Finally, A Signed Contract
Friday September 30th 2005, 8:01 am
Filed under: Writing Life

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On August 15th, in a post I wrote about Luther Henderson titled Why Him?, I wrote, “I am pleased to say that I have been offered a contract, am in negotiations right now, and hope to announce the signing very soon.” Actually, I knew back in June that the contract was coming, and it arrived in the mail in early July. Who knew negotiations would take so long?

Well I am now pleased to be able to announce that I have signed with Scarecrow Press to publish Seeking Harmony: The Life and Music of Luther Henderson. While this project is near and dear to my heart, the publishing industry powers that be did not foresee a commercial potential significant-enough to interest an agent, so I was left to my own devices. I had been shopping the proposal to various houses for ten months before Scarecrow exhibited interest. From then on it was back a forth negotiations between myself and the house editor regarding contract issues — a time-consuming process.

Of course, the original contract offered was to their advantage. Over the years I have gained a generally familiarity with book and record contracts, but not enough to know what is current industry standard for this genre. As for the process of negotiation, although I do seem to be good at it, I detest the basic construct. It’s like haggling over prices — why some people can fly first-class for the price of coach and others have to pay through the nose makes no sense to me from the consumer standpoint. Similarly, for two authors with roughly the same track record or similar projections for their books in similar genres to end up with far different royalty rates, for example, seems basically unfair. Still, that seems to be the way the game is played, so I needed to bone up on the rules and expectations.

Enter my knight on a white horse: The Authors Guild. I had written several technology trade books in that qualified me for Guild membership, but it was not until my post-cancer days when I began to think of myself as being a Writer with a capital W that I joined. The best benefit they offer (aside from medical insurance, which is no small thing) is their legal support. Any member can send them a publishing contract and receive back a lengthy written analysis indicating which clauses are in line with currently acceptable practices, and suggestions of what could be better. The Guild does not represent the author, but because they see contracts from all the houses, they are in a position to tell you with some authority what is happening in that world; that kind of knowledge is power in a negotiation. Of course, this is exactly what I don’t like — the idea that the company (be it publisher, record company….) tries to benefit from the artist’s or writer’s ignorance. But, as I said, that’s the way it is. So, thanks to The Guild, I was well-prepared.

The consultations are part of what made it so time consuming, plus we did it all in writing — nothing by phone. The publisher sent me a contract. I sent it to The Guild, they responded to me, and I in turn wrote a long letter to the publisher (my house editor) addressing each and every contract clause. I imagine that the editor had to discuss my requests (I never demanded) with “the publisher” and/or the legal department, then prepare a counter offer and send it to me. Then we started all over again, with me going back to The Guild, countering their counter and so on.

One of the clauses I felt strongly about changing was the one prohibiting me from directly selling any copies of the book. From my experience with my last book, Men, Women, and Girl Singers, I know that I can personally sell lots of copies at private parties, jazz concerts, and speaking engagements for schools and organizations. The people at these events are people who buy on impulse, and because I am there. I suggested that unlike the Monterey Jazz Festival where we had our wonderful experience selling the book through the Tower Records booth, my making these types of event-based sales was clearly not in competition with their retail channels. I wrote, “Why should you and I both lose out on such sales? It seems like a win-win situation to me. ” And they agreed.

To me, this is the epitome of a good working relationship, and while I am no expert, I suspect that pursuit of win-win situations may be the key to productive negotiations. I have to say, and did say to my editor, that while the process may have taken longer than I had anticipated, the editor’s pleasant and professional demeanor made it relatively painless. Did I get everything I wanted? Of course not, but I’m not an already-famous writer, and my subject is not Elvis. Still, I will make out alright in the long run if you all buy the book when it comes out and then recommend it to your friends. I’ll give you an advance peek now and then to whet your appetite, so all I ask is that you keep visiting me here at DevraDoWrite.com.


More Disappointment
Thursday September 29th 2005, 8:39 am
Filed under: Boos & Bravos

I had dinner with a friend last night who told me that she, too, had seen and enjoyed Winged Migration. But then she told me she had been dismayed to find out that the makers of the film manipulated the birds and staged everything. Apparently this was not a secret; it is detailed in the extras, the behind the scenes footage that they included on the DVD.

