Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Terror Under A Flower-Killing Moon

first published in Star2 in The Star, 13 June 2017


The Osage Indians of Oklahoma in the United States speak of a "flower-killing moon" that happens in May, when the blossoms that carpet the landscape in April would be overrun by taller plants.

But in the early 1920s, flowers weren't the only things being snuffed out over there.

When white settlers moved into the American heartland, many displaced Native Americans were shunted onto reservations. The Osage were no exception, but the large oil deposits beneath their reserved lands made them rich. Soon, many schemed to obtain that wealth, resorting to unethical and even deadly means.

During a period of several years dubbed the "Reign of Terror", affluent Osage began dying in dubious circumstances. Many of the deceased were related to an Osage woman called Mollie Burkhart. With local lawmen and private detectives being too inept, corrupt, or afraid to investigate (those who did were threatened or killed), the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) under J. Edgar Hoover stepped in. The bureau, known today as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, would expose a web of death, deceit, and betrayal in the heart of Osage territory.

American journalist and author David Grann's gripping account of this killing spree and its aftermath, Killers Of The Flower Moon, traces the beginnings of the Osage oil boom and the murders and covers the BOI, its agents, the investigation and the subsequent trials; it also recounts Grann's travels to parts of Osage country in the present day, an epilogue of sorts to this bloody chapter in American history.

By now, details about the Osage incident can be found online, though I'm not sure how much of it has always been there or was unearthed by the publicity surrounding the book. Regardless, I highly recommend Grann's work as a starting point for those who are interested.

It has the kind of writing that I've come to appreciate and expect from him, after reading his piece on explorer Percy Fawcett and the fabled "Lost City of Z" in The New Yorker magazine, published in 2005 (he is also a staff writer with the publication). He masterfully weaves facts and drama into a compelling yarn, putting the audience right where the action is. Taking a break from reading was hard.

Grann told news website Uproxx that he'd only heard about the Osage story in 2011.

"I did not know that the Osage had been the wealthiest people per capita in the world in the beginning of the 20th century. I had not known that they had been murdered. And I had not known that it had become one of the FBI's first major homicide cases."

With this information, Grann dug deeper. Among many other things, he discovered the corruption, lawlessness and prejudices of the day that enabled droves of opportunists to fleece the Osage, taking advantage of laws that restricted the tribespeople's control over their own money. Despite the shining examples of humanity in individuals such as BOI agent Tom White, this tale is blighted by the enormity of the crimes and what fuelled them.

Vile, perhaps, but not shocking. The Guarani fighting land grabs in Brazil, the anti-logging blockades by the Temiar and the Penan, and the Standing Rock Sioux's resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline – the Osage chapter is but one example of how indigenous peoples and their lands' natural resources were (and still are) systematically exploited.

Sadly, the ordeal isn't over for the Osage. The book suggests the Reign of Terror might have been longer and reaped a far larger toll than officially stated – more unsolved deaths, more next of kin seeking answers, and more culprits left unpunished. On top of that, a renewable energy company built a wind farm on Osage soil without the tribe's permission.

Loyal and hard-working Tom White, arguably the hero in Grann's story, died in obscurity. In contrast, his boss Hoover, who achieved great status and allegedly abused his power as head of the FBI, remains in the limelight years after his passing.

A nation can't truly move forward when it still can't get over its past – which is what one feels about the United States from what's been going on there of late. So the release of this account is perhaps timely, especially now when the country appears to be going through another phase of soul-searching.

"...the Osage know their history very well, but so many people – whites, primarily, but other Americans – don't really reckon with this history, don't record the voices of these victims, are not familiar with the stories and the lies that these people lived and went through," said Grann in the Uproxx interview. "It's really important as a country that we reckon with this history."

But I think it's not just the United States that needs to reckon with its past and re-evaluate its current conduct towards its indigenous minorities.



Reviewing this book was daunting, and the deadline was ASAP - never a good thing for me. And because this was my first submission to The Star in three years, I was eager to make an impression in record time.

Ambitious and dumb.

So I knew, even as I hit "Send", I'd be writing a postscript to the review, but never did I think it would be this long. Nor did I realise how much I had missed out in the piece, or that others have written about the Osage murders before - another omission I regret. David Grann's book might not be the most authoritative text on the incident, but I can say it's one of the good ones.

