Thursday, December 09, 2010

It Happened in History: Dalton Trumbo

On December 10, 1905, screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo was born to a family living in Montrose, Colorado.  His father, Orus Bonham Trumbo, soon after  moved the family to Grand Junction.  There, in the blue-collar town a stone's throw from neighboring Utah, the elder Trumbo worked at several occupations--from shoe salesman to beekeeper--all without much success.

When young Trumbo entered high school, he began writing for the Daily Sentinel, the local newspaper.  He entered the University of Colorado in 1924, but when his father died the following year, he moved to Los Angeles to help support his mother and two younger sisters.  He worked for nine years on the night shift at a bakery, leading him to observe, "I never considered the working class anything other than something to get out of."

While working evenings, Trumbo also enrolled in classes at the University of California and at the University of Southern California.  His first stories and essays appeared in Vanity Fair, and in 1932, he began contributing to the film magazine, the Hollywood Spectator.  Trumbo left the bakery business for good when the magazine offered him a position as managing editor.

Trumbo's debut as a novelist came with the publication of Eclipse in 1935.  It was a satire in the spirit of Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt (1922) about a self-made businessman, John Abbott, who challenged a backward and introverted society.  The work was a thinly veiled satire of life in Grand Junction as Trumbo saw it.  That same year, he was hired as a reader and a screenwriter by Warner Brothers, and his star was on the rise.

Trumbo wrote 21 screenplays in the next six years, many of them low-budget remakes for the B-picture units at Warner Brothers, Columbia, and RKO.  Trumbo's adaptation of Christopher Morley's novel, Kitty Foyle, a story about a working girl and her troubled love life, won an Oscar nomination.

Despite his success as a screenwriter, Trumbo was determined to become a first-rate novelist.  The inspiration for his anti-war epic, Johnny Got His Gun, came after he'd read an article about a British officer who had been gravely disfigured in World War I.  The story covers the thoughts of a soldier who has lost his arms, legs, face, sight, and hearing and decides to become an educational exhibit about the horrors of war.  He believes that the people who come to see him "would learn all there was to know about war.  That would be a great thing, to concentrate war in one stump of a body and to show it to people so they could see the difference between a war that's in newspaper headlines and liberty loan drives and a war that is fought out lonesomely in the mud somewhere, a war between a man and a high explosive shell."

Trumbo made his debut as a film director when he later turned the story into a movie.  It won several awards at Cannes but did poorly at the box office in the U.S.

In 1938, Trumbo married Cleo Fincher.  They bought a ranch, named the Lazy T, at Lockwood Valley, a short drive from Hollywood.  During World War II, he served as a war correspondent with the U.S. Army Air Force.   In his script, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, starring Spencer Tracy (1944), he managed to tell a lavish story without the racist tones so prevalent in the day.

Trumbo joined the Communist party in 1943.  He said the meetings were "dull beyond description, about as revolutionary in purpose as Wednesday-evening testimonial services in the Christian Science Church."  Nonetheless, his experimentation in social awareness eventually cost him dearly.  In 1947, he was summoned before Joseph McCarthy's House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) to answer questions about the pervasiveness of communism in Hollywood.  He refused to cooperate and was cited for contempt of Congress.  He was convicted of the charge and, as a member of the "Hollywood Ten," spent nearly a year in a federal prison in Kentucky.  Afterwards, he sold his ranch and moved to Mexico, where he continued to write scripts under various pseudonyms.

Ian McLellan Hunter said that Trumbo wrote the original story for William Wyler's film, Roman Holiday (1953), starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.  "He asked me to front for him," Hunter later said.  Hunter received an Academy Award for the story and turned his fee from Paramount over to Trumbo.

This blacklisting is going to collapse because it is rotten, immoral and illegal.  I am one day going to be working openly in the motion picture industry.  When that day comes, I swear to you that I will never sign a term contract with any major studio.  I will, proudly and by preference do at least one picture a year for King Brothers, and I will try to make it the best picture that I have it in me to do." - from Trumbo's letter to the King Brothers, in The Penguin Book of Hollywood, ed. by Christopher Sylvester, 1998

With the help of director Otto Preminger, Trumbo broke off the blacklist in 1959 and was hired to write the screenplay for Exodus, based on Leon Uris's bestseller.  More screenwriting credits came with The Sandpiper, perhaps better remembered for its song The Shadow of Your Smile than for its stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  Another Trumbo film, Hawaii (1966), was based on James Michener´s best-selling novel.

In a 1970 speech to the Screenwriters Guild, Trumbo reflected upon the horrible years of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee investigations and of Hollywood blacklisting.

"The blacklist was a time of evil, and that no one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil.  Caught in a situation that had passed beyond the control of mere individuals, each person reacted as his nature, his needs, his convictions, and his particular circumstances compelled him to.  There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides.

"When you who are in your forties or younger look back with curiosity on that dark time, as I think occasionally you should, it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims.  Some suffered less than others, some grew and some diminished, but in the final tally we were all victims because almost without exception each of us felt compelled to say things he did not want to say, to do things that he did not want to do, to deliver and receive wounds he truly did not want to exchange.  That is why none of us - right, left, or centre - emerged from that long nightmare without sin."

The tumultuous life of Dalton Trumbo came to an end on September 10, 1976, when he died of a heart attack.




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Monday, December 06, 2010

Google eBooks Officially Launched

Google's long-awaited, long-promised ebook service begins rolling out today in the United States, unveiled in a blog post by product manager Abe Murray, leaving behind its pre-release moniker of Google Editions and now known simply as Google eBooks--one sign of how the world has changed since the web giant first started discussing selling "perpetual online access" to books in 2006. As previously indicated by the company, they expect to launch in other territories in early 2011. The new ebookstore is located at books.google.com/ebooks, but it is launching "throughout the day," so we are advised that not all visitors will necessarily see the new store right away. Similarly, the apps, web reader and reseller ebookstores--all described further below--will start to appear today, though the precise timing is unclear.

