Books I’ve brought out as publisher; essays and reviews I’ve published

My Letter to the Dept. of Justice in the Agency Model Ebook Case

With Monday June 25 as the last day for public comment in the Agency Model and ebook pricing case now before the DOJ I submitted a comment today. This is what I sent in an email to John Read at the Dept. of Justice:

June 23, 2012

Mr. John Read
United States Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

Dear John Read,

I believe a competitive book market for authors, publishers, and readers is essential to the cultural and commercial well-being of our country. Because of the public good that a competitive marketplace conveys, I urge you to turn away from any course of action in this matter that would have the perverse effect of boosting Amazon.com and permitting them to continue predatory conduct that they have shown a predilection to practice.

While I know that the government’s investigation has been about allegedly improper conduct on the part of some publishers, I hope you can find a remedy here that does not deliver a new competitive advantage for Amazon.com, one that, given current trends, could surely lead to a less healthy, less competitive book and publishing marketplace, one that would over time lead to fewer titles coming from publishers; less income for creators; and less choice for consumers.

I write with respect for the difficulties you and your office must face in dealing with this matter. But as a longtime retail bookseller, editor and publisher, I know that our industry is balanced on a perilous edge where your decision could lead to a more competitive and fairer book marketplace, or when where a very few players dominate the commercial and cultural space. I hope you will not let that occur.

Sincerely, Philip Turner
Philip Turner Book Productions
New York, NY
www.philipsturner.com

Click through to see screenshot of my email to the DOJ

“Sacre Bleu!” 1st Review of THE RED SPHINX, a Long-lost Sequel by Dumas to THE THREE MUSKETEERS

Readers of this blog may recall that last month, I wrote about my author client Lawrence Schick, who under his pen name Lawrence Ellsworth was soon to be publishing a new translation of a literary discovery he’d made, a long-lost novel by Alexandre Dumas titled The Red Sphinx. As I explained then, the publication date was to be January 3 of the new year, and we were hopeful the book, a veritable sequel to The Three Musketeers, would garner some significant reviews. I’m delighted to say that’s beginning, right on queue the day after pub date. The first review is by critic Steve Donoghue in the Christian Science Monitor, and it’s a rave, with this headline: 

Donoghue’s conclusion reads:

In his Afterword, Ellsworth confesses that translating Dumas is “a lot of fun,” but he need hardly have said it: Fun permeates this big book. The rest of 2017’s fiction will have to look sharp: An old master has just set the bar very, very high.

The whole review is linked to here. I’ll be sharing more reviews as we get them. Clearly, this swashbuckling epic, at 800 pages, is a winner for people who savor historical and adventure fiction. For friends in the D.C. area, please note that Lawrence Schick will be appearing at the popular bookstore Politics & Prose in Washington on Sunday afternoon, January 29. Meanwhile, below is last month’s post:
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On the literary agenting side of my editorial services and publishing consultancy, I’m very fortunate to have as one of my author clients the multi-talented Lawrence Schick. Our affinity starts with the fact that we’re both natives of northeast Ohio, me Cleveland, him the Akron-Kent nexus. Then there’s the fact that when I operated Undercover Books in Cleveland from 1978-85, with my two siblings and our parents, we stocked and sold the then-new role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, which somewhat improbably, was sold to bookstores by Random House sales reps. Years later, after I’d moved to NYC and become an editor, Lawrence and I became associated and I learned about his Ohio roots, and the fact that he was an original team member of the group of smart people that devised, produced, and marketed Dungeons & Dragons.

