Sunday, September 29, 2002

It's amusing to see today's Times Book Review of William Trevor's latest novel (registration required) opposite a review of Stephen King's latest novel. Here you have the world's greatest living writer in the English language opposite probably the world's most successful hack in the English language.

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Well, it's official: Everyman is up for two awards at the 2002 B-Movie Film Festival in New York—Best Editing and Special Achievement. The festival awards are on October 5-6....
It's Celebrity Smack Down time for the two leaders in digital video editing. Check out Discovery Channel producer Peter May's detailed comparison of Apple's Final Cut Pro (which I'm currently using to master Richard the Second) and Avid's new Avid Xpress DV. (I use AvidXpress with Digital-S for educational projects at work). Bottom line: Final Cut Pro. Powered by QuickTime, it just gives you loads of more options in your story-telling ability on the desktop.....

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

You're not likely to get a more different take on remembering Martin Luther King Jr. than this one from First Things editor Rev. Richard John Neuhaus.
AOL plans to offer broadband access. This is good news for content developers (like myself) who feel constantly hobbled by the low bandwidth plaguing the large segment of users out there accessing the Web through AOL 's pathetic browser....

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Bat Ye'or is an author I first came across browsing through book reviews in First Things. I think her work is attracting more attention since 9/11. The main thesis boils down to this: the idea that Muslim rulers in the past were tolerant of their subject populations—especially their Christian and Jewish subject populations—is a myth. This was something I recall being taught and reading in college. Ye'or, an exile from oh-so-moderate Egypt, has written several papers, books and given several lectures to puncture this myth. Her web site can be found here. Check it out.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Andrew Sullivan yesterday on German opposition to a war against Iraq and how—apparently to Chancellor Schroder's embarrassment, right-wing Germans are applauding his opposition. Writes Sullivan: "Recall that the head of Germany's intelligence told the New Yorker earlier this year that he believed Saddam was on the brink of nuclear capacity. Look forward to arguments saying that allowing the nuclear devastation of Israel is not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist."

This is a creepy, if not surprising sentiment. Remember Mark Bowden's article in the May issue of the Atlantic: Tales of the Tyrant? One wonders whether one reason, deep down, the Europeans don't want to defeat Iraq, is that if Saddam does use a nuclear weapon against Israel, then many Germans and other anti-Semitic Europeans will at last be able to say there was something worse than the Holocaust—and Europeans weren't responsible for it....

Friday, September 20, 2002

Interesting news on POD outfit iUniverse from Publisher's Weekly reporter Steve Zeitchik:

Saying you were more than a subsidy publisher but not quite a traditional house always seemed to us like saying you were half pregnant. But iUniverse may soon prove that such unlikely feats are possible (the publishing, not the half-pregnancy). The Nebraska firm has announced a deal with Kensington that could give iUniverse authors a better chance to get picked up by a print house.

According to the deal, iUniverse will package and present select titles to Zebra Books, Kensington's romance imprint. Books that sell 500 copies in six months will be eligible for review by a board set up by iUniverse. If the books pass muster, they will be, possibly after a slight repackaging, sent to Kensington for review. The publisher will not be obligated to print any book. "It's not a press-release agreement. If it doesn't work, it just wastes everyone's time," says new iUniverse CEO Kim Hawley.

The deal is meant to increase iUniverse's appeal to prospective authors. About 5000 writers are currently with iUniverse, a number the firm will need to bulk up if it is to reach profitability. If this gambit works, Hawley says, the company could make deals with other houses in other genres.

Hawley views the arrangement as part of the company's drive to move away from being a subsidy house and toward one that performs author services - in other words, get writers some play where they really want it. (The company has even brought in a packager to help with certain titles.) Of course, many of its authors may have been rejected from houses like Kensington in the first place, but Hawley says she's not too worried about the recycling effect; she cited an internal study that says that about half of iUniverse authors have never tried getting published by a traditional house.

iPublish, of course, also had a semi-permeable membrane between the self-publishing and the traditional, but iUniverse thinks it could avoid some of the usual traps. "Part of the problem is that there hasn't always been a well-defined process for how to get from point A to point Z," Hawley says, adding that unless the process becomes more transparent "people think their book will just end up at Random. It sets up a lot of false expectations."

This pact could keep expectations reasonable, but it also highlights what seems to us like iUniverse's little dilemma: To become more appealing to authors, it needs to increase the odds that authors will get print deals, but if it increases print deals, it limits its own royalty streams, a paradox not unlike having kids to save the marriage....

