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1. Harper Lee Letters to Go Under the Gavel

Fresh off the controversy regarding the impending publication of Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman comes news that six handwritten letters by the author are being auctioned.

According to GMA News, the letters were written between 1956 and 1961. The now-publicity-shy author was corresponding with an architect pal in the Big Apple.

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2. Piper Kerman to Speak at Ohio Library

Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, the memoir that inspired the hit show, recently moved to central Ohio. She will speak on Tuesday, June 2, at Westerville High School in conjunction with an event hosted by the Westerville Public Library.

Get more details about the event here.

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3. RIP William Zinsser

The Associated Press and a number of other outlets are reporting that writing instructor William Zinsser has passed away at the age of 92.

Most noted for his hugely popular book On Writing Well, Zinger also taught at Yale University, Columbia University, and other educational institutions.

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4. Stephen Graham Jones Sells Book to Morrow

Longtime Slushpile favorite Steven Graham Jones has sold a new novel called Mongrels to Morrow. Looks like BJ Robbins of the BJ Robbins Literary Agency brokered the deal.

I’ve got some questions for Mr. Jones on this fine new book of his. Look forward for more information to come shortly.

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5. Sessions Still Available at Seaside Writers Conference

The Seaside Writers Conference began today, in lovely Florida. Jam packed with great instructors and great workshops, the conference offers something for writers of all experience levels.

And it’s not too late to get in on the fun. You can still register and attend certain sessions on an a la carte basis. So if you’re in need of some beach time, add the Seaside Writers Conference to your plans for a quick getaway.

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6. David Simon Gets All Richard Price

Here’s the kind of inside information that separates the truly knowledgeable insiders from the writers who just learn from Wikipedia.

In “David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish shares amazingly detailed knowledge of the cop beat and the unwritten codes of behavior that, in years gone by, governed interactions between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.”

Simon explains a concept called “humbles” when someone could spend a night in jail primarily because they stepped out of line and needed to be, in the eyes of the police, humbled. Simon isn’t defending this cultural construct, but just explaining the way it worked.

Check out this amazing bit of professional guidelines: “In some districts, if you called a Baltimore cop a motherfucker in the 80s and even earlier, that was not generally a reason to go to jail. If the cop came up to clear your corner and you’re moving off the corner, and out of the side of your mouth you call him a motherfucker, you’re not necessarily going to jail if that cop knows his business and played according to code. Everyone gets called a motherfucker, that’s within the realm of general complaint. But the word “asshole” — that’s how ornate the code was — asshole had a personal connotation. You call a cop an asshole, you’re going hard into the wagon in Baltimore.”

Here again, Simon isn’t necessarily saying this is a good thing. But what a fascinating observation. That’s the kind of insider information that distinguishes Richard Price novels.

And that’s something all writers should strive for…

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7. Biggs Says DRM Sucks

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Well, I’m probably exaggerating a bit with that “sucks” choice of words. But suffice it to say, Slushpile’s John Biggs isn’t a fan of digital rights management (DRM) technology used by publishers. He doesn’t employ DRM with his own book Mytro and suggests that the paradigm shift so that indie writers “think in terms of what we can give back to readers rather than what they can give to us.”

Check out his thoughts, along with some audio from Cory Doctorow here.

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8. New GM Book Promises Look Inside Family Revivals

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As a writer, I have always admired books that chronicle an entire group of people or even a town. It’s hard enough to write one book about one subject. But getting committments and information from multiple people, especially on difficult topics, is a real chore.

So I was intrigued by this news item in the always informative Publisher’s Marketplace:

Pulitzer-winning Washington Post reporter Amy Goldstein’s JANESVILLE: An American Story, following three families as the GM plant that has sustained their town and their middle class lives closes and they suddenly must reinvent themselves while facing near-impossible choices and a fracturing community, to Priscilla Painton at Simon & Schuster, in a pre-empt, by Susan Rabiner and Sydelle Kramer of Susan Rabiner Literary Agency.

I am fascinated by books that require multiple interviews with multiple people over a long period of time, especially when financial or other sensitive matters are involved. So this looks like a cool book and definitely something to keep an eye on!

