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February 8th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Book Biz; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling; Science

Tracking Malaria, its Calamitous History and Worrying Future

Fascinating Q&A on C-Span BookTV w/narrative science writer Karen Masterson, author of The Malaria Project: The US Government’s Secret Mission to Find a Miracle Cure, which chronicles the efforts of the US military, which— worried about the disease’s potential to infect American troops serving in far-flung locales—to find a cure for the mosquito-borne disease. Interesting to me, the book, which looks to be fairly serious science, is published by NAL. They brought out it in 2014, apparently first in hardcover. By my reckoning, NAL is a house long known more for mass-market paperback fiction than narrative nonfiction in hardcover. It looks like the book is now out in trade paperback. Good for NAL, a nice piece of publishing. More on Masterson and her book via this link. You can view the video via this link on BookTV’s website.

One thing Masterson said amazed me. The effectiveness of bed nets—which have been a useful tool in combating malaria, preventing mosquitoes from biting people while they sleep—is being eroded because mosquitoes, hungry for what scientists call their “blood meal,” are adapting their behavior and learning to bite people earlier in the day when they are still out and about. In watching her talk about this global affliction that sickens and weakens millions worldwide every year—and kills a considerable percentage of those stricken—I was reminded of a book that I began discussing in 2006 with Paul R. Epstein—a doctor and scientist, and at the time, associate director of Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. Epstein was a trailblazer in studying the effects of climate change on human health. I first heard his distinctive New York accent when he was a guest that year on an episode of “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. You can still hear it, via this link. Listening to their conversation in a rental car, in a classic ‘driveway moment,’ I learned that due to the planet’s warming temperatures, mosquitoes that transmit malaria have over the past several decades begun doing so at more northern latitudes and higher elevations than they have ever been known to do before. Epstein also discussed the finding that the tick-borne illness dengue fever is also occurring at latitudes and elevations where it was before not seen. Epstein discussed how these diseases are infecting a much greater number of people worldwide due to the warming of our planet.

These are only a couple of the scientific discoveries chronicled in Epstein’s book, Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It, co-written with Dan Ferber, which ultimately came out in 2011. I actually commissioned it in 2007, shortly after I became Editorial Director of Union Square Press at Sterling Publishing, a job that ended two years later when Sterling, a division of Barnes & Noble, shuttered the imprint, a milestone I’ve also written about on this blog. When I left the company, my old bosses quickly canceled Dr. Epstein’s book, although I had nearly completed editing the manuscript. Fortunately, that decision, though very shortsighted, did prevent the book from being published as soon as it might have, but it was later picked up by the University of California Press, to be published alongside other important environmental titles. This is a link to the book on U Cal’s website. Sadly, Dr. Epstein, died in November 2011, at age 67, of cancer. Here’s a Washington Post obit on him. Though we fell out of touch after Union Square Press closed, I recall we did speak a couple more times, and he sent me a finished copy of the book, which he inscribed to me with a very generous message, “April 25, 2011 To Phil Turner—The motivating force for this book. Warm wishes, Paul,” pictured below. I didn’t know he was ill, and was stunned by news of his death.

Before Dr. Epstein became a teacher and researcher at Harvard, he had worked as a doctor in places like Mozambique and Angola, devoting himself to the study of tropical diseases and improving public health in developing countries. It was a privilege to meet and work with him. I was really sorry he wasn’t able to make personal appearances in front of audiences, on TV, and on radio, like I first heard him. As I listened to Karen Masterson on C-Span tonight, I found myself wondering if she knows about Paul’s research on the growing incidence of malaria and other illnesses worldwide due to climate change, and if she has perhaps read Dr. Epstein’s book. I see she teaches science writing at Johns Hopkins, so perhaps I’ll have a chance to send her this post and find out.

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February 1st, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Book Biz; Publishing & Bookselling

And Yet…Looking at Publishing’s Big Five and the Book Business Today

This weekend I read an essential piece about the state of the book business today from industry analyst Mike Shatzkin. It’s titled “No, the Big Five are not a cartel and it really ignores reality to label them as one.” You may read it at the author’s blog via this link. (Disclosure: I’ve known Shatzkin since 1980.)

His piece, in part, pushes back on rhetoric from some people in the self-publishing community who cast publishing’s Big Five (that’s Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins) as a veritable OPEC of books. He doesn’t so much defend the Five as point out realities that apply in the business, actualities that are sometimes overlooked or skipped over by some of self-publishing’s most zealous celebrants. One critic, Barry Eisler, claimed during a panel at the recent Digital Book World conference that publishers don’t really compete against one another, and instead largely cooperate with each other to the detriment of authors. As Shatzkin shows, this isn’t really borne out by the facts:

“First of all, the Big Five have plenty of competition: from each other, as well as from smaller niche publishers who may but [sic] be ‘big’ but certainly aren’t ‘small’. (That is why the big ones so often buy the smaller ones — they add scale and simultaneously bring heterogeneous talent in-house). They are all quite aware of the authors housed elsewhere among them who might be wooable. In fact, since we have started doing our Logical Marketing work, we have done several jobs which were big author audits commissioned by publishers who wanted to steal the author, not by the one which presently has them signed. Eisler explicitly resisted accusing the publishers of ‘collusion’, but he does accuse them of ‘not competing’ with each other. That is an accusation that is simply not supported by the facts. Nobody who has spent any time talking to people who work in big houses could possibly get the impression that they don’t compete.”

