RWA Sells Out Writers

When Harlequin announced it was creating a vanity press, the Romance Writers of America took the extraordinarily courageous act of immediately delisting the publisher from their Approved Publishers list. The Mystery Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and the Horror Writers Association quickly followed suit.

However, the RWA has since back-pedaled from that courageous stance. They have quietly revised the criteria for their Approved Publishers list to allow Harlequin to creep back on without changing the practices that got them thrown off:

As a professional writers association, RWA stands firmly against any attempts to directly solicit RWA members to pursue vanity/subsidy publishing or other author-financed forms of publication. Publishing programs (lines, imprints or divisions) that directly solicit or refer writers to subsidy/vanity or other author-financed means of publication will not be allowed to participate in RWA’s annual conference as a featured publishing program.

“Subsidy” or “Vanity” publishing means the production of books in which the author participates in the costs of production or distribution in any manner, including assessment of fees or other costs for editing and/or distribution. This definition includes publishing programs that withhold or seek full or partial payment or reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding, production, sales or marketing costs; publishing programs whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books; and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and associates.

Management from the lines, imprints or divisions listed below certified to RWA that they have read and understand the above statement. They have attested that the publisher, line, imprint, or division they represent does not and will not refer RWA members to subsidy/vanity or author-financed publishing programs.

In other words, the RWA doesn't mind if publishers refer writers to their vanity press and other "for-pay" editorial services as long as none of those writers are RWA members. But everyone else is fair game…and RWA will turn a blind eye to it. That's like saying "Sexual molestation is wrong, but as long as you don't molest my kids, and only molest other kids, that's okay with us, you're welcome in our home."

Clearly, this language was crafted specifically to create a loophole for Harlequin, which decided to "monetize their slush pile" by referring all rejected writers to DellArte, their vanity press partnership with Authorhouse.

This is a cowardly, sleazy way of dodging the Harlequin issue…and tacitly endorses predatory and unethical publishing practices. The RWA should be ashamed of themselves for betraying their principles and encouraging the exploitation of aspiring writers (and, potentially, future RWA members, assuming some vanity press scam doesn't bankrupt their savings and their dreams).

Meanwhile, Harlequin is still not considered an Approved Publisher by the MWA, SFWA, and HWA.  At least they are still standing behind their principles.

Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalists

The LA Times announced the 2009 book prize finalists today. The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on April 23.

2009 LA Times Book Prize Finalists

The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience" by Kirstin Downey
Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits" by Linda Gordon
Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic" by Michael Scammell
"Louis D. Brandeis: A Life" by Melvin Urofsky
"The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst" by Kenneth Whyte

Current Interest 
Columbine" by Dave Cullen
"Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers
"Strength in What Remains" by Tracy Kidder
"Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sharon WuDunn
"The Healing of America: The Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Healthcare" by T.R. Reid

Heroic Measures" by Jill Ciment
The Man in the Wooden Hat" by Jane Gardam
Blame" by Michelle Huneven
"A Short History of Women" by Kate Walbert
"A Happy Marriage" by Rafael Yglesias

Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction 
"An Elegy for Easterly" by Petina Gappah
Tinkers" by Paul Harding
"American Rust" by Philipp Meyer 
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders" by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" by Wells Tower

Graphic Novel 
"Luba" by 
Gilbert Hernandez  
"GoGo Monster" by Taiyo Matsumoto
Asterios Polyp" by David Mazzuchelli
"Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe" by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Footnotes in Gaza" by Joe Sacco

Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science" by Richard Holmes
"Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line" by Martha
A. Sandweiss
Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance 1950-1963" by Kevin Starr
"Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940" by Amy Louise Wood
"Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic 1789-1815" by Gordon S. Wood

Bury Me Deep" by Megan Abbott
"The Hidden Man" by David Ellis 
Black Water Rising" by Attica Locke
"A Darker Domain" by Val McDermid
The Ghosts of Belfast" by Stuart Neville

"Apocalyptic Swing" by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
"Dearest Creature" by 
Amy Gerstler
"What the Right Hand Knows" by Tom Healy
"Practical Water" by Brenda Hillman
"]Open Interval[" by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

Science and Technology 
"The Day We Found the Universe" by Marcia Bartusiak
The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom" by Graham Farmelo
Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places" by Bill Streever
"Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human" by Richard Wrangham
"Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science" by Carol Kaesuk Yoon

