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17

The POT THIEF Mystery Series–Licensed to Open Road Integrated Media

I’m happy to announce that as literary agent for author J. Michael Orenduff, in conjunction with the Silver Bitela Agency, my company Philip Turner Book Productions recently licensed the six-book POT THIEF mystery series to Open Road Integrated Media, a major player in digital publishing. The books, previously self-published by Mr. Orenduff, are The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein, The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier, The Pot Thief Who Studied D. H. Lawrence, and The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid. They will all be published by Open Road in print and digital editions beginning in 2014.

As a devoted mystery reader myself, I adore the POT THIEF books and have earlier written about them here. They are set in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico, featuring dealer in Native America pottery Hubie Schutz and his sidekick in sleuthing, wise-cracking Susannah Inchaustigui, a descendant of one of the region’s old-line Basque ranching families. They meet most afternoons at Hermanas Tortilleria, to sip margaritas and discuss their latest puzzler. After years running Undercover Books, a bookstore where I sold lots of mysteries, and as an editor publishing mysteries, I know the mystery market well and am particularly excited that the many readers of Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn mysteries, also set in the American Southwest, will now also be able to discover the POT THIEF books. In their earlier editions, the POT THIEF books won numerous awards and raves from mystery readers, including this one from Anne Hillerman, the late mystery master’s daughter: “I inhaled this book. Witty, well-crafted and filled with unexpected plot turns, The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid will delight J. Michael Orenduff’s many fans—and win him new ones.”

If you haven’t yet heard of Open Road, I suggest you visit their website. They have more than 3000 active titles, including five books by my longtime author Ruth Gruber, as well as titles by dozens of important authors such as William Styron, Rachel Carson, Andre Dubus, and Mary Glickman, always in digital editions, and sometimes in print editions, too. They’ve been operating for three years, innovating and growing along with the emerging ebook market. The company was recently profiled in an excellent piece via this link at paidcontent.org. 

I’m delighted for my author J. Michael Orenduff and also very pleased to be working with Ed Silver and Babz Bitela of the Silver Bitela Agency, who are representing the POT THIEF brand for film and TV rights. In fact, they are already sharing with producers an excellent screenplay based on the series, written by previously credited screenwriter, Robert C. Powers.  Announcements of the deal I made with Open Road have appeared in Publishers Weekly and in PublishersMarketplace.com, both of which mention the Silver Bitela Agency (these may only be available by subscription so I’ve made screenshots of both to be sure they can be read by GGB readers). Happy I could share this great news the same week as Book Expo America (BEA), the book industry’s annual convention, taking place at NYC’s Javits Center May 30-June 1. Please click here to see deal coverage from the two book industry outlets.

18

Remembering Edward Robb Ellis, Feb. 22, 1911-Labor Day, 1998

[Editor’s Note, Feb. 22, 2013: The post below is a revised version of a piece I published on Feb. 22, 2012, the last anniversary of Edward Robb Ellis’s birthday.]

Book business friends who’ve known me for some years may recall that I’ve been extremely fortunate in working with remarkable authors of advanced age. There’s the distinguished photojournalist Ruth Gruber, who turned 102 on her last birthday, with whom I’ve had the privilege of publishing six books over the past decade and a half, including Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman–a republication of Ruth’s 1931 seminal thesis on Woolf, the first feminist reading of the author, written before she’d become an international icon–and Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation and Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent. Ruth’s still going strong, with a bio-documentary out on her, also called “Ahead of Time.”

Another author I began working with who was then in their eighties was Edward Robb Ellis, who like Ruth Gruber, was born in 1911. In 1985, Ellis was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific diarist in the history of American letters. By the time I met Eddie in the early 90s he had already published tremendously readable narrative histories, A Nation in Torment: The Great American Depression, 1929-39; Echoes of Distant Thunder: Life in the United States, 1914-1918; and one his adopted hometown, The Epic of New York City**. In 1995 I published his magnum opus, A Diary of the Century: Tales from American’s Greatest Diarist, with an Introduction by Pete Hamill, based on the diary Eddie began keeping in 1927 at age sixteen, which he kept faithfully until the year of his death seventy-one years later. This is part of the flap copy I wrote for a 2008 reissue of the book:

