Gawker.com to "reboot" on Monday as something "20 percent nicer"

Holy cow, this story has exploded in such a weird way.

Founder Nick Denton plans to relaunch [Gawker], which has been publishing fewer stories since the scandal began, with a heightened focus on newsworthiness over salaciousness, according to a report from Digiday. He told staffers at a Thursday meeting the new Gawker.com would be "20 percent nicer" than its previous iteration, Capital New York reported.

Also, Gawker's parent company, Gawker Media, might be changing its name to distance itself from the Gawker brand. Denton says that any employees who are not happy with this decision are welcome to "quit and receive full severance pay." Of course, this news follows a dumb retraction of a dumb post, which I wrote about last week. But it's interesting, too, that Gawker writers overwhelmingly voted to unionize earlier this year.

Every publication, if it hangs around long enough, will eventually suffer an institutional crisis of conscience. Everything depends on how the publisher and management responds to the crisis: do they throw away the past and forget their mission statement? Or do they get smarter about meeting their mission statement?

I've not always been a fan of Gawker, but I have at least always respected Nick Denton's obvious intelligence. He's built a blog into a media empire. And now he's about to make what will probably be the most important decision of his career. From here, with no real inside knowledge of the situation, it looks like he's making the wrong decision.

Dennis Abrams of Publishing Perspectives writes:

Opening this September is the Book and Bed, a new hotel located in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood, that, according to Rocket News 24, literally “invites bibliophiles to sleep in the stacks.”

They can't promise privacy, but they can promise the opportunity to fall asleep while doing something you love. This is not your only opportunity to sleep in a bookstore: Abrams writes, "In Paris, if you’re willing to volunteer time, you can crash at Shakespeare & Co."

So that's two ways to really make yourself at home in bookstores. Really, it's kind of surprising a bookstore bed & breakfast hasn't opened in Seattle yet, isn't it?

The Academy (as in, "I'd like to thank the…") posted this interactive interview with screenwriter John August. It's hard to think of a better advocate for screenwriters than he. Not only has he been answering questions from readers on his blog since for at least fifteen years (well before he was as well-known as he is now), but after falling in hate with the biggest screenwriting software out there, he helped to create an open source plaintext screenwriting standard called Fountain, and then he started a software company to make software to utilize it. Oh yeah, then there's his popular ad-free podcast, and his other little products like Writer's Emergency Pack. Unlike other movie writing coaches, he is someone who talks from experience and success, and is always straight-forward and generous with his message.

I've noticed, in the past few years, more and more fiction writers taking in the lessons of story from Hollywood. Even if you're writing novels, or curious how a good story is crafted, there is a lot to learn from people like August, and watching his career has been an absolute hoot.

Thursday comics hangover: Los Angeles is a magical place

(Every comics fan knows that Wednesday is new comics day, the glorious time of the week when brand-new comics arrive at shops around the country. Thursday Comics Hangover is a weekly column reviewing some of the new books that I pick up at Phoenix Comics and Games, my friendly neighborhood comic book store.)

I swear every month brings a new comic series about a paranormal investigator. It's one of the most overplayed ideas out there — a down-on-his-luck detective who bumps into demons or vampires or some other creature-of-the-week riff. The last iteration of the trope that I bought into was Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos's terrible series Revelations, which read like toothless John Constantine: Hellblazer comics. The paranormal investigator is the laziest way to present supernatural fiction, by giving us a jaded main character who explains everything to the reader. Why mess with this stuff if you're not going to try to instill a sense of wonder or horror or surprise in the reader?

The newest paranormal detective series to hit the stands is Wolf, written by Ales Kot and illustrated by Matt Taylor, and I'll be damned if it doesn't somehow crack the code for a successful supernatural PI. Maybe it's because this is an oversized first issue that has plenty of room to breathe, but Kot and Taylor have somehow made a paranormal detective story that actually feels like a detective story. This could be a Raymond Chandler novel, if Raymond Chandler wrote about real vampires instead of the emotional variety.

