Monthly Archives: April 2006

Writing By Committee: The Latest In the Corporate Undermining of Authenticity

If you haven’t already heard about the plagiarism scandle swirling around Kaavya Viswanathan, you probably aren’t much into reading, or just have young children. To sum up, 17-year-old Harvard student Viswanathan was given a half million dollar book deal (reportedly the largest advance ever given to an unpublished writer) last year, only to have to admit in the first month of her novel’s release that she inadvertantly plagiarised-word for word- passages out of two novels by chick-lit writer Meghan McCafferty. Now, of course, the initial reaction would be to condemn this Harvard alum, I know I did. But then I started looking into it deeper. I discovered that Viswanathan’s parents were both loaded and, in order to insure their daughter’s long-term success, they hired a $35,000 a year “college counseling firm” that would use their highly-placed connections to increase their daughter’s chances of going Ivy League. The name of the firm? IVYWISE. Despite my disdain for people that have the kind of money to basically buy their way into success, I understand that we live in a supply-demand capitalist society, and so if there is a demand for that sort of thing, so be it. But then I discovered that IVYWISE used it’s connections to get Ms. V in with a book packaging company called, at that time, 17th Street Productions. I’d never heard of any such thing as book packaging before. My interest was piqued. What I found was so fucking shocking that I couldn’t fall asleep last night and have been fuming about this shit for going on….14 hours. So–sorry if this comes across a little frayed around the edges. It’s frayed because I am frayed and at my wits end with this shit.

See, book packagers, according to an article by Jenna Glatzer, “act as liaisons between publishing houses and everyone who works to put together a book–authors, artists, editors, photographers, researchers, indexers, and sometimes even printers. Publishing houses often dont have enough in-house resources to handle all of the books they want to publish, so they out-source certain projects to third parties. In addition to assembling the other components necessary for a finished book, these packagers are responsible for hiring authors to write manuscripts.

Sometimes, packagers pitch their own ideas to publishers, and other times, the publishers hire packagers to develop projects theyve originated. Packagers function as an interesting conglomerate of agent, editor, and publisher. They are an integral part of the publishing industry, yet even major book distributors arent aware that the books they carry were created by companies other than the publishing houses.”

Pretty scandalous, right? Well, not really. Turns out that there are so many books out there that are products of book packaging, that it is almost a foregone conclusion that much of the shit on your shelves was written by committee. And Kaavya Viswanathan is only the latest writer to have employed them. So who are you going to blame when you find out that a book packager plagiarised your beloved book? See, the thing about corporations is that since the Supreme Court ruled in the 1880’s that corporations have the same rights as individuals, a funny thing has happened: the corporations have enjoyed all those individual freedoms, with none of the baggage that comes with being a responsible citizen. They do whatever the fuck they want with impunity. Because you can’t put a corporation in jail. It takes on an unprosecutable life. It is many-faced and many armed and like the mythological hydra, you can’t keep the heads from coming back.

Point is, I’m fucking sick with disgust over this stuff. There are so many actual artists out there struggling to get their work noticed and the idiots in charge of finding and promoting these talents are farming out the work to bottom-line-minded companies. It is ridiculous and immoral and I am more determined than EVER to see this thing through now. I will NEVER stop what I am doing with futureproof, what I am doing with other writers, trying to get some strength behind us. And if you, the reader aren’t interested enough in the stakes here, and all of these efforts are for nothing, and in the end all you can find on your bookstores’ shelves are co-written James Patterson pap, then you deserve all the blandness and banality you have coming to you. And if I die an unsuccessful writer who never got a book deal, never found the success I know futureproof deserves, then sofucking be it. At least I know that I fucking tried to kick against the pricks, tried to re-make the path long since over-grown by corporate interests.

