Monthly Archives: November 2017

10 years, 10 books — a look back at Kindle best sellers

19 November 2017

From Amazon Charts:

It was 2007, the year Prince rocked the Super Bowl in the rain, Bob Barker hosted his final episode of The Price Is Right, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallowswrapped up the saga of a boy wizard fighting the ultimate evil. It was also the year Kindle was born. Happy 10th birthday to Kindle, which gave us the ability to read countless books instantly and hold an entire bookshelf in the palm of the hand. Here are the Most Sold Kindle books for each year since Kindle was launched:

The Handmaid’s Tale

2017: It’s Margaret Atwood’s year — we’re just living it. The Handmaid’s Tale saw fantastic spikes in sales, and the TV adaptation won eight Emmy Awards. Atwood’s cautionary Tale, in which women are forced into roles as servants, reproductive hosts, or soulless hausfraus, has as much punch today as when it was published in 1985.

. . . .

The Help

2011: Kathryn Stockett hit a nerve with her book about a group of black domestic workers in 1960s Mississippi who contribute to an anonymous tell-all that puts them in unspeakable danger. But while the danger may be unspeakable, the characters find their voices in their secret book, and Stockett found hers in The Help. The book got a boost from the 2011 movie adaptation, which won an Oscar for Octavia Spencer’s performance.

. . . .

The Pillars of the Earth

2007: Ken Follett was already a best-selling suspense author before publishing The Pillars of the Earth in 1989, but that mighty historical novel (more than 1,000 pages!) set in twelfth-century England took him in an entirely new direction. Nearly three decades later he’s just published the third book in his Kingsbridge series, A Column of Fire, which sits high on Amazon Charts’ Most Read fiction list. This one weighs in at 927 pages, which is still tough to carry — unless, y’know, you have a Kindle.

Link to the rest at Amazon Charts

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Theory: The Prime Universe Doesn’t Exist

19 November 2017

From Inverse:

In science fiction, sometimes a cliffhanger can take place on an actual cliff, like the ending of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Other times, like the mid-season finale of Star Trek: Discovery, the cliffhanger drops a starship into a parallel universe.

If the USS Discovery is now in the Mirror Universe, as some fans have posited, then an interesting question presents itself: Which universe did the Discovery and its crew originate from?

Most fans would tell you that Discovery is supposedly set in the “Prime” Star Trektimeline, but what does that mean? And does the Prime Universe even exist?

. . . .

In 2009, director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman made a brilliant or terrible decision, depending on who you ask. Instead of being forced to follow the chronology of the original Star Trek series, they created a splinter universe formed by the invasion of a time-traveling angry Romulan named Nero. Of every reboot that ever rebooted, 2009’s Star Trek is the slyest, acting as, technically, both a sequel and a remake at the same time. And in terms of fully fleshed out parallel universes within Star Trek, Abrams’ resulting “Kelvin Universe” is most prominent.

In an attempt to qualify this there’s even a moment in 2009’s Trek where Spock (Zachary Quinto) says, almost directly to the camera, “Nero’s presence has altered the flow of history, thereby creating a new chain of events that cannot be anticipated by either party…whatever our lives might have been…our destinies have changed.”

Link to the rest at Inverse

PG says a parallel universe could explain so much about recent events.

Stoop Stories

18 November 2017

From Aeon:

So I’m posted up, sharing a sandwich and a cigarette with a friend in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in America, and my phone buzzes. On the other end is one of my old professors asking me to tell one of my wild childhood stories at the Stoop Storytelling Series, at Center Stage in downtown Baltimore.

A stoop show, I thought: kind of like what I do on the corner in my own neighbourhood every day. I’m always surrounded by stoops, Baltimore stoops made of cracked and chipped marble steps where all we do is tell street stories: who’s getting money, who’s going to jail, who murdered who, whose album is hot, who is that girl, who’s driving what, and who’s coming home from jail.

This would be easy, the same thing, but in someone else’s neighbourhood. I agreed to it like I agreed to the last 15 opportunities that fell in my lap. I’d recently written ‘Too Poor for Pop Culture’, an essay that went viral and made me semi-relevant on the internet and the man to know on the local scene. I’d learnt that exposure and platform are key, so I looked forward to the event.

