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Carving up the English-speaking world

This week I signed and sent off the contract for the U.K. edition of Bad Monkeys, which will be published by Bloomsbury. The most interesting part of the document, as usual, is the territory schedule listing every place in the world where English-language novels are or conceivably could be sold, and specifying which ones are reserved for Bloomsbury, which are reserved for HarperCollins, and which ones are open to competition. Some of it is obvious—the American publisher gets exclusive marketing rights in the U.S., Canada, Guam, and American Samoa, while the Brits get the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand—but some of it is eye-opening or amusing, at least to me.

Markets reserved exclusively for sales of the U.K. edition:
Iraq
Somalia
British Antarctic Territory

Markets open, at least in principle, to both the American and U.K. editions:
Iran
Saudi Arabia
Afghanistan
Cuba
North Korea
“Ex-Yugoslavia” (Yes, that’s literally what it says)

One big change from previous contracts is that India is now open territory. It used to be the exclusive domain of the Brits, but apparently the market got juicy enough that the Americans demanded in (the Brits still have a lock on Pakistan, though—we’re hoping for double-digit sales in Islamabad).

Oh, and if you’re wondering how we can divvy up the marketplace like this without violating anti-trust statutes, the answer, of course, is that copyright is a legal form of monopoly. Remember that the next time you hear a professional writer complaining about Big Oil or the De Beers cartel.

Carving up the English-speaking world Read More »

…and speaking of bad monkeys

The night before we left for Vegas, Lisa and I caught a Discovery Channel documentary about Oliver, a primate whose strange appearance raised speculation that he might be a humanzee, or human-chimp hybrid. Early in the show when the narrator asked, in that earnest tone that the narrators of crank-science documentaries always use, “Could Oliver really be the offspring of a human and an ape?”, my immediate reaction was “No freaking way.”

While I was right about this particular case—DNA tests ultimately confirmed that Oliver is just a funny-looking chimp—according to Wikipedia, the larger question of whether humans might be cross-fertile with other primate species remains unanswered. Which kinda creeps me out.

The documentary also touched on the subject of other, definitely existing hybrids, like ligers, which I had heard of but never seen:

This is Hercules. His father is a lion and his mother is a tiger. His extraordinary size is a side-effect of hybridization—ligers, the dozen or so that exist, are the largest cats in the world, reaching twelve feet in length when fully grown. Like their tiger moms, they enjoy swimming:

Additional cute/freakish hybrid animal pictures may be found here.

…and speaking of bad monkeys Read More »

The history of gluten?

This year’s Christmas breakfast:

TRIPLE GINGER PANCAKES

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole barley flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 to 2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients all at once, mixing just until the batter comes together. Ladle batter onto a hot skillet 1/4 cup at a time, and cook until pancakes are golden brown on both sides.

The above recipe is from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. The text claims that these pancakes “are so light you won’t believe they’re 100 percent grain!” which led to the following exchange at the breakfast table:

ME: Wow, these really are light pancakes. I’ve had white-flour pancakes that were heavier than these.
LISA: Part of that’s the mixing. If you overmix the batter, it starts to form gluten, and then the pancakes are tough.
ME: Hmm, I wonder who figured that out.

There are at least two whos being referred to here: the prehistoric chef who first worked out the whole “knead” vs. “don’t knead” dichotomy of baked goods preparation, and the more recent individual who nailed down the underlying chemistry and gave gluten its name. But who was that second person? Is there a History of Noteable Food Scientists I can look this up in?

And while we’re on the subject: what kind of sausage would you pair with triple ginger pancakes? I’m thinking something light and mildly sweet, like chicken-apple or chicken-blueberry.

The history of gluten? Read More »

Sin City

My wife Lisa and I are back from Vegas, where we got an early start on the traditional Jewish Christmas of low-stakes gambling and buffets. Some highlights:

Our favorite poker room — Treasure Island. The new Venetian poker room was a surprise second.

Our least favorite poker room — Excalibur. Even with the special prize wheel you get to spin whenever your aces get cracked, it was strangely not fun.