The review could have turned into a white-bashing fest. It's too easy now, considering what the United States is becoming, and also because the principal bad guys in the book are white. On top of the policies of the day to dilute or altogether erase Native American identity and culture, the crimes committed against the Osage elicit disgust.

As I had said, none of this shocked me because we still see this sort of behaviour, and not just in the US. Cops shooting blacks, Standing Rock, the deportations ... the dehumanisation of certain groups or their reduction into crude caricatures to advance certain agendas persists to this day.

Yet I don't think Grann wrote this book as another indictment of white America's attitudes towards minorities or as an expression of shame in being a white guy. Rather, I see this as an effort to hold a mirror to the nation and its conduct in the past with some hope that, if more of such efforts are kept up, the majority will finally have the courage to look itself in the face, recognise the enormity of their deeds, and change.

And how to bash all white people when, in the actions of those fighting against the wrongheaded (and, arguably, boneheaded) moves by the current US administration, I see shades of BOI agent Tom White? The former Texas Ranger and hero of this book glows with integrity, loyalty and a steadfast sense of duty.

Though White wrote his own account of the Osage investigation, it didn't attract much interest. In a way, I feel Grann is picking up White's torch, to shine a light on and add a little warmth to this otherwise mournful account.

I stand by my endorsement of Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon, inadequate (and a little biased) as it may be. His storytelling is something you have to experience for yourselves.



Killers of the Flower Moon
The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI


David Grann
Doubleday
338 pages
Non-fiction
ISBN: 978-0-385-54248-7

Amazon | Bookurve | Book Depository | Kinokuniya | MPHOnline.com

Friday, 2 June 2017

Book Marks: Print Piracy In Africa, Hollywood Books Up

I've been reading news about how serious book piracy is in Africa, but lately more incidents are being reported. Among the latest:

Kigogo, a Kiswahili play written by Pauline Kea, was approved late last year as a secondary school set book in Kenya for 2017. So it came as a shock when the book's publisher, Storymoja, learnt that the book was on sale, four weeks prior to its official release.

The source material was reportedly stolen and later reproduced. Many pirated books are for use in schools, where sales are "guaranteed", but much has also been said about the poor quality of some of these pirated editions. So when good-quality fakes come out...

Part of the problem is the lack of understanding about how the publishing industry works. Books cost that much for a reason. As Muthoni Garland, author and co-founder of Storymoja, told AllAfrica.com:

"Most people think publishing equals only printing. But publishing is a huge investment in content creation, editorial work, engaging book designers, warehousing, marketing, legal and financial aspects."

African authorities are doing all they can to address the issue. In a book exhibition in Rwanda, for instance:

The Ministry of Sports and Culture has said [that] deepening the reading culture among Rwandans, competitiveness among writers as well reducing the cost of locally published books will expand the market of the books, subsequently allowing for mass production of local content.

It'll take more than that, I feel.



Is Hollywood, accused of rehashing and pumping out sequels from older stuff, raiding bookshelves for inspiration?

Sofia Coppola drew from Thomas Cullinan's classic Southern Gothic novel for The Beguiled starring Colin Farrell as a handsome Union officer who stokes sexual tension and jealousy inside a girl's school during the American Civil War. And Francois Ozon turned up the temperature of Joyce Carol Oates' sexual psycho drama Double Delight to almost unbearable levels for his steamy 'Amant double'.

Both these books were published in 1971 and 1999 respectively, but these days Tinseltown isn't just looking at old publications; Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, published between 2013 and 2017, is coming to cinemas. And let's not start with the films "inspired" by local books.

I'm not sure if this is the kind of motivation to write or publish, but one can hope that the film industry can help unearth a few gems as it mines for material.


Also:

  • In a panel discussion on Jane Austen during the Hay literary festival, author Colm Tóibín "has issued a rallying call against what he sees as the scourge of modern literature: flashbacks. The Irish novelist said the narrative device was infuriating, with too many writers skipping back and forward in time to fill in all the gaps in a story." This reminds me of a time when I ... never mind.
  • "Kannada writer Vasudhendra created quite a storm a few months ago with the publication of his short story collection, Mohanaswamy, in English. This collection was published a few years ago in Kannada to the usual acclaim Vasudhendra gets for all his books, barring one thing. There were gay stories in it, and the critics, predictably and pathetically, ignored the book altogether." An interview with Vasudhendra about publishing, writing, his life and his next project.
  • "What kind of pressures are India's English language publishers under in 2017? How has the business changed? What do the heads of the companies have to do differently now?" Scroll.in spoke to two CEOs of publishing companies in India to answer these questions, and more.
  • "For Tunglið, how you publish is as important as what you publish. Named after the Icelandic word for the moon, the tiny publisher prints its books in batches of 69 on the night of a full moon. So far, so weird. But keen readers must also buy their books that same night, as the publisher burns all unsold copies. Weirder still. Why?" I'm still asking "Why?" at the end of the article.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Book Marks: Fifty Years Of Style, A Page Out Of Time

