If you don’t usually spend a portion of your day blogging, journaling, creating stories – or otherwise putting words on paper (or screen) – then today is a great day to start. A couple weeks ago, the U.S. Senate declared Oct. 20, 2009, as the National Day on Writing. The official Resolution is quite long, but it’s worth it to give it a read. I was pleased to see the Senate embrace digital media in their document:
Whereas the National Day on Writing honors the use of the full range of media for composing, from traditional tools like print, audio, and video, to Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts
One of the best ways to get involved in the day’s festivities is to post to the National Gallery of Writing, a website where anybody can post writing that is “important to them. . . from letters to lists, memoirs to memos.” The Gallery was unveiled today, and it looks like there has already been wide participation. So far there are 21 records from the state of Tennessee alone.
How will you celebrate the National Day on Writing?
I’d like to give a shout out to my 11th grade English teacher for giving me a copy of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. (“Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly… Simplify, simplify.”) And perhaps I’ll celebrate, also, by reading other people's great writing. I would love to dig into a novel I haven’t yet found the time to start (A Gate at the Stairs? Her Fearful Symmetry?).
This week brought news of a new project from Neil Gaiman. After the success of The Graveyard Book and Coraline, he's continuing to write for a younger audience with Instructions. Described as "a charming guide through fairy and folk tales, as well as life" the book will be illustrated by Charles Vess (who worked with Gaiman on the Sandman series) and published by Harper Children's in May 2010.
While there's no news on the content of the book, our guess is it's a picture book adaptation of the poem "Instructions" that Gaiman published in A Wolf at the Door. According to his blog, he's currently in China, working on a project called Journey to the West.
ETA: According to Charles Vess, our guess was right! He kindly pointed me to more detailed information on his blog. Head over to check out the beautiful illustrations and get a peek into Vess' creative process.
2010 is looking like a great year—for fiction, at least. I’ve been busy sorting through the January stacks, trying to decide between big names (Elizabeth Kostova, J.M. Coetzee, Tracy Chevalier and Amy Bloom among them) and outstanding debuts (remember the names Leila Meacham, Ali Shaw, and Matthew Flaming). But it turns out January is just the tip of the great fiction iceberg.
Reader favorites Chris Bohjalian (Midwives), Lori Lansens (The Girls) and Louise Erdrich (The Painted Drum) all have new novels set to publish in February 2010. Bohjalian’s Secrets of Eden is set in contemporary New England and examines a family plagued by domestic violence; Lansens’ The Wife’s Tale follows a middle aged woman around the country as she searches for her missing husband;
Erdrich’s Shadow Tag is being pitched as entirely different from her other novels, “a heart stopping story with the tension and suspense of a psychological thriller, an anatomy of a marriage that leads its characters, as well as the reader, to a stunning and utterly unexpected ending.” I can’t wait to dig into all three—just as soon as I wrap up January.
What 2010 fiction are you most excited about?
Speaking of John Grisham’s Ford County – the author’s first collection of short stories – I was excited to see Amazon’s exclusive blurb of the book by Pat Conroy.
Conroy raves about the collection, writing:
"Ford County is the best writing that John Grisham has ever done. . . His short stories were a surprise to me. All of them are very good; three of them, I believe, are great. Grisham has always had a rare gift for breaking hearts when he invokes unforgettable images of the broken, hopeless South. Some of the stories are hilarious, and Grisham’s gift of humor has never found a showcase like this."
The collection includes seven stories. Grisham’s website gives us titillating summaries of each, such as:
Three good ol' boys from rural Ford County begin a journey to the big city of Memphis to give blood to a grievously injured friend. However, they are unable to drive past a beer store as the trip takes longer and longer. The journey comes to an abrupt end when they make a fateful stop at a Memphis strip club.
Reviewer Edward Morris called Grisham’s A Painted House, the 2001 coming-of-age novel, “engrossing.” He wrote: “Unlike many Southern novels, A Painted House is mercifully free of grotesque characters, grown men with baby names, dysfunctional families and racial politics. Grisham's holiday novel Skipping Christmas is “ultimately a story that warms the heart.”
Doubleday, Grisham’s publisher, offers a “Storyteller” video about Grisham and Ford County:
Depending on how you look at it, last week was a great week for bargain-hunting book buyers or a disheartening one for authors, booksellers and publishers.
Wal-Mart and Amazon have engaged in a price war for the holiday season’s hardcover bestsellers.
On Thursday, Wal-Mart announced that it would pre-sell 10 hardcovers for $10. Amazon matched the price on the same day, then Friday Wal-Mart lowered to $9 – then again to $8.99 (where the price currently stands).
