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New York Times article on the new Stephen King book, Full Dark No Stars, by Terrence Rafferty.

“From the start — even before a young man I can now hardly comprehend started writing ‘The Long Walk’ in his college dormitory room — I felt that the best fiction was both propulsive and assaultive,” Stephen King writes in a chatty afterword to “Full Dark, No Stars,” his new collection of longish stories. “It gets in your face.” As if we didn’t know.

Illustration by Otto Dettmer

FULL DARK, NO STARS

By Stephen King

368 pp. Scribner. $27.99

“Full Dark, No Stars” contains, as King’s earlier “Different Seasons” and “Four Past Midnight” did, a quartet of previously unpublished tales that more than satisfy their prolific author’s stated criteria for good fiction. Propulsive? Check. Assaultive? Don’t ask. The stories in “Full Dark, No Stars,” whose lengths range from 30-some pages to well over 100, are for the most part only lightly supernatural and deal, instead, with the unlovelier aspects of merely human behavior. Serial rape and murder figure prominently in two of these stories; in another, a man kills his wife and forces his teenage son to help him; and in the only fully fantastic tale here, a man purchases — from the Devil, of course — health and happiness at the too-affordable price of the ruin of his best friend’s family. It’s grim stuff, but that’s what readers expect of Stephen King. After all, he’s been in our faces for 40 years.

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Brian M

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Ever wondered how novelists get other novelists to put a quote on the front of their book?  Here’s an article from Rachel Donadio that explains it…

Enjoy!

ThatActionGuy.com

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A new company recently emerged on the publishing scene, offering writers the chance to buy and sell book endorsements. Aimed at self-published authors, Blurbings LLC traffics in “blurbs,” the often hyperbolic declamations on book covers alerting readers that they’re holding the greatest single work of literature since the Bible — or perhaps since “The Da Vinci Code.”

At least one writer was so affronted by the idea of blurbs for cash that he complained to the Authors Guild. But the more jaundiced might say that asking one unknown writer to endorse another unknown writer hardly helps to make one of those writers known. Besides, some might argue, what the company appears to have done is simply put a price — starting at $19.95 for 10 blurbs — on the logrolling and back-scratching that have long marked the process by which mainstream publishers or agents ask authors to blurb a book.

Caveat lector! The endorsements on books aren’t entirely impartial. Unbeknownst to the average reader, blurbs are more often than not from the writer’s best friends, colleagues or teachers, or from authors who share the same editor, publisher or agent. They represent a tangled mass of friendships, rivalries, favors traded and debts repaid, not always in good faith. There’s some debate about whether blurbs actually help sell books, but publishers agree they can’t hurt. Often, agents try to solicit blurbs even before a publisher buys a book.

Some don’t think the effort is worth it. “I wish, and I think most editors would agree, that we should impose a moratorium on blurb-hunting,” Eric Simonoff, a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, said in an e-mail message. “It has become more about running to stay in place than about getting ahead.” Besides, Simonoff added, “there is a yawning gap between the obligatory blurb (‘This is a fine debut novel’) and the over-the-top selling blurb (‘Good God! Drop everything and read this book now!’). The former is merely window dressing … the latter a legitimate path to sales, but all too rare.”

For writers, to blurb or not to blurb can be a tricky matter. Blurb too little and you’ll have a hard time drumming up the requisite superlatives when your turn comes. Blurb too often, or include too many blurbs on your book, and you might get called a blurb whore. The essayist David Rakoff said a plug from David Sedaris — declaring that Rakoff had managed to “successfully pass himself off as the wittiest and most perceptive man in the world” — helped his book “Fraud” get attention. “But it can just as easily backfire,” Rakoff said in an e-mail message. “If it looks like you’re too much of an insider, have too-fancy friends, etc., that can unleash the bloggerati and your backlash begins before they’ve even shipped your work to the stores.”

Sometimes a blurb is news. The reclusive Thomas Pynchon seems to elicit excitement each time he breaks his public silence, as he has by endorsing, among others, “The Testament of Yves Gundron” (1999), the first novel by Emily Barton; Jim Knipfel’s memoir “Slackjaw” (1999); and “The Restraint of Beasts” (1998), a Booker-nominated novel by Magnus Mills, which he called “a demented, deadpan-comic wonder.” (Pynchon has also written the liner notes for “Nobody’s Cool,” the second album by the alt-rock band Lotion.) Recently, Post Road magazine published Pynchon’s collected blurbs from the years 1966 to 2003 — more than two dozen in all.

