Posts Tagged ‘John Grisham’

The Short Story is Dead! Long Live the Short Story!

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2010 at 4:39 pm
Virginia Quarterly Review

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For as long as Google remembers, people have been writing articles offering proof that the short story is not dead.

In 1969, The New York Times declared that: “the death of the short story is announced as regularly as the decay of morals.”

In what appears to be a wire story from 1973 (the article appeared in both The Times-News of Hendersonville, NC and The Sarasota Herald News) it was reported that: “the reports of the death of the short story are greatly exaggerated.”

In 1988, Fred Lutz of the Toledo Blade said that “rumors that started about 10 years ago about the death of short story were definitely premature. The genre is alive and well in living in America.”

I suspect the problem isn’t with the short story.

Just look at the literary landscape and it’s dotted with people writing stories that people are reading: Wells Tower, John Grisham, Jhumpa Lahiri.

That’s not the issue.

The problem, I think, has to do with the evolution of the writer as celebrity.

While it’s probably always been true to come extent that there are people who think because they have access to a pen or a keyboard, they can be a Writer, that seems to have evolved into people thinking they can now be a Famous Writer. And with that there seems to be a growing sense of entitlement.

Just read this ridiculous piece on Huffington Post by someone who suggests (facetiously, I can only hope though I suspect not) that there be a literary draft in the style of football’s.

“Personally, I’d settle for $100,000 annually, for which I will absolutely produce a brand-new novel each year,” he promises.

The writer suggests it’s a system rooted in history but does anyone really think that Mozart, da Vinci, any number of people wouldn’t have created their art if they hadn’t had benefactors.

Yes, money is always nice but the best writers don’t write because of the paycheck, they do it because they can’t imagine doing anything else.

In a recent piece for Mother Jones, Ted Genoways, the editor of Virginia Quarterly Review, points out that there are hundreds of MFA programs on universities producing thousands of “writers” yet the average literary magazine prints 1.500 copies.

“In short, no one is reading all this newly produced literature—not even the writers themselves,” he writes.

As a result, literary magazines are on the ropes: Triquarterly was reinvented as a student-run online publication; New England Review has until next year to become self-sufficient, Southern Review has been having problems.

It’s been suggested that much as April is National Poetry Month, we should make May National Short Story Month and just as I suggested poetry month should be celebrated by adopting a poet by subscribing to a literary magazine or similar gesture… I say, the same should be true for May.

If you want people to read you, the least you can do is make sure you read other people — and pay for it: subscribe to a magazine, buy a book, even go on ITunes.

As The Guardian pointed out, the ITunes-ization of short fiction is here.

It’s not a perfect world but people have to stop acting like they’re entitled to support.

Help others if you expect to get help.

As Genoways wrote: “Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ’s sake, write something we might want to read.”

Problems for Apple? Probably Not but…

In Entertainment, Technology on April 30, 2010 at 10:22 am
Apple Inc.

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So, yesterday, I talked a bit about how there were some issues related to the availability of books on e-readers such as the IPad and the Kindle.

But, there was something that I overlooked.

Cory Doctorow, over at Publisher’s Weekly, has a different take on the situation, writing a column explaining why he won’t allow his books to be sold through Apple and why he thinks other authors should follow in his footsteps.

Doctorow, who is already on record stating he won’t buy an IPad in large part because of Apple’s restrictive policies about whether or not you can share your purchases with others (more often than not — you can’t), returns to that theme.

After pointing out that most pieces about the IPad “have been long on emotional raves about its beauty and ease of use, but have glossed over its competitive characteristics—or rather, its lack thereof” he suggests that writers tell Apple they can’t license their copyrights until they agree to allow people to share what they’ve bought.

“You shouldn’t take it from Apple, either, and that goes for Amazon and the Kindle, too,” he adds.

And he has a point. One of the great joys in reading a book is being able to say to someone, “Hey. You should read this” and then actually lend them the book.

