An Anthology of 17th Century American Horror Writing

On the literary agency side of my editorial services business, I’m excited to have recently licensed this anthology to Pegasus Books for publication on October 31, 2017, Halloween, as noted in publishersmarketplace.com
COLONIAL HORRORS: Sleepy Hollow and Beyond, a new anthology that shows the roots of American horror writing stretch all the way back to the era when Arthur Miller set “The Crucible,” with little known writings from the seventeenth century by Cotton Mather, Increase Mather, and Richard Chamberlayne, along with selections by Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry James, and H.P. Lovecraft, to Pegasus, in a nice deal, for publication on Halloween this year, by Philip Turner at Philip Turner Book Productions (World).

I put out a tweet about it this week:

Enjoying Many Happy Reunions & First Meetings at Book Expo 2017

I’ve long since quit keeping track of how many annual Book Expo conventions I’ve attended since Undercover Books opened in 1978; over the past 39 years I’d say I haven’t missed more than five of these trade shows. I’ve written about many of them on this blog. Last year was a miss with the show in Chicago, so I was glad that the Javits Center on the west side of Manhattan was the venue once more for the 2017 rendition of the book industry’s annual get-together. Though the show is diminished in attendance and book industry importance since the glory days when it was known as ‘the ABA,’ the period when the American Booksellers Association, the trade association of indie booksellers, owned and ran the convention. It was a great asset, but eventually they sold the show to a company that ran trade shows; currently, it’s owned by Reed Exhibitions. Their management and the choices they make each year about the show is a topic of much discussion and some controversy among booksellers and publishers.

While registering on Wednesday afternoon, May 31, I was startled to see #TrumpRussia figure Carter Page in line after I’d registered, which prompted some quick picture-taking and tweeting from me before my first event. As I was that afternoon, I’m still very curious about what he was doing at the show. Hoping to sell and publish a book? Or, perhaps he already has one in the works? I figure it was one of these—why else would he attend Book Expo? Maybe he hopes to take the same route that the guy who goes by Milo has announced he’ll do: self-publish. And yet, if he’s gonna tell his story, I imagine the congressional committees and Special Counsel Mueller would want to hear it first. That could set up a constitutional struggle: Page’s interest in exercising his free speech rights versus the legislature’s and the law’s interest in exercising their key oversight and criminal prosecution authorities. I love Book Expo for this—you never know who you might see next! One year, I saw former FEMA Commissioner just a year or two after Hurricane Katrina.

The fair’s kickoff event, held before the show floor would open the following morning, was the Editors’ Buzz Panel, where each year six editors are invited to talk about the one book they’re bringing out in the coming months that has them and their publishing house colleagues most excited. In past years, while the lineup always skewed heavily toward fiction—a product, I guess, of the notional that novels lend themselves to hand-selling by booksellers more readily than nonfiction, not an idea I endorse—there would usually be at least one or two nonfiction books among the novels. Not so this year, when it was six novels, one after another, with each editor being introduced at some length by moderator Annie Philbrick, co-owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, CT, and Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, RI. I’m sure all the novels are worthy, but the program choice led, in my opinion, to an at times leaden and repetitive recitation of plot points, reading of blurbs, and comparisons to other novels, that lasted one hour and fifteen minutes. The other issue I had with the program was the exclusive predominance of big-house publishers, (e.g., three titles from imprints at Penguin Random House, one title from an S & S imprint, one from Hachette, and one from Harper), with no mid-sized majors or indie presses in the mix. Are we supposed to believe there were no worthy titles from among publishers like Grove Atlantic, Norton, Algonquin, Graywolf, Counterpoint, Beacon Press, Other Press, and others of their ilk?

Of the six novels presented (each  mentioned here), I found myself most interested in possibly reading The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Matthews, a first novel set in NYC during the 1939 World’s Fair, and The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, the conceit for which is that a fortuneteller can tell characters the very day they’ll die. The whole program would have flowed much better with some adjustments and variation, including briefer presentations by the editors (some seemed stretched to fifteen minutes, which would never be tolerated at a sales conference) and by injecting some narrative nonfiction in to the mix. After the last presenter finished, there was a mad scramble of people rushing to the back of the room to get ARCs of the six books, but it was so intensely crowded, I felt someone could’ve been trampled. Surely, there must be a better way to distribute the reading copies than a mad scrum that has people gasping for air! I hope the Buzz Panel programmers take note of these points for next year’s panel.

