Saturday, August 22, 2009
I know a writer who has written a moving, funny, and memorable memoir concerning her experiences about turning sixty. The demographics for marketing the book are huge: this is the original Baby Boomer generation, remember, the generation that still buys books and actually reads them? Yet, she can't find a publisher. Or, more accurately, she can't find an editor willing to take a chance on her or her book by publishing it.
You see, this writer has a terminal flaw: it's called No Name. Oh, by that I don't mean she is nameless, of course, but she has no celebrity status, no national recognition. She's not Julia Child or Justin Timberlake or Janet Jackson or Monroe Doctrine or any of those big names. She is, in effect, a memoirist-non-gratis.
Why should that matter? Here's why.
Editors point to the sagging store shelves of memoirs with titles screaming out for sale--the vast majority written by celebrities. (You know, those people whom Tom Wolf once described as "famous for being famous.") Without name recognition, these editors fear, the book will languor in sales-statistics limbo forever.
They may be correct. They may have statistics and other documentation that shows them to be correct. But that doesn't make them right.
At one time, an editor who fell in love with a project would pursue its life's history through publication and marketing and sales all the way into the option of film rights based upon the story. But that editor is long gone from the scene that plays out each day along New York's Publisher's Row. That editor is a dinosaur, a fossil left over from an era when people had integrity and moral fiber and weren't afraid to work hard for a living, to build up a sweat working toward the accomplishment of a goal they really believed in.
The last time I recall seeing an editor actually sweat was when the corporate CFO came to town to talk to the executive editor about lagging book sales. I know. I was one of those editors once.
Now, don't get me wrong. I live in this century, too, and I understand why the bottom line is so critical to corporate America. When corporate profits dwindle, stock prices fall, shareholder dividends fall, confidence in management falls, and the blame falls on the Board. (Old joke: "What's the surest way to lose money in the stock market?" Answer: "Buy G. E.")
Once the blame starts flying, it's only a hop, skip, and a jump until people find themselves on the unemployment line.
I get all that. I really do.
But once--okay, maybe twice or three times, even--in every publishing season, couldn't one editor somewhere, at some publishing house, stand up and root for the underdog, insist upon staking his or her reputation (not to mention job) on the success of a quirky offbeat "little book" by an untested "no-name" author? Just once?
See. I told you when I began this article. I already know the answer to that, but I just don't want to admit that I'm right.
Smoke if you got 'em.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
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Monday, August 17, 2009
She was every man's greatest fantasy and every woman's worst nightmare. She draped her trademark hourglass figure with tight dresses over tighter corsets and set them off with diamond necklaces, bangles, and baubles. A natural comic known for her irreverent style, incomparable wit, and sultry voice, for more than half a century Mae West remained the quintessential Hollywood sex symbol upon which all future divas would base their personas. To many people's surprise, she also wrote numerous screenplays.
Born on August 17, 1893, in Brooklyn, N. Y., West was the first child of a boxer and a corset model. Her mother, Matilda, exerted a profound influence on her, instilling generous amounts of self-confidence and ambition and pushing her daughter onto the vaudeville stage by the age of seven.West quit school after the third grade and for the next two decades lived the rough-and-tumble life of a stage performer, appearing on Broadway, in vaudeville, and on burlesque stages across the country. She was the first performer to do a dance called "The Shimmy" on stage, creating an international sensation. Her first Broadway role was in A la Bradway and Hello, Paris and was quickly followed by a starring role with Al Jolson in Vera Violetta in 1911. She soon built a reputation for adding spicy asides to her scripts and was often censored by producers.
Her introduction to national notoriety eluded her until 1928, when she wrote and staged her own play, Sex, in New York. That led to her arrest and a widely publicized trial on obscenity charges, culminating in one week of incarceration and a lifetime of fame. The charges against West were "corrupting the morals of youth," and the arresting officer testified that she had not only revealed her navel in public, but also moved it up and down and side to side. The resulting controversy made her a star.
The following year, her next play, Drag, was banned on Broadway because its subject matter was homosexuality. With Diamond Lil (1928), West became the toast of Broadway. After several more controversial plays, she was signed by Paramount Pictures in 1932, where her phenomenal success is credited with keeping the studio solvent. To get around the Hayes decency code then in effect, West, who wrote nearly all of her own screenplays, began disguising her risqué material in innuendoes and double entendres, which became a trademark of her comedic style. "I'm no angel, but I've spread my wings a bit," she once said, and "I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it." Still, by the mid-1940s, her films and popularity were so compromised after her bouts with censorship that she could no longer find work in Hollywood.
During her long and varied career, West wrote and starred in numerous plays, including Diamond Lil (1928) and The Constant Sinner (1931); and she starred in suggestive movies such as I'm No Angel (1933) and She Done Him Wrong (1933). As a comedic actress, she was the magnificent foil opposite W. C. Fields in My Little Chickadee.
Mae West once said, "When choosing between two evils, I always like to pick the one I never tried before" and "When I'm bad, I'm better."
Mae West died in 1980 following a series of several strokes.
From AmSAW's "It Happened in History" Series
Marjorie Kinnan was born August 8, 1896, in Washington, D.C. A writer from an early age, she won a prize of $2 for a short story published in the Washington Post in 1907. She was the youngest winner in the contest's history. And life as a writer for Marjorie Kinnan had begun.
In 1914, after graduation from high school, she moved to Wisconsin with her mother and younger brother. Her father had died the year before. In Madison, she attended the University of Wisconsin where she was a member of the women's honor society, the drama society, and the Delta Gamma Sorority. In 1918, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
A year after she was graduated, she married Charles Rawlings, also a writer. The couple moved to New York, where they worked as journalists for various newspapers. From 1926 - 1928, Marjorie wrote verses for United Features Syndicate. In 1928, the couple purchased a 72-acre orange grove near Hawthorne, Florida, aptly named Cross Creek because it lay nestled between Orange Lake and Lochloosa Lake.
In 1933, the couple divorced; but Rawlings was so drawn to the natural, untamed beauty of the land and the simplicity of the rural lifestyle that she continued to live at Cross Creek on and off for the rest of her life. In 1941, she married Norton Baskin, a hotel owner from St. Augustine, Florida, and lived with him until her death in 1953.
The style in which Rawlings wrote is typically referred to as local color or regional writing because the themes that so often populate her stories and novels are about the organic fabric of rural life. Using an external voice, Rawlings wrote about characters whose internal motivations drove them to overcome often overwhelming environmental forces. Although her stories are based on the seemingly simple lives of rural people, her themes are universal.
Rawlings sold her first two short stories in 1930. Three years later, she received the O. Henry Award for her piece, Gal Young 'Un, about a vulnerable widow living in rural Florida during the Prohibition Era. Later that year, she began The Yearling, her best-known work about a young boy named Jody who lives in rural Florida and adopts an orphaned fawn as a pet. As both the boy and the fawn grow, Jody struggles with the practical hardships of life on a farm, family relationships and expectations, and his responsibilities as he approaches adulthood. The story, which in 1939 earned Rawlings the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, was loosely based on actual events.
Rawlings continued to write until her death from a cerebral hemorrhage on December 14, 1953. Several of her books, including The Yearling, Cross Creek, and Gal Young 'Un, were made into movies.