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Interview with National Writers Union Organizer Andrew Van Alstyne
by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas
Being a freelance writer can be as lonely as a sailor adrift at sea. In this interview, Andrew Van Alstyne, an organizer with the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981), will share the importance of solidarity among freelance writers.
Andrew is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan. He currently lives in Arlington, Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters.
WOW: Andrew, to start, could you tell us a little about what the National Writers Union is and what they do for writers?
Andrew: The National Writers Union (UAW local 1981) has been around since 1981. We’re the only labor union representing freelance writers. We work on everything from contracts and grievances to copyright issues and member education. Writing is often a solitary profession and the union is a much-needed source of solidarity and support for its members.
This solidarity and support can be crucial for freelance writers. We just won a significant settlement with the publishers of Heart & Soul magazine for unpaid wages for contract writers and staff editors. The magazine’s publisher will sign a confession of judgment and pay the writers in six installments. The first payment was just sent to a writer facing foreclosure. This victory wouldn’t have happened without the commitment of the affected writers, but it also shows the value of collective action and solidarity.
WOW: How did the Pay the Writer campaign begin and why is it important?
Andrew: In 2011, AOL bought the Huffington Post for $315 million. By now, the Huffington Post model is well known: there are a small number of staff employees and a seemingly endless supply of unpaid bloggers. When the sale went down, the unpaid bloggers expected to be rewarded for the value they’d help create. Instead, the site made it clear that bloggers wouldn’t see a dime. In response, Huffington Post bloggers independently called a boycott of the site. We joined the campaign and launched Pay the Writer to make clear that working writers deserve to be paid. This was incredibly important beyond the Huffington Post as a host of imitators emerged all looking to cash in on unpaid bloggers. It’s a successful scheme—Turner just spent $200 million on Bleacher Report.
We recently announced an end to the Pay the Writer campaign so we can focus our energy on building an online writers division within the union. We already have strong divisions for book authors, journalists, and academics and an online division makes sense.
WOW: How can freelance writers know which companies are safe to work for?
Andrew: When dealing with particularly egregious cases, we will issue advisories. For example, in the case of Heart & Soul I mentioned earlier, we issued a Writers Alert letting writers know about the problems at the magazine.
In this market, there are far too many publishers looking to make a quick buck by taking advantage of writers, so it’s important that if a writer encounters problems, she or he has an ally. That’s why contract advice and enforcement is such an important part of what we do.
WOW: What advice do you have for writers—young and old—who are trying to work in the “online” market?
Andrew: A quick scan of Craigslist reveals the challenges writers face, as companies feel no qualms offering negligible rates for professional quality work. There is absolutely no way a writer can make a living on a fraction of a cent per word, but those kinds of job posts are everywhere.
For a new writer or an established writer, my first piece of advice is not to go it alone. Connect with other writers—joining the National Writers Union would be an excellent start. Beyond that, my advice is to not undervalue yourself. Every offer is negotiable, whether it’s on pay or rights or something else. Again, we offer advice on these to members.
WOW: What should writers be looking for in the future from the National Writers Union?
Andrew: We’ll continue working for writers. As our recent Heart & Soul victory shows, there is power in solidarity. As we build our online division, we’re looking to create the infrastructure necessary to make the digital age writer-friendly. Please visit http://www.nwu.org to sign up.
WOW: Thank you for taking time to share this information with us, today. I know there will be many members of WOW interested in what the National Writers Union has to offer freelance writers.
Interview by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas for WOW. Linda is no stranger to WOW. She has taught classes, written articles, participated in contests and joined blog tours. She is an educator/writer/poet, living in Western Massachusetts with her husband and cat. Linda is also a member of the National Writers Union, Local 1981. You can read more about her on her blog, Words from the Heart.
Wondering what to give that dreamy child you know or an adult relative with a taste for beautiful books? Might I make a suggestion? Consider one of Peter Sis’ unique and beautiful books, say his latest, The Conference of the Birds.
The Conference of the Birds is Sis’s gorgeous adaptation of the 12th century epic poem written by Farid Ud-Din Attar from Persia, the story of a flight of birds in search of their true king. Led by a hoopoe, the birds’ journey is a treacherous, soul-wrenching allegory. Their road through the world is filled with doubt, death, and destruction, but ends with a final moving epiphany. Those who appreciate allegorical works like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince are likely to feel the same way about this one. Particularly since, as with de Saint-Exupéry”s work, it is the art that takes this story to whole new levels of meaning and consideration.
On December 9th at Prague’s international airport, a large tapestry based on one of the illustrations from this gorgeous book, sponsored and donated by Art for Amnesty, woven by master weavers in Aubusson, France, and honoring the memory and legacy of Václav Havel is to be unveiled. It is certain to be as spectacular as the book itself.
Also at Huffington Post including a slideshow with some illustrations from the book.
Over the weekend, I was catching up on my Facebook posts and resting. I had to cancel Jacquie Harvey’s interview for another day because I was truly exhausted. Anyway, while trolling, I saw a post from YA author Matt de la Peña…
In a stunning rejection of celebrated author Ana Castillo’s offer to read and speak with Tucson high school students next week, Tucson Unified School District administrators added a new chapter to the nation’s most troubling censorship crackdown.What is going on in Tucson? What message is this sending to their young people? What can we do to help???
For those readers unfamiliar with your two books, how about a twitteresque description. Not too much more than 140 characters that is!
Two children travel through the funniest, weirdest, darkest Grimm tales, facing horrible parents, cruel peers, and other monsters. And—most painfully of all—themselves. (147! I’m a champion!)