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9. Take a Bite Out of Buford’s Among the Thugs

Among_the_Thugs

The soccer controversy out of the World Cup today about Luis Suarez biting an opponent reminded me of the fabulous book Among the Thugs by Bill Buford. Prior to writing bestsellers about cooking, Buford churned out an amazing book that provided an inside look into soccer hooligan culture.

Well worth grabbing off the shelf for some reading while we await FIFA’s ruling on disciplinary actions for Suarez.

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10. The Rants of Gordon Lish

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Under normal circumstances, I would be ecstatic that the great Barry Hannah gets a mention — any mention — in Newsweek magazine. But this article of Gordon Lish in decline just rubs me the wrong way. I know a number of people who took Lish’s workshop and a couple who were edited by him. So I’ve never been under any illusions about his strong personality and opinions.

Nonetheless, his comment that Raymond Carver was “a fraud. I don’t think he was a writer of any consequence.”

Just a sad article about a once literary icon.

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11. Conservative Book Publishing on the Wane, So Cruz Gets $1.5M

Little more than two weeks after a widely circulated article on the fading of a genre, “Killing Conservative Books: The Shocking End of a Publishing Gold Rush that discussed “the gutting of the conservative book market” and that too many books and too many publishers “made the economics of their genre much tougher, with an ever-increasing number of books competing for an audience that hasn’t grown much since the ’90s”, came news that Texas Senator Ted Cruz agreed to a $1.5 million dollar advance from HarperCollins.

[Disclaimer: Different imprints of HarperCollins published both of my books.]

In a Washington Post article, Paul Bedard writes that Cruz’s advance is even more than Sarah Palin’s check after her entrance onto the national stage.

Let’s go back to the BuzzFeed piece, authored by McKay Coppins…

The crux of the piece is that publishers are basically obligated to sign up books by presidential hopefuls, in the event that they are eventually elected to the White House. However, in the chase for those politicians, many publishers sign deals with conservative politicians that don’t pay off in terms of sales. Coppins’ article points out that Jeb Bush’s book has only sold about 4,600 copies and that Rick Santorum’s 2012 book American Patriots only sold about 6,500 copies.

For example, Tim Pawlenty, a short-lived presidential candidate in 2012, received an advance of around $340,000 for his 2010 book Courage to Stand. But the book went on to sell only 11,689 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks most, but not all, bookstore sales. What’s more, Pawlenty’s political action committee bought at least 5,000 of those copies itself in a failed attempt to get it on the New York Times best-seller list, according to one person with knowledge of the strategy.

So what happens when you have a genre in decline? Pay a shit ton of money to someone in that genre.

Now, it should be stated that Cruz is a giant name in the conservative movement and Coppins’ article specifically states that some books do perform well and that it’s the midlist that struggles. Certainly, Cruz isn’t going to be a midlist author.

Nevertheless, this kind of news is what leaves many aspiring authors and publishing industry observers shaking their head, and more than a few critics applauding the so-called “death of publishing.” This isn’t about left or right, liberal or conservative politics. It’s about an industry observation that got a large amount of discussion about the struggles to recoup advances that face a genre and then, two weeks later, a giant advance is paid out in that same genre.

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12. Plan Your Trip by The Kentucky Barbecue Book

The Food Network and other outlets churn out insufferable amounts of coverage devoted to barbecue in Texas, North Carolina, and Kansas City. With good reason, admittedly. Like anything, there are places where people simply do things right. And those locales should be celebrated and honored.

But by falling back on these old faithful locations time and time again (I mean, do we really need another peek at the Salt Lick in Austin, no matter how great the place is?), we miss the opportunity to explore lesser-known, but equally vibrant cultures of cooking.

For me, that oversight was rectified this past weekend when I was finally able to do a bit of exploring of my old stomping grounds, using Wes Berry’s excellent The Kentucky Barbecue Book. The end result was 4 barbecue joints in less than 48 hours and a great excuse to get off the highway and explore something more unique than just the fast food dumps that litter the exits.