Young Adult Literature 
"The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy" by James Cross Giblin
"The Lost Conspiracy" by Frances Hardinge
"Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith" by 
Deborah Heiligman
"Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary" by Elizabeth Partridge
"Tales from Outer Suburbia" by Shaun Tan

The Mail I Get

I got the following emails this week from self-published authors eager to get some attention for their books, both of which were "published" by Booksurge. I have removed the names of the authors and the links, but otherwise the emails are unedited: 

Hi Lee,

I would be grateful if you could read my new book and provide an Amazon review. Here's a link to my site: xyz.
If you are interested in the book, give me a mailing address and I will mail you a copy. 

I wonder why he didn't ask me to blog about it rather than leave an Amazon review. It's not a very persuasive pitch, but it's positively irresistible compared to the following one from publicist Paul J. Stupin at DirectContactPR:

Mr. Lee Goldberg Blogger,

Can we interest you in taking a look at this captivating crime and mystery novel by author XYZ? Please provide us with your best street address so we can send you a review copy.

Paul J. Stupin, Publicist for [Author's Name]

That compelling, captivating, and powerful pitch was followed by summary of the book's plot, which began:

Vancouver based author [Author's Name miss-spelled] drew upon his 20 years as an insurance salesman to create a riveting tale of crime and punishment in the big city.

His new book, XYZ, is a devious page turner all about a Chicago Tribune reporter, named Miles Fischer. He’s wrapping up what he thinks is just another rape and murder trial, until the two convicted felons are found dead from a crossbow, in the muddy parking lot of a rundown bar just days after their surprising acquittal.

It turns out the guy who wrote me this pitch is the author of  TRASH PROOF PRESS RELEASES: THE SUREFIRE WAY TO GET PUBLICITY…and this, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those trash-proof, sure-fire press releases. 

Honest. I'm not kidding.

Paul charges $500 for a national, email publicity package. But if you can't afford a campaign of trash-proof, sure-fire emails like the one I got, he only charges $100 to critique your press releases. Who wouldn't want the master behind this trash-proof, surefire publicity email to give you some pointers? Why, that'd be a deal at 10 times the price!  But if that's still too pricey for you, maybe he'll give you a discount in return for teaching him the proper use of a comma.

My Heart Bleeds For Tiger’s Mistresses

I can't believe that Tiger Woods' many mistresses, most of them "hostesses" and porn stars, actally think they deserve sympathy from the public or an apology for him. I choked with laughter watching one of them on TV a few weeks back tearfully saying that she felt "betrayed" by Woods. C'mon, they are all dumb, predatory bimbos who measure their intellect with their bra cup sizes and hang out in clubs hoping to score some sack-time with a celeb. But this quote in today's LA Times just killed me:

Civil attorney Gloria Allred and her client, Veronica Siwik-Daniels, also known as Joslyn James in her career as a porn star, held a news conference after Woods' statement. Allred said Siwik-Daniels had had a three-year relationship with Woods.

"We're bitterly disappointed he didn't apologize to my client," Allred said. "Who is he saying he's sorry to? Not Veronica and she's a victim, the same as his wife."

Media whore Allred should be ashamed of herself for leaping in front of the cameras for this non-cause.  Allred loves to portray herself as a champion of women, so how could she, with a straight face, compare these bimbos to Woods' wife? Every single one of these women knew he was married, but they didn't give a damn. They just wanted to jump in the sack with a celebrity so they could have bragging rights…or, best of all, some TV exposure…later on. They should be ap0logizing to Tiger Woods' wife for throwing themselves at her husband.

My Los Angeles

Los angeles postcard  Last summer, Mystery Readers Journal devoted an issue to Los Angeles and my contribution was to share the many ways I have described the city in my books.  The following is an excerpt from that article.

I grew up near
San Francisco, a city with enormous charm and character, a definite center and,
thanks to the Bay and the Pacific, obvious borders. San Francisco is a city
with such a strong, undeniable personality, that it almost feels like a person
to me instead of a place. I assumed, in my inexperience and youth, that all of
the great cities of the world would be like that. And I eventually learned
that, for the most part, I was right.