Since you are a sort of fairy tale nerd (as am I) what is your take on my impression that for the general public fairies and fairy tales continue to have an image problem. Seems to me that for all the urban fantasy out there (in books, movies, and television shows), many still associate fairy tales with sparkly teeny tiny women flitting about with wings, pink, and Disney. Would you agree? Disagree?
I agree. And most of these adaptations don’t really help the cause at all. Most of the current adaptations of Grimm fairy tales take details from the original tales and use them as a jumping off point to tell their own story and to do their own thing. They toss the form and the style of the fairy tale out the window. I think this is a great waste. Fairy tales have endured not only because of the stories they tell but also because of how they tell them. Fairy tales are told simply, matter-of-factly; they are brief; they deal with the deepest of emotions–pain, humiliation, betrayal, lostness (if you will)–without any hyperbole or drama. The Grimm fairy tales in crystalize our most essential emotions. These modern adaptations, for the most part, have nothing to do with our deepest human emotions. They miss the point of fairy tales altogether.
Another criticism fairy tales get is that they are violent yet you seem to have embraced that idea and run with it. Why?
The real fairy tales are indeed quite violent. But the violence is not gratuitous. On the contrary, it is essential to fairy tales’ task. One of fairy tales’ methods of speaking to the readers’ deepest emotions is a technique I like to call “tears into blood.” There is a wonderful Grimm tale called “The Seven Ravens,” in which a father loves his one little daughter so much more than his seven boys that he wishes they would turn into birds and fly away–which they promptly do. When the little girl discovers that her brothers’ disappearance is due to her father loving her more than he loved the boys, she runs away from home to find them. She is given a chicken bone by the stars (yep, you read that right), and told that it will open the Crystal Mountain where the boys are trapped. The little girl journeys to the mountain but, upon arriving, realizes that she has lost the chicken bone. At this moment, any real child’s feelings of guilt would be extraordinary. Not only was it indirectly her fault that her brothers were turned into birds, but in losing the chicken bone she has lost the ability to save them.
Now, do a little thought-experiment with me. Imagine that “The Seven Ravens,” at this critical juncture, abruptly changed genres and became adult realistic fiction. What would the little girl do? She would live out her days trying to come to terms with her guilt, failing in the majority of her relationships and wondering what could have been. Right? Very depressing. Now, let’s imagine that “The Seven Ravens”, at the moment when the girl discovers the loss of the bone, switches from fairy tale to middle grade adventure novel. In this scenario, the girl would remember a little piece of wire that she received in the first chapter, and she would pick the lock on the door to the mountain and free her brothers. Either that or the bad guy would show up and she’d have to fight him.
But “The Seven Ravens” is a fairy tale. So what happens? The little girl cuts off her finger. And then she slides it into the lock on the door to the Crystal Mountain, and, without any further explanation, the door opens, and she sets her brothers free. This solution raises a series of questions (why the heck does her finger open the door? for example). But what this solution does for the reader is that it takes all the guilt the girl was feeling–about the transformation of her brothers, about the lost chicken bone–into blood. It turns emotional pain into physical pain. It turns tears into blood.
But why is this good? Because every child has cut himself. Every child has been bruised or bled. And so every child knows that the blood stops eventually, the wound scabs over, the bruise yellows and fades. Fairy tale violence teaches the child that emotional wounds heal. That salty tears dry. That no matter the pain, victory is possible.
In your first book you stuck pretty closely to several Grimm fairy tales. This time you branch out a bit. How did you end up with the tales you did retell and what made you move farther into your own original ones?
Thematic considerations and practical ones. First, the thematic: The emotional journey of A TALE DARK AND GRIMM is the children’s evolving relationship towards parents. The journey of IN A GLASS GRIMMLY is about peers. There were certain tales–”The Emperor’s New Clothes,” for example, and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”–that dealt with issues of peers and peer-pressure beautifully, that I really wanted to include. The practical consideration was that I had settled on calling the children Jack and Jill, mostly because that was another folkloric pairing (like Hansel and Gretel) that kids would recognize. (I briefly considered the Grimm Jorinda and Joringel, but I just didn’t think those characters have the same instant name recognition, you know?). So, once I settled on Jack and Jill, that suggested the famous Jack stories, such as the gruesome “Jack the Giant Killer” and the popular “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
I’m curious about your research. In addition to presumably reading a ton of fairy tales, what other research have you done?
I spent most of 2012 living in Europe–mostly in France. My wife was doing her dissertation research in medieval history. I, on the other hand, was eating a ridiculous amount of bread, writing in the mornings, and traveling on the weekends. I explored the Black Forest. I found the Crystal Mountain (well, I think I did). I walked under white cliffs along an endless beach (see the chapter “The Giant Killer” in IN A GLASS GRIMMLY). So I certainly did some geographical and scenic research. I also play with language in my books, particularly regarding characters’ names. So I had some German friends I consulted with on the name of the giant salamander that appears near the end of IN A GLASS GRIMMLY, and I spent a lot of time buried in the Gaelic dictionary developing the names of the giants. Finally, I read a fair amount of secondary material on the fairy tales, to ensure that I was honoring their traditions as well as their content.
Your books are being rightly recommended as fun Halloween-related horror. Do you have any others that you might want to recommend to go with them?
I love Laura Amy Schlitz’s SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS –very creepy, very Victorian, and very dark. It’s got a witch, a magic amulet, a murderous puppeteer, and a little girl who has to visit a graveyard every year on her birthday. What’s not to love?
The other day one of my students who loves your books was railing about the oddity of fairy tales. Why, she ranted, does Gretel have to use a bone for a key in the first book? Why can’t she just just a carefully constructed object that doesn’t involve..let’s see how to phrase this so as not to spoil things….nasty personal stuff? How would you respond to her and others like her?
