Monthly Archives: August 2011

5 Fictional Diseases in Literature You Don’t Want to be Real

Gabe Habash -- August 31st, 2011

There are some pretty bad things that can happen in the real world (Exhibit A), but that doesn’t stop authors out there from coming up with some really unfortunate circumstances that can affect humankind (see “Literature, Dystopia” or anything H.P. Lovecraft wrote). But today, let’s take a look specifically at diseases–the sicknesses that would be too terrible to comprehend if they actually existed. Here are 5 of our favorites.

1. “The Bug” from Black Hole by Charles Burns

Black Hole is Charles Burns’s twelve-part comic series, published in collected form in 2005, and it’s probably the most effective safe sex/abstinence tool this side of those Gonorrhea pictures that your Health teacher made you look at in middle school.

“The Bug,” aka “the teen plague,” starts its noxious little frolic through Seattle’s sexually active teen population. What basically follows is the infected person mutates in all kinds of horrible ways. Tentacles appear, things get under the skin and mouths show up where they shouldn’t. The end result is a whole lot more playmates for Gregor Samsa.

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Literature Graveyard: Which Cemetery is the Most Literary?

Gabe Habash -- August 30th, 2011

Last month, we posted an article detailing some very strange ways that authors have met their end. The morbid side of literature got us thinking about the final resting places of authors, so we did some research and uncovered the cemeteries that can boast the most about the literary quality of their residents. Read on for more gloom.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is likely America’s greatest literary cemetery. It’s located in Concord, Massachusetts has an area known as “Author’s Ridge.” The cemetery was dedicated in 1855, when Ralph Waldo Emerson gave its dedication speech.

Notable writer burials: Louisa May Alcott, William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Richard Marius, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, Henry David Thoreau.

Other notable burial: Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial.

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Literature IQ: Test Your Knowledge with These Quizzes

Gabe Habash -- August 29th, 2011

The first workday after a hurricane has slowed much of the workworld seems like a perfect time to bring back some timewasting literature quizzes from amazing quiz website Sporcle, which we first highlighted a while back. Enjoy the post-storm fun!

1.Can you name the books from seeing only a portion of their covers?

2.Can you name the book titles given their loosely based antonyms?

3.Can you guess the author’s name given the names of their famous characters?

4.Can you name the book given the name of a fictional book referenced within it?

5.Can you name these poetry terms?


Is the Screen Always Worse Than the Page?

Rachel Deahl -- August 26th, 2011

The critics have been rather unkind towards One Day (unfairly so, if you ask me), but all the hullabaloo about the tepidly-received adaptation of David Nicholls’s novel has made a favorite parlor game bubble to the surface: can movie versions of books ever compare to the original? (At many fans are talking about books that Hollywood shouldn’t touch;  The Atlantic took One Day as an opportunity to discuss some of the eternal problems with romance on screen.)

As Slate critic Dana Stevens noted in her (mostly positive reviews) of the current Graham Greene adaptation, Brighton Rock, there is “some pretty robust evidence” proving great literature does not usually become great films. Of course, as Stevens then goes onto explain, Graham Greene, and this thriller in particular, has proven unusually fertile ground for many filmmakers.

For awhile I had a theory that literary novels were the toughest to translate to film. Genre works—a dicey and tricky description in and of itself—were the way to go. This, I assumed, accounted for the fact that so many of my favorite science fiction films are based on Phillip K. Dick novels (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall); that a few of my favorite Hitchcock novels are based on Daphne Du Maurier works (Rebecca and The Birds); and that Anthony Minghella, a director who is no stranger to turning popular, bestselling literary works into films, was at his best working off of a Patricia Highsmith novel, with The Talented Mr. Ripley. (I should note, though, that anyone who watches Hollywood science fiction films has probably enjoyed something from Phillip K. Dick, given his all-over-the-map-ness in this area—the dude has well over 100 film credits to his name!)
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PW on the Web and Made to Order

Parul Sehgal -- August 26th, 2011

A few months ago, we launched our audiobook blog, Listen Up, and today (on #ff, most appropriately) we’re launching a twitter account for all things audiobook — news, reviews, inside information, Q&As, contests.

