Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Real Life of John Gillis

My life is in syndication.

Ok, here's the deal. A couple of years ago, as I was finishing college and about to begin my career as an editor, I wrote a novel called THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS. The above line was the opening sentence, and the premise was as follows:

John Gillis is 28 years old, works in a trendy bar, and is content to pour drinks and chase women with no end in sight. Then tragedy befalls a close friend, and John is forced reexamine his life, realizing if he doesn't do something soon he'll be living off $1 tips forever.

So John decides to write his life story, his memoir, hoping that somehow his destiny will reveal itself on the page. On a whim John's memoir ends up in the hands of Nico Vanetti, an agent looking to restore luster to a career tainted by poor decisions and suspect morals. Esther, Nico's assistant, has become disillusioned by life and love, and in John Gillis she sees hope for both. Esther sees John as her chance for fulfillment, and Nico sees these unique memoirs as his chance to climb back atop the literary heap.

But Nico doesn't think John's life is exciting enough. He wants sex, action, conflict, themes he thinks will sell for big money and resuscitate his career. To achieve this, Nico decides to manipulate John's life and by effect his memoirs. But he must do it without John's knowledge, so the experiences are authentic on the page. He must set up situations, create conflict, make John's memoirs better. Esther agrees against her best judgment, hoping to grow closer to the man of her dreams. And so Esther and Nico set out to change the real life of John Gillis, to create the star they need him to be, to alter the course of someone else's life...even if his life itself must be put at risk.

I never considered THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS about publishing, but a mystery/thriller about the extreme lengths people will go to create reality for an audience. At the time books seemed to be the only media form uncorrupted by Reality™, but the last few months have drastically changed this notion. And after years of laying dormant, John Gillis's story popped back into my head.

So starting Monday, I will post the first 3 chapters from THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS. And if the reaction is strong, I'll post a chapter a week until the story is complete. I want to see if people think the story of John, Esther, and Nico is as relevant as I think it is.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Last Word

Last night I saw on the Publishers Weekly website that Little, Brown was recalling all unsold copies of OPAL MEHTA from bookstores. And while I think it's the right move, since the author would have inevitably profited from the "free press" of the scandal, I can't help but feel a little sorry for some of the people involved.

I worked with many of the good folks over at Little, Brown and Warner Books (now Hachette Book Group), and have the utmost respect for them. Little, Brown takes unbelievable pride in the books they publish, and have earned their stripes as one of the most admired publishers in the industry.

And somehow, I also feel bad for Kaavya. There's no doubting the severity of the incident...but she's 19 years old. She's a sophomore in college. At that age my biggest concerns were whether I could convince an upperclassman to buy me beer. I hate to think someone that young, who might legitimately have talent, finds their career over before it begins. In any case, I applaud the integrity of Michael Pietsch in this decision, and especially Megan McCafferty who held her head high, never once took the low road, and even wished Kaavya the best. And if the one person most wounded in this ordeal is able to move on, the whole industry can.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Death Sentence

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

This is the opening line from Stephen King's THE GUNSLINGER, the first book in a mammoth 7-volume masterpiece. It gives me chills every time I read it. I mean, with that kind of opening, how can you not read the rest of the book? I don't think you can possibly underestimate the important of a great opening line, they can set the tone, create scene and character, and yet so many authors use throwaway lines or dialogue. And I think, why?

Look at King's line. Right away, you know a few things about what this tale has in store:
1) The man in black is an evil dude.
2) There's some sort of chase going on...but it's not a race.
...the Gunslinger followed. He's not running, sprinting or chasing, he's merely following. That's effing creepy. So you know that eventually this Gunslinger is going to get his man, he's one overconfident SOB, since he knows the other guy will tire before he does. And then it's on.
3) They're crossing a vast desert, these two men. Just picture that. Two guys, one of them clad all in black, the other one wielding weapons to kill him, crossing an endless sea of sand. Really sets the tone for the epic tale to come.

So in one short sentence, we already know what the relationship is between the two men, the loneliness of their struggle, and that at its core we're witnessing a duel between Good and Evil (a King staple).

Another favorite line of mine, not an opening one mind you, is from James Ellroy's classic L.A. Confidential. How they were able to make not just a coherent a movie out of this amazingly dense and complex book, but a great movie, is beyond me. Read it and you'll see.
Anyway, here's the line:

Bud White refused to die.

Might not ring your bell in this context, but if you read the book and get to this part, you'll shiver every time just like I do.

