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Blog Archive April 2006

How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, And got yanked from bookstores

The publishers of “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life” have recalled it like a car manufacturer recalling an SUV after finally admitting it might have a combination of badly designed and dangerous brakes, airbags, steering and stereo system.

The New York Times reports:
“’Little, Brown today sent a notice to retail and wholesale accounts asking them to stop selling copies of the book and to return unsold inventory to the publisher for full credit,’ said Michael Pietsch, senior vice president and publisher of Little, Brown.”

The fall out is all over the place, including amazon.com:

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Good Job embarrassing the Asian Indian Community, April 27, 2006
Reviewer: Rashmi Arora "Rashmi" (Cherry Hill, N.J.) - See all my reviews

Thanks to you - we have another thing to be embarrassed about now. I am one of the many desis who is from a middle class family. My parents don't have the kind of money your parents do and I went to an average state college but I still have MORE CREDIBILITY THAN YOU!! I worked my way through college and did internships at investment firms and now hold a Senior position at a major brokerage. Being an Indian woman myself I am so ashamed at what you did, despite the financial and academic resources that you had access to, you are a CHEAT! Also just to let you know - I did read that you wanted to work on wall street after graduation. My employer along with any other brokerage house VALUES AND EXPECTS - HONESTY AND INTEGRITY more than anything else and you don't have either of those qualities. GOOD JOB YOU CHEAT!

Posted: 4/28/2006 2:51:05 AM 

 

“How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life…and got sued for theft.”

The New York Times reports that the lawyers will be making recommendations about how to proceed with this copyright infringement case. This is what happens. You steal some text and before you know it, your main audience is in-house lawyers working for the publisher. The law firms they keep on retainer to advice the in-house lawyers are another layer yet to be fully reported. No one would ever read the book with a yellow marker and notepad in hand, except of course, an author looking for stuff to put in their own book. This is an expensive way to get publicity and to pump up sales.

This story will roll out a reality show like cast of characters; the legal equivalent of Pit Bulls, circling showing fangs and claws. Here’s the likely lineup: Random House’s lawyers, Little Brown’s lawyers, the author’s lawyers, the packagers’ lawyers, and, did I tell you the film rights were sold to the book? Hollywood producer have platoons of lawyers on retainer. It takes the crash of a commercial flight to bring in more lawyers than will be feeding off this case.

The New York Times said,

“…in a statement issued today, Steve Ross, Crown's publisher, said that, ‘based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.’

“He said that there were more than 40 passages in Ms. Viswanathan's book ‘that contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure from Megan McCafferty's first two books.’"

Forty and counting.

Posted: 4/27/2006 3:43:46 AM 

 

Copying other people’s books or How to make an easy Half a Million

For many years it seems most people understand that when one writer copies another writers work that is called plagiarism. Nowadays all kinds of wrongful conduct gets a spin. You can spin so far that even plagiarism no longer has any meaning.

A 19-year old Harvard author named Kaavya Viswanathan wrote a book titled ''How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" in her spare time. Little Brown gave her a two-book, $500,000 deal. She was 17 at the time. It seems no one wants to call this theft by its rightful name. Then someone noticed that Kaavya Viswanathan had lifted about 24 passages from Megan McCafferty’s books, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings

The author says she wasn’t conscious of copying.

People are asking some very silly questions.

Should this end her career as a writer?
Should she be kicked out of Harvard?
Did she intend to copy 24 passages from another author’s books?

Then there are the lame apologies from the book packager Lizzie Skurnick who lurked in the background of the deal, and who said in an interview:

"There are just reams and reams of stuff that's written... It's unavoidable that certain phrases will be recycled or said in a certain way... Often what you'll find is that, it's not that anyone is copying, it's just that [these phrases] are the first things a mediocre writer would reach for."

The book packager is also co-copyright holder of ''How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" just in case you want to know that in the book industry some books, like sausages get made in a messy way.

And at Galley Cat and elsewhere on literary blogs, there are other reports from those rushing to the defense of the author, saying she is of a tender age. Teenagers are expected to take and forget that they’ve taken something that doesn’t belong to them. And teenagers haven’t yet found their voice.

Yeah, tell that to a black 17 year old in New York or LA who is caught with 24 items in his bag that he didn’t pay for by the security guard. Let him say he wasn’t conscious of what he was doing and he hadn’t yet found his voice. Tell that to the cop who arrest this 17 year old and hauls him off to jail. Tell it to the judge. Then tell it to the prison warden. He will get the full Monty for his taking. This case shows that America’s double standard legal system is alive and well. If you are a student at Harvard and get caught stealing, then you are given a free pass because you are still kid and not responsible for your actions. If you live in a project and are a high school drop out, expect to go to jail.

Posted: 4/26/2006 3:57:34 AM 

 

A writer should never ask a bartender what he does for a living

Thanks to my friend John Murphy for passing along the LA Weekly article about the bartender who served Bukowski.

“Bukowski, oh yeah. I talked to him a lot, he was a wild man,” offers the bartender. “A lot of people, they used to think he was broke, but I never seen him broke. He always got money. Once he came with two girls and he asked me, ‘What do you think I do for a living?’ I said, ‘Well, you’re ugly, you’re always drunk, you’re always with the beautiful girls and you have a lot of money. You must be a pimp.’ Oh, he got upset!”

