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December 17th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Media, Blogging, Internet

Editorial Humor for Hump Day, Only This is No Joke

Graeme Reynolds' blogA fussy and censorious reader objected to the use of hyphenated words in High Moor II: Moonstruck, a novel for sale on Amazon written by UK author Graeme Reynolds. Amazon, which likes to trumpet how customer-focused they are, jumped at the complaint and ran a spell check on the book. Finding more than 100 hyphenated words in the 90,000 word ms, which they apparently found excessive, they instructed Reynolds to re-edit the Kindle edition of the book, lest it be removed from sale. Not surprisingly, Reynolds was gobsmacked at the absurdity of the situation. He blogged about it in a post titled Hyphen Hate: When Amazon Went to War Against Punctuation (screenshot at left). The book was indeed removed from sale, and the post drew more than 300,000 readers to his site. Amazon evidently thought better of their decision—or didn’t want more negative publicity—and they reinstated Reynolds’ novel. Via this link you can listen to an interview with the author on CBC’s As it Happens, and ponder Amazon’s ridiculous policies.High Moor II

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December 14th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner Book Productions

Michael Dirda ♥s “The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure”

Readers of this blog may recall I’ve posted occasionally about The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, a new anthology I sold to Pegasus Books as literary agent. The last time I wrote about it, Oct 10, it had just received two excellent pre-publication reviews, from Publishers Weekly and AuthorLink. Now the book is out and available in bookstores and it continues to draw praise, the latest coming from Michael Dirda, a critic whose literary recommendations I’ve enjoyed for many years. Offering his annual roundup of gift books for the holidays, Dirda tendered this brief encomium:

The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure (Pegasus, $24.95), selected and edited by Lawrence Ellsworth. Captain Blood, Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Brigadier Gerard, Robin Hood; stories with titles such as “Pirate’s Gold” and “The Queen’s Rose”—this is just the gift for, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s words, “the boy who’s half a man, OR the man who’s half a boy.”Dirda gift books

In the early 2000s, Dirda moderated a weekly online chat on washingtonpost.com in which he consistently offered erudite yet accessible book chat. I rarely missed one of them, and would often print out the whole chat to keep as a reference. In that forum, Dirda distinguished himself as the least snobbish of critics. No matter what readers might throw at him—whether asking about James Joyce, John Milton, or nearly forgotten authors of genre fiction—he always made smart and generous comments. He’s also an author, with several books to his name, two of which I’ve enjoyed (pictured below). It’s fun to have a book be included in Michael Dirda’s gift suggestions, so if you’re looking for a book for a certain kind of reader, someone who relishes pirate lore, swordplay, movies like “Captain Blood,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” and “Zorro,” the seafaring novels of Patrick O’Brian, and the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser, The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure is sure to strike the right chord. You can buy it via this Amazon link, where it is currently riding high as their #1 bestseller among anthologies of historical fiction.

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December 1st, 2014

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

Happy to Be Part of Blurb, Platform Connecting Writers with Quality Editorial Services

Glad to be a collaborator with Blurb, a new Web space where writers can find editors to help them hone their work, and other publishing services, including design. There’s a nice, clean look to editors’ profiles, like mine linked to here, and shown in the screenshot of it below. If you’re an author looking for editorial help, or know a writer who is, please have a look and get in touch.PST Blurb profile

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November 10th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Urban Life & New York City

The Sound of a Poet’s Voice

Dylan ThomasDylan Thomas, Collected PoemsI was fortunate to attend an event remembering Dylan Thomas on the 61st anniversary of his death, November 9, hosted by my friend Peter Schulman and New Directions, Thomas’s longtime publisher. Pictures, reportage, and links at my Storify post.

