Happy to See “Mr & Mrs Hollywood” Back in Print

In 2003 while Editor-in-Chief of Carroll & Graf Publishers I acquired, edited, and published Kathleen Sharp’s Mr & Mrs Hollywood, a juicy dual biography of Hollywood’s original power couple, Edie and Lew Wasserman. It got great reviews, like the one below*, and I’m very glad to see its back in print in a sleek new revised edition from Blackstone Publishing, the new book imprint of Blackstone Audio.

*”Sharp brings news…alleging that Ronald Reagan colluded with Wasserman to exempt MCA from Screen Actors Guild rules and offering evidence of Wasserman’s ties to he underworld and the White House.”–Hollywood Reporter


For #OldHeadshotDay, me and my dear old black Lab Noah

Great to be reminded of my dog Noah, a black Lab who was my companion for many years, from age 15-28; and my cabin in Franconia, New Hampshire. This personal essay tells Noah’s origin story, and some of mine.  

Digital editions of three POT THIEF books, deeply discounted April 23 at Early Bird Books

If you’ve been wanting to sample the POT THIEF mystery series—set in Albuquerque and featuring Hubie Schuze, a dealer in Native American antiquities—an April 23 promotion at the website of the digital bookseller Early Bird Books, touted on Facebook today by author J. Michael Orenduff, a client of my literary agency, is a terrific way to get started. Good news if you enjoy these novels, which have clever plots, sharp repartee among the recurring characters, and the atmosphere and culinary culture of the Southwest: there are eight books in the series. The latest, The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey, which Publishers Weekly gave a starred review, will be out in May.



Starred PW Review for “The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey”

The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey: A Pot Thief Mystery
J. Michael Orenduff. Open Road, $14.99 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-5040-4993-1

Orenduff successfully combines humor and homicide in his superb eighth Pot Thief whodunit (after 2016’s The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe). Part-time investigator Hubie Schuze, who unapologetically supports himself by illegally digging up ancient Native American pottery and then selling the artifacts at his Albuquerque store, accepts an adjunct teaching position at the University of New Mexico. Hubie was surprised by the offer, given that he had helped put a former head of the university’s art department in prison, but he soon gets invested in trying to connect with device-addicted millennials. Hubie dodges several bullets, including a sexual harassment claim by a student who offered to sleep with him in exchange for a better grade, but he becomes a murder suspect after one of his students, who was covered in a plaster cast for a 3-D model, is found dead inside it. Fans of campus satires will enjoy how Orenduff skewers academic politics and political correctness in the service of a fair-play plot. (May)


I licensed the POT THIEF mysteries to Open Road Media in 2013, when there were six books in the series: The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, The Pot Thief Who Studied PtolemyThe Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier, The Pot Thief Who Studied EinsteinThe Pot Thief Who Studied Who Studied Billy the Kid, and The Pot Thief Who Studied D.H. Lawrence; in 2017, author J. Michael Orenduff published a seventh, The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe. Now, with the latest entry, The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey, Orenduff’s up to eight titles featuring Albuquerque antiquities dealer Hubie Schuze. If you enjoy light-hearted whodunits with loads of witty repartee among recurring characters, and colorful information on New Mexico’s culinary delights, I recommend the series to you, with the titles available in paperback and in digital editions. Ebook retailer Early Bird Books will be running a special deal for the books on April 23, if you want to buy them then. You can also order them directly from Open Road.

We also got this endorsement for the new book: “The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey is superb, a funny, totally puzzling mystery studded with the kind of delectable arcane knowledge Orenduff always brings to this series. I’ve loved every one of the POT THIEF books and this is the best yet.”—Tim Hallinan, author of Fields Where They Lay, a Junior Bender mystery


Remembering Drue Heinz, Prolific Cultural Benefactor, and Ellen Hunnicutt, Novelist of Music and the Circus

I discovered Ellen Hunnicutt and her novel in my first publishing job, a six-week stint I did at Scribner Publishing as first reader/contest judge for the Maxwell Perkins Prize, named in honor of the house’s venerable editor of many important writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway. Mildred Marmur, Scribner’s publisher at the time, then and since a great friend to me and many other publishing people, gave me what became my first break in publishing. I’d been referred to her to inquire about a full-time editorial job; I made an appointment, went to see her and introduced myself, explaining I’d worked in my family’s bookstore business for seven years, and wanted to become an editor. She said she had no full-time editorial positions open, but there was the Perkins contest to judge, and a conference room full of mailed submissions awaiting the attentions of a first reader. As a bookseller I’d read and sold A. Scott Berg’s Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius and was thrilled with the job. Working three days each week, I sat in Scribner’s conference room with jiffy bags and manuscripts stacked up around me like drying cord wood. My assignment was to unpack all these mailers and read between 5-50 pages of each entry, fill out a brief questionnaire, and signal a thumbs-down or -up for a possible second reading by the full-time editorial staff. Coincidentally, I recommended 70 entries, or 10%, for second readings. There was one entry I really loved, by a writer called E.M. Hunnicutt, for which I eagerly read far more than the 50 pages. My recommendation of it was more enthusiastic than for any other candidate, but it didn’t win the prize. Before finishing the job, I wrote down the author’s phone number and made a copy of the manuscript.

