Monthly Archives: November 2015

Frank Sinatra and the Scandalous but Scholarly Biography

30 November 2015

From The New Yorker:

Having come out of the closet, or the casino, not long ago, as an unqualified Frank Sinatra idolater, I approached the second volume of James Kaplan’s biography of the singer (“Sinatra: The Chairman”) with what our critical mothers and fathers would have called immense trepidation, since the book would have to deal not just with the great man’s best records but with his messy entanglement with the mob and his sad, stultified later years. (I saw him perform once, toward the very end, at Madison Square Garden, and it was like seeing the dead El Cid mounted on his horse to lead the Spanish Army: noble but undeniably stiff.)

. . . .
The ugly, scuttlebutt version of Sinatra is as a bad guy with a big voice. Kaplan shows that the bad-guy stuff was, in truth, pretty bad, about as bad as one had imagined and a lot worse than one had hoped. He did hang out with and cultivate mobsters, real killers, though more in a semi-hostile, semi-affectionate fraternal manner than with the pitiful, feudal devotion pictured in “The Godfather.” (There seems to be no truth in the rumors that the mob bullied Harry Cohn into casting Sinatra in “From Here To Eternity,” not least because Cohn was plenty mobbed-up himself.)

Worse, Sinatra beat people up, or had others beat them up for him, often in shameful acts of bullying—picking on casino employees or less successful, dependent entertainers. (This happened to Shecky Greene, who emerges in the biography as a far more interesting and volatile man than one could have ever imagined, and, weirdly, to Jackie Mason, who had shots fired at him, apparently for dissing the Chairman.) Kaplan even offers veiled, worrying hints that Sinatra might have been implicated in an actual murder. (A man with whom he had an altercation was killed in a mysterious traffic accident a few weeks later.) These instances were sporadic and counterbalanced by his many acts of charity, some impulsive, and some systematic—touring for the benefit of children’s hospitals and the like.

Sinatra’s character flaw isn’t hard to name. He lived in daily fear of humiliation, and in its (often imagined) presence his temper tipped over in an instant. This was followed, usually, by remorse, once he had sobered up and stopped seeing red. But, in the interim, real damage was done to real people: he threw a telephone at a businessman once at the Beverly Hills Hotel, fracturing his skull and very nearly killing him. The other cause of his rage may be oddly taboo to tell. Sinatra was a bad, mean drunk, and, since he was often drunk, he was often bad and mean. (John Lennon was a bad, mean drunk, too, and when he got loose long enough to show it the author of “Imagine” and “Julia” could do similarly violent things.) Despite everything we ought to have learned, we still make a ballad out of alcohol. It was Jack on the rocks, not crack from a bag, and so we somehow think that it’s not so bad. The other sad truth Kaplan illustrates is that demons rage in the rich and famous as much as they do in the poor and unknown—and maybe rage still more, since, having defeated the usual demons of worldly failure that haunt the rest of us, the famous are left alone with the remaining, inexpungible ones, grinning up evilly at them from inside.

. . . .

Sinatra, he shows, had an astonishing musical intelligence, of a subtlety and soulfulness still unequalled. He was a master of understatement and narrative so complete that he could still spellbind audiences after his voice had gone, and he was even more of a legend among other musicians than among his fans. Nor is Kaplan simply an idolater. He sees how genius sits in a fortunate network, offering character sketches of Sinatra’s arrangers, who were as essential to Sinatra’s art as George Martin’s production was to the Beatles. They’re captured as more than names: the saturnine Nelson Riddle, the last-minute genius Billy May, and the old-fashioned Gordon Jenkins, not to mention supporters as gifted and forgotten as Milt Bernhart, who played the indelible trombone solo on Riddle’s transformed version of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

. . . .

And then, one of the things you learn ever more certainly as you grow older is that all art is made in the image of the artist. It can often be articulated as an opposite, with all the low spots in life thrust forward in art, as with Sinatra. But it is some sort of picture. It isn’t supposed to be so; high-minded people are supposed to pull life and art apart, trust the tale not the teller, and all that. But if an abstract artist makes pictures only of white, there is a white moment, or knight, somewhere there in her past, bugging her still. Sinatra’s painfully bipolar nature is exactly the pattern of his best music, with “swinging” records continually succeeded by sad ones, again and again.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker
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Hell hath no fury

30 November 2015

Hell hath no fury like a hustler with a literary agent.

