Meg Gardiner on Ecstatic Days: Guest Blogging Sept. 1-5

I’m very pleased to introduce Meg Gardiner as this week’s guest blogger on Ecstatic Days. Meg Gardiner previously practiced law and taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Originally from Southern California, she now lives with her family in London. Although already an established novelist for years, Gardiner received additional notoriety when Stephen King read one of her Evan Delaney mystery novels and raved about it in Entertainment Weekly. This led to a book deal in the U.S. with Penguin. China Lake and Mission Canyon are available in mass market paperback this summer.

As I wrote in my Amazon interview with Gardiner: One thing I noticed immediately [about your novel] China Lake is a dual narrative urgency wedded to an ability to give the reader unusual specific detail or description. That’s hard to do.

Get Your Get Your War On

Continuing on today’s visual theme, and on my general topic of discussing the various appurtenances of the publishing biz, I see that HarperCollins in the UK has launched a video game to promote a book. But…well, it’s a wee bit appalling to be perfectly frank. It’s called Apache, “an online game allowing players to pilot a helicopter gunship to [promote] the launch of ‘Apache’ by Afghanistan pilot Ed Macy.”

I knew this would piss off David Rees no end, so emailed him the link. He did not disappoint.

OMG, if only we had the budget to make an online game where you drop cluster bombs in Afghanistan and then civilians die all over your screen. . . with pop-up graphics displaying the percentage of likelihood that their kids will join the Taliban seven years later. . .

David, for those of you for whom the name only vaguely rings a bell, is the creator of the cult internet comic Get Your War On, which we originally published in book form in 2002, lost  to Penguin for the sequel, and then got  back for the definitive edition publishing Oct 9th.

We’re not only calling it the definitive edition of the comics, but also the definitive history of the War on Terror to date, and you know what’s weird? It is. And a lot more truth than in the three volumes of the Bob Woodward books.

A fabulous development in the life of the comic is that it has just been animated, by 236.com, the humor site affiliated with HuffPo. And it just won an award from NewTeeVee for how bloody brilliant it is, cause, you know it is. See for yourself.

(David and the animator get a terabyte hard drive, holy shit, aren’t there like export controls on those?)

The Pretty Pictures Post

A review for Womans World the most remarkable visual book I’ve ever and frankly will ever publish, has come my way from SEE, the Edmonton Alberta alt weekly. Now I’ve hustled off and on on my own blog about this book, which got almost no conventional review coverage, but was feted by folks like Mark Frauenfelder and the Institute for the Future of the Book. I won’t go into the details of the book here, but what you need to know is that, in the words of the author, “Woman’s World has been collaged from individual fragments of text (around 40,000 in all) found in women’s magazines published in the early 1960s. It has taken five years to produce.” [Examples here, here and here.]

What I what to reproduce here is the final lines of the Edmonton review, which really just gave me the chills right now:

I love thinking of all those magazines Rawle destroyed in order to create this book—all those glossy pages, with holes now cut into them where the best sentences used to be. To think that Norma used to live in those holes, scattered over thousands of pages. How lovely to know that Rawle has gathered up all those pieces of her soul and finally reunited them.

The author also has an illustrated Wizard of Oz coming our way in a couple months. (In a fit of true shilling, albeit of the generous variety, you can download the whole shebag here.)

And while I’m giving away PDFs of pretty pictures, this is Cristy Road’s Bad Habits, not “pretty” as such, but kind of punch-in-the-gut-gorgeous. [PDF here]

Nominate this blog for award!

Just heard from GalleyCat about book blog award. Would be mucho remiss if I didn’t urge submission f this joint. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t suggest that a publisher blog award might be in order…

Details here. Basically you just email your nominations to [email protected] Categories here:

Best General Book Blog
Best Kidlit Blog
Best Christian/Inspirational Fiction Blog
Best Literary Fiction Blog
Best Book Club Blog
Best Romance Blog
Best Thrillers/Mystery/Suspense Blog
Best Non-fiction Blog
Best Young Adult Lit Blog
Best Book/Publishing Industry Blog
Best Challenge Host
Best Community Builder
Best Cookbook Blog
Best History/Historical Fiction Blog
Best Design
Most Chatty
Most Concise
Most Eclectic Taste
Best Name for a Blog
Best Published Author Blog
Best Book published in 2008
Best Meme/Carnival/Event
Most Extravagant Giveaways
Best Book Community site
Write In–think we missed something? Write in your category and nomination and if there are enough other write-ins of the same category it will be added!

