Ein literarisches Roadmovie

In October I will travel to Berlin and Frankfurt where New Zealand is the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2012. There I will be taking part at several events to talk about, among other things, the new German edition of my 1993 novel Lügenspiele (Pack of Lies). The first event will be a reception welcoming New Zealand writers to Germany. More dates TBC.

My German publishers Mana Verlag have subtitled the new edition of Lügenspiele "Ein literarisches Roadmovie" -- I like the sound of that. I like the cover photograph, too, which is by Edinburgh-based artist Jeannie Laub.


HEAVEN (1994) out now on Kindle

My second novel Heaven is out now on Kindle, in a new and revised edition and with a brand new cover by Jonathan King.

First published in 1994, Heaven was later made into a feature film by Miramax, produced by Sue Rogers and directed by Scott Reynolds. The movie starred Martin Donovan (Trust, Boss), Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Joanna Going and a pre-Star Trek, pre-Judge Dredd Karl Urban. I wonder if you could assemble a cast like that for an independent New Zealand movie now.

You can pick up a used copy of Heaven for US$52: the ebook edition is priced at US$2.99 at Amazon.com.


I'd lived with the characters, and I cared about them

Tony Scott discovered Quentin Tarantino in 1991:
Tony Scott: When I was directing The Last Boy Scout, my assistant was hanging out with this quirky guy named Quentin Tarantino, and he'd be around the set. She said, "You gotta read his script."

Quentin Tarantino: When you're a nobody, it's murder to get anyone to read your scripts. The original True Romance script started with a long discussion about cunnilingus. Most people said the script was racist and that the grotesque violence would make people sick. I told Tony, "Read the first three pages. If you don't like it, throw it away."
Scott made True Romance, but changed the ending:
I took True Romance and I took Reservoir Dogs. I'm a very slow reader but I read them straight through. I said, 'I'll do both.' He said, 'No. I'd like you to do True Romance.' He's a brilliant writer, he fully conceives every character, no matter how small they are. Actors came to the set not wanting to change a word, which is unusual. The only thing that I did change was the ending. The original was very different. It ended with Alabama. She puts a gun in her mouth. She doesn't shoot herself, and then she just says, 'Oh fuck it, he isn't worth it.' She throws the gun out of the car window and drives off. Quentin thought it was truer to the character. I was trying to make a commercial film, I wanted a happier ending. I'd lived with the characters really, and I cared about them.
Who knows what people will say about Tony Scott now. But I remember reading (would it have been Premiere magazine?) that when the director hired Tarantino to do a script polish for Crimson Tide (1995) for a lot of money and very little work, it was as a thank you for True Romance.



There's a way in which a writer can do too much, over-whelming the reader with so many details that he no longer has any air to breathe. Think of a typical passage in a novel. A character walks into a room. As a writer, how much of that room do you want to talk about? The possibilities are infinite. You can give the color of the curtains, the wallpaper pattern, the objects on the coffee table, the reflection of the light in the mirror. But how much of this is really necessary? Is the novelist's job simply to reproduce physical sensations for their own sake? When I write, the story is always uppermost in my mind, and I feel that everything must be sacrificed to it.
-- Paul Auster, The Art of Hunger (Sun & Moon Press, 1992)
-- David Mamet, Memo to writers of The Unit, 19 October 2005

Bedside reading


The Assange standoff is a fitting coda to Danny Boyle's Olympics ceremony: emotional, crowd-pleasing and illogical. Prosecutors have an ulterior motive. UK diplomats have scored an own goal. Ecuador probably can't get Assange out of the embassy. Ecuador loves freedom of speech. And if there's one thing Britain won't tolerate, it's people sharing other people's private information...

In Russia a punk trio have been jailed for two years for flash-mobbing. How is that different from the two young men who have been jailed for four years in the UK for posting on Facebook?


The Man Who Wasn't Feeling Himself: new on Kindle

A new edition of my original 1995 short story collection The Man Who Wasn't Feeling Himself is out now on Amazon Kindle.

The collection features twelve short stories: 'Running Hot and Cold' (deeply offended the publisher. "Breaking her hip? Perhaps if you made it all a dream"), 'Calling Doctor Dollywell' ("A casually menacing story that has something to do with health problems and lesbians" – Steve Braunias),  'The Man Who Wasn't Feeling Himself', 'Fire in the Hole', 'Archie and Veronica' (S&M on the west coast, and the most popular story, to judge by the many emails I've received over the years), 'No Sun No Rain' (the first appearance of detective Ellerslie Penrose, who went on to helm Shirker), 'Somewhere in the 21st Century' (SF), 'Oilskin' (upset people no end, but some of the students at the Auckland University writing course liked it, and a Waikato student went on to make it as a student film. Kids!), 'John', 'Me and Misspelt' (currently under option as a film),  'From Soup to Nuts' ("Unnecessarily violent" – Graeme Lay, Metro) and 'Another White Gown'.

All here, now, just for you, in the new digital™ format, with brand spanking new cover art by Christchurch artist Ian Dalziel. A snip at US$2.99.


A leaf on the wind

A moving and clear-eyed piece by Peter Carey on the late Robert Hughes:
Nor should anyone doubt the massive affection he felt for his country. When, in the tabloid aftermath of his car accident in 1999, Australia turned on him, it is hard to underestimate the anguish he suffered in private.
Choire Sicha remembers David Rakoff:
The work he leaves behind — both recorded and in the collections Fraud, from 2001, Don't Get Too Comfortable, from 2005, Half Empty, from 2010 — are all ahead-of-their-time documentations of the way we actually do live now. There was no better correspondent from New York City of his time.
At the Shanghai Literary Festival a fellow author leaned across the table and asked me the sort of low voice normally reserved for selling drugs: 'Chad, Do you like... science fiction?' Why yes, I said. And so over the clatter of plates at M on the Bund we yammered on to each other about Firefly. Here is the very emotional Firefly reunion at Comic Con 2012.