In all the press materials, and articles I can recall (without research), it was implied that this was truly an observational documentary — birds on their own turf, doing their own thing in their own time. I remember talk of the traditional and remote controlled gliders, Ultra Light Motorized aircraft, and other contraptions on which cameras were mounted to capture the ‘bird’s eye’ view (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t resist). Now I hear that the birds filmed were raised by (or maybe at the behest of) the filmmakers; transported to various locations, then filmed while being led to fly from point A to point B ; and that situations were staged.

I don’t condemn their methods (although I am not thrilled by the thought that they may have deliberately placed birds in the path of hunters), but I do condemn their deception. Just as I believe that nonfiction writers have an implied contract with their readers to disclose whether the account is completely accurate or whether they have taken any liberties (such as creating composite or fictional characters and invented dialogue), I also believe that documentary makers should be held to the same standards.

If you are a regular reader of DevraDoWrite (and I hope that you are) you know that this is one of my repeated refrains. See the last paragraph of this May 10th Caveat Lector post

P.S. Being that Capote, the movie, opens tomorrow, someone is bound to ask me about In Cold Blood. I loved the book…and then hated Capote when I found out, afterward, that he had actually made up scenes and created a fictional ending. If he had disclosed that up front, i could have applauded both his skill and his imagination. As for the issue of an author manipulating his or her subject(s) to get the story (as was apparently done by both Capote and the birders) that’s a complex can or worms I will tackle at another time.


Movies Movies Movies
Wednesday September 28th 2005, 7:21 am
Filed under: Boos & Bravos

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I haven’t been to a movie theater lately — summer movies seems to be for kids — but I hd movies on my mind so I began to make a list of ones I’ve seen in recent years. I was having trouble remembering, so I searched my datebook for titles that were not readily coming to mind. Strangely (or perhaps not) there was no correlation between the titles I remembered easily and the movies I liked, nor conversely between the ones I’d forgotten and those I’d disliked. Here are some of the movies that I saw in theaters during the last few years:

Under the heading of battling delusions and overcoming odds are two movies I liked: The Aviator — although I had never before been a DiCaprio fan, and A Beautiful Mind – his delusions seemed real to me.

Among the movies that enjoyed a lot are: Ladies in Lavender starring my favorote dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Calender Girls with Helen Mirren, Bone Collector — Denzel as a quadraplegic forensic detective plays the whole movie from his bed), Finding Neverland, Frieda, Gosford Park, and Mad Hot Ballroom — a documentary about New York City kids competing in a ballroom dancing contest. Also The Pianist, Traffic, Cider House Rules, The Adaptation, and Stepford Wives (better than I expected it to be).

A few that I enjoyed, but had forgotten about until reminded by title include Nurse Betty, Space Cowboys, Remembering the Titans, and The Contender. Being Julia and Tuscan Sun were also light-weight but enjoyable.

Here are a few I could have missed: Along Came a Spider (I love Morgan Freeman, but…); The Beat My Heart Skipped; Changing Lanes; My Dog Skip, and The Upside of Anger. Actually that last one was okay.

Two I wish I had missed are Training Day (I like Denzel, but this was a bit much) and Taking Lives. Once in a while I will actually walk out on a movie — like Titus (I used to like Anthony Hopkins), or someone I’m with will insist on walking out as was the case with Boys Don’t Cry (yes, I know it was acclaimed, but I wasn’t liking it much either.)

Of course there are movies that one has to see because everyone is talking about them: Million Dollar Baby (I loved it); Manchurian Candidate (good); Sideways (okay); Being Julia (pleasant, but I don’t get the best actress nod); Ray (well done and close to truth); 9/11 (liked it, but I’m already in the choir); American Beauty (didn’t care).

The real surprise was how much I liked Winged Migration (even though the soundtrack was a bit much). Recommended to me, but not yet seen are March of the Penguins, Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and Story of the Weeping Camel. (Coincidentally, there is an article in today’s The New York Times about the penguin flick — Compared With Their Filmmakers, the Penguins Have It Easy.)