Google declares they have "the largest ebooks collection in the world with more than 3 million titles," including "hundreds of thousands of books for sale from publishers" as well as "millions" of public domain titles, with the latter provided for free. People familiar with the catalog estimate the copyrighted works at between 300,000 and 400,000 titles, though Google is not providing a specific number.

While the reviews will come later, in its scope, scale and ambition the program clearly puts Google in contention as a major ebooks player here in the US and shortly in major markets around the world. Google executive Tom Turvey says they are "hoping to capture the full breadth of the book business" with a catalog that incorporates trade books as well as STM, scholarly and professional works. The starting collection also reflects "international diversity," with "multiple languages represented." They are offering both reflowable EPUB files, as well image-based files (when provided by publishers) with a toggle that will show such books--including color titles--"as they exist in print." Turvey underscores, as publishing people will appreciate, that "it's actually meaningful to see how the book was intended to be laid out."





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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Data on eBook Sales

The AAP reported their monthly industry sales statistics for September, including eBook sales compiled from 12 publishers (including the big six). They show sales for the month of $39.9 million, ahead of August's $39 million, but behind July's $40.8 million. (Insiders warn not to make too much of the accuracy surrounding these monthly numbers, based upon how data is accumulated by publishers).

With total trade print sales of $489.5 million for September, that makes eBooks 7.5 percent of sales overall for the month. The total of $304.6 million in sales for the year so far comprises 8.2 percent of total trade sales of $3.705 billion, as recorded by the AAP.

With last month's announcement of Nook Color and Nook Kids, along with a wave of other initiatives aimed at ramping up the children's market, we were interested in where the children's eBook market is now--and what percentage of adult sales (rather than overall sales) have shifted to eBooks.

Based on percentage breakdowns supplied to by many reporting AAP publishers, in September adult eBooks comprised 9.5 percent of all adult trade title sales. Children's eBooks, on the other hand, comprised only 1.6 percent of all children's trade sales.

Overall print trade sales for the year are down 7.5 percent (or $276 million) through September, compared to a year ago. Inclusive of eBooks, however, the trade market is down a more modest 2 percent.

Monday, November 08, 2010

It Happened in History: Margaret Mitchell

November 8, 1900, marks the birthday of a woman whose own life reads nearly as dramatically as her most famous book.  Margaret Mitchell, a native of Atlanta, wrote Gone with the Wind, a book that was very nearly never published but, in fact, ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize for the author in 1937.
Mitchell's mother was a suffragist.  Her father was a prominent southern lawyer and president of the Atlanta Historical Society.  She grew up listening to stories about the Old South and the battles that the Confederate Army had fought around Atlanta during the Civil War.  As she grew older, she loved being the center of attention.  She said, "If I were a boy, I would try for West Point, if I could make it; or, well, I'd be a prize fighter — anything for the thrills." 
After being graduated from Washington Seminary, Mitchell studied medicine at Smith College.  She adopted her mother's feminist leanings, clashing frequently with her father's conservatism.  But she lived the Jazz Age in full and reported on it in her article, "Dancers Now Drown Out Even the Cowbell" in the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine.
"In vain," she wrote, "the leader of the jazz band may burst blood vessels in his efforts to make himself heard above the din of the Double Shuffle and the Fandango Stomp, the newest dances introduced to Atlanta's younger set.  Formerly we had a vast respect for the amount of noise a jazz band could produce.  Now we see it is utterly eclipsed."
Mitchell had numerous suitors when she was young.  She fell in love with a man who went to fight in World War I and never returned.  When Mitchell's mother died in 1919, Margaret returned to keep house for her father and brother.  In 1922, she married Berrien Kinnard Upshaw, who turned out to be a cruel husband with a violent temper.  The disastrous relationship was climaxed by spousal rape and was finally annulled in 1924. 
Mitchell began her writing career as a journalist in 1922.  Using the pseudonym, Peggy, she wrote whatever she thought her Atlanta Journal readers would enjoy--articles, interviews, sketches, and book reviews about beauty pageants, summer getaways, hospitals, prison cells, and whatever else that crossed her mind.  She also contributed to a popular gossip column called "Elizabeth Bennett." 
Mitchell remarried in 1926, shortly before developing a stabbing pain in her ankle.  She couldn't walk, so she took a leave of absence from the paper and holed up in her apartment.  She passed the time reading books.  After reading everything she could get her hands on, she decided to write a book, herself.  She wrote Gone With the Wind, beginning with the last chapter and working her way back in time.  The book tells the tale of Scarlett O'Hara, an aristocratic woman born on a plantation into the genteel life.  By the end of the war, she loses everything she owns.
"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.  In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father.  But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw.  Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends.  Above them, her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startling oblique line in her magnolia-white skin - that skin so prized by Southern women and so carefully guarded with bonnets, veils and mittens against hot Georgia sun." - from Gone with the Wind
At the end of the book, Scarlett pleads with the man she loves, Rhett Butler, who tells her that he is leaving her.  She tells him that she doesn't know what she'll do if he goes away, to which he responds with one of literature's most celebrated lines, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Mitchell wrote the book on a sewing table and stuffed each section into a large Manilla envelope.  She wouldn't admit to anyone that she was writing it.  She said, "I fought violently against letting even a close friend read as much as a line."  If someone walked into the room, she would throw a bath towel over her typewriter. 
It took Mitchell nine years to complete her book.  In 1935, editor Harold Latham visited Atlanta.  When she met him, he said that he had heard she'd written a novel.  She felt shy and told him that he was mistaken.  Soon afterward, a friend told her, "I wouldn't take you for the type who would write a successful book.  You know you don't take life seriously enough to be a novelist ... I think you are wasting your time trying."
She was so furious with the comment that she went home and grabbed the manuscript.  She ran back to Latham's hotel and caught him just as he was packing for a train back to New York.  Latham liked it, and the book was published by MacMillan in 1936.  Comparable in length to Tolstoy's War and Peace, it ran over a thousand pages in length and sold millions of copies.  It broke all previous sales records.  The New Yorker praised it, and poet and critic John Crowe Ransom admired "the architectural persistence behind the big work" although he criticized it for being overly Southern, particularly in its treatment of Reconstruction. 
Malcolm Cowley's disdain in his review came partly from the book's popularity.  John Peale Bishop dismissed the novel as merely "one more of those 1,000 page novels, competent but neither very good nor very sound."  Regardless, in 1937, Gone with the Wind was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  And in 1939, the movie adaptation appeared, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.  It won 10 Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture.
Margaret Mitchell died in Atlanta on August 16, 1949, after being struck accidentally by a speeding car while crossing Peachtree Street.  Lost Laysen, a lost novella by Mitchell written when she was 16 and given to her close friend, was published posthumously in 1995.  The romance was set on a South Pacific island.
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Friday, November 05, 2010