Posted: 4/26/2006 3:28:04 AM 

 

Rolling the dice and figuring the odds

Writing Gambling on Magic, I learned a great deal about the world of gambling. Enough to stay away from it. There is an interesting article In Psychology Today about our innate urge to take risk, and here’s an excerpt:

“For most of human prehistory, living through the night was not a given. For this reason, goes the evolutionary hypothesis, our ancestors learned to take what we'd now consider murderous chances in pursuit of food and mates. Those who continuously gambled and won became our forebearers, passing on a taste for the "off chance." The possibility that a big score could be just around the corner, but you never know where or when you'll hit on it, parallels modern gambling: One more rock overturned and you find dinner.”

And later on the way we calculate odds in gambling:

“High risk is linked to high yield in our minds, because risks like staging a coup or making a power play are often worthwhile. But what about wagering double-or-nothing? Gambling upends the natural correlation between high risk and high yield. Losses quickly add up, but the gains don't increase accordingly, though we're likely to think they do. That's because we're notoriously bad oddsmakers.”

Posted: 4/25/2006 3:01:27 AM 

 

ONE HIT WONDERS: Western and Asian examples

In music and books there is something known as one hit wonders. This means someone who has had a hit song or book. One that has been a large commercial success and thereafter nothing ever quite matches that earlier hit and they sink into oblivion. I have included six western examples and two Asian based examples of novels that made a big splash but never were followed by anything similar by the author.

In the world of books, there are many examples of One Hit Wonders.

1. Toole, John Kennedy who wrote a first novel, couldn’t find a publisher and after killing himself, left it to his mother to find the publisher who brought him, after death, a one-hit wonder: Confederacy of Dunces

2. Mitchell, Margaret who authored Gone With the Wind spent the rest of her life answering correspondence from adoring fans who couldn’t get enough of Scarlett O'Hara and the antebellum days of the American South during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

3. Lee, Harper, Truman Capote's cousin, authored To Kill a Mockingbird A lawyer defends a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Another novel set in the deep South.

4. Heller, Joseph set the literary world on fire with Catch-22, a novel set in World War II, with Yossarian, the central character, who flies a bomber and plots for a way to escape the war. Heller wrote other books but none ever matched Catch-22 which has entered the English language as the equivalent of being caught between a rock and hard place.

5. Jones, James, who like Heller, made his name with a World War II novel titled From Here to Eternity. It was made into a movie with Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and Frank Sinatra.

6. Webb, Charles who wrote The Graduate and now at age 66 is being evicted from his digs in Hove for non-payment of rent. Webb accepted a one-off payment of 14,000 pounds for his the film rights to his novel. Big mistake. The upfront money Webb is walking around money for Dustin Hoffman whose film career was launched by the film.

Asian based fiction is no exception to the one hit wonder:

7. Mason, Richard wrote the classic titled the World of Suzie Wong He never wrote much of anything else and lived off the money he made from the book and film. In an interview is admitted most of the first half was drawn from his life. Mason didn’t produce anything fiction after this success.

8. Reynolds, Jack wrote A woman of Bangkok in the early 1950s. Many local reviews refer to A Woman of Bangkok as the ultimate or classical novel about the Bangkok night scene. Personally I find the novel dated and the central character, an Englishman, is so incredibly dense or stupid or both that I could never feel the slightest amount of sympathy for him. It was difficult not to root for the bar girls who milked him dry. Reynolds never wrote anything else that amounted to anything.

Posted: 4/24/2006 12:21:42 AM 

 

Songkran Festival Break

Tomorrow 13th April, the Songkran (Thai New Year) celebration officially starts.

“The word Songkran is from the Sanskrit, meaning the beginning of a new solar year. The Thai calendar used to switch to a new year on April 13 but the date was changed to January 1 to bring the country in line with the rest of the world.”

The festival is also celebrated in Cambodia, Burma and Laos.

Traditionally, Songkran was an occasion for young people to pay respect to their elders by pouring small amounts of lustral water on their hands. This was done as a sign of respect.

Now youngster load up with the latest water guns and indiscriminately shoot on motorcyclists, buses, trucks, cars and anyone walking along the street. If you are eleven years old this is probably fun and adventure to be looked forward to all year. If you are older, having someone turn a water hose on you and throw buckets of ice water from the back of a pickup isn’t exactly thought of as a sign of respect.

Already many people have left Bangkok to return to their home upcountry. Already 138 killed on the roads. The government has announced a crackdown on drunk and speeding drivers. I won’t be posting again until Monday 17th April once all the water throwing has ended, I’ve dried off, and everyone has returned to work.

