Straight Talk From Courtney Maum.

Montage Half

It’s all very romantic to imagine ourselves trading witticisms with fellow creatives in a fin de siècle Paris café, Weimar Berlin cabaret, postwar Greenwich Village coffeehouse or any burg’s Boho meeting spot. I can count numerous artists, photographers, writers, musicians, actors and dancers among my coworkers, friends and even family members, past and present, and as much as we might like to picture ourselves pontificating on frightfully weighty cultural and aesthetic topics, my own real-world experiences and observations are quite different.

Shoehorn a group of artists into a barroom booth and the talk will most likely be about which art supply store has a Grumbacher promotion running or a BOGO on brushes. Writers will be trading info on paying market submission opportunities, cents-per-word rates and grousing about delayed payments…even if it’s only in contributor copies. The conversations run more or less the same among the garage band and barre-and-ballet shoe crowds.

For all the stereotypes, creatives are more pragmatic than you’d assume, even if only out of necessity – that is, the usual struggles to pay the rent, buy groceries and set aside some beer money like everyone else, but compounded by the need to fund their artistic pursuits, whether they’re buying pre-stretched canvases, stocking up on toner and 20 lb. bond, saving up for Danskins without holes, or worse, replacing a blown-out amp.

Before And After The Book Deal

I thought about all of this as I read Amy Brady’s interview with Courtney Maum, author of Before And After The Book Deal – A Writer’s Guide To Finishing, Publishing, Promoting And Surviving Your First Book at the Chicago Review of Books (link below). Intrigued, I headed to the bookstore right after work, presuming I’d be ordering Maum’s new book, but thrilled to spot a copy already on shelf. One extra-large coffee to-go later, I’d already plunged in, continued through dinner later this evening, but still have a long way to go. But I’m liking this book so much I wanted to share, so I paused to bang out this post.

Browse the writing section in a good-sized library or bookstore and you’ll likely see no shortage of inspirational titles interspersed with a few annual directories and some very elementary how-to books for total newbies and writer-hobbyists. Flip through some writing magazines and you’ll likely see your share of motivational stuff about digging deeper to find your voice, creating three-dimensional characters or crafting dialog that ‘sparkles’. But I suspect many if not most writers are desperate for more straightforward nuts & bolts info about the submission/sale/publication process and are eager for frank discussion about dollars and cents issues. Because that’s precisely what they talk about in person. As do the artists, musicians, dancers and actors.

Courtney Maum’s Before And After The Book Deal is precisely that. And for all its info-packed no-nonsense explanations, it’s incredibly readable, extremely entertaining, and downright funny in a lot of spots. Example: Early on she addresses how writers have to be ready to endure rejection. A lot. She writes, “…you must make friends with rejection in order to survive a professional writing life. Rejection is going to be your zany roommate who never does her dishes, has really loud obnoxious sex, gets drunk and eats your leftovers, and uses strong perfume. Except for that one delightful year that she studied abroad in Cartagana, she’s always going to be living with you in one way or another, so make peace with that chick, now.”

Of course, any scribe whining about the indignities of the query and submission process ought to chat up some musicians, dancers and actors about auditioning.

Though Maum has three novels to her credit, many might rightly ask her “So who appointed you to tell us all about writing and publishing?” But while the author relates her personal experience and provides valuable insights, she’s certainly not adopting a professorial stance and also relies on the wisdom of over 150 contributors who are quoted throughout, from authors and agents to editors and more, all of them “sharing intimate anecdotes about even the most taboo topics in the industry”, as the book touts.

Unless her book takes an unexpected turn in the second half, I’ll wager this one can stand proudly beside Lawrence Block’s Writing The Novel: From Plot To Print To Pixel,  the standard for a truly practical writer’s book, IMHO. Pro, newbie, or somewhere in between like most, still an ‘armchair novelist’ or midway through a writer’s MFA program, you ought to get this book. Just sayin’…

https://chireviewofbooks.com/2020/01/20/finding-clarity-and-a-sense-of-humor-in-the-publishing-process/

 

A Broken Heart To Go…

Martinis And A Broken Heart To Go

Mid-January: Snowflakes started falling mid-afternoon Friday, and by Saturday morning (not especially cold) a thick coating of snow turned streets and sidewalks treacherous. But by mid-afternoon today, the temps plummeted into the 20’s, headed for the frigid teens by tonight, with gusty winds whipping people right down icy driveways.