It Happened in History: Sam Shepard

November 5, 1943, marks the birthday of enigmatic actor and playwright Sam Shepard.  Born Samuel Shepard Rogers VII in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, he was the son of an Air Force career man who had been a bomber pilot in World War II.  After the war, Rogers moved his family around between various army bases until he decided to retire and try his hand at ranching.  The family raised sheep and grew avocados on their property in Duarte, California, where Shepard watched his father's slow, methodical decline into alcoholism. 

Shepard entered San Antonio Junior College, where he intended to study agriculture.  But fate intervened when, a year later, he joined a touring troupe of Nomadic thespians.  "That was one of the most exciting times of my life..." he said.  "We never spent more than one or two nights in the same place, and our stages were always the altars of churches... We crisscrossed New England, up into Maine and Vermont.  The country amazed me, having come from a place that was brown and hot and covered with Taco stands.  Finally we hit New York City and I couldn't believe it.  I'd always thought of the 'big city' as Pasadena and the Rose Parade.  I was mesmerized by this place."

He was mesmerized, as well, by the stage.  At the age of 19, he supported himself by serving tables at the Village Gate while pursuing his theatrical interests.  His first complete play, the autobiographical Cowboys, received a favorable review in The Village Voice.  The bug had bitten.  Hard.

Shepard gradually built his theatrical reputation upon a series of one act-plays produced in off-off-Broadway theatres.  He worked at experimental spots like La Mama, Cafe Cino, the Open Theatre, the American Place Theatre, or any company he could find that would produce his work.  He shared an apartment with the son of jazz legend Charles Mingus, who once remarked that, whenever Shepard wasn't reading Samuel Beckett or working, he would go into his room with a ream of paper, close the door, and emerge some time later with the same box of paper, holding a new play. 

In 1971, Shepard told an interviewer, "I don't want to be a playwright, I want to be a rock and roll star..."  Regardless, by the time he turned thirty, he had more than 30 New York productions to his credit.

Shepard's early plays were innovative, influenced by early experiments as a rock musician.  His settings are often a type of No Man's Land on the American horizon, his characters, typically loners and drifters caught between a mythical past and the technological present.  His works often explore the relationships within deeply troubled families.  In 1979, his Buried Child, dealing with the deterioration of the traditional American family, won the Pulitzer Prize.  

In 1983, Shepard divorced his wife and began a relationship with actress-producer Jessica Lange.  Two years later, he adapted his play, Fool for Love, into a script and starred in the film with Kim Basinger and Randy Quaid.  Shepard's A Lie of the Mind (1986), a poetic look at the American West, won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.  That same year, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Among his works from the 1990s are Simpatico (1994), which he started to write while he was driving to Los Angeles, and Cruising Paradise (1996), which contains 40 short stories exploring the themes of solitude and loss of angry and anguished men.

After a hiatus of 20 years, Shepard directed his play, The Late Henry Moss (2000) in San Francisco at the Magic Theatre.  It starred Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, and James Gammon.  The play is about the conflict between two brothers and their dead father.  Since then, Shepard has gone on to become the most widely produced American playwright in history.  His latest play, God of Hell, came out in 2004.

Sam Shepard said, "The work never gets easier. It gets harder and more provocative. And as it gets harder you are continually reminded there is more to accomplish.  It's like digging for gold.  And when you find the vein, you know there's a lot more where that came from."




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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Amazon To Publish Short Writing

Word comes from Amazon that it's looking once again at publishing writing that is shorter than conventional books. Here's the corporate press release:

Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century--works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated--whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.

"Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format," said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. "With Kindle Singles, we're reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers and we're excited to see what they create."

Like all Kindle content, Kindle Singles will be "Buy Once, Read Everywhere"--customers will be able to read them on Kindle, Kindle 3G, Kindle DX, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, Mac, PC, BlackBerry, and Android-based devices. Amazon's Whispersync technology syncs your place across devices, so you can pick up where you left off. In addition, with the Kindle Worry-Free Archive, Kindle Singles will be automatically backed up online in your Kindle library on Amazon where they can be re-downloaded wirelessly for free, anytime.