My best poker hand of the trip — 2/4 limit hold ’em at Treasure Island. Seated to my immediate left are a father and son who play lots of hands but haven’t grasped certain fundamentals of the game yet. With the big blind two seats to my right, I am dealt pocket aces. The guy under the gun limps in. I raise. Son calls. Father calls. A few other players call. Under-the-gun reraises, and I think, Oh good, he slowplayed pocket kings. I reraise, saying, “Cap it.” The dealer counts my chips and informs me that the betting is not capped—in this casino, as opposed to the Muckleshoot in Washington state, the maximum number of raises on a given betting round is four, not three. “Oh,” I say. “OK.” Son calls. Father calls. The other players, seeing dark clouds on the horizon, fold to Under-the-gun, who puts in the fourth raise. I call. Son calls. Father calls.

The flop is Q-7-2, with two clubs. Under-the-gun checks. I bet. Son calls. Father calls. Under-the-gun check-raises. I reraise. Son gets this look on his face like, “Hmm, I may be up against some really good hands here,” and folds. Father calls. Under-the-gun calls.

The turn is the 6 of clubs. My aces are both red, so this is not ideal, but there’s no reason to assume I’m beaten yet. Under-the-gun can’t have a flush, and Father will let me know if he does. Under-the-gun checks. I bet. Father just calls (nope, no flush). Under-the gun calls.

The river is a T of spades. Under-the-gun checks. I bet. Father calls. Under-the-gun calls and shows his kings, neither one a club. Father turns over…Q-8, neither one a club. And my hand is good.

My most annoying poker hand of the trip — A different 2/4 limit hold ’em table at Treasure Island. Seated to my left is a guy I’ve dubbed the Human Kill-Pot, because he plays almost every hand, and raises every hand he is in. In the small blind, I am dealt pocket fives. Two players limp in. A guy in early-middle position who is apparently a friend of the Human Kill-Pot raises. Two more players call. I call. The Human Kill-Pot, his usual preflop raise having been preempted, just calls. The limpers call.

The flop is K-5-4, with two spades. I bet. The Human Kill-Pot raises. The limpers fold. The preflop raiser just calls. The two remaining players call. I reraise. HKP calls. Everybody else calls.

The turn is a 7 of hearts. I bet. HKP calls. The preflop raiser calls. The two remaining players fold.

The river is an 8 of diamonds. I bet. HKP raises. The preflop raiser folds. I cross my fingers that HKP has made two pair or is overplaying a king, and call. HKP turns over 6-5 offsuit, for the backdoor straight. As the dealer shoots me a look of commiseration, HKP turns to his friend and says, “Kim, you know why I called that down? I felt it!”

My most second-guessed poker hand of the trip — Final table of a $60-buy-in no-limit hold ’em tournament at Treasure Island. Five players left, top four places pay. Lisa went out in twelfth place, so I am defending the family honor. The blinds are now 1000/2000, and after posting the big blind, I have 8000 left in my stack. Everyone folds to the small blind, who has about 10,000 left in his stack. He just calls. I look down at A-8 offsuit and quickly go all-in.

My reasoning is as follows: SB’s play has been relatively straightforward, so it’s unlikely he’s trapping. If he had a pair or a better ace than mine, he’d have raised; his call means he’s got a more speculative hand, like two suited cards or T-9 offsuit, that he’d like to see a cheap flop with but probably isn’t willing to gamble the majority of his chips on, especially this close to the money. There’s no point in giving him a chance to get lucky; best to put him to a decision now, while I’m ahead.

That’s the expanded version of my reasoning. My literal thought process was more like this: “I have an ace, and I sense weakness… All-in!”

Well, it turned out I’d read him exactly right, except for the part about him not being willing to gamble. He started to ask the dealer how much it would cost to call, then shrugged and said, “Eh, let’s do it.” He turned over Q-5 of diamonds. My A-8 was a 60-40 favorite, but the board came 4-4-6-5-5, and that was that.

All of which I would be cool with—I got my money in with the best of it—except that as I was getting up, I realized the one factor I’d failed to consider before making my all-in move was that the guy to my immediate left, the one due to post the big blind next, only had 2500 chips left. Sure enough, he busted out on the very next hand. So, if I had just waited…

But, that’s probably results-oriented thinking. If the small blind hadn’t hit his 5, or if I’d spiked an ace on the river, I’d have doubled up and felt like a genius. And I didn’t just want fourth place, I wanted to win. But…

Bad poker player we came closest to feeling sorry for — The young man who sat down at our table the last night we were there and announced, “This is my first time.” Usually such a comment would be facetious, but in this case it turned out to be true, and over the next half hour the guy lost all his money, much of it to Lisa. He was clearly very embarrassed by this, and his embarrassment was compounded by the fact that his girlfriend was sitting right behind him, watching him lose. But the girlfriend couldn’t have cared less—her every gesture conveyed that she was bored out of her skull and desperate for this stupid game to be over so that they could go do something fun. Lisa thought this boded poorly for the future of their relationship.