"The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it." It's been five decades since William Strunk and E.B. White's style guide was published but British-American linguist and Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, Geoffrey K. Pullum, won't be celebrating.

I was given a copy of The Elements of Style when I started writing professionally, but I never really took to much of the advice. Too many rules. Like everything I learnt about math and science in school, I've more or less forgotten about it. "Style", for me, was more synonymous with one's writing voice.


Plus:

  • "A Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) academic claimed today that an autobiography of Selangor assembly speaker Hannah Yeoh, which he bought, could influence him towards Christianity. UUM’s Malaysian Institute for Political Studies director Kamarul Zaman Yusoff said this was because the book contained 'too many stories and quotations from the Bible' ... '[that] can influence readers, including myself, to feel admiration for the greatness of Hannah Yeoh’s God,' said Kamarul in his police report..."
  • A 540-year-old page from a medieval priests' handbook printed by William Caxton has been found. Apparently, it was torn out and "pasted into another book for the undignified purpose of reinforcing its spine." It's kind of a big deal, as Caxton introduced the printing press to England, and the page may have come from the early days of print.
  • "In Nigeria ... publishing is a tough business. Many readers will happily pay for religious texts or textbooks but sometimes balk at paying for contemporary fiction or creative nonfiction. Yet local publishers like Parrésia, Ouida books, Farafina, and Cassava keep feeding Nigerians with high quality literary works, even with the ever looming piracy threat and unfavorable business environment." Now, Cassava is breaking into the US market after its entry into Europe.
  • "Every author I know has been tagged by readers like this. Usually the reader announces they have reviewed the author's latest novel. Only it's a vicious review, awarding two stars (one for arriving on time). Why would they announce that to the author?"
  • "It wasn't so long ago that book publishers and bookstore owners were quailing about the coming of e-books, like movie theatre owners at the dawn of the television age. Now they're taking things more calmly. Recent statistics confirm a trend first noticed by the book trade in late 2015: At least among major publishers, e-book sales have plateaued or even begun to decline." Here's why.
  • "Traditional publishers are often criticized for not prioritizing fast. Despite new technology, most books still take one to two years to reach market. Publishers tend to prioritize quality over speed, which wasn't seen as problematic until the industry started getting compared to innovative startups. Silicon Valley's often-celebrated operating procedures tend to focus on agile product development, which values speed and releasing new iterations." What do publishers and authors have to compromise to stay in business?
  • "Many insiders assumed cheap e-books would simply replace mass market books. Then something else happened. A few years ago, e-book sales began flattening, proving that digital was not going to replace print. With the knowledge that many consumers were going to read both print books and e-books, some in the industry thought mass market sales might finally start crawling upward. But stumbling blocks to a full scale rebound of the format remain in place for the major publishers."
  • "Controversial politicians. Celebrity cricket players. Spiritual gurus. India's publishing industry, like the country's broader economic story, has a lot to work with. So it's perhaps no surprise India’s GDP growth of 7.1 percent – the fastest among major economies – is fueling a boom in book sales. Indian publishing successes, in return, can help provide insights into the country's growth and consumer confidence. It is a land where the travails of a saucy, soon-to-be-married Goldman Sachs Group Inc banker – in Chetan Bhagat's fictional One Indian Girl – is a runaway best-seller."
  • "Authors and publishers at this year's instalment of the Franschhoek Literary Festival have called for the opening up of the book industry and for the retirement of those in senior positions who aren’t adaptive to change. During a panel discussion titled 'Is there a shortage of black fiction authors?', guest speakers vented their frustrations about the lack of opportunities that black authors and publishers encounter."

Monday, 22 May 2017

Hand-Blending Hijinks: Mush, Magic And Mayhem

I haven't been picking up a kitchen utensil much or tried out new recipes, but an urgent need to get more greens (and other colours) into my diet had me scrambling for a new blender. The old Khind standing blender was useful, but it's beginning to show its age.