The day of the show rolled round and I was backstage with my fellow cast members and storytellers. These guys were Easter-sharp, with starched button-ups and wingtips; the women matched them in pumps and flashy adult versions of their prom dresses.

Obviously, I missed the dress code memo because I walked in wearing a black hoodie and some black Air Jordans.

. . . .

The hostess gave me an amazing intro and welcomed me to the mic. I walked up and said: ‘This ain’t the stoop I’m used to. There’s no pit bulls, red cups or blue flashing lights, but I’ll make it work!’ I paused, took a look at the crowd and honestly felt like I wasn’t in Baltimore.

My black friends call it Baldamore, Harm City or Bodymore Murderland. My white friends call it Balti-mo, Charm City or Smalltimore while falling in love with the quaint pubs, trendy cafés and distinctive little shops. I just call it home.

Link to the rest at Aeon


18 November 2017

Anyone can love a perfect place. Loving Baltimore takes some resilience.

Laura Lippman

Boston Is a Literary City Too

18 November 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Imagine that your city hosts a book festival that attracts authors of international acclaim and readers of virtually every genre. Exhibitors representing publishers, writing centers, universities and colleges, writing groups, and booksellers (not to mention the best local grilled cheese company) fill a beautiful, historic square in town, and their booths have lines throughout the day. Tourists mix with locals walking, biking, and popping out of the subway stations nearby. Most events—whether in a church, a hotel, or the historic library; whether featuring a bestselling YA author or a scholar-activist—are standing room only.

The next day, you open your city newspapers and see nothing about the festival. Did it happen? Was it just a book lover’s dream?

The Boston Book Festival took place in Copley Square, in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, for the ninth time on October 28. Around 200 authors appeared throughout the day, and attendees filled around 18,000 seats and standing room, to boot. Speakers included Geraldine Brooks, Daniel Handler, Chris Hayes, Lisa Ko, Dennis Lehane, Claire Messud, Eileen Myles, and Jacqueline Woodson.

Local media in Boston primed the pump ahead of the event, with pieces in the Boston Globe and on NPR, but once it happened there was radio silence. I suspect many people who participated in it in whatever way, like I did, are frustrated, as I am.

. . . .

How often can a fan of the stylish New York Review Books’ reissued paperbacks meet someone in marketing from the company? In what other space can writers watch agents consider new work, as they do at the massively popular Writer Idol event held each year at the Festival? Not covering this unique space sustains the myth that the walls between readers, writers, and gatekeepers are high and getting higher.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Although PG doesn’t live in Boston, the spine-tingling adventure of watching agents consider new work isn’t a compelling draw for him. Perhaps the newspapers felt the same way.

Luck and Prosperity

18 November 2017

From author Joey Loi via Medium:

Finally, in the distance, lights emerge from behind the low early morning fog. Seventy four salt-skinned men and twenty eight salt-skinned women look eagerly onwards. Together they bob with the ocean, up and down, up and down, to the tune of God’s will and the mercy of men who captain Chinese fishing vessels. The boat drifts towards the lights, pushed by indifferent water, aided only by a ragged canvas sail that never wanted to carry this weight. Cruel, holy water. It holds out a ticket to those desperate enough to reach for one, but promises nothing. These drifters no longer hear the water, they hear only whatever it is that makes those lights glow.

Among the black hair and raw sour stench, Chon sits restlessly on the white-stained damp deck. His crossed legs are propped up by his arms folded elbow-in-hand over his knees, his two younger sisters flanking his sides. Kin skin sticking to kin skin. Two hours ago, they were instructed to dump anything that could suggest that their boat left from China: a radio with Chinese labels, local newspapers used to wrap three day old buns. They wouldn’t qualify for refuge if the Hong Kong government discovered they hadn’t come directly from Vietnam.

He’s exhausted and can’t sleep. Chon lifts his head and squints toward the shore, anxiously scanning for ships coming to turn them away. He’s heard it happen to his drifting countrymen before. Fortune can be taken away as arbitrarily as it is given. But his sleep-deprived concentration fails, and he succumbs to wonder — have we made it?

Link to the rest at Medium

PG stumbled across this piece and ended up reading it because he was engaged by the the opening excerpted above.