Thursday, September 19, 2002

CNET plans to adopt a pay-for-placement strategy to keep afloat. This from the excellent Dotcom Scooper Ben Silverman:

Sources familiar with the situation say that unless a last minute snag occurs, CNet's popular software portal is slated for an overhaul on Monday. The "new" would employ a pay-for-placement model, similar to one the advertising firm Overture currently utilizes through its partners.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

One silver lining of the Red Sox vanishing playoff hopes is the resurgence of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. It's also fun watching Derek Lowe win 20 games and Pedro almost certain to (in his next outing). Manny Ramirez meanwhile is in contention for his first batting title in spite of missing six weeks earlier in the season because of his broken finger.

All of which makes the harsh reality of not qualifying for the playoffs (even as they easily win more than 90 games) all the more stupefying. Had the Sox won the wild card, they'd have had two 20-game-winning pitchers to take out the Twins in the best 3 out of 5. Assuming Oakland or the Angels blew away the over-rated Yankees, that would mean at least going the distance for the Championship and a good shot at the World Series. And yet...look what happened (or rather didn't happen).

You have to assume Sox CEO Larry Lucchino isn't going to stand pat and bring back manager Grady Little—a nice guy but the Forrest Gump routine and his hands off approach have all worn thin with Red Sox nation.

And since we're on the subject (and I'd like to cross check in the Spring with my suggestions now), here's who else I'd unload:

Pitchers: Dusty Hermanson (a disaster); Frank Castillo (a close, luckless second); non-relievers Haney, Gomes and Banks.

Players: Dump Tony Clark and Brian Daubach and get a real, full-time first baseman, like Jim Thome.

Keep: Cliff Floyd. Rickey Henderson. Carlos Baerga. Resign Nomar and Pedro pronto. (Tell Nomar to stop whining and exercise more patience at the plate and more leadership in the dugout).

New starting pitcher: Bartolo Colon. Keep Casey Fossum. He's going to get better and better.

There. I feel better now....

Friday, September 13, 2002

Is Alex Beam long for the Boston Globe? A while back I noted that John Ellis, himself a former Globe contributor, thought Alex Beam would not last much longer there. Beam, cheerfully clueless about the web log phenomenon (and indeed any phenomenon that requires anything more complicated than a typewriter or TV remote) seems like a throwback. And in these days of shrinking circulation and low ad revenues, why support Beam's salary when the Globe can find younger, hungrier and more savvy writers for less. Glenn Reynolds agrees.

I personally would miss Beam's sense of humor. But last Friday night at the Boston Film Festival opening party, I ran into until-recently-Globe-film-critic Jay Carr. Now Carr may be close to retiring age—but he doesn't look close to 65 to me. Makes you wonder what the hell they're doing over there on Morrissey Boulevard. Carr was a good critic. He didn't look particularly cheerful when I saw him, and one wonders whether retirement was voluntary.

Alex, take note?

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Andrew Sullivan gives the cadaverous Susan Sontag a beating in Salon. Reprinted on his web site here.

While Sontag has endured the wrath of many moderates and conservatives for her tacit approval of what happened on September 11 and her general hatred for her own country; and while she and other leftists have sparked a debate about patriotism that has shaken up many liberals, it's easy to forget that the Right has its own toads, spiteful "idiotarians" (as the excellent James Lileks calls them), who hate their country every bit as much as the Gore Vidals and Susan Sontags.

Since he was fired from National Review, Joseph Sobran has started his own web site where he weekly lists the evils of the country that nurtured him. It's hard to figure out where a writer as talented as he was went wrong. But I think he carried the cancer around with him. He was fired from NR for attacking Israel in terms that were construed as anti-semitic. But it's clear from his columns that he has many more axes to grind as well. There's the usual loathing of Darwin and Einstein that can be found among a certain strain of crack pots on the right. But he's also obsessed with the idea that Shakespeare's plays were written by the Earl of Oxford and that Abraham Lincoln basically ruined the U.S. when he went to war to keep the South in the Union. Not long before he died, the indefatigable J.P. McFadden, former NR editor and founder and editor of the Human Life Review, wrote me a long letter detailing the whole Sobran saga. Sobran's loathings were apparent to his colleagues for years before they leaked into his NR writings. Indeed, William F. Buckley 'covered' for Sobran for years, I'm told, until his Jew baiting could no longer be hidden.