To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact digital-publications@amazon.com.


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Monday, October 11, 2010

New Larsson Book Confirmed

Remember that mysterious, unpublished, unconfirmed manuscript of the fourth book in Stieg Larsson’s best-selling “Millennium” series? It’s actually the fifth book, according to an article in the New York Times. So said Larsson’s brother, Joakim, in an interview on CBS that was broadcast on Sunday, Oct. 10.

The author, Stieg Larsson, died in 2004 before his books were published.

“I got an e-mail from Stieg 10 days before he died, where he said that book four is nearly finished,” Joakim Larsson said in the interview, which also included his father, Erland.

“To make it more complicated, this book No. 4 — that’s book No. 5,” he added. “Because he thought that was more fun to write.”

The disclosure — should it be true — adds another turn to an already twisty personal story that is nearly as complicated as the plots of the Swedish crime mysteries that Larsson wrote.

The first three books of the “Millennium” series, beginning with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and ending with “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” have become a publishing phenomenon, with tens of millions of copies in print. Larsson did not live to see the books published; he died of a heart attack in 2004, at the age of 50.

The author had said he intended the series to consist of 10 books, and he was working on a manuscript when he died.

Under Swedish law, control of his estate went to his family, rather than to Eva Gabrielsson, his longtime companion. Gabrielsson, who is reportedly in possession of a laptop containing the manuscript, declined to comment to CBS.

Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for Knopf, the American publisher of the “Millennium” books, said he believed the unpublished manuscript existed but did not know whether it was intended to be the fourth book or the fifth.

Whether it will ever be published is another question. Depending on the plot and substance of the story, it is possible that it could work as the fourth book in the series, even if it had been intended to be the fifth.

According to CBS, the Larssons said they would not allow the book to be published.

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Saturday, October 02, 2010

It Happened in History: Graham Greene


Henry Graham Greene, English novelist, journalist, and playwright, was born on October 2, 1901, in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.  The fourth of six children, he was an awkward and painfully shy youth.  He had no inclination toward sports, and he often cut school so that he could read adventure stories such as those by authors Rider Haggard and R. M. Ballantyne.  Such stories influenced him greatly and helped to shape his literary style.

Although many of his works combine elements of the detective story, the spy thriller, and the psychological drama, Greene's weightier novels are mostly stories of the damned.  His heroes eventually are forced to face their shortcomings and arrive at salvation only after a long period of suffering and soul-searching agony.

Greene began his life in England, the son of Charles Greene and Marion Raymond Greene, who was a first cousin to author Robert Louis Stevenson. Greene's father, a brilliant intellect, became headmaster at Berkhamsted School.  Originally, he had intended to become a barrister, but he discovered that he enjoyed teaching more, although his history lessons were often less lessons than diatribes on why Liberalism had failed society.

Young Greene was educated at Berkhamstead and Balliol College, Oxford.  Plagued by debilitating insecurity, he tried running away from home several times.  In his teens, he attempted suicide.  His parents took him to a therapist who encouraged him to start writing as a means of developing a stronger self-image and a more positive outlook on life.  He introduced Greene to several of his literary friends.

Greene quickly learned that he had a natural talent for writing, and during his three years at Balliol, he published more than sixty poems, stories, articles, and reviews, most of which appeared in the student magazine, Oxford Outlook, as well as in the Weekly Westminster Gazette.  In 1926, he converted to Roman Catholicism, saying afterwards, "I had to find a religion... to measure my evil against."  When critics began exhuming the religious undertones in his works, Greene complained that he hated the term being hung on him: "Catholic novelist."

In 1926, Greene moved to London, where he went to work as a reporter for the Times (1926-30) and for the Spectator, where he was a film critic and a literary editor until 1940.  There, he met Vivien Dayrell-Browning.

She had been a secretary at Blackwell's publishers and wrote to Greene at Oxford, chastising him for his article linking cinema, sex, and religion.  The two met for tea and fell in love, although Vivien was slower to yield to Cupid's arrow than was Greene.  He began courting her with a letter of apology. 

"You carry magic with you always," he wrote her at the beginning of their courtship, "it is in your eyes, & your voice, & your long dark hair, & your whiteness."  Vivien, though younger and sexually inexperienced (quite the opposite of Greene), was cooler and more sophisticated when it came to love and kept him at a distance.

The two finally married in 1927.  Their relationship spanned two decades, ending with a separation only when a bomb during the Blitz destroyed their lovely and thankfully empty home at 14 Clapham Common, Vivien having already been evacuated with the children.  She was terrified at the thought that Greene might have been in the house, but he was secretly living with his paramour, Dorothy Glover, and escaped harm.  In an interview, Vivien said later, "Graham's life was saved by his infidelity."

After their relationship ended, he had a string of mistresses, including in the 1950s Swedish actress Anita Björk, whose husband, writer Stig Dagerman, had committed suicide a year earlier.  In 1938, Greene began an affair with Dorothy Glover, a theatre costume designer; with whom he would remain close until the late 1940s.  She started a career as a book illustrator under the name of Dorothy Craigie, writing children's books of her own, including Nicky and Nigger and the Pirate (1960).

During World War II, Greene worked "in a silly useless job," as he said afterwards.  He was in intelligence for the Foreign Office in London, under Kim Philby, who would later gain notoriety for his defection to the Soviet Union.  On one mission to Africa, the writer found little to write home about.  "This is not a government house, and there is no larder: there is also a plague of house-flies which come from the African bush lavatories round the house."

