Monday, March 31, 2014

Life is Too Short to Read a Bad Book: A Conversation with My Editor

The Millions Interview

By posted  on March 26, 2014 


When I was younger (read: 27) I thought all book editors were either bow-tied bald men or sharp-jawed women in extreme eyewear. Also: mean. (In my mind, they slammed their hands on their desk and screamed about the bestseller list.) My silly assumptions were chipped away over time: I worked with the incomparable (and smiley!) Deena Drewis at Flatmancrooked (now of Nouvella); I began to follow more and more editors on Twitter; I had a drink with one or two. What I found in all of them was a passion for books and reading that matched my own; ask an editor about a manuscript they have just shepherded into print and their eyes will get as glittery as a bookseller’s when discussing a staff pick. Editors edit books because they love them.
(They also seem to love tote bags.)

coverAfter I sold my novel to Little, Brown, my editor Allie Sommer and I talked on the phone (for the second time ever). I said, “My parents are so proud of me!” and she said something like, “Mine are so proud of me!” You see, California was Allie’s first acquisition, which means that I share my debut with her, and proudly. I learned so much about writing from working with Allie, and my book is better because she edited it. The editorial process was thorough and humbling, and although I always valued revision, I now see just how deeply it can improve my work. (Also: whenever I watch a show like Homeland with random plot holes I turn to my husband and say, “They should hire Allie. She would never let them get away with that!”) Assistant Editor Allie Sommer is a wizard, a mentor, a harsh task master, a champion, and a friend. (She is also a former sorority girl who has never smoked marijuana…but we won’t hold that against her.)
Allie was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her job.

The Millions: How did you start working in the publishing industry, and why? Did you always want to be an editor?
Allie Sommer: I didn’t always know I wanted to be an editor, but I’ve always been a big reader. My parents claim that “book” was my first word. I’ve been labeled a bookworm my whole life, and so when I was starting to think about what I might want to do for a career, a family friend suggested I might enjoy working as an editor. She recommended me for an internship at a children’s book imprint after my sophomore year of college. While I enjoyed working around books, I still to this day don’t understand what makes a good picture book! The next summer, I got another editorial internship, this time at an adult nonfiction imprint. I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be an editor. As soon as I graduated from college, I started applying for editorial assistant positions at adult trade imprints, and ended up in my dream job working for Little, Brown and Company.

Kiwi soldier's Boer War adventures

Penguin South Africa recently published a historical novel by New Zealand based author Zirk van den Berg. Half of One Thing tells the story of a Kiwi soldier in the Boer War. Sent as a spy among the Boers, his loyalties become entangled, leading to a desperate act when he has to choose between love and duty.

"As a migrant, the issue of divided loyalties has special resonance for me," says Van den Berg. "With this book, I inverted my own situation by putting a New Zealander into a South African situation. The Boer War is a fascinating confluence of the histories of my two nations. Hopefully the background adds appealing drama to the book."

Van den Berg migrated to New Zealand after publishing his first books in South Africa. He first gained attention in New Zealand in 2004 when Random House published his crime novel Nobody Dies. This book was published in Afrikaans translation in South Africa last year.

New Zealand publication of his latest novel has not been secured yet. Meanwhile, the printed book is available online at a South African online bookstore:

Amazon vs the Book Barge: no contest...

When Sarah Henshaw’s Book Barge was sinking, she sent an SOS to e-commerce king Jeff Bezos. She’s still afloat, and still waiting...

Sarah Henshaw aboard her now successful – and mostly dry – Book Barge
Reading queen: Sarah Henshaw aboard her now successful – and mostly dry – Book Barge  Photo: Martin Pope
In the summer of 2011 I wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Actually, that’s not quite true. I wrote to a small business in Australia called Clothing for Correspondence which, as the name suggests, communicates on behalf of clients in return for items from their wardrobe. I sent them an old green belt, and they asked Jeff for financial backing to save a very small floating bookshop that was bobbing about somewhere in Yorkshire at the time.

The bookshop, operating from a black and cream narrowboat, was mine. And it wasn’t the first time I’d shamelessly petitioned for pennies like this. The Book Barge took shape in 2009. My boyfriend and I had asked several banks for loans to buy it and we’d given them all the same supporting document which was, I can now clearly appreciate, nonsense.