I sort of can’t help but wonder if the e-reader conflict is going to turn into World Format War III (after VHS vs. Betamax and Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD).

While I wish Doctorow well, I suspect, sadly, there’s not going to be a lot of withholding going on. Just look at John Grisham who spoke passionately about the threat to bookstores posed by e-readers and refused to allow e-editions of his work but then caved after just a couple of months.

Meanwhile, Apple has an even bigger problem.

Jon Stewart.

It goes like this.

An Apple employee leaves his prototype of the new super-secret IPhone in a bar (sounds like the beginning of a very bad joke, which I guess it was for Apple), someone finds it, tries returning it to Apple, is rebuffed, so they offer it to techblog Gizmodo, which buys it, takes it apart, posts details about it and then, after Apple asks for it back, they give it back.

While it may not have been the most sound journalistic practice on Gizmodo’s part, it didn’t warrant what happened next, which was the cops busting down the door of the home of the Gizmodo editor who wrote the piece and seizing his computers.

On The Daily Show on Wednesday night, Stewart — a self=proclaimed long-time Apple user (as am I; I only wish the IPhone were available to Verizon so I can trade up my ITouch) — took them to task for becoming what they used to mock.

In the end, I suspect all the criticism in the world won’t really make all that much of a difference to Apple but it would be nice to think — especially today as Apple ships the latest iteration of the IPad (with WiFi and 3G) that Jobs is listening to all this and recognizes that as great as his devices are, there’s always room for improvement.

And the same goes for Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Sony and the others.

Maybe if there was a little less IPad vs. Kindle and a little more focus on the consumer, all would be good.

E-Rights and Wrongs

In Entertainment, Technology on April 29, 2010 at 10:07 am
Image representing Amazon Kindle as depicted i...

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So, we have the Kindle and the IPad and the Nook and more e-readers coming out all the time.

And you have some big name writers making big bucks writing pieces just for these devices and you have other writers who are doing well enough, that they’re backing away from traditional publishing to focus on work to be downloaded.

So, all must be pretty good for writers as the world of publishing expands online, right? Well, not quite.

Much as what happened when ITunes started and some musicians withheld their music, complaining about the terms. And, there are some who are still keeping their music out of digital stores and there are others who have seen their music become available but are none too happy about how it’s turned out.

Well, it’s turning out to be the same with writers as it has been with musicians as authors struggle on several fronts from controlling the rights to their work to how much their going to get to well, if everything’s going to be sold online, what’s going to happen to bookstores?

The issue’s been in the news this week because after a month’s long fight, Random House has agreed to let the family of William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice and other classics, to sell the e-rights to his books to Open Road Media.

What made this especially notable is that Random House has taken a pretty hard line when it comes to holding on to the e-rights of books.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in December, Random House CEO Markus Dohle sent a letter to literary agents asserting that the “vast majority of our backlist contracts grant us the right to publish books in electronic formats.

And in response to those who disagreed because contracts drawn up decades before e-books became popular — r practical — a Random House spokesman told the paper: “We believe Random House has the right to pblish out author’s backlist titles as e-books.”

Well, of course they do.

You would think Random House had learned its lesson — after all, it was nearly ten years ago that they lost a landmark case when it tried to get Rosetta Books from publishing some e-books.

In other cases, it’s been writers deciding to withhold e-versions of their books.

JK Rowling has chosen to keep Harry Potter off of e-readers for now and, in November, John Grisham (lawyer, that he is) made a very passionate argument about why he wasn’t allowing e-versions of his books to be sold.

“You’re going to wipe out tons of bookstores and publishers and we’re going to buy it all online,” he told the Today Show. “I’m probably going to be all right — but the aspiring writers are going to have a very hard time getting published.”

And while Grisham’s holdout didn’t last long (unsurprisingly, perhaps, there’s no comment from him or his representatives), his arguments are still valid.

So, as you download books (something I’ve done) and curl up with your IPad, Nook or Kindle or Sony Reader or whatever, keep in mind that someone created the work and that there’s a chance that person is still fighting for the ability to have some control over it.