And I had carelessly shredded the gasket for its dry mill long ago. The mill still works but cleaning up is messier.

At the suggestion of a friend, I settled for a hand blender: a Philips ProMix with a 550W motor, the same one she uses. I haven't test-driven many blenders, though some online sources equate high motor power with better blending. The powerhouses are all imported brands and expensive, so thriftiness triumphed.

But while inspecting the business end, the blade left a bloodless mark on my thumb. Nice to meet you too.


Say hello to my magic wand


I had problems with spilling, but more because I would fill the beaker to almost full capacity and moving the blender bar would cause them to spill. The vortex from the spinning blades and design of the blender head, I suppose, keeps the ingredients from splattering.

And whatever guarantees manufacturers make about the strength and durability of the blender and the blades, chopping, grating or cutting the ingredients into smaller bits is always a good idea.

About half a dozen smoothies later, I don't see any difference in blending quality. Fibrous ingredients such as carrot and berries don't liquefy as much, but the soft stuff like bananas pretty much melted. However, clean-up's a breeze.

Unfortunately, I still can't wake up late and pulverise a few ingredients into an astronaut's breakfast before heading off to work. And I have to be careful of consuming too much raw or wrong food that might protest my treatment of it by rioting in my gut.

Anyway...

One of the first combinations I mooted was an apple, orange and carrot smoothie, thickened with oats, oat bran or chia seeds. The latter produced a cleaner and thicker mix, compared to the creamier and somewhat milkier one made with oats. I can also spice it up with turmeric.

Another recipe was a zucchini and cauliflower concoction with oat bran for bulk and seasoned with black pepper and lemon juice - basically a cold soup of raw ingredients. Adding a clove or two of garlic, powdered Parmesan and olive oil made for a naughtier version.


The "naughty" zucchini and cauliflower smoothie-not-smoothie,
before and after - with help from a mortar and pestle


This recipe was more involved. I mixed Greek yoghurt, water, lemon juice and powdered Parmesan cheese into the blending beaker first; chopped the cauliflower florets, zucchini and garlic; and dry-toasted and ground the black peppercorns and oat bran. The bran had to be ground with a mortar and pestle, as the blender alone would not do.

What I got tasted fresh, clean and healthy, with a spicy kick from the pepper. When cheese, garlic and olive oil were added, not so much. Zucchini and cauliflower blend quite well, but it's another story when they're frozen. Probably because of the ice crystals. Should've dipped the Ziploc bag holding the extra chunks in water to defrost first.

I also mixed something with Aik Cheong coffee steeped in milk, banana, Greek yoghurt and a little vanilla extract, but it's an acquired taste. Maybe it'll become the next New York food craze. They're already serving lattes in avocado skins... .

Other recent recipes include purple carrot/apple/blueberry and plum/blueberry/apple juice with chia seeds. I reckon I can get more fruit and veg into my diet this way; one smoothie can comprise up to two and a half servings of either.

Before the plum and blueberry smoothie, I made pesto with the magic wand, but it seems, as it was the case with the standing blender, I might have to chop the basil leaves and process them in batches. With the beaker size of 500ml max, I can make enough for a few servings of pasta.

Mmm, can't wait to revisit my mushroom and "ancient carrot" soups, experiment on curry pastes and try some sambals. Once I exhaust all humanly possible combinations for smoothies, that is, which might take ... two years, assuming I make one smoothie a day.


Plum, blueberry and chia seed smoothie made with apple juice. I used a
glass and set aside some fruit and hydrated chia seeds for garnish.


Wish me luck and pray I don't end up ingesting what some might consider bad fruit/vegetable smoothie combinations. Although some say there is no such thing, others feel different, especially those who subscribe to old-world schools of thought such as Ayurveda or traditional Chinese medicine.

