Friday, July 13, 2007

Justin Cronin Sinks Teeth into New Genre and $3.75 Million

by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 7/13/2007 7:43:00 AM

Ballantine is taking a big bet on Justin Cronin—a writer best known for a pair of intense literary novels, including his PEN Hemingway Award-winning debut Mary and O’Neil (Dial, 2000). The publisher has just paid $3.75 million for Cronin’s new trilogy about a viral pandemic that turns humans into vampires. The first book, The Passage, will be published in the summer of 2009.

Mark Tavani, who has worked with such thriller writers as Steve Barry and Alex Berenson, will edit. He told PW the book combines the best of Steven King’s The Stand with Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. "On top of fully introduced characters, great writing and a concept that could last for three books," said Tavani, "there was a real feeling of urgency there. You can tell Justin was burning to write this book."

The book portrays vampirism as the consequence of a viral pandemic that sends the immune system into hyperdrive, endowing victims with hardened skin, stronger vision and longer life. Of course, the virus is carried by a rare species of bat. The plot of the series revolves around the U.S. military’s attempts to harness these powers and a coterie of concerned citizens’ attempts to stop them.

Novels starring vampires, such as those by Anne Rice and more recently Elizabeth Kostova and Stephanie Meyer, have proven popular with readers. With Rice writing less frequently about the blood suckers and more about Jesus, there’s likely to be some pent-up demand in the market. From the sound of it, this one combines some of the best elements of gothic horror, medical thriller and paranoid polemic—a perfect recipe for these trying, uncertain times.

Cronin’s agent, Ellen Levine at Trident Media Group, initially submitted the book under a pen name, Jordan Ainsley. While early online reporting said the book would be published under the pseudonym, Random House spokesperson Carol Schneider said that the book would appear under Cronin’s own name when it is published.

New Bookstore for the Cayman Islands

Books & Books, Mitchell Kaplan’s Miami bookstore minichain, is opening a fourth location, this one in the Cayman Islands. The new 5,000-sq.-ft. store is part of Camana Bay, an upscale, one million-sq.-ft. retail and housing development on Grand Cayman, and a joint venture with the local developer, Dart Realty. The store is scheduled to open in the first weekend of November, just a few weeks after Books & Books celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Kaplan said he was initially approached by Dart Realty executive v-p Jackie Doak, who was been a regular customer of Books & Books in Miami. "She invited me down, I visited the site, and committed," said Kaplan.

The year-round population of the islands (which comprise Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) is estimated to be approximately 45,000 people, though that number can easily double in the tourist season, while an equal number of visitors from cruise ships stop at the islands each year.

At present, Kaplan is still hiring staff and expects he and various managers will be making the one-hour flight from Miami to oversee construction and prepare for the opening. "The architecture is inspired by the Caribbean," said Kaplan. Café del Sol, a local coffeehouse, will adjoin the bookstore. The store will offer the same type of selection found in the Miami stores--literary fiction, art and architecture books, poetry, classics, bestsellers, children's books and cookbooks and travel guides.

In a press release, Doak said, "We are particularly excited to be included on their literary event circuit, which we hope will bring authors from all around the world to Cayman." So far, said Kaplan, publishers and writers, "have been very receptive" to the idea of extending their book tours to the Caribbean.

For his part, Kaplan said that the store wasn’t merely an experiment but "a long-term commitment."

"Our aim," he said, "is to bring a similar sense of community to Gran Cayman that we have in Miami," adding, "Eventually, I hope we will be able to organize mini book festivals, conferences and all kinds of cultural events."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Virginia Inn and SIBA to Build Ultimate Southern Library

by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 7/10/2007 7:40:00 AM

Ian Lloyd, the owner of the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon, Va., has committed $20,000 to build "The Ultimate Southern Library" and invited Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance member stores to submit proposals for suitable titles. In return, he will purchase the titles from appropriate SIBA stores and the books will be showcased in the inn's recently renovated library. The deadline for proposals is this Friday, July 13. Click here for guidelines.

Originally built in 1832 as a home for Gen. Francis Preston, the stately building in the southwest corner of the state served as a Civil War hospital and a private college for women, before being turned into an inn in 1935. Wanda Jewell, executive director of SIBA, says she was initially approached by Lloyd, who wanted to build a book collection that would reflect the inn's Southern milieu and culture. Knowing that such stalwarts as William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams would make the cut, Jewell suggested her member stores would be the best judge of the contemporary Southern classics. SIBA is maintaining a running list of titles on its Web site. The first 100 suggestions are posted and include titles by such contemporary authors as Ernest J. Gaines, Clyde Edgerton, John Berendt and Pat Conroy.

The list is sure to generate debate among aficionados, if not a bit of controversy. One anonymous bookseller has already suggested, The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter-the popular, fraudulent Native American "autobiography" written by a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Cape Town Book Fair Looks to Conquer Africa

by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 7/9/2007

Nearly 50,000 people attended the second Cape Town Book Fair, held June 15–19, double the attendance in the inaugural year. This year's event attracted some 350 exhibitors, including local publishers, booksellers and cultural organizations.

Launched in 2005 in partnership with the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Cape Town Book Fair aims to “become the central meeting place for publishers on the African continent,” according to book fair managing director Vanessa Badroodien, taking over the role formerly filled by the Zimbabwe Book Fair; many international publishers had departed in protest over the policies of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe. Badroodien added, “The majority of exhibitors in Zimbabwe were subsidized by organizations like the World Bank. The only way for this to work is for us to be self-supporting. Combining a trade show and a public book fair makes this financially feasible.”