Our audiobook reviews editor and Listen Up blogger Adam Boretz (and his faithful intern) will be tweeting, so don’t be shy, go on, follow us: @PWAudio!

It’s also a fine moment for us to round up all the ways you can join the conversation with PW and get book news and reviews tailored to your needs.


“Like” us on Facebook and be eligible for free subscriptions, stimulating and scrappy dialogue with PW editors and fellow readers:

Publishers Weekly

PW Reviews

PW Comics World


On Twitter:

@Publisherswkly: The mothership

@PWAudio: All things audio

@PWComicsWorld: All comics, all the time

@PWKidsBookshelf: Children’s and teen book business news

@Pwreligion: Updates from our religion editor

@PWReviews: Book reviews and gossip from PW and beyond

@PWxyz: Updates from our news blog


Plus, take advantage of our email newsletters. Signing up is free and easy. Do it here. Do it now!

Children’s Bookshelf (Weekly): Children’s and teen book business news, reviews, and more

Cooking the Books (Twice A Month): News for cookbook enthusiasts.

PW Comics World (Monthly):  News, feature stories, interviews on graphic novel and comics publishing.

PW Daily Newsletter (Daily):  Authoritative reporting of the day’s big deals, personnel moves, sales information and technology developments.

Religion BookLine (Monthly): Religion and spirituality publishing’s premier source of information.

‘Tweet,’ ‘Parkour’ & Other New Words in This Year’s Merriam-Webster

Gabe Habash -- August 25th, 2011

This year’s update of Merriam-Webster’s College Dictionary has added over 150 new words, including social media and tweet. Cougar also has a definition beyond “a large powerful tawny-brown cat.” Dictionary updates are usually great encapsulations of the zeitgeist, and this year’s version shows technology’s continued influence on our language with words like m-commerce making their way into the pages for the first time. Here are a few of this year’s new entries:

Americana: materials concerning or characteristic of America, its civilization, or its culture; broadly : things typical of America.

boomerang child: a young adult who returns to live at his or her family home especially for financial reasons.

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Could Amazon Take Down ‘The New Yorker’?

Gabe Habash -- August 24th, 2011

Earlier this week, the Amazon Kindle Singles store released the first short story by bestselling novelist Tom Rachman (The Imperfectionists). The story is titled “The Bathtub Spy”, sells for $1.99 and, like most things involving books and Amazon these days, begs the question of whether authors will bypass traditional publishing avenues–in this case, literary journals/magazines like The New Yorker–in favor of the e-tailer’s more innovative channels.

The question is: what’s stopping Amazon from gathering a store of “more literary” short stories from respected writers and releasing them every week, putting them directly in competition with The New Yorker? They’ve already challenged every publisher, Apple, Barnes & Noble (not to mention killed Borders), Wal-Mart, and basically every other retailer in America. So why not start the siege on the old guard of literary journals and magazines? If Amazon decided, could they succeed?

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Will the Most Important ‘Housewife’ Get Real In His Book?

Rachel Deahl -- August 23rd, 2011

There’s always been something a little depressing, and a little fascinating, about Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. The recent suicide of Russell Armstrong, fleeting cast member of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (and husband to full-fledged cast member Taylor Armstrong), got me thinking about why I’ve been watching the series for so long…and why I haven’t been able to fully turn away.

On some level I think it’s the Gatsby-esque quality of the show that’s kept me tuning in. Sure it’s crass, but the “real housewives” are strivers, just like Gatsby. While none of the Housewives are in search of something pure, like love—even the single ones admit the most important thing in a man is the size of his bank account—they are all searching. The Housewives feel like bastardized versions of Jimmy Gatz living the lifestyle of Jay Gatsby. (Gatsby, after all, did make the money he spent, even if he made it in an unsavory way.) This has been the brilliance of the Real Housewives and, while it didn’t take Russell Armstrong’s suicide to point it out, the fact that he hanged himself in a rental apartment after moving out of his McMansion in the midst of a dissolving marriage and a mounting pile of debt, certainly does highlight it.