These are desperate times for the art of writing. It’s no longer about pushing boundries or anything more than the bottom line. While chick-lit pap like Viswanathan’s is given tons of publicity and has a shitload of money thrown at it, books like futureproof and even James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces are left to die in the cut-out bin. Yeah,you read that right. James Frey is a direct product of this same bullshit. Because the truth is, James tried to publish his book first as fiction and was turned down by 17 different publishers. That has to be seen as complete idiocy by anybody who has read and loved his books. His book was the biggest-selling Oprah pick of all time BEFORE all the controversy because readers thought it was fucking GOOD. And yet none of the supposed professionals at the houses could see that. So what does that tell you? I don’t know what it says to you, but to me it says that James, desperate to make it in this industry, made the decision to call his book a memoir because his book was for the most part based on his actual life experiences. Memoir was hot. The rest is history. I chose not to go that route, despite the fact that many of my fellow writers as well as many agents I’d approached seeking representation told me I should sell futureproof as a memoir. So I keep pushing forward with this shit, watching oil corporations reap record profits while gas prices are higher than they’ve ever been. Doesn’t add up, does it? Nope. Not in the slightest bit does it make even the tiniest bit of sense. We’ve been over-run. How far will you go to make change happen?


KaavyaGate by the Harvard Independent

Book Packaging

Alloy Media and Marketing (formerly 17th Street)

Kaavya Viswanathan Wikipedia entry




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Newest Visiting Author Chat Scheduled: Danielle Trussoni

Hey, guys. The next visiting author chat is now scheduled, for Tuesday, May 9th @ 9 p.m. And the author chatting is a great one (drumroll please). It is Danielle Trussoni, author of FALLING THROUGH THE EARTH. Check out her profile here:

Also, in case you missed them (and MANY of you did), you can read the entire transcript from the chats of our last two authors, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Samantha Dunn, under the “visiting authors” link on

Thanks again for all your support, guys. The movement is in full throttle.

Talk soon.

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TONIGHT’s The Night!!

As promised, tonight at 9 p.m. EST (6 p.m. Pacific), Samantha Dunn, author of such classics as FAILING PARIS, NOT BY ACCIDENT and FAITH IN CARLOS GOMEZ will be chatting at my website, There are many other authors lined up and more signing on to do these chats every weekk, so please, if you like the idea of speaking with PUBLISHED writers about their books, about their lives, about the business of writing, PLEASE make it a point to stop by the chat tonight. Ms. Dunn will be chatting for about an hour.

As for the way the chat works, ou must have Java enabled in order for the chatroom to work. If you don’t already have it, you can download it for FREE at In order to keep confusion to a minimum, this will be a moderated chat, which means that all in the chat room will be able to type in and send as many questions as they can think of, and then Samantha will then answer them at whatever pace she finds easiest. After about an hour, Ms. Dunn will be taking off, at which point the moderation board will be turned off and we can all talk amongst ourselves.

Thanks in advance for making this a success.

Talk soon.


P.S. Stay tuned tomorrow, when I’ll be announcing the next great author who will be chatting in about 2 weeks.

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This, That, The Other Thing

I’ve been waiting for what seems an exhorbitant amount of time to finally be able to announce that the futureproof website is now chock-full of goodness, as webmaster extraordinnaire Ryan Scott has updated the site with some just incredible stuff.

  • the chat room, if you haven’t seen it yet, is completely new and improved, with all kinds of color options and sound effects, etc, as well as being way way more user-friendly. We had to upgrade in order to facilitate the visiting author chats, the second of which features Samantha Dunn. Click on the “visiting authors” link to see her full profile.
  • There is a new link, “DIY”, the sole purpose of which is to get people with spare time and a love for slathering city walls and telephone poles with fliers a great way to promote futureproof. Click on the link and there are two different sized black and white fliers in the vein of the old punk bands that used to promote themselves in this way. I figured that futureproof and this whole movement to get it published comes from the same grassroots, underground ethos, so why not emulate the techniques used? Print out a couple and help spread the word.
  • Under the “swag” link, the t-shirts and posters are now (finally!) available. The shirts are available in sizes small through XXL, and are only $10 a piece. The posters are from a limited run of 500, are 12″x17″, and will be used mainly for sending out to bookstores so that they can have a promotional way of increasing the visibility of fp when they agree to carry it in their stores. All the proceeds from these shirts and posters go directly toward ordering more books and then getting these books inside more brick and mortar bookstores. I hope you guys will cause a run on the old bank with your fervor for these promo items.
  • If at all possible, I’d now ask with all supplication that if you have read futureproof, please go to as soon as you can, and write a review. The best way, I believe, to insure that a publishing house picks this book up is to show them that even with our modest means, we are creating a serious buzz around fp. How better to do that than to let them go to Amazon and see 100+ reviews for our little self-published book? I thank you kindly in advance.