It was presented as a book (my idea), and included a title page with the pun-heavy, poorly written tag-line: “The locks could not imprison her. The waterways could not drown her spirit. She defied canal convention to become… THE BOOK BARGE.” I am still squirming. There were fictional endorsements: “Gripping! A masterpiece of business prose” – Finance Digest. “You can bank on this having a happy ending” – The Investor Times. Inside, the “chapters” had silly names like “An Interesting Proposal” and “A Great Number of Numbers”, which presented highly optimistic sales forecasts as an excel spreadsheet, sandwiched between pictures of Cleopatra’s barge and Ratty and Mole gesticulating on a blue wooden rowing boat. Somehow, at the time, I’d thought this was a “kooky” approach to business financing that would win over the most hardened, calculator-for-a-heart bank manager. I now realise I was being an idiot. Our loan applications were turned down firmly – and frequently – and we were forced to borrow from family instead.

The boat alone cost £25,000 and I found it on Google. Moored on the Grand Union canal in Warwick, it had cardboard blinkers over the bow windows and patches of rust above the waterline. Threads of frost were laid out over the grill of a three-legged barbecue stand, which stood extraneously against the front door. But it was black and, at 60 feet long, comparatively roomy for a narrow boat. These were the only specifications I really cared about.

ANZAC - a very special book to commemorate exhibition - - PHOTOGRAPHS BY LAURENCE ABERHART

Publication April 2014
ISBN 9780864739339
Format Hardback
rrp $60

This impeccably produced (no exaggeration) hardback volume features large-format reproductions of 72 photographs by leading New Zealand photographer Laurence Aberhart. They provide an almost-comprehensive record of fifty New Zealand ‘Digger’ memorials (those featuring statues rather than abstract sculpture), and a representative range of their Australian counterparts.

Director’s foreword: Cam McCracken
Introduction: Jock Phillips
72 full-page photographs

ANZAC: Photographs by Laurence Aberhart will be published in April 2014 to coincide with the opening of a major exhibition at Dunedin Public Art Gallery. The exhibition will subsequently tour.
96 pages, 270x310mm, hardback with dustjacket
Victoria University Press in association with Dunedin Public Art Gallery

About the artist

Laurence Aberhart was born in Nelson in 1949, and since 1983 has lived and worked in Russell, Bay of Islands. He has been at the forefront of New Zealand photography since the late 1970s, and is recognised as a major international figure. His photographs have been exhibited widely in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere, and significant holdings of his work are to be found in public galleries on both sides of the Tasman. Major solo exhibitions include the Stedelijik Museum Amsterdam in 2002, the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, Australia, in 2005, City Gallery Wellington and touring, 2007–2009. His landmark publication Aberhart (VUP 2007) features full-page reproductions of 240 of his major photographs.

Book review: Bonjour sweet Paris

By Nicky Pellegrino -Herald on Sunday Mar 30, 2014

Janice McLeod's story of shifting continents is romantic and practical.
Janice McLeod's story of shifting continents is romantic and practical.

At some point, pretty much everyone has a fantasy about walking out of their job and escaping somewhere for a simpler life.
Janice MacLeod did it and Paris Letters (Macmillan) is the story of how.
It's in the vein of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray Love, except MacLeod is a warmer, less whiny narrator and she includes lots of practical details about how she managed.
MacLeod was 34 and living in California where she worked as a copywriter producing the blurbs for junk mail.
She was single, unfulfilled and wondering how she had fallen into this less-than-dream life. She really wanted to be an artist and she began wondering how much money it would take to quit her job and fund a sabbatical.
So MacLeod worked out she had to save or make US$100 a day.

She started by scaling down, cleaning out cupboards and getting rid of stuff she didn't need. She sorted her finances, stopped shopping, went vegan, played the stockmarket and kept salting the dollars away.
Finally, the glorious day came and she quit her job. With her belongings whittled down to the contents of a single suitcase, MacLeod boarded a plane to Paris. There she begins as a tourist, sauntering from cafes to attractions.

Then she meets a butcher who looks like Daniel Craig. Veganism goes to the wall and Paris Letters becomes more love story than travel memoir.
Her romance in the face of language difficulties and the challenges of creating a new life in a foreign country make for entertaining reading.
But the book also has another layer of charm, thanks to the career she eventually carved out for herself - she produces personalised painted letters about Paris and sends them to subscribers.
Examples of these are dotted about her memoir, giving it a Parisian flavour.