I’ve watched more episodes of the Real Housewives than I care to admit, on and off, since the series launched in Orange County and began spinning off across the country–New York, Atlanta, New Jersey, DC. As the seasons wore on, and the “characters” became more shrill and despicable, the real joy of the show was watching these women—most of whom had married into new money—deal with the elephant in the room: they were going broke while they were getting paid to look rich. The irony! The hilarity! The anguish! It was a brilliant and lucky moment for Bravo, which had unknowingly tapped into the zeitgeist: it had a suite of reality shows about Americans who’d been living on easy credit and trumped-up housing values just as the bill was coming due.
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‘Burroughs Has Gone Insane’: Letters from Famous Writers

Gabe Habash -- August 22nd, 2011


Letters of Note is a fantastic blog edited by Shaun Usher that collects important correspondence, covering both notable events (like this touching letter from a young boy to Jacqueline Kennedy following JFK’s assassination) and notable people. We scoured the blog’s archives, and found these four great letters from writers.

Jack Kerouac to Lucien Carr and his wife, Francesca: “[Burroughs wants to] slaughter an Arab boy to see what his beautiful insides look like.”

Kerouac wrote this letter while editing William Burroughs’s writing fragments into what would eventually become Naked Lunch.

Dear Lucien & Cessa — Writing to you by candlelight from the mysterious Casbah — have a magnificent room overlooking the beach & the bay & the sea & can see Gibraltar — patio to sun on, room maid, $20 a month — feel great but Burroughs has gone insane e as, — he keeps saying he’s going to erupt into some unspeakable atrocity such as waving his dingdong at an Embassy part & such or slaughtering an Arab boy to see what his beautiful insides look like — Naturally I feel lonesome with this old familiar lunatic but lonesomer than ever with him as he’ll also mumble, or splurt, most of his conversation, in some kind of endless new British lord imitation, it all keeps pouring out of him in an absolutely brilliant horde of words & in fact his new book is best thing of its kind in the world (Genet, Celine, Miller, etc.) & we might call it WORD HOARD…he, Burroughs, (not “Lee” any more) unleashes his word hoard, or horde, on the world which has been awaiting the Only Prophet, Burroughs — His message is all scatalogical homosexual super-violent madness, — his manuscript is all that has been saved from the original vast number of written pages of WORD HOARD which he’d left in all the boy’s privies of the world — and so on, — I sit with him in elegant French restaurant & he spits out his bones like Mr. Hyde and keeps yelling obscene words to be heard by the continental clienteles — (like he done in Rome, yelling FART at a big palazzio party) — I’ll be glad when Allen gets here. — Meanwhile I explores the Casbah, high on opium or hasheesh or any drink or drug I want, & dig the Arabs. — The Slovenija was a delightful ship, I ate every day at one long white tablecloth with that one Yugoslavian woman spy. — We hit a horrendous tempest 2 days out, nothing like I ever seen, — that big steel ship was lost in mountains of hissing water, awful. — I cuddled up with TWO TICKETS TO TANGIER and got my laughs, I read every word, Cess, really a riot. — Also read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling which you should read, it’s down on your corner. — Right now I’m high on 3 Sympatinas, Spanish bennies of a sort, mild. — Happy pills galore. — The gal situation here is worse than the boy situation, nothing but male whores all over, & their supplementary queens. — Met an actual contraband sailing ship adventurer with a mustache. Etc. More anon. Miss you & hope you’re well. Jack.

Kurt Vonnegut to his family: “I’ve too damned much to say.”

This is the first letter Vonnegut sent to his family following his time as a POW in Dresden, an experience he would use in Slaughterhouse-Five twenty-five years later.



Pfo. K. Vonnegut, Jr.,
12102964 U. S. Army.