Posted: 4/12/2006 2:08:17 AM 

 

Reviewing the Book Critics Role

One of the best known book critics is New York Times reviewer, Yale English graduate, Michiko Kakutani. She has been at the New York Times since 1979. In his article for Slate, Ben Yagoda looks at the responsibility of book critics and finds that Kakutani’s fall short of the goals of literary criticism. Here’s a sample of Yagoda’s examination of Michiko Kakutani and her work:

“Kakutani's refusal ever to take her eyes off the thumbs up/thumbs down prize, or to lay any of her own prejudices, tastes, or tangentially relevant observations on the table, is dispiriting. One of her favorite gimmicks for ducking subjectivity is to invoke the supposed reactions of "the reader" to a book. This is a rather underhanded device with a tweedy scent of 1940s and '50s arbiters like Lionel Trilling and Clifton Fadiman‹and it's a perfect emblem of the way Kakutani muffles her own voice by hiding behind a mask.”

With thanks to Mark Schreiber for bringing Yagoda’s article to my attention.

Posted: 4/11/2006 2:09:33 AM 

 

Vincent Calvino goes to Italy

Good news from our literary agent in Italy. The publisher, Mondadori, will publish an Italian edition of Pattaya 24/7 as part of their mass market paperback line called Gialli.

They plan to print approximately 20,000 copies for distribution throughout Italy.

Our literary agent says that Mondadori is an institution in Italy, and one of the best known publisher, with a distinguished reputation for publishing crime literature in Italy.

My novels have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Thai, French, German, Norwegian, Turkish, and now Italian.

Posted: 4/7/2006 11:13:27 AM 

 

INTERNATIONAL CRIME FICTION

The Library Journal has a good article about the foreign (read non-American) crime fiction, noir and paranormal fiction.

“Americans are often accused of being a provincial bunch, but consider the xenophobic firestorm that broke out in Britain last fall when the Crime Writers Association (CWA) announced its 2005 nominations for the prestigious Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel. Four of the six finalists were European crime novels in translation, and the winner was Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason's Silence of the Grave (to be published this fall in the United States by St. Martin's Minotaur).”

What foreign writers are creating heat?

“Other countries coming on strong as sources of exciting new crime writing or as mystery settings include Russia (Boris Akunin's The Death of Achilles, LJ 3/1/06), South Africa (Deon Meyer's Dead Before Dying, Little, Brown, May), and Turkey. Italy also remains hot. In addition to such popular English-language authors as Donna Leon, Magdalen Nabb, and Michael Dibdin, a new crop of Italian crime writers is attracting U.S. publishers. Next February, Harcourt plans to release Giulio Leoni's The Mosaic Crime, an antiquarian thriller with a detective protagonist who happens to be the poet Dante Alighieri.”

Posted: 4/7/2006 11:09:14 AM 

 

Survival in the competitive world of publishing

The number of people writing books appears to have picked up worldwide. In France, it seems everyone is writing a book. An AFP article titled: French Publishers drowning in a tide of manuscripts is one of those titles that you can substitute about any other nationality for “French” and hear the same story. Most of the submissions are novels.

“Most, some 75 percent, write novels loosely based on their own experiences, turning the editor into a kind of shrink, an often unwilling confidante party to the author's deepest secrets, fears and desires.”

Most are rejected. Only one or two out of a thousand are considered as possible candidates for publication.

“Anyone can tell the story of their life. But more than 90 percent of what we receive cannot be printed by anyone. It's simply rubbish," said Gerard Berreby, from Allia publishing house.”

In Thailand a fair number of books following in the gray zone between memoir and fiction are based on the author’s experience. They have left the west and discovered themselves in the east. Revealing their reaction to a new culture, relationship, and language is documented. There is nothing wrong with such a book. No one should be discouraged from writing a book from their heart about their life. The tragedy is that many of these authors are unaware that such accounts have a very limited audience. To put it simply, they are not commercial and if they sell more than a few hundred copies it would be a miracle of marketing. Modern cheap printing allows them a place on a bookstore shelf in Thailand. But most simply don’t sell through.

Even in the world of commercial publishing, books that are filled with insight, written by talented writers with a flare for words and creative ability to weave an effective narrative, the path is not certain. Two recent examples serve to illustrate the point. One is a memoir titled

The Beginning of the End – The Crippling Disadvantage of a Happy Irish Childhood, published by Mainstream of Edinburgh. A wonderful, brilliant book according to amazon reviewers. But according to the author has sold a 100 copies. And this is after glowing reviews in major English and Irish newspapers.





Then there is John Barlow’s Intoxicated which is ranked on amazon at over 500,000. Meaning it doesn’t sell. Intoxicated is a literary novel published by William Morrow, a major New York publisher. It has sunk like a stone. The author has registered his despair for his novel. On Barlow’s blog, he’s written: “Personally, I think hardbacks are a disaster for the emerging writer. Who the hell wants their book out at $25 instead of $15? It’s crazy. How many readers regularly plump for new/unknown writers in hardback? It’s an extra ten dollars that you are risking.”

In any event, my point is that getting yourself a deal with a mainstream publisher in New York or elsewhere is no easy task. Once in print, an author has no assurance that his or her book will find an audience. Perhaps it is the wrong format. Hardback books cost too much. Most people won’t buy them. Part of it is fate. The Life of Pi gets worldwide recognition, wins major awards, and is translated into many languages. While Barlow’s Intoxicated awaits a drinking companion.

Posted: 4/3/2006 11:26:43 AM 

 

 

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