It’s especially important when you realize there are still battles on the horizon.

John Grisham Strikes Again

In Entertainment, Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 8:38 am

Grisham's New Book: Coming in May

Let’s talk for a moment about John Grisham.

He’s an astoundingly highly successful writer whose books have sold millions and millions of copies. The Firm, The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill…. best sellers all. He’s written mysteries, thrillers, Christmas stories.

There was no doubt he could write a perfectly readable book that everyone from beach goers to airline passengers could pick-up, enjoy and toss. Then last year he showed he could do even more. He released his first collection of short stories — a collection that was very well reviewed. The Washington Post called them “terrifically charming” stories that “you absolutely can’t stop reading.”

Now, he’s got a new genre in his sights — young adult fiction.

Penguin — in May — is releasing Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer — and to give people a taste of what’s coming — they’ve set up a website where you can download  the first chapter.

Boone is the 13-year-old only child of two lawyers in a small, Southern town and — in the first chapter, at least — it’s hard not to see him as cut from the same cloth as Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, even Nancy Drew.

Except, he comes across as real — a real kid with real problems. The writing in the first chapter may not be elegant but it’s interesting, it’s readable and leaves you wanting more, certainly at least the second chapter.

When he signed his deal with Penguin for two young adult books — a move that brought him to a new publisher (Doubleday is still releasing his adult thrillers), it was a move that received attention.

Grisham is hardly the first successful writer of adult books to attempt to crossover and write something for a younger audience. It’s something that almost seems required in recent years.

Carl Hiaasen, Ridley Pearson, James Patterson, Isabel Allende, Sherman Alexie.

Some have been good reads, some — not so much.

If Grisham’s first chapter is any indication, I’m sure the book will be just fine.

And, while some think that writers of adult fiction should stay away from younger crowds, the thing is, the important thing isn’t whether he’s writing another War and Peace — or even another Catcher in the Rye. It’s whether he’s written a book that people read. Because, after all, reading is fundamental.

Old Forms and New Directions

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2010 at 8:44 am
Johannes Gutenberg

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Some 570 years or so after Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type — giving birth to modern printing — people are still buying books.

And while the technology has improved somewhat over the centuries, the basic concept is the same — books are printed (though in numbers that probably would have staggered Gutenberg’s mind) and people buy them.

Numbers released last week by Publisher’s Weekly show this is still the case.

It was the recap of the best sellers of 2009 and it showed that in this age of distraction, with movies, television, video games and life moving at a seemingly ever-increasing rate, people are still going to the store (or their computer) and ordering books.

Presumably, some of the books are also actually read.

Dan Brown followed up the monumental success of The Da Vinci Code with the monumental success of The Lost Symbol, selling more than 5.5 million copies in hardcover to make it the best selling novel of 2009. While there aren’t exact numbers around, it does appear that he sold more copies than the next few books on the list combined.

As expected, the list is filled with the familiar named authors of blockbusters (John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Stephen King), and the usual group of literary best-sellers such as Barbara Kingsolver, Philippa Gregory, EL Doctorow and John Irving.

What’s really interesting about the list — as the LA Times pointed out — is that this is the last year it won’t include ebooks, which raises the possibility that next year a classic like Alice in Wonderland could make an appearance.

Which sort of leads to the purpose of this blog’s new direction — to look at the business and culture of print from the “death” of newspapers to the future of books. It will mix news of how and what we read with occasional reviews and stories about interesting new projects and people moving in new directions.

There’s been a lot of talk about how ebooks will change the way we read and write and while things like the Kindle and IPad will make a difference — it remains to be seen how big and how soon.

It does seem, however, that while ebooks have actually been around for almost 40 years, that we are appoaching a tipping point of sorts.

The Guardian pointed out that last year was the first time that Amazon sold more ebooks than printed books.

What changes are coming up? How will we be reading? Who will be writing? Stay tuned.