Kurt Vonnegut,
Williams Creek,
Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dear people:

I’m told that you were probably never informed that I was anything other than “missing in action.” Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do — in precis:

I’ve been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler’s last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges’ First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out: We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren’t much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight – so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Montgomery for it, I’m told, but I’ll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren’t wounded. For that much thank God.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, unheated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations — the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn’t room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year’s Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn’t.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical attention and clothing: We were given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: — one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden — possibly the world’s most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to (‘the Saxony-Czechoslovakian border’?). There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39′s) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We’ve since been flown to Le Havre.

I’m writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repatriation Camp. I’m being wonderfully well feed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I’ll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I’ll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and — get this — sixty (60) days furlough.

I’ve too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait, I can’t receive mail here so don’t write.

May 29, 1945


Kurt – Jr.

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PublishAmerica’s Shady History

Gabe Habash -- August 19th, 2011

Yesterday’s news that “publisher” PublishAmerica responded to J.K. Rowling’s cease-and-desist letter with a cease-and-desist letter of their own is just the latest in the company’s not-so-illustrious history. You can view the letter here, which is most notable because their legal representation utilizes triple exclamation points.

A brief summary: PublishAmerica promised authors that for $49, it would show their books to J.K. Rowling. If the Rowling price tag is too high for you, for $29, PublishAmerica will give your book to President Obama.

We thought we’d shed some light on PublishAmerica, if only because some of what’s happened with them is so unbelievable that it’s a wonder they still exist.

According to its website (which has an aesthetic that’s very appropriate for the company), PublishAmerica’s founders had a dream back in 1999: in a difficult publishing marketplace, they could serve as many authors as possible that otherwise would have little chance at getting their books published the traditional way. And if you’re wondering how many “as many authors as possible” entails, those numbers are 11,000 authors under contract and about 4,800 titles released per year.

The best story of PublishAmerica’s history involves the hoax title Atlanta Nights that was submitted by a team of writers under the pen name Travis Tea. They were upset with the company’s comments, found on the company’s Web site, about the sci-fi genre including, among other things:

As a rule of thumb, the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy is a lot lower than for all other fiction. Therefore, beware of published authors who are self-crowned writing experts. When they tell you what to do and not to do in getting your book published, always first ask them what genre they write. If it’s sci-fi or fantasy, run. They have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home. Unless you are a sci-fi or fantasy author yourself.

The writers, who were suspicious of PublishAmerica’s claims that they reject 80% of the manuscripts they receive, decided to submit a masterpiece of literary garbage–a book that had a missing chapter, two chapters that were identical, copy rife with spelling and grammar mistakes, and a nonsensical story that reads like this:

“Bruce walked around any more. Some people might ought to her practiced eye, at her. I am so silky and braid shoulders. At sixty-six, men with a few feet away from their languid gazes.”

The book was accepted for publication. This is the acceptance letter (from Meg Phillips, Acquisitions Editor):

As this is an important piece of email regarding your book, please read it completely from start to finish. I am happy to inform you that PublishAmerica has decided to give “Atlanta Nights” the chance it deserves….Welcome to PublishAmerica, and congratulations on what promises to be an exciting time ahead.

A month later, the authors revealed the hoax and PublishAmerica pulled their offer. The new letter:

We must withdraw our offer to publish “Atlanta Nights”. Upon further review it appears that your work is not ready to be published. There are portions of nonsensical text in the manuscript that were caught by our editing staff as they previewed the text for editing time assessment pending your acceptance of our offer.

On the positive side, maybe you want to consider contracting the book with a vanity publisher such as iUniverse or Author House. They will certainly publish your book at a fee.

PublishAmerica has been involved with quite a few lawsuits in its history; a few of them can be found here, here and here.

It should be noted that some authors have apparently spoken up in defense of PublishAmerica. Unfortunately, those endorsements are buried under articles that put words like “scam” and “beware” alongside the company’s name.

So, the message bears repeating: if you’re looking to publish your book, exercise caution when considering which press or publisher to use.