I know they say men going through midlife crises find succour in power tools but I don't think that includes handheld blenders.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Book Marks: Robert Pirsig, E-book Slump

A little exhausted for the past fortnight, so I haven't been keeping watch on the book and publishing front. But here's what caught my attention anyway:

  • "Robert M. Pirsig, whose philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became a million-selling classic and cultural touchstone after more than 100 publishers turned it down, died Monday at age 88. ... Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was published in 1974 and was based on a motorcycle trip Pirsig took in the late 1960s with his 12-year-old son, Chris."
  • "When Simon & Schuster announced in late February that it is canceling Milo Yiannopoulos's book, Dangerous, many in the publishing industry reacted with a sigh of relief. ... though it's still unclear what ultimately motivated the publisher to yank the book, the fervor that the alt-right bad boy's deal caused put some on alert. Could other publishers be pressured into canceling books by controversial conservatives? Does the industry have a double standard for authors on the right? Does it matter?"
  • Book piracy is hurting Zimbabwean authors, including Charles Lovemore Mungoshi. "Mungoshi is so famous in Zimbabwe and other countries ... he should be able to make a comfortable living just like some writers in Africa and other parts of the world," writes Lazarus Sauti in The Southern Times. "but the book sector in Zimbabwe is so punishing to the extent that the celebrated writer is not even enjoying the fruits of his fame and hardwork. Recently, his family sourced for $9,000 required for a repeat operation after doctors inserted a shunt to drain water from his brains last year."
  • "It's World Book Day, but India's publishers are up against a serious snag: The [Raja Ram Mohan Roy National Agency, which issues ISBNs for books in India,] launched a website where publishers ... would have to register to get their numbers. ... This website, however, is still riddled with bugs. And with no phone number through which the Agency can be reached, some publishers have been left waiting for months for their ISBN numbers, with no clarity on the status of their application."
  • '"It was new and exciting,' says Cathryn Summerhayes, a literary agent at Curtis Brown. 'But now [Kindles] look so clunky and unhip, don't they? I guess everyone wants a piece of trendy tech and, unfortunately, there aren't trendy tech reading devices and I don't think people are reading long-form fiction on their phones. I think your average reader would say that one of the great pleasures of reading is the physical turning of the page. It slows you down and makes you think.'"
  • "It wasn't so long ago that book publishers and bookstore owners were quailing about the coming of ebooks, like movie theater owners at the dawn of the television age. Now they're taking things more calmly. Recent statistics confirm a trend first noticed by the book trade in late 2015: At least among major publishers, ebook sales have plateaued or even begun to decline. It turns out that not all readers are quite ready to give up the tactile pleasures of holding a hardcover or paperback in their hands in order to partake of the convenience and digital features of e-reading."
  • "Dennis Johnson, co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House Books and one of the first book bloggers, is possibly best known for the fight he picked in the spring of 2014.He was at the front of a group of independent publishers who decided to spar with Amazon over the predatory, escalating fees it was charging small publishers, as well as its covert war on the major publisher Hachette, which it carried out by deliberately delaying shipments and hiking prices. Johnson asked The New York Times how Amazon's business practices weren't considered 'extortion,' and compared the monolith to the Mafia." Enjoy The Verge's interview with Johnson and Melville House's director of marketing and publicity, Julia Fleischaker.
  • "Kasem bin Abubakar was told nobody would buy his chaste romance novels about devout young Muslims finding love within the strict moral confines of Bangladeshi society. And yet his tales of lovers whispering sweet nothings between calls to prayer sold millions in the 1980s and proved a huge hit among young girls from Bangladesh's rural, conservative heartland." Wrong. "Mullah novels" do sell.
  • "[The author] of the book Mila, Maslina Yusoff, will soon have her book animated in collaboration with leading South Korean studio, H Culture. The Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Shah Alam alumni said that her own daughter inspired the story and it has always been her dream to write and illustrate her own children’s books."
  • Saudi novelist Mohammed Hasan Alwan has won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, dubbed the Arab Booker, for his novel A Small Death, a fictionalised account of the life of a Sufi scholar and philosopher Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi. ... the US$50,000 prize is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London, but it is funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority."

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Book Marks: Tomes, Terror, Etc.

A former university student was detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) for possession of books related to terrorism. The news was shocking because part of it might stem from fear of the authorities ("treating her like a terrorist for OWNING BOOKS OMG"), and the fact that the same student was previously acquitted and discharged for the same offence. But things got a little murky when details of her alleged ties to terrorism emerged.

Calls have been made to not play up the issue and leave the matter to the police (gladly!), and some grassroots groups and activists have expressed their support of the detainee and concerns over what they called the "repression of arts and culture" in Malaysia.

There was also a minor Facebook drama over an article in a local Malay-language magazine about Malaysian writers of Indian origin.