Buffalo, girl

I never got the Jesus and Mary Chain. When they played Auckland in dada-dada-whatever someone at the Powerstation told me their static "feedback" came from a tape loop on the sound desk. No biggie; I'm all for synthetic augmentation: The Jesus and Mary Chain's problem is that they were boring. That week at Entertaining The Stars In New Zild Yeah No It's Rilly Strong Here Aye drinks at the record company offices on K Road the shambly ensemble appeared and shuffled through the room with armfuls of CDs -- they'd pounced on Prince's back-catalogue, which made you wonder why they didn't have Prince in the first place. Later that same day, standing in the kitchen, Neil Young wandered in holding a beer, and being New Zealanders we all stared at him saying nothing, not even 'hello' (including the record company people in the entourage. How shy are we?) and after a long, long minute Neil shrugged and left. I have regrets in life, and that moment is one of them.

But I digress.

The Jesus and Mary Chain have exactly half a song, 'Just Like Honey'. Younger readers will know it from Lost In Translation as the song that ruins the film: the soaring paean that never climaxes; the Velvets steal by someone who could only transcribe two of the three chords in 'Femme Fatale'. After this the British indie scene could only go one way (Pete Doherty sounding like a small child trapped in a car) but no, now The Jesus and Mary Chain have appeared on stage with Jessica Paré AKA Megan Draper, and so it begins... again. Jessica is the tall one, with good teeth: the one who could beat the other ones up.

(Pic: NYMag, obv.)



In 1983 Nobel Prize winner-to-be and Greg Bear fan Doris Lessing wrote a novel under the pen name 'Jane Somers' to test publishers, their readers and critics:
'I wanted to highlight that whole dreadful process in book publishing that "nothing succeeds like success," [Lessing] said in a recent telephone conversation from London. 'If the books had come out in my name, they would have sold a lot of copies and reviewers would have said, "Oh, Doris Lessing, how wonderful." As it is, there were almost no reviews, and the books sold about 1,500 copies here and scarcely 3,000 copies each in the United States.'
From The Paris Review:
Could you tell us more about how you put the Jane Somers hoax over on the critical establishment? It strikes me as an incredibly generous thing to do, first of all, to put a pseudonym on two long novels to try to show the way young novelists are treated.

Well, it wasn't going to be two to begin with! It was meant to be one. What happened was, I wrote the first book and I told the agent that I wanted to sell it as a first novel . . . written by a woman journalist in London. I wanted an identity that was parallel to mine, not too different. So my agent knew, and he sent it off. My two English publishers turned it down. I saw the readers' reports, which were very patronizing. Really astonishingly patronizing! The third publisher, Michael Joseph (the publisher of my first book), was then run by a very clever woman called Phillipa Harrison, who said to my agent, "This reminds me of the early Doris Lessing."
Lessing believes that by the time the novel was published, 'four or five' people knew the secret.
We all expected that when the book came out, everyone would guess. Well, before publication it was sent to all the experts on my work, and none of them guessed. All writers feel terribly caged by these experts — writers become their property.
Jane Somers earned mixed reviews:
A lengthy review of ''If the Old Could. . .'' in The New York Times Book Review last June, for example, said the novel ''fails to achieve greatness.'' But, the reviewer added, ''This is an extremely courageous attempt, and Jane Somers is a courageous writer.''

The Washington Post's reviewer said of ''The Diary of a Good Neighbour'' last year, ''Jane Somers extends one's comprehension of the possibilities life offers, and does it with wit and compassion.''

But The Los Angeles Times's reviewer found ''If the Old Could. . .'' a ''cryptic novel.'' It is, the reviewer said, ''a little like a beautiful sweater made by a woman with arthritis. Through unravelings and dropped stitches, you can make out a lovely pattern, but can't quite figure out what it is.''
Nowadays Lessing's concerns seem quaint. Publishers are more than willing to gamble on unknown writers, and lately they have been betting large:
Gabriel's Inferno and Gabriel's Rapture, popular books that started as Twilight fan fiction, have been acquired by Penguin's Berkley imprint in a "substantial seven-figure deal,” the publisher announced.

Berkley will immediate take over publishing the ebooks from Omnific Publishing. Trade paperbacks will follow in the next few months, with Berkeley planning a 500,000 copy first printing.
I once asked an editor what sort of book sells half a million copies. He smiled: 'Nobody knows.'

UPDATE: speaking of best-selling franchises: Grace Bello interviews Ryan Nerz about ghostwriting Francine Pascal's young-adult series Sweet Valley High:
Nerz: Sweet Valley High is this series that just goes on and on and on. So you're always having to come up with new plots. You're always having to come up with new character arcs. We would just sit around and come up with new ideas. And then they would hire out freelance people, like what I eventually became. You get a one-off amount of money, which is okay. Meanwhile, Francine Pascal sits in a château in France. I'm not even sure if Francine Pascal wrote a single book, which is really funny. She just came up with the idea and the Bible for it.

So the titles that you wrote, did you pitch those ideas?

No; the would-be writers, we would have to do a two-chapter sample, about 30 pages. They have to see that you can match the style and the tone and pull the heartstrings of anonymous 13-year-old girls across the country.

Were there a lot of men writing?

There weren't a whole lot of men. There were few men, predominantly gay, and one other guy, Daniel Ehrenhaft, who now is a fairly successful young-adult writer. Other than that, no. There weren't many men. It was mainly post-college women. That was the main ballgame. There were some dudes. But not a whole lot.
Read the full interview here.
(Pic: Fay Godwin)