Fairy tales don’t make any sense. That’s the wonderful thing about them. Their strangeness is their beauty. Also, it’s hilarious.
One more Grimm book. This one is about a boy named Coal and a girl named Ash. Coal is based on the simpleton character that recurs throughout Grimm’s fairy tales–the boy who everyone thinks is stupid, but turns out to possess a special wisdom. Ash is short for Ashputtle. Also known as Cinderella. If you know the Grimm version of Cinderella, you know this book will be just as strange and dark as the two that preceded it.
What is your idea of happiness?
Writing in my pajamas in the morning; a huge, rare cheeseburger for lunch; an afternoon with my wife and friends; and an evening with just my wife.
What is your idea of misery?
A world with no introspection. For this reason, I fear for our society. Who needs Big Brother and thoughtcrime, when self-awareness is obliterated by a constant stream of chattering screens?
If not yourself, who would you like to be?
Where would you like to live?
Most of the year in Brooklyn, and then the month of June in Paris. Or the White House. They have a bowling alley, a basketball court, and a private chef. As long as I didn’t have to do any of that annoying work that the dude who lives there has to do.
What is your favorite food and drink?
My favorite food is a huge, rare cheeseburger. My favorite drink is not for kids, so I’ll leave it out.
What is your present state of mind?
What did Proust say? Bored because of these questions? No. Hungry, because I keep talking about cheeseburgers.
Lucy Coats has already blogged (Wednesday, 9th Feb) about the remarks that Martin Amis made when he was interviewed by Sebastian Faulks for the BBC 2 programme, Faulks on Fiction. Her blog has attracted 60 comments and the outrage felt has resonated as far as the national press and the Huffington Post. Martin Amis, as the Guardian on Saturday pointed out, is no stranger to controversy.
I, too, saw the programme and after the first dropping of the jaw, I thought that he actually had a point. Just in case anybody doesn't know, or does not want to scroll down the page and see his words in purple 18 point type, he said:
'People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say: "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book."'
So far, so insulting. He then went on to say:
'The idea of being conscious of who you are directing the story to is anathema to me because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable. I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.'
Once I heard that, I could see where he was coming from. I did not think he was saying 'all children's writers have half a brain', that would be false logic. He was just explaining his own writing stance and he is entitled to do that. He writes literary fiction for adults, as such he sees it as his task to write to the top of his register and would not, could not accept any restraints on that.
The disregard for the reader that Amis expresses is just not possible when one is writing for children. Children's writers, and I include writers of Young Adult fiction, are ALWAYS aware of what their readers will and will not tolerate, or will or will not understand. Anyone who denies this is being disingenuous. Quite apart from the target readers themselves, there are other agencies involved. We have to worry about things that would not trouble writers of adult fiction in the least - see Leslie Wilson's blog below. How many writers for adults would feel the need to explain and justify their use of swear words or the incidence of sex in a novel? How much we take these factors into consideration, how much we allow them to limit our fiction, is up to us, but those limitations are there. We do not use our full palate, as Patrick Ness would say. How can we? We have to write at a lower register because we are adults and our readers are children.
There are other pressures on us, too. Pressures that have nothing to do with our writing but everything to do with the market place. In a squeezed market, there is more and more demand from publishers for novels that will sell. Books that fit into an obvious, popular genre - action, dark romance, whatever. A book that is perceived as 'too literary' is seen as problematic. The equivalent of the literary novel is a rare beast, and becoming more endangered by the minute. If one or two do sneak through, they usually turn out to have been written for adults in the first place and tweaked a bit in a bid to capture that holy grail, the crossover market.
In an interview in the Observer Review (13th February, 2011)) Nicole Krauss attests that the comment she heard most frequently on a U.S. book tour for her novel, The History of Love, was: 'this book is difficult'. Krauss worries that 'we are moving towards the end of effort'. Readers don't want to have to think too hard, it appears, whatever their age. That is the spectre that frightens me. In the hope of keeping that at bay, I actually want Martin Amis to write to the limit
Hopefully all of you heard the buzz yesterday about the title and cover reveal at The Huffington Post for the new collection of poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, EVERY THING ON IT. Here’s the fabulous cover:
It is on-sale September 20, 2011.
To celebrate the reveal and next month’s celebration of poetry, it makes sense to share a Shel poem today. This is a poem that I actually recited in a poetry competition in fifth grade so it has a special place in my heart – it’s a personal favorite:
by Shel Silverstein
“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more – that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut, my eyes are blue –
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke –
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb,
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is — what?
What’s that? What’s that you say?
You say today is…Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!”
I found that hilarious in fifth grade…but, even as adults, don’t we all want to claim all these illnesses to get a day off work! Still hilarious.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
“Sick” from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION
by Shel Silverstein
The U.K.-based Man Booker International Prize released its longlist to book publishers of 13 finalists for the 2011 award yesterday, but only 12 care to be considered; John Le Carré rejected the nod, offering up an explanation that amounts to little more than “I prefer not to.” Included on the list are three American authors–Anne Tyler, Philip Roth, and Marilynne Robinson–and for the first time, two Chinese writers, Wang Anyi and Su Tong. The award, worth $94,000, is given every other year based on an author’s entire body of work. With christian book publishers informed, the winner will be awarded at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on May 18 and will be feted on June 28 in London.
The assembly of Gujarat, a western Indian state, voted unanimously to ban Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld’s new book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India. The controversy began over early reviews out of the U.S. and U.K. highlighting passages insinuating that Gandhi had a possible intimate relationship with a German man named Hermann Kallenbach. More bans are pending in India, where homosexuality was illegal until 2009.
