrasine, and his infatuation with La Zambinella. With surprising consequences. Sounds a little lurid, doesn't it, but of course it isn't - Balzac's narrative is thick, rich prose which one can sink into and admire, without being put off. The descriptions are delicious, especially the first page, which depicts an extravagant crowd at a party.

'... The raised voices of the gamblers at every unexpected throw, and the ringing sound of the pieces of gold, blended with the music and with the murmur of conversations. The crowd, which had been intoxicated by everything the world had to offer in the way of seductions, was stupefied by the perfumed vapour and general drunkenness that was affecting their crazed imaginations.'

Better than 'went to a party; everyone was wasted', isn't it?

At the risk of belying my moniker at the bottom of this entry, let me quote Kate Pullinger's Foreword: 'The theorist Roland Barthes' book S/Z is entirely devoted to a detailed semiotic examintaion of Sarrasine. I first came across the story not through Barthes (however much I'd love to claim the contrary)..." Well, Kate, I'm one step ahead of you - whilst ploughing through my first year module 'Text, Context, Intertext' (TCI to its friends), I read Barthes lengthy, wordy and largely incomprehensible book. In doing so, I ought probably have read 'Sarrasine', which is quoted in its entirety, in little chunks - but I started skipping these in the end. In a toss up between Barthes and Balzac, I know who I'd choose - though one of
Barthes' terms is nice, and very useful. It's 'the casuistry of discourse' - when the text is trying to limit what it tells you, without lying. Think detective novel - the book can't say "And Mr. Peterson killed Miss Knight with a dagger in the study" if the unveiling of Mr. Peterson is the denouement - but it also can't say "Mr. Peterson was on a train to Moscos when Miss Knight was stabbed", unless he has a complex system of pulleys. The 'casuistry of discourse' is in play when the novel writes "Miss Knight was killed". Not lying; not giving the game away. Haven't you always wanted a term for that?

Barthes entitled his book S/Z because Sarrasine would normally be Sarrazine, or something like that, and this is all to do with castration (pretty much everything is to do with castration for Barthes) - but I think S/Z is a very useful model for a transatlantic audience such as I have... as this little sketch demonstrates...

GalleyCat is the new Pink

I enjoy my daily dose of Publisher's Lunch, and I anxiously await my Publisher's Weekly each Monday (or Tuesday, or Wednesday, depending on whether they've screwed up delivery again). But I have to say that right now GalleyCat is far and away my favorite source of publishing news. Simply, what they're covering is both the most interesting and most helpful to me on a daily basis.

Falling Behind

To all those anxiously awaiting a reply on their queries, please note I've fallen behind and will respond as soon as I can. My apologies...

Agent Stories - Nathan Bransford

Next up to bat is Nathan Bransford from Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Jonathan was kind enough to ask me to post a guest blog, and he didn't even rub it in that his beloved Spurs won yet another NBA championship this year while my favorite team (the Sacramento Kings) just hired the guy who played Coach Fuller on NBC's teen sitcom Hang Time, in which a co-ed team of misfits did not miss a shot the entire season on the way to the State Championship. Yes, this is true, and no, I couldn't be more depressed.

But, much like Coach Fuller, I too have determination and perseverance (how about that segue!). I am willing to go the distance, swing for the fences, shoot for par, and basically embody every other sports metaphor you can possibly come up with. And that is because if there is thing I've learned about publishing, it's this: You Never Know.

We really do try to add as much objectivity and science into the submission process through networking, our experience and the reputation of our agencies, but at the end of the day, you never know. When it comes down to it, this is a subjective business, and when tastes within the industry vary so greatly, it's impossible to predict exactly what's going to happen.

One time I submitted a really great proposal to multiple editors, and for some reason... it just wasn't selling. I went down my submission list, editors liked it and took it to editorial board meetings... but it just wasn't selling. Still though, I wasn't ready to throw in the towel (another sports metaphor! I have more...)