After September 11th, you can only feel pity for writers like Sontag and Sobran, for whom the whole event was obviously nothing more than another TV show—just another program or issue to review and write about, with the peculiar, nasty and loveless view of the world they nurture every day of their lives....

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Observance for the day. Couldn't put this better than Teresa Nielsen Hayden, consulting editor for New York-based Tor Books where she goes to work:

Some of the stories getting told now are the ones people couldn't bear to tell or to hear told last fall. They lodge in the mind. I'll never be able to stop knowing what fell on the WTC plaza and the roof of St. Nicholas' church that day, when the towers were burning but not yet down. I'm grateful I climbed down from my roof before I had to see the towers collapse. I'm infinitely grateful I didn't see it any closer. Some of the people who saw that happening up close were little kids. Who cares what the media's doing? This isn't about them.

You can read the details of that stuff somewhere else.

I need to say this one thing: I am more grateful than I can possibly say that on the day, I had the opportunity to do a few small things that helped other people. It was a great blessing, and did more to get me through 9/11 than anything else.

Here's something I know a lot of people are doing tomorrow: They're going to go to places and get together with people they couldn't get to on the day. Ellie Lang says she's getting together with a bunch of people from her gym. I'm probably going in to Tor, where I desperately wanted to be last year, when my people there walked out on foot, miles and miles in some cases, to get to their distant apartments, find their children at their schools, find a working phone, find a subway connection to another connection to another connection in the hope of somehow getting home to Brooklyn or Queens or New Jersey.

You can read the rest of her piece here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

The Red Sox were fortunate last night that another glaring example of their indifferent play was eclipsed by the New England Patriots' big win in their impressive 30-14 season's opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Sox culprit this time again was slugger Manny Ramirez who made no effort at all to run out a ground ball in the third inning of what was a close game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla.

But freshman Boston manager Grady Little who without question is one of the nice guys of the American League, took no action aainst Ramirex because, he said, Ramirez apologized to the other players on the bench---this after he was booed lustily by the few fans in the park. Who's running the team: Manny or Grady?

The $20 million-a-year outfielder's performance was an embarrassment to the new owners of the team and undoubtedly will be the final nail in the coffin of Little whø has mismanaged a team with the American League's two top pitchers (Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe) out of a playoff berth.

Red Sox fans who have filled Fenway Park to capacity every home game deserve a better shake. Little has to go. What the club desperately needs is a no-nonsense manager like the Patriots' Coach Bill Belichick, but they are hard to come by.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Even when I was a kid in grammar school and we had to read Huck Finn, I had a sense that Mark Twain was a raving bore and that for some reason the rest of the country insisted on making an icon out of a sentimental old goat. Now comes P.J. O'Rourke, one of my favorite writers, to tell me that I was onto something:

Are there any older humor writers like Mark Twain, or others, whom you admire?

It's funny you should mention Twain. An old friend of mine is up here from Washington, and we were just having a discussion about Mark Twain. Twain was a genius, of course. But we were talking about his annoying, preachy side. Although I do admire Mark Twain's abilities, if you take the whole body of his work, quite a lot of it sets my teeth on edge. So I'm not a huge Twainophile.

Is that because there was a particular argument he was trying to put forward in his writings that bothers you?

Not really. It was just a sort of sanctimoniousness. He was fond of pointing out hypocrisy, particularly about religion. But a little bit of hypocrisy is not such a hideous evil. After all, people who are hypocrites at least know the difference between bad and good. There's a kind of person who doesn't know the difference, or who thinks bad is good. A hypocrite is preferable to someone like a Hitler or a Stalin who always sticks to the party line.

As for dead humorists whom I most admire, I'd have to say Evelyn Waugh and Max Beerbohm. Waugh is just absolutely amazing. And Beerbohm is not read much anymore, but he was an absolutely fantastic essayist.

Thought for the day: Just sold my first short story since...well, longer than I'd like to admit. Other writers have commented on the comparative ease of getting non-fiction published compared to fiction. I agree. And it is much worse now than it was ten or twenty years ago.

And yet, I've also noticed that the changes taking place in publishing are not all bad. This particular piece of mine was submitted, read and accepted in the space of less than a week. And it was all done online. The story itself will appear in an anthology.

I've been writing and submitting fiction to magazines, agents and publishers since 1986, and I can't help noticing how much more success I have had on all fronts since publishers and agents went online with the rest of the world.

