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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Taking the High Road

So that's me, looking very British I must say, taking the High Road in Layer-de-la-Haye on the English Country Walk I took during my London Book Fair trip.

This was serendipity at its very best. Whenever I travel, I think it's always nice to touch base with Persons of Interest in the areas I'm visiting. When I discovered that David Wenk, the webmaster for Peter V. Brett, lived in London, I decided it might be nice to try and hook up with him on my UK trip, and then to make things more interesting I found out one of the other hats he wore was that of running English Country Walks, which is oddly enough exactly what it sounds like. You go out into the English country, and you go on a walk. I like very much to walk, and I think the country is a very nice place to visit though I wouldn't want to live there, so this sounded very enticing. Not a sure thing, since I have only so much free time on the trip. I don't know if I would have gone on the walk if London was full of theatrical offerings I was just dying to see, which it wasn't. Or if the wonderful screens on the West End had been overflowing with movies I'd love to see on a huge screen for the bargain price $29.50. But neither applied, so meeting up at Liverpool Street Station at 9AM on a Saturday morning seemed alluring, and I have to say the walk was all and more that I could have hoped for.

There were six of us total. There were two expats who worked for Bloomberg, and the siblings Hal and Sue from the US. Hal was on his first trip outside of North America, in spite of doing IT work for a travel agency, while the others were fairly well traveled and I believe veterans of the English Country Walk experience.

Our first stop, around an hour's train ride from London, was in Colchester. The vending machines at the main-line train station, where we transferred for a short ride to the downtown station, are not to be trusted, and if you try and take a picture of one because that's the new way of writing down the phone # to complain about your lost shillings (I would have done this the old way), you might be thought a suspicious character. As to Colchester itself, it calls itself England's oldest recorded town and was one of the original Roman settlements. Near to the train station one finds St. Botolph's church, with centuries old ruins adjacent to the current and still-functioning church.

That's me walking thru the ruins.

It's then a short walk to the main Colchester bus station, where we had a short wait for the bus to the Colchester Zoo. Next door to the bus station, a cultural center is being built, and would you believe that there are people who are upset because a government building is over budget, behind schedule, and of no practical use to anyone? That's what we were told.

We didn't actually visit the Zoo, but rather went there pretty much just to add distance to the walk and appetite for our lunch. We paralleled the road the bus had just taken us on along a footpath to some ancient Roman ruins that really aren't. Someone has the exciting job of maintaining lines of stone that mark where once upon a long long time ago there was a Roman temple and a Roman ampitheatre, and where an ancient Roman statue of Mercury was once plowed up and given over to the Colchester museum (which is near the bus station and St. Botolph's but not part of our itinerary). Sadly, I can't seem to find the picture of yours truly orating some Shakespeare on what once upon a long long time ago would have been the stage of the Roman ampitheatre.

From there we meandered a short way thru the woods to Layer-de-la-Haye. Along the way we met up with the UK equivalent of JROTC cadets doing some "wilderness" training. An honest bunch; they wanted nothing to do with our map. As we exited the footpath right before the pub we found some adult troops waiting on the cadets at the checkpoint. My lunch was an OK steak and ale pie with the first of two disappointing hard ciders I had on this trip; does anyone make a good hard cider any more?

After lunch we continued our walk past an old mill, past my first encounter with a foot turnstile that helps keep the footpaths to people actually on foot and able to put a leg up and over, through country lanes and adjacent to pastures and horsies, and along a narrow footpath adjacent to the Abbeton reservoir. We took a brief snack break, took the footpath across a military training field, ascended the hill past the crows to St. Andrew's church in Abberton, and ancient Anglican church that creaks of age from its every pore but is also fully functional, complete with the CCTV that is everywhere in the UK and posted right inside the door the fee schedule for life cycle events that you can find here if you're thinking of getting married or buried at the Church of England anytime soon. Hal took this
nice picture of the church.

Leaving the church we walked a bit further along to the second of the four pubs included in this walk. I'm not much of a drinker, so I leafed through the local free newspaper which had lots of ads and not so much news while the rest of the group partook. We then had a nice walk through a hilly farm area between Abberton and Fingrinhoe were we saw lots of cows like the ones Sue photographed which are pictured above.
(well, these cows were actually a little earlier in the walk, but the ones we saw here looked pretty similar) and along to pub #3, which is across the street from a 700-year old oak tree. Sue took this photograph of her brother Hal nestling in its very broad trunk, which took me 28 very good size paces to circumnavigate. You can see for yourself that this is a really really really big oak tree, and I wouldn't want to be the one who has to pick up the acorns when they fall.

With the sun starting to set, we embarked on the final walk, through and along a tidal marsh, with the footpath ending at the Rowhedge Harbor, which had been very busy when it was one of the only ports open when the unions were striking during the Thatcher years, but now looks very desolate. A few blocks into town we arrived at the Anchor, the final pub stop of the day. Our friends from Bloomberg had to get back to London and cabbed back to Colchester while David, Sue, Hal and I chowed down on dinner. I had the tortellini. We then walked a few blocks to catch a bus back to the main line station in Colchester, where we had a short wait for a train back to Liverpool Street.