The first book we came together over was from one of Lawrence’s many areas of special knowledge—the world of adventure fiction, particularly from the Swashbuckler Era (from roughly the 1840s-the 1920s), which led him, under the pen name Lawrence Ellsworth, to edit and introduce a spirited anthology called The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, which Pegasus Books published in 2014. It featured selections from the work of Rafael Sabatini (best known for Scaramouche and Captain Blood), Anthony Hope (of Prisoner of Zenda renown), Johnston McCulley (creator of the Zorro character), Conan Doyle (he favored his adventure yarns more than his Sherlock Holmes stories), Pierce Egan (known for Robin Hood), Baroness Orczy (creator of the Scarlet Pimpernel), and Alexandre Dumas (there’s so much more Dumas than The Three Musketeers)—in all a total of twenty writers from what could be fairly be called the golden age of adventure fiction. I wrote about it here a few times

In the course of assembling the anthology, Lawrence, who also reads and translates French, made a surprising discovery: a long-lost Dumas novel, a veritable sequel to The Three Musketeers, which picks up the story where his most popular book had ended. It had a curious publishing history, even in French, and never had a proper edition in English. He’s translated it in to a rollicking new version that Pegasus is bringing out next month, with finished copies showing up in bookstores very soon. It’s called The Red Sphinx, and it features Cardinal Richelieu, a Machiavellian mastermind, who tangles with the hero, Count de Moret and his love, Isabelle. It’s already had a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and intriguingly, I saw yesterday in Lit Hub that Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, harbors a great desire to finally read Dumas, so we’ll be sure she has the opportunity.

On publication date, January 3, Lawrence will publish a personal essay, “The Riddle of the Red Sphinx,” in Lit Hub which will explain how he came to piece together the novel, despite the fact that when he discovered it, the ending was separate from the bulk of the book, and he had to discover it, too. I’ll be sharing the essay and reviews in social media as they arrive. It’s all kind of amazing—a very good, full novel by Alexandre Dumas novel that was barely ever published in English at all, by a master of adventure fiction who’s been dead since 1870! It’s sorta like having a new book by Charles Dickens, who happened to die the same year as Dumas.

Lawrence Ellsworth will be reading from the novel and speaking about Dumas and the Swashbuckler Era at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. at 1pm on the afternoon of Sunday, January 29, 2017. I’m delighted to share the front and back cover of The Red Sphinx from the bound galley I have in my office. For those eager to pre-order, you can find the hardcover here on Amazon, and an unabridged audio edition from Blackstone Audio.

Appreciative for a Shoutout to My Editing of “The Revenant” from Canadian Pal Grant Lawrence

I'm tickled that Canadian music journalist, CBC broadcaster, author, friend—and devoted reader of adventure tales—Grant… Posted by Philip Turner on Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Did the Koch Brothers’ Help Dad Build an Oil Refinery for Adolf Hitler?

Wow, this is going to be a blockbuster book. Jane Mayer’s latest, due out Jan 19th, is Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. It’s the subject of a NY Times news article tonight by Nicholas Confessore who must’ve gotten an early copy.  He reports on the collective portrait of rightwing billionaire families, including Richard Mellon Scaife, who before his death in 2014 spent more than a billion dollars of his Mellon family fortune pushing conservative causes; most notably, in the 1990s he harassed Bill Clinton through the infamous American Spectator magazine (see “Troopergate” if you need a reminder). I recall of this with firsthand memory because in the early 2000s I edited and published Susan MacDougal’s memoir of the years she was pursued by Whitewater Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, The Woman Who Wouldn’t Talk: Why I Wouldn’t Testify the Clintons and What I Learned in Jail., whose probe was an outgrowth of Scaife’s bankrolling Whitewater into a faux scandal. After discussing Scaife, the book examines an earlier brother pair, Lynde and Harry Bradley; and the DeVos family of Michigan. Apparently, Mayer then moves on to the bulk of her book, the Koch family. Confessore releases this explosive finding from Mayer’s investigation:

“The book is largely focused on the Koch family, stretching back to its involvement in the far-right John Birch Society and the political and business activities of their father, Fred C. Koch, who found some of his earliest business success overseas in the years leading up to World War II. One venture was a partnership with the American Nazi sympathizer William Rhodes Davis, who, according to Ms. Mayer, hired Mr. Koch to help build the third-largest oil refinery in the Third Reich, a critical industrial cog in Hitler’s war machine.”

As editor, I also acquired IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation (2001, Crown Publishingby Edwin Black, and on this website blogged several times about The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand. I have an eye for these sort of titles, and I’m sure this one by Mayer will be fascinating, and important.