From this brief tour one can see that I tend to like movies that are based on true stories and don’t care much for shoot-em-ups. I also notice that actors I really like, movie after movie, sooner or later end up doing movies I don’t care for at all, leading to my disappointment. For example, Anthony Hopkins — I loved Shadowlands, Remains of the Day, Howards End, 84 Charring Cross, even Nixon and Silence of the Lambs, but not much since. Same with Denzel: some good stories and performances — Crimson Tide, Malcolm X, Philadelphia, Bone Collector — and then a lot of gratuitously violent flicks. The ladies disappoint less often, if ever. Dame Dench in Mrs. Brown, Iris, Chocolat and others, has never let me down (or if she has, I don’t remember it). Hmmm, I wonder what that means.

What’s on your list?


Caveat Lector Dictionaria/Encyclopedia
Tuesday September 27th 2005, 7:48 am
Filed under: Reading Life,Word Play

Every once in a while, I share one of the anagrams I found when plugging DevraDoWrite in at the Internet Anagram Server. Derivate Word is one that is appropriate for this post.

In my quest for truth and the proper use and spelling of words and facts, I naturally rely on dictionaries and encyclopedias. Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary sits on my desk, a Short Oxford English Dictionary is in my computer (on CD-ROM), Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music is on my bookshelf with other specialized tomes, and links to a number of online resources are bookmarked in my browser.

For fifty years I have trusted completely the entries found therein. (Okay, maybe only forty-four years as I didn’t learn how to use a dictionary until I was six). It never occurred to me to question a single definition…until now. Henry Alford informs us, in the pages of The New Yorker (August 29, 2005, page 32) that a made-up word appears in the New Oxford American Dictionary, and Richard Steins, one of the editors of the New Columbia Encyclopedia says, “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright.”

The fake in New Columbia is Lillian Mountweazel, a photographer who died while on assignment for Combustibles Magazine, and the culprit in Oxford American is esquivalience, purported to mean “the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities.”

Talk about derivated words. I feel betrayed.


Power
Tuesday September 27th 2005, 7:46 am
Filed under: Reading Life,This 'n' That

The Power of Stories — Whether in print or on the screen, whether real or imagined, stories that entrance also wield influence.

Ours is a culture where videos like “Girls Gone Wild” inspire campus copycats and even serious dramas like “CSI” inspire students to sign up for forensic-science courses in droves. It would not be so bad if “Commander” prompted some young viewers to study foreign affairs or even just buy a map. — From today’s The New York Times Arts section is a tv review of the new series Commander In Chief by Alessandra Stanley

The Power of Reputation — Tracy Kidder has written a memoir of his time in the military during the Vietnam War. I am a huge Kidder fan, having read and loved The Soul of a New Machine, House, Among Schoolchildren” and Mountains Beyond Mountains. I also read alot of memoirs, so of course I plan to read My Detachment — despite the largely negative review by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times Book Review. Here’s a snippet fro Kakutani:

The format of this volume is similar in some respects to Mr. Kidder’s earlier nonfiction books…This time, however, the product is a lot more disappointing.
In those previous volumes, Mr. Kidder assumed the role of reporter and demonstrated a wonderful ability to capture the vicissitudes of his subjects’ day-to-day lives, doing so with large heapings of carefully observed details and a quiet, nonjudgmental respect for the stresses and strains of his subjects’ vocations. In this case, his memory for events more than three and a half decades ago proves a lot blurrier than his reportorial eye, and his sympathy for others has been replaced by a sour, mocking distaste for his own younger self. The result is a grudging and brittle little book that provides an unsatisfying portrait of the author as a narcissistic, self-dramatizing and oddly passive young man.

For me, the power of Kidder’s reputation outweighs th review. Read the whle thing here.