This was a day to treasure. I had great weather, and the other people on the walk were great company, and neither can be guaranteed. But the totality of the experience is something you really can't have just anyplace; I can't conceive where or how I'd duplicate the totality of experiences anywhere by me, that's for sure. And it's an experience I'd heartily recommend. The only drawback to me was that the day went a little longer than planned, which left precious little time to read the Saturday newspapers, so I got behind and had to work to catch up. If you're heading UK way, there's only one English Country Walks.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Nationals Follies

So I just got back from seeing a ballgame at Nationals Park with a friend.

Now, even in the height of the fluid rule stuff when flying, when you couldn't bring on any liquid of any sort at all, I was able to bring on an empty plastic bottle which I could ask the flight attendants to fill up for me the moment I got on so that I would have some water at my seat during the flight. Even once when I had to go thru the security check with my empty bottle and then one of the random checks they were doing when you boarded. Even today, I still bring an empty half-liter soda bottle with me so I can go to the drinking fountain and have water without having to buy a new bottle of bottled water all the time.

So when I read up on the Washington Nationals web site about their security rules and saw this "one per person, a factory sealed water bottle of up to 1 liter," I decided to test it. Knowing I was doing evil, I had an empty 16 oz plastic bottle in my bag, which I hoped to fill with water at the drinking fountain. And the security people at the First Base Gate at 6:05 on a Friday night were having none of it. The supervisor grabbed the A to Z brochure to show me their Rule, and my empty plastic bottle had to get tossed.

There is no possible justification for this. I could have a 33 oz bottle of water, factory sealed, take it 5' further thru the turnstile, dump it on the ground, and that's OK. And that is the exact same thing that I was just forbidden to bring in.

This isn't because the Nationals want to be the only people to sell you food. You can bring in the 1 liter bottle of water, and other food in small quantity. I wasn't trying to bring in some Colored Liquid that could be Anything. It was an empty clear plastic bottle, just like a factory sealed water bottle would be if I dumped it out 5' from where I was standing. Any evil thing I could do with the 16 oz plastic bottle I had to toss I could do twice that with the allowed factory-sealed 1-liter water bottle.

Well, two possible reasons. The Nationals are on a water meter, and they can afford to give people refills but not give everyone their entire water for the game. Or, the US idea that there might be somebody like me who thinks it crazy not to re-use a plastic bottle, thinks it crazy not to use the drinking fountain at the airport or the ballpark or the wherever instead of buying new petroleum-based plastic water bottles all the time, is so alien to the culture of America right now that it never occured to the Nationals that somebody might want on a hot day to reuse a water bottle, and bring in an empty.

Both of these would be very sad.

Six degrees of separation ... if you know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone in Nationals land, let them know about this silliness. The same empty bottle I take on plane should be fair game for Nationals Park.

I filled out a complaint form at the stadium, I will write to the Nationals, I will write to the Washington Post. If I ever go to a Nationals game again I do not want to be forced into buying another bottle.

And my friend is upset that none of the level 3 garnish stands for the hotdogs had been filled with onions. You can have all the relish you want with none of the onions, and all the factory-sealed plastic bottles one per person, but no empties.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Audio Rules!

Once upon a not so very long time ago, it was virtually impossible to sell audio rights to anything in the way of science fiction and fantasy. This, to me, was not a good thing.

Why was this? I do think sf/fantasy is an acquired taste, so much so maybe it's in the genes, and for some reason it's been an acquired taste that is looked down upon. To the rest of the world, the entire sf convention is going around in Star Trek costumes and taking Klingonese lessons from Lawrence Schoen. Why do indie bookstores have better mystery sections than sf if they deign to have an sf section at all, why do libraries have better mystery sections. Do sf readers avoid libraries because they don't have sf, or do the libraries avoid because sf readers have an allergy. That's clearly part of it. In order for them to buy sf/fantasy they first had to be educated about it.

There were also these rules. Fixed cost in audio can be high because of recording costs. You need to have some prayer of geting the fixed costs back. So audio companies would say they would only buy books if they knew the publisher would be shipping 100,000 copies and if they could have them in time to be out when the hardcover was out and if they didn't go a clause over 79.940 words in length. All told, only a smattering of very top authors like Robert Jordan had audio editions out unless they were with smaller publishers selling their wares at conventions. Cutting had a little bit in their Graphic Audio line, like some of the Deathstalker books. This did not stop clients from wanting audio editions, but it was an easy time to explain why the odds were against. I had to work hard even at selling Charlaine Harris as she started to climb up the bestseller lists before finally getting Recorded Books on board.

And then six months ago, the world changes.

Audible decides there is more of a market for sf/fantasy than they have product. They start to put the word out to their content providers that the order of the day is more, please, more. And if you don't want to give us more maybe we'll go out ourselves and get it. Now, pretty much all of the top clients at the agency are under contract for audio editions or soon will be. Where I never had anyone wanting to buy, now I can have multiple people competing against one another in actual bidding wars. I can have this publisher wanting the abridged and that publisher the unabridged. Whodathunkit. It's nice to finally have the revenue stream kicking in for my clients. More work, but the right kind, though it might have been nice if there had been a steady group of sales over many years instead of having to sell the entire list all at once.

