How time flies. Like everyone else, my imagination runneth over with images of travel that seem tantalizing closer as more and more of us get our second dose, Air Canada travel offers come fast and furious, and friends ask, sandwiched somewhere between FOGO and FOMO, ‘where will you go first?’
So, I’ll unspool my Top 10 wish-list of bookish + filmish travel over the next several posts. Some are old favorites I’ve revisited many times in my head the past fifteen months, succor for the suddenly stationary.
Others, originally B-roll bucket list items, have now moved up the fantasy food chain, given Covid’s reminder of how just fast the ground can fall, without warning.
San Francisco. I head to the city that spawned the Beat Revolution in mid-September to start my US book tour events.
I first went to San Francisco in my 20s and fell immediately in love with the city, and out of love with my then-boyfriend, as we walked across the Golden Gate bridge, fighting. (You think it’d be romantic. . .)
Haight Ashbury with its colorful Victorians (even then out of reach financially for all but tech millionaires), leftover vinyl shops and consignment stores, and of course the former Grateful Dead house.
The wedge that’s the Tenderloin, resistant to gentrification, home to shifting waves of immigrants, central to the history of SF’s LGBT2Q+ communities. The area was one of SF’s first gay neighborhoods, witness to constant police harassment throughout much of the 20th century and consequent uprisings.
Low-income + vibrant influx of peoples = thriving art scene, and the Tenderloin has long served as a mecca, with its remarkable street murals to get lost amongst and 891 Post Street, where Dashiell Hammett lived and wrote The Maltese Falcon.
Anyone who doesn’t have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me. You go there as a snarky New Yorker thinking it’s politically correct, it’s crunchy granola, its vegetarian, and it surprises you every time. It’s a two-fisted drinking town, a carnivorous meat-eating town, it’s dirty and nasty and wonderful. – Anthony Bourdain
The cable car up Knob Hill. Drinks in the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar – touristy, yes, but then again, you’re a tourist. A walk through the tree-lined streets of Russian Hill, followed by endless shiny grey seals playing at the Waterfront and some irresistible Ghirardelli chocolate.
That long weekend included other tourist things, too. Dim sum in Chinatown. Shopping at Crate & Barrel (not yet then in Canada). The ferry over to Alcatraz. A Presidio drive-by (before it was re-opened as a park) and the Twin Peaks. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and a quiet moment of homage to Dr Martin Luther King Jr in the Yerba Buena Gardens.
But my favourite memory of that trip? Discovering San Francisco’s plethora of bookstores.
The city’s literary cred is undeniable. The obscenity trial over Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and the entire Beat Generation. Dave Eggers. Amy Tan. Rebecca Solnit. Alice Walker. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the City Lights Bookstore & Publishers.
Ferlinghetti sadly passed away earlier this year at the age of 101 but what a remarkable life he lived, in the middle of the shapeshifter that was the 20th century, holding fast to his convictions to the end.
Although I’ve returned to San Francisco a few times since that first trip – to visit the city itself, to drive up to Napa and Sonoma or to start the breathtaking coastal drive down to LA – I don’t think I understood the city and its history until I saw the remarkable film The Last Black Man in San Francisco at Sundance Festival.
The film is the feature debut of Joe Talbot (director/producer/writer) who collaborated with his childhood best friend, Jimmie Falls, on whose life it’s partly based. The movie possesses the most unique and breathtaking opening sequence I’ve ever seen, and the film overall is a haunting mediation on race, gentrification, friendship, and the fight for a soul of a city.
After fourteen months of lockdown with little drinking, I had a couple glasses of red wine with dinner on Saturday, and Pull Focus chased me around my dreams like a Scottish Terrier.
In one fragment I was back in Austin Clarke’s house on McGill Street in Toronto, where a couple decades ago I formed a writers’ collective to publish McGill Street Magazine. In another, I gave birth to a baby (yes, it was rectangular and perfect-bound) which I abandoned to go travelling, and then was annoyed to find it whiny and needy upon my return.
The novel is top of mind as promotions ramp up. It’s extraordinary how multi-faceted book promotion is, from industry trades to libraries/schools to traditional and social media, and everything else in between. Blogs, Bookstagram influencers, Facebook Author Page, Goodreads giveaways, Bookbub (didn’t even know that one a month ago), Twitter chats, podcasts, YouTube book reviews, #BookTok…book lovers congregate in spaces as varied as the books they read.
Although Facebook dominates in size, 90% of US marketers name Instagram as the most important social media platform for influencer marketing. (Another study I read said 98% of marketers, which is 44% higher than Facebook.) This article has some overall interesting stats on social networks.
I’m lucky to be guided by three extraordinary women from whom I’m learning so much – Sarah Miniaci, Elham Ali and Rachel Thompson. Thank you. I’m also grateful for the book recommendations I’m getting from these online communities – my bookshelves groan, but happily.
Many thanks to all of you who so kindly pre-ordered the book. We’re rolling out Pull Focus swag as part of an expanded pre-order campaign next month; I’ll include the details in the next post of how to claim yours!