Press credentials granted the eagle-eyed Ellis a front-row seat to many major events of the twentieth century, and he captures them with candor and verve, in a vivid pictorial style–whether covering politicians like Huey Long, move stars and performers such as Grace Kelly and Paul Robeson, or history-making news events, including the creation of of the United Nations. He recounts his encounter with the legendarily witty Mae West–whose press agent turns out to be feeding lines to her. He chronicles a new Orleans jazz joint where he interviews a talented young trumpeter named Louis Armstrong. He writes of taking long strolls with Harry Truman, and of observing Senator Joseph McCarthy for the first time (“His mouth is thin and long, like a knife-gash in a melon.”).
Born in Kewanee, Illinois (“Hog Capitol of the World”), Ellis moved to New York City in 1947, and lovingly documents the city’s cosmopolitanism and post-war ebullience. The sparkle in Ellis’s writing comes not solely from his meetings with the rich and famous, but from his attentiveness to, and enjoyment of, everyday life. In Ellis’s own words, this is “not a record of world deeds, mighty achievements, conquests” but “the drama of the unfolding life of one individual, day after day after day.”

When I published the book with Eddie on Labor Day in 1995, we scored a rare kind of hat trick, booking interviews on all three network morning shows. Matt Lauer interviewed him on the TODAY Show, Cokie Roberts on “Good Morning America,” and Harry Smith on CBS’s “Early Show.” It was clear that Eddie’s status as a reporter from journalism’s golden age–or at least what morning show hosts and producers believed had been a golden age–had endeared him to them. I have videos of those appearances, but unfortunately haven’t transferred them to the Web and they are not on youtube. Picture Eddie wearing a red neckerchief with a khaki safari jacket and looking very dashing on TV.

In the 2008 reissue of A Diary of the Century I included an Editor’s Note explaining that at even 200,000 words and more than 600 pages, the book had constituted less than 1% of the entire Ellis Diary. A reference book aficionado, Eddie was fond of saying that his whole diary clocked in at more than 20,000,000 words, or roughly half the length of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. My Note explained that in his later years Eddie arranged for the Ellis Diary to find

“a permanent home with the Fales Library of New York University. Indeed, even before the last day of his life–which arrived on Labor Day 1998, so fitting for a man who always called himself a ‘working stiff’–more than five dozen oversize bound volumes, were hauled from his Chelsea apartment to the Greenwich Village campus of NYU. . . . It was my privilege to read into those bound volumes of the Ellis Diary, and I promise the reader that I found no dross there. With this revival, on behalf of Eddie’s literary executor Peter Skinner and literary representative Rita Rosenkranz, I take this opportunity to state that it is our intention to revive interest in A Diary of the Century, and then go on to create new books drawn from the Ellis Diary.”

With the possibilities afforded by the Internet clearer than ever, the above goal remains high among my personal priorities. Though Eddie was suspicious of new technology, and the World Wide Web was still new when he died, A Diary of the Century, with every entry  bearing the date he wrote it, will lend itself beautifully to blogging someday; in fact, it’d be fair to say that Eddie was a kind of proto-blogger before the term was known. In addition to this recollection of Eddie, I have posted a selection of readings from his diary, and here’s a link to a recent story I wrote about Eddie’s work with Letts of London, the diary publisher who’ve been selling blank journals since 1796.

** After publishing A Diary of the Century in 1995 I also republished the three backlist books by Ellis named above. The Epic of New York City has had more than ten printings since then.

 

19

On the Imperative of Publishing Whistleblowers

Neal Maillet, editorial director of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, has published a good opinion piece in Publishing Perspectives on what he sees as the imperative of publishing books by whistleblowers, and the dynamics that prevail when working with these authors and their books. In 2004 Berrett-Koehler published the breakthrough book on vulture capitalism, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, a mega-hit by John Perkins that was licensed to Plume for trade paperback for whom it was also a bestseller. More recently, he writes that B-K has published Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic, on the little-known darker side of what we like to think of as progressive measures to facilitate economic progress in the developing world.

For my part, when I describe the imperatives and mandates that impel my personal publishing choices I have long placed “whistleblowers, truthtellers, muckrakers, and revisionist historians” highest on my list, and refer to this on the two business-oriented pages at the top of this website, Philip Turner Book Productions and Philip Turner. Quoting from the latter page, I’ve written “As an editor and publisher I have always felt impelled to publish books by and about singular witnesses–whistleblowers, truthellers, muckrakers, revisionist historians–people who’ve passed through some crucible of experience that’s left them with elevated author-ity, and the only person who could write the book in question, or about whom it could be written. Whether told in the first person by an author who has passed through some crucible of experience that leaves him or her uniquely qualified to tell the tale or in the third person by a reporter or scholar who has pursued a story or historical episode with single-minded passion, I am devoted to publishing imperative nonfiction, books that really matter in people’s lives.”