As a side issue, never a good idea to sell publishers more rights than you need to. If you sold audio rights to your publisher when nobody was doing sf/fantasy on audio, it's not as if they were going to sell them, because nobody was buying them. Now, everyone wants to buy them and it's not so difficult all of a sudden, and the publisher gets 50% for being in the right place at the right time. Maybe 100% if your advance isn't earned out. As an agent, I like for the author to get as much benefit from right place at right time as I can.

I wanted to do one more post before Malice Domestic, at least one. Done! Probably next week before I''ll have another. But May is a much lighter travel month until Balticon on Memorial Day weekend, and should totally be a better Brillig month than April was.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Seen April 20, 2008, Sunday morning/afternoon at the AMC Empire, Auditorium #9. 1 Slithy Toad.

In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

And I guess even this occasionally funny but too often flat attempt at comedy might seem to be good, considering how dismal the movie choices have been in recent weeks. I'd like to like Street Kings, but the reviews have been so awful I can't bear to go and the 68% drop in the second office box office... Prom Night has some eye candy and probably isn't bad (there are some decent actors in the cast, even), but I'm not 16 any more and have seen this one before. There are so many things to like about the idea of Leatherheads, but again it just seems so mediocre from everything I've read that I couldn't bear to go. I even had a chance to see it on the mammoth Odeon Leicester Square in London, or on the biggest auditorium however big it might be at the Odeon Kensington, but when I didn't want to pay $7 to see in NYC the $30 or $20 version in London is not going to do it either.

So off out of desperation to see something, anything, and because my younger brother said he really liked, off I went to the 11:00 AMCinema showing this morning. And yeah, I got some laughs out of it. There's a really good fake orgasm. A nice dinner scene. And it's better than the 40 Year Old Virgin which I walked out of, but no Superbad. I rested my eyes a bit during the slow middle stretch, and when I stopped resting them I decided I didn't so much want to walk out but didn't want to make it the exclusive focus of my attention. I reached into my backpack, got out my NY Times Magazine, and found enough light to knock off the last corner of the main Sunday crossword and then start in on the cryptic.

The main problem I have with a lot of these Apatow movies, and which was avoided in Superbad, is the lack of heart. I like a good fake orgasm joke just as much as the next literary agent -- I'll have what she's having -- but I want to care about the people involved. I didn't care about anyone in this movie. The guy isn't likable except as a symbol for All Dropped Men Everywhere. Was I supposed to root for him to get back with his ex? Was I supposed to root for him to join up with Rachel? In both cases, Why? What did it matter? Part of me says I'm being too harsh on a movie that does at least have some good laughs and some imaginative moments. Yes, I need to give credit for doing the Dracula story by way of Avenue Q, but can I ignore the fact that the crossword puzzle seemed more interesting than the movie?

Here's hoping that Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay will be even half as good as its poster... Because I like going to movies, I hate it when there aren't any good ones.

I got my first glimpse of the coming attraction for The Incredible Hulk. Ed Norton? Robert Downey in Iron Man, and now Ed Norton in The Incredible Hulk?

I'm going to try and find time to do more posting over the next few days, though there's still a lot of stuff to do following on London Book Fair, and it's a short week in the office since I'm off on a long Malice Domestic weekend where Charlaine Harris is Guest of Honor. But I'd like to talk about my English Country Walk and maybe other things from the London trip, and I did get a request to post on audio rights so I should, and I want to say something about Sunday in the Park with George, and I can become Blogger #1,689.282 to write about the Amazon Kindle. I'll do my best.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

London Calling

So the fun of London Book Fair begins tonight with a reception at the Authors Club, then it's 55ish appointments Monday-Wednesday at Earl's Court. I still haven't read my Saturday newspapers, and if I don't start in on those real good by tonight... The weather's been very nice!

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Paucity of Posts

It's super-busy time at work right now. Ongoing con obligations, Novelists Inc., I-Con, London Book Fair, and Malice Domestic, on four out of five weekends, so there goes the reading time. We have more business with the kind folk at 375 Hudson St. than anyone else, and Penguin (Ace/Roc/Berkley Prime Crime) and DAW royalty statement have both come in the past week, which means dozens of statements to be reviewed and spreadsheeted and shared with clients. We're updating the IT, so it's not only entering on to the spreadsheets but bringing them all over from the old format to the new. For 21 years in the business I could hardly sell audio rights, and now all at once they're hot for sf/fantasy so there are conversations aplenty. This doesn't leave so much time for blog posts. In fact, it's been so busy I had to catch up on four days worth of funnies this morning. I sent this one to my friends in Green Bay. Peter V. Brett wrote large chunks of his fantastic forthcoming fantasy THE PAINTED MAN (UK title; US almost final) on his mobile. & there are some LOL moments here. But the crush will pass. If any of these topics sound like something you'd like to read more about when the schedule permits, the comment thingamabob is just a line or two away.