    I’ll be in the chatroom tonight from 9 pm EST on. Love to see you guys there. And thanks a million for the unwavering support. It has been a godsend and I cannot adequately thank you all enough.

    Talk soon.

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Odds, Ends

~Interest is really starting to pick up on the author chats. I’m getting all kinds of email queries from readers wanting to know the best way to make sure they’ll be able to chat with Samantha Dunn. The answer: just make sure you’re there early, as the room will only hold 50 people. The chat isn’t for another 2 weeks anyway, so don’t worry about it at this point. But I must tell you all that it has been really heartening and inspring to see so many people excited about talking to authors. It gives one hope, you know?

~My friend Brandon Stickney just had a story published in the Spring/Summer issue of the Ontario Review, the lit journal publised by Joyce Carol Oates. As one could imagine, it is no small feat getting in on that gig, so kudos to Brandon for finally breaking through there. His constant hard work and determination are proof positive that if you just keep pushing, keep refining your work, you WILL make it through to the other side, none the worse for wear. And, to top it off, Brandon holds the distinction of having had his work plagiarized by award-winning L.A. Times reporter Richard Serrano.

As noted in the Columbia Journalism Review, “Richard Serrano, latest nominee for membership in the Curious Coincidences Club. Serrano’s book, One of Ours: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, published by Norton in 1998, bears a number of striking resemblances to Brandon Stickney’s All-American Monster: The Unauthorized Biography of Timothy McVeigh, published by Prometheus in 1996. Similarities between Serrano’s unsourced volume and Stickney’s extensively referenced work include substantive sentences and overall approach. Similarities also include a couple of trivial, though telling, mistakes — to wit: “The Last Day,” Stickney wrote of a 1980s film about “a notion of nuclear holocaust imbedded in [McVeigh’s and his survivalist friends’] heads chronicles World War III’s effect on a small town.” “The Last Day,” wrote Serrano about “[a movie] that took hold of [McVeigh] told the story of the effect of World War III on a small town.” As Stickney had discovered after his book went to press, the correct title of the movie is The Day After.”

Serrano later wrote in to the CJR, saying “Every author I know necessarily relies to some extent on prior reporting by others about facts and events. Stickney’s All American Monster, was just one of the many published sources which I, like any author, reviewed. These secondary sources were in addition to my own independent reporting, which included nearly three years of coverage of the McVeigh case since the day of the bombing. My only regret is that I looked to All American Monster for a few of the facts about McVeigh’s early life. Stickney’s error about the name of the movie caused me to include this minor error in my book as well.”

The CJR editors reply? “The Dart was based on a thorough comparison of the two books. Similarities included not only facts and chronology (and minor errors), but also peculiar words, verbatim phrases, and extraordinarily close paraphrases.”

I know this has nothing to do with anything, but I think it’s funny that Stickney’s book was published by a small house to very little press, while the esteemed Serrano put out an unsourced book on Stickney’s back and probably made a hell of a lot more money than Stickney ever did. The rich getting richer? Anyway, point is, if Brandon’s writing is good enough to be plagiarized by a hoity toity Los Angeles Times reporter, then it must be something worth checking into. Pick up the latest Ontario Review and check him out.

~Another friend, Sarahbeth Purcell, has a new book coming out TODAY called THIS IS NOT A LOVE SONG (Simon & Schuster/Washington Square Press). To get the ball rolling on it, she’s holding a contest. From Sarahbeth:
“I announce my challenge to all readers: Every chapter in TINALS is headed by a song title. The FIRST reader who can guess ALL the artists who belong to these songs and submits the list to me via email wins a prize sent directly to them! (I promise no socks, toilet paper, dollar store figurines, or booby prizes!) GAME ON! And thanks for your support!