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October 13th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Books & Writing; Urban Life & New York City

Autumn and the Little Red Lighthouse Festival 2014, an Ideal Combination

Brisk winds and the aftermath of a rainy Friday night didn’t dampen the fun at the 22nd annual Little Red Lighthouse Festival this past Saturday, held on the grounds under the George Washington Bridge, aka the great gray bridge, near the Little Red Lighthouse, the last beacon light to shine in Manhattan. I have written about the landmark several times in recent years, including after I attended last year’s fall festival. The Parks Dept opens the lighthouse to visitors on these occasions, allowing New Yorkers to fully appreciate this splendid example of maritime architecture. After I toured the lighthouse last year, I wrote about its history and the children’s book that improbably helped to keep it standing on the shore of the Hudson: LRLH books

“If you’ve never had a close-up view of [the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse] and aren’t certain where they are or how to see them for yourself, we’re talking about upper Manhattan on the island’s west side roughly level with what would be West 178th Street and the Hudson River. I get there on my bike, pedaling on good pavement alongside the river most of the way from my neighborhood around West 100th Street and Riverside Drive. The area can also be reached from Washington Heights, near 181st Street, and in both cases it’s accessible to walkers as well as cyclists. The forty-foot tall lighthouse–whose exterior is dotted with porthole windows and decked out in bright red enameled paint with a white cone and clear glass at the top–sits below the lower deck of the bridge, close to the monumental steel foot of the span’s eastern arch. According to a NYC Parks Dept web page, the two structures became most indelibly linked in the public imagination in the early 1940s, and even earlier in the city’s maritime history. Here’s a lightly edited version of the Parks Dept. article:

‘In the early 20th century, barge captains carrying goods up and down the Hudson demanded a brighter beacon. The [lighthouse] had been erected on Sandy Hook, New Jersey in 1880, where it used a 1,000 pound fog signal and flashing red light to guide ships through the night. It became obsolete and was dismantled [but not destroyed or discarded] in 1917. In 1921, the U.S. Coast Guard reconstructed this lighthouse on Jeffrey’s Hook [future site of the George Washington Bridge] in an attempt to improve navigational aids on the Hudson River. Run by a part-time keeper and furnished with a battery-powered lamp and a fog bell, the lighthouse, then known as Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse [the name since the early 1800s for the shelf of Manhattan schist that juts out in to the river right there], was an important guide to river travelers for ten years. The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931, and the brighter lights of the bridge again made the lighthouse obsolete. In 1948, the Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse, and its lamp was extinguished.

‘The Coast Guard planned to auction off the lighthouse, but an outpouring of support for the beacon helped save it. The outcry from the public was prompted by the children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, written by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in 1942. In the popular book, the Little Red Lighthouse is happy and content until a great bridge is built over it. In the end, the lighthouse learns that it still has an important job to do and that there is still a place in the world for an old lighthouse. The classic tale captured the imaginations of children and adults, many of whom wrote letters and sent money to help save the icon from the auction block.’

The Parks’ web page adds that in 1951 the Coast Guard gave the lighthouse and grounds to the City, and in 1979 the Little Red Lighthouse was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places. Refurbishments took place in 1986, when on the 65th anniversary the concrete foundation was restored, and in 2000 when it was repainted, true to its original shade of red.

In a real sense, the persistence of the lighthouse on the Manhattan shoreline is a product of one of the first episodes of “historic preservation” in the modern history of New York City. Too often, the city and posterity have been the loser in those battles, such as what occurred in 1963, when–unaccountably to current-day New Yorkers–the old Penn Station was torn down.”

I will add that it’s a great time for parks and historic sites in New York City, with such projects as the ongoing restoration of High Bridge, the footbridge that’s connected the Bronx and Manhattan since 1842, though it’s been derelict and off-limits to hikers for many years. Also heartening was the news last week that more than $130 million will be spent to upgrade and renovate thirty-five NYC parks that have historically been neglected, even while better known parks, like Central Park and Prospect Park, garner lots of resources.

I didn’t enter the Little Red Lighthouse on Saturday, as the line was long and I was glad to let others see it for the first time. I was just happy to walk the grounds and stop at the booths of several upper Manhattan organizations and businesses. Among these was the NYC Parks Dept, which sent several urban rangers to staff an information table; Summer on the Hudson, @summeronthehudson on Twitter, whose director Zhen Heinemann was on hand making sure everything ran smoothly; Word Up Books, “a completely volunteer run community bookshop,  and arts space in Washington Heights,” on Amsterdam Ave at 165th Street, near the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest wooden structure in Manhattan, built in 1765; graphic artist Norman Ibarra, who was selling a handsome poster he’s designed, printed on quality paper, that shows the seven lighthouses along the Hudson River, upstate from Athens and Saugerties south toward Manhattan and Jersey City; the National Lighthouse Museum, near the Staten Island Ferry terminal, whose representatives told me about the hoped-for restoration of the Old Orchard Beach lighthouse, wrecked during Hurricane Sandy; and Anthi’s Greek Specialities, a food vendor that was selling tasty spinach pie and baklava. Along with the above Facebook post I sent out that afternoon, I took lots of pictures during the festivities. Here are the best of them.