Poker player we actually did feel sorry for — At the same table as the above, the sad-looking kid who folded so many hands that when he finally decided to call, the other players applauded. Then somebody raised, and he folded that hand, too.

Smelliest casino — The Wynn. I don’t know if the super-rich just smoke more cigars or if there’s a problem with the air filtration system, but at a time when the rest of the Strip is noticeably less smoky than it used to be, this place has the kind of nicotine stink that sinks into your clothes and follows you home.

Our favorite eating spot — The Stage Deli, in Caesar’s Palace.

My favorite food of the trip — Chicken in a pot, at the Stage Deli.

Lisa’s favorite food of the trip — Corned beef sandwiches, at the Stage Deli.

Runners-up in the favorite food category — Made-to-order omelets, all-you-can-eat king crab legs, and shrimp shumai at the Mirage buffet; lobster fra diavolo at the Grand Lux Cafe in the Venetian; and grilled paninis at ‘Wichcraft in the MGM Grand.

Pounds gained while consuming the above — Zero! Vegas is big, inside and out; just to get from the Mirage lobby to our room was probably a quarter-mile hike (and yes, that’s using the elevator). Throw in a few treks between casinos and you’re talking serious exercise.

Most intriguing item spotted while window-shopping menus of restaurants we couldn’t afford to eat at — Wok-fried frog with basil ($38, at Pearl, in the MGM Grand).

Most intemperate utterance of the trip — Me, upon being seated within earshot of former Cincinnati Reds player Pete Rose, at the Stage Deli: “Wow, Pete Rose in Vegas. Do you think he gambles?”

Deep question of the trip — Me, standing in line outside the Mirage buffet, surrounded by very large Americans, watching food porn on the flat panel video array they use to whet your appetite while you’re waiting: “So if the North Koreans could see us right now, do you think they’d all die of shock or just cry for a really long time?”

Coolest non-poker, non-food related thing — Video projection on the floor of one of the MGM Grand corridors that reacts when you step on it.

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I can relate

David Moles’ Chrononautic Log has an amusing William Gibson anecdote, about how Gibson, as he nears the end of a novel, invariably becomes convinced that it is not only the worst book that he’s ever written, but the worst book that anyone has ever written. When he announces this to his wife, she smiles, because she knows from experience that it means he’s almost finished.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been going over the Bad Monkeys galleys, making a final round of corrections. The productive part of this process took all of two days—aside from a few lingering typographical errors, there’s nothing left to fix. I am now into the nonproductive, anxiety-ridden phase, where even though I know intellectually that the editing is complete, emotionally I remain concerned that there’s something I’ve missed, something that, while it may not ruin the novel, will at least mar it.

This is the kind of thing I’ve been obsessing about: at one point in the story, my protagonist enters the San Francisco Panhandle—a thin strip of greenery extending east from Golden Gate Park—and encounters a young man sitting under a statue. A couple days ago it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never bothered to check whether there are any statues in the Panhandle. Now, to fully appreciate my current mental state, you have to understand that I am not the sort of author who demands strict geographical accuracy. If I knew for a fact that there were no statues in this park, but I needed one to be there for the sake of the story, I’d have no problem conjuring one into being. What was bugging me was not the possibility that I’d written about a statue that didn’t exist, but that I had done so without realizing that that was what I was doing.

So I fired up Google Earth, and took a look at the Panhandle from orbit. Sure enough, there was a circular structure at the east end of the park that looked very much like a statue, and some additional square objects scattered through the rest of the park that might also have been statues. Then I did a regular Google search, and found written references to a statue in the Panhandle… So, issue resolved, right? Well, not quite.

