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Don’t Tell Me Not To Live


Last night, I had the great honor of escorting my friend and client George Hodgman to the National Book Critics Circle Awards; his book Bettyville was a finalist. Ittook place at New School’s beautiful auditorium that looks like the inside of a deco egg. It was a star-studded event. To the left of us, Helen McDonald sans hawk. Directly in front of me Paul Beatty who I’ve loved since his first book of poems. Wendell Berry seemed annoyed to be receiving a lifetime achievement award. Everywhere in attendance proud editors, agents and family members. Margo Jefferson’s memoir Negroland won in George’s category, autobiography. No complaint there, but still I have to admit that in the moment before the winner’s name is announced, I found myself hoping with the fervor of a small child making a birthday wish. We consoled and celebrated over a long and delicious dinner with friends where much publishing gossip was exchanged. A meal in itself. When I think about reading the first pages George shared with me and sitting with him last night, and all the work in between that went into Bettyville, I feel so fortunate. Publishing doesn’t always fuck you over,

Long as I Know How to Love I Know I’ll Stay Alive

08hodgman3-master18051q6c2lxz4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_Congratulations to my dear friend and client GEORGE HODGMAN on his NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE nomination. New York Times Bestseller Bettyville available in paperback  March.

Are you the kind of person who prepares his acceptance speech or wings it?

THe Best Things In Life Are Free

Just sayin’ (this year’s Forbes list)

James Patterson $90 million
Dan Brown $28 million
Nora Roberts $23 million
Danielle Steel $22 million
Janet Evanovich $20 million
Jeff Kinney $17 million
Veronica Roth $17 million
John Grisham $17 million
Stephen King $17 million
Suzanne Collins $16 million
JK Rowling $14 million
George R.R. Martin $12 million
David Baldacci $11 million
Rick Riordan $10 million
El James $10 million
Gillian Flynn $9 million
John Green $9 million

What is the point of this post? To make you feel bad. No, no. It’s just a vicarious thrill. I love lists in general and lists about richest people or most successful things in particular or worst dressed. Every Monday morning the first thing I look at in the newspaper are the highest grossing movies and at the end of the week the bestseller lists. I know there’s more to life, only what?











You Better Let Somebody Love You Before It’s Too Late









I’ve never read a Tom Clancy novel and I probably never will. Still: respect. His obit said he bypassed children’s books as a child and read military history. Lord have mercy. I’ve always believed that obsessions from childhood dictate what we write, but that is really something. Also from the obit, “Mr. Clancy said none of his success came easily, and he would remind aspiring writers of that when he spoke to them. ‘I tell them you learn to write the same way you learn to play golf,’ he once said. ‘You do it and you keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kissed you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.'”

I played golf for two reasons: to drive the cart and to have a makeshift egg cream which my dad made at the halfway house by mixing cream soda and Yoohoo. THe three rules he would repeat over and over: keep your head down, eye on the ball and follow through.

Though I also have to admit, and possibly from working with Patti Smith, that I have seen mystical things happen, but pretty much only when you are in the deep center of your work, completely obsessed and working like a mad man. (Do mad men work hard? Hmmm?)  But it can happen: a simile arrives unbidden and so perfect that you have ask yourself: did I pull that out of my ass or what?)

Any other decent sports metaphors out there for the writing racket?

I Feel Like A Number

It’s that time of the year when Publishers Weekly releases its “Facts and Figures 2010” issue. I fuckin’ love this issue. It’s pulling back the curtain on real sales figures which publishers, agents, and writers all lie about, inflating their performance like a frat boy on a Sunday morning. Plus, it’s just damn fascinating to see what sells and sells. Going through the list this year didn’t yield any major surprises or screamers. Though a new fiction king was crowned:

Number 1 fiction: the Stiegster. THe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet Best (1,900,000)

Top selling LITREE fiction at #7: you got it: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom’s Just Another Word (761, 701)

Number 1 non-fiction: The Decider (2,653, 565) Honorable mention to Laura at #12 (605,000) Spoken from the Heart. (As you know, I prefer to speak from my ass). Chelsea Handler and Jon Stewart are in the top ten, big swearers both. Keith Richards is #4 (811,596); that should buy a lot of blow.