The South African Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee rarely grants interviews and shies away from the press, but on the backs of books he’s positively loquacious. Coetzee called “The Secret Scripture,” by Sebastian Barry, “a deeply moving story of courage and fidelity,” while praising Ceridwen Dovey’s “Blood Kin” as “a fable of the arrogance of power, beneath whose dreamlike surface swirls currents of complex sensuality.”

For the most famous writers, blurbing is often a matter of noblesse oblige. Many authors blurb down, endorsing former students (Joyce Carol Oates on Jonathan Safran Foer), less celebrated writers working in a similar vein or up-and-comers who validate the blurbers’ own influence without challenging their supremacy (Salman Rushdie on Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth” and Kiran Desai’s “Inheritance of Loss”; Chinua Achebe on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Half of a Yellow Sun”). Major authors like John Updike or Philip Roth often forgo blurbs for their own books, preferring to trumpet critical praise for earlier works.

Contemporary authors can also associate themselves with greatness by blurbing up — by endorsing a reissued classic, for instance, as when Rick Moody plugged “The Recognitions” by William Gaddis, or by blurbing the safely dead, as when Nicole Krauss plugged “The Savage Detectives,” Roberto Bolaño’s posthumous best seller (“an ark bearing all the strange salvage of poetry and youth from catastrophes past and those yet to come”).

Then there’s the great churning mass of lateral blurbing, where patterns are harder to discern and dangerous rivalries might lurk, with hard feelings existing among the blurbers themselves. “One has to be especially careful about the mix,” Robert Weil, an editor at W. W. Norton & Company, said in an e-mail message. “Even though two separate blurbers may both greatly admire the author, they may be sworn enemies to one another and would refuse to provide a quote if they knew that the other person was weighing in.”

Sometimes blurbish enthusiasm can backfire. Dave Eggers’s first book, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” itself sounds like a blurb, and came with endorsements from David Sedaris (“the force and energy of this book could power a train”) and David Foster Wallace (“this thing took off for me in the basement and didn’t stop”). Since then, Eggers has become such an effusive endorser of his contemporaries that one critic, Andre Mayer, said his blurbs “border on farce.” After Eggers called Sean Wilsey’s memoir, “Oh the Glory of It All,” so “intriguing,” “hilarious,” “jaw-dropping,” “reckless and brilliant and insane” that “at one point I had to burn the second half … so I didn’t distract myself from my own dumb deadlines,” Mayer, writing on the Web site of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, took him to task: “Isn’t the point of a blurb to kindle interest in the book — and not the blurber?”

Asking for blurbs — and being rejected — can lead to the kinds of hurt feelings and fallings-out more common in romance. In an e-mail message, the novelist Roxana Robinson recalled collecting some “wildly infuriating refusals.” One author declined her request by saying, “I’m such a slow reader, I won’t be able to give your book the careful attention it deserves” — despite the fact that the manuscript was “sent out several decades before the blurb deadline,” she said. But her “top all-time most frustrating response was ‘I’m really sorry, but I think it would be inappropriate for me to blurb your book, because you’re so distinguished.’ ”

The novelist Colum McCann added: “I do a lot of blurbs, but sometimes wish I didn’t. It’s a horrible cycle.” McCann said he was still haunted by his decision not to endorse the second novel of a young Irish writer. “I used the traditional excuse that I was deep in a novel of my own, so couldn’t read the new book right now,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “The truth was that I had read it and didn’t like it.” Time passed, but “then came the crushing news that he had a full 18 months before it would be published,” McCann said. “I agonized over the blurb. Lost sleep over it. Literally. … I decided then to write to him and tell him that I couldn’t do it. The letter took days to shape.” To this day, McCann said, he regrets not writing the blurb. “I’ve blurbed worse. Much worse. And it’s still a gnawing feeling that his book — to my knowledge — never got published in the end.”

But some authors have the luxury of treating the whole business as a joke. The back cover of Jim Holt’s “Stop Me if You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes” offers these words from the New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik: “I read your joke book with steady pleasure and a sense of revelation last night. My only complaint was that you didn’t ask me for a blurb.”

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Cheers!
Brian M Logan
ThatActionGuy.com

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