After hours, Book Expo always offers action, and this year was no exception as the sales rep group Parson Weems Publisher Services celebrated its 20th anniversary as a company with a delightful bash at the Landmark Tavern, near the Javits Center. PW sales reps Chris Kerr, Linda Cannon, Eileen Bertelli, and Jason Kincade were great hosts and I enjoyed drinks with many people there in the back room of the tavern, with the late afternoon light fading to early evening as the party unfolded, and the good ale they serve. Glad I could introduce my brother-in-law Ev Taylor to many old friends at the party.

The convention floor opened the next morning, and thanks to the MTA’s new subway stop for the #7 train at Tenth Ave and 34th St (which has the steepest, most vertical escalators I’ve ever seen in NY’s subway), I was right on time for my first meeting of the day. Chance encounters also quickly bloomed, as I bumped in to old and new friends like John Whelan of the superb gift book publisher Cider Mill Press; Tom Nevins, longtime member of the Random House sales force; B.J. Berti, Senior Editor for crafts and illustrated books, St Martin’s Press, to whom I was introduced by another old friend, Mike Shatzkin, one of whose new ventures, OptiQly, was being introduced at Book Expo; Peter Costanzo, digital publishing specialist for the AP; Kevin and Spencer Williams, Talonbooks, Vancouver, BC, who are clients of Consortium, a distributor that’s especially good with literary lines, were excitedly sharing with booksellers copies of one of their lead books, Anima; Rob Sanders, Greystone Books, Vancouver, BC, who had a big hit this year with The Hidden Life of Trees, which he’s following up this fall with The Hidden Life of Animals; and Herb Simon, Chairman Emeritus of the group that owns Kirkus, with whom I discussed the NBA, since he’s principal owner of the Indiana Pacers; George Greenfield, literary and lecture agent, who I chatted with in the crowded aisle in front of Hachette’s stand; Michael Korda, who’s publishing a new book with Liveright, Alone, an historical chronicle on the 1940 evacuation from Dunkirk, which he experienced firsthand as a 6-year old child.

I had prepared a memo that outlined all the current projects I’m agenting, and was pleased in several of my meetings with publishers and editors to register interest for the proposed new titles:

  • The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, a new book about the last months of the poet’s life;
  • Dirty Windshields: A Canadian Rock n’ Roll Band’s Misadventures Across the USA and Beyond, CBC broadcaster Grant Lawrence’s hilarious and heart-tugging book about his years as frontman and lead singer of the breakthrough punk band, The Smugglers
  • The Lust Club: Confessions of a Prada Model, a one-of-a-kind memoir by a male fashion model;
  • The Twenty-Ninth Day: A Dangerous Journey in the Canadian Arctic, a wilderness survival story the center of which was the grievous mauling by a grizzly bear suffered by the author
  • Ten Garments Every Man Should Own, by Toronto writer Pedro Mendes, publisher of The Hogtown Rake menswear blog;
  • A book about the development of Rap music through the history of sampling, Bring That Beat Back, and another music title by a true pioneer of electronic and hip-hop music;
  • How Horses Help us Heal: Reports from the Field, a deeply spiritual book about equine therapy that surveys the many equine therapy centers in the US;
  • Crash Test: How an Automaker Evaded Accountability, a corporate whistleblower’s account of a company’s lethal malfeasance;
  • Macoupin, a novel of the American prairie spanning 1800 to the near-present, by Jack Heinz. “Caste and class are most subtly yet vividly described in prose as spare and suggestive as an Edward Hopper landscape.”—Ward Just

It was exciting to represent these books and authors at Book Expo.

