Don Donovan's World

Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

01 July 2012

Great Works Re-visited 34.


50 crime writers to read before you die

The Talented Mr Ripley
Scheming: a scene from the film The Talented Mr Ripley, adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel

From G K Chesterton to Elmore Leonard, The Daily Telegraph presents a list of of its favourite crime writers of all time

After a debate that left senior members of the Telegraph's literary staff with pulled hair, black eyes and, in one case, an infected bite, we this week present our list of the 50 great crime writers of all time.
We present them in no particular order, and make no apology for our omissions. But we would like to know what you think. Should Ellery Queen have been two of the names on the list? Hate Highsmith? Log on, or write in, and say so.
We wanted to compile a list of writers we had, jointly and severally, loved. We wanted to include writers like Dash Hammett, who brought something new and exciting to the genre; like Elmore Leonard, who turns an old trick in it with incomparable style; and like Poe, who invented it. We did not, except incidentally, take into account popularity.
Who, we asked ourselves finally, are the crime writers who can actually write? We believe any serious reader will profit from acquaintance with any of the writers on this list.
And, just because we love you, as a bonus 51st entry we interview Robert B Parker - an unrivalled pulp stylist who may be the best crime writer you've never read.
GK Chesterton 1874-1936
The most fluent journalist of his generation, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was also a master of the detective story. Father Brown - his sceptical and worldly-wise priest - featured in dozens of exquisite entertainments. Settle into a comfy chair and enjoy. SL

Read: The Complete Father Brown (1986)

Arthur Conan Doyle 1859-1930
Conan Doyle's pipe-smoking detective is so well known that Sherlock has become a synonym for sleuth. He never said the catchphrase; the illustrator gave him the hat; continuity errors abound… but he's brilliant. SL

Read: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)

Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849
Poe was a man of formidable talents - not least of which, sadly, was drinking himself to death. Before that, though, he gave us fiction's first detective, in Auguste Dupin, and hairiest murderer, in an orang-utan. SL

Read: The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)

Ed McBain 1926-2005
As well as writing the script for Hitchcock's The Birds, McBain (real name: Evan Hunter) more or less invented the police procedural. The detectives of Isola's 87th Precinct wise-cracked for half a century, and their spare style was the prime influence on Hill Street Blues. SL

Read: King's Ransom (2003)

Kyril Bonfiglioli 1929-85
A raffish former art dealer, Bonfiglioli created - in Charlie Mortdecai - an antihero (also a raffish art dealer) of irresistible charm. Charlie has the manner of a demented Bertie Wooster and the morals of a polecat. Great titles, too. SL

Read: The Mortdecai Trilogy (1991)

James Ellroy 1948-
Ellroy's labyrinthine novels chart a West Coast underworld of corruption and evil, played out against real historical events. Bent cops, nightsticks, psychopaths and seductresses. Makes The Silence of the Lambs resemble a vicar's tea party. SL

The full list at The Telegraph

Richard Russo novel not for sale as e-book

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo says his new novel Interventions won't be for sale in electronic form.

Richard Russo with his newest work, 'Interventions,' in his home in Camden, Maine.  A critic of e-books, Russo won't allow Interventions to be sold in electronic form.

Richard Russo with his newest work, 'Interventions,' in his home in Camden, Maine. A critic of e-books, Russo won't allow Interventions to be sold in electronic form. Photo: AP
Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, says his latest novel, Interventions, "is a tribute to the printed book" and is not for sale in an electronic version.
His new book is intended to give readers a "book book" - as he calls printed books - experience.
Russo, 62, is the author of seven novels, including Bridge of Sighs, That Old Cape Magic and Empire Falls, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize and was made into an HBO mini-series starring Paul Newman. His novel Nobody's Fool was turned into a successful film starring Bruce Wilis.
Interventions is a collection of four separate volumes packaged in a slipcase, each with a postcard-sized colour print of a painting by Russo's daughter, Kate. The collection, three short stories and a novella, is published on high-quality sustainably harvested paper.