Simon & Schuster announced it would publish a book of James Garner’s memoir The Garner Files on Nov. 8, 2011. In a press release, Garner saiid, “I’ve avoided writing a book until now because I feel like I’m really pretty average and I didn’t think anyone would care about my life.”
The most difficult readers to reach are, without question, teenage boys–especially teenage boys from poor, urban neighborhoods. But Paul Langan, a 39-year-old white man from the suburbs of New Jersey, has found a way to tap into the market of “black and Latino urban middle and high school students who are struggling readers.” The Bluford series covers topics like fighting, bullies, and drug dealing, which for many of the young readers constitutes “everyday-life situations.”
Gun- and baby-toting woman of action Angelina Jolie will be getting the comic book treatment. It sounds like it’ll be a realistic, biographical take on her life, but Jolie as a full-fledged action hero sounds so much more interesting. Radioactive lips? Brood of toddler sidekicks? Yes, please.
How do writers deal with bad reviews? Not always well, especially when blogging is involved.
What would you give for this stunning reader’s retreat, a library in the woods? It makes me feel cozy and contemplative just looking at it. Not to mention really, really rich.
With villain names like Professor Von Evil and the Flaming Eyeball, how can you not be dying to read Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon’s debut picture book THE ASTONISHING SECRET OF AWESOME MAN, illustrated by Jake Parker? With short text and plenty of derring-do action (take a peek inside), this picture book will be a favorite of kids who love comics, as well as kids in your storytime programs.
In its starred review, School Library Journal said “the depiction of a showdown between Awesome Man and his nemesis-the Flaming Eyeball-is priceless. Readers may notice that there’s a moral peeking out from Awesome Man’s cape, but they’ll still grab this story in their ‘ginormous Awesome Power Grip’ and not let go.”
Monica Edinger (of Educating Alice and Huffington Post fame) recently had the chance to interview Michael Chabon himself! Here’s how the conversation went:
Photo by Jennifer Chaney
From reading your Pulitzer Prize-winning adult novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, fans probably know you have a long-term relationship with superhero comics. Can you give us a taste of your own childhood introduction to them and how that might have inspired this story of Awesome Man?
Well, of course I remember seeing Batman and the first animated Spider-Man show on television when I was very small… but my first true plunge into the world of superheroes came through the comic books that my father began to bring home for me, as soon as I could read. He had grown up reading them himself, and felt they were an important part of a kid’s education.
You clearly revel in language and names — Professor Von Evil, Moskowitz the Awesome Dog, positrons, and…pooped (and what kid doesn’t like saying “pooped!”). As an adult author known for reveling in words and language, how did you manage to balance that with the need to keep things relatively simple for a picture book audience?
I was really thinking about the parents here–how much it meant to me, when I was reading a book aloud to my children for the 33832nd time, if there was a little verve or snap to the language. Probably the all time champ, in that regard–to me, at least–is William Steig. Nobody used English, in kids’ books, the way he did.
You have children of your own — were they helpful in the creation of this book?
I wrote this book for my younger son (I have two, and two daughters), Abe. He was the direct inspiration, in every way, for the main character of AWESOME MAN.
Are you a reader of children’s books yourself and if so, what are some of your favorites?
One of the greatest, and most lasting, pleasures of having children, for me, has been the excuse and the opportunity that bedtime reading has given me to revisit, and re-relish (usually), so many of the books I loved a
In honor of Valentine’s day, The Huffington Post has compiled a list of the 10 best kisses in literature. From the romantic (Gone with the Wind) to the creepy (Lolita and Humbert) to the the innocent (Callie’s first kiss with her friend Clementine in Middlesex,) this list has a little of bit of everything for everyone.
So Happy Valentine’s Day to all the book lovers out there!
You may recognize Renee Olstead from her current role as Madison on ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager, or you might have seen her as Lauren on the TV series Still Standing. Maybe you saw her in the movie 13 Going on 30. But did you know that Renee is not only an accomplished singer and actress, but also a student? She's currently attending college classes and working on two productions, a new season of Secret Life and the movie The Midnight Game.
Renee recently posted an article at The Huffington Post in which she thanks her English professor, Joan Eyles Johnson, for inspiring her to be "a better writer, citizen, and human being." She goes on to say:
"I want to speak up and tell you that mascara and clothes don't make you cool, neither do name-brand handbags, but being a leader can. Every day we can choose to challenge what we 'know' and go on our own quest for answers. As teens, you have the ability to channel your thoughts and inspirations through the power of social media, to connect with one another and start social movements for change! Find something you care about -- social injustice, animal rights, international war crimes, human trafficking, or women's rights -- and make a statement. Connect with one another, take a stand, and spread the word."
Check out this article by Anya Strzemien at The Huffington Post, which is collecting comments for a good cause. Simply give yourself a compliment! For every comment up to 5,000, the Huffington Post Media Group will donate $1 to Girls Inc. I pointed readergirlz diva Melissa Walker to the article and she immediately posted about it at I Heart Daily. As Melissa said, "How cool is that?"
For Storytelling Thursday, I'm sharing a post from Huffington Post's Anya Strzemien. Anya is tired of hearing her friends - her women friends - talk badly about their looks. In her article, she talks specifically about looks but we women also talk badly about our cooking, "I can never make this casserole taste as good as my sister can", our talents, "I can't draw - or sew - or write - or sing as well as (insert name here)." our housework - you name it. It gets wearing to have to reassure us. It really does.