My definition of an imperative book is not limited to books by corporate and government whistleblowers, though it certainly includes them. The list of relevant books I’ve acquired and/or published over the past decade and a half includes these ten titles:

1) DEAD RUN: The Shocking Story of Dennis Stockton and Life on Death Row in America (1999), a nonfiction narrative by reporters Joe Jackson and Bill Burke with an Introduction by William Styron, chronicling an innocent man on Death Row in Virginia and the only mass escape from Death Row in U.S. history. The condemned convict, Dennis Stockton, wasn’t among the escapees, but he kept a whistleblowing diary detailing corruption in the penitentiary that he later with the reporters;
2) IBM & THE HOLOCAUST: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation (2001), an investigative tour de force by Edwin Black showing how one of the world’s most successful technology companies lent its technology to the Third Reich’s killing machinery;
3) THE WOMAN WHO WOULDN’T TALK: Why I Refused to Testify Against the Clintons and What I Learned in Jail (2002) by Susan MacDougal, a New York Times bestseller. Susan served 18 months in jail for civil contempt when she wouldn’t give Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr the testimony he wanted from her.

4) THE POLITICS OF TRUTH: Inside the Lies that Put the White House on Trial and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity (2004) by Ambassador Joseph Wilson, which later became the basis in part for the film, “Fair Game,” a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller;
5) AHMAD’S WAR, AHMAD’S PEACE: Surviving Under Saddam, Dying in the New Iraq (2005) by Michael Goldfarb. A longtime NPR correspondent, this is Goldfarb’s tribute to Kurd Ahmad Shawkat, his translator during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, who started a newspaper in the months after Saddam’s fall, only to be assassinated for his editorials critical of intolerance. A New York Times Notable Book.

To the books by these authors, I would also add my writers, the late Edward Robb Ellis, the most prolific diarist in the history of American letters, and 100-year oldRuth Gruber, award-winning photojournalist–each of them singular eyewitnesses to history. Over the years I have published four and six books by them, respectively.

Among my professional roles nowadays is that of independent editor and consultant to authors on book development in which I continue seeking out unique individuals with stories like these to tell. That’s also why I enjoy working with Speakerfile, the company that connects conference organizers with authors who do public speaking. Thanks to Neal Maillett and Berrett-Koehler Publishers for reminding me and all readers of the vital role publishers play in helping us hear the voices of whistleblowers and truthtellers. H/t to Mike Shatzkin for alerting me to Mr. Maillett’s article. Also, thanks to the Open Democracy Action Center (ODAC) for use of their whistleblower graphic.

Please click through to the complete post to read about the last five books from the above list and see many of the book jackets.

20

The Recorded Voice of Virginia Woolf, 1937

This is an amazing audio recording of Virginia Woolf, as heard on the BBC in 1937, with her speaking about the properties and subtleties of the English language. Thanks are owed to whoever put the pictorial slides together. This was recorded two years after she and Ruth Gruber met in London; Ruth had earlier written her doctoral dissertation on Woolf, the first feminist interpretation of her work, with an essay called “Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman.” I wrote about their relationship in April, with a blog essay called Virginia Woolf and Ruth Gruber, Driven to Create as Women. H/t to Suzanne Marie Queen-komerous for sharing the audio on Facebook.

21

Suzzy Roche’s Sensitive Reading of Edith Wharton

Kyle and I took the bus to Bryant Park yesterday to hear singer, musician and novelist Suzzy Roche* lead a discussion of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth in the Park’s long-running Reading Room series. We arrived just in time to corral two chairs near the front of the outdoor space and settled in as Suzzy was tuning her guitar for what would later be an original song to close the program. Suzzy began by sharing some notes and interesting facts she had learned about Wharton.

She said that 2012 marks the 150th year since Wharton’s birth in to a wealthy family in New York City. The family name was Jones, and some believe their conspicuous upper-class status may be the origin of the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.” Early on, Edith’s mother forbade her from reading novels, lest her daughter’s intellect expand in ways that would make it harder to ensure a proper marriage for her. Suzzy reminded everyone how fitting it was to be in Bryant Park with a view of the main branch of the New York Public Library, since the novel we were discussing includes a scene set in the lovely park. From her youthful days, Wharton exhibited a high degree of sensitivity, and Suzzy read a quote she found in Wharton’s autobiography: “The owning of my first dog woke in me the long ache of pity for animals and for all inarticulate beings which nothing has ever stilled.”