Ms. Purcell will be holding a chat on my site sometime in June, so read up and get ready for a great conversation.

~Slowly but surely, the futureproof homepage is being updated. By next week the t-shirts will be available, as well as signed 12 x 17 mini-posters, signed by yours truly. I hate to come across as some kind of shill, but when you’re doing this stuff on no budget, you find ways to get cash-flow (trickle?) to continue the funding of the most important futureproof stuff, which is getting the book physically placed in stores. When you don’t have a huge publishing house behind you, the stores want you to just give them the books, with them paying you only after they’ve sold your books. So you have to have money to actually have the books printed so that I can send them to these stores. And so on. And so forth. It’s a dirty job, etc. But anyway, I figured, if I could give something cool and limited edition-ish to people in exchange for their cold-hard funds, then all the better, no?

To everyone who has been buying and reading and supporting and spreading the word on futureproof, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It makes all this waiting and hair-pulling worthwhile, when somebody sends me an email or drops a comment on the old myspace page saying how the book has positively affected them. You guys are my life’s-blood. THANK YOU.

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Author Chat II: Samantha Dunn

Samantha Dunn is the author of Failing Paris (Toby Press), a finalist for the PEN West Fiction Award in 2000, and the memoir, Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life (Henry Holt& Co.), a BookSense 76 pick. Her most recent memoir, Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex and Salvation, is published by Henry Holt & Co. Her work is anthologized in a number of places, including the short story anthology, Women on the Edge: Writing from Los Angeles (Toby Press), which Dunn co-edited with writer Julianne Ortale.

Check out her full profile at

Her chat will be at my website, on Tuesday, April 25th @ 9 p.m. EST.

Get reading and mark your calendars. This is gonna be a great conversation.

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The Beginning Has Officially Begun

Tonight was the first of a series of chats with authors on my site, It was with, of course, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, who was gracious enough to come along and venture into pretty much uncharted territory. You see, for years now, it has been industry standard for writers to not only NOT work together (writing is, of course, a solitary, mostly lonely profession), but to compete against each other. When I started promoting futureproof, I decided I’d take a page outta the ol’ Wu-Tang Clan handbook, and not only try to band together with other writers, but to do so in order to change shit on the ground and in the industry at large. This here, NY Times best-selling author Josh Kilmer-Purcell coming over to my lil ol’ site to talk with lil ol’ readers and aspiring writers like us–him doing that is something that I’m sure many successful writers back in the olden days would have looked down upon, would have percieved as being beneath them. But not Josh. And not a whole fucking lot of other authors who have already agreed to do the same. These are the new breed. And let me be the first to throw down the gauntlet here and now and say that if you are an aspiring writer and aren’t marking out the days on your calendars with a fat red marker to denote when these chats with successful writers are going to take place, then you are missing the proverbial goddam boat. If you seek success and aren’t willing or open to hearing the words of those who are already successful, then you’re handicapping yourself. The five or six other writers who have so far agreed to come over to my site to do these chats aren’t doing so because they necessarily think that futureproof is the next big thing and they want on board. No. They are the new breed. They are doing this because they know that to be successful in this time, when something as old a form as the book is in constant (mostly losing) battle with all the other media options out there, the way to reignite the public’s passion and interest in something now seen as mundane as “reading” is to get the public interacting with them, to feel a part of the mystique–or whatever the hell you want to call it–of writing. And I am honored that they are open to me, an unpublished author, as part of the catalyst of this seachange. Because when I wrote futureproof I wasn’t satisfied with just being another guy who wrote a book. I wanted my book to cause change. And bigger than that, I wanted that change to take place not in just the small scope of whatever writing I could churn out, but on the larger level of the entire publishing industry. Everything starts small, of course, but you’ve gotta start somewhere. So get on board and become an active part of this change. Let’s all work together, readers, highly succesful writers, and writers still trying to break through. We are all part of the bigger picture, we are all part of the solution to the deadening of our society. WORDS will always be the way, I’m convinced. I live by that ethos. And I know that many if not most of you do, too.
Talk soon.

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