Colin Harrison has been named VP, Editor-in-Chief at Simon and Schuster imprint Scribner, Publishers Weekly reports. He rose to the post after 11 years as a VP, Senior Editor at Scribner. In addition to acquiring acclaimed titles like Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead and Pulitzer Prize finalist Empire of the Summer Moon by Sam Gwynne in his capacity as a book editor, Harrison has authored multiple novels including Bodies Electric, The Havana Room, and Manhattan Nocturne. Harrison graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in ’86, during which time he met his wife, the author Kathryn Harrison. It’s always inspiring to see how working writers make a living that makes sense for their art.
UPDATE: Barnes and Noble has reportedly reduced orders for some titles “by as much as 90%” according to an agent quoted in the Wall Street Journal. Click here to learn more about the terms of the dispute and what’s at stake for both.
Publishers Weekly is reporting Barnes and Noble has “significantly reduced its orders from S&S, allegedly because the bookseller feels the publisher is not adequately supporting them. In a statement, a Barnes and Noble spokesperson said, “As the nation’s largest physical bookseller, Barnes [and] Noble supports publishers who support our bookstores.”
Barnes and Noble has been vigilant about protecting its place in the publishing industry food chain in the wake of challenges from Amazon. They refused to carry print books published by Amazon, forcing the nation’s largest e-tailer to focus their print business in Europe.
The reduction in orders seems to be a warning as Barnes and Noble continues to carry Simon and Schuster books. That said, with Barnes and Noble projected to close 15 stores by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, and another 450-plus over the next 10 years, it seems Simon and Schuster won’t be the only publisher dealing with reduced orders.
Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies topped multiple Best of 2012 book lists; and it’s been racking up literary awards too, the latest being the £30,000 Costa Book Award. “We couldn’t allow the number of times it has already been lauded to affect our decision, it was quite simply the best book,” the Costa judges reportedly said in a statement.
A recent rash of articles have come out about writers on writing. (Or maybe it just feels that way since a large swath of my Facebook friends are writers.) Karen Bender’s “The Accidental Writer” was popular on my Facebook news feed as I and my writer friends picked out the author’s lovely expression of why it is we write, and why it’s important:
Giving shape to a painful experience is powerful because it helps us to see first, how we got through it; second, how we can share it. The experience doesn’t stay trapped within us, unspoken, curdling — instead, the art of arranging and transforming it reduces the burden. It no longer belongs to only you. The process of assigning the experience a beginning, a middle and an end, of giving it form, is a way of mastering it. Each sentence contains the chaos — our experience becomes what we perceive. And the honesty in these perceptions, whether true or invented, creates a bridge to another person.
Yesterday, David L. Ulin at the Los Angeles Times also examined the why, pulling quotes on the topic from a short list of contemporary bestselling writers including Jennifer Egan (“Exercising is a good analogy for writing…If you’re not used to exercising you want to avoid it forever. If you’re used to it, it feels uncomfortable and strange not to.”) and James Frey (“I’m really not qualified to do anything else.”)
But a recent quote resonated with me most, from a New York Times book review by Kevin Baker: “We paint from life, not because we are so small but because God is so great.”
Why do you write?
“In 10 years we’ll have 450 to 500 stores,” said Barnes & Noble’s retail group chief executive Mitchelle Klipper, according to a Wall Street Journal report. This, after their announcement last year that they would close 15 stores by the fiscal year end and more bad news at the beginning of 2013 that the traditionally banner holiday season was a slow one for the 140 year old bookseller.
I continue to hold out hope Barnes and Noble can survive this protracted bloodletting.
As I wrote in “What Will the World Look Like Without Barnes and Noble?“: If the 140 year old bookseller can figure out how to bring people — readers and writers of all persuasions — together for truly meaningful exchange (not just a glimpse of a celebrity author at a shuffle-and-sign), but true engagement around the issues examined in all the books on the shelves, I think Barnes & Noble will be here for many more years to come.
Do you think Barnes and Noble will survive?
Literary venues for reviews, author interviews, and critique continue to dry up. Toronto-based Now reports Globe and Mail has slashed its book section: “After drastically cutting back its books section last summer, the Globe and Mail is making yet more changes in the literature department. Editor Martin Levin and assistant editor Jack Kirchhoff will no longer serve in their posts, leaving the national newspaper without a literary editor.” Levin told Now, “It’s all about celebrity now and being the first one to come out with a review, as if the first review is definitive…But a book review should be only an opening salvo, the beginning of a conversation.”
Dr. Mary Asabea Ashun‘s bio is as inspirational and impressive a read as her new book Tuesday’s Child promises to be. The Biochemistry Ph.D has written multiple books across a myriad of genres including children’s/YA, inspirational advice, and romance. Somewhere in between writing, raising three boys, and her duties as a professor at Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario, the good doctor finds the time to lead global learning initiatives promoting cultural exposure for students and teachers. Oh, and she’s at the helm of a school project in Ghana which provides literacy classes to women in the village of Asamankese.
Set in Ghana, Ashun clarifies Tuesday’s Child is “not about living in Africa and suffering any devastating disease or marriage — it’s about finding yourself,” she says. “I just happened to do it in Africa.”
Tell us about the process of writing Tuesday’s Child.
I was approaching 40 and, for the first time, experiencing depression in a way I’d never felt before. One of the reasons why it was so hard to understand was because I had ‘everything’ — happily married, had a job, my kids weren’t driving me too crazy, and no one close had died, morbid as that sounds. I thought I didn’t like my job (teaching hormone-riddled high school kids), and thought I needed to change jobs.
On a trip to visit my parents in Ghana, it hit me that I’d never visited my Grandma’s grave; I’d been away in England studying when she died. Mum suggested we go together. I was chicken for a few days, and then I finally went. The night before was restless, as I tried to remember her and everything she’d meant to me.