This won’t be the last…

…post, I promise. Did I post yesterday? No! Pathetic. Partial excuse, I’ve been on a to-bed-at-2-up-at-6 schedule this week and I just couldn’t manage that schedule again last night (OK, listening to the Obama speech took up a chunk of that…). But I promise to do some make-up posting over the weekend, kay?

So I had been planning all along to have one day of public domain/CopyLeft links, rant(s), etc. So that’s a post I’m going to work on today, but it won’t be this one, this one will consist of simply the following, an email I just got from CAConrad, a wonderful queer pagan poet, much admired by Sam Delaney (“[B]rilliantly tough…jaw-droppingly romantic, witty, outraged, yearning, and often unabashedly lovely”). We’re publishing Conrad’s  Advanced Elvis Course in late Spring 09, and I don’t think we’ve ever made an author happier. So, the email from Conrad:

Last night I saw the Obama speech on a giant screen outside, on the lawn near the Liberty Bell here in Philadelphia, and a man with an Elvis T-shirt walked by and I said, “ELVIS FANS FOR OBAMA!”  Which startled him a bit, but he cheered back at me!

LOVE OF THE BLUE SUEDE SHOE TRUTH TO YOU BOTH,
Conrad

Struggling…

…with this next post. I’ve about 10-15 disparate links, all related in some fashion to social media. But you know this social media thing. It’s life! It’s like blogging about life. The prospect of trying to smoosh them all together into some coherent message is daunting beyond belief.But I’m also not good at thi snappy Linktopia kinda post either. So I’ll just wing it. (Jeff, I’m sorry…and I was just checking the metrics at softskull.com and they’re dropping this past month, clearly I’ve lost my edge…)

OK, well to write an actual post, as opposed to a meta-post:

Was just Twittering with agent Molly Friedrich who has an excellent interview up on Poets & Writers. Marvelous candor. I know if I were a better person, I’d find the four or five places at least that have already linked to the piece, but instead a wee boit o’ backstory: it’s in a series of interviews with agents all done by Jofie Ferrari-Adler, a young editor at Grove Atlantic who was at the now sadly defunct 4 Walls 8 Windows (publishers of Brian Evenson and Steve Aylett and Paul Di Filippo!) and married to the agent Jenni Ferrari-Adler. And all the interviews, with Nat Sobel [which I just re-read, damn, he’s an intersting guy], Lynn Nesbit, are online—not all the material in that magazine is. That said, I should mention that  this month’s item on the melding of literary and genre fiction is—it’s very Intro-level for readers of this blog, read it if you’re curious to see the establishment position on the topic, where the “centrists” see things being.

Anyhow, point of raising the topic of twittering with Ms. Friedrich was to say that because of the real directness in the interview, I’d pointed her to this speech by Joseph Jaffe here [I’d come to it, thanks to Ed.] In a sense there’s not much to it, escept to say that business need ot stop lying. But he breaks that imperative down nicely. (Unembeddable, sorry, I do actually now know how to embedd video on WordPress, sorry about the Bill Hicks post…)

Russell Crowe is Bill Hicks

About five years ago, a British publisher Constable & Robinson told me about a book they were about to publish, called Love All the People. It was the first collection of the routines of the stand-up comic Bill Hicks.

I’d no idea what he was talking about. So I Google the guy (this is pre-YouTube), note that he’s admired by Richard Pryor, John Cleese, and Dennis Miller, figure it would be a damn good idea to publish, and presto, I’m Bill Hicks’s U.S. publisher, faut de mieux.

And each year that goes by, I’m more honored to be his publisher, and sad it can only be posthumous (died at age 32 of pancreatic cancer), and slightly embarrassed at my good fortune, given how clueless I was to start with.

So last week, my Google News Alert tells me Russell Crowe has commissioned a biopic screenplay, and intends to play the man, and

A. I’m rather psyched, and

B. all kindsa new YouTube mash-ups appear. Below is one—super NSFW. But really, watch it. Watch it all if you can. He’s something special.

A Bill Hicks Miscellany

Backlash

Is there a Steampunk backlash? So says Design Observer via io9.

Myself, I do think one should distinguish between backlash as in: “Michael Phelps is a God!!…Oh, you know what, actually, he’s kinda boring…” and a backlash wherein something that has underlying intrinsic value gets copied/cheapened/ruthlessly exploited till it means nothing and then folks exclaim what a load of bollocks. Because to my mind “backlash” should be reserved for the former rather simple scenario, wherein we realize that it was a load of bollocks to begin with, and the latter scenario, wherein that which is lovely has been rendered a load of bollocks by forces larger that the original lovely thing.