Maybe we do it to be complimentary to the other person. And, maybe, we're all lying and we actually believe that we're awesome. Well, Anya wants you to tell her why you think you're awesome and for every comment, she'll give $1 to Girls, Inc.
So, visit Anya's article and tell her why you like the way you look. Tell a different story about yourself and change the world's perception of YOU. I did.
I'm typing ODD AND THE FROST GIANTS currently. Am wondering whether to change the title to Odd and the Frost Giant, because only one Frost Giant ever comes onstage (as it were), although there are others in the background, and of course there's always Loki.
I was just looking at the new expanded Beowulf website, over at http://www.beowulfmovie.com/. They had TV spot trailers up, and I was pleased to see in this new one had lots of little bits of footage that weren't in the stuff I've seen so far (which is minutes 15-30 approximately) -- shots from the Race with Brecca, of Beowulf from the last part of the film as an older man, bits of Dragon footage, and a lot more than just Grendel's Mum in human form. It says it's easily embeddable, so I will give it a shot.
Am really looking forward to seeing it all and finding out what it is that Bob Zemeckis and his team actually made.
(The video's acting a bit oddly when I put it into Blogger. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it behaves when I post this. And if you're reading this on an RSS feed and it cuts off here, click on the link to actual the neilgaiman.com/journal webpage to keep reading)
Meanwhile... the web takes you odd places. I mean, I'm out of Marmite. Not a problem in the UK, but problematic in the US. So I google to find out how to order Marmite, and the next moment I'm discovering that you can make Marmite go white by hitting it for half an hour. FOR THE SAKE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY, WHO ORIGINALLY HIT MARMITE FOR HALF AN HOUR AND DISCOVERED THIS? It's at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fuunsaiki/303084929/
Hi Neil,Thanks for link to the Wikipedia entry on cants. Now I finally have a word to describe Carny Talk, a language my grandparents taught me, that they used in the carnival back in the 30's. I'm always looking for more information about that. Here's the page where I discuss the version I was taught: http://www.winterscapes.com/carny.htm -Kate Winter
Thanks, Kate. I loved your link to http://welcometothefair.com/lingo/ and thought I should link to it here for people who are planning to write Novels in November. After all, half of those words are plots...
I was fascinated by this Guardian article -- http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/10/observer_books.html -- not only because it links to the winners of the Guardian "graphic short story" prize (suddenly I find myself turning into Eddie Campbell, and wanting to explain that Graphic Novel just means comics anyway, and Graphic Short Story actually means er, comics), but I was bemused by the view of history in which quality UK newspapers started reviewing comics seriously in 1996, about eight years after the real reviews started. I think what the writer is actually saying is that he was surprised when he started editing the book page to find that his reviewers were doing reviews of graphic novels, but to his surprise these reviews and the books they were reviewing were as good as the other books they were writing about.
Last night I wrote a thirty second scary story. Actually I wrote a 90 second REALLY scary story, then chipped at it, hacked and deleted and rephrased until it was thirty seconds long. Afterwards I wished I'd saved the 200 word version.
This morning I went to the local NPR radio station and recorded it -- we cut out another sentence, and I slowed down a hair -- for an NPR Hallowe'en special...
I believe that the curious can see the whole, uncut, me getting an award at Scream 2007 thing at
Neil Gaiman accepts "Hell's Dildo" at the 2007 Scream Awards.
It cuts off before I welcome Roger Avary and Ray Winstone to the podium to introduce Beowulf, but if it hadn't you would have seen Roger wearing his "Scary Trousers" tee shirt in front of a billion people.
I should mention that the amazing Cat's Neverwear site is over at http://www.neverwear.net/ and you can get your Kendra Stout "Scary Trousers" or your Dagmara Matuszak "Anansi Boys" tee shirts there. (I suggested that Cat should do a tee shirt with the full "I believe" speech from American Gods on it next...)
Which reminds me -- I've now finally seen the bound insides of the Hill House ANANSI BOYS (you can see pictures at http://hillhousepublishers.com/hh-update-22oct07-01.htm) and they are astonishingly beautiful. Hill House are still trying to get straight answers out of the Polish printer about when he's actually going to have the books bound and delivered to the US -- he's made too many promises to them that haven't come through -- but it looks like it's getting closer and closer to being a reality.
This is more of a marmite locating datalet then a question.
There is a large and rather unusual store near Cincinnati, OH called Jungle Jims.
Along with Jim's collection of large animatronic singing creatures, there is a decently size section of foods from England in the international part of the store.
They have a website at junglejims.com at which you can view some off the strangeness under the attractions section.
Marmite, of course, is there and also Hobnobs and various and sundry other foods of interest.
I feel like I'm writing a pamphlet for a tourist attraction now, so I'll stop.
Whenever I drive across America -- which isn't often -- I try and stop in at Jungle Jim's on the way back. And not just for the UK food, but for the amazing variety of world food. It's an amazing place. Would that all supermarkets could have that magic.
I just heard about the event chronicled in http://117hudson.blogspot.com/2007/10/show-must-go-on.html We were lucky in that the actor who was hurt was the only one who was sort of understudied (as one of the wolves had also played Lucy's brother in an earlier production) so they reconfigured the second half for seven people instead of eight to do the wolf party...
... Mr. Gaiman,
I checked to see if you've mentioned it yet this year, and saw that you hadn't-- would you mind taking a second to remind your fans who haven't already signed up that National Novel Writing Month begins in a week?
I'm a first-timer, but a lot of your journal entries recently have really inspired me to sit down and write, and NaNoWriMo is a great way to combine your advice and a great community. Figured I'd send in reminder in case there are others who feel the same way I do. Thanks!