That evening after the visit, I woke up in a sort of panic attack, grabbed my Mac and started writing…and crying…and writing. I finished the first draft in a month…200 pages.
In general, what is your process for starting a new project?
I do use detailed outlines, but I allow myself to wander also. Tuesday’s Child was the only thing I’ve written without an outline. This is probably because it was so personal, and I was afraid I’d lose some of the authenticity if I boxed it in with outlines. After it came in as quarterfinalist [for] the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, I sent it off to an agent and once we got working on it; I began to see the need for structure…but not too much.
Does the blank page/screen titillate or terrify you?
It depends. I always go to the blank page to start something that has had some time to foment so I think it’s more of a titillant (hey, I made a new word!).
How did/do you stay motivated past the euphoria of getting those first words on the page/screen?
Competitions! I look for places to send my work to, and those deadlines make me move my lazy bones towards the goal. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is my favorite since it’s free and pretty competitive. It tells me I’ve got something good in there when I make it to the quarterfinals stage.
Who is your intended reader?
With Tuesday’s Child, I didn’t even think once about it. After the Amazon success…I realized that selling it as an African story was doing it a disservice.
Non-African readers are sadly notorious for wanting the poverty-ridden stories and I don’t do that without contextual reason. For Africans who read it, it’s a re-connection. I had to find a reader who would identify with both of these and that’s when I started asking myself what my story was really about.
It’s not about living in Africa and suffering any devastating disease or marriage — it’s about finding yourself…I just happened to do it in Africa. My reader is therefore anyone who has had that experience in Africa or elsewhere, or is looking for a reason to make that journey to self.
Editors come in all forms. Blessed family, friends, and fellow writers who agree to read the first draft(s) of your new work; suffering through self-indulgent stream of consciousness, poorly developed characters, and questionable plot tangents so you can get your work ready for a professional editor, for example. Or the crew Quentin Tarantino thanked in his Django Unchained Golden Globes acceptance speech who endure read-alouds by the screenwriter/director without permission to offer feedback. “When I read it to you, I hear it through your ears, and it let’s me know I’m on the right track,” Tarantino said.
Indeed, one of the hardest things to come by as a writer is a dedicated reader/sounding board for your work when it’s in the rough and raw stage. Someone or a group of someones whose opinion you trust, who won’t be afraid to hurt your feelings or smash your altars. A good writing group helps, but sometimes when you’re in creative flow aka selfish writer mode, a quid pro quo reading exchange can take you out of your head when you need to be there most.
I know I could not have gotten my book in a ready state without the help of my early reader-editors (my sister, and writers K.C. Washington and Kseniya Melnik). I remember tearing up when I got the copy edits back from Simon and Schuster, so grateful for the meticulous attention to detail that forced me to go back and tighten up. And I will never forget the day the editor who acquired my book (Malaika Adero) gave me a hug. After years of rejection by agents, I was terrified she would rescind her offer, realize I wasn’t worthy; so when I saw Malaika at an event, I extended my hand. She moved past it and pulled me in for a gentle hug. That meant everything to me. Then and now. I have the same love for the many editors who make me better in the journalistic and copy writing work I do.
When it comes to professional editors, their role couldn’t be more important. In this digital age where feeding the beast and getting there first trumps carefully considered and constructed copy, an editor who makes you take the time to get your work truly ready is a gem of priceless value.
Yesterday, two articles came out extolling editors, and the connection — a cross between connubial, parental, and comradely — the good ones have with their writers. In the Wall Street Journal, author Janice Steinberg admitted, “I sometimes fall in love with a phrase as language, even if it fudges the truth. I wasn’t allowed to get away with that.” Her editor Kendra Harpster gave her 18 (single-spaced) pages of feedback, along with two years to further develop and refine her idea.
Baltimore Sun copy editor John E. McIntyre explained the writer-editor dance like this:
[E]ven in an operation like a newspaper, where a handful of remaining editors deals with scores of reporters, where a reporter after finishing one article must hurry on to the next, and where the copy editor may handle the work of a couple of dozen writers in a day’s shift, a degree of intimacy remains.
If no man is a hero to his valet, no writer escapes the eye of her editor. We on the desk see the rough product. We know, and applaud, the writers with an eye for the apt metaphor, the skill to select and present the telling detail, the clear and succinct voice. We also see the writers who are careless or sloppy with factual details, who produce slack and rambling prose, who can no more resist a cliche than a drunk can stay away from the bar.
We know their strengths, we know their weaknesses, and they have few secrets from us, at least in their writing.
That means that we have to develop the tact that marks a good marriage or a close friendship, the trust that enables us to speak the painful truth about the work to the writer. It is the kind of intimacy that enabled Ezra Pound to be blunt with T.S. Eliot as he excised whole chunks of The Waste Land.
McIntyre adds, “your editor should be like the friend who advises you that you have toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe, just before you walk up to the dais to receive your award. Better to suffer a moment of private discomfort than endure public embarrassment.”
Today 10 writers have made it to the shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize which will award the recipient £60,000 (that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $90,000). The winner will be announced in May.
The full list is below:
Aharon Appelfeld (Israel)
Appelfield survived and escaped a concentration camp as a boy, and has gone on to write multiple novels, many of which have been translated for Danish, Dutch, English, and Italian readers. Jewish Virtual Library breaks down Appelfield’s translated titles.
Intizar Husain (Pakistan)
Husain — a journalist, short-story writer, and novelist — writes about Pakistan past and present, weaving Islam’s influence into his stories. The New York Review of Books has a bit more to say about Husain’s work.
Marilynne Robinson (USA)
The bestselling novelist teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.