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October 10th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner Book Productions

First Reviews of THE BIG BOOK OF SWASHBUCKLING ADVENTURE: “An Excellent Read” & “A Brilliant Selection of Dash, Pluck, Skill, Yearning, and Fortune.”

And now the second pre-publication review is in for The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, selected and introduced by my author client Lawrence Ellsworth, another very positive notice. It comes from Publishers Weekly, who commissioned author William Dietrich to review the anthology. Dietrich’s piece closes with this encomium: “Ellsworth offers the reader an excellent and entertaining survey of the genre’s roots, a brilliant selection of dash, pluck, skill, yearning, and fortune.” See below for more details on the book, and the first review, which came in last week. Thanks to Pegasus Books for preparing the handsome edition and congrats to editor Lawrence Ellsworth. There will be finished copies of the book in November. It’s setting up very nicely!

I first posted about this book project when I began presenting it to publishers in March 2013, and am delighted that Pegasus Books acquired it. They’re an independent press whose titles are sold to bookstores by W.W. Norton. Pegasus has done a great job getting the anthology ready for publication. You can see their catalog listing for the book via this link (or in the screenshot below). Yesterday, I was delighted to see the first review of it, by Cindy A. Matthews at Authorlink, which I quickly shared in its entirety on Facebook (embedded below). In the catalog copy, you’ll note an interesting sidelight about my author client Lawrence Ellsworth, who conceived of the anthology, selected all the pieces, wrote the introductions, and translated the Alexander Dumas selection that’s in the book: he was an original team member of the group that created the legendary role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. The oversized quality paperback, illustrated with art from the heady period when these stories were originally published, between the 1870s-1920s, will make a great holiday gift. Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure Pegasus catalog

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October 3rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

Working with Authors, in to Their 100s

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September 22nd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

One More Time—A Happy Hobbit Birthday!

I published the piece below two years ago on this date, my birthday. I’m happy to share it here again today, as I turn 60!

As this day, September 22, 2012, stretches toward midnight, it happens to have been my 58th birthday. Growing up, of course I always enjoyed this day, but as I prepared to turn 13 back in 1967, my appreciation of my own birthday had taken a new turn. For earlier that year I first read the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and discovered that all the key action in The Hobbit, and the first book of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was triggered at the birthday parties of Bilbo Baggins,and his nephew Frodo Baggins. And for reasons unknown to me—and so far as I know, never analyzed in all the criticism on Tolkien and Middle Earth—the birthday of uncle and nephew Baggins was September 22. The sharing of my birthday with the brave and indefatigable hobbits was a source of great strength to me during my adolescence. When difficult times arose, I took comfort in the knowledge that I had some sort of kinship with the creative imaginings of such a great writer as Tolkien. His books have been with me at many junctures in my life. Seeing Tolkien’s hobbit protagonists at the center of his sagas made me believe I could be at the center of my own life narrative.

I’ve always liked the fact that the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana, falls around roughly the same time as my birthday. This year it was just last week. I like that the new year is said to begin in autumn–counter-intuitively–just as life in nature is beginning to fade and die. It sobers one up a bit, reminding us all that we’re not here forever. I don’t need too much reminding of that fact, in as much as starting in my late 30s I lost my father, then in my 40s, two best friends from college—Rob Adams and Karl Petrovich—and in my 50s, my mom and then my brother, Joel. Still, it seems salutary to take note of the leaves falling just as we prepare the turn of another year, as well as the turn from summer into fall.

With Tolkien in mind, my observance of my own birthday this year got off to a good start yesterday when I saw in Shelf Awareness, the bookselling daily e-newsletter, that Tolkien’s US publisher is publishing a new edition of The Hobbit, tying in with Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” prequel, premiering December 14. When the movie opens in a few months, I’ll sort of feel as if it’s almost again, albeit out of season. Meantime, today’s been a good day, thanks to family, friends, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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