(I just discovered that there is a chipmunk living in the drainpipe that backs onto my bedroom, which explains the mysterious noises that I haven't mentioned here in case people started doing wolves in the walls jokes.)
You know, the main reason I've been wearing more or less the same thing for about 20 years is that I don't ever have to wonder what to wear. It makes life easy.
My assistant Lorraine just asked me what I wanted to wear to the Beowulf premieres in the UK and the US and I realised with a sort of creeping horror that I didn't know. I already wore a tuxedo-and-bow-tie to the US Stardust Premiere, and I wore a leather jacket black tee shirt and and black jeans to the UK Stardust premiere. That pretty much completely exhausts my range. I suppose I could wear a different leather jacket, or perhaps a tie instead of a bowtie with the tux, but (shakes head gloomily). I don't know. Decisions, decision. (I asked an actress friend what she was going to wear and learned that clothes designers actually lobby to have actorish people be seen wearing their clothes on the red carpet. I had to explain that it doesn't work that way for writers. I suppose I could toss a coin.)
I've been using Google Documents to share ODD AND THE FROST GIANTS with people who needed to see it... and just realised that none of the little corrections and fixes I've been entering -- and dutifully saving -- have been saved. Instead it seems to have taken a version of the document open in Google Documents on another computer somewhere in the house as its master text, which means the saves I've done on the downstairs computer I'm on have apparently not taken. (I've sat there going through all the old saved versions it's kept -- 121 of them and they only seem to go back and forwards between a couple of versions in which a But changes to a Still, because at a guess it's open in two different tabs somewhere on whichever computer it's on that Google is paying attention to...) Between the people who can't get in to see it and write me grumbly emails, and the way Google Documents sometimes fails to send the letters inviting people to look at it (but still lists them as now having access to the document), I think I should have paid a bit more attention to the word BETA underneath the words Google and Documents.
Hello Mr. Gaiman!
I just thought you might be interested to know I've carved a Jack O'Lantern of you for our dorm's pumpkin competition. I'm hoping to scrape a "Most Original" for it, but I might lose to the Andy Warhol's Marilyn Pumpkin. Ah well.
Here is a link to a picture of it I posted on facebook.
Sorry it's not lit up, apparently they're a fire hazard. Such is dorm life.
I hope you're not weirded out by this. But really I don't know, I might not be as original as I think I am. Probably dozens of Neil O'Lanterns get made every year!
Probably. (Small grin.) No, I think it's just you. if more turn up I'll try to link to them here...
We thought we'd let you know that you seem to have a bunch of knitter fans! A Knitters for Neil group has been started on the up and coming fiber arts site Ravelry.com, just thought you might get a kick out of knowing it exists. We're hoping to come up with some interesting you-inspired knits, so if you wouldn't mind letting everyone know that if they would like to join or have any ideas we can be found at http://www.ravelry.com/groups/neil-gaiman-knitters
It seems like Ravelry is something you sign up for and then wait to be invited to join. But consider it plugged...
Not a question, just pointing out something your readers might find useful: you can buy british editions of books and ship them (almost) worldwide without having to pay postage at The Book Depository website (www.bookdepository.co.uk). (I am not affiliated with this website, I just find their service useful and impressive)
Good to know, although it doesn't look like you can pre-order stuff there. Right now for Odd they send you to Amazon.co.uk, anyway.
I just learned that the official on-sale date of The Graveyard Book is September the 30th 2008 ...
Maddy wants to know why I haven't posted a photo of her on this blog for ages, and suggests that simply by posting a recent photograph I could prove to the world that I still love her...
Lots of people wrote and told me I could order Marmite from Amazon.com -- and I did! It just arrived. Unfortunately a bottle was smashed in shipping, and I discovered that Amazon won't let you return or refund grocery items, so I don't think I'll be doing that again.
And many of you wrote and asked me to explain Marmite. And I shall. but not now.
An urgent message from Dave McKean, who is making a low-budget film called LUNA right now:
I urgently need 2 white paper origami crabs to appear in a scene in Luna, like this one: http://db.origami.com/displayphoto.asp?ModelID=2244 if anyone is willing to make them and send them to the UK straight away, I can pay a small fee to cover time (or a signed drawing or book?), give them a name check in the final credits, and give them a fedex account number for shipping.
Go to the FAQ page if you're an Origami whizz (and I know there are Origami whizzes out there, as I get given amazing things at signings) and drop me a line, and I'll put you straight in touch with Dave. Who will probably soon be drowning in Origami crabs.
Went in to Hair Police today and saw Wendy who turned the strange messy mop that my hair had turned into into a rather nice haircut. From there to Dreamhaven where I signed lots of stuff for Elizabeth and the www.neilgaiman.net site, including a half a ton of Absolute Sandman Volume 2s. As I drove home Roger Avary called to let me know that he's reopening his website after a couple of years without one -- http://www.avary.com/.
Then to Maddy's Parent Teacher conference. She's doing wonderfully at school, and got an impressive report card -- which, for the first time ever, she really had to work for, as she came to the UK for the Stardust premiere and having lost a week of schoolwork. (She's coming to LA with me for the Beowulf premiere, but is only missing one school day to do it.)
And then home. Opened the copy of Bust I'd picked up at DreamHaven (officially I get it for my assistant Lorraine, but I always read it first -- sort of like when I'd pick up a copy of Bunty for my sisters as a boy), and found myself staring at an unexpected advert for the Good Omens and Stardust scents from BPAL. Which reminded me that I had meant to congratulate the amazing Beth, who is the mind (and the nose) behind BPAL -- and a woman who has raised an enormous amount of money for the CBLDF this year -- on her wedding.