Caveat Lector Electronica
Monday September 26th 2005, 8:56 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

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I awoke this morning from a dream about death (guess that’s what I get for falling aleep to the soothing strains of Law & Order: Criminal Intent). When I opened my planner on the computer and saw more than two dozen tasks to be accomplished today (some just short phone calls and errands, others that involve more time and thought…and writing…plus an interview), not to mention first posting something on my blog, did I jump to it? Nope. It was too early to be coherent on the phone and I didn’t have a plan on what to write, so I started reading emails instead. One email was a warning forwarded by someone I know well, and that person received it from someone else I know slightly who added an endorsement with a link to the verifying source.

At the top of the source page it says

Claim: A man was electrocuted when he answered his cell phone while it was recharging.
Status: True.

followed by the text of the email message, closely matching the one in my inbox. Well our friend must have stopped reading there. The site, Urban Legends Reference Pages, run by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson, goes on to explain that the circulating email

appears to be a retelling of an 11 August 2004 news story out of Chavara, India. According to articles by the Press Trust of India (a news agency) and the New Indian Express (a newspaper), K. Boom! Viswajith was electrocuted when he answered his cell phone while it was plugged in for recharging…However, given that no other accounts of similar accidents have surfaced in the press, it is reasonable to conclude the problem was specific to Viswajith’s phone. One sole occurrence points to a manufacturing defect in a particular unit, not to all mobile phones being capable of dealing death blows while recharging.

And suggests

Manufacturing standards vary from country to country, so it should not be assumed all cell phones are built to the same specifications no matter where they come from, or that the quality of workmanship is consistent across the board….

There have been a number of exploding battery stories reported, but Urban Legends concludes

in each and every exploding phone case it investigated, the battery in question proved not to be original to the unit and not to have included industry-standard safety measures. It also found the vast majority of short circuits that led to these explosions were caused by the units’ having undergone traumatic events (such as being dropped) which jeopardized the integrity of poorly-manufactured batteries.

Go here to read the whole entry on Urban Lengends, or here to see a similar explanation given at Hoax Slayer.

And the moral to this story? Caveat Lector, to be sure. But also, if you are prone to helping your friends by forwarding warning messages, please add one or more of the hoax and urban legend websites to your browser bookmarks so you can check them out before you flood the ethernet with more garbage.


The Bridge – By Talese, Not Rollins
Friday September 23rd 2005, 6:07 am
Filed under: Reading Life

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Sometimes I cannot figure out how or why something jumps to the forefront of my mind, but other times the connections are obvious: Sonny Rollins –> The Bridge, a recording by Rollins –> The Bridge, a book by Gay Talese. What follows are just some random thoughts about a book I love; please do not construe this to be a book review.

Back in June, in a post about Describing Real People, I mentioned Gay Talese’s vivid characterizations in The Bridge (originally published by Harper & Row in 1964, re-issued in paperback by Walker & Company in 2003. Unlike most of Talese’s humongous tomes, this is a mere 147 pages; a quick and wonderful read, and it is one of the very few books that I like to re-read.

Talese has a certain symmetry and cadence to his writing style, and many of his sentences are quite long. Here’s an example of an amazingly long sentence — 138 words on pages 22:

“And that is how it went on each block, in each neighborhood, until, finally, even the most determined hold-out gave in because, when a block is almost completely destroyed, and one is all alone amid the chaos, strange and unfamiliar fears sprout up: the fear of being alone in a neighborhood that is dying; the fear of a band of young vagrants who occasionally would roam through the rubble smashing the windows or stealing doors, or picket fences, lighting fixtures, or shrubbery, or picking at broken pictures or leftover love letters; fear of the derelicts who would sleep on the shells of empty apartments or hanging halls; fear of the rats that people said would soon be crawling up from the shattered sinks or sewers because, it was explained, rats also were being dispossessed in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.”

