Friday, June 25, 2010

Incoming Flack

I've been fortunate to write over a hundred reviews for New Mystery Reader over the past five years. During that time, I have been ever luckier to deal almost exclusively with NMR's patient and long-suffering editor, Stephanie Padilla. Stephanie has made sure books got to me and interviews were set up, so I rarely had to deal with the major publishers' publicists. For that I am eternally grateful.

Earlier this week a publicist slipped through my previously effective cordon and sent me an email directly. She must have got my address from a predecessor, as I don't recognize her name, but I did speak with a few publicists at Bouchercon a couple of year ago. Anyway, this (presumably delightful young) woman (since aren't all publicists that way) sent me an email with the following subject line, which has been tastefully redacted:

A brilliant blend of fact and fiction, XXX unravels one of the greatest unsolved mysteries …!

The body of the email was not only awfully familiar for someone who probably doesn't know me, but made it clear by the end she doesn't know me at all:

How are you? I wanted to check to see that you received a finished copy of XXX. Offering a fresh, contemporary spin on a fascinating period, XXX paints a lively world XXX, expertly capturing the panorama of social change and rich historical intrigue XXX. It is a fascinating work that I hope you will seriously consider for reviews and features in your publication or an interview with the author on your show. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

I had to ponder a suitable reply for a few days. This is what I came up with:

Dear XXX,

I am fine; thanks for asking. Sorry for my delay in replying, but it's been a hectic week. Who would have thought the Prince George's County jail doesn't take Discover? (Visa and Master Card only.)

As I have not received a copy of the book, I must reserve judgment for the time being as to whether it truly is "a brilliant blend of fact and fiction" that "[offers] a fresh, contemporary spin on a fascinating period in XXX's history." Nor can I determine if the lively world XXX paints expertly captures the panorama ofXXX. If the book arrives, I will happy to give it a look, though you need not send another, as I am currently between review publications and do not have a either a radio or television contract, much to my dismay.

Thanks for thinking of me.

What the hell. It's not like XXX was thinking of publishing me anytime soon. Even I should get to have some fun in the publishing business, right?

Jim Munford

I learned today my friend Jim Munford has died. Jim had to be ninety, and had been frail from the first time I met him in in the winter of 2002. The fact that learning of his death was not wholly unexpected does not make it any easier.

I know only passing bits of Jim's earlier life. He was a merchant seaman, and lived in New York for much of the Fifties and Sixties. A professional photographer, it was Jim who showed me how photography could be an art form. As someone with never more than a passing interest in the visual arts, I once took the Sole heir for a day trip from Maryland to Manhattan to see an exhibit of Jim's work. Had I been employed then, I might have bought any one of several of his photos.

I knew him best as a writer, though he didn't do a lot of writing during the too brief time of our acquaintance. (Commercial interest in his early photography picked up late in his life, and he became engrossed in capturing his images digitally.) We met as peers during a semester in George Washington University's Jenny Moore McKean program, that year taught by John McNally. Frankly, I thought of Jim as a bit of a prick early on, an attitude that fell away as my knowledge of writing grew. He had an insightful way of cutting through to the crux of the weaknesses of any piece, and came to be one of my most trusted advisers for writing problems during the years a rump group from McNally's class continued to meet periodically at Jim's home.

Jim was an audiophile and lover of classic jazz. He often had a vinyl LP of some great trumpeter playing when I arrived at his house, and would make me guess who it was. (Fortunately, I was better than fifty-fifty.) He could converse intelligently on more subjects than I am even aware of, and was a gentle soul who tirelessly encouraged the rest of us at every opportunity, remembering drafts and fragments of stories years later, asking we were going to something with a character we'd long ago given up on.

I have no idea what kind of father or husband he was, or what his personal habits might have been as a young man. The gentleman I knew-- and I never met a more gentle man--was a pleasure, and I never failed to look forward to our monthly visits. Now, as is always the case in these circumstances, I only wish I had made time for more of them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Something to Consider

Writers are often told it's pointless to chase the market. By the time your book is ready, the market will have moved on. Write a young adult book about wizards and everyone wants religious symbol thrillers. Write one of those and the world has moved on to vampires. Write a vampire story and it's minotaurs everyone wants.

"Write what you'd like to read." Makes sense, since you're going to be reading the hell out of it for a year or more. No point going over and over something you don't want to read in the first place. There's a catch to this, too. What if your tastes aren't mainstream enough?

For most writers, I'm willing to wait for the paperback to come out. There are a small handful for whom that doesn't cut it. I want the new book as soon as it comes out. (Sooner, if I can wrangle an advance copy out of them.) Only one has a secure income from writing alone. One works a day job. Another works his ass off as a freelance writer, doesn't even have a contract now. Another has just written a book that I think nudges its way into masterpiece territory, and may lose his contract.

Most of their books don't sell well, though all of them write rings around me. And they're who come to mind when I sit down to "write what I'd like to read." Explains a lot about my level of success.

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's Not Just Us

Many (including me) have lamented ever-lower standards in the English language. Lax American education and a lack of editorial oversight are the usual culprits when someone complains about how Americans are ruining the mother tongue.

It ain’t just us.

The Guardian’s web site has an article—entertaining enough in its own right—about how the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a Russian “scientist” named Vladimir Shpunt “beam thought waves to boost the team’s chances.” (The entire O’Malley family must be rolling over in their graves.)

This is not a sports blog. (That’s here.) The sentence of greatest interest in this context is the following: He [Shpunt] was introduced to Jamie McCourt in 2004 and claims to have cured her through long-distance energy transmission of an eye infection.

A quick reading leaves the impression Shpunt transmitted an eye infection to Ms. McCourt to cure her of an undisclosed ailment, one presumably more unpleasant than an eye infection. A more felicitous—and accurate—phrasing might be: He was introduced to Jamie McCourt in 2004 and claims to have cured her of an eye infection through long-distance energy transmission.

I don’t know where all our editors have gone, but at least I’m pretty sure it’s not England.