Saturday, July 16, 2005

On the other hand...some people still ask for permission

John Trumbold and Peter Donahue just contacted me to ask for permission to reprint one of my stories, "The Circuit," in their anthology Reading Portland, which will be published by the Oregon Historical Society. "The Circuit" is from The Kind I'm Likely to Get, and I actually found myself rereading it recently and was surprised that I could find it as funny as I did. Sometimes old stories just get thinner and thinner the more I look back at them. This I read and kept thinking..."Where did that line come from?" But in a good way.

Is Piracy the sincerest form of flattery?

I just discovered that Amazon is offering electronic versions of two of my books: The KGB Bar Reader and The Kind I'm Likely to Get. This is the kind of thing that should be exciting, particularly since the publisher, HarperCollins, stopped bothering with both titles a while ago. But...I own the electronic rights to both books and no one has ever approached me about digital distribution. So, I'll not be seeing a penny for this. Not that Harper ever kept count of my sales. More annoying to me is the fact that they are also violating the rights of the 28 contributers to the KGB book.

Who do I contact about this? Harper doesn't respond to emails. The Author's Guild never got back to me when I inquired about some other copyright infractions a few years ago. And, for the most part, people in publishing likely think I should be happy to have the distribution at all, even if I am the only one not making money on it.

Do I sound bitter?

Time to get back to the writing.

Friday, July 15, 2005

James Frey and...his pit bulls

I reviewed James Frey's new memoir My Friend Leonard for Time Out New York a few weeks ago. I didn't have many expectations when I took the assignment. I had read parts of his first memoir, A Million Little Pieces, and thought it wasn't bad but at the same time didn't get caught up in all of the excitement that seemed to be surrounding its publication. I had also read his essay in the Marc Josephs photo book American Pitbull, but I had sort of put that out of my mind. So I was suprised by how much I loved My Friend Leonard, which is a lonely, lonely little book that somehow manages to be mesmerizing.

The part that really got me--and I should have seen it coming--was the final third of the book, which deals in part with his pit bulls, Cassius and Bella. Frey decides he needs a companion and chooses a pit bull, because he's seen how playful a friend's pit is, and that is what he wants: a dog that will interact with him. In a brilliantly written scene, he answers an ad for pit bull puppies that takes him to an unfamiliar section of LA, where he picks a little pup that is the offspring of a large, scarred, imposing sire. What's brilliant about this scene is that even though he totally underplays the elements, the reader knows what Frey doesn't: this is a fighting dog, and his fear of the situation is part of Frey's decision to buy the puppy.

Cassius proves to be a wonderful companion, and for much of the rest of the book scenes are punctuated by the ritual of kissing Cassius, which is expected of anyone who enters or exits Frey's life. Later, he acquires Bella, an abandoned pit bull--but as Cassius grows older, his fighting instincts kick in, and Frey has to choose the most responsible action for the sake of both animals.

And that's when I curled into a little sobbing ball in my bed.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

What does Sean Wilsey's mom REALLY think of that book?

I interviewed Sean Wilsey, author of Oh The Glory of It All, for the Westchester Journal News. The interview finally ran last week, although we actually spoke just after the whole "controversy" of the book exploded in newspapers around the world. The whole "Wilsey To-Do," as one SF columnist dubbed it, took Sean by surprise. I asked him about that, and then I asked...

What does your mother actually think of it?

"She is horrified and proud at the same time. Mom was really helpful in writing the book. She provided me with a lot of source material. She was able to get in touch with people at the newspapers in San Francisco and help find things in archives there. She kept a lot of stuff that was really useful for me. She allowed me to interview her, quote her, talk to her at length. And yet, in a lot of ways, I betray her in this memoir, in that I’m not very charitable to her about some of the things that she’s done. That was really difficult for her.

"She’sbasically read it about nine times and she quotes it back at me now. She’ll say, 'Sean, my flabby arms are feeling a little tired today.' And I’ll say, 'I don’t think I described them as flabby. I think I said fleshy.' And we have a lot of fairly good-natured back-and-forth about that kind of stuff. But then the material that she finds really painful, like the scene where she talked to me about the two of us committing suicide, which she more or less admits is true, has been rough for her to read.

"Another scene—about her tantrum when she didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize—completely infuriates her, and she denies that it ever happened. But yet she’s also admitted that I’ve got the right to tell it as I see it. the coolest thing that she said to me has been—and this is in the context of a lot of other things—but she said, 'Sean, it’s such an accurate portrait of so many people that I know that I’ve had to conclude it must be an accurate portrait of me, too. And so I’m really going to have to take a look at the fact that I come across that way.' Then she paused and said, 'Or at least that I come across that way to you.'"