An Associate Professor at Western Kentucky University, Berry wanted to document the barbecue customs and, more importantly, the people who dedicate their lives to it, from his home state. Along the way, he uncovered highly unique and diverse ways of treating barbecue that varied from, literally, county to county. What he calls “micro-regional” cuisine changes from Hopkinsville to Madisonville. And while the big time TV shows and annual New York Times roundups stick with only the most prominent representations of the genre, Berry goes deeper to show how two towns, just separated by a few miles, might go about things completely differently.

Imagine that we’re looking at some pizza show on the Travel Channel. They say, “Chicago is known for deep dish pies,” and then they move on to discussing the thin stuff from the Big Apple. That’s about it.

If Berry were in charge of this production, he’d say, “Chicago is known for deep dish pies. And if you’re on Michigan Avenue, that means a tomato sauce, but a quick cab ride over to Oak Park, then it’s going to be a white sauce. Five miles down into Cicero, you’re going to have spinach on there…” And so forth. This is deeply specific food writing. Just look at Berry’s treatment of mutton.

“This is why I’m fond of mutton, as smoky, tender mutton marries well with the tangy black dip sauces you’ll find at the four Owensboro barbecue places and at western Kentucky Catholic church picnics,” Berry writes. “There’s nothing else like this flavor in the barbecue kingdom, and it’s rare to find outside a few counties in western Kentucky… Mutton is usually basted while smoking over hickory coals and served with a savory Worchestershire sauce-based dip, a think, black potion that also contains vinegar and spices like black pepper and allspice.”

As specific as The Kentucky Barbecue Book is, what prevents it from descending into ultra-niche market territory is Berry’s ability to recount stories about the food and the pit masters encountered along his travels. In many cases, Berry even managed to finagle some recipes out of these experts so you can follow along in your home kitchen. So even if you’re not planning a visit to the Bluegrass State anytime soon, the book is still well-worth a read. Part travelogue, part cookbook, part cultural exploration, Wes Berry’s The Kentucky Barbecue Book is like a great meal: it combines just the right amount of spices, along some sweet and a good smoke.

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13. Sometimes, Ya Just Gotta Write a Shitty Line

We write poor lines because of rushed deadlines, screaming babies in the background, hangovers, and just general human fallibility.

Other times, we write poor lines because we have to, because even though they may sound off or awkward, they are, technically, accurate. Such is the case with this Scientific American article republished on Salon.com.

The article states several times that systems didn’t fail air traffic control and oversight in the case of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 because ” the plane’s location was known before it disappeared.” No criticism for the writer because that is undeniably true.

But damn it seems odd to state, “We had it until we didn’t have it and so everything worked fine.”

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14. Noted Author McGinniss Dies

McGinnis

The New York Times is reporting that noted reporter and author Joe McGinniss has passed away at 71. McGinniss was the author of The Selling of the President and Fatal Vision.

Personally, I was originally introduced to McGinniss’ work because of the role he played in jumpstarting the career of Bret Easton Ellis.

Decades later, I also immensely enjoyed The Deliveryman by McGinniss’ son Joe Jr.

Sad loss. Our Slushpile thoughts go out to the family.

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15. Women in Metal Book Published

Kirtland Book

In my on-going quest to document all the tons of hard rock and heavy metal related books that are published these days, I thought I’d mention this new one.

Beyond just an attention-grabbing title, Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women in Metal by Jill Hughes Kirtland examines Lita Ford, Doro Pesch, Roxy Petrucci and many other female headbangers in their struggle to perform in a male-dominated genre.

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16. Lanza’s New Yorker Interview and Fictional Material

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I generally abhor the “ripped from the headlines” style of books and television shows. To the point that I’ve often wondered if the writers for those Law and Order shows get reduced rates since they’re not really creating things from whole cloth.

But here is a situation that could make for amazing fiction.

In Andrew Solomon’s New Yorker article “The Reckoning” which features exclusive interview material with Peter Lanza, father of Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza, there’s an especially noteworthy passage.