Russo, talking to the Associated Press from his home in Maine, said that the rapid rise of e-books and online sales of printed books pose threats to bookstores, the publishing industry and the rise of new authors.
He said: "I encourage the idea of buying locally. I think this particular book is part of that groundswell of people who are beginning to understand that buying all of your books through online booksellers is like buying everything from online sellers, whether it's flat-screen TVs or flowers or whatever. I think there's a groundswell of people who are beginning to understand the implications of that. And that's the only justification I have for saying print books are unlikely to disappear."
Full story at The Telegraph

Dumb Ass Episcopalians: "My Bishop Just Indicted by TEC"

An entrepeneur comes up with a novel idea now that TEC, The Episcopal Church, has moved forward with Misconduct Charges against 9 or 10 Bishops.  Some are saying 7, another report says 9.  We'll wait to see how the Dumb Ass TEC plays their dirty hands.

Thanks for visiting my online shop! Find what you're looking for yourself or great

Repentance in Hillbilly Heaven: C.J. Mahaney in CLC's Rearview Mirror! Bye, bye Ceej!

Update:  “Old Ceej” (C.J) Mahaney has bolted from his
flagship church and the home church he established, Covenant Life (CLC), Gaithersburg, MD.  If interested, use our search button for C.J.
Mahaney.  He has been, is and probably
always will be the proud, little, uneducated narcissist, schismatic, and
sectarian Anabaptist.  As a narcissist, Ceej has tossed all leaders who got in his way...the

Photos of Celebrities Reading Books About Other Celebrities

When we came across this photo of Steve Martin reading about Bob Dylan, we had a serious celebs-they’re-just-like-us moment. After all, you’d think that biographies of cultural heroes are for us plebs, who would thrill at descriptions of fame, stardom, and emotional breakdowns. Okay, we’re overstating it a little, but still. Turns out, celebrities are just as fascinated with each other as we are with them — especially the rock stars — and we think it’s very enlightening to see which of our cultural icons are fascinated by which. Click through to check out our gallery of photos of celebs reading books about other celebs, and if you’ve spotted another good one, be sure to let us know in the comments!

Left - Steve Martin reading about Bob Dylan, circa 1970. Photo via.
More at Flavorpill

Dumb Ass Episcopalians: Nine Episcopal Bishops Face Misconduct Presentments

"[This is] one more instance of Johnson's First Law of Episcopal Thermodynamics: 'Every joke you make about the Episcopal Organization eventually comes true,'" writes Haley.  In short, the liturgical equivalent of the dumb ass American Hillbilly Religion.  Upshot:  how to destroy a once fairly solid Church and end up like pigs in the mud.

Poetry’s Relationship With the Olympics

Champions of Verse - By TONY PERROTTET

Illustration by Luc Melanson
Yet the relationship between poetry and the Olympics goes back to the very origins of the Games. In ancient Greece, literary events were an indispensable part of athletic festivals, where fully clothed writers could be as popular with the crowd as the buff athletes who strutted about in the nude, gleaming with olive oil. Spectators packing the sanctuary of Zeus sought perfection in both body and mind. Champion athletes commissioned great poets like Pindar to compose their victory odes, which were sung at lavish banquets by choruses of boys. (The refined cultural ambience could put contemporary opening ceremonies, with their parade of pop stars, to shame.) Philosophers and historians introduced cutting-edge work, while lesser-known poets set up stalls or orated from soapboxes. 

Poetry Parnassus

Continental Shift, Royal Festival Hall, June 29
It being a poetry event, the appeal to switch off mobile phones before the show was done in rhyme. But halfway through a poem by Wole Soyinka, a ringtone could be clearly heard throughout the auditorium. Soyinka stoically finished the poem before adding, 'I apologize for that', took out a mobile phone and switched it off. He had another one in his other pocket and so switched that off as well. Unfortunately, the performers had not been in attendance to hear the request.
This was the big event of Simon Armitage's 'Poetry Parnassus', a brave attempt to bring a poet from every competing Olympic country to London for a very international festival. Nobel prize winners, Pulitzers and laureates from seven countries were brought together. Armitage himself was a Master of Ceremonies allowed a couple of poems but it was Jo Shapcott who represented Britain with some bee poems.

Soyinka, from Nigeria, came next, in a rather more benign mood than his political activist past would have led one to anticipate. A list provided of biographical notes on the whole cast of Parnassian poets demonstrated just how many writers are exiled, banned or pursued by regimes across the world and how political engagement is not really a choice in so many countries. We are spoilt in this country by having the opportunity to engage with anything else, without having the one, big over-riding issue to deal with all the time.
Full report here.