Part Real Housewives, part grown-up Nancy Drew, Pull Focus gleefully skewers all players in the international film scene while deftly unspooling a good old-fashioned thriller. Walsh creates a world of glamourous parties, dirty money and weaponized sex.” – Missy Marston, award-winning author of Bad Ideas
News & Gossips
Huma Abedin, brilliant back-room political staffer and long-time aide to Hillary Clinton, has sold her new memoir, Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds to Scribner.
Few documentaries left me as gobsmacked as Weiner, which followed former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his (then) wife Human Abedin as he plotted his political comeback, after being forced to resign after revealing photos made it to his Twitter account. (Yes, that’s a euphemism for dick pics.)
Weiner’s political redemption was coming along nicely until the filming of the documentary revealed his sexting had been more extensive and long-lasting than he’d admitted. Weiner was eventually given a 21-month term in federal prison for sending sexually explicit messages and photos to a 15-year-old girl. He was released early for good behaviour in May 2019 although registered as a sex offender.
It was painful to watch such a remarkably accomplished woman like Abedin as she struggled to deal with the body blows – on camera, because her loving husband had given unconditional access to the camera crew. Here’s hoping her book is a tremendous success.
In other news, Jeffrey Tobin got his job back at CNN despite his masturbation misadventure. Apparently, for CNN, no other legal journalist could hold a – ah, well – candle to him.
What the F is a NFT and how does it impact the literary world? You might well ask.
For those of you who’ve been following the recent buying frenzy of Nyan Cat for $600,000 or digital artist Beeple’s $69.3million Christie’s auction sale, skip along to the next paragraph. But for everyone else, a basic primer.
An NFT, a non-fungible token, is essentially a digital asset. Like you’d buy a painting and hang it on the wall, or a rare book for your cabinet. But digital, accessed through your screen of choice.
NFTs are backed up by the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is a crypto currency (an alternative currency to money) backed up by the ‘blockchain’ – a digital ledger that records, and makes transparent, all transactions on it.
NFTs can be any item someone is willing to buy – a piece of visual art, a sports trading card, a rare NBA highlights video. Each NFT is unique; none are identical. When you buy the item, the blockchain records the transaction and gives you proof of ownership.
How might this benefit writers? It remains to be seen – as does the lasting future of NFTs themselves.
This longish Lit Hub article explores writers who are riding the NFT wave. At the most rudimentary level, they make an animated GIF of their front cover to constitute the ‘token,’ then sell the book (or pages/chapters) direct to a collector with either full ownership, or with residuals (royalties) should the work be shared or resold. Technically it’s delivered to the new owner like an e-book.
A new group of ‘crypto-writers’ are taking it further, using technology to innovate story structure and form, including experimenting with artificial intelligence.
Proponents argue it’s another step in publishing’s decentralization; that it contains the potential for writers to build direct relationships with their buyers and readers – if they have the time, tech-savviness, and willingness to do so.
Protos recently released new data that says the NFT bubble may have popped: there’s been a 60 percent decrease in daily sales since May, and the entire first week of June only saw $19.4 million in NFT sales, down from a peak of $102 million in one day.
Just the dip in a normal market cycle, or a crash? Time will tell.
I wrote in previous posts about the transformative impact of Toronto’s Wattpad, the online community of 80 million users which publishes user-generated stories (90% Millenials or Gen Z) and aims to create social communities between readers and writers (both amateur and established).
Wattpad launched an adult publishing imprint, W by Wattpad Books, last month (after having moved previously into publishing Young Adults Books).
Earlier this year, Wattpad sold to South Korean Giant Naver for $600 million USD. Now Wattpad and Naver’s Webtoon are merging their film and TV production studios under the name Wattpad Webtoon Studios and have committed a $100million USD production budget to create content between/across their platforms.
I think Wattpad’s disruption of traditional publishing silos will only ramp up from here. Once again, time will tell.
I just finished reading Still Lives by Maria Hummel. Originally published in 2018, I discovered the book after reading a NYT review of the author’s follow-up novel, Lesson in Red, published June 1/21.
Still Lives, set behind the scenes at LA’s (fictional) Roque Museum, is described as a contemporary feminist thriller about the fetishization of violence against women in the art world. Opening night of a major new exhibit by genre-pushing artist Kim Lord and instead of wowing the glitterati invitees, she vanishes. Is Kim actually dead or is it a disappearing act, one more fake in the political and financial machinations that make up the art market?
Pull Focus, set behind the scenes of the (fictional) Worldwide Toronto Film Festival, is described as a contemporary feminist thriller exploring power and gender, including violence against women at the intersection of culture and commerce, and beyond. Opening night of the festival, protagonist Jane is forced to navigate film industry politics, red carpet paparazzi, and a disappearance all the while connecting the political and financial dots before she loses her career or her life . . .
The publishing world revolves around ‘comparators’ – those titles close enough to yours that will help publishers, booksellers, and readers anticipate what they’re getting. I was glad to find this comparator to mine and enjoyed spending time inside the art world and LA, which lives and breathes like a character all on its own.
Bye for now. Thank you for joining me for this eighth issue of Letterbox. Please connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Facebook, Clubhouse: @helenwalsh, and my website: www.helenwalsh.ca