Thursday, November 29, 2007

Authors' Inscriptions

Lynne Johnston has been drawing the comic strip “For Better or Worse” for 30 years. It’s the evolving story of an apple pie, middle-class, Canadian family named the Pattersons. In the last year, Johnston has had one of her characters, Michael, write a novel, find a publisher, and see it in print in record time.

During the last few days, the strip has shown Michael signing his book at a bookstore. There have been a number of jokes about what he signs for each reader, which made me wonder what real authors sign in their books.

While many authors just sign their names, many include a pithy phrase that is linked to the theme of their books. My friend and writing group partner Susan Freinkel just came out with a book called American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree. She signed one of my books: “Here’s to Rebirth,” and then her name.

The question of how to inscribe a book is not trivial. Imagine having to sign over and over again. Would you rather just sign your name and save your hand or write something that is going to bring you and your reader a little closer together?

I looked through my shelves and found a number of authorial autographs. They are fairly varied from the unadorned to the lengthy. Some of these inscriptions are rather personal, which in most cases means I knew the author slightly. I wouldn't say any of them are close friends, yet their inscription feel intimate.

From Michael Pollan, from his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

“4-26-06, For Frances, Fellow Writer, Vote with your fork.”

From Sean Wilsey, who wrote “Oh The Glory of It All.”

“For Frances, It’s all crazy true life in here, but it turned out more or less OK. Thank you for reading and blogging.”

Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket inscribed his first book to my daughter using an embossed seal that said “The Library of Lemony Snicket.”

Then he wrote “To Charlotte, a future orphan.”

From Sandy Tolan, author of The Lemon Tree:

“To Frances, with warm wished to an admired colleague.”

From Jason Roberts, author of A Sense of The World:

“To Frances, A Fellow (ink-stained) Traveller.”

From Kemble Scott, author of the novel SOMA

“To Frances, From One Author to the Next.”

From Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land:

“To Frances, Thanks for Reading!” Julia

From Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up from Under.

“To Frances, Much Peace and Many Blessings.”

Michael Chabon, Alan Alda and Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, all just signed their name.

Which one works best?

I’d have to go with Pollan’s “Vote with your fork.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why the Lack of Communication

Sorry for the radio silence. This has been the longest I've gone without posting -- a record 27 days. I have my reasons, believe me. I haven't been lazy, or on vacation, or reading up a storm. No, nothing really fun like that.

I have been finishing my book. I started this project seven years ago and can't quite believe it's coming to an end. I've had my share of ups and downs -- the editor who acquired the book left St. Martins and my new editor had so much backlogged work it took him many months to read my manuscript. Waiting to hear what he thought was excruciating.

The good news is he liked Towers of Gold. He returned his comments to me in late October and I have spent the last three weeks working like crazy. I feel like this is a term paper and I have to pull consecutive all-nighters to finish. I didn't really have many substantive changes to make, but like all writers, I love to tinker. I could play around with words endlessly, changing adjectives here, tightening descriptions there.

I haven't quite let go of the book, but think it will be complete very, very soon. Like in the next few days. I will still have to gather photographs and all that sort of stuff, but the writing and thinking will be finished.

The book is 133,000 words and about 450 pages. I am not sure how many pages that will turn out to be in book form. But Isaias Hellman's life was pretty fascinating and I tried to highlight lots of good parts. Readers will learn about Los Angeles when it was still a dusty pueblo; ferocious rain storms and droughts, the Nevada Silver boom, the Huntington family and Southern Pacific, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the ensuing graft trials. World War I and the influenza epidemic and most importantly, the Jewish contribution to the settlement of California.

(This is MY blog, so I can plug my own book, right?)

Anyway, hello again.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Blog Becomes a Movie

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Well, we've seen blogs made into books, but I believe we have a new first: a blog made into a movie.

Apparently, Hollywood is going to make a film based on the blog by Julie Powell, who wrote about her attempt to make every recipe in Julia' Child's cookbook, the Art of French Cooking. The blog became a best-selling book, and now Meryl Streep is set to play Julia Child in the movie. Nora Ephron wrote the script and is directing.