Julian Barnes: my life as a bibliophile

From school prizes to writing his own novels, the author reflects on his lifelong bibliomania and explains why, despite e-readers and Amazon, he believes the physical book and bookshops will survive

second-hand bookshop
'To own a certain book – one you had chosen yourself – was to define yourself.' Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. And it was through books that I first realised there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer's voice gets inside a reader's head. I was perhaps lucky that for the first 10 years of my life there was no competition from television; and when one finally arrived in the household, it was under the strict control of my parents. They were both schoolteachers, so respect for the book and what it contained were implicit. We didn't go to church, but we did go to the library.
My maternal grandparents were also teachers. Grandpa had a mail-order set of Dickens and a Nelson's Cyclopaedia in about 30 small red volumes. My parents had classier and more varied books, and in later life became members of the Folio Society. I grew up assuming that all homes contained books; that this was normal. It was normal, too, that they were valued for their usefulness: to learn from at school, to dispense and verify information, and to entertain during the holidays. My father had collections of Times Fourth Leaders; my mother might enjoy a Nancy Mitford. Their shelves also contained the leather-bound prizes my father had won at Ilkeston County School between 1921 and 1925, for "General Proficiency" or "General Excellence": The Pageant of English Prose, Goldsmith's Poetical Works, Cary's Dante, Lytton's Last of the Barons, Charles Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth.
None of these works excited me as a boy. I first started investigating my parents' shelves (and those of my grandparents, and of my older brother) when awareness of sex dawned. Grandpa's library contained little lubricity except a scene or two in John Masters's Bhowani Junction; my parents had William Orpen's History of Art with several important black-and-white illustrations; but my brother owned a copy of Petronius's Satyricon, which was the hottest book by far on the home shelves. The Romans definitely led a more riotous life than the one I witnessed around me in Northwood, Middlesex. Banquets, slave girls, orgies, all sorts of stuff. I wonder if my brother noticed that after a while some of the pages of his Satyricon were almost falling from the spine. Foolishly, I assumed all his ancient classics must have similar erotic content. I spent many a dull day with his Hesiod before concluding that this wasn't the case.

The local high street included an establishment we referred to as "the bookshop". In fact, it was a fancy-goods store plus stationer's with a downstairs room, about half of which was given over to books. Some of them were quite respectable – Penguin classics, Penguin and Pan fiction. Part of me assumed that these were all the books that there were. I mean, I knew there were different books in the public library, and there were school books, which were again different; but in terms of the wider world of books, I assumed this tiny sample was somehow representative. Occasionally, in another suburb or town, we might visit a "real" bookshop, which usually turned out to be a branch of WH Smith.

The only variant book-source came if you won a school prize (I was at City of London, then on Victoria Embankment next to Blackfriars Bridge). Winners were allowed to choose their own books, usually under parental supervision. But again, this was somehow a narrowing rather than a broadening exercise. You could choose them only from a selection available at a private showroom in an office block on the South Bank: a place both slightly mysterious and utterly functional. It was, I later discovered, yet another part of WH Smith. Here were books of weight and worthiness, the sort to be admired rather than perhaps ever read. Your school prize would have a particular value, you chose a book for up to that amount, whereupon it vanished from your sight, to reappear on Lord Mayor's prize day, when the Lord Mayor of London, in full regalia, would personally hand it over to you. Now it would contain a pasted-in page on the front end-paper describing your achievement, while the cloth cover bore the gilt-embossed school arms. I can remember little of what I obediently chose when guided by my parents. But in 1963 I won the Mortimer English prize and, being now 17, must have gone by myself to that depository of seriousness, where I found (whose slip-up could it have been?) a copy of Ulysses. I can still see the disapproving face of the Lord Mayor as his protectively gloved hand passed over to me this notoriously filthy novel.
By now, I was beginning to view books as more than just utilitarian, sources of information, instruction, delight or titillation. First there was the excitement and meaning of possession. To own a certain book – one you had chosen yourself – was to define yourself. And that self-definition had to be protected, physically. So I would cover my favourite books (paperbacks, inevitably, out of financial constraint) with transparent Fablon. First, though, I would write my name – in a recently acquired italic hand, in blue ink, underlined with red – on the edge of the inside cover. The Fablon would then be cut and fitted so that it also protected the ownership signature. Some of these books – for instance, David Magarshack's Penguin translations of the Russian classics – are still on my shelves.
Full story at The Guardian

A lost classic of African literature—chaotic, dreamlike, and funny—finally gets its due.