Cue the following exchange with my ever-so-patient wife, Lisa:

ME: Maybe I should have the guy sitting under a tree, instead.
LISA: What’s wrong with the statue?
ME: I’m not sure there is a statue.
LISA: Yes you are. You said you found it on Google.
ME: Well yeah, but that may not be my statue. The statue I had in mind was a small, anonymous-type statue; but the Google references make it sound more like a big, landmark-type statue.
LISA: Couldn’t there be a second statue?
ME: There could be, but the resolution on the satellite photos isn’t good enough for me to determine that… But there are definitely plenty of trees.
LISA: But if there’s a statue, why would the guy sit under a tree?
ME: What do you mean?
LISA: It’s dirty under a tree. Why would he sit in dirt when he could sit under a nice clean statue?
ME: Lisa, the guy’s a street kid out getting stoned. He’s not going to care about a little dirt… Why are you smiling?
LISA: If you’re taking this conversation seriously it means the book is done.

And so it is.

I can relate Read More »

Monkey news

Over the weekend, I received the preliminary cover art for the Bad Monkeys dustjacket. Ain’t he pretty?

Also, about a week ago I finished vetting the copyedited edition of the manuscript. For those of you not familiar with the publishing process, copyediting is the step where very meticulous people go over the text looking for grammar, usage, and spelling errors. A lot of writers hate this, but I always find it interesting. Among the highlights:

Rules changes. Since the last time I did this, the University of Chicago Press released a new edition of the copyeditor’s Bible, The Chicago Manual of Style. Among the more puzzling style changes: the abbreviations “a.m.” and “p.m.”, which used to be set in small capital letters (“A.M.” and “P.M.”), are now to be set in lowercase letters (although the C.M.o.S. does acknowledge that a lot of folks will continue to do it the old way). Who decides this stuff?

Fun with alternative spellings. Because I’m an obsessive spellchecker, I don’t have a lot of misspelled words in my manuscripts, but I do use a number of alternative spellings—spellings that, while not technically wrong, are regarded as nonstandard. For example, I used to spell “gray” with an “e,” until I got tired of copyeditors asking me if I really meant to do it that way. The big one this time was “ax,” which I’d also been spelling with an “e” — e.g., “axe-wielding clown.” I think this particular spelling is a side effect of playing lots of word games, since “axe” is a great way to get rid of a difficult consonant and/or dispose of extra vowels.

Style, meet IP law. Brand names that are registered trademarks are generally supposed to be capitalized—so it’s “a Xerox copy,” not “a xerox copy.” This particular style rule is a big deal to trademark owners, who can lose their trademark if a word falls into generic, lowercase usage. That’s how Bayer lost the exclusive rights to “aspirin” and how B.F. Goodrich lost “zipper.”

From a writer’s perspective, the rule can be somewhat annoying. I’m cool with capitalizing “Xerox,” because there’s a reasonable generic alternative, “photocopy.” This is not always the case. In Bad Monkeys, there are a number of references to “dumpsters.” It turns out “Dumpster” is a registered trademark as well, and thus in theory should be capitalized, but in this case, the trademark term is also the generic term—everyone I know uses the word “dumpster” to refer to any big wheeled metal trash bin, regardless of who manufactured it.

The French language continues to vex me. I was twenty years old before I figured out that hors d’oeuvres—a term I’d seen written many times but had never heard anyone say—and “orderbs” —a word I’d heard spoken many times but had never seen spelled out on a page—were in fact two halves of the same whole. Mind you, I’d known all along that they meant the same thing, but somehow it just never clicked that, duh, hors d’oeuvres is pronounced “orderbs” (feeling my way phonetically, I’d always thought it was “whore’s devours”).

Going over the Bad Monkeys manuscript, there was an exclamation, “Walla!”, that bothered me. The automated spellchecker passed it, but when I doublechecked the dictionary, it was listed as an alternate spelling of “wallah,” an Anglo-Indian word for “a person who performs a particular service,” which is not what I meant at all. So I thought about a while, until—voila!—the lightbulb went on.

Monkey news Read More »

Bad Monkeys update

For those who have been wondering, my next novel is scheduled for publication by HarperCollins in late July/early August of next year.

Foreign rights sales have been unusually brisk. Although I don’t have dates yet, Bad Monkeys is slated to be published in the U.K., Germany, Brazil, and the Netherlands (the Netherlands publisher is also going to do a Dutch translation of Set This House in Order; can’t wait to see that).

Bad Monkeys update Read More »