Greene returned to England in 1942 and, following the war, traveled the world as a freelance journalist, living for extended periods in Nice on the French Riviera.  With his anti-American comments, he gained access to some of the world's major Communist leaders, including Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Manuel Noriega, and Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos.  But English novelist Evelyn Waugh, who knew Greene better than anyone else, assured in a letter to a friend that the author "is a secret agent on our side and all his buttering up of the Russians is cover.'"

Without bothering to end his affair with Glover, Greene began a simultaneous affair with a stunningly beautiful Catholic convert, Catherine Walston (right), in 1946.  Walston was also Greene's goddaughter.  Greene met her when, after her conversion to Roman Catholicism, she asked him out of the blue to be her godfather, a ceremony witnessed by Greene's wife, Vivien.  He was 42 and internationally celebrated for novels such as The Power and the Glory.  She was 30 and the mother of six children.

Greene met Walston, fell in love, and then sustained a long and passionate affair which was conducted with the full knowledge of all members of both families.  Harry Walston himself came to be utterly and helplessly complicit in the relationship.  Greene dedicated The End of the Affair to his paramour.  In the book, a writer is having an affair with a neighbor’s wife.  He and the neighbor have a strange friendship, as did Greene and Catherine’s husband.  When a German bomb hits the building where the lovers are meeting, the woman spontaneously prays to God that she will change her life if only her lover is not dead.  Amazingly, he is not.  But this sets off a titanic tug-of-war in several characters’ souls about the relative claims of human and divine love.

The End of the Affair was a scandalous success, so much so that some Catholic wags complained that it gave the impression that Christ had said: "If you love me, break my commandments."  Greene and Walston were certainly active in doing that.  He began rationalizing the affair, going so far as to get confirmation from some priests that it was all right to go to confession again, even knowing that he would immediately return to the illicit liaison.  Greene’s earlier sense of the acute tension between earthly and heavenly impulses gradually slid into a more lax form of Catholicism better suited to his own personal lifestyle.

Greene termed his more popular contemporary thrillers--works such as Orient Express (1932) and The Ministry of Fear (1943)--mere “entertainments” in an attempt to set them apart from his more serious fiction.  His light-hearted romps through populist literature were mostly inspired by his own experiences in the British foreign office in the 1940s and his lifelong ties with SIS.

As both agent and writer, Greene is a crossover between authors such as Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, and Daniel Defoe and more modern day writers such as John Le Carré, John Dickson Carr, Somerset Maugham, and Alec Waugh.  The author came by his intrigue with spies and clandestine affairs quite easily.  His uncle, Sir William Graham Greene, helped to establish the Naval Intelligence Department, and his oldest brother, Herbert, served as a spy for the Imperial Japanese Navy in the 1930s.  Graham's younger sister, Elisabeth, joined MI6 and recruited Graham into the regular ranks of the service.

Greene's most important and enduring works include Brighton Rock (1938), which was also made into a film (right), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951), all of which set a tone of high literary, as well as moral, distinction.  While Greene may have dabbled from time to time in "entertainments," the majority of his work marks him as a literary novelist of great stature.

He was also a first-rate journalist, something that some critics attribute to his excelling as a novelist.  Many of his novels are set in sites of topical journalistic interest: The Quiet American (1955) is the account of early American involvement in Vietnam.  Our Man in Havana (1958), set in Cuba, foretells the coming of the Marxist revolution there.  A Burnt-Out Case (1961), in the Belgian Congo, takes place just before that nation's struggle for independence.  The Comedians (1966), in François Duvalier's Haiti, unfolds before the dictator's overthrow.  The Captain and the Enemy (1980), set in Panama, details the rise and fall of the pre-Noriega nation.

In addition to such timely ventures, the author also displays a marked sense of finely honed comedic value in his short-story collection, May We Borrow Your Husband? (1967), as well as in the novel, Travels with My Aunt (1969).  He also wrote several plays, including The Living Room (1953) and The Potting Shed (1957), both thinly disguised religious dramas, as well as The Complaisant Lover (1959), a witty and intelligent play about marriage and infidelity.  He is also noted for his short stories, essays, film critiques, and scripts, including the mystery melodrama, The Third Man (1950, above).

Not surprisingly, Greene has been the subject of numerous biographies.  When professor Norman Sherry started writing his version, Greene gave him a map of the world, marking all of the places he had visited.  Sherry decided to go to all of the spots that Greene had marked.  He took twenty years to complete the book.  Greene limited himself to writing only five hundred words a day and would stop writing even in the middle of a sentence.  Nonetheless, he published nearly one hundred books, plays, and scripts in his lifetime.

Graham Greene died in 1991.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Book Dump Snarls Traffic

From Our "Isn't There a Better Way?" Department:

Andrew Marr's latest book is, literally, stopping traffic. Boxes containing 15 British tons (16.8 U.S. tons) worth of the journalist's history volume, The Making of Modern Britain, have been strewn across a busy English road following a recent accident. Thames Valley Police said on Sept. 29 that a truck carrying books overturned approximately 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of London shortly before midnight the night before. The driver suffered cuts to his arms, and the road was closed throughout the night as the books were cleared away.

Video footage on the BBC website showed smashed-open boxes of the book piled by the roadside.  The Making of Modern Britain is described by its publisher as "a fascinating portrait of life in Britain during the first half of the 20th century."  Marr, a BBC reporter and presenter, apologized to anyone who had been inconvenienced, and said he hoped the book was not "being taken off to be pulped."

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Monday, September 27, 2010

White House Intel Flop Costs Taxpayers

From Our "Does It Get Any Weirder than This?" Department

Washington (CNN) -- The Department of Defense recently purchased and destroyed thousands of copies of an Army Reserve officer's memoir in an effort to safeguard state secrets, a spokeswoman for Obama's White House said Sept. 25.