“I Only Want a Little Authenticity!”

By | Friday, June 29, 2012

Illustration by Matt Kindt.
When I was in college, after a discussion of Chinua Achebe at the tail end of a survey course in English literature, I got into an argument with a classmate who suggested that plenty of African literature was good but could never be great because it was so political. Leaving aside the obviously problematic use of “African” as a catch-all classification for literature from 1 billion people in 52 countries (and a decidedly Eurocentric bias), my classmate’s musings did identify a tension at the very root of the Western world’s interaction with so-called African literature. Can literature be both overtly political and also great?
It seems an absurd question when considering many prominent works of the English canon. What is Coriolanus if not a commentary on the life cycles of autocrats? What is Great Expectations if not an extended criticism of class distinction in 19th-century Britain? And yet, with writings by African authors the question persists: Is it high art delivering timeless and universal commentary on the human condition, or is it little more than a guide to the culture and politics of a specific continent (with occasional literary flourishes)? The question will not die because of the Western tendency to view life in Africa as so profoundly alien that nearly everything written from the continent becomes not literature, but a manual—and we all know how we feel about manuals.

The first wave of interest in African writers hit the global literary scene around the same time many countries won independence from oppressive colonial regimes. Beginning in the 1960s, writing from the continent was parsed so thoroughly for political meanings that a sentence was always more than a simple sentence: It was commentary on race, culture, or the politics of colonialism and independence. The stunning craft and beauty of writing by Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, for example, was often overlooked; criticism of their work focused in large part on how new Africa presented itself to its former masters—rather than how great writers from a portion of the world presented their many and varied takes on the existential questions that torment us all. African writing was labeled political because Western interest in Africa was, primarily, political.

A generation later, a second wave of interest in African writing arose as the world became reacquainted with Africa as a realm of human suffering—a continent that needed to be saved from itself by the same people who had so thoroughly exploited and rubbished it. Again it seems much of the writing by African authors of the aughts (including my own) was seen as illuminating a very particular form of African misfortune (war, disease, corruption) and not issues that were globally generalizable. In other words, to reinterpret my long-ago classmate’s comment, African literature will never be great in the Western mind not because it is political, but because it is African—and African is too particularly other to be universal.

The Ghanian poet and educator Kojo Laing released his debut novel Search Sweet Country, newly reprinted by McSweeney’s, in 1986—directly between those two eras of international visibility for African writing, a time when once-prestigious universities across the continent fell into disrepair, victims of despots and broken economies. Born in Kumasi, a city well inland from Ghana’s coastal capital Accra, Laing was educated in the U.K., earning a master’s in political science and history at Glasgow before returning to a Ghana completely transformed from a hopeful place post-independence to an economic and political basket case ruled by increasingly aggressive and paranoid military regimes. Gone were the pseudodemocratic Pan-African rhetorical escapades of Kwame Nkrumah, replaced by the numbing military speak (“Operation Keep Right,” “Operation Feed Yourself”) of the generals who overthrew the civilian regime and then each other through the 1970s. It’s those strongmen, particularly Ignatius Acheampong and his successor Fred Akuffo, who most concern Search Sweet Country, a book that for years has confounded those who try to summarize and categorize it. As the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina writes in his insightful introduction to the rerelease:
When Search Sweet Country was first published it created a lot of critical attention—and confusion. Is it magic realism? No. A satire? No. Panicked critics, constrained by newspaper word counts, by epistemological confusion, by the usual third world head fogs, searched for catchphrases with which to hitch this unruly wagon to a recognizable star.

