Thursday, May 31, 2007

News from the assembly line

How to blog

Gawker says that I must, by now, have seen that YouTube clip where some guys, er, 'perplex an ottoman'. Well no, see, I haven't. Actually. So I am one of those eight people who missed it. I don't get out much, if truth be told.

Anyway, it turns out that some other guys have done a parody of the original settee-humping whatever, and this time it's about blogging. A couple of guys teach you how to blog. Don't blame me if you waste three minutes watching it. I don't recommend it. Just thought you ought to know. In case you want to avoid the dreadful fate of being one of those eight people who don't know what everyone else is talking about. If that happens, no one will want to know you.

And since you ask, no, that's not the way I go about it when I blog. Doctor's orders.

Keeping it quiet

You have to smile don't you? If an established literary novelist wants to earn some cash, it's not unknown for him or her to turn to -- brace yourself -- crime fiction. Or -- even more shocking and horrible -- romance. Yes, I know you can hardly believe it, but it's true. One such is the pseudonymous Inger Wolf.

Publishers Lunch reports that she (I presume it's she) has just sold The Calling, featuring a 61-year-old, recently divorced detective, to Harcourt, for six figures, at auction, for publication in spring 2008. Publishers Weekly tells us that Wolfe is 'a pseudonym for a prominent North American literary novelist'. But don't worry, darling. If I ever find out who you are, I will not reveal your dirty little secret.

How big is yours?

In Slate, various writers are asked to name their favourite font -- i.e. the one they actually write in.

The Literary Saloon, whence this link, seems to find that bizarre, but actually it's a very interesting set of comments. I think it's fair to say that most of the (admittedly unscientific) sample prefer to write in something like an old typewriter font (often Courier). But I believe that's all wrong.

My advice: forget all that mss-have-to-be-doublespaced crap, and set up your word-processor page so that it looks as much like a proper book as possible. That way you will see things more or less the way the eventual reader will see them. Which is, in my view, essential. Unless, of course, you're one of those pure, idealistic writers who doesn't care about readers.

Ghosts rise from the dead

From time to time this blog has touched upon the gentle art of ghostwriting. And I have said here, more than once, that I warmly approve of the entire arrangement, at least in principle. To learn more, see my post of 1 June 2006.

In this connection, I have been taking a look at the web site of Errol Lincoln Uys. Here he has a section entitled Working with Michener. The Michener in question is James A. Michener, once famous for very long books about big subjects -- books which sold in vast quantities. His 1959 novel Hawaii, for instance, had sold 3,913,341 copies by 1975; and doubtless a few more since. His 1974 novel Centennial sold nearly as many in the first year after publication.

What Uys reveals is that Michener did not work alone. From 1978 to 1980, Uys was Michener's collaborator on a book which became Michener's South African novel, The Covenant. Uys plotted and outlined the book with him, undertook major research, and (most importantly) wrote thousands of words for key sections of the novel.

None of this comes as much of a surprise to me, but it might well have surprised those who bought and read Michener's books when they came out. Producing books of great length and complexity is largely a matter of hard grind -- almost a cottage industry -- and in the real world constructing such a book probably involves several people in most instances.

Uys was not, it seems, Michener's only collaborator. But he was, he says, the only one to go on and write his own epic in the same grand style. See his section on Brazil.

Uys suggests that his web pages offer a unique look at what goes into the making of a major novel. I agree.

Brief notes

If you view the comments to some of my old posts, e.g. this one, you will find that the spammers have succeeded in breaking through the defences. Ideally I would go through and delete all these, but life is too short. In the meantime, the true nature of a comment that includes links to a hundred or so sites dealing with credit is probably fairly obvious.

Anyone who writes thrillers, or is thinking of writing a thriller, or just enjoys reading thrillers, should take a look at Thrillerfest -- in New York City, 12-15 July.

Tonto Press has launched a second book of short stories, and is now interested in non-fiction submissions. More competitions for fiction will follow, I understand.

Aardvarchaeology is running the 27th Carnivalesque blog carnival, with links to mostly mediaeval stuff. Seems the ancient Brits believed in an otherworld, but even by Chaucer's time no one was seeing elves any more. (You get 'em in gardens now, but that's different).

The Hotel Chelsea blog has published an interview with British author and teacher Julia Bell.

Facial Anomaly is a blog whereon a writer seeks to develop material for a novel. Comments invited.