There seems to be symmetry to the chapter structure too:

    1. Intro—————————————————————————10. End
    2. Brooklyn—————–(Brooklyn)—————————————9. Brooklyn
    3. Designers—————(a breed of their own)———————8. Indians
    4. Punks/Pushers——–(people & job details)———————-7. Stage
    5. Benny———————(avoiding/experiencing death)———6. Death

Throughout the book, Talese’s style of reporting is completely devoid of opinion or pronouncement. In a discussion about disasters caused by shortcuts or inferior materials, Talese reports without even a trace of judgment in his tone. This even-handed objective voice is also what allows Talese to describe whole groups of people without seeming politically incorrect — for example, “the lace-curtain Irish”

When there are lots of numbers and statistics, he uses description by comparison to provide some perspective for the reader. For example, the bridge would require 188,000 tones of steel, a figure that means nothing to me. But when told that it is three times the amount used in the Empire State Building, I have some idea of the magnitude. Throughout the book there are zillions of facts and numbers, fascinating to an aficionado but way too much for a casual reader like me. What keeps me (and I suspect many others) reading, is the alternating between these lessons and the personal stories that are fraught with the tension of competition, accidents, and death. There is a tremendous amount at stake including dollars, reputations, and lives.

If you have a fascination for bridges, you’ll love the photos and appendix full of factoids, but you need not be interested in bridges to love this book.


Oldies But Goodies At Monterey
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 7:42 am
Filed under: Jazz Ears

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Friday Night: Sonny Rollins is still leaping octaves with an agility that defies his 75 years on earth. I say “on earth” slightly tongue-in-cheek, because he is one of the most spiritual guys I’ve ever met, with a warmth and wisdom that belies many lifetimes. I read a story recently about his relationship with the weather gods and how a storm abated just long enough for his photo shoot on the bridge, and then resumed. I believe it, just as I believe that his phone call to me in the hospital when I had cancer — the prayers and the energy he sent my way — was part of the cure. Whether speaking in words or with his horn, Sonny Rollins’ energy is, well, colossal.

A little trivia note: During his set he played a tune that stumped the experts; “what’s the name of that tune?” they asked one another, assuming they knew it but could not call to mind its title. Sonny’s long-time bassist, Bob Cranshaw, didn’t know the title either, but Bob told me it was an Italian folk song that Sonny had heard.

Saturday Afternoon: From the beginning of her career in 1950 with The Staples Singers, to her first solo recordings for the Stax label in 1969 and 1970, to her work in films and television shows that include The Last Waltz, Graffiti Bridge, Wattstax, New York Undercover, Soul Train, and The Cosby Show, to current performances and her latest recording Have A Little Faith , Mavis Staples remains a consummate entertainer. About the recent recording, her website says: “a stirring collection of uplifting, gospel-rooted songs deeply seated in her faith and spirituality. Produced by Jim Tullio and Staples, the album features the strongest collection of material – both originals and interpretations – Mavis has ever assembled.” John and I caught her early show on the Arena stage. While mentioning her new CD, Mavis noted the industry’s preference for young artists — “I used to be a Beyoncé,” Mavis said. “Been there, done that. And if Beyoncé keeps living, she’ll be a Mavis someday.” Too true.

A little historical note: The Staple Singers were part of the Soul to Soul package that went to Ghana in 1971 along with Wilson Pickett, Santana, Ike and Tina Turner, and Eddie Harris. In his role as manager, John was also on that trip with his clients Les McCann, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. They were all going to participate in the filming of a feature-length musical documentary, directed by Dennis Sanders, celebrating the 14th anniversary of Ghana’s independence from British rule. Filmed entirely in Ghana, the documentary included traditional African music and local footage, and was released by Warner Vision Entertainment the following year. A year or so ago, the film was restored and released on DVD , the packaging for which includes several photos that John shot. Unfortunately, Roberta Flack would not agree to the favored nations payment and so forced the producers to remove her footage from the product.

Saturday Night: Tony Bennett was so high on life and music that I thought he might levitate right off the stage. He actually did twirl a few times, and he literally skipped off the stage. I don’t know if I have every seen a happier man. Happiness like that is infectious, and I saw people in the audience with tears in their eyes. I will admit that I’ve always been partial to Frank Sinatra and Joe Williams — but Tony’s show was positively irresistible. I heard someone ask, “but is it jazz?” And the response was perfect: “It’s music, doesn’t matter what else you call it.”