Room for magic: A conversation with Lyndsay Faye

Scientific American - June 28, 2012|

The Gods of Gotham, 
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2012

In 1845, New York City saw the establishment of its first ever police department. It’s hard to imagine how the city had managed to survive—and thrive—without one – and harder still to think how it would have continued to do so after the influx of Irish immigrants from the Great Famine. But despite the need that seems so apparent in retrospect, the department’s early days were decidedly rocky. Come to think of it, it’s a miracle it managed to survive at all.
Policeman one, day one: that’s the starting premise of Lyndsay Faye’s new novel, The Gods of Gotham. From there, Faye weaves a masterful tale of mystery, science, and history that would make Arthur Conan Doyle proud. I don’t make the comparison lightly: Faye, an avid Sherlockian, modeled her first novel, Dust and Shadow, on the master himself, tracing Sherlock Holmes’s hunt for none other than Jack the Ripper. And though Holmes is markedly absent from Gotham, his influence remains.
For, just as a Conan Doyle offers far more than your standard detective story, infusing the Holmes canon with a wit and psychological depth far beyond the confines of genre, so, too, does Faye create something that is difficult to classify into a single category. The Gods of Gotham is as much mystery and historical fiction as it is a reflection on politics and morality, language and identity, science and its role in society.
Here, Faye and I talk about the myriad facets of her prose—from the evolution of language to criminal jargon, internet slang, and some “dirty linguistic secrets”; from Shakespeare (“that quintessentially brilliant genre hack”) to Conan Doyle (“You can’t escape Sherlock Holmes as a mystery writer. You simply cannot. It would be like trying to deal with astrophysics without Newton or modern art without Picasso.”) to Neil Gaiman (“there’s a reason Gaiman has collected almost every literary award known to man”); from the role of chance and luck in the creative process (which often leaves Faye “gobsmacked and dazzled”) to the uncanny nature of historical synchronicity and why “genre” fiction can be such a misnomer. In the end, it all comes down to one thing: that no matter what, “we’ve still room for magic in the world.”
MK: The Gods of Gotham paints a historical picture of New York’s cultural heritage that, as one Irish journalist suggested, would be good reading for presidential candidates (or what were then presidential candidates, since dropped out of the race). Were you looking to make a political statement (and do you think you were making one)?
LF: I don’t know that I was looking to make a specific political statement. Or rather, I didn’t intend to write a direct allegory in any way—I don’t find it artful when theme drives a book rather than character—but I’m a very political person, so it would be impossible for me to write a book that ignored that aspect entirely. Fiction is a fantastic vehicle for an author to talk about important issues without presenting cut and dried answers, as we all know. The Lord of the Rings is a book about Good vs. Evil on the grand Wagnerian scale, yes, but people still read it because it’s about beautifully drawn characters making very specific choices that draw them further and further into the fray. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most political novels ever written, but it’s universally resonant because its characters are so deeply and wonderfully particular.
Full interview at Scientific American

10,000 diamonds go on display at Buckingham Palace to mark the Jubilee

Art Daily Newsltter

Queen Mary wears the Delhi Durbar Tiara set with Cullinan III and IV, 1912, Thomson. Photo: The Royal Collection © 2012, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

LONDON.- More than 10,000 diamonds set in works acquired by six monarchs over three centuries go on display at Buckingham Palace to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s 60-year reign. The special exhibition Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration (30 June – 8 July & 31 July – 7 October) includes a number of The Queen’s personal jewels and works from the Royal Collection chosen for their artistic significance and their historic importance, and for the supreme skill in diamond cutting and mounting they embody. Several pieces of jewellery, such as the Delhi Durbar Tiara, Queen Victoria’s Fringe Brooch and the Kokoshnik Tiara, are on display for the first time. The exhibition also includes jewellery made from the world’s largest diamond, the Cullinan Diamond, which weighed 3,106 carats as an uncut stone. Pieces containing seven of the nine principal stones cut from the Cullinan Diamond are reunited for t ... More


From We Love this Book:

Author and journalist William Sitwell examines the fascinating history of cuisine in print

It never occurred to me that to discover the origins of, for example, the staggeringly successful Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver (the fastest-selling non-fiction title of all time in the UK) I would have to scramble up the dusty sides of the hill of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, outside Luxor in Egypt. For there, in a tomb carved into the limestone mountain, can be found the beginnings of food publishing, albeit not as we know it.
These days, publishing a recipe is pretty simple. A few strokes of the keyboard and one’s blog is updated, there to be disseminated, hopefully, to the masses. But around 4,000 years ago the only place recipes were being written down was in the tombs of  nobles. Those pleasures that they wished to have replicated in the afterlife – happy experiences, rituals, good memories – were painted onto the walls. So it is our good fortune that Senet, either the wife or mother of a senior Ancient Egyptian official, loved her flatbreads so much that their making was painted carefully and in great detail onto the wall of her burial chamber.

