f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Power to the People

Sara Nelson, editor of PW, has an editorial about the latest OJ Simpson book-kerfluffle.

Her last few paragraphs are interesting, including this:
It used to be that publishing declared its morality, its values, its world view by the books it chose to publish. Now, it seems, the business declares itself by what it refuses to publish.

Mick Silva could probably write up a new version of the 95 Theses based off that quote alone. (I'd be interested to see to what publishing house door he nailed it...I'll come in next week and there'll be a huge parchment spiked to my office door.)

The problem with the quote, of course, is that it took a massive public groundswell for a publisher to "declare its morality." If you'd heard crickets chirping, the book would be out there. Or in CBA's case, if books with leaky, prosperity theology under-pinnings are not just tolerated but turning into proverbial hotcakes, well....

And what does it say about our fiction.

Sure we have our "list" of things that won't fly in CBA.

But do we turn down a book because the violence is gratuitous?

Or the message is trite?

Or the worldview too cynical?

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Quiz on Book Titling

The New York Times runs a quiz on the business, art, and science of titling books.

Titling a book is a bizarre deal. You have so many interested cooks in the kitchen--the author, the editor, agents, marketing, sales, and even buyers. It can be a torturous process.

Or it can work like in the case of River Rising. Athol's proposed title, A Mountain Moved captured the theme of the novel but not the evocative setting. So I worked with a colleague and came up with a title I liked a lot: Waters Rise Up. I pitched the book under this name, signed it...and then our VP of Marketing ended up in a conversation with Athol's agent, couldn't remember the title, and kept saying how excited he was for River Rising.

And it stuck.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Missing the Target

Target Corp. seems to be one of the slickest, most laser-focused companies when it comes to brand managament and marketing itself. How else could the chain grow and thrive while Wal-Mart was busy taking over swaths of the world?

This Thanksgiving, however, Target has launched a campaign linking its stores with one of the biggest tools around--David Blaine. Was Paris Hilton not available? Was David Hasselhoff booked? What in the world?

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Thanksgiving

Enjoy. Be with family and friends. And don't eat green-bean-casserole--it's a palate-numbing monstrosity foisted upon us by purveyors of Campbell's condensed soups.

Till next week.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Question of Taste

I attended some training last week. The buzz-word of the weekend was "long tail." (And the best line of the weekend went to Michael Cader, creator of Publisher's Lunch, who said "They use the word 'long tail' now. They used to just call it 'back list'." Seriously folks, that's good publishing humor.

Anyway the "long tail" and the Internet paired with nearly unlimited selection have fundamentally altered our culture. One speaker put up a quote I found interesting:
"We are now a nation of niches. There are still blockbusters...but fewer capture the communal pop culture spirit. The action is elsewhere...." LA Times critic, Patrick Goldstein.

What this immediately brought to mind was Veronica Mars. Of course.

Veronica Mars is a TV show. The titular character is a high school (now college) student who solves crimes. It's a bit like MTV crossed with Nancy Drew. I like mysteries and the show has perenially received fairly good reviews, so I was always interested in viewing it, but never tracked it down.

Then the DVDs swept through BHP. A handful of co-workers watched it, loved it, and assured me I would, too. I took Season 1 home and sat with the wife. Long story short: We didn't like it. At all, really.

And here's a few observations:

1. The "nation of niches" thing also means nation of devotees. Sure, most of America will watch and chat (tepidly) about Pirates of the Caribbean, but the most rabid discussion about pop culture now most often occurs outside the "mainstream." And so finding another person who drinks the same Kool-Aid as you about The Decemberists or NewsRadio or Richard Powers somehow feels doubly important. Like two nearly-extinct animals finding each other before slipping off into oblivion.

Or like a small outpost besieged by invading forces. And so like every outpost, people get a bunker mentality. They entrench in their position and neither reason nor entreaty will budge them. (Even cancellation sometimes doesn't end their ensconcement. There are TV fans (like me a Freaks and Geeks) who are the equivalent of those mythic Japanese soldiers still fighting WWII into the 1950s.