As soon as she got home, they called Ryan and began the two-hour drive to his place, in Hoboken. Ryan had also left his office early; by the time he got home, the police had taped off his apartment building. Adam had been carrying Ryan’s I.D., which had led to the confusion. Ryan approached the police with his arms up and said, “You’re looking for me, but I didn’t do it.” He was taken to a police station, so Peter and Shelley headed there, too. They were questioned for a couple of hours and were made to wait for two more before they were allowed to see Ryan. They went to the home of an aunt of Peter’s to regroup; they were shuttled to a hotel, then to Shelley’s family’s house and other safe houses, with a canine unit supplied by the police for security; they were interviewed by the F.B.I., the state police, and various local authorities. “We didn’t even have clothes,” Peter said. “I had to borrow my lawyer’s pants.” Eventually, they headed to New Hampshire to arrange Nancy’s funeral, and had to evade a stakeout by news media, which wanted to cover it. I asked what they had done about a funeral for Adam. “No one knows that,” Peter said. “And no one ever will.”

Without making excuses, or celebrating a tragedy, or passing judgement on anyone, that situation right there seems like a loaded opportunity for fiction. The whole article is worth reading and it is certainly getting lots of mainstream media coverage. But I’m just left wondering what fiction writers could do with those few hours and days.

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17. We’re Back

I’ve just imported all of the old data from Slushpile since 2005 – no mean feat – so it should all be here. I’d love to hear from you all about why you read Slushpile and what you’re looking for. I’m trying to make this a bit more lively at the very least. Please comment below!

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18. Kickstarter-Backed Author Burns His Books

Artist John Campbell, creator of the site Pictures For Sad Children, has started burning printed copies of his book after hitting $50,000 on Kickstarter yet finding himself still unable to ship the books.

He posted video of the burning on Kickstarter after receiving complaints from customers.

“After a decade of putting personal work on the Internet in public for free and realizing I didn’t have what I felt what I needed, my online persona committed suicide,” Campbell said.

Writes DNAInfo:

Campbell said he spent $30,000 of the Kickstarter money to print 2,000 copies of the 200-page hardback book and then spent more money to include a dead wasp inside of each book. Encased in plastic, the wasps were inserted into the inside back cover.

I suspect it’s the dead wasp that did him in. Those things are expensive.

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19. Ferriss to Publish Audiobooks

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Over at TechCrunch, Anthony Ha has a pretty lengthy look at bestseller and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss’ new audiobook venture.

Ferriss always seems to be trying something new, and this “book club” as he describes it proves to be an interesting enterprise. One thing’s for sure… He’ll certainly document every success and every setback with incredible rigor so it should make for an educational exercise.

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20. Almost 400k Self-Published Books in 2012

digital-self-publishing

Galleycat points to the latest data that states more than 391,000 books were self-published last year. That’s an astounding 59% increase from the previous year.

Amazing.

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21. McKenzie to Appear at KY Book Fair

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Slushpile’s Scott McKenzie will be at the Kentucky Book Fair on Saturday, November 16 in Frankfort, Kentucky. The event is being held at the Frankfort Convention Center. Stop by and say hello!

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22. National Books Awards Held Tonight

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The 2013 National Book Awards will be held tonight in New York City. All the finalists are great, but around here, we’re pulling for George Saunders, who has had a special place in our heart ever since hearing him read “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz” from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.

Fiction Finalists
–Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers
–Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
–James McBride, The Good Lord Bird
–Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge
–George Saunders, Tenth of December

Nonfiction Finalists
–Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
–Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
–George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
–Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
–Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief

Young Adult Literature Finalists
–Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
–Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck
–Tom McNeal, Far Far Away
–Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone
–Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints

Poetry Finalists
–Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog
–Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion
–Adrian Matejka, The Big Smoke
–Matt Rasmussen, Black Aperture
–Mary Szybist, Incarnadine: Poems

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23. LA Times Obit for Louis D. Rubin

louis-rubin-mug

The great Louis D. Rubin passed away recently. Perhaps most well-known for co-founding Algonquin Books, Rubin was also a fine and frequent writer.

The Los Angeles Times has a great overview of Rubin’s life. Check here to read the obit.

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24. Slushpile Needs Book Reviewers

Thanks to the jubilee we’ve been given with the site, it would be great if we could start fresh with some new content and new writers. We can get you books. We need you to review them. Want to join us? Email john@biggs.cc with a few sample reviews and your specific reading/writing interests. We’d love to work with you.

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25. Please Hold

During a move we lost some of the data for Slushpile. We’ll be updating the site and all the SP goodness you expect should keep coming. Bear with us in this time of great peril.

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