Then, nearly six months after I first started submitting it, out of the blue I heard from a really great editor from a really great house, and he wanted to buy it. And the next day I heard from another editor... he wanted to buy it too. The very patient author ended up getting a great deal.

So I always go the distance. You just never know if an offer will snap people into action, or if a small house will be the right fit for an author and do a great job, or if someone will hear about the proposal and want to see it. Sure, there's a whole lot of time that goes into submissions, and it's possible expenses will never be recouped, but I try not to think about that and just hope for the best. Because you never know.

Check out Nathan's fantastic blog!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

7 Books You Will Have Heard About And Have Probably Read (Most Of)

Never let it be said that I am out of touch with the populus. In a year where I've read more Middle English than your average preteen, I've also just finished a book nearly all of 'em will have read. Yup, having reached page 766, have completed my third read of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The film's coming out soon, and I wanted to refresh my memory...

In the early days, when JK Rowling was producing one of the series a year, Harry Potter was the same age as me. I've had the opportunity to overtake him now, but even so, I wasn't there from the outset. The first time our paths crossed was when I helped out on the school's Carnegie Prize Panel (which didn't have any effect on the actual procedure, but was rather fun) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter III) was one of the choices. This was when Harry was big, but not huge. And I was hooked - part of me wanted to loath the book, but... no, I was hooked. I've yet to meet anyone who has read any of the series, and still dislikes it.

So what is it about JKR's writing? Well, if I knew that, I'd probably be a millionaire by now. But we did have a lecture on Harry Potter at Oxford once, in the first week that I was at university, and the lecturer pointed out that JKR rarely used descriptive language, or anything which veered from the action-action-action. This, said Dr. Purkiss (herself, with her son Michael, an author under the pseudonym Tobias Druitt), was either incredibly clever writing, or incredibly bad writing. True, take any chunk of prose and Virginia Woolf it ain't - but Rowling's ability to make you read on is
unparalleled. Who would have thought children would willingly read 700+ pages? And I read it over a single weekend, so that I wouldn't have the ending spoilt by friends at school on Monday. Perhaps I'm not the best example of someone who needed persuasion to read, but you get the idea.

So. Where do my musings point? Nowhere, to be honest, except to demonstrate myself not quite the literary snob I might seem, and to hope lots of others hold up their hands in solidarity.
No reason why one can't enjoy Woolf and wizards; Shakespeare and Sirius Black; Austen and Aurors... you get the picture. Speaking of pictures, there must be a thousand sketches I could have done to accompany a post on Harry Potter. But I'm tired... so I've copied this one, which is hopefully the way things are heading for the next generation. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About

Thank you for all your comments yesterday, much appreciated! We're still all very chuffed here - oh, and do keep contributing your name to the BAFAB draw until the end of the week. Will probably do the draw on Sunday.

It's been quite a while since I added another book to the '50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About', which are listed down the left-hand column of this page - so today I'm going to add the eleventh. This one was a cert from the offset.

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. This was the first book I ever bought new on impulse. That sound
s like I have admirable restraint in book purchasing, but I think you know me well enough to despute that allegation - rather, my impulse-purchases are almost always secondhand books. But this one I couldn't leave on the shelf.

The book is quite small, in length and height - a pocket book, if you will. The subtitle is 'Confessions of a Common Reader', and anyone who has manoeuvred themselves to a website with the words 'Stuck', 'in', 'a', and 'Book' in the title will be entranced. In bitesize chapters, just perfect for one-a-night-before-bed, Fadiman explores the foibles and activites of the book obsessed. You'll recognise the lot.

My favourite section is 'Never Do That To A Book':

'When I was elevn and my brother was thirteen, our parents took us to Europe. At the Hotel d'Angleterre in Copenhagen, as he had done virtually every night of his literate life, Kim left a book facedown on the bedside table. The next afternoon, he returned to find the book closed, a piece of paper inserted to mark the page, and the following note, signed by the chambermaid, resting on its cover:


Don't know ab
out you, but I'm cheering on the chambermaid. The chapter divides readers into 'Courtly Lovers' and 'Carnal Lovers'; the latter are happy to use their books as table-wedges, tennis rackets or surf-boards, the former wouldn't let a biro within ten metres. I'm definitely Courtly... how about you?

