Saturday, July 12, 2008

How to Get Published

Today's homily proves that word-of-mouth is the best way to get your book published -- it even works if your book doesn't exist. Case in point: a hoax perpetrated in the 1950s, when a radio DJ named Jean Shepherd encouraged his listeners to go into bookstores and ask for a fictitious book. He gave them an invented title -- I, Libertine -- author, and plot outline ... and he sent people into the streets to talk about it.

Somebody decided that it made sense to publish a book fitting its description, because noted sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon wrote it, and you can get it here. And here's a brief entry about the hoax and a link to an MP3 of Jean Shepherd recounting the whole hoax (verrry slowly) on the radio in 1968.

UPDATE: I now see that Boing Boing posted about this, which is sort of like being scooped by the New York Times.

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Thereby Hangs a Tail

In Emily Pecora's recent profile in Polite magazine of two Pennsylvania philanthropists -- two brothers -- I found a story so ripe with implication that I had to share it:

In October of 2004, a federal grand jury indicted Jeremy Sommers, Lansford’s K-9 officer, for planting narcotics during searches utilizing the drug-sniffing dog the brothers had donated. The Lansford city council, which had never been sure the town needed a drug-sniffing dog in the first place, [my emphasis] placed an ad in the classified section of the Times News announcing the dog’s sale.

... Jeremy Sommers was sentenced to twenty-three months in prison and a $4,000 fine and my hometown of Hazleton put in a bid to buy the dog.
Now, this is purely a flight of fancy, but what if Jeremy Sommers took a real shine to the unnamed K-9? Perhaps the dog was good and true and loyal, at a time when Mr. Sommers' personal life (I'm making all this up) was a shambles? Let's say his mother, his sole surviving parent, had advanced Alzheimer's and his girlfriend had betrayed him, and his buddies down at the bar had been giving him the cold shoulder ever since he became a cop ...

And now he's assigned to the dog, who turns out to be smart enough to star in the movies, a helluva partner. They're a great team -- except, see, there's no drugs for the pooch to find! What then?

The Chief starts breathing down the cop's neck because the City Council wants stats on the dog's success rate, and the mayor needs to send a report to the brothers who put up the money for the dog in the first place, so they feel like they did the Right Thing, that the money was well-spent, and now everybody's coming down like a ton of bricks on this poor cop, who only wants to hang on to the dog, that good dog that's been doing its job well but with absolutely no drug busts to show for it ... What then? He plants the drugs, so he can keep the dog ...

All fancy, I'm sorry to say, based on the fragments of news accounts I can find online, but I like my version better. It's heartwarming -- that is, if you're not the poor sap who got framed. But notice how, with only a few details, I automatically created an explanatory narrative? We human beings do love our stories.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Arthur Phillips on the British Museum

Just read - or skimmed, actually - Arthur Phillips' The Egyptologist. (You may recall that his debut novel, Prague, got quite a lot of publicity.) It opened fine, but one of the novel's main narrators got to be quite a bore (as several of the other character correctly complain). His delusional, self-centered world is appropriate enough - required, actually, for the novel's story logic to work - but even Nabokov (Phillips' model here) couldn't do much to retain one's interest in such characters. They're shrill, I find, and largely unsympathetic. (Not that Nabokov would've cared a Christly fig for a reader's sympathy, which would explain why Nabokov is (I suspect) more admired than read, Lolita notwithstanding.) Although the final ironic turns of The Egyptologist cast everything that has gone before in a tragic and moving light, the fact that it's obvious from very early on that one of the main characters is masquerading under a false identity (and I'm not good at deducing such things) rather undermines the impact.

But I took great delight in the mini-essay Phillips wrote for the "reader's guide" that appears at the back of the paperback edition of my copy of The Egyptologist, in which he praises the invaluable assistance he got from an expert at the British Museum, courtesy of the internet, answering questions that were often arcane:

If you should decide to write a novel about a topic you know almost nothing about, a scholarly discipline requiring years to master, if you feel compelled to set the story in a land you've scarcely visited, during an era you can only dimly conjure from childhood reading and yellowed clippings, if you have followed your hyperactive and petulant imagination down a rabbit hole and there gazed at glowing, magical projections of inverted pyramids and pith-helmeted lunatics and pharaohs with unconventional appetites, but found little by way of actual knowledge, rest easy, because at the British Museum you will make a new friend: an expert who not only knows everything, but who is required -- yes, required -- to answer all your e-questions, no matter how many, how foolish, how wrong-headed, fantastic, or just downright dirty.

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