Jennifer Weiner on Social Media, Blogging & Writing About Controversial Issues

Women’s fiction writer Jennifer Weiner always seems to have a story to share. She has wielded her pen to write ten books, speak out about gender balance in The New York Times‘ fiction coverage and live-tweet episodes of The Bachelor.
Drawing from the experiences of working as the executive producer/screenwriter on the ABC Family TV show State of Georgia, Weiner (pictured) presents her latest novel The Next Best Thing. It features dramatic characters, a Hollywood dream and an inside look into the Los Angeles show business culture.
We caught up with Weiner to pick her brain for social media tips, advice on connecting with readers on her blog and how to write about controversial issues.
The highlights follow below…
Q: Do you have any tips on how writers can use social media to connect with readers?
A: (1) Be yourself. I know that sounds trite, but that’s really the only thing I can tell you that will help. Don’t try to sound like Colson Whitehead or Neil Gaiman or Judy Blume; just be yourself.
(2) Talk to readers! Thank them for reading your books, re-tweet observations they make.
(3) Make connections. One of the joys of social media has been that it’s given me ‘people’ again – a virtual water cooler where I can hang out and discuss The Bachelor, or the book I can’t wait to read this fall (Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins, in case you were wondering).
(4) Pay attention. Look at the authors who are doing it well, and figure out what’s making it work. How often do they tweet? What’s it about?
(5) Finally, give. Give recommendations, tell jokes, talk about a great new restaurant you found or recipe you tried.
Q: How should authors use their blogs? Is it all about promoting the book? Where do you draw the line on sharing personal life details?
A: Obviously, there’s a promotional element to any kind of social-media presence an author has but it should NEVER be just, ‘Hi! It’s me! Buy my book!’ You have to give people something of value, whether it’s your funny take on reality TV, or recipes, or stories about your life, or your family vacation, or your garden whatever. If all you’re doing is shilling, not only will you not sell your book, you will actually and actively drive readers away.
I’m really lucky. Before I was a novelist, I was a journalist. I loved writing every day, and I loved the immediacy of the interaction that newspapers provided. When you had something to say, you could say it in the paper, the very next day, whereas with novels, any smart observations had to wait until the next book came out. Social media gives me that immediacy, that chance to talk to people again, and comment on the issues of the day when they happen, not weeks or months or years later.
That being said, every writer has to decide for herself where the line is about her personal life. I have very consciously decided that there are just places I won’t go: no pictures of my kids or my house, no talk about my personal life. I’ll tell the occasional anecdote about one of my daughters, or my incredibly cute and unbelievably gassy dog Moochie, but that’s it. I don’t check in on Foursquare, I don’t tweet about pouring my morning coffee, and I don’t post pictures of my kids holding copies of my books.
For me, what feels best is talking about what I’m watching, and what I’m reading. I love reading a great book – Liz Moore’s Heft and Jillian Medoff’s I Couldn’t Love You More or Sarah Pekkanen’s These Girls – and then using social media to tell the world about them. Every writer has to find what feels best for her, then go with it and if all of social media feels awful, then just stay away (even if your publisher tells you that you need to). Readers can smell insincerity and obligation. They know when you’re just tweeting because your editor told you to tweet. Better silence than that kind of forced engagement.
Q: You tackle a lot of controversial subjects in your novels from society’s views on female obesity to philandering politicians to female fertility/childbearing in the 21st century; what’s the best way to tackle a controversial subject when writing your stories?
A: I don’t want to write message books, where readers come away feeling like they’ve spent four hundred pages being whomped over the head with my beliefs. But I want to write stories that engage with the way we live now, which means a certain amount of topicality. My advice is, characters first, issues second. If you’ve built a hero or a heroine who is interesting enough for readers to want to spend hours in his or her company, then you can have your protagonist dealing with the issue of the day but if you start with the issue, and then turn to your character, you’ll end up with a preachy – and, probably boring – book.
Q: You also tackle a lot of controversial subjects in real life. Can you talk about your experiences in trying to speak out about gender balance in The New York Times fiction review coverage?
A: It’s funny – part of me wishes I was wired differently; that I could notice unfairness and imbalance and just think, ‘Hey, people buy my books, what do I care? Why should I care what people call them, why does it matter that the New York Times ignores them? I got mines!’
But that’s not the way I’m built. Some of it’s my childhood, and my parents, who came of age in the sixties and were going to change the world, via the power of Pete Seeger folk songs and Free to Be You and Me. Some of it’s what the brilliant Laura Zigman calls ‘hurt writer-feelings.’ Writers are sensitive types, and being neglected by the paper you grew up reading is a hard thing to ignore.
Some of the response is predictably silly – there are people who believe that once you’re on the bestseller list you’ve forfeited your right to complain about anything, or even point out when things are unfair. Some of it is really painful, like when a quote-unquote ‘literary’ lady writer says that the only reason I care about the issue of who the Times reviews and profiles, and how frequently, and in which section, is because of the way they’ve treated me (which, of course, is absurd – if all I cared about was getting a Times review for myself, wouldn’t I spend all my time praising the paper, instead of pointing out what it does wrong?)
But it’s like Gandhi said. ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ I think that women who’ve spoken out about issues of gender equity at places like the Times and NPR have been ignored. God knows we’ve been belittled. I think now we’re in the fighting stage. I hope that, someday, we’ll win. I hope that if either of my daughters is a writer, she won’t have to jump through an extra, female-specific set of hoops to prove that what she’s written is worthy of serious consideration, even if – especially if – it deals with romance, and friendship, and family, and maybe even shoes.
Q: TV scripts and women’s fiction novels seem like two different animals; how did working in television writing influence your novel writing? And vice versa?
A: Before I was a novelist, I was a journalist. I spent ten years in newsrooms, so, in many ways, being in a writers’ room in LA felt like coming home. Spending eight months in Hollywood getting a show up and running – and then watching it go down hard – was a rough experience, but it gave me great stories to tell (true story: I had to cast a goat. Turns out, in Hollywood, goats have head shots. And reels.) And I think that all my years as a novelist gave me a strong sense of voice and character, of how to use words on a page to bring someone to life.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Another good question! Right now I’m gearing up for the ‘Cupcakes Across America’ tour and wondering which guy Emily on The Bachelorette is going to wind up with.