Holiday Reflections

Later today my wife and I will be going to visit Ruth Gruber, the pioneering female photojournalist and longtime author…

Posted by Philip Turner on Friday, 25 December 2015

Appreciating Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, and the Legacy of his Writing

I spent the past couple weeks, amid so much disturbing upheaval in the world outside my reading, deeply enjoying Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, by Thomas Kunkel, which Random House published last June. (I had first shared about it on this blog last May.) From Kunkel’s acknowledgments at the end I’ve learned the book was commissioned by Bob Loomis*, the great editor there who, before his retirement in 2012, signed up the book, though the manuscript was evidently delivered after his departure. Mitchell grew up in a tobacco- and cotton-farming family in North Carolina (b. 1908) and, disappointing his father, moved to New York City at twenty-one, determined to become a newspaperman, even amid the Depression; he found work as a copy boy, and soon began reporting and writing, including at the Herald Tribune (where my longtime author, photojournalist Ruth Gruber later worked) and for the World-Telegram, which Mitchell joined in 1930. He began writing for The New Yorker in 1932, and joined the magazine’s staff in 1938. Kunkel’s book is a superb portrait of Mitchell’s whole life, to his death in 1996, and a rich appreciation of his writings.

While reading and really savoring the whole book, every anecdote, every chapter it covers of Mitchell’s life, I took down from a bookshelf my copy of Up in the Old Hotel, the 1992 collection that gathered Mitchell’s Profiles on true-life New York characters, and other work, which back then put Mitchell back on the map for many readers. Until then, his magazine pieces had frequently been gathered up and published between hardcovers—his first My Ears Are Bent, came out in 1938, followed by McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon (1943); Old Mr. Flood (1948); The Bottom of the Harbor (1959) and Joe Gould’s Secret (1965)—but it was more than two decades between books when, at the urging of Dan Frank of Pantheon Books, Mitchell published this full omnibus of his work, gathered from those books, and other sources. It made a big splash at the time, getting stellar reviews, and Kunkel tells us that Mitchell welcomed the spotlight that came with being remembered by so many readers, and discovered by even more. 
Mitchell back

I’ve had the book since soon after it came out—my copy’s a first edition. I was around that time editing and preparing to publish a comparable book, A Diary of Century: Tales from America’s Greatest Diarist, by Edward Robb Ellis, a near-contemporary of Mitchell’s, who also worked at the World-Telegram, arriving there in 1947. Like Mitchell, Ellis savored writing about memorable NY characters, people like Fred Bronnenkant, riveter for more than thirty years on the Brooklyn Bridge, who had such affection for the span he regarded it as a kind of mistress**. Though Eddie was not quite the consummate stylist that I now see Mitchell was, like Mitchell, he aspired to make great work. Both men learned writing in the same milieu—the midcentury American newspaper, entirely at NY papers for Mitchell, partly true for Ellis, who before coming to the metropolis for what became the last twenty years of his career as an on-staff feature writer, had worked at papers in New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Peoria, and Chicago.*** They deployed vivid imagery, showed a fondness for lengthy list-making (a penchant embraced in more recent years by New Yorker writer John McPhee), a keen interest in what things cost back in the day, and an appreciation for character, with great skill at presenting to readers the people they encountered.

Seeing the success of Up in the Old Hotel, I recalling buying the book in hopes of imbibing some of that vibe and investing Eddie’s book with it. Though I was interested in Mitchell and his work, as happens for professional editors I got sidetracked from it, and had in fact never read it thoroughly, nor really sensed the charms of Mitchell’s writing until the past couple weeks. During the weeks I was reading the Kunkel bio, I leafed through the 700+page anthology, shown here, and now that I’ve finished the biography, I’m fully able to dive in to it. Last night, I read and enjoyed the third Profile in the anthology, about Mazie Gordon, a denizen of the Bowery, who ran a “moving-picture house” called the Venice Theatre, and who “Detective Kain [of the Oak Street police station] says that she has the roughest tongue and the softest heart in the Third Precinct.” Mitchell chronicles her working life, seated in a glassed-in booth along Park Row, selling movie tickets, and greeting her patrons, some of whom are by her own description “bums” that live in nearby flophouses. She is a key player in the street life near Chatham Square, and the piece includes many conversations she had with bums, cops, priests, and all kinds of urban operators which it seems certain Mitchell overheard. His chronicle of Mazie’s proprietorship of the theatre, and her status in the wider neighborhood, is among the most enjoyable things I’ve read this year.