Elsewhere:

  • With over 100,000 copies sold and counting, The Hate U Give (the title is based on the song "T.H.U.G." by Tupac) is a phenomenon in the publishing world and an essential read for everyone. And you better get reading, as the book's already been optioned for a film with Amandla Stenberg as Starr." Teen Vogue's Q&A with Angie Thomas, author of her debut novel, The Hate U Give (emphases theirs). And here's the podcast of Thomas's interview on BFM Radio's Bookmark programme.
  • "A Montana library said a stolen book was returned 35 years later with an apology note, a $200 donation, and the author's signature." Said book, Richard Matheson's novel Bid Time Return, was also restored professionally, courtesy of the "thief".
  • "I love editing. Discussing commas and semicolons is my idea of fun, and I enjoy helping other authors find shape and structure in their work. Editing uses the more mathematical side of my brain, creating order from chaos. But on the weekend, when I try to write myself, I have to face the fact that the act of writing is chaos." Hannah Tinti, author of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, talks to her editor Noah Eaker about how she wrote it.
  • "What appears to be instant achievement, is really a culmination of preparation and practice. For [Veronica] Roth, that meant 10 years of work before a fully fleshed idea worth publication, took form. Even then, obstacles appeared. Her first manuscript was initially rejected and even after receiving a book deal, rewriting was required."
  • "I encourage people to judge books by their covers! While a poorly designed book isn't necessarily a poorly written book, it's not a promising first impression. If a book is ugly, it doesn't speak well of a publisher's judgement, skill or vision." Black Ocean Publisher Janaka Stucky wants us to, among other things, judge books by their covers.
  • "When I first started submitting my work to literary magazines, I had some pretty uninformed—and, in retrospect, fatalistic—ideas about what the slush pile process might look like. In my nightmare scenario, a team of editors would sit in a brick-lined room, around a wooden table of imposing size strewn with manuscripts and glasses of single malt. One of them would pluck my short story from the stack, glance over their glasses at the cover letter, and then toss it into a burning barrel, unread. They would all laugh and clink glasses as they warmed their manicured hands over the flames." Since then, PRISM's Prose Editor Christopher Evans has discovered that not all of that is true.
  • "Every year, companies go into a frenzy of 'cost containment' – just a fancier term for the drastic and now defunct 'cost cutting.' We all know which budget gets reviewed after the catering and team building budgets ... all together now ... marketing. Therefore, as a marketer, you know that for every rand you request, you will get half of it if you are that lucky, and still a rabbit is expected out of that hat." This piece was written with a focus on South African publishing, but it might have lessons for all of us as well.
  • "In a national culture newly aware of micro-aggressions and offensive speech, what you say can easily strike the wrong tone. One increasingly common solution among US book publishers: Hire someone to be offended for you." Authors and publishers of children's books are hiring sensitivity readers.
  • "It's not that I don't sympathise with your frustration at being unable to fulfil your dream and be published. ... We have all looked at our work – our 'masterpieces', in your words – and wondered the same as you: 'How can I fail?' But you aren't a failed novelist. You’ve had precisely two books on submission to publishers. ... Dear Anonymous, you're not a failure. You're a quitter."

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Book Marks: On Gatekeeping, And The Diversely Bizarre

"[Couple and co-authors Ian and Sarah Hoffman] say the subject of 'Jacob’s New Dress' is one they have personal experience with, having raised a son who used to storm around the house at age 4 'wearing a sparkly princess dress and carrying a (replica) battle ax.' 'Now, he's 14, and into recreational math,' says Ian Hoffman."

So this book written by the Hoffmans was withdrawn from a school in Charlotte, North Carolina, after conservatives railed at it for obvious reasons. The Hoffmans seem baffled by the reaction, and not just because Jacob's New Dress was first published in 2014. "The idea that a book can turn someone gay or transgender is bizarre to us. Reading a book can't turn you gay," Sarah Hoffman told The Charlotte Observer.

Ma'am, some think a movie will make people gay. Tale (almost) as old as time.

Meanwhile, conservatives (and censors) worldwide should probably brace themselves for a wave of children's books featuring transgender teens, blended families and feminism.



"When librarians add self-published e-books to their collections, they shoulder more of the curation responsibility. Self-published books typically haven't survived the agent/publisher gauntlet of traditional gatekeeping—a form of vetting that librarians appreciate—and they typically don't come with the same number of reviews. This may explain why 61% of the librarians at the time of Library Journal's survey had not purchased or were not planning to purchase self-published e-books."

Therefore, Smashwords founder Mark Coker has five tips for getting your self-published e-books to libraries.