People Make The Difference
Tuesday September 20th 2005, 10:33 pm
Filed under: Boos & Bravos,This 'n' That

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From now on, I will be buying my CDs and DVDs at Tower Records. I never actually had an allegiance to amazon.com, they were just convenient, and the prices were right. Initially it was books I was buying, but when I wanted a CD, well why not? Easy to order, arrives at my door. And so the habit began, not from desire but because there was nowhere else I particularly wanted to go. And to some extent, “go” was the operative word.

Years ago I used to shop at Tower Records, in New York City stores and later in Los Angeles on Sunset. The stores were nice, big enough but not huge, good selection including lots of jazz, knowledgeable staff…All too soon, however, the stores became too big, the staff too small and narrowly focused; jazz became marginalized, the classical music section shrank, and the pounding sounds of the latest hits (I guess it was rock, back then) pervaded every corner of the store. I didn’t want to shop wearing earplugs, so I eventually stopped going. For awhile I just didn’t buy many new CDs, and then online shopping became the solution. I traded the impersonal store for the personless internet.

I haven’t been inside a Tower store in many years, and I don’t know when they created their online presence. I had no “relationship” with them, so it never occurred to me to check back, to investigate other locations or possibilities. So what has changed? I met some wonderful PEOPLE who work for Tower, and they were so kind and supportive, not only to me and John, and our client Clairdee, but also the many artists at the Monterey Jazz Festival who record or write for small independent labels and publishers. They created prominent displays and listening stations for us, positions for which the big guys usually pay big bucks. Clairdee’s CDs were side by side with Sonny Rollins’ new release inside the Arena, and in the booth along the midway, three of her recordings were displayed face out, at eye level. “Men, Women and Girl Singers,” the book I wrote for my husband, was directly under a sign proclaiming HITS! in an endcap right at the door of the booth where every passer-by could see it even if they didn’t go inside. And they hosted signings: I saw Doug Ramsey there signing his Desmond biography on Saturday, side-by-side with John Scofield; John signed his biography on Sunday, side-by-side with Clairdee.

I can’t thank these people enough. Sure it was good for business — they said Clairdee’s Music Moves flew off the shelf and we sold quite a few books as well — but it was their attitude. They really wanted to promote the little guys and they went out of their way to make it happen. We didn’t know these great folks before a week or two ago, and we never asked for any special treatment while exchanging a few emails and quick calls. I was also surprised to learn that this team that worked together like a well-oiled machine is actually a bunch of colleagues from several different stores. I kept asking who was in charge, so I could give thanks and heap praise on all. Seems they were all in charge, so let me publicly thank the ones I know by name, and encourage you to shop at Tower, especially if you live near one of the stores where these four fine folks work: Event Coordinator LeRoid David from the Bay Area Regional Office, Operations Manager Pete Leon and Product Manager Matt Loushin from Mountain View (South Bay’s Flagship location), and Operations Manager Maggie Colligan from Market Street. [The photo shows LeRoid (left), and Pete (right), with John.]


Brief Note
Friday September 16th 2005, 12:10 pm
Filed under: Jazz Ears,This 'n' That

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We’re arrived in Monterey yesterday, in time for the pre-festival kick-off bbq. The student band performed and they sound great, reaffirming one’s belief in the future of jazz. These kids study hard, display excellent music reading skills, put forth a good ensemble sound, and they can swing too. What I haven’t heard in a while, though, is a really good young soloist, but perhaps that for which I listening requires seasoning, if not actual age.

This morning, over breakfast with Marty Ashby and his wife, we heard about the upcoming season at the Manchester Craftsmens Guild. A lot of great jazz will be heard in Pittsburgh thanks to MCG, and for those of us who live in other places, they have produced a number of stellar CDs.

I just dropped off two boxes of books (“Men, Women, and Girl Singers“) as the Tower Records booth, and John has agreed to do a book signing there on Sunday evening (5:30pm), following Clairdee’s performance and CD signing. The cloud cover is just now burning off and we have time for a drive along the coast before the festival kicks off this evening.