Counting Coup on the Net


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If you've published an e-book, or are thinking about marketing a digital or print book on the Net, you will soon come across the mind-numbing jargon of how to evaluate digital ads. Bob Mayer's blog post, linked here will hopefully help you get started and keep you from making expensive mistakes.



The Millions : The Talking Cure at Work in Contemporary YA Fiction

I don't read YA fiction and I certainly don't write it – by my writing pal Lyn does. She's darned good at it, and she's working to make the genre stretch structurally.

But what, really, does this genre of fiction mean to its youthful readers? This essay from The Millions book blog explains a lot of that, I think. But to extend the genre in another sense, can reading YA books become a form of therapy in itself? I hope it can. One of the social fuctions of literature should be that in the process of creating characters readers can identify with and stories that mimic at least a tiny aspect of one's life, one can find safe passage through a few of life's own pages.


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As an English professor and unabashed therapy-junkie, I recently made it my business to read every YA novel I could find in which an adolescent protagonist visits a psychotherapist. It surprises me that teens in contemporary Young Adult fictions are still submitting to the rigors of talk therapy. This seems to be passé. According to a myriad of recent articles and books, more Americans — adolescents included — are tossing back pills for depression than trudging to therapists’ offices. In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, Marcia Angell explores the “shift from ‘talk therapy’ to drugs as the dominant mode of treatment” for mental illness. Nevertheless, fictional teenagers are still talking to therapists for pages on end. Having now read a growing pile of novels, I can vouch for the fact that teen protagonists are actually having insights and getting better. In fact, the majority of these novels depict psychotherapy as transformative.


The Millions : War Games: On Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich

As promised, another review of The Third Reich. This one gets down to dotting "i"s and crossing "t"s on the gaming aspect of Bolaño’s book. Cherchez la différence!



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Gaming in literature tends to come in two varieties; the high-brow and highly abstract, and the demotic and irredeemably nerdy. Look to puzzles in Perec’s Life, A Users Manual or chess in Nabokov’s The Luzhin Defense, for the former, and sci-fi literature for the latter. Historically-based wargaming has largely fallen through the gap; there is Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim’s effort to recreate the siege of Namur in Tristram Shandy but otherwise it is a hobbyist corner given little literary attention. Until, oddly enough, Roberto Bolaño’s latest exhumed English translation, The Third Reich. This novel, to be clear, takes its name not from that short-lived empire, but from a multiplayer strategy game depicting its span, of which the book’s protagonist is an avid devotee.


It’s Just A Game

The Third Reich, by Roberto Bolaño




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I'm posting a book review a little earlier in the week than usual – for the reason noted at the bottom of the post.

Right off the bat, let me say that this book isn’t about Nazi Germany any more than Norman Mailer’s book, “Why Are We In Vietnam?” was about the Vietnam War. Instead it’s Bolaño’s indirect tribute to the mystery novel – but it's far more than that.

A German man, Udo Berger, is the national champion of a game called The Third Reich, a game in which two players match wits using the battlefields, weaponry, the generals, etc. of the European portion of World War II. He and his girlfriend, Ingeborg, decide to vacation in Spain, taking a room at a hotel Udo stayed at with his family when he was a child. He becomes reacquainted with the hotel owners, and a mysterious beach bum called El Quemado. In true geek fashion, Udo can’t stay away from his game, and he and El Quemado begin to play it. Ingeborg leaves him alone there and returns to Germany.  The author slowly builds suspense over the game while something sinister begins to take shape. Charly, a person Udo and Ingeborg befriended in Spain, dies mysteriously, and Udo becomes enamored of Frau Else, one of the hotel owners.

I’d like to tell you more, but that’s it, really.

As the story progresses, Udo’s first person narrative becomes almost trancelike in its feel; in fact, Udo has dreams, random images, flitting from person to person, subject to subject, much in the order of Marquez’s magical realism works.

What is Bolaño trying to accomplish here? It’s an almost poetic rendering of modern games – board and computer – many of which are violent. Are these games harmless? he seems to want us to ask. No, not essentially, but the subliminal effects of such a focus on something of a violent nature are real. They’re ominous in that they can lull you into a false sense of security, even as they leave you with palpable feelings of fear and paranoia.