Mark Twain #22. Jay-Z #26

In Kase you were wondering, Kardashian Konfidential  by Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe sold 117,674 copies.

Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by love bug Amy Sedaris sold 154, 458. Brother David sells (420,473) with Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. What I’d give to go to their Thanksgiving.

Some celebrity stats: Sarah Palin’s America by Heart (797,955) Sexy Forever Suzanne Sommers sold (218,340) I am Ozzy came in at 145,364. Me by Ricky Martin sold 135,000. Unbearable Lightness by Portia De Rossi (180,000), Condy’s Extraordinary Ordinary People clocks in at 116, 643. Is it Just me? Or is it Nuts out There by Whoopi Goldberg (it’s you) sold 108,866).

Do you read the bestseller list? Do you care?

Oh, Mirror In The Sky, What Is Love?

Whenever assistants ask me what to look for in manuscripts, I always say page turners or prize winners. There is an assumption in my directive that the two are mutually exclusive. That’s a big topic which I’m not prepared to get into while watching The People’s Choice Awards.

What I’d love to find out is which you would rather have, assuming you could only have one, a big prize or a bestseller? Literary acclaim or ca-ching? Reputation or readers? Apples or oranges?

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face*

I have a bad habit. Okay, I have several, but here’s the one I’m most proud of: I think I can tell how somebody writes by looking at their author photo. And basically that’s how I decide which of the Important Books to skip, because really, who has time to read them all? Before you have a freakout about how mean I am, I swear it’s not a beauty contest. It’s more subtle than that. There are some bushy browed dogs out there who still do it for me, who really seem to inhabit their faces the way the voice inhabits the page. I’m looking at you Philip Roth. Not a beauty, but a Dick That Gets the Job Done. Ditto Bukowski, says my friend Sean. Maybe Fran Lebovitz isn’t a conventional beauty, but I like the vibe she gives off in a photo.

Jonathan Franzen, not so much. I mean, way to man up for the cover of Time, homie. I know he’s America’s Author, but all I see is America’s milquetoast. I suppose he’s conventionally handsome and the article mentions his perfectly tossled hair, but I look at his face and I think of the word limpid. I flash back to how he deprived Oprah’s masses of his gifts on the grounds that he didn’t want to, or something. I see pictures of Jonathan Franzen and I think of all the emo narcies who ever tried to teach me to crochet. Five bucks says he sits down to pee.

This is why I haven’t finished The Corrections and why I’m making it my Life’s Goal to make it through the new novel. I have a feeling it’s a much more rigorous Forrest Gump. Even as I write this I feel that guilty tug of you guys in my ear: You don’t even know what you’re talking about. All the reviews are raves. Read it before you judge. But I’m telling you I’ve already made up my mind.

Botox. I’m not against it. There is a way to use injectables in moderation, so that you still look like you’re made of flesh. But Mary Karr: frozen in bitchface. Can’t read her stuff, don’t like her attitude. I imagine if she were a visual artist, she’d paint in menstrual blood. Her perma-scowl makes me want to pick a fight about the origins of her stupid faith.

For Botox done well, see John Grisham, Jackie Collins and Justin Bieber.

Who can’t you help but loathe on sight?

* Erin Hosier, whose blog style is “on the rag,” is not the same person as Betsy Lerner, whose blog style is “perimenopausal” and on vacation.

Little Old Lady Got Mutilated Late Last Night

Literary Novelist Turns to Vampires and Finds Pot of Gold

Justin Cronin at an annual book industry convention in New York last week.
Chad Batka for The New York Times — DOESN’T THIS LOOK LIKE A LOT OF FUN??