The writing lounge sounds like the place to be tonight, maybe tomorrow as well. Maybe there’s no reason to poke my nose out the door till I head back to work on Monday. The keyboard beckons, and there’s work to be done. There’s a freshly refilled thermal carafe of coffee on my desk, the ashtray’s in reach, and though they’re only CD’s (vinyl would be better) the Jazz Noir compilation and 1997’s Martinis And A Broken Heart To Go (complete with Richie Fahey case art) ought to do the trick to keep things warm while I pound the keys.

There are worse ways to spend a weekend…

Jazz Noir

The Decade’s Best (Make That Bestsellers)

by brittany markert

Normally I bypass many of the end-of-year ‘best-of’ lists populating so many blogs, newsletters and sites that I follow. This year, pad the count with extra end-of-decade best-of lists. Skimming a couple right before the holidays was enough for me, though they’re still popping up on my screen. Much as I enjoy reading reviewers’ opinions, I know that my faves won’t be yours and vice-versa, and ‘best’ will be one thing to one reader and something else to another.

That said, one list did catch my eye, albeit not a ‘best of’ list at all: John Warner’s 1.5.20 Chicago Tribune Biblioracle column, “Top Bestsellers Rail Against Patriarchy” listed the NPD Bookscan top-selling books of the decade, and he opened by asking the reader to guess the top-selling book of the 2010’s. Warning: You may not like the answer.

Yes, it was E. L. James Fifty Shades of Grey. But it gets worse. The number two and three titles? Also E.L. James, with her sequels Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

Now this was a bestselling list, not a ‘best-of’ list. If you’re disappointed that cumbersome mommy porn sold so well when your own lovingly crafted projects may have languished in relative obscurity (consider that just the returns for the Fifty Shades books surely dwarfed most writers’ total sales), there’s still news in the decade’s top-sellers. In order, the top selling books in the 2010’s according to NPD Bookscan were:

Fifty Shades Of Grey, E.L. James

Fifty Shades Darker, E.L. James

Fifty Shades Freed, E.L. James

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

The Girl on The Train, Paula Hawkins

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

Divergent, Veronica Roth

brittany-markert

Whether you read or liked all or even some of the list, you can see that it’s overwhelmingly dominated by women writers and with books featuring female protagonists. Noteworthy? You bet. Someday, tallying women writers vs. men writers simply won’t be a topic, any more than women directors, musicians, artists, etc. Someday. But for now, there are still decades (centuries?) of male dominated pop culture and fine arts to rebalance. After all, the publishing marketplace (publishers, editors, literary agents, etc.) is comprised mostly of women. And, most books are bought by women. So, there should be no big revelation in the decade’s top seller list.

No one’s saying the books’ protagonists are all heroic women or even positive role models. It would be a stretch to claim that each title on the decade’s bestseller list necessarily ‘railed against patriarchy’, as John Warner put it in the Tribune. That’s the makings of another conversation. Still, the stats are illuminating, and it’ll be interesting to revisit this ten years out when we see what the 2020’s top ten will be, who’ll have written them, and what changes may or may not have occurred in readers’ tastes and the industry’s output.

Photos: Brittany Markert

 

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?

Fay Weldon’s Why Will No-One Publish My Novel? A Handbook For The Rejected Writer was a library find from this past weekend, but I’ll get my own copy now to keep on shelf beside the very few other writer’s how-to books I cherish like Stephen King’s On Writing (my favorite), Lawrence Block’s Writing The Novel From Plot To Print To Pixels, Elements Of Fiction by Walter Mosely or Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton.