(And if you haven't looked at the CBLDF site recently -- http://www.cbldf.org/ -- Gordon Lee goes to trial on Monday. Finally. After three years, two completely different sets of "facts", and $80,000 in legal bills so far for something that should never have been a police matter in the first place... http://www.cbldf.org/articles/archives/000318.shtml for the story so far.)
Lots and lots and lots and lots of emails from people telling me that Marmite can be found all over America, normally beside the baking supplies (probably because of the word Yeast). I don't think I'm going to need Marmite again for another couple of years now, but than you all for the info.
(first time question!)
I've just heard from a friend who was quite annoyed. He met this famous UK author while the author was doing research on his latest book - and the author used my friend's anecdote as quite a major plot device in the book. However, my friend wasn't asked for permission or acknowledged in any way.
Has this ever happened to you (in the opposite direction of course)? I'd think there'd be lots of stories you've been told bubbling in your mind, and sometimes you wouldn't even realize that a story has been told to you by someone else. Would you contact someone if you were using a story of theirs?
I try reasonably hard to credit people who helped (see the very long list of names at the back of American Gods) but find it hard to find fault with the author in question. Authors are packrats. If you tell us an anecdote -- unless you preface it with "I am about to tell you an amusing and/or interesting anecdote. Should you at some future time use it in a book you will need to contact me to obtain my permission, or at least credit me by name. I shall now tell you the anecdote and then give you my contact details in a form in which you won't lose them," -- then it's fair game. I think our attitude -- I don't speak for all of us, but enough -- is that if your friend thought his anecdote would have made a good book, he should have written it himself.
I don't know the names of the people who took me down the sewers or into the disused tube tunnels when I was doing Neverwhere, but their anecdotes certainly made it into the book. I didn't give the name of the financially dodgy agent whose interesting approach to paying over royalties inspired the character and behaviour of Graham Coats in Anansi Boys either (probably a wise move, that). And, as you say, very often you know someone told you that Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria obtained a doctor's note to get out of being married, but who it was or when has melted down in the compost heap in the back of your mind to the brown sludge of memory. It's like remembering jokes, and who told them to you. The shape is now there in your mind, and you know the punch line is "Two coffees and a choc ice," but how it entered your head is a mystery.
(And it's worth pointing out your friend might be wrong. I get letters sometimes from people saying "You got this from me." And the people who send the letters believe it, but it's not the case. I find myself replying "Actually, I wrote this four years before you wrote your story," or "I understand you think I got this from something you said. Actually the entire story was in this newspaper on this date, and that was where I got it from.")
Having said all that, I'm also really sympathetic to your friend. Many years ago I was on a panel where I said "I'm going to write a book called X," and no-one laughed longer or louder than the bloke next to me on the panel who, eleven months later, brought out a book with the title I'd mentioned. I was in a conversation with another author who mentioned being stuck on a plot thing, and I said "Oh, that's an easy one," and made a suggestion, and suggested a title for the book for good measure, and he said "I owe you lunch for that one," but I scanned the acknowledgements in vain looking for a thank you when the book came out, and didn't get a lunch out of it either. And conversely I have fuzzy warm feelings for all those people who wrote books and actually did say thank you, and used their acknowledgments to acknowledge.
After a long day, i got "your" love letter that the new york times sent out. It was rather funny and made me laugh a lot.(was even funnier trying to explain to my roomate that it wasnt a real love letter)Did you have anything to do with the writting of those love letter? Or did the new york times write them without the help of the varies authors? Do you know if every one got the same letter? Just curious, thanks.
As news of Hillary Rodham Clinton's impending concession filters through the Internets today, I think all webby journalists should be thinking about one person. Mayhill Fowler.
"Who?" you may ask. This 61-year-old citizen journalist has followed the campaign all season for The Huffington Post, and she is single-handedly changing the way the rest of this presidential campaign will be reported.
Last night, Fowler recorded former President Bill Clinton saying some off-the-cuff remarks that became breaking news this morning. Earlier this year, Fowler reported some comments that Barack Obama made at a fundraiser. Both times, she went to places where reporters don't usually report, and she made national headlines.
Citizen journalists like Fowler have been ignored and ridiculed for years--and nobody ever expected them to make news. Now they are, and all writers should pay attention. Jay Rosen summed it all up a few months ago. All the rules have changed, and reporters of all stripes need to figure out what to do about it:
"Michael Tomasky of the Guardian thinks we broke the rules, emphasis on “the.” Or that Gawker gawked. We’re in uncharted territory here. Descriptor languages missing. People get mad when they don’t know what to call things. Mad or daft."
What do you think? Is Fowler breaking the rules? Or fixing a broken press?
Oscars target tweens (recruiting stars like Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart to serve as presenters at this year's show. Also Comedy Central revives the "Def Comedy Jam" spirit enlisting Russell Simmons to debut a new... Read the rest of this post
The Most Amazing Libraries In The World Part Two
The Huffington Post features a slideshow of the “Most Amazing Libraries In the World Part Two” as a follow up to part one from last month. Check out the amazing photos of some incredible libraries! The joys of bookshop browsing
Sam Jordison comments that “searching real shelves is the most satisfying way to find literary treasures – but can it survive the rise of Amazon and ebooks?”
A quickly assembled home team in the Canadian book publishers industry has claimed victory over the so-called “Toronto multinational book factories” with a deal to bring out another 40,000 copies of The Sentimentalists, Johanna Skibsrud’s largely unavailable, Giller Prize-winning novel.