I have a theory about paper books. I think for them to survive the e-book revolution they will have to be things of beauty to treasure. Paris Letters is halfway there.
If the publishers had splashed out and printed Macleod's illustrations in colour then it would have been truly special but you'll have to go to her website ( to get an idea of what they look like in real life.

As a memoir, this book is inspiring and fun. MacLeod has a good line in self-deprecating humour and comes across as open and honest about her failings and feelings.
At the back there's a list of the hundred things she did to save enough cash to change her life that surely has a few nuggets for anyone trying to manage on a budget.
Many of us don't want to escape our lives, of course; we rather like them.
Or we have debt and dependents so can't. Paris Letters is MacLeod's response to a question we may ask ourselves, nevertheless: What if I wasn't who I am? Who else could I become?

The Margaret Mahy Day at Storylines- a splendid morning all round - Paula Green reports

On an autumny Saturday morning I went to Storyline’s Margaret Mahy Day in Auckland.
Storylines works really hard for children in New Zealand. I took my girls to the Auckland Family Day for years and came away feeling inspired .. full of talk, stories and books.
Here are my highlights from Saturday (apart from catching up with all the writers, librarians, Storylines people and fans of children’s books!)
1. There is always an awards part and I was delighted to see Jenny Hessell, the author of the fabulous Grandma McGarvey books, got the Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book.
When Jenny made her ‘thank-you’ speech, she said she woke up with the first two lines of Grandma McGarvey in her head, and that it was like a gift. And then she went on the big Grandma McGarvey adventure.  The books are all illustrated by Trevor Pye. See Scholastic page about news here.
2. Emma Vere-Jones was awarded the Joy Cowley Award for a Picture Book. The book will be published by Scholastic. Her book is called Stan and the Van.
I loved Emma’s speech. She thanked her parents for ‘giving me the gift of reading, it is truly a great gift.’ She also admired teachers that help children find books they are really passionate about.
3. There was the launch of last year’s Tom Fitzgibbon Award Winner, Juliet Jacka‘s book Night of the Perigee Moon. It is a novel about a 13 year old.
In her speech she said she gets easily distracted — but that when you get past the distraction you  transform yourself into what you want to be. Here is Juliet with the fabulous Fleur Beale (lots of writers made special trips to be part of the occasion!).
4. Terrific news! Tessa Duder announced that thanks to the  Walker Books Australia, The Tessa Duder Award for a YA novel would be run again. Entries have to be in by  October. .
Paula Green, PO Box 95078, Swanson, Waitakere 0653 Auckland

New York Times Book reviews

Emma Donoghue: By the Book
The author of "Frog Music" was happy to hear that President Obama bought her novel "Room," but admits: "I'm tormented by the notion that it's still in a groaning pile of books by his bed."


'The Voyage'

Reviewed by JAMES McNAMARA
In Murray Bail's novel, an Australian tinkerer ventures to Europe to revolutionize classical music.

'Worst. Person. Ever.'

Reviewed by B. J. NOVAK
A gleefully mean cameraman lands a reality TV assignment on a remote Pacific island.

John Wayne as a gunfighter for hire in

'John Wayne: The Life and Legend'

A biography surveys the career of Marion Robert Morrison, who turned himself into a legend.



A British band is transformed into a toddler sensation in this novel.

Why are booksellers afraid of children's poetry?

Teachers, parents and poets alike know how children thirst for poetry. Now it's up to booksellers and publishers to save it from extinction

Friday 28 March 2014  
Children, responding to its rhythm and imagery, take to poetry with natural ease
Children, responding to its rhythm and imagery, take to poetry with natural ease

Children dive into poetry with the same natural ease as swimmers into water, climbers into trees and sleepers into dreams. I've seen this alchemy at work on countless visits to schools, visits which have convinced me that poetry's narrative, rhythm and vibrant imagery is the real language of childhood. But poetry written for children is in danger of dying out, of sliding into fossilised irrelevance, cut off from modern verse. A classic such as Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses may be lovely, but it can't sustain the vital connection between children and poetry. Children also need poets who are still breathing.