But not Los

When I first
arrived here in 1980 to go to UCLA, all I saw was endless sprawl, about as
colorful and inviting as a parking lot. It was a city seemingly without shape,
boundaries or a personality that I could identify. I was lost within it, unable
to find its center or my own.

I eventually
realized that I was looking at the city all wrong. It was a mistake to try to
grasp the enormity of it, to see it all in my mind. There’s a reason that L.A.
is where movies and TV shows are made. The city is a soundstage, a green
screen, a back-lot. It’s city that’s remade every day, where history is
measured in increments on a parking meter. I had to make the city my own, and I
did that through my fiction and screenplays.

So perhaps the
best way to understand how I see Los Angeles, and my relationship with it, is
by looking at how I’ve written about it in my books over the years. Here are
some examples:

“It was
a clear, crisp day in the San Fernando Valley. A rainstorm had flushed all the
gunk out of the air and onto the streets, where it washed into the drains and
poured into the Santa Monica Bay, poisoning the water and prompting the closing
of ten miles of prime beachfront. Days in L.A. didn’t come any nicer than
this.” Beyond the Beyond

ground isn’t supposed to move. Everyone knew that. It was arrogance, and more
than a little stupidity, to stay in a place where it did. But what was
Hollywood without arrogance and stupidity? You couldn’t manufacture dreams if
you weren’t willing to live in one yourself,” The Walk

the TV and film locations, the most interesting and significant landmarks in
the city were as transitory and disposable as the historical record they were
printed on—-the slim ‘Maps to the Stars’ Homes’ distributed by bored Latinos
sitting on folding beach chairs at street corners and freeway off-ramps,” The Walk

watched Spring Dano jog down the grassy median of San Vicente Boulevard, her
breasts as solid and immovable as the Statue of Liberty’s. One a sunny day,
tanned, perfect babes and tanned, perfect hunks jogged up and down the median,
from Barrington to Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, hoping to get noticed. […] The
median was one of the great, unpublicized short-cuts into the entertainment
industry. If you distracted an agent, producer, or director long enough to get
him involved in a major traffic accident, you were on your way to a walk-on
role in a series or a weekend read of your spec script.” Beyond the Beyond

without a sign, he would’ve known he was in Little Tokyo. On the south side of
the street, a recreation of a wooden watchtower marked the entrance to a
mini-mall designed to resemble an authentic Japanese village, at least as it
would have been if built by a Winchell’s Donuts franchisee,” The Walk

only natural source of water in the valley was the Los Angeles River, which
remained bone dry half the year, only to swell in the winter as much as
three-thousand fold in a single rainy day. As much as Los Angelenos craved
water, they didn’t appreciate the unpredictability of the river and treated it
as they would any other piece of land. They paved it,” The Walk

name of their [apartment] building was written diagonally across the front in
plywood script and punctuated with a starburst lamp. The building was a
rectangular stucco box disguised with enormous wooden fins that made the
tenants feel as if they were living in the trunk of a 1959 Cadillac,” Diagnosis Murder: The Past Tense

“The Old
Money felt that when the valley’s rich had real money and actually mattered,
they’d move to one of the Bs – Brentwood, Beverly Hills, or Bel-Air. Until
then, they deserved the valley,” The Walk

“It’s a
real nice drive through the Santa Monica Mountains, with lots of charred trees
and blackened earth from the annual wildfires to look at. You also pass some
dramatic gouges and gashes in the hillsides from the seasonal mudslides. It’s
not the place I’d pick to build my secluded mansion, but I’m not a rich movie
star or studio executive,” The Man with
the Iron-On Badge

stayed several cars behind her as she cruised Pacific-bound on Jefferson,
across the wide-open marshland, the most valuable, undeveloped property in Los
Angeles. The land had been earmarked for 
decades as the site of an ambitious, upscale neighborhood of towering
condos, exclusive beaches, swank shopping, and private marinas, but was mired
in legal challenges, zoning ordinances, and politics. For now, the land was
home to cancerous ducks, corpulent mosquitoes, and chunks of sewage that
dropped from incoming jets like shit from a pterodactyl.” My Gun Has Bullets

Do Fish Have Loins?