"DoD decided to purchase copies of the first printing because they [sic] contained information which could cause damage to national security," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. April Cunningham said.

In a statement to CNN, Cunningham said defense officials observed the September 20 destruction of about 9,500 copies of Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer's new memoir, "Operation Dark Heart."  The cost to taxpayers for the action is estimated at nearly $50,000.

Shaffer says he was notified the day before about the Pentagon's purchase.

"The whole premise smacks of retaliation," Shaffer told CNN following White House admissions. "Someone buying 10,000 books to suppress a story in this digital age is ludicrous."  Even more so, apparently, when an unknown and unspecified number of digital copies are still circulating as eBooks.

"I followed my instructions from the Department of the Army to the letter," Shaffer said.  "I even warned DOD that their destruction of these books would only create more demand and increase readership."

Shaffer's publisher, St. Martin's Press, released a second printing of the book that it said had incorporated some changes the government had sought "while redacting other text he (Shaffer) was told was classified."

From single words and names to entire paragraphs--"Even hyphens in hyphenated words," Shaffer said--blacked out lines appear throughout the book's 299 pages.

CNN obtained a memo from the Defense Intelligence Agency dated August 6 in which Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess claims the DIA tried for nearly two months to get a copy of the manuscript. Burgess said the DIA's investigation "identified significant classified information, the release of which I have determined could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security."

Burgess said the manuscript contained secret activities of the U.S. Special Operations Command, CIA, and National Security Agency.

Shaffer's lawyer, Mark Zaid, said earlier this month that the book had been reviewed by Shaffer's military superiors prior to publication.

"There was a green light from the Army Reserve Command," Zaid told CNN.

But intelligence agencies apparently raised objections when they received copies of the book.
CNN

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New York's "Round Table" Algonquin Changes Hands

The Algonquin Hotel, the hotel where literary figures of the 1920s held court at the fabled centerpiece Round Table, is becoming a Marriott.  The storied landmark at 59 W. 44th St. will become another link in the giant hotel chain this week as the first New York City property in the sprawling Marriott Autograph Collection, according to a Crain's New York Business report.


The 174-room hotel, which opened in 1902, was designated as a city landmark three years ago for its historic relevance as a gathering place for some of the country's most literary notables, including columnist Robert Benchley, New Yorker publisher Harold Ross, and quick-witted authoress Dorothy Parker (Men Don't Make Passes at / Girls Who Wear Glasses).  The management maintained a steadfast tradition as a comforting haven for artists, even in the face of such guest complaints as lost sleep during Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's work on their musical, My Fair Lady.

It likely won't be the only storied New York City hotel to sail under the Marriott Autograph flag.  "We are actively looking for other New York hotels to add to the collection," a Marriott International spokeswoman told Crain's.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In Death There Is, What? Publishing?

Little, Brown & Co. recently revealed the cover jacket for The Pale King, an unfinished novel by David Foster Wallace due for publication next year.  In a PR release, the publisher said the novel, whose cover design was created by Mr. Wallace’s widow, Karen Green, takes place in “an IRS tax-return-processing center in Illinois in the mid-1980s.”  It tells the story of “a crew of entry-level processors and their attempts to do their job in the face of soul-crushing tedium.”

I don't know about you, but I'm going to rush right out and get in my pre-order.

Michael Pietsch, the publisher of Little, Brown and the editor of the novel, added that the author “takes agonizing daily events like standing in lines, traffic jams, and horrific bus rides — things we all hate — and turns them into moments of laughter and understanding.

“Although David did not finish the novel, it is a surprisingly whole and satisfying reading experience that showcases his extraordinary imaginative talents and his mixing of comedy and deep sadness in scenes from daily life.”

Did I say rush right out?  I'm jetting to my nearest bookstore.

Little, Brown said it will release the book on – when else? – April 15.

All of which makes us wonder: is there publishing after death?  Or simply corporate greed?

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

It Happened in History: Dorothy Parker

On August 22, 1893, an extraordinary event exploded across the universe.  On that day, the indomitable, wise-cracking Dorothy Rothschild Parker decided to join the party.

Parker was born and raised in West End, New Jersey, to a Jewish father and a Scottish mother who died when her daughter was only five.  The loss initially devastated her, although in time she grew to rely more heavily on her father, who had amassed a small fortune in the garment industry.  Father and daughter soon developed a tenuous bond, and Parker shared with him all of the secrets and joys that only a young child can know.  Two years later, he married a strict Roman Catholic woman, and trouble loomed in paradise.

Parker disliked her step-mother intensely, and the feeling was mutual.  As a young girl, she was enrolled at a Catholic school for girls in Manhattan, later transferring to Miss Dana's Boarding School.  Her father told school authorities that she was Episcopalian, although her dark Jewishness marked her as an outsider.  She maintained that image of herself--dark, brooding, alone--and in the face of early alienation and disappointment, she developed a biting and irreverent sense of humor to help her cope with her loneliness.  Late in life, she described herself as "one of those awful children who wrote verses."

Despite her earliest literary inclinations, Parker left school suddenly at the age of fourteen, never to return, to take care of her ill father, who had once again become a widower. 

When her father died in 1913, Parker moved to New York City to seek a better life.  She wrote by day and earned money playing the piano at the Manhattan School of Dance by night.  Few people who knew her then would have guessed that she would work herself up to become a legendary figure in New York's literary scene, as well as one of the most talked about, revered, and feared critics in literary history.
Parker began selling poetry to the prestigious Vogue magazine at the age of 19 and soon accepted an editorial position there.  From 1917 to 1920, she also worked as a freelance critic for Vanity Fair and formed, along with Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood, the nucleus of a group they dubbed the Algonquin Round Table, an informal luncheon clique held at New York City's Algonquin Hotel on Forty-Fourth Street.  Other Round Table members included writers Ring Lardner, James Thurber, and Harold Ross, who created the New Yorker magazine.  