With this first stretch in the ink mines under my belt, I did soon get my first full-time editorial job, at Walker & Company, then a sleepy publisher of young adult non-fiction and genre fiction (Westerns, mysteries, Regency romances, etc.), published mostly for libraries. My genre was to be “men’s adventure.” Still, Walker had in its early years published books by John Le Carre and Flann O’Brien, so I was hopeful that I wouldn’t only be acquiring the male equivalent of bodice-rippers. My first week at Walker I called the E.M.-initialed author and soon found myself talking with “Ellen” Hunnicutt. She told me she’d long used the initials to disguise her gender, since she had sold many stories to Boys’ Life over the years. I told her how much I had liked reading her draft manuscript, with its compelling narrator, Ada, an adolescent girl and musical prodigy who’s fled a bizarre custody battle that engulfed her family in the wake of her mother’s death. She’s sought safe harbor amid a circus troupe that’s wintering over in a quiet Florida camp and found solace in composing a requiem for her late mom on the troupe’s calliope. Ellen and I hit it off beautifully and her novel became the first original manuscript I ever acquired. Over the year that followed, Ellen and I engaged in a vigorous dialogue about her novel and its theme–the creative purposes to which suffering and mourning may be put. In the course of my editing and her revising, Ellen became reinvigorated with her own book, which she’d earlier thought she’d finished. In the course of the edit, she told me about other circus and carny writers, like Jim Tully, whose his 1927 book, Circus Parade she praised for its unsentimental portrait of the raffish big-top life, which influenced her work. She explained she’d read many of Tully’s books early in her life and that his fiction and nonfiction chronicles of hobo life, circus characters, and the down-and-out of the Great Depression had still been widely read when she was a young woman.

For the record, I should add that before Suite for Calliope was published in July of 1987 it received a starred review in Kirkus*; later, Dell bought the paperback rights, and Walker sold out its first hardcover printing. The starred Kirkus happened to land on my desk on May 4, a fateful date on my perpetual calendar: the anniversary of the shootings at Kent State in 1970, the date that Undercover Books opened for business in 1978, and Ellen Hunnicutt’s birthday, which I didn’t even know when I phoned her with the news and read it to her, in this time before fax machines were common, affording me the opportunity to place one of the happiest birthday calls I’ve ever made. And then, before the novel went to the printer, Ellen was notified she’d won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for her short fiction, described in the Facebook post above, and that the senior judge for the award had been Nadine Gordimer, who wrote in her citation: “Ellen Hunnicutt is adventurous… and her images are splendidly suggestive….Witty stories, jubilantly told.”

Working with Ellen was a great privilege and affirmed my ardent interest in modern nomads and the circus life. For a 2004 Carroll & Graf anthology, Step Right Up: Stories of Carnivals, Sideshows, and the Circus, my editorial colleague who made the selections, Nate Knaebel, smartly chose to include a chapter from Suite for Calliope, which he wrote “describes the anticipation of opening day at an Indiana circus, and a near tragedy averted by the power of music.” Nate also included “With Folded Hands Forever,” a dark passage from Tully’s Circus Parade.

Ellen kept writing in the years that followed, and we remained in touch. However, I’m sad to report that the two books Ellen published in 1987 would be the only books she published in her lifetime, which came to an untimely end in 2003. She was 72. If you’re intrigued by the themes and motifs of her work, I urge you to seek out her books. As for Drue Heinz, the obit from the Pittsburgh Press-Gazette is linked to here.  http://www.post-gazette.com/news/obituaries/2018/03/30/Drue-Heinz-former-publisher-of-The-Paris-Review-dies-at-103/stories/201803300124

The starred Kirkus review of Suite for Calliope:
“An extraordinary first novel that, in its remarkable inventiveness, intelligence, and charm-struck humanity, should draw—and more than richly reward—readers of almost every inclination. Ada Cunningham, of Richmount, Indiana is the partly crippled daughter of gifted and highly eccentric parents: a journalist mother who declares Ada to be a prodigy, raises her as such (with flamboyant elan), then dies suddenly when her daughter is eight years old; and a father who is a musical genius, who came from poverty and was a transient violinist and artful dodger as a child, who gives Ada music lessons from the time she’s three, and who is committed to an asylum before she is 16. Life with these parents–as described by the brave, unflinching, quick, forgiving, and heartwrenchingly observant Ada–would be matter enough for many a novel, but this one soars on toward farther ends that keep the reader wide-eyed and enthralled. There’s a penetrating mystery at the heart of it all, and, before its solution: an aunt who comes into the picture with malevolent aims (she may even want to murder Ada), a burned house, legal proceedings–as result of all of which Ada, accused of being both a witch and a madwoman, flees Richmount and takes to the road (as her father did before her), supporting herself by her wits and by her gifted piano playing (in brothels and bars), until at last she finds sanctuary and refuge in the winter quarters of a circus troupe–with setting, color, and cast of characters worthy of yet another novel–where she becomes (and remains) calliope player, composer, and loved member of this wondrous new “family.” A summary leaves out far too much: the sturdy grace of Ada’s never-self-pitying voice; the continual feast of homely detail, and detail of music, musicians, and musical instruments, as weft as of the circus and its people; and the breathtaking symbolic depth of the whole, which, touched by the hand of this gifted writer, serves to place Ada’s birth, her flight, and her high artist’s quest among very august novelistic company indeed. A prodigiously masterful novel of profundity, breadth, and continual delight: waiting now only for what ought to be its very, very many readers.”