It would’ve been easy to browse right past this little gem of a book, only 4.5” x 7” with extra-heavy carboard covers like a children’s book. But I’m so glad I spotted it. Weldon’s book is a quick read, compiling a series of essays addressing the many, many reasons a writer’s projects are rejected (or simply overlooked), including all the common mistakes writers make from manuscript through submission, while also probing publishing industry issues that inevitably work against writers. The tone’s light-hearted and chatty, particularly in the first third of the book. Weldon’s wise words will get their share of knowing nods from writers in the trenches, cruel truths relayed along with more than a few chuckles. I challenge anyone – writer or not – not to laugh at Weldon’s imaginary literary agency meeting in her sixth chapter.

Fay Weldon Books

I often forego writer’s books that I probably ought to read, in-store skimming suggesting the content’s the same ol’ stuff and not worth the money, or just as often, unsure what I’ll learn from a how-to book’s author with a skimpy resume of their own (no shortage of those among Kindle and e-books). Maybe that’s why I keep returning for re-reads with King, Block, Grafton, Mosley and a few others. Fay Weldon may not be as familiar a name in the U.S as in the UK, but she’s been at it since the 1960’s, with thirty novels to her credit along with story collections, children’s books and non-fiction titles, all those following a career as an advertising copywriter and work in serial fiction, radio and teleplays. Oh yeah…and she was made a CBE, which makes her a Knight or a Lady (not sure which, but then we did fight a revolution over here so wouldn’t have to worry about those things). Suffice to say she’s been at it a while, knows what she’s talking about, and is generous with anecdotes throughout this book.

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel – A Handbook For The Rejected Writer came out in the UK in 2018, but took a while to pop up on my library’s shelf. (Technically, a nearby library. My library only has half a dozen writer’s books, if that.) I’ll be glad when I get my own copy – this one’s a keeper.

Resolutions: None. Only An Agenda.

New Years Eve 2020

With that clock ticking closer to midnight, this duo looked more apprehensive than enthusiastic. Perhaps, like many, they failed to make a suitable list of New Year’s resolutions for 2020.

Count me among that lot.

I have no resolutions for this new decade (which I realize technically doesn’t commence until 2021), knowing from prior experience that I’d never keep them anyway. My vices are few, drinking modestly (if even that), donut shop coffee my drug of choice, reasonably thrifty, diligent in the day job, unfailingly (and happily) faithful in my relationship.

Confession: I smoke, and resolving to quit would be the very best resolution. But I know I won’t, at least not now, so why kid myself? So then…what else? Eat healthy? Exercise more? Be more charitable, kinder to strangers, start going to church?

I don’t do resolutions, but I do have an agenda for 2020.  Not so different than my 2019 agenda, with some tweaks to my writing endeavors: Table The Stiletto Gumshoe’s sequel temporarily, concluding it’s presumptuous to work on the second book of a planned series when the first hasn’t even been sold, much less agented yet. But the agenda includes a refusal to lose heart while continuing the humbling (or soul-crushing) querying process. It’s not rejections that sting. Those are fairly few and, often enough, come with genuinely encouraging remarks. It’s the non-responses that bruise some, and it seems they’ve become the industry norm. But the agenda’s full with short fiction projects for The Stiletto Gumshoe and other things, coupled with a renewed zeal to pay more attention to short fiction markets, contests and competitions, anemic or non-existent compensation aside. Keeping up with all that while aiming for some better balance of ‘real’ writing time and lazy-ass blog-hobbying time is enough of an agenda for my 2020. So, here’s hoping for a happy and productive 2020, for me and all of you!

Maybe Next Year…

Maybe Next Christmas

No, The Stiletto Gumshoe won’t be in anyone’s Christmas stocking this year, least of all mine. Perhaps I spent 2019 being naughty when I should’ve been nice. Still, I’m thinking positive thoughts for 2020, and am one of those naive types who truly believe that diligence pays off (even if I’ve been proven wrong in the past). So I know what I hope to find under my tree next year: Not baubles or bangles. Just a book, and one book in particular…

The Annuals.

2020 Writers Market

I actually haven’t bought Writer’s Digest’s annual Writer’s Market in a couple years. Not that it isn’t an indispensable writer’s book, but only because I don’t write much short fiction, submit to magazines or enter contests. Well, not much (not saying never). But my 2020 agenda includes paying more attention to short stories, so I’ve added it to my to-buy list. Which is a long list, as you can surmise.