NZSA Mid-Career Writers Grant – Opens June 29th

A new and valuable grant seeks to recognise and celebrate the contribution of a mid career writer to NZ literature. 

CE Maggie Tarver says that in an increasingly youth oriented arts funding environment it is the NZSA’s intention and duty to remember the many talented writers in NZ who just fall somewhere between emerging and esteemed.

“We think it’s important to provide a grant that celebrates, and is accessible to, writers midway through their career.  Particularly those who have made solid progress but perhaps haven’t received the recognition they deserve.”

The grant is worth $6000 and is open to writers of fiction, literary non-fiction, poetry, short fiction collections (self published work included) and plays. It is intended that the grant be used by the recipient to assist the progress of an existing project.

For the purposes of this contestable grant, a mid-career writer is defined as being one who - isover 35 years of age, has published/had produced a minimum of 3 books or projects, has been actively writing, publishing/producing for a minimum of 5 years and had made a  significant contribution to NZ literature.  The applicant must also be a full member of the NZSA.

The grant opens for applications on 29 June 2012.  The deadline for applications is 31stAugust 2012. 

Application form and terms & conditions are available to download from our website  or can be requested by emailing

Le Corbusier's "The poem of the right angle" on view at Architekturmuseum in Munich

Art Daily Newletter

Le Corbusier, The poem of the right angle, B.4 Mind, Poem of the Right Angle, 1955, p. 69© FLC/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012.

MUNICH.- In the course of seven years, from 1947 to 1953, Le Corbusier produced a succession of lithographs that can be regarded as an artistic realization of his conception of the world and at the same time as a kind of self portrait. Although the work is thus given utmost importance, it received relatively little attention for a long time, as the artist Corbusier was not met with as much interest as the famous architect. Only recent research has decoded and interpreted the cosmos of imagery and thoughts, stipulated in the architectural poem. ›Le poème de l’angle droit‹ (The poem of the right angle) consists of a long hand-written text and drawings, which are linked in a way that they explain each other and merge into a complex statement. The text is divided into seven stanzas which correspond with 19 coloured lithographs. According to Le Corbusier these lithographs should be arranged axisymmetrically in seven rows in the form of a multi-chain cross above each ... More

