Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Peter Straub interview

Peter Straub is not a writer whom I have ever got on with; there's something about both him and Stephen King (with whom he has collaborated) which I find at best unsettling and at worst downright repellent. However, he certainly connects with a substantial audience.

Locus this month has an interview with Peter Straub, and some extracts are available. Here's one:

If something embarrasses you and humiliates you, that's what you should write about, because then it could not help but be authentic. You're going to bring whatever resources you have to it. It isn't going to be pretty, but it's going to be the truth.
You already know this but...

John Jarrold is a UK-based book editor (originally) and now literary agent. On his newish blog, he makes a point which we all know -- sort of -- but which we all choose to forget because of the rose-coloured spectacles through which we prefer to view the world.

The truth is that UK genre editors might see twenty novels submitted every week, and only take on two authors in an entire year. And sales and marketing directors will stick their oars in, in some companies, making it more difficult for an editor to acquire a new writer. I say this so any new writer reading [this] understands that it isn't a matter of an editor reading a novel and saying 'I like this. I shall publish it.' Publishing is big business and decisions are taken commercially, often by a publishing committee.
Worth remembering, no?


For reasons which are far from clear to me, I have recently been interviewed -- and not just once, but twice. The results, for what they are worth, are now available.

First, on The Screenplay-novel Manifestoes, Finn Harvor questioned me about this and that, and, in addition to printing what I said, he has also added his own commentary. Part 1 appeared on Sunday, and other bits will follow later.

Finn warned me that, when first posted, his latest post might look a bit weird; and indeed it did, though I think he has fixed it now. The reason for the slightly odd appearance, with html showing up on the browser screen, is that Finn lives in South Korea, and the software there is, he says, a little buggy, with the result that he sometimes doesn't see the same screen that people elsewhere do. Ha! And you thought your life was complicated.

The second blogger who has, wisely or otherwise, sought illumination from me is Simon Owens at Bloggasm. Here I get to confess some of my shortcomings, particularly on the marketing side.

Speaking of interviews, Ian Hocking of This Writing Life has had a long chat with Mil Millington -- a British comedy author with a German girlfriend. So long was the chat, in fact, that the report of it is divided into two parts: Part 1 last Friday, and Part 2 on Sunday.

A comment on a comment

Phew. It's been a bit of a sweat, for Iain Manson especially, but it's finally fixed.

Blogger can be a bit of a b... to work with at times, and I am not the only one to find it so. Iain Manson had two attempts at posting a comment on my mention of a firm called AEI, last Friday, and both times the links came out garbled, even though everything looked OK on the preview. So then Iain sent me an RTF file and asked me to try it, which I did, and it looked OK for me too, but the result was still the same.

But Iain is not a man to accept defeat lightly. So he beavered on. And cracked it. Here's why: 'I had a look at my links to see what was different about the ones that were coming out garbled. I found that, in each case, the URL ended with a slash. This shouldn't be a problem, since any half-decent system should know what to do about it -- and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that there are systems which crash and burn if you DON'T include the final slash. Anyway, I took out the slash and tried again. It worked.'

So now you can see exactly what Iain meant to say, complete with links that work properly.

Later note: This morning, just to prove the point, Blogger is playing silly buggers with the spacing between paragraphs. It looks all right in the preview, so you post it, and then it looks all wrong, so you edit it; and then.. you go outside and shoot yourself.

It still isn't right, even now. And spelling mistakes that I've corrected once are still there.

Julia Buckley

Julia Buckley has been saying what she thinks about current fiction, and then wondering if she was wise to be so frank, and was that really what she meant, and what if...

Ah, darling, let it all hang out. Have a good rant. You'll feel so much better. Today's blog post is tomorrow's fish and chip paper. Sort of.

Meanwhile she's working on a novel. Is this healthy, I ask? Especially in this weather. Surely a sensible girl should be out getting tan.

The Ron Morgans route

Given John Jarrold's remarks (see above, today), it is not surprising that even a Fleet Street man (on the photo side) finds it difficult to get a thriller published, so Ron Morgans has used Lulu.com. Details on his web site, together with lots of interesting stuff about other books by newspaper photographers.


Scott Stein has signed up to teach a university course on humorous writing -- the reckless fool. The course is entitled What's So Funny?, and Scott is panicking about the syllabus. Suggestions are invited.

If only we knew, you and I, how to make people laugh, infallibly, how rich and successful we would all be.