My Mom writes on her Active Senior Living blog about a marketing event at the senior living facility where she set her book:

It's so damn dumb. It's a senior prom and there are women downstairs dressed like they are preparing to walk down the aisle as the grandmother of the bride. Lots of pastel shaded lace suits and dresses. I almost got the giggles looking at them. All the furniture is out of the lobby and replaced with cocktail tables and it is decorated like New Year's Eve.. a five piece " orchestra" will play for dancing. The dance started at 5:30 an goes until 8 so we were all told we had to eat dinner at 4:00 and by 3:30 the dining room was full of people, me included. I wasn't even hungry which was good cus dinner was loin of cod. Do fish have loins? I ordered sausage and eggs, ate that and got the hell out before the public began arriving to wine and dine and dance with free champagne and bite size goodies like meat balls, which Jay said were probably better than our dinner. Ah ,the joys of this lifestyle! Guess I can always write about that for the sequel to Active Senior Living.

UPDATE: My Mom blogged about the post-cod loins menu and I laughed so hard that I hard to share it with you:

After baked loin of cod as our menu choice last night … and who ever knew cod had loins, I expected tonight's choice to be roasted leg of Rainbow Trout. Our chef is very creative and not always in a good way. His seasoning of choice is always jalapeno and gravy is on everything. Same gravy, no matter was the entree is. I've gotten used to eating cold mashed potatoes, over cooked beef and chicken that is less than tender but the good news is I haven't lost any weight. Maybe that is because I do the feeding tube for breakfast and most days for lunch , too, and that gives me some good calories.
When we are served a meal that is less than desirable I am reminded of what my friend Ed told me ( and I put in the book Active Senior Living) and that was that he figured the food budget per resident was about $7 a day. " it's like Boy Scout camp," he had said, " only here we have indoor plumbing."
I've talked to residents at other active senior complexes and it is the same story everywhere.. not just here and not just in California. The food tends to be the least most attractive thing about the place. But , as my friend Betsy says, " we didn't have to go get the groceries, cook the meal, clear the table or do the dishes. They can cook it any way they want and it's fine with me!"

The Mail I Get

This is my favorite fan letter of the week:

I read a book of Criminal Minds by another author and really enjoyed it. The story was true to the characters and I learned even more about them. Everything was written very true to the TV series. Mr. Monk is Miserable, however, is way off base from the TV series. One, pill or not, Monk hates to fly and I don’t believe he would agree to fly so often because of a little pill. Is it too hard to come up with stories in the country of America that can be driven to? […] couldn’t even finish the book because it was so devastatingly off course and I would never recommend the books to anybody else. I think you need to do better research to stay true to the TV series. Read Criminal Minds and you’ll get an idea of what YOU SHOULD BE DOING!

Changing the Act

My friend author Gar Anthony Haywood has taken a long hiatus from attending conferences. But he's coming back for Left Coast Crime next month. But he's not going to be the same guy he was in the past.

I’ve revamped the act I used to do in public settings such as this and will be testing out the new and improved one at LCC. Gar Anthony Haywood, the conference panelist who never met a punch line he didn’t like, is no more.

It won’t be an easy transition for me. Going for the laugh has always been my M.O. when faced with panel audiences. One, because humor comes more naturally to me than eloquence and, two, because I used to regard writers who can’t bring themselves to crack a smile when answering a moderator’s question as stuffed shirts with an overinflated sense of their own importance. I thought it was better to be remembered as a joker than quickly forgotten as a smart and articulate egomaniac.

Now, I’m not so sure. At least, if being the most memorably hilarious writer at a conference has any long-term benefits, I would seem to have failed to reap them.

It isn’t just humor’s questionable value as a marketing strategy that’s driving my P.R. metamorphosis, however. I’m also looking to more accurately represent the literary heft I’d like to think my more recent writing carries.

I'm not sure he's right. I've seen way too many writers who think because they write dark, brooding, moody stuff that they have to be dark, brooding and moody themselves. I am a firm believer in just being yourself, and if you happen to be funny, that's fine. Nobody likes schtick, though, whether you are telling jokes or being the darkest guy in the room. My brother Tod writes dark stuff, and he's always funny on panels, and that didn't stop him from getting nominated for the LA Times Book Prize. Craig Johnson's stuff is procedural cop stuff that borders on the literary…and he's always hilarious on panels. Hasn't stopped Craig from being taken seriously, or for his books to win widespread acclaim. I guess what I'm saying Gar, if you're reading this, is just be Gar and stop over-thinking it.