Sold: “More Deadly than the Male: The First Ladies of Horror”

I’m excited to have put together a deal for my author client Graeme Davis to edit and introduce a new anthology, More Deadly than the Male: The First Ladies of Horror, which Pegasus Books will publish in 2019. This follows up Davis’s 2017 anthology for Pegasus, Colonial Horrors: Sleepy Hollow and Beyond.
<<Graeme Davis’s MORE DEADLY THAN THE MALE: The First Ladies of Horror, a new anthology collecting the best tales of horror by twenty-five female authors—both heralded and lesser-known figures—nearly all of whom published before the 1900s, presenting them to the modern reader with notes on the writers and their stories; included are works by Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Gaskell, Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, Mary Austin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Nesbit, and Madame Blavatsky, alongside discoveries like Mary Cholmondely and Charlotte Riddell, to Claiborne Hancock at Pegasus, in a nice deal, for publication in 2019, by Philip Turner at Philip Turner Book Productions (world).>>

Saying Goodbye to Philip Kerr, a Favorite Novelist, and Hoping for One More Bernie Gunther Novel

March 26 Update from Publishers Lunch:

Philip Kerr, 62, author of the Bernie Gunther crime novels and many other works of fiction for adults and children, died Friday of cancer. Putnam will publish his newest series novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts, on April 3, and Kerr had finished a draft of the next Gunther novel, Metropolis, slated for publication next year. Kerr’s longtime editor, Marian Wood, said in a statement: “Working with Philip Kerr was the kind of experience all editors hope to have. In the twenty-plus years we worked together I found him responsive, funny, brilliant, and totally committed to his writing and hence, to being edited as long as he thought the editing was serious. He was an amazing human being and I will always miss him. At the moment, there is a huge hole in my life. I suspect it will stay with me as long as he lives in my memory–which means, as long as I live.”
So deeply saddened by the sudden death at age 62 of the hugely talented novelist Philip Kerr, creator of the outstanding 11-book Bernie Gunther detective series. I’ve read Kerr’s books since the Berlin Noir Trilogy, featuring the Berlin police detective Gunther began appearing in 1989. In 2012 I wrote a blog post “Loving Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther Novels” where I shared this video from his website:

Another time I wrote this about a later Gunther novel, Field Gray:

Field Gray, a Bernie Gunther novel, features the detective who’s navigated the amoral world of Berlin before, during, and after WWII in seven magnificent books. The latest has especially brilliant plotting, w/the narrative taking Gunther and his memory through all the war years as he endures harsh interrogation from Yanks who arrest him in Cuba in 1954. I find inflections of the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prison camps in the book. Kerr is a master. If you’ve never read a Bernie Gunther novel, I urge you to begin the series. March Violets is the first, and I do recommend you read them in order, though I supposed one could also just start with Field Gray.”

I woke this morning to find that a friend who knows how much I enjoy Kerr’s books had tagged me in a Facebook post linking to the brief obituary of Kerr from the Guardian pasted in here; I’m sure there will be many full tributes to come. Kerr wrote other books, as well, including a very good dystopian novel called The Second Angel. In an newsletter emailed to his readers last year, he wrote that there would be a new Bernie Gunther title out in spring 2018, Greeks Bearing Gifts. I see a cover for the US edition is on his website, which as of tonight does not yet mention his passing. I hope he was able to see the printed book before he died. My condolences to his family, and his US editor Marian Wood.

Update on Carl Rollyson’s “The Last Days of Sylvia Plath”

Readers of this blog may recall that in January I posted about a new book I’d sold as literary agent, The Last Days of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson. That post announced a deal I made for the volume rights with the University Press of Mississippi. Today I’m announcing that the author and I have also sold audio book rights to Blackstone Audio, to be published at the same time as the UPM book.

In 2013, Rollyson published American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath, a full biography that chronicled Plath’s whole life, ending though it did even before her 31st birthday; in contrast, the new book will be a concise narrative covering just the last four months leading up to the poet’s suicide in 1963. From the sample material we’ve shared with both publishers, it’s fair to say Rollyon’s new book will incorporate some elements reminiscent of what’s known in newspaper writing as a tick-tock—a time- or date-driven narrative that propels the reader forward in to the daily life of its subject.

The book will also examine the role of Ted Hughes in the end of his estranged wife’s life, and the subject of manic depressive illness. With Rollyson knowing the Plath world well, the narrative will be informed by his knowledge of key source materials, some of which no earlier books will have benefited from. I’m sure it will be engrossing in whatever format readers find it, print, digital, or audio.