I do normally buy Writer’s Digest’s annual Guide To Literary Agents, even though I assemble most of my to-be-queried agent list from Publishers Weekly reviews. Just seems sensible to monitor which agents are actually selling books, not just accepting submissions.

I was actually relieved to see the release of the 99thAnnual Edition of the Writer’s Market 2020, because it confirmed that Writer’s Digest’s books hadn’t vanished in the aftermath of the magazine parent company’s (F+W Media) bankruptcy. Writer’s Digest the magazine was acquired by Active Interest Media and continues publication. The Writer’s Digest book brand was acquired by Penguin Random House LLC. No news on which book titles will still be available or if new titles will be forthcoming, but it would’ve been tragic to see so many invaluable writers’ how-to and special interest books disappear, to say nothing of their comprehensive annual directories. Whew!

Guide TO Literary Agents

In A Man’s World.

The Innocent Bottle

Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899 – 1973) wrote general fiction under the Anne Meredith pen name, but more famously as “Anthony Gilbert”, with over 70 mystery novels to her credit, most of those featuring the somewhat groundbreaking (kind of hard-boiled and vulgar) London lawyer Arthur Crook, that long running series beginning in 1936 and continuing to the last novel in 1974, released after the author’s death. Several of Malleson’s Anthony Gilbert novels were adapted to British films in the 1940’s, as well as a 1963 Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode, and two of her short stories were Edgar Award nominees.

Breaking into the crowded field of what many consider the ‘golden age’ of both British and American crime fiction, Lucy Malleson decided to adopt a male pen name and stuck with it, apparently quite successfully…going so far as to pose for her author photo dressed as a man.

Anthony Gilbert Books Montage

I first spotted her re-released Orion Publishing memoir Three-A-Penny — In A Man’s World: The Classic Memoir Of A 1930’s Writer, with a new introduction by Sophie Hannah, at the Crime Fiction Lover blog’s e-newsletter. It looks like the UK edition comes out before Christmas, though a U.S. trade paperback isn’t due till April, 2020. Not sure I can wait till Spring for this one. Methinks some bookstore clerk’s going to be pestered once again this week.

Three-A-Penny

 

And I Haven’t Read A Single Story Yet.

2

It’s over a month ago that I reserved a copy of Otto Penzler’s The Big Book Of Reel Murders – Stories That Inspired Great Crime Films, warned at the time that it might not arrive till mid-November. In fact, I got it almost two weeks ago and have been burrowing through this nearly 1,200-page monster of a book since.

And yet – so far, I haven’t actually read a single story.

The Big Book Of Reel Murders

Each of the 61 stories by writers like Robert Bloch, Ian Fleming, Dashiell Hammett, Dennis Lehane, Sinclair Lewis, Daphne du Maurier, W. Somerset Maugham, Budd Schulberg, Cornell Woolrich and others was the basis of a mystery/crime/noir film. Some you’d know, of course. Some, perhaps not. (I’d never heard of a few!) The movies inspired by the anthology’s tales include Woman In The Dark (1934), The Big Steal (1949), Fear In The Night (1947), Gun Crazy (1950), Tip On A Dead Jockey (1957), Mr. Dynamite (1951) and many others — some stills, publicity shots and posters for those shown here with this post.

1

Many anthologies seem to be hastily put together, with little more than a brief genre celebrity preface, editor intro and — if the reader’s lucky — author bio’s. Not this book. Each of the 60+ stories are preceded by a two or three-page introduction providing author, story or publication background info, plus details and anecdotes about the film inspired by that story. Add it up: These intro’s almost form a book on their own, with the insights into familiar films being informative treats, the others being prompts to hunt up the movies as yet unseen.

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Oh, I’ll go back and read the stories, of course. The Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie tales I already have elsewhere and have read more than once might be skipped, but there’s some choice material in this big book. And though it might seem a little weird, some of the choicest content is actually the story introductions, as much as the stories themselves.

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