Bibliographic search tool

Those of you with access to a good university library may perhaps have comes across Worldcat. This is a database containing (as I understand it) the catalogues of many of the world's leading libraries. I used to have access to this through my own university connections, but my university has ceased to subscribe to the service (I gather), so I've lost it. But now you can have access to a kind of cut-down version of Worldcat, without some of the bells and whistles. Just follow the link and test it out.

My own quick and crude test suggests that this is not a perfect tool. I put in the title of a book which been published twice, to my knowledge, in 1931 and 1957. The search came up with the earlier book but not the later one.

So, I doubt that I am going to use Worldcat it in preference to COPAC, or, for US stuff, the Library of Congress (which I haven't tried to use for a while, so make no promises about). But Worldcat is, nevetheless, worth knowing about. In particular, it might reveal that a library near you stocks a particularly obscure book. Thanks to Frank Wilson for alerting me.

MySpace strikes again?

MySpace.com has allegedly led to the success of a number of talents, such as the Arctic Monkeys, and now we have a first-time novelist who has figured out how to use the damn thing, which is more than I have (or am likely to).

Aspiring novelist Thomas Dowler, fed-up with complimentary rejection letters from agents (says his press release), has launched his debut novel online, for free.

Mr Nice Guy is available as a free e-book and audiobook podcast from http://www.mrniceguy-novel.com/, and has been downloaded more than 2000 times in the thirteen weeks since its launch. Dowler credits social networking site MySpace, and its newer rival [??] scene.me for much of this success.

'MySpace gave me instant access to millions of people,' says Dowler, 'and I could search through them by age, gender and location, making it very easy to zoom right in on my target demographic. And because the novel is aimed at young, internet-savvy professionals – in other words the sort of people who use MySpace – a high proportion of the people I contacted were very interested by the concept.'

And all like that. More to be learnt from following the links.

Permissions and the incidence of migraine

I tell you what, man. Stay well clear of permissions, man, or they will do your head in for sure.

You don't know what I'm talking about? Lucky you. Here's a couple of examples that I came across several years ago:

Suppose you were commissioned by a UK publisher to put together an anthology of poetry, and you wanted permission to reproduce (for a fee) a number of poems from books published by other publishers. If, in the year 1999, you had telephoned Penguin’s permissions department, you would have heard a recorded message telling you that there was a five-month backlog in dealing with such requests.

One such anthology editor reported to The Author that Random House had taken five months just to say that they didn’t control the rights to the material he was enquiring about, while HarperCollins in New York needed seven months before they could tell him the same thing.

But for a real insight as to why the people who deal with permissions, on a regular basis, need a regular supply of headache pills, go take a look at Kevin Dettmar's very thorough treatment of the subject on Lettrist. Thanks to Lynne Scanlon for the link.

Dettmar's essay is a long one, but try not to be put off. It goes to the heart of the whole issue of intellectual property and how we deal with it in the twenty-first century. It's an everyday story of greed, stupidity, short-termism, political chicanery, and other human virtues of the same ilk.

And it's worth pointing out, I suppose, that if the big companies have their way, and politicians go on extending copyright towards life plus infinity, yea, even unto the very end of the universe, then this problem will only get worse.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the interviews--a good introduction for those who have not been exposed to His Grumpiness. Interesting and true, indeed, that we are become a society entertained by, mm, devices.

Re: Mr. Jarrold's "...decisions are taken commercially, often by a publishing committee." I always feel a little safer when I know committees are involved...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link. You’re very right. I think perhaps spending most of my career to date working for the BBC has left me with an ingrained fear of offending anyone. I should really try to be more assertive now I’m out - especially now I have permission to rant from the mighty GOB.

Elizabeth K. Burton said...

The permissions issue is as much a headache for novelists as for anthologists. The fees demanded (whether by the actual copyright holder or by the publishers/recording companies/film production companies allegedly representing them is an issue) for the use of single lines from published works are often obscene and almost always beyond the budget of struggling writers.

A newspaper wanted $250 for permission to use a one column-inch item from a 30-plus-year-old edition, an item about an obscure boxer who has long been out of the game.

A major film company demanded $750 for use of a single line of dialogue from a TV series from the 60s.

While anthologies are an obvious "sampler" that can ensure excellent writers aren't lost to obscurity, I'd be willing to bet the snippets novelists use spark interest in at least a few readers to go see what they're referring to. If they don't use the quote, the copyright holder hasn't made any money anyway, but how much might they be losing?

It's clear that thought never crosses anyone's mind.