Ross said later that he borrowed the tone of voice for his magazine--irreverent, witty, and sarcastic--from those early meetings.  Parker was the only female member of the club and often the only woman in attendance.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania. - from Comment

Parker began her literary career shortly after World War I during an era when slick magazines were one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the country.  The best writers of the day relied heavily on sarcasm, adopting a sophisticated, wise-cracking tone of voice.  Parker soon proved that she could be just as sassy as any man.

An enigma of the day, she stood barely four feet-eleven inches tall.  She loved to drink, she loved to dance, she loved to smoke, she loved to swear.  And she loved to fall in love with men who didn't love her back.  Drama critic Alexander Woollcott described her as "A blend of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth."  Parker replied, "[I'm] just a little Jewish girl, trying to be cute." 

In 1920, Parker was fired from Vanity Fair because her drama reviews had become too harsh and heartless, so she decided to put her cutting-edge cynicism to work in her first book of poems, Enough Rope, which became a national bestseller when it hit the shelves in 1926.  Perfectly suited to the role of the Queen of the Flappers, she bobbed her hair, endured several extra-marital affairs, suffered frequent bouts with alcoholism, and attempted suicide on three (or possibly four, but who was counting?) occasions.  Through it all, she somehow managed to maintain the high quality of her writing. 

She managed, too, despite her cynicism, to take a lifelong if intermittent interest in political activism.  One of those projects would affect her for the remainder of her life.  It was her "pet" project, or so she called it--a demand for the release of two Italian immigrants who had been arrested for murder.  She brought the project to the Algonquin where she engaged the other members of the club in heated debate.  She felt strongly that long-time political anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti had been set up to take the rap for a crime they didn't commit, and she worked diligently at getting their death sentence overturned.  She enticed several other celebrities into joining her, and she was arrested while marching with Robert Benchley and Heywood Broun for the Italians' release.

It was only one of her political crusades that included going to Spain to work against Franco in the Spanish Civil War (the "proudest thing" she ever did), organizing Hollywood screenwriters into a protective guild, and getting blacklisted by the House on Un-American Activities Committee for her leftist social views.

But Parker the Activist had to reconcile herself to Parker the working girl; and, in 1927, she joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine where she wrote book reviews under the pen name, Constant Reader.  While she was there, she became famous for her two-line quip,

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

Independent and feisty, Parker--by now an established author--followed up her first book with Sunset Guns (1928) and Death and Taxes (1931), which were collected in Collected Poems: Not So Deep as a Well (1936).  Her works in verse were sardonic, dry, and elegantly written commentaries on lost love or on the shallowness of modern life.

Why is it no one sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah, no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Parker's short stories, which were collected in After Such Pleasures (1932) and Here Lies (1939), illuminated her deep knowledge and understanding of human nature.  Among her best-known tales are A Big Blonde and A Telephone Call.

During the 1930s, Parker moved with her second husband, Alan Campbell, to Hollywood where she worked as a screenwriter on A Star Is Born (1937), directed by William Wellman and starring Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, and Adolphe Menjou. She received An Academy Award for the screenplay, along  with Campbell and Robert Carson.  She also collaborated with Peter Vierter and Joan Harrison on Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1940).

But her success in Hollywood failed to quench her thirst for sardonic wit, much to the chagrin of many big-name celebrities of the day.  Once, after meeting Joan Crawford, who was married at the time to Franchot Tone, Parker said, "You can take a whore to culture, but you can't make her think."  Of the acting talents of Katherine Hepburn, she wrote, "She ran the whole gamut of emotions, from A to B."

When Parker turned 70, she said, "If I had any decency, I'd be dead.  Most of my friends are."  She also said, "Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words."

Much of Parker's best writing was collected in the Portable Dorothy Parker, which has been in print since 1944.  Of the first ten Portables published by Viking, only the Portable Shakespeare and the Portable Bible have sold as well and as steadily. 

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live. - from Resume
 
Besides her witty limericks, Parker contributed several words and phrases to America's pop vernacular, including bobbed (hairstyle: 1915), queer (homosexual: 1929), bundle of nerves (1915), it's a small world (1915), and what the hell (colloquial: 1923), not to mention the ubiquitous high society, one-night stand, and, appropriately enough, wisecrack.

Dorothy Parker, who once said, "I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true" and "People are more fun than anybody," penned her last sardonic quip on June 7, 1967.  She died alone and broken in the New York hotel she had helped to make famous and that had become her final home.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Book Draws USA Today Wrath

Mark your calendars. On Tuesday, the economic downturn ends.

Why? you ask. That's when self-help priestess Rhonda Byrne returns with The Power and a novel solution to everyone's money woes.

It's not a faltering economy or Wall Street that are at fault, according to the author. It's our feelings. "It's the attractive force of love that moves all the money in the world, and whoever is giving love by feeling good is a magnet for money," Byrne writes.

So stop worrying about that foreclosure notice or the 29% interest rate on your credit card and perk up, people! "You can tell how you feel about money, because if you don't have all you need, then you don't feel good about money," she writes.

But before you snicker and Google that P.T. Barnum quote about suckers, remember that Byrne's previous opus, 2006's The Secret, sold more than 19 million copies in 46 languages. Oprah Winfrey, among others, embraced the Australian TV producer's revelations about the "law of attraction." Boiled down, the idea is to open yourself up to life's goodies — big house, wonderful relationships, fabulous health, all-round happiness — and you'll get them.