I got in an autograph line to meet Mira Bartok, whose earlier book, a memoir set in Cleveland about her schizophrenic mother, called The Memory Palace, I had found very compassionate. So did the National Book Critics Circle, which gave it their memoir prize in 2011. Her new book is a departure, a YA fantasy novel called The Wonderling. I also stood in line a while to get a book signed by actor William Daniels, who played Dr Craig in “St Elsewhere,” and had a memorable role in “A Thousand Clowns” with Jason Robards, Jr. Little did I know how hugely popular he is, so after some time waiting, I exited the very long line, but first got a picture of him signing his acting memoir, There I Go Again. Later, I did hang on in a shorter line long enough to meet Brooke Gladstone, longtime co-host of one of my favorite public radio programs, “On the Media,” author of The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time, a copy of which she signed for me. I also stood in line for novelist Mark Helprin, who as a younger author back in the day twice traveled to Cleveland for successful events at Undercover Books, for his outstanding early books A Dove of the East and Winter’s Tale (the latter for an event that drew hundreds of people in 1983). On this occasion, I had scrawled my name on a post-it note, as the publisher’s representative asks so an author doesn’t have to guess or hear correctly how your name is spelled; Mark did something of a double-take when he read my name, and looked up at me. We shared a rush of remembered friendship, as Mark and I had exchanged letters years ago about his books and our lives. My sister Pamela had met him once during a visit she made to New York City. He knew my black Lab Noah, who readers of this blog will recall I have written about here. We had a pleasant reunion there on line, even while people behind may’ve been wondering about the hold-up. I look forward to reading his new novel, from Overlook Press, Paris in the Present Tense. I also went out of my way to find Carol Bruneau, whose publisher Nimbus brought her down from Halifax, Nova Scotia to promote her forthcoming short story collection, A Bird on Every Tree. In the early 2000s I published her first novel, A Purple Thread for Sky, about the enduring legacy of an old family quilt. Carol and I had a sweet reunion, talking about Canadian books and writing, and our mixed-up modern world. I’m reading the opening story in the new book, “The Race,” about a long distance swimming competition, and am reminded anew that Carol writes enormously enjoyable sentences. Her new book will officially be available in September, and can already be pre-ordered from the Canadian book chain, Chapters. I know many readers of this blog will savor her writing.

I got a lot of pictures over the three days of the Book Expo. Here are some of my favorites.

New Sylvia Plath Poems Discovered on Old Sheet of Carbon Paper

The Guardian’s Danuta Kean reports on a startling discovery of previously unknown poems by Sylvia Plath, found to have been typed on carbon paper in an old notebook that belonged to her. The timing of this may prove helpful for myself and an author client of my literary agency as I am currently submitting that writer’s nonfiction book proposal about Plath and Ted Hughes to publishers in the US and the UK. This comes on top of many other developments about Plath and Hughes revealed in the past few months that point to the baleful influence Hughes exerted on Plath in the last months of her life.

As an editor, I first became involved with the Plath-Hughes story when in 2007 I edited and published The Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath’s Rival, and Ted Hughes’s Doomed Lover, which Publishers Weekly reviewed as “Assiduously researched, compulsively readable…an important book.” 

I will post more about the new book in the weeks to come. You can read the article via this link, and I’ve pasted in a screenshot of the Guardian story’s opening paragraphs below. 

Three New Books I’ve Agented, Each Coming out in 2017

Very pleased to share the announcement of three forthcoming books that as literary agent I’ve placed with major publishers in recent weeks. See info pasted in below as text and screenshot from my Publishersmarketplace.com page.

Fiction

Editor of The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure*, Dungeons & Dragons early team member and noted RPG designer Lawrence Schick, aka Lawrence Ellsworth, with The Red Sphinx, a new translation of the forgotten sequel to Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, continuing the heroic tale of Cardinal Richelieu and his implacable enemies, in a nice deal for World Rights to Claiborne Hancock of Pegasus Books as a lead title for them in Winter 2017, by Philip Turner, Philip Turner Book Productions.*

Nonfiction/Sports
Gathered from decades drawing and writing about our greatest athletes and sports figures, sports cartoonist Murray Olderman, a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, with The Draw of Sports, a full career retrospective with 160 portraits and profiles, with Muhammad Ali, Yogi Berra, Kobe Bryant, Billie Jean King, Vince Lombardi, Jackie Robinson, etc., in a nice deal for World Rights to Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics, for publication in 2017, by Philip Turner, Philip Turner Book Productions.

Nonfiction/History/Politics/Current Affairs
Author of How the Cold War Began**, longtime Russian security services specialist and fluent Russian speaker Amy Knight’s ORDERS FROM ABOVE: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, a true-crime political thriller examining the role of targeted violence in contemporary Russia, in a nice deal for World Rights to Thomas Dunne at Thomas Dunne Books, St Martin’s Press, for publication in 2017, by Philip Turner, Philip Turner Book Productions.

* In 2014, I blogged about The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, Lawrence Ellsworth’s earlier book.