The delicate machine which brings poetry books into the hands of children is in desperate need of repair. I used to help choose the poems for the Children's Poetry Bookshelf, the Poetry Book Society's book club for ages seven to 11, and I watched with horror as the submissions from publishers gradually dried up. Starved of funding and support, the club had to stop taking on new members in 2011. As PBS director Chris Holifield said, it seemed that "children's poetry in book form was close to extinction, with just a small number of new titles being published and not much backlist being kept in print."

Selected Works - Alan Brunton

Titus Books
is proud to announce the release of the highly anticipated selected works by prominent New Zealand poet and performer Alan Brunton (1946-2002)

Drawing on twelve published collections and the rich resource of his papers,
editors Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond present a selection that shows for the first time
the scope of Brunton's poetics as well as his trademark linguistic bravura.

Alan Brunton played a crucial role in developing a platform for New Zealand poetry and theatre.
Brunton was the founding editor of poetry and arts publication Freed and co-edited Spleen,
he also established with partner Sally Rodwell the experimental theatre group Red Mole.
Beyond the Ohlala Mountains moves chronologically in five parts, from 1968 until 2002,
showcasing an oeuvre that spans over four decades and continues to inspire artists
both in New Zealand and abroad.

Beyond the Ohlala Mountains
Alan Brunton | Poems 1968-2002
Titus Books, March 2014
ISBN: 978-1-877441-47-9
RRP NZD$38.00
316pp paperback

Trade orders - Titus Books
1416 Kaiaua Road, Pokeno 2473

We Love This Book

by Jason Hewitt
Two characters are brought together in the circumstance of war in this compelling and descriptive novel. Lydia has run away from the seemingly safe haven of Wales back to her home in Suffolk because she desperately wants to be with her family. Heiden is a German soldier supposedly awaiting back-up and needing a base. What I loved about this book was the descriptive narrative. You really feel like you are there, shut up in the house with both of them. The temperament of the two characters is excellently conveyed in simple actions. The deserted house is beautifully described; brought to life by the girl’s memories of what was there before – her father’s vegetable patch now dry and unyielding, the wardrobe that held her mother’s clothes lying empty.

Five questions with debut novelist Jason Hewitt on characterisation and narrative technique in The
Dynamite Room 

How long did The Dynamite Room take to write and research?

It took me about three and a half years to write. The first nine months of that was research, including trips to Suffolk, Berlin, and also up to the Norwegian town of Narvik, above the Arctic Circle. I was working in the marketing department of a large educational publisher and persuaded them to give me a sabbatical to write the first draft, which I did in three months. It then took another two years of re-crafting and fine-tuning. Writing is certainly not for the impatient.



by Marcus Sedgwick
IN Paris, 1944, Army doctor Charles Jackson sees a man appearing to drink the blood of a young woman. Terrified, he does nothing about it and yet it sets the course of his life to one of secrets, revenge and obsession. Despite the tension, death and other collected unpleasantnesses, A Love Like Blood is engaging and intelligently written. Initially, it seems as though this is going to be another vampire novel but there’s a different spin here and there's actually nothing supernatural going on, despite the fact that Sedgwick was writing excellent vampire books for teenagers well before the Twilight phenomenon.

by Cammie McGovern
Amy and Matthew are two teenagers who not only have to deal with the usual trials and tribulations of adolescence, but also cerebral palsy (her) and obsessive compulsive disorder (him). Right from the get-go, the reader will fall in love with Amy and her cheerful determination to make friends by hiring schoolfriends to be her helpers. Several students sign up, sometimes just to improve their school credits, but Matthew and Amy soon realise they have a bond which develops into more than a friendship. This is McGovern’s first YA novel but Amy & Matthew will put her among the top ranks of first-class teen writers.


Writers Who Hated Writing : Most writers, if not all, whether professional, recreational, or scholastic, hate writing at one point, or, in some cases, every point, in their careers, and their attestations to this can entertain, nonplus, horrify, and occasionally provide comfort to the writing-hating writer.

The Great E-book Royalty War : A backstage battle between publishers and authors over royalties may be limiting which e-books you can buy.

Authors Appeal to End Twitter Ban : A letter from Zadie Smith, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie and other writers says Turkey's social media ban is an "unacceptable violation of the right to freedom of speech."