This of course can be projected into a broader context: We as a world society can’t play politics with the implements of war without doing at least psychic damage to all concerned.



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Tomorrow, another review of this book, taking a somewhat divergent perspective on it. And the fact that that's possible reflects well on the author's writing skills, his skills of suggestion. 


My rating: 16 of 20 stars




amazon barnes noble boycott indigo books a million : Book Business

The author of this by-line, Michael Weinstein, is no stranger to the book biz, and this is as accurate a representation of the current state of the industry as you'll find.


Recently Barnes & Noble announced that it would not sell books in its brick and mortar store that are published by Amazon’s new print publishing division.


Had I Known Then….


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This week I've been reviewing the bluelines of a novel of mine – -my first one – first published in '97, and now in reprint mode. It's titled A REASON TO TREMBLE, and you'll see more about it here soon. (I'm choosing to publish it myself, but that's another story.) Out of 90,000+ words, I've so far found some 25 typos to correct – not bad, by my clumsy standards. But what I'm noticing otherwise is a spot here and there of superfluous wording. Oh, not enough to make me wince, but some.

I'd edited the manuscript down by about 10% prior to going into "publish" phase this time, and was satisfied with it. But you never catch everything – same with editors you might hire – if you choose an editor for your work, and he/she makes drastic changes, you can bet there'd be a lot more to tweak on a second pass.  

With an agent's and editor's help with it back then, it was good enough to be published and sold, but, well, no Pulitzer was in the offing. I've since learned a lot about where the fat is in a manuscript, part of which I posted here. If I were to reduce editing advice (where verboseness is concerned), it would be to cut until your story begins to suffer, and then add back a few bits of flesh. 

Below, None of it Matters

Hemingway’s Boat, by Paul Hendrickson



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“You know you love the sea and would not be anywhere else…She is just there and the wind moves her and the current moves her and they fight on her surface but down below none of it matters.”

That’s a segment from Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, repeated in this book on pages 457 and 458, and it sums up Hendrickson’s view of the great American writer. The author’s project here, built somewhat waveringly about his boat, Pilar, is to depict, not the superficial man – the writer, the fisher, big game hunter, drinker, and womanizer, but the man few have written about, the man few knew.

The more important parts of this book draw on letters to and from friends and family. They show a Hemingway who could be generous to a fault, as with the “maestro,"Arnold Morse Samuelson, who showed up destitute at Hemingway’s door in Key West – just to meet his writing hero. Hemingway not only tutored Morse, but kept him around for a year to experience life at sea.

Then there was Hemingway’s family, particularly his youngest son, Gregory, or Gigi, as Papa called him. Gigi was talented – adept at so many things that mattered to and that mirrored Papa – but a troubled soul. Gigi was a cross dresser who, near the end of his life, sought and received a sex change operation. He was also a bright, articulate, friendly, well-read person, a doctor.


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Hendrickson posits that beneath Papa’s ultra-male exterior resided, not a latent homosexual as some, from Zelda Fitzgerald to Hemingway’s posthumous chroniclers, have proclaimed, but a complex person, perhaps an androgynous person, living out many subterranean facets of his makeup through his writing.

Until Gigi’s behavior became apparent to Papa, that is.

Gigi is portrayed here as those submerged aspects of Papa manifested. The son is confronting his own personality conflicts at the time Hemingway is writing the book eventually published under the title, The Garden of Eden. Hendrickson surmises that the gender-swapping aspects of his protagonist’s ménage à trois were Hemingway’s attempt at trying to understand Gigi. Since Hemingway was one of the first American writers to fictionalize personal life in such depth, Hendrickson may not be far off the mark.

The writing here is elegant, the research deep and well thought out. As I wrote earlier, the story wanders in and out of many lives, all hovering about the presence of Pilar.  It would be crude to criticize Hendrickson’s work here in a structural sense; it’s not meant to be that sort of work, but a deep, caring investigation of the man many love to hate, the person who made the most significant impact on the art of modern writing.


My rating: 17 of 20 stars