Here’s the first paragraph of the 1940 profile, titled ‘Mazie’:

“A bossy, yellow-haired blonde named Mazie P. Gordon is a celebrity on the Bowery in the nickel-a-drink saloons and in the all-night restaurants which specialize in pig snouts and cabbage at a dime a platter, she is known by her first name. She makes a round of these establishments practically every night, and drunken bums sometimes come up behind her, slap her on the back, and call her sweetheart. This never annoys her. She has a wry but genuine fondness for bums and is undoubtedly acquainted with more of them than any person in the city. Each day she gives them between five and fifteen dollars in small change….’In my time, I’ve been as free with my dimes and as old John D himself,’ she says. Mazie has presided for twenty-one years over the ticket cage of the Venice Theatre.”

Now that I’m finished with the biography, I’ve also sought out reviews of it, such as a good one by John Williams in the NY Times, and a very insightful essay by Janet Malcolm in the NY Review of Books; she was a colleague of Mitchell’s at The New Yorker. Kunkel wrote an earlier biography of Harold Ross, founding editor of The New Yorker, who hired Mitchell for the magazine, after his several-year audition as a contributing writer. I’ve never met Kunkel, but I’m glad to say I feel connected to him anyway. As it happens, he reviewed Edward Robb Ellis’s A Diary of Century when it was published in 1995, with an Introduction by Pete Hamill, concluding his review in the Washington Post with the praise that Ellis’s diary of an Everyman, “produc[ed] something akin to Copland’s glorious ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.'” I’ll find a way to share this blog post with him, so I can belatedly let him know how glad I am that he enjoyed Eddie Ellis’s book, and I can tell him I felt the same for his superb book on Joseph Mitchell.

* Among Bob Loomis’s authors was William Styron; the courtly editor helped me enlist Styron’s aid in a championing a book I edited in 1999, about an arguably innocent inmate on Virginia’s Death Row. I wrote about that episode in my editorial career in an essay for the BN Review called “William Styron: A Promise Kept.”

**Ellis’s beguiling entry on Frank Bronnenkant is found on pgs 173-75 of A Diary of the Century (Kodansha America, 1995; republished by me at Union Square Press in 2008). Clicking on this link will take you to all my blog posts about Edward Robb Ellis, which includes one that examines the legacy of notorious faker Joe Gould, the subject of Mitchell’s last published Profile, the recently discovered photographer, Vivian Maier, and Ellis, in a 2014 piece I titled “Vivian Maier Was the Real Deal, the Ultra-Opposite of Joe Gould.” The relevance here is that Ellis—whose book was drawn from his diary, a journal he began keeping at age 16, and which he stayed with until 89, the longest-kept such record in the history of American letters—and the secretly great and prolific street photographer Maier did each create a magnum opus, while Gould never did, though Mitchell did believe for a time that he really was writing a seminal work, “The Oral History of our Times.” And yet Mitchell, even after publishing two long profiles of Gould (‘Professor Seagull,’ ’42, rather credulous) and (‘Joe Gould’s Secret,’ ’64, not credulous any longer) did not rebuke Gould. He generously concluded that Gould, some writings by whom he had actually read in the 1940s, had perhaps at least been writing in his mind, as Mitchell did with an uncompleted memoir and novel he never published.

*** For her part, Ruth Gruber, before and after WWII, wrote for the Herald Tribune and the NY Post. Unlike Mitchell and Ellis, she oscillated in and out of journalism, working for a time in the federal government during the FDR Administration, as Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes’ special representative to Alaska. Ruth is, so far as I know, the eldest surviving member of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. This post is about a 104th birthday gathering with her this past October.