Published: June 1, 2010

Justin Cronin is the author of an epic, multimillion-dollar, 766-page novel that stars bloodthirsty creatures that run in packs and savagely kill people at night. And he’s planning to turn it into a trilogy.

Dearest darling readers of this blog: Take a moment to read the NYT article about Justin Cronin if you haven’t already. And then tell me, WTF, why isn’t that US? Why aren’t we buying our daughter a pony. Why didn’t we initiate a game “Let’s Plan a Novel Together?” (I actually play this with my daughter all the time but we’ve never gotten past the first few sentences.) Why didn’t we sell film rights to Scott Free Productions with John Logan writing? Why are we not Justin Cronin. And try as I might to hate him and his good fortune, he seems great. Kids, for the umpteenth time: a vampire novel! Please!

What I really want to know, though, is how do these articles make you feel? Hopeful? Inspired? August?

This Will Be the Day That I Die

It’s my favorite time of the year (after Oscars and my birthday): Publisher’s Weekly 2009 sales ranking issue. For me, it’s like reading the racing form at OTB, though I’ve never actually been to an OTB or seen a racing form. I study the list and invariably my eyes widen when I see a title sell far better or worse than I thought. This year,  the #1 non-fiction book is Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue at 2,674,684 copies. The #1 fiction, duh, is Dan Brown at over 5 million. This year the list was pretty predictable, all the usual suspects, no wild cards like last year’s What’s Your Poo Telling You.

Still, some titles that seem worthy of a shout: Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect he Desperately Needs sold 189,412 copies. Call me crazy but I think it’s the other way around. I’ve never gotten up close to a man and didn’t see the big secret right before my eyes. Of course, High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips at 171,070 copies is a testament to the sturdy category of celebrity dysfunction. It’s good to know you can count on some things in an uncertain world. I also like the title, The Noticer: All a Person Needs is a Little Perspective at 151,752 copies. Sequel anyone: The Insipider. The Lamer. The Doucher.

The first literary title with some muscular numbers goes to Cormac’s The Road at 605,322. Go Cormac, it’s your birthday.

A revelation to me is a series of books that all have my favorite word in the title: dead.

Definitely Dead: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel (730,013)

Dead as a Doornail: a Sookie Stackhouse Novel (728,144)

All Together Dead: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel (655,046)

Living Dead in Dallas: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel (557, 282)

The author is Charlaine Harris and I officially worship her and Sookie Stackhouse.

Lots of Zombification on the list: Zombie War, Zombie Survival Guide, Pride and Predge and Zombies.

Favorite celeb title: Are You There Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea. And Stori Telling by Tori Spelling. They should palm the editorial assistant who came up with that. Seriously.

Quietest book to sell a boat load: Home by Marilyn Robinson (140,000).

And the book I’m reading and loving right now: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (122,757) I think it won the National Book Award.

That’s all she wrote. Have a good weekend. Buy a book.

State of the Union

Congratulations to Patti Smith. Just Kids hits the New York Times Bestseller List at #7

Front page New York Times Book Review to run this Sunday: “the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print. ..this enchanting book is a reminder that not all youthful vainglory is silly; sometimes it’s preparation. Few artists ever proved it like these two

Congratulations to Temple Grandin’s Animals Make Us Human hits the New York Times paperback bestseller list at #16.

HBO movie “Temple Grandin” airs on Saturday, February 6, 8 pm starring Claire Danes, Julia Ormond (exquisite), Catherine O’Hara and David Strathairn.

Congratulations to Dave Cullen on his Edgar Nomination in the non-fiction category for Columbine, and appearing on over 20 “Best of 2009” book lists.

This blog will return tomorrow to its regularly scheduled posting of mean-spirited, self-aggrandizing, attention mongering, publishing malcontentedness, and potty-mouthed bile to bring to those of us determined to write just a little less hope. But not today. Love, Betsy