Rachel O'Neill on trailblazing book trailers

From the New Zealand Book Council Newsletter

I viewed my first ever book trailer on YouTube in 2009. It was the two-and-a-half-minute video trailer promoting the genre mash-up, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters, co-authored with Jane Austin.
At the time, I remember having reservations about book trailers. They seemed to be the opposite of what reading was all about, namely using one's imagination to evoke characters and their various worlds. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek trailer for Winters' book in which a very convincing tentacle, belonging to a fierce lake-dwelling serpent, drags the male love interest, Sir John Middleton, into deep and murky water. Let’s just say his female companion reaches for his hand, finds it in the water, draws it out, and discovers that it’s not strictly attached anymore.
I have since warmed to book trailers and keep my eyes peeled for those about New Zealand new releases. Highlights for me include two beautiful book trailers by Huia Publishers, who celebrate 21 years in business this June. The most recent of these is a book trailer for the new release Ngarimu Te Tohu Toa/Victory at Point 209, illustrated by Andrew Burdan. The graphic novel focuses on Second Lieutenant Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu of 28th Maori Battalion who won the VC during World War Two.
 Like many of the best book trailers I’ve seen, Ngarimu Te Tohu Toa/Victory at Point 209 uses illustration and animation to provide a movie-like introduction to the book. You get a quick but informative sense of the story, characters, tone and narrative style.
Inspired by Andrew Burdan’s excellent trailer, I thought I’d draw together a selection from various publishers' YouTube channels that I’ve enjoyed watching. Click through to our blog Open Book and watch the selection of trailers

Embarrassing Books: The Ten Main Causes Of Biblio Blushing

The Huffington Post UK | By
We've all been there.
Sat on a packed commuter train, you reach into your bag and slide out your latest paperback with the caution of skeptic picking a magician's card...
...unconsciously your knees go up and your fingers spread, covering the maximum possible space on the front and back cover.
With a final furtive glance at the people around you, you begin to read.
But it's no good. The book in your hands is a burning source of shame. For reasons as ancient and irrational as civilisation itself, you're embarrassed about how your literary choice makes you look to a group of complete strangers.
But what is the cause of this biblio blush?
A multitude of possible reasons for book shame exist, and here we've helpfully rounded them up into ten basic categories.
Be ashamed. Be very ashamed...

J. K. Rowling Helps Fan Cope with Bullying

Did a book ever help you cope with bullies? Reader Sacia Flowers once wrote a long letter to J. K. Rowling explaining how the Harry Potter series helped her cope with bullying and a difficult family life.
The novelist responded with a warm and encouraging letter, sharing some advice that all you people can use during the rough times. Letters of Note has reprinted both letters, sharing them with a wider audience. Here is an excerpt rom Rowling’s letter.
I know what it is like to be picked on, as it happened to me, too, throughout my adolescence. I can only wish that you have the same experience that I did, and become happier and more secure the older you get. Being a teenager can be completely horrible, and many of the most successful people I know felt the same way … You’re now standing on the threshold of a very different phase in your life, one where you are much more likely to find kindred spirits, and much less likely to be subject to the pressures of your teenage years.

50 Shades Of Put It Away: The Worst Book Sex Scenes Ever

The huge, throbbing success of 50 Shades Of Grey - the erotic novel that became a self-publishing phenomenon - has brought with it a fair share of criticism.

From snide reviews to Twitter parodies, plenty have mocked the story's breathless prose and naked cliches, even as E.L. James's sale figures rose to uncontrollable heights of ecstasy.
But as book fans and writers alike know, grinding out a good sex scene is one of the deepest, hardest challenges facing the humble novelist, one that has ravaged the reputation of more than one titan of fiction in the past.
Any approach has its potential pitfalls.
Be too metaphorical, and your sex scene will slip from your grasp with the lithe wriggle of a snagged salmon, up, up, away from your impressive rod and through the sun-stroked streams, deep into a pool of pretension.
Play it too hard and fast, and you'll sound like a crude twat.
So for this reason, we think 50 Shades Of Grey deserves to be cut some slack. From John Updike to James Joyce to, er, Giles Coren and Tony Blair, plenty of highly-regarded wordsmiths have drooped when faced with evoking coitus.
Don't believe us? Here's 50 of the funniest, weirdest and most cringe-inducing book sex scenes of all time...

11 Drug-Fueled Escapades

Culture Beast

Out this week, Steven Martin’s Opium Fiend is a memoir of intense sensual abdication—and a personal history of the drug that makes the zoning out possible. See 10 more books aimed to satisfy your craving for cravings.

Don Donovan's World

Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author - 30 June 2012

Great Works Re-visited 33.