My own outlook on the book business is derived from the fact that I’ve worked in many sectors of it—retail bookselling from 1978-85; small and big-house publishing from 1985 to 2009; and for the past six years, I’ve been working independently, often with self-published authors. I appreciate the new access writers have to publication, an emerging space that’s also enabled me to chart a new career path over the past six years. As an editor and consultant, I help writers pursue all their options, including self-publishing; as an author’s representative, I also look to license books to traditional publishers. I have criticisms of big and small houses, believing, for instance, that they should pay higher royalties than the 25% of net proceeds on ebooks that is common. And yet, I also appreciate what traditional publishers, big and small, are capable of doing for the titles they acquire and publish.

I don’t believe self-publishing solves all problems in the book business, and am uneasy with what I take to be a kind of evangelical fervor for self-publishing exhibited by some people. And yet, I definitely relish the variety in the business now, as barriers to publication have been lowered for many writers who wouldn’t earlier have found their way in to print. If you want an informed perspective on the business today, I recommend you read Shatzkin’s latest column, and keep up with what he posts on his blog. For starters, here’s a screenshot of the first four paragraphs of “No, the Big Five are not a cartel and it really ignores reality to label them as one.”

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January 24th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Personal history, Family, Friends; Philip Turner Book Productions; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

Glad to Be Part of Publishers Weekly’s Coverage on Post-Corporate Life in the Book World

I’m glad to be one of three editors featured in a Publishers Weekly article about how editorial professionals with long careers in-house have re-made themselves post-corporate life. The other editors are Pat Mulcahy and Joan Hilty. It’s up online today, and will be a spread with photos in the magazine’s print issue on Monday. I’ll scan a copy of the print story to share on this blog when I get a print copy, but meantime here is a link to the story, headlined “Publishing, After a Life in Publishing.” In particular, I was happy to explain to PW reporter Calvin Reid the role that my blogs have played in my post-corporate career, which Calvin characterized it this way: “He launched a blog, the Great Gray Bridge, on his website,, and got his first job, ‘by word of mouth.’ He credits the blog and his writing with bringing in work. ‘People come to my blog and find out that I’m offering editorial services,’ he said.”

Also very glad my author client Mike Orenduff and his superb six-book POT THIEF mystery series are both mentioned in the article, along with a mention of Open Road Integrated Media, the company where I licensed the books in 2013, to editors Tina Pohlman and Philip Rappaport. Until I get the print issue, Below are scanned images of each of the story’s three pages, and then a screenshot of the online story’s first six paragraphs. Please note I submitted three corrections for the story that have been input on the online version.

Readers of this blog, please note, I submitted three corrections for the story that have been input on the online version. For the record, they are: 1) In the 4th paragraph, while I was first “executive editor” at Carroll & Graf, I was “editor-in-chief” my last couple years there. 2) In the 5th paragraph, the author of the POT THIEF series is “J. Michael Orenduff” (not J. Michale Orendoff). 3) In the 14th paragraph, the correct quote about my writing is that I found I had the “psychic elbow room” to write, not “psychic space.”
 PW Turner Jan 23, 2015

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January 20th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics, History & Media

President Obama’s Sixth State of the Union Address

Post-speech update: Great #SOTU speech by Pres Obama, who hit all the right notes. Six years later he’s still my guy. Optimistic, progressive. Midway thru I realized his inaugural was 6 years ago on this date, 6 days after I’d lost my job (an event I wrote about here on the third anniversary of that occasion). On the widely discussed zinger of the night, when the president noted he’d run his last campaign, the Republicans responded by mocking him, and Barack riposted that he’d won both those races—sheesh, the REPUBs are such histrionic crybabies, acting all hurt by his truthful statement. 

This past Sunday morning NPR did a reprise of Pres Obama’s past State of the Union addresses, w/special emphasis on where the economy was at each juncture, in ’09’, ’10, and ’12, a reminder to me of the nadir we’d reached at the end of the Bush presidency (800K jobs lost in the last quarter of ’08), and of the obstacles thrown in the path of the recovery ever since, including the foolish and misguided austerity imposed on the country by the REPUBS, even at a time of low interest rates, when spending on infrastructure, promoting job creation, was so clearly indicated. Amazingly, despite their unremitting obstruction, which has limited the breadth and strength of the recovery, Pres Obama has nonetheless been able to help direct the economy out of the recession to the point where business and hiring are improving markedly. It’s a remarkable record, yet so little remarked upon in the media. All this has tracked parallel to my own path from longtime corporate employment in book publishing to six years’ self-employment building my own publishing services business, an enterprise that’s gone from little activity, mired in the dismal days of ’09 and ’10, to the point where I can barely handle all the work I have.

As I wait for President Obama to give tonight’s address, I’m so thankful for his efforts and accomplishments. I only wish they were more widely appreciated. It’s a historic injustice they are not.