If you're a crime fiction fan -- or simply a reader who is interested in outstanding books from whatever genre and period -- hie thee to The Rap Sheet and peruse the extensive list of overlooked and half-forgotten masterpieces. Actually there are several lists; when I visited we were up to number IX, and there may be more by the time you get there. This assembly, by the way, is part of The Rap Sheet's first-birthday celebration.

Monsters and Critics kicks off a series of interviews: first, the multi-talented Charles R. Johnson.

Do you care desperately whether you're an alpha male, or even a delta male? Do you sincerely wish to win? If all of this concerns you, you might wish to peruse Newsweek's assertion that betas rule the world. Link from Josh Gidding, who is mentioned, and whose book, Failure: an Autobiography, is out soon.

Good grief! Clutches heart and reaches for the pills. Madame Arcati has written a novel! But it isn't available just yet. In due course, Madame will publish it herself. Eccentric as ever, Madame has a low opinion of editors and retail managers and prefers the new publishing paradigm.

The American end of OUP has blog, and the lady in charge, Rebecca Ford, was over here last week, picking various people's brains. The OUP blog has one very smart feature: every so often, it asks one of the OUP authors to write a piece about their area of expertise, linking their book to a current piece of news. Example: Stuart P. Green's essay about Lord Browne.

If you are mad keen to keep up with every snippet of news about the book scene, the UK's Bookseller has an RSS feed, which you can use to feed stuff into, say, Bloglines. In the US, Publishers Weekly offers a whole series of RSS options.

Tony Cowell, brother of the more famous Simon, is allegedly going to host a TV show which invites aspiring bestsellers to pitch their (completed) blockbuster novel to a panel. Winner gets a six-figure contract and may be mentored by Jeffrey Archer or Jackie Collins. Do you get to choose who? Because if not, I'm not going to play. (Link from

Just in case you missed it, John Angliss posted a comment on the recent copyright post which included a link to a minor work of genius. It's a succinct explanation of the concept of fair use, as illustrated by the output of that prime example of the power of massively well paid lawyers, the Disney Corp.

Do you want to know how to write the Great American Novel? If so, watch this short video and it will be a doddle. The video is produced by Morris Hill Pictures, which has short instructional films available on a number of subjects.


L.M.Noonan said...

as a newbie to the world of writing, I'm shocked -about this 'ghostwriting' business re Michener; but not surprised. I think I might have attempted to read one of those novels three decades ago. I feel the same as when I found out that Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi and countless other sculptors have on ocsasion handed a barely legible thumbnail sketch inked onto their favourite trtattoria napkin to their team of artisans to 'work out the details'. Ah, of course! I mutter as the penny drops. The myth of the great artist is debunked. I'm not talking about the quality but the quantity.
Thanks Grumpy (I feel like snow white)

Art Durkee said...

You are so right on about fonts, and about setting up the page as closely to the book as possible. I think that's some of the best advice I've heard lately.

My usual font for writing (in Word) is Palatino. My blogs are set in sans-serif such as Arial, because of the research that's shown sans-serifs are supposed to be easier to read onscreen. I generally find that to be true.

Still, I'll always Palatino for writing (or maybe Weiss).

Anonymous said...

I've always suspected that the assembly line writers like Clancy and Brown (and Michener) have had not just a helper or two, but entire staffs trained in their style turning out formula dialogue for them. Long as it sells, who cares?

Kitty said...

So I am one of those eight people who missed it.

That makes me #9.


archer said...

Michener's mancufacturing techniques weren't much of a secret. Also it's easy to tell the master's hand (he was a very, very good writer, e.g. Fires of Spring). The people he got to work for him, I suspect, were an uneven lot. Some of the stuff in Chesapeake sounds like it should have a clear plastic cover on it and get an 'A'.

Unknown said...

I still remember a sense of betrayal on realizing that all the post-1964 Saint books were ghosted (although Leslie Charteris would go through the MSS and insert some characteristic phrases). One of them, Vendetta for the Saint, turned out to be by Harry Harrison, whom I knew for his science fiction. Then I discovered that various other SF authors had written Ellery Queen detective novels as work-for-hire....

My secret font shame is that I still compose in an ancient WordPerfect for DOS. No tiresome font decisions to make in this zone of perpetual uncoolness!

Anonymous said...

That makes me #9.

Swiftly followed by #10 here (who actually smiled, in a strained, po-faced sort of manner!)

Anonymous said...

savannah said...

thanks for the tip re the rapsheet. found you via the last vogages of dick headley

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