Annie Proulx Gave One of the Best National Book Award Speeches

18 November 2017

From Annie Proulx’ acceptance speech for the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters via Vulture:

Although this award is for lifetime achievement, I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well…

. . . .

We are living through a massive shift from representative democracy to something called viral direct democracy, now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data. Everything is situational, seesawing between gut-response “likes” or vicious confrontations. For some this is a heady time of brilliant technological innovation that is bringing us into an exciting new world. For others it is the opening of a savagely difficult book without a happy ending.

. . . .

The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on. The poet Wisława Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.” Darwin: They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds—nothing that ended unhappily. If he happened on something like that, enraged, he flung the book into the fire. True or not, I’m ready to believe it. Scanning in his mind so many times and places, he’s had enough with dying species, the triumphs of the strong over the weak, the endless struggle to survive, all doomed sooner or later. He’d earned the right to happy ending, at least in fiction, with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last. Thank you.

Link to the rest at Vulture

Vulture comments, “The least suspenseful part of the National Book Award ceremony can be the most fun: the speech given by each year’s winner of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Winners of that lifetime-achievement prize tend to be over 80, and to expound passionately on the general theme of “kids today.””

I love a big, character-rich story

17 November 2017

I love a big, character-rich story with a dark heart, with a compelling mystery or some kind of ticking clock at its center. I want to be lured in by prose, captured by character, and bound by stellar plotting to keep turning the pages.

Lisa Unger

An Unsolicited Great Idea for Your Next Book

17 November 2017

From The New Yorker:

“You’re a writer?” the man said. “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a book.”

Gompers tried to stay calm. He had become a writer for the same reason anybody did: he was incapable of coming up with ideas of his own, and he longed for a lifetime of being given them at cocktail parties. But he had been down this road before. Somebody would offer him an amazing, can’t-fail idea for a guaranteed best-seller that was certain to be made into a hit movie, and then they would demand millions of dollars in payment.

This was fair enough, but Gompers simply didn’t have the money. How could he, a mere writer, earn any money before he had an idea given to him by a total stranger? And without any money, how could he pay the millions of dollars the idea was inevitably worth? It was, in the phrase coined by Joseph Heller’s chiropractor’s cousin, a total “Catch-22.”

So Gompers tried to play it cool. “A great idea?” he said, casually. “And what would you want in return?”

“You write the book, and then I take half the profits,” the man answered.

Gompers nearly dropped his drink. The other man was going to do the heavy lifting of coming up with a one- or two-sentence logline, and all Gompers had to do was expand it into a novel-length story featuring believable characters and elegant prose—and, in exchange, the man wanted only half the profits?

There had to be a catch. Maybe the idea _wasn’t _for a guaranteed best-seller that was certain to become a hit movie. Maybe it only had a seventy-five-per-cent chance of becoming a best-seller, and then the film version would earn a few Oscars in technical categories but never really take off. Still, if he turned it down and the man later ended up at a cocktail party with John Grisham or Thomas Pynchon, Gompers would never forgive himself.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Anne for the tip.

Disney Accused Of Plundering ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ In Copyright Lawsuit

17 November 2017

From Deadline Hollywood:

A. Lee Alfred, II and Ezequiel Martinez, Jr. allege that Disney lifted “copyrighted expression of themes, settings, dialogue, characters, plot, mood, sequence of events” from their 2000 spec script entitled Pirates of the Caribbean.” Unlike many such similar suits, the duo say they submitted the script while working with Disney on their Red Hood project that the studio was interested in. During that period from late 1999 to 2000, the two writers and their producer Tova Laiter say they worked closely with Disney’s Brigham Taylor, Josh Harmon and Michael Haynes, among others. In fact, they say Disney got them into the Writers Guild as work progressed on the never-made Red Hood.

Then, soon after Laiter handed the Pirates script and a sizzle reel to Taylor on August 9, 2000, things started to sink in the relationship with Disney – especially after a copy of the screenplay and original artwork was supposedly spied on the coffee table in Taylor’s office and they were quickly hustled out of the room.

. . . .