So far, Cape Town has struggled to attract significant numbers of African exhibitors—just eight were on the roster this year—though the Association of African Publishers held its general meeting at the fair. Next year, Badroodien plans to add an incentive for international publishers by making the first day of the fair exclusive to trade visitors. Among this year's international exhibitors were a dozen from the U.K.; numerous group exhibits from continental Europe; and just two American companies: World Bank Publications and Krishnamurti Publications.

South African publishing has traditionally been aligned with the British subsidiaries of the global publishing conglomerates. The country imports nearly 75% of its books from the U.K. Nevertheless, “there are opportunities for American publishers to enter the South African market through education publishing,” said Musa Shezi, managing director of Via Africa, South Africa's largest trade publishing conglomerate. “The key is for American publishers to partner here with black-owned publishers,” said Shezi, who praised the government for giving special subsidies to black-owned publishers under its Black Economic Empowerment program. “It is a big opportunity, but one which needs a local interpreter so it is not misunderstood.”

Shezi was not speaking allegorically. The greatest challenge to be met by South African publishers, who typically work in Afrikaans and English, is how to cater to a country of 45 million people with 11 official languages—all sanctioned for use in education.

Even local companies struggle to meet the needs of the linguistically diverse populace. Batya Green-Bricker, marketing manager for Exclusive Books, the country's largest bookstore chain with more than 40 stores, admitted the company has struggled to find an audience for books in languages other than English or Afrikaans. “It's a matter of distribution,” she said. “Many of our stores are in malls in urban areas, not out in the rural areas where the tribal languages are spoken. We're just now starting to open in the townships,” citing a new store opening in Soweto this fall, “and that should be an important step for us toward expanding our customer base.” Green-Bricker said imported books outsell local titles at the chain by a two-to-one margin, but that Exclusive's goal is to give more attention to South African writing. The chain sponsors an annual “Homebru” program, promoting 25 books in Afrikaans and English, and also sponsors a children's book award. “Local publishing has become more comfortable in its skin,” Green-Bricker said. “We are celebrating the varied experiences of living in South Africa without the angst of earlier years.”

A new report by the South African Book Development Council found that while the literacy rate in the country exceeds 90%, fewer than half the homes own books for leisure reading. “The South African market may look daunting,” said Dudley Schroeder, the executive director of the Publishers Association of South Africa, “but it is a market that is growing, especially as a large number of people move into the middle class.”

In 2006, total retail sales for trade books rose 12%, to 938 million rand ($135 million), as estimated by Nielsen BookScan. According to the Publishers Association of South Africa, book sales in 2005 totaled 2.2 billion rand ($302.5 million) in 2005, when 8,177 titles were published. With typical print runs of 1,000 to 3,000 copies, a book selling 5,000 copies is considered a bestseller. Last year, Penguin South Africa had a remarkable success, selling 80,000 copies of John van de Ruit's comic novel Spud, which became the fastest selling book in South Africa's history. “That makes him South Africa's J.K. Rowling,” gushed Penguin sales director Janine O'Connor. Spud will be published in the U.S. by Penguin's Razorbill imprint this October.

Donna Leon and Her Venitian Sleuth Share Aversion to Tourists

Originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 6, 2007

Donna Leon rarely gets writer's block - she's consistently produced a new Guido Brunetti mystery each year since 1992 - yet whenever she does, she merely steps out of her front door for inspiration . . . and finds herself inside the setting of one of her novels.

"Venice is one of those rare cities where you can walk everywhere you need to go," she says, noting that the exception is in July and August, when the tourists descend in hoards. "Then you just have to find a way through them or leave town."

Leon, who was born in New Jersey, left America more than 40 years ago for teaching stints in Iran, China and Saudi Arabia, eventually settling in Italy two decades ago. With her fine red cashmere sweater and her manner of emphasizing each point with a wave of her hands, she appears more genuinely Italian than any of the Sopranos clan.

Now 64, Leon has a well-edited life: She doesn't own a television (and thus, has no opinion of "The Sopranos"), says she'll stop writing as soon as it stops being fun, and travels whenever and wherever she wants - most often to see opera. Opera so consumes Leon that she helped found her own orchestra to perform rare Baroque compositions.

So, it comes as a shock to learn that whenever Leon needs a bit of rousing musical motivation, it's not Handel or Mozart or one of the great Italians she fires up on her iPod, but Thomas Arne's "Rule Britannia" (Rule Britannia! / Britannia rule the waves) and "God Save the King."

Leon's aversion to tourists is shared by her brooding sleuth, police commissioner Brunetti. Though Leon's 16 novels have been translated into 29 languages, she refuses to have them translated into Italian. "It's so I can maintain my privacy," she says.

In the U.S. the Brunetti books are gaining popularity among those who appreciate the compelling characters, romantic backdrop and bracing plots - often without tidy or happy endings.

Leon regularly tackles issues relevant to Italian society, as in her latest book "Suffer the Children," in which a trio of Carbinieri abduct an Armenian child from the apartment of its adoptive father.

"The Armenians who have come to Italy in recent years are for the most part the criminal element - drug dealers, pimps," Leon says. "So to make this child sympathetic was a bit of a twist."

Sensibly, Leon says that there are two topics she will not write about: local Venetian politicians or the mafia.

"The politicians and bureaucrats can make your life very difficult," she says. "As regards the mafia, well, there's just too much to know, it's too complicated. . . . They're involved in everything. Plus, at this point, it really is a cliché."