Frank Sinatra

Should you write under a pseudonym? Pros, cons and practicalities in a digital world

30 November 2015

From author Roz Morris:

Should you use a pen name? Why might you? What problems might it cause? I rounded up a quiver of authors with noms-de-plume and asked them to answer some practical questions.

First of all, why?

An author name is a brand, of course, and traditional publishing has a long history of strategic pseudonymery. Names or initials might make a writer sound more exciting, more serious, more like an already famous author (JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin, anyone?). Androgynous names might do you favours if your readership is gender sensitive. A new surname might put you at a more visible part of the bookshelves or next to giants of your genre (George RR Martin again).

Even a change of nationality might send interesting signals to the reader. Earlier this year I was at an event with Sophie Schmidt, head of author relations and marketing at Epubli, and she told me that German erotica authors often choose English pseudonyms. More tea, vicar?

. . . .

Conflict with professional role – a tale of two doctors

Wolf Pascoe (@WolfPascoe) is an anaesthetist as well as a poet and playwright, andyou might have seen the Undercover Soundtrack for his poetic memoir, Breathing For Two. ‘I decided in writing about anesthesia to use a pen name for patient confidentiality. Of course, I don’t use real patient names, and I take pains to change any identifying details, but I wanted an extra layer of security. Also, as I’m still practising, I didn’t want there to be a chance that I’d encounter a new patient who might worry I’d be writing about them in the future. And finally, I’d rather not have my hospital knowing about my writing activities — this gives me more freedom to say what I want to say about the medical establishment without fear of retribution.’

In the opposite corner, though, is Carol Cooper (@DrCarolCooper) (also an Undercover Soundtracker). Carol writes parenting books, fiction, tabloid journalism – and practises medicine – all under her real name. ‘From time to time, I’ve been advised to use a pseudonym for different types of writing. After all, I still see patients and teach medical students, so I need to be taken seriously. But my name is part of me, part of my brand. In the distant past I’ve used jokey pen names like Saffron Walden and Cherry Hinton, and written a column pseudonymously as a nurse called Rosemary Sharpe, but nowadays I want potential readers to find me.’

. . . .

What about social media?

Now this is where the double life becomes a strain.

Elizabeth Spann Craig: ‘There are only so many hours in the day for us to promote our books. After a few mistakes, including Facebook and Twitter accounts under the pen name, I decided to promote as myself. I mentioned my pseudonym and other series in my bios. On social media sites and in my newsletters, I direct readers to my website, which lists buy-links for both series.’

Deborah Swift: ‘I have two Twitter accounts and two websites. It also helps me when networking with other independent authors if I am clear that Davina Blake is an independent author, whereas Deborah Swift is not. In a sense, the boundaries are artificial, but they help me maintain a more honest relationship with my readers and with other authors.’

Wolf Pascoe: ‘Both Wolf and real-me have Facebook accounts. This is against Facebook rules. I probably should have just had an author page for Wolf, but I’ve left it that way for now. I have a regular Google account for both real me and Wolf. This is probably also against the rules. I don’t really take the rules of corporations seriously.’

Link to the rest at Nail Your Novel and thanks to Elizabeth for the tip.

Here’s a link to Roz Morris’ books. If you like what an author has written, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

7 Ways to Jump Start Your Book Cover Design

30 November 2015

From Bookworks:

It’s never too early to think about your book cover design. Even if you’ve got writer’s block, at least you’ll feel like you’re getting some work done. And you are! Here are eight ways to jump start your book cover design process, including resources for artwork and photography. When it’s time to hire a cover designer, you’ll be able to judge from their portfolio if they’re right for you, and you’ll also be ready for an educated and productive conversation with them

1. Centralize and Organize

First, make a folder for saving ideas about your cover on your computer. Or, better yet, use a cloud-based repository like Google Drive, iCloud Drive, or DropBox. Invite your writing group or friends to add their ideas, too. You’ll eventually share this folder with your designer.

. . . .

3. Start Pinning with Pinterest

Pinterest is a great tool for collecting images such as, art, graphics, layout and typography ideas. You can keep your board private or make it a group board, sharing it with friends and fans. (Yep, this is a great social media strategy!) Because Pinterest is frequented by arty design types, there are also lots of boards focused on best book covers. You may even find your cover designer here.

. . . .

6. Discover DeviantArt

Do you have an idea for a sketch, illustration, or photography for your cover, but need someone to implement it? I often point authors to DeviantArt, a gathering place for artists, designers, and photographers of all kinds. Sort through the chaff by employing the search box to find elements you want. (Eyes, trees, road, concert, lake, romance…). Remember, these are artists and not professional cover designers, so before you buy anything or commission an artist, consult a pro.