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January 17th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics, History & Media

The 2016 Republican Presidential Field & the Kentucky Derby

As Facebook friend Michael Bell, a longtime author of mine, pointed out when I shared the above observation, “At least the Derby entries have to have SOME qualifications, apart from being a horse.”

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January 17th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, TV, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Urban Life & New York City

Hopping to Brooklyn Galleries on a Friday Night

Gallivanting to galleries with Kyle on a Friday night in Brooklyn. First went to Janet Kurnatowski’s gallery in Greenpoint for group show called Paperazzi w/a Wonder Wheel drawing variation of Kyle’s. Lots of great works on paper. Enjoyed chatting with David Ambrose whose mosaic-like painting mesmerizes. Then to spacious Life on Mars in Bushwick for show of lush paintings by Fran O’Neill w/work by Ben Pritchard in project room. Enjoyed the genial vibe in the busy borough.

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January 12th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, TV, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Book Biz; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

Glad for Revival of THE REVENANT, a Great Adventure Novel

Browsing the BN Review recently I was delighted to discover that one of the most engrossing novels I ever edited and published—The Revenant: A Novel of Revengehas been reissued and is being made in to a major movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who recently directed “Birdman.” The novel, by Michael Punke, was published in 2002, when I was an editorial executive at Carroll & Graf. It’s inspired by the epic life and adventures of a historical figure, Hugh Glass. He was a frontiersman and fur trapper who in 1823 was part of a westward expedition spanning what is today Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming. While foraging for game, away from the troop, Glass was attacked and severely mauled by a grizzly bear. Grievously wounded and bleeding, with the skin on his back nearly flayed off his torso, Glass was still conscious when his comrades found him. Believing that Glass would surely die soon, the leader of the troop ordered two men to stay with him until he expired, then bury him and catch up to the group. In the midst of this death watch, a band of Indians approached the camp, panicking the two men: they grabbed Glass’s rifle and hunting knife and fled. Deserted, defenseless, and enraged at being abandoned, Glass refuses to succumb to his wounds; he survives, determined to recover his weapons, vowing revenge on the men who left him to die. The novel is beautifully written and reads like a timeless adventure story. Talk about a film adaptation of the novel began years ago, and I’m delighted to see now it’s really happening, and with such a high profile team. Hugh Glass did inspire one earlier film, in 1971, when actor Richard Harris was cast as the Glass figure in “Man in the Wilderness,” a rather lurid and unexceptional movie. Punke’s telling of this epic saga, with Glass crawling and dragging himself across wild terrain until he was again able to walk, has all the elements for a great movie and I’m hopeful that is what the production will lead to.

Punke’s agent Tina Bennett submitted the manuscript to me soon after 9/11, an event and aftermath that I was close to, as the offices of Carroll & Graf and Avalon Publishing Group were only a few blocks from the World Trade Center. As I chronicled on this blog on Sept 11, 2012, in a post titled Remembering 9/11/01—Running Through a Dust Cloud in Lower Manhattan, the exertions of that day left me with nagging leg injuries that persisted for most of the year that followed. In fact, when I attended the book launch for The Revenant, held in Washington, DC, in the summer of 2002, I took the train from NYC using a cane to help me walk on a still-tender ankle.

Though novels don’t often have subtitles or reading lines, I suggested to the author that we use one here. We had quite an evocative title, though the word ‘revenant’ (a being that returns from the dead) was not then and still isn’t a widely familiar term. Glass’s odyssey seeking revenge and justice resonated powerfully with the spirit of the time, so “A Novel of Revenge” seemed the right way to position the book for readers. The publisher reissuing the book now is Picador, part of Macmillan, and I’m glad to see in online listings they’ve chosen to retain the reading line. Interestingly, they’ve reissued the novel in hardcover, not paperback, a somewhat unusual choice for a book published more than a decade ago, though perhaps a sign of the publisher’s confidence in its continuing relevance.

Michael Punke has written two nonfiction books in the years since 2002, both in Western history, Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917 and Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West. The book launch for The Revenant was in DC because Punke worked for a law firm there. Among the hosts at the party was a mentor and colleague to Punke, Mickey Kantor, a lawyer involved in international trade who’d served as chair of the Clinton campaign for president in 1992. Punke now works as President Obama’s Deputy United States Trade Representative and US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. According to this article in Maxim, his ability to engage in promoting his books is very limited by his sensitive position in the federal government. I’m very glad to know that Michael Punke’s first book is coming back in to print, and that a movie is in the works. We have been in touch occasionally over the past decade, and I’m pleased that I have so much good news to congratulate him about when we’re next in touch. Below are shots of the front and back cover of the paperback edition of The Revenant from 2003.Revenant frontRevenant back


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January 9th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Book Biz; Media, Blogging, Internet

An Unrepentant Literary Forger’s Infamous Career

I’m glad my Facebook post above on prolific forger Lee Israel drew appreciation from Fb friend Joseph Mackin, who shared it on his blog 2paragraphs. This is the link to his nicely presented reposting which looks like this:2paragraphs Lee Israel