Ex Libris is a witty, warm collection of essay-anecdotes, a perfect gift for something bookish, but equally a perfect gift to yourself. Find out about The Odd Shelf, Literary Gluttony, and the Joy of Sesquipedalians, and scream in recognition at every page.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Winners all round

A couple of exciting things today to share with you. The first is that BAFAB has come to Stuck-in-a-Book. I entered the blogging world just after the previous BAFAB week, not by design of course, and so this is my first. For those not familiar with the concept, Buy A Friend A Book does exactly what it says on the tin - just leave a comment on this entry, and one lucky entrant will be posted a book. Haven't decided which one yet, but I'll try and make sure that it's one you'll enjoy. Also haven't decided upon the selection procedure (our cat Bundle sadly died a year ago, otherwise she'd have happily played the role at which dovegreyreader's cats excel)... but you're job is just to comment; leave the rest to me.

And the other news... my exam results came in a day earlier than anticipated... turns out I'm the Carbon Copy this time, as I followed my brother into getting a first! Very delighted and quite surprised, but the true heroes are unsung. And here they are...

By the way, any congratulatory messages will be taken as entrants to BAFAB... sneaky, huh?!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Making Humans

I don't read Science Fiction, but I think it's true to say that a lot of it is about making humans. Or creating beings as near as possible to humans - whether robots, or anthropomorphised objects and animals, and so forth. Even games companies are intent on making dolls as much like humans as possible. Don't they realise that literature is several steps ahead?

I've just finished reading Claire Tomalin's Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life, which has been languishing on my shelves for a few years. Having blogged about short stories the other day, I thought I'd go back and read about the woman behind some of my favourites - and while doing it, I started pondering the whole sphere of biographies. They're a strange commodity, aren't they? A writer is given three hundred pages to package up an entire life... what a feat. And what a liberty. Tomalin can be on safe ground when listing the dates of publications, names of relatives etc. etc., but then you get something like this:
"Although Katherine and Murry often presented their relationship as the most important element in both their lives - and it did absorb a huge amount of their energy - there is a sense in which neither sought true understanding of the other. For each of them, the other became a symbolic figure very early on: she the good, suffering, spontaneous genius, he the ideally beautiful scholar-lover without whom neither life nor death could be properly contemplated."
Sorry, a bit of a long quotation there, potentially breaking all so
rts of copyright laws. It was reading this section that made me think "hold up, what?" Tomalin is a very good, sensible writer, on the whole, but strident sentences like this one seem so difficult to justify. How do we know? Even with letters and diaries and the memories of friends, this sort of confessional psychoanalysis could only ring remotely true if it were in the mouth of Mansfield or Murray. And yet it is routine for biographies to depict relationships and mindsets in detail which must be subjective and conjectural.

I don't have a problem with this sort of biography-writing - there doesn't seem to be any other sort - but it did make me think, and I thought I'd share my ponderings, and see what people think. With scientists trying to mak
e life, are biographers doing it better, or simply wishing they were?

And onto Tomalin's Katherine Mansfield, more specifically. As I said, Tomalin is a very competent writer - but I felt the book was quite hollow, in the end. Not in the sense of vacuous, but that Mansfield continually avoided the spotlight. I finished the book without really getting to grips with Mansfield's personality, though the opinions of all around her were quite vivid, and the biography is perfectly readable. She didn't seem particularly pleasant, which was sad, but... even so, the big gap in the biography was often the subject herself. Mansfield remained elusive. Which kind of negates everything I wrote above... but surely not Tomalin's aim?

One final note. You might remember my wish to get the 'right' postcard bookmark for each book - for this one, I chose Edward Hopper's 'Hotel Room' (1931)