Fridays get down news

Well, I handed in the final draft of my book yesterday and am waiting for the copyeditor to make sure I look like less of an idiot than I am, so it’s time to officially celebrate and begin the long, agonizing process of worrying about what I have done. Nine or ten months from now, a book will appear with my name on it and everything I did wrong will be standing out in bold type that only I can see. Well, not only me. I’m sure there will be a kind critic or two out there that will helpfully point out my foibles in a public venue. But hopefully there will be a reader or two that will go past all that into whatever it was I meant to say and find it jives with whatever it was they always meant to say as well, and the circle of life will continue. It’s a very glamorous literary life. Now I’m off to Costco to buy cheese and a barrel of mayonnaise. Have a good weekend, common folk.

Walter Mosley writes about Devil in a Blue Dress, 30 years on

Just what the headline says: a master looks back on a masterwork after 30 more years of living. This is one of those books that lives permanently on Ms. Ninja’s nightstand.

When I wrote Devil I had a simple thought in mind. I wanted to tell a story about Los Angeles that highlighted black life and the black contribution to culture within a mirror-darkly that partially reflected the American experience within a shadowy landscape of national shame. In that book I talked about how poor black people migrated from the Deep South to Southern California, of how they flourished and ultimately failed; only to rise again, flourish again, fail again but in the end, pressing the envelope of that contest forward each and every time.

Sometimes within failure is contained magnificence. The characters introduced by the Easy Rawlins series hopefully displayed glimmers of hope and resistance.

Book coverage

Book covers: which is better, the US or UK edition? I’m always fascinated by Ms. Ninja’s books and their multiple covers and international editions. So many ways to sell the same book inside. LitHub takes a fun and illuminating look at a series of books and makes some difficult choices.

…comparing US and UK covers; it’s fascinating to see different designers’ takes on the same book—and because the UK is most closely linked market to ours, there are plenty of opportunities. It’s extra fun at this point in the year, when we’ve seen some of these covers hundreds of times, and they’ve reified in our brains as being synonymous with the book itself; it makes that previously unseen version feel all the more exciting. It’s like seeing a good friend in a fresh new haircut. Or a fresh new face. But not in a murder-y way. So here are a few American book covers from 2020, side-by-side with their across-the-pond counterparts. Which ones are better? 

Tuesday newsday

I spent all of yesterday working on a poem a forgot (!) to post until later in the evening. It was worth it though. A tough little humdinger I’d been picking at for years finally came together. Anyway, any news of the day was eclipsed by the death of John le Carré, so I’ll try to catch up now.

Dennis Johnson on big publishing

Ur-blogger and upstart publisher Dennis Johnson writes in The Atlantic about his experience testifying before the Department of Justice about big publisher mergers. This guy is a badass and I love him. Everyone should buy some Melville House books just to say thanks. Also, he’s wicked funny in person and his blog MobyLives (which I spent many years as an unofficial proofreader for before starting my own blog), was a foundation of the “industry”, such as it is, and is much missed.

How YOU doin?

As the big houses have become bigger and bigger, their business has become more about making money than art or protest, so that small publishers now provide a far wider variety of literature, politics, history, and journalism, of art making and truth-to-power-speaking, of actual risk taking—and from a far more diverse group of authors —than the commercial conglomerate publishers. And the bigger the big publishers get, I told the DOJ attorneys, the more risk-averse they become. The less willing they are to lose money. Audiences need to be expanded, not necessarily diversified. And then the safer, less boat-rocking, bigger-demographic-satisfying stuff they publish becomes what the marketplace they dominate adapts itself to sell. The risk aversion becomes systemic.

The attorneys didn’t disagree. And when the interview was over, I felt a huge sense of relief. They got it, I thought. They definitely got it.

The merger, of course, was approved shortly thereafter.

Thus a publishing behemoth was born, a behemoth that now, a mere seven years later, is once again taking over a leading competitor, Simon & Schuster. PRH has purchased S&S for $2.2 billion, or twice the asking price—a fee none of the other big publishers could match. News Corp, the owner of HarperCollins, blasted PRH for “buying market dominance.”

This is exactly right. Just seven years ago, the industry had six dominant giants. Now three of them have merged together. The other giants, let alone the numerous independent players, are not just smaller; they’re smaller by billions of dollars. I said it in 2012, and I’ll say it again now: The DOJ needs to stop the consolidation.

On arguing with the best-of lists, fantasy edition

This woman spends some thought on Time’s Best Fantasy Books of All Time list, checking off books she’s read, and finds herself arguing with many of the choices made by the team that compiled it. Of course. I realize there’s a movement out there to do away with terms like “Best”, but once you realize that any such choice is just an opinion expressed for the purposes of arguing, you should be fine. Same with awards. It’s just that-particular-jury’s choice, not the actual best. And even history doesn’t always get it right, as we see with the article linked in the post below about Gertrude Trelevyan. It’s just a bunch of factors of chance and opinion that decide. But it’s always good to challenge the gatekeepers, so givver, lady.

But even as I totted up my “wins” (A Wrinkle in Time, Dragonflight, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Crystal Cave, Watership Down—check, check, check, check, check) and argued (where the heck is Charlotte’s Web?) and wondered (was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory left out due to the racism underlying the characterization of the Oompa-Loompas?), I was heartened by the prominence of children’s books on the list—it’s a rarity for children’s books to appear in such numbers, if at all, in any general list of great literature.

Friday news dump

Well, here we are. Another milestone. One of my buddies is retiring today, which both pleases and shocks me. Pleases me because I am happy that he gets to do something with his time other than Dilbert his life away in a cubicle and shocked because: YOU CAN DO THAT? Yes, sir. If you spend 30 years in the same job, you can do that. Sadly, I am only five years behind him and I will never be able to retire. The artist’s/freelancer’s life. Work until you die. That said, I will spend two hours after this playing a video game that I’ve been waiting two years to play before I move on to editing poetry. Choices were made.