Under the terms negotiated between tiny Gaspereau Press of Nova Scotia and Vancouver-based publisher Douglas & McIntyre, the Friesens Corp. of Altona, Man., has agreed to print a new paperback edition by this Friday. “Because of the urgency of the situation, we will pull out all the stops,” Friesens sales manager Doug Symington said.
The deal brings “three proudly independent Canadian entities” together to solve the crisis that emerged when Skibsrud’s unheralded debut novel won Canada’s most prestigious literary award, according to publisher Scott McIntyre. “With our sales, marketing and distribution system onside, an exceptional novel will quickly reach the wide audience it deserves,” he added.
The books should be available for sale early next week, according to McIntyre. Printed in paperback with a pumped-up cover image and the signature red sticker of a Giller Prize winner (as well as the Douglas & MacIntyre Book Publisher imprint on the spine), they will sell for $19.95 compared with the original edition’s $27.95 cover price.
Booksellers snapped up the entire new edition within hours of its being announced, according to McIntyre, and Friesens is reserving paper stock to print another 20,000.
Gaspereau Press made headlines across the country last week when it turned away Toronto publishers eager to bring out more copies of the award-winning book, which it had hand-printed in an edition of 800 copies and was reproducing at a rate of 1,000 copies a week even after it won the award. But even as the company attempted to justify the go-slow approach, calling the Giller win “an interesting opportunity to slow the world down a hair and let people realize that good books don’t go stale,” Gaspereau co-publisher Andrew Steeves was negotiating a new deal with Douglas & McIntyre.
“D&M had always been my back-pocket doomsday scenario,” Steeves said yesterday, adding, “I was as surprised as anyone when we actually won.” He added that the company will continue producing its deluxe edition with a wrapper printed on a hand-cranked letterpress.
Both publishers emphasized the advantage of the new deal to Skibsrud, who had remained quiet last week while her publisher vowed not to compromise its principles by selling large quantities of her novel to an eager public.
It was patience well rewarded, the author wrote yesterday in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail from Istanbul, where she is vacationing. Admitting that she “doesn’t have much knowledge or interest in the business end of things,” Skibsrud said she was “so glad that a solution has been arrived at that allows the books to be distributed widely without sacrificing any of Gaspereau Press’s practices and ideals, which make them so unique and special to work with.”
Even Friesens, a $70-million, can-do book manufacturer, is sympathetic with the Nova Scotians. “I get where they’re coming from and I can also somewhat understand the Toronto-versus-the-rest-of-the-world mentality that they’re showing,” Symington said, adding that Friesens and Gaspereau are a good philosophical fit.
“We’ve been around for 103 years, we’re employee-owned, we’re a privately held company, so all the staff out here has a high concern and a high regard for books,” he said. “We’re big, but we’re not so big, so to speak.”
The book is such a “cause célèbre it will just shoot out of the gate,” McIntyre predicted, saying that opinion on the matter
A 76-year-old British writer has been jailed for six weeks in Singapore after the High Court found him guilty of contempt of court over a book that raised questions about the independence of the judicial system.
Alan Shadrake, who lives in Malaysia, had refused to apologise for the content of his book, Once a Jolly Hangman, which deals with the use of the death penalty in the island state.
Mr Shadrake had offered to apologise for offending the judiciary before being convicted two weeks ago, but Justice Quentin Loh ruled that his book had scandalised the court.
He said Mr Shadrake had shown “a reckless disregard for the truth” and “a complete lack of remorse”. The defendant had contended that the book amounted to “fair criticism on matters of compelling public interest”.
At a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Mr Shadrake was also fined S$20,000 (US$15,400) and ordered to pay costs of S$55,000. The prison sentence was lighter than the 12-week term sought by the prosecution.
M. Ravi, Mr Shadrake’s lawyer, had urged the court to censure the author rather than imprison him. “This is by far the most serious sentence [for contempt]. It is the harshest punishment so far [for this offence in Singapore],” Mr Ravi said.
Mr Shadrake was arrested in his hotel room after travelling to Singapore to publicise the book in July. The Singapore authorities have said that charges of criminal defamation are also being considered.
Overseas human rights campaigners condemned the proceedings. Phil Robertson, deputy director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Singapore was “damaging its poor reputation on free expression by shooting the messenger bearing bad news”.
The Singapore authorities have robustly dismissed claims that the courts discriminate against individuals on grounds of nationality, background or status.
Ministers are unapologetic about restrictions on free speech, however, which they say are essential to prevent conflicts between the prosperous island’s mainly Chinese, Indian and Malay population groups.
K. Shanmugam, the law minister, said in a speech in New York two weeks ago that Singapore’s “small society” could not withstand the impact of US-style media freedoms.
“For example, the faultlines in our society, along racial and religious lines, can easily be exploited,” he told an audience at Columbia University.
Singapore’s controls on expression include a state-supervised and mainly state-owned media, tough libel laws and restrictions on street gatherings of more than four people.
Mr Shanmugam questioned the objectivity of organisations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based press freedom organisation, and Freedom House, a US group that campaigns for civil liberties.
RWB ranks Singapore 136th in the world for press freedom, below Iraq and Zimbabwe, while Freedom House has angered Singapore by ranking it below Guinea, where more than 150 anti-government protesters were last year killed during a rally.
“I suspect that our rankings are at least partly due to the fact that we take an uncompromising attitude on libel – and the fact that we have taken on almost every major newspaper company [in the world],” Mr Shanmugam said.
Singapore, with a population of 5m, also imposes heavy penalties on criminal offenders, including caning for violence and vandalism, and the death penalty for murder and drug trafficking. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.