** Earlier this year, I blogged about Amy Knight’s new project, and on a previous book of hers, How the Cold War Began, which I published with her at Carroll & Graf Publishers in 2006.

Canadian Author Carrie Borrie, Taking “The Long Hello” From Self-Published Title to a Book Brought Out by Commercial Publishers

I’ve edited manuscripts for a number of author clients who at some point in the process have considered self-publishing as an option for placing their work in front of the public, though they sometimes hesitate over the uncertainty of whether a self-published book stands a chance to be discovered by readers and covered by members of the media. While not downplaying the challenges, I have been able to point out successes in fiction (not one of my authors, but Hugh Howey’s WOOL series is a notable one), but I’ve not been able to do the same for nonfiction. Now I’m glad to say that thanks to an introduction from bestselling author, music journalist, and CBC radio host Grant Lawrence alerting me to the publication story of Vancouver, BC author Cathie Borrie, I now have a nonfiction success to point to. The book is The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me, which Borrie (shown here) self-published in 2010 when a curator with the Museum of Modern Art in NYC asked her to participate in the museum’s lecture series on Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s since taken her book from a self-published title to commercial publication with Simon & Schuster Canada in 2015 (acquired by Toronto friend, editor and bookseller Martha Sharpe), and now with Arcade Books in the US (acquired by editor friend Cal Barksdale). As shown in the screenshot here of a Facebook event page, a theatrical-style reading will take place beginning at 6pm tonight at the Emily Harvey Gallery in NYC to launch the US edition.

With Borrie in town this week, I met her for the first time, and heard about the background of her evocative and poetic book, which I’m currently reading and enjoying very much. As Borrie’s mom became more and more in thrall to dementia, Cathie realized that what she said, despite coming from a place of confusion, nonetheless had a definite kind of lucidity to it. She began taping their conversations, and then used them when assembling her manuscript, contributing to a kind of verbal collage of their final years together. The process also prompted her to revisit her childhood years, and the recesses of their family life. Instructive for any self-published nonfiction author, it’s also evident that over the years Borrie worked hard at getting her book into the hands of key influencers in the medical, home-care, and nursing worlds (it’s also notable that Borrie trained as a nurse and has a Master’s in Public Health). She also secured a one-word blurb from Maya Angelou, “Joy,” that any author would love to have on the cover of their book.

Now, David Henry Sterry of The Book Doctors, like me, a book editor and blogger, has conducted an excellent interview with Borrie, examining the journey she’s taken with her book. I suggest you read it, for the valuable insights that Borrie’s gained from the whole experience. A screenshot of it is below, and you may click on this link to read the whole Q&A. If you’re considering self-publishing as an option for your own work, I urge you to read The Long Hello and learn from Borrie’s experience in the evolving book market.

National Book Critics Circle Annual Finalist Readings, March 16 2016

Margo JeffersonThe National Book Critics Circle’s annual literary extravaganza began last night, a two-night affair I’ve attended every year since the early 2000s (and written about on this blog before). Last night 25 of the authors whose books are finalists for the awards in the six categories which will be given tonight read from their books. No admission charge for the readings or the awards tomorrow, NY’s best free literary program every year. There’s a post-awards benefit tomorrow night, the only part of the wordfest that carries a charge. I’ll be there again tonight. Glad I got good pictures in the darkened auditorium at The New School on West 12th St.

Alexander Litvinenko, Targeted by a Breadcrumb Trail of Deadly Radiation

Agency Update: Some weeks after I wrote and published the post below, I licensed Amy Knight’s book to the Thomas Dunne Books imprint at St Martin’s Press. The manuscript is already being edited and the book, ORDERS FROM ABOVE: The Putin Regime and Political Murder,  will be published in September 2017.

One of my author clients as a literary agent is a historian and scholar named Amy Knight. In 2006, when I was working as an acquiring editor at Carroll & Graf, I published her fifth book, How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, on the Soviet cypher clerk, Ghouzenko, who in September 1945 became arguably the first defector of the Cold War; he ultimately found asylum in Canada, and would later appear in media there disguised as he’s shown on the cover of the edition we brought out. I was amazed that this episode had occurred even while WWII was still ongoing. From Knight’s website, I note that she “earned her PhD in Russian politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1977….She’s taught at the LSE, Johns Hopkins, SAIS, and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and also worked for eighteen years at the U.S. Library of Congress as a Soviet/Russian affairs specialist. In 1993-94, she was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Knight has written over 30 scholarly articles and has contributed numerous pieces on Russian politics and history to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wilson Quarterly.” She speaks Russian, and is especially knowledgable on the Russian security services, a veritable alphabet soup of state authorities that Putin has emphatically turned to his purposes since becoming Russian president in 1999.