Lost Illusions at the Local Bookstore : Rebecca Mead on New York bookstores, in the "New Yorker." 

Islamic Cultural Encounters in Sharjah

Roger Tagholm reports from Sharjah, where the emirate is celebrating its turn as Islamic Cultural Capital with wide-ranging festivities the drew global guests.
Looking at core religious works as literary texts, one with possibly unreliable narrators, rather than as the literal word of God might serve us all better.
Learn and network:
Hear speakers from publishing and technology discuss how to monetize the content you already have and set the stage for new revenue opportunities going forward.
More from PP:
The New York Public Library has launched a new online book recommendation engine powered by Bookish Recommends from New York digital startup Zola Books
From the Archives:
Reporting from the Mobile World Congress, Beatrice Stauffer notes the strong advances in mobile tech are creating opportunities for content providers.

Saudi Arabia’s Comic Book Fatwa

The 99

World News - 03.28.14 - The Daily Beast

The president should confront Saudi leaders over the ludicrous fatwa against ‘The 99,’ a ground-breaking Muslim superhero comic.
President Obama did not go to Saudi Arabia this Friday to talk about comic books, but he should, because a new fatwa against them—specifically those showing right-thinking Muslim superheroes—underscores just how hard it is to sustain a positive relationship with Riyadh.

Obama himself once singled out the remarkable comic book series in question, called The 99, for special praise. The superheroes have the attributes associated with the 99 names of Allah—words like “strength” and “light” and “wisdom”—and these characters team up to fight evil. Kuwaiti psychologist Naif al-Mutawa created them after the 9/11 attacks because he wanted Muslim children, including his own, to have Muslim heroes who were not suicide bombers and jihadists. Since then the comics have been the subject of a PBS documentary, and they’ve inspired the creation of Muslim heroes in mainstream American comics.

“His comic books have captured the imaginations of so many young people with superheroes who embody the teachings and tolerance of Islam,” Obama told a group of young entrepreneurs in 2010. Obama alluded to his own 2009 speech in Cairo reaching out to the Muslim world to build a better future for all. After that, said the president, al-Mutawa “had a similar idea, so in his comic books Superman and Batman reach out to their Muslim counterparts,” the president said as the audience laughed warmly, “and I hear they are making progress, too.”

But now it appears that that sort of progress, those sorts of liberal forward-looking ideas, are being suppressed once again in Saudi Arabia, where the grand mufti and his council recently issued a fatwa calling the comics and the television show based on them “evil work that needs to be shunned.”

Hopes for greater books coverage dwindle as BBC axes The Review Show

Despite director general Tony Hall's announcement of the biggest arts push for a generation, the BBC shows no sign of producing topical book shows or books documentary series

Investigation In Jimmy Savile Allegations Continues
Liiterature is liable to be marginalised in the arts coverage at the BBC. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Asked in last week's Radio Times if she would like to see more "programmes that cater for bookworms", Kirsty Wark replied: "I have to be diplomatic because there's going to be a big announcement about BBC Arts". And when the big announcement came this week, in director general Tony Hall's presentation detailing "the biggest arts push for a generation", literary initiatives were indeed mentioned, but on inspection they don't amount to much that's new.

Noticeably they're largely short-lived projects, annuals not perennials: there's no sign of a topical books show or books documentary series. Dead writers will have to await their anniversaries to be feted (next up: a Dylan Thomas season), while the only hope for living ones who are not global celebrities lies in the multi-arts programmes, Imagine, The Culture Show and, until it was scrapped this week, Wark's The Review Show. Although the BBC is to replace Sky as the Hay festival's broadcast partner – focusing on authors, but tellingly in their second lives as performers

Book of the Week: ‘During the Reign of the Queen of Persia’ by Joan Chase

Book of the Week: 'During the Reign of the Queen of Persia' by Joan Chase

Sometimes an author puts one book into the world that, in its time, is showered with acclaim and awards. Then, for whatever reason, that author slowly fades away. It’s not always fair to call them one-hit wonders, but in the case of an author like Joan Chase, whose 1983 debut During the Reign of the Queen of Persia was recently reprinted by NYRB Classics, the question of why such a gifted writer only published two more novels (1990′s The Evening Wolves and 1991′s Bonneville Blue) is intriguing.
… Read More