2. Even as my co-workers turned deaf ears to my rationale for disliking the show, I noticed something interesting/disturbing in myself.

I began focusing in on the things I didn't like in VM. The best thing would've just been to stop watching--but since we didn't do that, every episode became an exercise in picking things apart. The objective or even appreciative eye had been replaced--not by the critiquing eye but by the critical eye.

The critical eye seeks, first, failures in a work. And, if they're like me, then they fixate on them and aren't able to look past them. And so we become as blind to a work's positives as those devotees are to its weaknesses. There's no common sense analysis. You're either, in the inimitable words of our Prez, "for us or against us."

3. We are in a nation of critics now. Amazon.com gave voice to everyone with an opinion to share in a way that I don't think was seen before. I think it's created a din, an ever-increasing din leaving us with three options.

1. Shout louder than everyone.
2. Stay quiet.
3. Say your piece and hope you're heard.

I've tried all of them at various times--and frankly they all have their place. Number three seems the most sane, though. And I think it's where I'd like to spend most of my time moving forward.

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The Unigriff Lives

Congratulations to the fine folks over at Relief Journal. I received my issue yesterday and was impressed. I need the long weekend to sit down with it and see if the content matches the packaging, but it seems like a fine start.

Launching any sort of venture like this is daunting and making it to printed volume is an accomplishment. No more unicorns and hippogriffs any longer--they're real. And I urge you to give them a visit.

Next up: The Ankeny Briefcase.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Book News

Richard Powers won the National Book Awards for The Echo Maker. I'm about to open the first page so now I'm nothing more than a bandwagon jumper. Nuts.

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Regan Books, recently mentioned for their crime contest and lauded for the very fine NBA-finalist The Zero by Jess Walter, loses all good will with me because of this. Seriously?

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Actually we'll play a game: Which is the more irritating book? This one (which FaithWords is now pubbing) or the OJ book?

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(Edited to add: When Rupert Murdoch is suddenly the arbiter of "too far" that doesn't say much about our country. But the News Corp. chief bowed to public pressure and pulled both the show and the book surrounding OJ. )

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Book Advertising Goes Hollywood

Dean Koontz's fun/interesting Odd Thomas character is being highlighted in ads being run, apparently (according to PW) during CSI. Right now, only the first of the three ads is viewable.

I'd assume CSI ad-space is about the most valuable real estate on TV today so this isn't some fly-by-night half-try. This cost serious dollars.


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In related but other news, FSG has created probably the best "trailer" for a book I've seen yet. Watch it here.

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Buzz Kill

Those of you who've known me mostly as a shaggy-haired editor should know that those days are over.

The hair, hopefully without latent Samsonic-properties, is gone. We're now nearly down to skin. Think Lance Armstrong...with slightly larger ears. And less Sheryl Crow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Writing Yourself Into a Corner

In 2004, Lost debuted. To pretty much universal acclaim. I watched the first season and when it ended, I decided never to watch another episode. By choosing, for the most part, to only raise questions and never answer them, the writers seemed to be playing mostly with smoke and mirrors. To me. Now in Season 3, it seems to have lost it's status as a cultural touchpoint, though that may be as much about our societal ADD than anything the show's done.

In 2006, Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip debuted. To wide acclaim...though poor ratings. I've watched the show mainly because I was a fan of Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night. Ignoring for the moment, that Sports Night is a far better show told in half the time, there's one looming problem for Studio 60--its titular cutting-edge, hilarious sketch show (a SNL stand-in) is not all that cutting-edge and usually the opposite of funny. This is a problem.