Titled Orders from Above: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, her new book promises to be the definitive account of the Kremlin’s lethal targeting of opponents inside Russia and in the West during the Putin years. A key part of it will chronicle in riveting tick-tock detail the 2006 murder-by-radiation of Alexander Litvinenko, who during the early part of his career was a member of the Russian security services, though by 1998 was a critic Russia’s security service devoted to counter-intelligence, organized crime, and anti-terrorism, the FSB. He had been in prison twice, for supposed insubordination. In 1999, terror struck in Moscow, when a whole apartment block was bombed, killing more than 300 people. The government quickly blamed it on Chechen insurgents, charging that the rebels, still smarting from their loss of the war in Chechnya earlier that decade were bent on revenge against ordinary Russians. But critics, including Litvinenko, believed the crime had emerged from within the regime, an atrocity committed to confirm a sort of bogeyman population in Russia’s midst, an internal enemy they could blame for many wrongs in the society. In 2000, after being released from prison a second time, he fled the country with his wife and son, eventually finding asylum in London where he found succor from another Putin critic, Boris Berezovsky, for whom he worked while continuing to agitate against Putin’s rule. In November 2006, he was poisoned with polonium-2010-laced green tea during a midday meeting with his clumsy assassins, who left a breadcrumb trail of radioactive contamination all over London, even on the airplane they’d boarded in Russia.

This morning in London, the British government released its official report on the death of Litvninenko, an inquiry long sought by his widow Marina. The magistrate, Sir Robert Owen, announced the findings to a tribunal where Knight was in attendance, on assignment from NY Review of Books editor Robert Silvers for the NYRB blog. As reported by the BBC and the NY Times, Owen accused “Andrei K. Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, and Dmitri V. Kovtun, a Red Army deserter,” of  poisoning Litvinenko at the Pine Bar in London’s Millennium Hotel on Nov 1, 2006. What’s more he laid the planning of the murder on the doorstep of the FSB, while concluding in careful, lawyerly language that Putin himself is “probably” responsible for Litvinenko’s ghastly death. When Knight posts her own report on the Inquiry, I’ll share the blog here.

This is just the sort of ripped-from-the-headlines book I always enjoyed working on as an in-house editor, so I’m excited to be working with Amy Knight again, this time from the agent side of the desk.

Anticipating a New Way to Sell the Books I Write About to Readers of My Blogs

For book industry pals like me, who’d read and wondered this week about the import of national book distributor Ingram’s acquisition of the digital company Aer.io, I was excited tonight to read this analysis by friend and industry observer Mike Shatzkin, which anticipates potentially a very dynamic platform, one that could provide thousands of website managers and Internet publishers tools to help them sell books—print and digital editions—directly to their visitors. For my part, I see that it could provide bloggers who write about books, including me, the ability to sell titles directly from our websites to our readers and visitors. I currently affiliate with Powell’s Books of Portland, OR, but that arrangement has long been limited to print copies, with no prospect for selling ebooks, which is the format more likely to be preferred by blog readers, with rapid availability of digital content, and no shipping involved. As a retail bookseller before I was an editor and blogger, with a career-long penchant for sharing my enthusiasms, I’m eager to learn about these new options, and from an industry perspective, I anticipate significant interest from bloggers like me.
Shatzkin speculates that the new platform, combining Aer.io’s tools with Ingram’s capacity, has the potential to dramatically increase the sheer volume of online bookselling, with the potential to bring along many new types of Web publishers; it could also represent competition for Amazon, hence the title, “Can crowd-sourced retailing give Amazon a run for its money?”
Here you’ll find 1) a screenshot of Ingram’s announcement; 2) a portion of Aer.io founder Ron Martinez’s optimistic interview with The Bookseller, explaining what the platform provides now, and what it may offer in the future; and 3) some paragraphs from Shatzkin’s cogent analysis. You can read these screenshots by clicking Pause at the upper right corner, and read them in their entirety on the respective websites:  1)  /  2)  /  3).  Ron Martinez