What are some of your favorite lines (opening or otherwise) from your favorite books?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


I'm tired of defending the literary industry. I'm tired of Opal Mehta, and James Frey, and Nick Sylvester, and Jayson Blair, and Stephen Glass, and Jared Paul Stern and everyone else who forces the public to look at us and say, "What the hell is wrong with you guys? Don't you have a shred of integrity?"

I'm tired of trying to figure out why allegedly plagiarizing gets you on the Today Show (and a spot in the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top 100), rockets your book up the charts, gets you notices everywhere from USA Today to the New York Times, and causes more people to talk about your book than someone who just won the freaking Pulitzer. And I hate how more people are buying these books after learning the authors might be a fraud. Do you really need to spend $25 to sate your curiosity? On one hand, perhaps publishing is to blame. Maybe we've taken the Alfred E. Newman "What me worry?" route too long, and we need to look in the mirror. But as a young author and editor who works my ass off every day, takes pride in the books I edit and the books I write, I feel shouldn't have to face these questions with my back to the wall.

"It's an isolated incident," I used to say. Now about six isolated incidents later, I've come to the realization that maybe we should police ourselves better. Maybe we get away with too much. But one thing's for certain, one thing I try to show in my novel THE MARK, is that there are those of us who are young, and ambitious, and true of heart. Who think there's more to life than the fucking gossip pages, who could care less who Wilmer Vaderrama is sleeping with and whether Britney is pregnant again and rightfully have contempt for people who do care. Who think that even if Jared Paul Stern was set up, he still represents everything that's reprehensible about journalism. There are some of us who are tired of this and want to bring back some credibility to an industry built on that foundation, but finds that right as they're looking to move in the foundation is crumbling. Sometimes shit happens, but if our hearts are in the right place that's what matters. But there are others whose hearts don't quite line up in the margin, and the rest of us have to justify them.

And I'm sick of it.

I need to grow a beard

The reason I say this is because last night I stopped by the preparty for the Edgar Awards, and right away I felt like I stepped into some 19th century fishing village. Let's just say if I want to have a literary career, there's a good chance I'll have to grow a 'stache. And not a neatly trimmed Robert DeNiro in "Heat" beard, but some whiskered monstrosity I can hide small children in.

The night was a pleasure. It was my first time at this annual preparty, held at the legendary Black Orchid bookstore on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Lots of great writers showed up, everyone seemed like they'd known eachother for years, and we proved the theory that there's nothing authors appreciate more than free booze. And with all the fictional murders committed and dastardly plans devised by the folks in attendance, I was sure if we put our heads together we could have pulled off some sort of elaborate Ocean's Eleven type heist (Reed Farrell Coleman as George Clooney, Charles Todd as Brad Pitt, Laura Lippman as Julia Roberts, Ken Bruen as Elliot Gould. I'd play the Bernie Mac part). Maybe we'd knock off the Starbucks across the street, since they have more money than the Bellagio anyway.

Winning an Edgar can launch your career, boost sales, earn the respect and admiration of your peers, not to mention cause some good, old fashioned jealousy. While I was buying a copy of a book written by one of the nominees, another nominee came up to me and said, "Don't buy that book. I'm nominated against him." I bought the book, but told him I would probably hate it.

I had a chance to meet some real legends, some cool up-and-comers, people who work in publishing and/or cover the mystery scene. Bottom line, it was a trippy experience to be on the other side of this book thing, talking about my book instead of someone else's. It's something I'll have to get used to, after months of trying to be modest about my writing. But at least I'll have my beard to keep me company.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

So I hear there's this thing called "The Blogosphere," and that sometimes people start up "blogs" and talk about their favorite cereals and discuss Tom Cruise's alien baby and their favorite t.v. shows.

This won't be that. Or at least most of it. In the words of Mick Jagger, "Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste. Pleased to meet you. Won't you guess my name?"

Many of you will be guessing my name, since unless you're in the publishing industry chances are you don't know me from Adam. Hopefully that will change over time. Because come next summer, my first novel, THE MARK, will be in stores, and I'll be trying my ass off to convince you to pick up a copy. And the copy of my next book. Rinse, repeat until I go blind or you run out of money. My day job is an editor with one of those big conglomerates owned by people whose first language isn't English, but I'm adding Novelist to my business card. So naturally in addition to random postings about pop culture and cereal, I can hopefully illuminate you with some stories and factoids (a combination of facts and Altoids) on what publishing is like from both sides of the desk.

But in all seriousness, literature at its apex can entertain and inform, and hopefully on this blog I can do a bit of both.

Pleased to meet you.