Monthly Archives: March 2005

Authors and Clinical Trials

Zoe friend Jai Claire puts us onto the Book Angst 101 blog, which laments how publishers need to take a longer view on writers and profitability.

And yet, for the business to sustain itself–and this is why your jobs
are so incredibly stressful and demanding–you’ve got to be able to do
exactly that: take chances on writers, and stick by writers, who won’t necessarily become bankable brands (if they ever
do) within three months, or even three books. With the fate of your
kids’ college educations on the line, you’ve got to be able to say to
those people above you–the ones who talk to the suits above them,
at Viacom and NewsCorp and Time-Warner and Bertelsmann and so on–that
sometimes real money must be invested now on "product" that won’t
really come to market for five years. CEOs–and even shareholders–in
pharmaceutical companies understand this. Why not in our industry?

But when profitable, blockbuster novelists are few and far between, and midlist authors are, unfortunately, way too common, is "Mad Max Perkins" indulging in wishful thinking?

From The Street to a Blog

A recent issue of Crain’s New York has an article about former Wall Street equity research analysts who have turned themselves into bloggers ("Former Analysts Put Stock in Blogs," 3/14-20).

About a dozen former Wall Street research analysts have started blogs in the last few months in an effort to strut their smarts before a new audience and revamp reputations that took a severe beating when the stock market bubble popped. The trick for these analysts accustomed to pocketing multi-million dollar paychecks is finding an audience and earning more than a few dollars that are dribbling in.

Crain’s mentions Stephen Castellano, Bill Burnham, David Jackson, David Strahlberg, Ezra Marbach and Tom Brown.

Drinking Faulkner’s Water

The Atlanta Journal & Constitution says that William Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, remains a station for many writers.

Acclaimed author Pat
Conroy dubbed Oxford "the Vatican City of Southern letters" with good
reason — not many cities of its size can claim even a handful of
published authors. Oxford seems to have one on every corner.

"There’s a climate in Oxford that sustains writers," says Dean
Faulkner Wells. "There are people here who love the written word so
much they will put up with all kinds of [nonsense] from the men and
women who create those words."

Diane Arbus the Spider

Portions of the Diane Arbus exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum today were so packed that they smelled like a lockerroom. Particularly so were two otherwise absorbing alcoves used to showcase Arbus’ notebooks, personal book collection and cameras. It was interesting seeing her evolution from a 35mm Nikon to Rollei and Mamiya twin lens reflex cameras, which she believed allowed her to get closer to her subjects. The exhibit’s journal excerpts give good insight into Arbus’ aesthetics. Though Arbus is maybe best known for her images of "freaks," she also had a well-honed ability to capture the essence of the people she came upon while traipsing around her native New York. Joel Meyerowitz recalls:

[She] was the spider. You
could see how she got into people’s lives. She was genuinely interested
in them, and they became entranced by her, enamored of her. She had
what would be called, in sixties parlance, good vibes – an aura,
charisma, something that emanated from her. If she was next to
somebody, near somebody, and she wanted to photograph them, she would
send out her interest. It was as if a bloom would just open up, and
they would see her, and she would say something to them in hardly an
audible way, and they would listen. Because if someone speaks low
enough, people listen. There was a kind of incantation in her whisper,
and people would go limp.

Most photography aficionados, for instance, know "Child with a Toy Hand Grenade" (in which she perfectly captures a boy’s anger at seeing Arbus take his photograph) and "Teenage Couple on Hudson Street" (in which the youth of the couple is only heightened by their oversized coats and wish to look grownup).

I learned a lot from studying Neil Selkirk’s prints of the Arbus images: where he chose to burn and dodge them. (Selkirk is the only person authorized by Arbus’ heirs to print her images since her suicide in 1971. After she separated from husband Allan Arbus, she did all her own printing.) The traveling exhibit originated at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the catalog is available from Random House.

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Blanketing an Art Form: Danny Liu

While I was in Taiwan, I got an opportunity to introduce my Mom to my friends Danny and Patricia Liu, who generously took the time to show us around Kaoshiung and take us to lunch. Even better, we got a chance to see Danny’s art studio, which he and Patricia have filled with boxes and boxes, and shelf after shelf of fabric squares that they have sorted by color.

Danny is an immensely talented artist who creates mosaic quilts; he creates portraits by stitching together pieces of fabric. (He also works with ceramic tiles.) The artworks have to be seen in person to be truly appreciated. While there seem to be computer programs that allow you to turn photos into such mosaic quilts, Danny shuns them, preferring to work by hand. That is because he considers every fleck of color in each piece of fabric, and how each piece interacts in the whole. (Danny also likes to sometimes hide messages in his pieces.) He says that he often swaps squares of fabric in and out of a single spot more than a dozen times, and he likes to work for 12+ hour stretches when he is feeling inspired. Each piece of a work in process is pinned to a large styrofoam board.

Danny says he is inspired by the artwork of Chuck Close, but he also studies the great painting masters (as you can see from his recreation of some painting masterpieces). He seems to have gotten both an artistic and a business sense from his mother, an Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) master who maintained a store in Brazil, where Danny grew up. My favorite of Danny’s pieces is a quilt work he calls “Feng” (“Wind”), a portrait of his daughter as a young girl.

Bernie Knows

Back stateside after traveling in Southeast Asia and Southern Europe: I see the many headlines about the conviction of former Worldcom CEO Bernie Ebbers. Among the many articles about the guilty verdict, one that stood out was one that appeared in The Washington Post, "Verdict Weakens Ignorance Defense."

Still, Ebbers’s conviction sends a strong warning
that jurors will be skeptical of business executives who pocketed
hundreds of millions of dollars yet claim they were simply functioning
as a "coach" rather than running the show.

The message to others awaiting like trials as well
as those running other corporate giants is clear: If you play in big
leagues, but only intend to coach, expect to get benched to the nearest
federal prison," said Charna E. Sherman, a defense attorney.

The Los Angeles Times was among the newspapers that concurred.

The tipping point, [one juror] said, was the argument that Ebbers would have to know about WorldCom’s troubles because of regular revenue statements and numerous other financial reports.

"We had to come to the conclusion that his testimony was not truthful," said Nulty, a grade-school teacher. "It wasn’t that we were quick to dismiss what he said. It took us a very long time."
Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky said he believed the jury’s decision "will embolden prosecutors to bring more such cases."

"I think it puts more pressure on white-collar defendant CEOs to consider guilty pleas," he said.