If that's not enough to give you hope that your manuscript will see the light of day:

Midlist authors all contribute to a publishers and booksellers bottom line, although they tend not to get many reviews by The New York Times or Publishers Weekly. Their books aren't really reviewed by indie bloggers either, they mainly depend on Amazon reviews by the readers. These authors certainly are not household names, but are tremendously important to publishers for their consistent source of revenue.

But not all good books make it to press, according to Kanishka Gupta, CEO of the South Asia’s largest literary agency, Writer’s Side, who also lays out eight reasons publishers would reject even a good book.

"...having spent more than seven years on the other side, first as a consultant and then an agent, I think many writers have wrong notions about rejections. While most books are rejected because of poor quality and incompetence (as they should be), there are several other factors that play a role in publishing decisions. And these affect 'good' books too."

Even so, such books will see the light of day eventually, depending on the will of the author to push it through. Gatekeepers and similar institutions can get it wrong, and what defines a good book should not be an idée fixe.



I think some of us find this situation familiar:

A month or two ago, a publishing biggie, who makes sure never to like a single Facebook post of mine like it would give him a social disease if he did (after having sent me a friend request just so he could see what damage I was perpetrating), was having something like a nonsexual orgasm on social media because he had acquired the rights of a book by the talentless offspring of a big-time actor. In it, he gushingly referred to the spouse of the "writer", an upstart in the film industry, as a legend.

Meanwhile, another bona fide writer died jumping off a building. (My word, who was it?)

This rant about publishers signing up film stars by author Krishna Shastri Devulapalli struck a chord in the wake of a slew of books by local celebrities and wannabes. But it sounds personal to Krishna, because: "It is funny that I am finding this publishing world's going-out-of-business sell-out to Bollywood objectionable. Because, my own love for reading, and maybe writing, too, pretty much began with books by film folk."

I suppose one could argue that things have changed (or rather, begun to stagnate) in the film world and its people, hence. Niches don't appear by themselves; the market carves them out. So if there is one for books by "film-stars who cannot even read a script", one probably shouldn't judge.



In this profile of bizarro publisher Bizarro Pulp Press is a story of a genre some of you might not know exists, or know by other names. Vincenzo Bilof's piece in Cultured Vultures is so I couldn't pull any quotes off it as a preview— oh, wait, here's one:

After considering Eraserhead Press (and [Carlton Mellick III]'s books) with a fresh perspective, I realized that my original snobbishness conflicted with the fact that I had thought a book like Fecal Terror was fun and worth publishing. If a book about a space sex dwarf with a goat could be published (it hasn't, yet, or at least, I haven't seen it, which means someone should be writing it), why would that be worse than a book about a demonic, talking turd that possesses people?

Why, indeed. Niches, people. No idées fixes.


Plus:

  • "Drew University student Jennifer Rose is like many 20-year-olds, sweating out class assignments, socializing with friends and participating in activities like an anime club and the campus newspaper. But in other ways, she is one of the more unique students at Drew — still learning to cope with autism, she recently became a published author."
  • "Amazon blocked sales for The Corroding Empire, a scifi book from Vox Day's conservative publishing company Castalia House, because the cover bore an uncanny resemblance to John Scalzi’s latest book, The Collapsing Empire. And it wasn't a coincidence." Vox Day is the alias of Theodore Beale, an alt-right figure who declared himself Scalzi's rival. I guess you have to be a certain kind of snowflake to g to such lengths to troll an author.
  • "In 'Falling,' [William McPherson] described the humiliation of asking friends and family for handouts, which managed to keep him off welfare, Medicaid and food stamps. He lived in Washington, where he received a housing subsidy from the federal government. The city helped cover medical insurance payments. He was able to afford a cellphone and a computer — instruments that for a writer, he said, were needs more than wants." An obit in The Washington Post of McPherson, the paper's former Book World editor. Don't quit your day job.
  • "A raid in downtown Nairobi unearthed a multi-million-shilling school textbook piracy racket. The racket was uncovered after the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) and Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) raided Nyamakima in Nairobi and Ngong in Kajiado. The raid also revealed how rogue head teachers were were colluding with hawkers to rob textbooks from public schools."
  • "I always knew I would have to learn a lot before I tried to write a book," wrote Michael Merschel, books editor and assistant arts editor at The Dallas Morning News. "I did not think about what I might learn from writing one." So, what has he learnt from writing his own book?