“The opportunity to have a major film studio, such as Defendants, take a screenwriter’s original spec screenplay and turn the work into a major motion picture is the ultimate dream,” states the complaint filed Tuesday in Colorado federal court against almost every corporate aspect of Disney. “A. Lee Alfred, II and Ezequiel Martinez, Jr. almost realized that dream, but they this dream quickly turned into a nightmare, when their original work, ‘The Screenplay,’ was intentionally copied and commercially exploited by Defendant’s, creating a billion-dollar franchise, with no credit or compensation to Alfred or Martinez.”

. . . .

Very soon after that meeting in Taylor’s office, according to the suit, the writers were paid out for their Red Hood work and basically put back on a plane to Colorado, their dalliance with Disney seemingly over.

. . . .

“This complaint is entirely without merit, and we look forward to vigorously defending against it in court,” said Disney on the lawsuit against the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced five-film series based on the theme park ride that first appeared at Disneyland in 1967. Having just registered “their original works of authorship with the U.S. Copyright Office on October 3rd, 2017,” the plaintiffs do not offer any explanation as to why it took them nearly two decades to recognize a copyright infringement.

Link to the rest at Deadline Hollywood

PG says you don’t have to be Disney to become tangled up in this type of litigation.

When PG worked for a large advertising agency during the Mad Men days, instructions to employees who received creative ideas in a letter or other writing from any person outside of the agency went something like this:

  1. As soon as the employee realizes the content of a letter, document, etc., he/she will immediately stop reading and mark the place in the letter where they stopped.
  2. The employee will immediately place the letter into an envelope and securely seal the envelope.
  3. The employee will hand-deliver the envelope to the legal department, tell one of the lawyers what it contains and be available to answer questions in the event it is necessary to prepare an affidavit describing the entire sequence of events.

So what’s an author to do?

Many authors are quite comfortable in providing help to other authors, especially if they write in the same genre. Such help often includes reading first drafts, helping with plot structure, etc.

PG doesn’t want to interfere with these collegial and helpful practices. In the large majority of such cases, there is no real copyright risk. However, he suggests that authors exercise a little caution.

This is not legal advice, but here are some tips to consider:

  • Don’t be afraid to keep early drafts, outlines, character sketches, ebook files, etc., for a long time.
    • If you’re a paper person, buy some storage boxes and keep your old papers in a closet, garage, storage locker, etc. When you win the Nobel Prize for Literature, the archivist at some large institution will thank you.
    • If you’re a computer person, save digital copies of your working files, drafts, etc., in permanent digital form – DVD’s are inexpensive and will hold many, many pages of your books.
    • Storing copies in the cloud will also work. Yes, it might be possible to change the dates on some files, but computer forensics experts are pretty good at detecting such modifications and if you’re in litigation, indications that you tampered with evidence can cause a truckload of troubles to fall on your head.
  • If a friend tells you about a story he/she is writing that sounds similar to a book you’re working on,
    • Tell your friend there are some similarities between the two plots so it’s clear you are already working on your story and you don’t have anything to hide. During this conversation, you don’t have to act like you’re talking to the secret police. You can be friendly.
    • Don’t add anything distinctive to your MS that your friend told you about unless it’s already in your MS.
    • You might send emails to a couple of your uninvolved friends or associates describing what has happened.
    • Save your MS as it existed on the date of your conversation with your author friend in at least a couple of different places.
    • Think twice about providing reading services, editing, advice, etc., on your friend’s book until after yours is published.
    • If your book is going to be traditionally published, send an email or letter to your editor at the publisher explaining the situation. Keep a copy for yourself. Your publisher may have a process it wants to use in handling these types of situations.
      • Under typical traditional publishing contracts, if there is a legal dispute about copyright ownership and the publisher is named in litigation, you’ll be obligated to pay the publisher’s legal expenses in addition to your own.
  • Copyright does not protect ideas or concepts, only the expression of those ideas.
    • Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl gets boy has been used zillions of times in books and movies and is not protected by copyright. All the standard plot and story structures have already been used many times and are not protected.
    • Unique details – usually many more than one – are where copyright can begin to come into play.

Again, this is not legal advice. Copyright infringement disputes are often very fact-specific, so general statements are just an overview and specific elements of the works may result in an ultimate outcome that is different than might be anticipated under general statements of the law.

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