The weirdest thing, according to USA Today, is that the author may actually believe herself. Her own narrative is pretty startling. A struggling mom of two reads Wallace Wattles' 1910 book The Science of Getting Rich and ends up as an enormously wealthy media superstar, thanks to her Secret DVD and books.

Her latest tome advises people to be positive and upbeat, believe in themselves, remain open to life's possibilities, and be grateful. Then add the magic ingredient: love.

The problem isn't the self-help genre, the reviewer argues, it's applying the law of attraction to your checkbook. "Byrne is no Suze Orman.

"Another creepy element is the way Byrne digs into the world's religions to pluck out quotes bolstering her crackpot theories about finance. Mother Teresa and St. Augustine are quoted in the money chapter. Quotes from 'Jesus, founder of Christianity,' pop up amid gems such as 'dollar bills want you.'

"With The Secret, Byrne made a fortune off the delusional bliss of magical thinking. Let's not give her any more power."

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Amish Novels Continue Their Growth

It's plain and simple: The Amish inspirational is one of the fastest-growing genres in romance publishing.

For many readers today, it's all about the bonnet. In our sex-soaked society, nothing seems to inflame the imagination quite like the chaste.

In popular series such as Beverly Lewis' Seasons of Grace, Wanda Brunstetter's Indiana Cousins and Cindy Woodsmall's Sisters of the Quilt,the Amish fall in love while grappling with religious taboos and forbidden temptations.

And it all happens in über-quaint settings brimming with hand-sewn quilts, horse-drawn buggies and made-from-scratch Pennsylvania Dutch specialties such as shoofly pie.

"It's a huge, huge, huge trend," says romance blogger Sarah Wendell, co-author of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels.

Who are the Amish? In a 21st-century world, the strictest among them live a 19th-century lifestyle. They are a religious, Christian-based farming community that shuns most modern conveniences such as phones and TVs, and they travel by horse and buggy. They marry among their own faith; the women wear bonnets and modest, drab clothing, the men wear brimmed hats and grow their beards. Children are taught in one-room schoolhouses, and education ends in the eighth grade. Traditional courtship rituals include "Sunday evening singing" group gatherings, where boys and girls can meet. Premarital sex is verboten.

So what is their appeal to modern readers? Remember when Kelly McGillis' modest Amish beauty enraptured Harrison Ford's homicide detective in the 1985 hit Witness? His tough contemporary cop, who pretended to be Amish to protect the widow Rachel Lapp and her young son, saw a whole new world when he lived amid the closed community of barn-raisers and farmers.

With Amish inspirationals, which are shelved under "religious fiction" in bookstores like Barnes & Noble, "readers get to peer inside the Amish community, and it is not like our own community," says McDaniel College English professor Pamela Regis, author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel. "Simplicity is a hallmark of that community, and simplicity is powerful."
USA Today

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Monday, August 02, 2010

It Happened in History: James Baldwin

James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, in New York's Harlem, the illegitimate son of a domestic worker. When he was three, his mother married a factory worker, a hard, cruel man who was also a storefront preacher. Baldwin adopted the surname of his stepfather, who died in a mental hospital in 1943.

Throughout his childhood, Baldwin was a voracious reader. When he was 12, his first story appeared in a church newspaper.

At the age of 14, Baldwin discovered relief from his poor surroundings through a Pentecostal church. He was converted and served in the church as a minister for the next three years. It was his experience in delivering sermons that inspired his famous 1953 work, Go Tell It on the Mountain, about a young minister named John Grimes. At the age of 17, Baldwin left home. After being graduated from high school, he worked in several low-level jobs while beginning his literary apprenticeship.

In middle school, Baldwin had taken French classes from poet Countee Cullen, who was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Baldwin moved to Paris in 1948, where he wrote the famous essay collection, Notes of a Native Son (1955). He lived there for a decade before traveling to London and Istanbul in order to escape the racism he experienced in the United States. He finally returned to America in 1957 to get involved in the southern school desegregation struggle, speaking passionately in support of civil rights and organizing protests. He warned that, until white America changed its attitudes toward blacks, violence would rain across the land. His activities made him a target of FBI investigations, ultimately leading the organization to compile a 1,750-page dossier on the author.

In his second novel, the semi-autobiographical Giovanni's Room (1956), Baldwin exposed a man's struggle with his homosexuality. David, the narrator, tells his story on a single night. He is a young, bisexual American who falls in love with Giovanni, who is to be executed as a murderer, and Hella, his would-be wife.

"But people can't, unhappily, invent their mooring posts," Baldwin wrote, "their lovers and friends, any more than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life."

Nobody Knows My Name (1962), a collections of essays, explored black-white relations in the U.S., William Faulkner's views on segregation, and Richard Wright's work. Wright had encouraged Baldwin when he was an aspiring writer, although the two never became close.

Although music often played a pivotal role in Baldwin's life, the author had not moved it to the forefront of his writings until Just above My Head (1979), his sixth and longest novel. It focused on the lives of a group of friends who began preaching and singing in Harlem churches. In the book, Hall Montana tells the story of the decline of the gospel-singing career of his brother Arthur.

His next book, Evidence of Things Seen (1983), is an account of the unsolved murders of 28 black children in Atlanta in 1980 and 1981. Although the ambitious work was written mostly as an assignment for Playboy, critics panned it when it appeared as a book, calling it superficial--a charge that Baldwin was forced to deal with throughout his literary life.

In 1983, Baldwin accepted a position as a college professor in the Afro-American Studies department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Shortly thereafter, he moved to St. Paul de Venice on the French Riviera, where he died of stomach cancer on November 30, 1987.

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