Link to the rest at Bookworks

Clicks Defeat Bricks During U.S. Retailers’ Black Friday Weekend

30 November 2015

From Bloomberg Business:

Online shoppers outnumbered their brick-and-mortar counterparts during U.S. retailers’ pivotal Black Friday weekend, underscoring the challenges facing American malls this holiday season.

More than 103 million people shopped online over the four-day weekend, which started Thursday on Thanksgiving, according to an annual survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation. That compares with fewer than 102 million who ventured into traditional stores, the trade group said.

The growth of e-commerce — including people using their smartphones to buy gifts — helped boost the total number of U.S. shoppers to more than 151 million over the weekend. That figure, which accounts for the overlap between online and offline buyers, topped the 136 million that the trade group had predicted. Other factors, including an earlier rollout of holiday promotions, also are changing consumers’ behavior, NRF President Matthew Shay said in a statement.

. . . .

The ritual of Black Friday — the post-Thanksgiving day that has long marked the beginning of the holiday season — also has changed. Frenzied consumers still line up in front of stores to take advantage of deals on toys and televisions, but crowds were smaller at many U.S. malls Friday. The event is also seen as an opportunity for window shopping, rather than spending.

At an Apple store in Greensboro, North Carolina, David Saltzman was browsing for a new iPad. He wasn’t planning to buy the device just yet. The 62-year-old, who works in marketing and communications, was just enjoying the day.

“It’s really nice outside,” he said.

. . . .

As more shopping shifts to the Web, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and other traditional retailers are doing their best to ward off the e-commerce king: Amazon.com Inc. Target plans to offer free shipping on online orders this holiday season for the second year in a row. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, is encouraging e-commerce shoppers to take advantage of in-store pickup, an attempt to leverage its more than 4,600 U.S. locations.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Business

Eleven Beautiful Sentences

30 November 2015

C.S. Lewis Writing Tips

30 November 2015

From NewAdvertising:

As it is CS Lewis’ birthday, it’s worth remembering his valuable #writingtips in a letter to a fan.

What really matters is:-

  1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence could’t mean anything else.
  2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
  3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean „More people died“ don’t say „mortality rose.“
  4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing your are describing. I mean , instead of telling us a thing was „terrible.“ describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t sa ita was „delightful“, make us say „delightful“ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers. „Please will you do my job for me.“
  5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say „infinitely“ when you mean „very“, otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Link to the rest at NewAdvertising

Highly Unlikely

29 November 2015

From The New York Times:

When something extraordinary happens, we often say it’s stranger than fiction. But reality routinely, every minute of every day, outdoes all realist fiction in its strangeness. Recently two women working on the same floor of a Florida hospital discovered they were sisters (they had been adopted by different families in the 1970s). We read this item in the newspaper and accept it as astonishing, but real. The same occurrence in a realist novel, though, would be called unlikely or unbelievable. We’ve arrived at a point where not only is reality stranger than fiction, but we don’t allow our fiction to be even close to how strange real life is every day.

This double standard has consequen­ces: Authors self-edit, making their fiction less bizarre than their own lives — than life itself — for fear that their plots will be deemed unbelievable. The fact that we as readers and writers don’t seem to allow our fiction to be as strange as our reality is, well, strange.

One December afternoon, when I was 21 and living in Manhattan, I took a walk in Riverside Park. “Ma’am?” I heard a man say. I turned around thinking maybe I had dropped something, but I hadn’t. The man had red hair and glasses with delicate frames. His right hand was tucked into his unzipped leather jacket. He kept silent but stepped closer. I turned and continued walking in the same direction but quickened my pace.

“Ma’am,” he said again. “I have a gun. Just do as I say.” He showed me the gun and instructed me to walk to a nearby bench. I looked around to see whom I could appeal to for help, but the only people nearby were young mothers pushing babies in strollers.

We sat on the bench, and the man informed me — twice — that he wanted to die. Then he elaborated: He didn’t want to die alone.

My hands started sweating inside my gloves. I could read the tiny letters on the sides of his glasses: “Giorgio Armani.” I am going to be killed by a man wearing Giorgio Armani glasses was the refrain that pulsed through my head. I needed to get the man to a busy street, I thought. I pictured a bookstore on Broadway, and the phone behind the counter. The man put his gun to my temple. Adrenaline coursed through my body and brain.

