November 29, 2007



Thanks for the updates, they're fascinating.

Also, your cover jacket photo is badass.


I'll second what Nav said. I find these updates ridiculously fascinating (ridiculously is my crutch word online, and I'm too tired to remove it just now).

Craig Gamble

I have to say, the most exciting thing so far has to be that shout line from John Banville! Fantastic!

Corey Redekop

Trust me, it all seems great, but NOTHING compared to holding the finished book in your hands. I'm getting shivers remembering it for me.


That's a bit weird and unsettling... the three blurbs are from Banville, Ferris and Leavitt, all of whom have received lavish and long praise on this blog. I don't doubt the sincerity of your admiration for their books. But now are they duty-bound to return the favor? Since you're showing us what's behind the publishing curtain you might tell--


It's a fair enough question, HPP - one I anticipated. The fact is that for early blurbs - blurbs that come on galleys, as opposed to blurbs garnered from galleys, you're asking favors from people you know, because reading manuscripts is generally considered a real nuisance. And I can't deny that one of the great, unanticpated benefits of the blog is having gotten to know people like these writers - although I certainly praised them before I knew them.

As for their blurbs and what motivates them, there you simply have to ask yourself - will writers of these reputations say something simply to be nice or out of obligation? After all, anything they recommend reflects on them. If you think someone, to take one example, of Banville's stature would recommend something he didn't actually like, well, there's not much I or anyone can say there. It's a question of whether a reader trusts an author. Though it's worth noting that I did approach a few other writers I've praised and corresponded with, and I haven't heard back from them. So I don't think a defacto connection should ever be assumed. Also, I think your logic is a bit tautological - if you don't doubt their opinions are sincere, why shouldn't they voice them?

Still, I remember years ago reading something I think in Bookforum where someone was writing about the art of the blurb, and this writer admitted he'd blurbed books for friends that he hadn't even read. His logic: "There are worse reasons to blurb a book than as an act of friendship." I found that hard to argue. I wonder, sometimes, if we take this all a bit too seriously.

I'll add - and I meant to blog about the whole blurb thing - that it's a horrible thing to have to ask for, and the only consolation is knowing that all writers have gone through it at one time or another. And one of my respondents was keen to remind me that I will get similar requests one day, and that I should return the karmic favors. So I imagine any blurb you ever see any where has a bit of "paying it forward" involved.

Bottom line: I had to approach writers I know, and the writers I know are the ones I've met through this site. You'll have to judge their motives according to your own impulses and beliefs.


The cover looks great, love that "Penguin Classics" motif ...

Dan Wickett

The blurb thing is interesting as Mark, and Laila before him, has this blog as possibly the biggest means of his coming into contact with other authors.

What Mark doesn't have is the MFA from say USC, where he could ask TC Boyle and Percival Everett and Aimee Bender, or from Syracuse where he could ask George Saunders and ...

As a publisher, it is one of the early things we ask an author - what authors do you know well enough to feel comfortable asking for blurbs from? We also ask our authors what their dream blurbing authors would be - and if either Steve or I know said authors well enough, we'll ask.

But, for the most part, it's going to come down to asking somebody you know, be it from your classes, your professors, your writing group, or, nowadays, from your blogging.


Here's a question: At what point did the novel that became 'Harry' separate itself from the countless other novels that became nothing? I think of Roth, writing 100 pages over 6 months in order to find the first line of his book, and then throwing the rest away, so I'm curious to hear how you sort of persevered through the uh, doubts, of writing your novel.


Interesting question, JH. Unlike Roth, the first line I wrote is basically (with minor modification) the first line of the novel today. I think because of my screenwriting background I had a pretty clear idea as to how the story would unfold. The "finding" part came in deepening the key relationships - and that took a few drafts to really nail down.

Given that I wrote the book almost entirely in sequence, it was either around Chapter 4 or 5 where I suddenly realized that I had the potential to go the distance with this. In the early chapters there was still a bit of "we'll see if this comes to anything," but after that I needed to see where it all was going, and I committed to finishing.

My friend Jim Ruland talks about getting to the stage in your work where you walk around with the book in your head. That you're so immersed in it, you're living and thinking it constantly that it's always there, always germinating. I think when one reaches that stage, that's when the book becomes more than a glint in the eye.


I'm sure you have a copy somewhere, but "Conversations with Philip Roth" is really a must read for all writers. Think what you may about him, the man can flat out write:

Q: Are you ever not working?
A: No, mostly I work. Probably about 340 days out of the year.

(9-5, standing at his pedestal). Just amazing. Congrats on the book, and the great blurbs.

daniel olivas

Mark, it looks so elegant. I'm very excited for you. It is an odd process (editing galleys of your book), but it's quite an experience. Can't wait to get my hands on it!

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."