RIP Tyler Drumheller, CIA Operative & Iraq War Truthteller

With President Obama rightly sounding a cautionary tone during his speech yesterday promoting the Iran nuclear deal—by citing the many examples of flawed judgment shown during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq—I note with rue and sadness the death this week of Tyler Drumheller, longtime CIA operative and an Iraq War truthteller whose book, On the Brink: An Insider’s Account of How the White House Compromised American Intelligence written with Elaine Monahan, I edited and published with him (Philip Turner Books, Carroll & Graf, 2006). Tyler wrote about how he and other US intelligence officials had spotted early on that the Iraqi source Curveball was a serial fabricator whose claims about mobile biological weapons labs should not be believed. Yet Curveball’s claims remained in the inventory of malarkey from unreliable Iraqis that Bush administration officials exploited, with his bogus info being inserted into Colin Powell’s disastrous speech at the UN. As Greg Miller’s excellent Washington Post obit on Drumheller reports, Tyler was flabbergasted when he heard Powell’s speech, and bravely tangled in print and on “60 Minutes” with the CIA Director George Tenet about Curveball. It was a distinct pleasure for Tyler when I suggested to him that we use the agency photo of the two of them for the back cover photo that you see below.

I worked on Tyler’s book amid an amazing, energized period of six years during which I also acquired, edited, and published Susan McDougal’s The Woman Who Wouldn’t Talk: Why I Wouldn’t Testify Against the Clintons and What I Learned in Jail (Carroll & Graf, 2001), which sort of stamped ‘paid-back’ to the Whitewater years, and Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s blockbuster book The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity, (Carroll & Graf, 2004) a story that was in the news for months, bridging Bush’s first and second terms. Following Tyler’s book—a true insider’s account that showed definitively how determined the Bushies had been to find and cultivate intelligence that would give them a pretext for invading Iraq—with journalist Murray Waas I brought out The United States v. I. Lewis Libby (Union Square Press, 2007), a compendium of public documents that featured the transcript from the trial that saw Scooter Libby, Chief of Staff to VP Cheney, prosecuted for obstructing justice in the circumstances surrounding the release of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status. I’ve written more here about these books and the years when rogue prosecutors, the Bush administration, and determined adversaries were targeting authors with whom I worked.

I’m thinking of Tyler today, who less than ten years ago was devoting his reluctant retirement from the CIA to exposing how the agency had been used and abused by Bush administration officials to justify the tragic invasion of Iraq. I’m so relieved that a decade later President Obama is in charge of our foreign policy, determined to use diplomacy to make peace with adversaries.

New Rizzoli Bookstore Opens for One Night to Media—Public Opening July 27

As I wrote on this blog last week, I’m now working at the soon-to-reopen at Rizzoli Bookstore’s new store in the NoMad neighborhood of Manhattan. Last night we held a reception for media and book publishing professionals in our handsome, still-under-construction new digs. There was a ribbon cutting with the Manhattan Borough President and celebrity toasts (pictures below). It was a thrill to meet many people to the space and say, “Welcome to Rizzoli’s new bookstore!” I was tickled to bump in to an old friend, Ralph Gardner, Jr., who I knew in NY back in the ’90s, and whose Wall St. Journal article on Rizzoli’s exciting plans, published almost a year ago, I linked to in my post last week. We’ll begin welcoming customers with a soft opening next Monday, July 27. The new store is at 1133 Broadway, near 26th St. This will be a very exciting week.

This photo I took during last night’s party shows gorgeous murals of the Italian artist Fornasetti above the expanse of our literature section.
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Click here for more of my iPhone shots from last night.

Happy to be Back in Bookselling with the New Rizzoli Bookstore

To longtime readers of this blog, and many, many friends in the book business, I’m excited to announce a new venture I’m going to be part of. I’ll be working as a bookseller in the soon-to-be-reopening Rizzoli Bookstore here in New York City. You may recall that last year Rizzoli lost its prior location on W. 57th St when their lease there ended. They’ve found a fabulous new location in the St. James, a landmark building on Broadway between 25th St and 26th St in the booming Manhattan neighborhood of NoMad (north of Madison Park). The Wall St Journal’s Ralph Gardner wrote about Rizzoli’s plans in a story here. Earlier this month, Rizzoli sent out this fact sheet. Decorated handsomely with elegant fixtures in a museum-like setting, the new 5,000 square foot store will offer a stellar inventory of illustrated books in art, photography, architecture, interior design, fashion, film, theater, dance, music, and cooking, along with current releases and classics in fiction and nonfiction, and childrens books. The selection of titles will be fabulous.

The store will have a soft opening, apt for our sultry summer weather, starting July 27. While I’m already spending lots of my time there to help get the store opened and underway, and will continue working many hours in the early weeks once it opens, my longterm schedule will nonetheless permit me to continue operating Philip Turner Book Productions, my editorial service and publishing consultancy, and in fact have completed work on two manuscripts for author clients this month.

I am really excited with this opportunity to be back working on the floor of a well-stocked bookstore, which brings my career full circle. It all began for me with Undercover Books, the three-store indie chain I ran with my family in Cleveland, a business I worked in from 1978 until 1985, when I came to NYC and began working in publishing. I worked for big publishing houses from 1986 until 2009, when I began my consultancy. Now, thirty years after leaving Undercover Books, I’m back as a bookseller. I look forward to seeing NY friends and visitors to the city in the new Rizzoli Bookstore, at 1133 Broadway.

Inspired Readings by the 2014 NBCC Award Finalists

NBCC AudienceFrom the opening night of the National Book Critics Circle‘s annual two-night literary extravaganza, here are pictures I took of some of the finalists who read excerpts from their nominated books. They gave inspired renderings of their work. The awards will be given tonight, in six categories—Poetry, Criticism, Biography, Autobiography, Nonfiction, Fiction—at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium on W. 11th Street at 6pm, free admission. I hope to sit even closer to the stage tonight, for the best possible pictures.

PEN’s Annual Meeting a Reminder of the Organization’s Mission

PEN’s annual meeting last night was the third or fourth such gathering I’ve attended, and it was enriched by the fact that a programmatic element was included in the event, a panel on a recent PEN visit to China, when the delegation met with Ai Weiwei, among other artists and writers. While in other years the meeting was mostly minutes and committee reports, last night’s reminded us of PEN’s mission as an advocate of free expression. Quoting Aung San Suu Kyi from her years as a political prisoner in Myanmar, incoming PEN president Andrew Solomon reminded us of PEN’s mission: “Please use your liberty to defend ours.”

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 had for long been worried about the disease’s potential to infect American troops serving in far-flung locales. There was a move 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 they’ve now brought it out now 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 still 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, while preventing the book from being published as soon as it might have, 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. [I did correspond with Ms Masterson and she was interested to learn about Dr Epstein and his book.]

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.”

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, philipsturner.com, 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