Then to bring this post full circle—from one anthology edited by my host, to another:

Jeff’s Steampunk anthology -> Steampunk generally -> Paul DeFilipo, author of, inter alia The Steampunk Trilogy -> the Weird Universe that Paul just emailed me about this AM, totally check it out -> ta-da! Jeff and Anne’s other Tachyon anthology The New Weird!

(Ah, I love it when a post comes together…)

The Customer is Always Wrong

First off, I’m nervous as all get-out, as this is the first time I’ve guest-blogged and while I do blog over at Soft Skull News I think folks hold posts on this blog to a rather higher standard—longer and more discursive where appropriate; newsier, where appropriate; less hucksterism and shilling as always appropriate. So, having checked the previous sentence for grammar and stylistic balance, I’m ready to try to rise to the occasion, rather than dragging this blog down to my level.

OK so the title of the post. One the one hand, it’s the title of a book I’m publishing in a couple months, an anthology about working retail. I’m now rather optimistic about its prospects, having spent couple of years nervous about them—I’ve a shitty-assed track record with selling anthologies, unlike the proprietor of this here website. But the editor, Jeff Martin, is doing everything right, and we’re getting far more media and bookseller interest than I’d expected…But!

The purpose of this post is not to pimp out that book, but to beg publishers to stop acting as if the customer is in fact always wrong. (Because, you know, the title, it’s a joke. A bit of comic relief for the frazzled retail worker in a society of instant gratification, low service wages, and an endemic sense of entitlement amongst the affluent.) But there is a real tendency in our business to treat the customer as this perverse, mysterious, gullible, arrogant, narrow-minded, slightly thick, imperceptive lug. We largely talk down to him, dumb down for her, expect the least, fear the worst, and generally leave it up to the retailer to figure out how to reach him or her—we’ll get the book onto their shelves, we’ll pay them some payola, and then it’s their problem.

Of course it’s not, and not just because we’re in the only business where 100% of the product can be returned for full credit. It’s because fundamentally a publisher’s job is to connect the writer to the reader. Not the book to the retailer, but the writer to the reader.

This is not to denigrate the retailer. (I posted recently on my own blog about how one needs to understand the retailers if one is to do business well.) I don’t at all believe in  cutting the retailer out, but if we understand our customers better, the retailers will be very happy.

My most recent experience of this had to do with a cover. These past few days I’ve gotten e-mail, tweets and Facebook messages from various folks in response to a request on the blog for feedback on a cover. My dilemma—I’d an intuition that an unorthodox approach (not using the title or author, just an image) might just appeal to customers.

But a number of colleagues got nervous. Part of it was the fear of bucking convention, sure but part of it also stemmed, I believe, from the tendency to not really think about our readers, who they are, what they look for, what their circumstances are. So, I asked them! A little research, very informal. Not market research, not a focus group, not crowdsourcing (well, maybe a little bit of all the forgoing) just a request for a response.

I was relieved to learn I wasn’t crazy, that the unorthodox cover worked, but once that relief wore off, I started to realize that far more reader interactions like that are necessary, that the conversation about books that goes on in our culture now, gorgeously exemplified by Jeff’s house here, needs also to be going on much, much more in the whole apparatus that surrounds the words, houses the words, frames the words, makes it more or less likely you’ll read the words. I’m sure most folks don’t want to see inside the sausage factory, but I’m betting there are far far more than we’re currently admitting to the sausage factory, and if we expect y’all to eat our damn sausages, we’re going to have to spend more time with you guys figuring out how best to make them.

(I wish I could show you the responses, but my ass can’t figure out how to turn the comments on on my blog, long story…If any of y’all have clicked through to where I ask, feel free to comment here, along with whatever other comments you might have to make.)

Richard Nash: Ecstatic Guest Blogger (Aug. 25-29)

I’m very pleased to introduce the always dynamic and dashing Richard Nash as this week’s guest blogger on Ecstatic Days. Richard Nash was Publisher of Soft Skull Press from 2001 until 2007 when he sold the company, staying on as Editorial Director. He was one of Publishers Weekly’s Ten Editors to Watch for in the Coming Decade in 2005, and won the Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing in 2006. The hours he doesn’t spend with his wife and eight month old daughter are spent trying to bring more writers together with more readers.