“There’s so much to live for,” I said to him. “There’s poetry!” I sounded like a deranged schoolteacher. But I saw something in his eyes, some willingness to hear more. I recited some of Mark Strand’s poems — the first stanza of one poem, the final stanza of another. The man seemed intrigued, or confused. He agreed to accompany me to the bookstore to see what I was talking about. But as we neared the perimeter of the park, he suddenly apologized and ran away.

This event became the opening scene of “And Now You Can Go,” my first novel. Everything that followed was fiction — a medical mission to the Philippines (I have never been to the Philippines or on a medical mission), a ­re-encounter with the would-be assassin (I never saw him again, and the police never caught him).

But while readers assumed I’d traveled to the Philippines, and some even identified with the details of my nonexistent trip, few believed that a character would resort to poetry in such an extreme situation. In a couple of circumstances, the scene was called “improbable.” I wanted to say, “But it happened to me.” Instead I remained silent about the book’s autobiographical origins.

Link to the rest at The New York Times 

Poetry

29 November 2015

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.

Carl Sandburg

Of Netflix, self-publishing, music services, and traditional gatekeepers

29 November 2015

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

I just finished watching Jessica Jones via Netflix. It’s the second Netflix/Marvel original series, after Daredevil, and likeDaredevil is available in its 13-episode entirety for binge-watching. And it’s really amazing. It features a compelling storyline and standout performances from its cast (especially David Tennant as the villain, proving that he isn’t letting his Doctor Who fame typecast him). Given that this isn’t a TV blog, I won’t go into it in detail, but suffice it to say that I agree with pretty much every word of this review of it on Forbes, which goes so far as to call it “the best show on TV” in its headline.

. . . .

For all that “broadcast” versus “cable” television is becoming an increasingly pointless distinction these days now that almost everybody gets their television either from cable or from Internet rebroadcast services such as Hulu, “broadcast” channels are still regulated differently from “cable or satellite” channels (and, by the same token, Internet subscription services like Netflix) when it comes to the FCC’s decency restrictions.

. . . .

TV shows that air on broadcast TV are still subject to puritanical regulations that leave them pretty limited in terms of just how dark they can be. Even Arrow, probably the darkest, angstiest superhero show currently airing on broadcast TV, looks like a sulky teenager acting out by comparison to Jessica Jones.

Cable channels can go significantly darker and grittier—but they are handicapped by cable-industry bundling. To subscribe to any given pay channel, consumers generally have to subscribe to an extensive tier containing a number of channels, including ones they might have no interest in ever watching.

. . . .

And that brings me to why Netflix is such a special case. It isn’t subject to expensive bundle deals. Consumers can subscribe to the wide variety of movies and television shows it airs for a single low monthly fee. And that includes original shows, which Netflix is able to make as dark and gritty as it wants. Effectively, Netflix isn’t subject to the puritanical gatekeeper of FCC decency restrictions, but it also isn’t subject to the budgetary gatekeeper of cable-industry bundles.  So it’s one of the first major sources of dark, gritty programming that is inexpensively available to the average viewer.

. . . .

 

A similar revolution has been happening in terms of self-publishing versus publisher gatekeepers. After all, the self-publishing industry experienced explosive growth partly on the strength of providing a way for writers to publish works in categories that often draw resistance from traditional gatekeepers—romance, erotica, erotic horror, political fiction, and others. While Amazon has been known to purge certain categories of self-published erotica from time to time, there are still quite a number of stories that could never have been published by a traditional publisher, but which have plenty of fans willing to buy them via Amazon, Smashwords, or other outlets.

For that matter, digital music services have also provided a way for artists to skirt the gatekeepers of recording-industry contracts and radio stations’ limited playlists to put their works out directly for consumers.

. . . .

And this leads me to the realization that there are quite a few areas of consumer media interest that have historically been poorly-served by traditional outlets. People are not onlywilling to consume but clearly actively want to consume works that traditional gatekeepers have shut out—be they for raunchiness, violence, esoteric subject matter, more than one of the above, or some other reason altogether. Thus, the reductions in publishing cost and regulation of digital media, including e-books, provide openings not only for self-publishing writers and artists, but for new media outlets like Netflix that don’t fall into the same old categories.

And yet I wonder if we’re truly only seeing the beginning of the sort of expansion of choice that digital media publishing opportunities make possible.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

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