In 1999, Lemony Snicket offered A Bad Beginning to a Series of Unfortunate Events. For the first four or five books he mostly repeted jokes and mock-gothic tropes in a clever but wheel-spinning series. Then suddenly the wheels caught and readers were launched into a labyrinthine chase for answers mostly surrounding a "schism" in the V.F.D.. The witty premise of the book is that this tale is ultimately going to end poorly, so you should just stop reading.
But, can you really end a wildly popular series "poorly"? Would Daniel Handler have the guts? Last night I finished the end of The End and in lieu of spoiling anything I'll say that I think he, also, uses smoke and mirrors.

If I remember correctly, in The World According to Garp, Garp is a mildly acclaimed writer..and one of his stories (about a bear) appears in the text. I didn't exactly love the short story and so Garp's "fame" seemed puzzling and slightly dubious to me. (I read this one a long time ago; if I'm wrong and the story was heartwrenching I apologize to John Irving.)

In 2007, J.K. Rowling unleashes Harry Potter and the Something of Something Else. Has she left herself room to maneuver?

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I don't have some grand point to make here. Just that writing is hard. And the choices you make in your stories can create fences and boxes that you need to be aware of. Writers can be their own worst enemy sometimes in the things they choose to include in a story, the unwieldy structure they set for a story, or even by picking the wrong POV.

(In The Lovely Bones, I didn't care all that much about who killed the dead narrator...because she was already in "heaven.")

My only advice is, as best you can, be aware of the limitations and roundblocks your choices will make for you as early as you can in your writing process. And then work around them or bridge them. But I wouldn't just expect them to go away. Even with all the smoke and mirrors in the world.

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A Movie I Am Predisposed to Hate

I saw a movie trailer the other night that provoked me to speak back audibly--and not kindly--to the little flickering faces on the television.

It was for a movie called "A Good Year." It stars Russell Crowe.

Here is the premise, as I could glean from the trailer...

A very, very rich and successful Wall Street trader still feels no satisfaction with his sad lonely life and so, to find meaning, he moves to Europe (Italy? France?), ensconces himself at what amounts to a castle, and has sex with a gorgeous twenty-something. And thus he is happy.

We get what we deserve, I suppose.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Story Contest: The Third!

Of all the things I get to do at this blog running the story contests is the one I love the most. My daily work wraps fiction up in a lot of questions about market and content-concerns and saleability...and while those all pay the bills, sometimes it's nice to find a space away from that. Where writing, for its own sake, can be valued and enjoyed and celebrated. And your words have offered that chance.

So...I'm extremely pleased to announce a third iteration of the contest. And I'm also pleased that it has grown. In fact, if I may say so, we're to the point where this thing is almost downright legitimate.

The winner selected will be published. In print.

The winner selected will receive a cash award. Nothing you can retire on, but it'll keep you in books for a couple of months. Or tuna fish. Or whatever small staple you're missing in your life.

I am extremely pleased to be partnering with Relief Journal for this contest. I dig the spirit of what they're doing and am honored that they let me ride their coat-tails a bit. Big thanks to Mark Bertrand (whose thoughts on the contest you should definitely check out) and the entire editorial board for taking a chance on this venture. We all are going to be looking for your best work, so take advantage of the writing window offered and show us what you've got.

And so, with great pleasure...here's the official announcement!

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Relief Journal/F*i*F "Daily Sacrament" Short Story Contest


Andre Dubus writes of cooking an omelet and it becomes a holy moment. Marilynne Robinson takes the acts of baptism and communion out of their churchly garb and gives them new resonance and depth. Inspired by examples like these, the "Daily Sacrament" short story contest will challenge you to explore the everyday in light of the eternal--or the sacred in the surroundings of the commonplace.

Reading Period: January 1 - March 15, 2007
Prize: Winner will receive $250 and publication in Relief Journal.
Runners-up: Published on the faith*in*fiction blog.
Word Limit: 10,000

To find out more about the kind of fiction Relief Journal publishes, we encourage writers to visit our site at www.reliefjournal.com and order a copy of the publication.

Relief will accept submissions online at a new contest site that will be unveiled when the reading period begins.


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Finally, if you have questions post them here and we'll take a stab at answering them.

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