The price of Stephen King’s Under the Dome is a whopping 74% off the $35 cover price. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna can be bought for a 67% discount. Wal-Mart also offers free shipping for the 10 titles on their list.
If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King’s new novel or John Grisham’s Ford County for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer’s attention away from emerging writers.
What do The Book Case readers think of the price war? Will you be ordering multiple copies of The Lacuna to give away as gifts, or do you plan on sticking to your local bookseller for a more memorable book-buying experience? Do price cuts like the ones offered by Wal-Mart and Amazon encourage you to buy more books? Would you rather buy a $9 hardcover or a $9.99 e-book?
The Frankfurt Book Fair took place last week, and it's always a source for major publishing news. One of the early news items has to do with author Ken Follett, whose historical novels and thrillers have been huge hits worldwide.
In a feature in BookPage about his last novel, World Without End, Follett said he wanted to "write another book that gets this kind of enthusiastic reception." We're pretty sure rights being sold in six countries, and a worldwide one-day laydown, counts as enthusiasm!
Fall of Giants will go on sale September 28, 2010, just in time for a planned miniseries based on Pillars of the Earth. (Penguin/Dutton got the U.S. rights.) It is the first of three books planned for the "New Century Trilogy," which will cover most of the 20th century. Fall of Giants follows five families through World War I and the Russian revolution, setting the stage for the next novel, which will cover World War II.
The annual mystery writers' convention, Bouchercon, is going on this weekend in Indianapolis. Author Laura Caldwell, who writes a series of mysteries starring red-headed lawyer Izzy MacNeil for MIRA, gives The Book Case an inside look at the what it's like to be on an author panel—and reveals the power of a perfectly chosen outfit.
The man in the hat was kind, and by the end of the night, it was mine. The next morning, I left Chicago for Indianapolis (swearing the whole way because I screwed up the time change and was almost late for my panel). I valeted the car, ran into the hotel and found the ballroom where my panel was being held. Already on the dais were authors Maris Roule, Jordan Dane, Casey Daniels and Judi McCoy. My super-agent, Amy Moore-Benson, was standing there, ready to give my name tag. She was with Ben LeRoy, publisher extraordinaire from Bleak House Books, which has morphed into Tyrus Books.
“You ready?” she said.
“Ready,” I answered. I held out the hat, then put it on my head. “Do you think I can get away with this?”
Ben LeRoy grasped my arm. “You own that hat.”
I headed for the dais. The panel, “Love, Murder, Romance and Suspense” was a hit. And so was the hat. I might never take it off. Mickey Spillane would be proud.
So true, Travis—I'm not much for glittering bodies, either. Luckily our prizes hew more closely to the classics! Email me (trisha at bookpage dot com) to claim your prize, and I'll get Isis, The Casebook of Doctor Frankenstein, and The Vampire Archives on their way to you in time for some Halloween reading.
The talented Adriana Trigiani will continue her series starring Valentine Roncalli this February in Brava, Valentine. Her Italian-American heroine, who runs her own custom shoe design boutique in Greenwich Village, is still struggling to balance love, a career and her well-meaning but nosy family.
Read our review of Valentine's first adventure, Very Valentine, which comes out in paperback in January (the pb version will include the first chapter of Brava and "a divine recipe section including Roman Falconi’s savory pizzelles with caviar," according to Trigiani's website.)
We interviewed Trigiani in 2005 for Rococo, her first book featuring a male hero. "This is the thing about families: we know everything about each other. We just don't talk about it," she told us, explaining the theme of many of her books.
This week's mail brought something beautiful to BookPage: a set of Penguin's new clothbound classics. Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith and previously available only at Waterstone's bookstore in the UK, these new jacketless hardcovers pair early 20th-century styling with classic content.
The eight titles available in the US are Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Cranford, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jane Eyre and The Picture of Dorian Gray. (Links go to images of each book.) Each retails at $20 and contains a ribbon bookmark. In a nod to their stylish appearance, the books will be sold at Anthropology and Urban Outfitters as well as your local bookstore. More titles—including Madame Bovary and Crime and Punishment—are available in the UK; if the series proves popular here, perhaps they'll make the jump as well.
Bickford-Smith is a senior designer at Penguin UK, and is responsible for some of the more memorable Penguin Classic covers that have appeared over the past few years. In a recent interview, she gave her designer's perspective on the ebook phenomenon:
Electronic books are inevitably going to impact physical publishing, but the printed book is a very successful technology in its own right and I don’t think it will be entirely displaced. For all the advantages of ebooks—portability, interactivity, production and distribution savings—there’s something potent about the physical object that will always have a strong appeal. I like to think that as the volume of physical books declines, the average quality of the design will increase, because books will have to work harder to justify their physical presence.
More about the series can be found on Penguin UK's blog.