Wharton’s first full-length piece of fiction, a novella finished at age 18, was accompanied by several passages of self-criticism where she assessed what she judged to be the weaknesses of her own work. Suzzy quoted this early comment of Wharton’s on the subject of criticism: “After all, one knows one’s weak points so well it’s rather bewildering to have the critics overlook them and invent others.”

With these details of Wharton’s life in our minds, Suzzy turned the discussion to the novel itself. After reviewing contemporary critical reaction to the book, which often emphasized Wharton’s gender, she asked “Does this book have something to say to us right now about the place of women and money in society? She pointed out that just this year, Jonathan Franzen ignited a controversy when he wrote in the New Yorker about “Edith Wharton’s looks.” Suzzy continued that Franzen wrote “it was hard for him to warm to her novels because she had every advantage of wealth and privilege and was extremely socially conservative. But, he said, ‘she did have one potentially redeeming disadvantage: she wasn’t pretty.’  On the surface, there would seem to be no reason for a reader to sympathize with Lilly; she’s profoundly self-involved and incapable of true charity.  She pridefully contrasts other women’s looks with her own. She has no intellectual life to speak of. She’s put off from pursuing her one kindred spirit because of the modesty of his income. She’s basically the worst sort of party girl, and like Wharton, she didn’t even try to be charming.” There was a gasp among the Bryant Park crowd as Suzzy read the remarks of the award-winning novelist, which whether said about Wharton or Lily Bart, struck many of us as chauvinistic. Please click through for rest of post and all photos

22

About Philip Turner–Professional Background

Finding a Foothold in New York City This page picks up where Philip Turner–Personal History ended, a web page complimentary to this one: In September 1984, around the time of my thirtieth birthday, I decided to leave the family bookstore business, Undercover Books, and move to New York City. Though eager to embark on this change, I […]

23

About Philip Turner Book Productions

I have been in the book business as a bookseller, editor, publisher, author consultant, and literary agent for nearly forty years. Under the rubric of Philip Turner Book Productions LLC, I offer a diverse menu of editorial, publishing, and consulting services to authors, agents, publishers, and related tech and media companies. Full manuscript editing fees are […]

24

Seminal Online Community, The Well, Lives On

In 2001 when I was an editorial executive with Carroll & Graf Publishers I edited and published an excellent book by journalist Katie Hafner, The Well: A Story of Love, Death & Real Life in the Seminal Online Community, a narrative and oral history, which included verbatim posts and original group discussions on the early online platform and other exchanges written by founding members of the first online community. It is  an exciting reading experience because it combines all those different kinds of material, making it a very modern sort of epistolary work, one of my favorite narrative forms. That holds true for me, whether in fiction, where it’s seen in exceptional novels such as Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary, or in nonfiction, which often means diary books, like the epic A Diary of the Century, which I edited and published with Edward Robb Ellis (Kodansha America, 1995), the most prolific diarist in the history of American letters.

Subject-wise, reading Katie’s book is like observing the birth of the Internet, an ur-moment, one which even involves the beginnings of social media, before the latter was a glimmer in anyone’s eye. The manuscript grew out of a cover story on The Well that Katie had done for the Wired magazine issue of May 1997. I’d bought the print magazine off a newsstand when I saw the intriguing tag line—what was this “seminal online community”? I still have my copy of the magazine. I hung on to it, and three years later, when I was leaving Kodansha America and starting a new job with Times Books at Random House, I looked Katie up, invited her to tea, and asked if she’d like to do The Well story as a book. I recall that Katie expanded the 40,000 word article a bit, I then edited that updated manuscript and we published the book a year later. It was one of the books I really relished being involved with.

I’ve read tonight in a NY Times story that Salon.com, which had acquired The Well in the late 90s, has now sold The Well to an investment group made up some of its current members.

Among The Well’s founding members were such countercultural stalwarts as Stewart Brand, Howard Rheingold, John Perry Barlow, Larry Brilliant, Gail Williams, and a host of comparatively unsung but pivotal Internet pioneers. These people are all characters in Katie Hafner’s sleek and moving book.  I admire The Well’s legacy and hope its new owner-members will make something special of it once again.

2013 update: Katie Hafner has a newer book, as well, a family memoir titled Mother Daughter Me. I really liked it and wrote about it on this blog.