Beginner writers should make a note not to bother ever submitting to anyone who will not at least read queries by email. Time for the writer is too precious— as it is for editors and agents.
Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for pointing out this superb piece by Martin Walker—must reading as we approach the anniversary of September 11.

Friday, September 06, 2002

Martin Peretz's excellent piece in this week's New Republic deserves more notice.

Peretz has always been a big supporter of Al Gore, and he came under some fire over the past couple of years for using his magazine to boost Gore during the presidential campaign. Indeed, to the point of firing at least one editor (Michael Kelly) who had the bad taste to keep pointing out Gore's less savory character flaws.

At the time of the election, Peretz made no secret of his opinion that GWB was a rube—one just not open to new ideas or intellectual curiousity.

It's a surprise therefore, to read this piece as he (like few other liberals) points out the truly significant new direction Bush has taken American foreign policy in the mideast—in spite of the obvious pressure from the GOP old guard....

Thursday, September 05, 2002

The Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, as always, sums up the disappointment of a season for the Red Sox that should have been better than it was. It's now becoming clear that it might have been better with a more motivating manager:

As for Grady Little, what is there to say? Lucchino is not a patient man and if the Sox go south this month, Grady might find himself harvesting the lower 40 on his old John Deere, collecting two more years of salary from the Red Sox. Fan patience with Grady Gump is waning. The reservoir of good will is low. ''Too nice'' and ''too comfortable'' are expressions being tossed around. Seeing Dick Williams come back with the '67 team didn't help.

It was pathetic to hear Grady still using the summerlong labor crisis as an excuse after last night's loss. When the topic came around to the idea of the Sox maybe waiting too long to go into high gear, Grady actually said, ''Up until last Friday, I think I know where all of our guys' focus was.''

Wow. What an indictment. It doesn't make the manager look good. It certainly won't fly in the CEO suite.

Ken Macha is loosening in the on-deck circle. Poor Grady. Hard to believe he may not even last as long as Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Are DVDs the wave of the future for independent filmmakers? Chris Gore at Filmthreat thinks so. And his piece in the newsletter this week is worth quoting in depth:

Independent film is currently at a crossroads. The former titans of the indie film world, the Miramaxes and the Artisans, have all but stopped taking risks. They have virtually stopped acquiring small movies from emerging
filmmakers. It's times like these when we are all reminded that this is the film "business." The Kevin Smiths of tomorrow are simply going undiscovered as their little $30,000 low-budget indies join the mass of what I call "Cine-Orphans" littering the landscape. Cine-Orphans are basically films without a home - movies without distribution.

There are struggling filmmakers all across the country so desperate to make a deal and see that their film reach the commercial marketplace either in theaters, on cable or on video and DVD, that they'll give it away for practically nothing. They're holding out for the best deal, but at a certain point, when it looks as if the film may never sell, it's not even about breaking even or making a profit - it must become about the filmmaker's ability to use the film as a stepping stone toward launching a career. While most indie filmmakers hold out hope that their film will play on the big screen, the chances are slim to none. And the harsh reality is that it has become increasingly difficult for independents to turn a profit in the theatrical distribution market. Even the major studios accept the fact that most of their pictures will lose money in the course of their theatrical runs. Marketing costs to take a film to thousands of screens are astronomical. But even lackluster theatrical performance of studio pictures helps when it comes to marketing the inevitable DVD and home video release. The multiplex is more often than not being looked on as mainly a way to promote and market the upcoming DVD. In fact, 2001 was the first year in which DVD sales eclipsed the total box office take of all films released to theaters. With this fact in mind, the time is ripe for a revolution in independent film. And the answer lies in three little letters? D-V-D. What most filmmakers don't realize is that the power is truly in their hands.

Filmmakers are not only self-distributing their films on DVD or through small independent DVD labels, they're seeing something they probably never expected —profits. This "DIY" or do-it-yourself approach to releasing a DVD is happening more and more frequently and with even greater success.

Manufacturing and authoring costs have finally become so cheap that practically anyone can become their own DVD distributor. With a run of 1,000 DVDs, an indie might pay $2.50 or less per unit including packaging. As filmmakers grow frustrated with uninspired distributors who lack vision, self-distribution or distribution through a small distributor is now a viable option. Selling those 1,000 DVDs through a web site could potentially net an indie an $18,000 profit. Not bad when most of these orphan films have budgets of under $100,000.

Read the rest of it here.