The first time we meet our hero, Antoine Wolfe, he's on fire. But he's not really in any hurry to put himself out. Instead, he wanders around the back roads of Los Angeles, singing a Robert Johnson song to himself. We learn that Wolfe may (or may not) be immortal. At least, he seems to think he is. Wolfe's Los Angeles is packed with vampires and corrupt businessmen looking to hush up a murder or two. Around every corner is a goon waiting to knock him out and throw him in the trunk of a car. And Wolfe, who is African-American, understands that while the supernatural is dangerous, he's just as likely to get killed by a racist asshole with an axe to grind. The world is a dangerous place for him on multiple levels.

Taylor's art helps to sell the story's sunbaked Lovecraftian noir by staying simple and realistic. The cars look like cars, the people behave like people — Wolfe punches like a man who took a boxing class, in direct defiance of most ridiculous comics combat styles — and colorist Lee Loughridge keeps everything soaked in nauseating tones of green, so even the most ordinary panels seem to leak out a menace that's swirling just beneath the ink and paper.

Kot seems to know what he's doing here as he lays out the rules of Wolf's magic. We see a surprising array of supernatural aspects in the course of one single issue, but all the different menaces seem to behave similarly; magic is something that visits you and never leaves. It haunts people, including Wolfe, plucking at their sanity like a novice playing with a harp. It's hard to tell who's an eccentric urban mage and who's another schizophrenic, dumped on the street by a system that stopped caring decades ago. In other words, it looks a lot like real life.

Houstonia magazine responds perfectly to racist readers who complained about an advertisement depicting a mixed-race family. Sometimes the customer is not right. Sometimes the customer is a bigot. In times like that, it's okay to call them out on their bigotry, and to tell them they are not welcome to read the publication anymore. The quality of your readers definitely makes a statement about your publication. In fact, it says a lot more about your publication than the quantity of readers.

In a three-decade career Moore refined the Archie Comics visual vocabulary, creating arguably the most iconic take on a set of characters who are now recognized all over the world. The (very good) recent attempt to modernize Archie couldn't exist without the sturdy foundations that Moore built.

It's not every day this kind of historical investigation happens, especially in a relatively new city like Seattle: Seattle Pacific University is home to 43 letters written by John Newton, the slave trader who eventually became an abolitionist. Newton is perhaps best known as the writer of the song "Amazing Grace," which is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Newton was "part of 'a loose but extensive network of late-18th- and early-19th-century British evangelicals including William Wilberforce who corresponded and collaborated on the effort to abolish slavery throughout the Empire.'" After years of neglect, the letters are now scanned, curated, and available for your perusal online. You can read more at SPU's magazine, Response, and read PDF scans of the letters at SPU's digital commons.

The author of Ragtime has died. He was 84. The first Doctorow book I read was his 2004 novel The March, a story of Sherman's March which ended with a truly horrific scene that sticks with me to this day. I then went back to Ragtime and and Billy Bathgate. Historical fiction is so tough to get right, and Doctorow was a master at it; he never deluged you with details and look-at-my-research flourishes. This removal of authorial ego is the key to good historical storytelling. The reader is comforted by the sense that Doctorow always tells exactly the story he wants to tell, nothing less and nothing more. That's an impressive legacy for a storyteller, even one as celebrated as Doctorow. In his memory, I might have to finally crack a copy of The Book of Daniel I've been keeping for years now.

If you're looking for a road trip template to follow this summer, you could do much worse than Atlas Obscura's Literary Road Trip map:

The Seattle Review of Books is officially an endorser of the city's bid to become designated a UNESCO City of Literature. This is because we believe Seattle is a world-class book city, and the designation would allow us to share our art with other UNESCO Creative Cities around the world. Additionally, if we earned the designation, the city would establish an office to oversee the city's literary scene, which could create some exceptional opportunities for collaboration and community outreach.

Seattle City of Literature, the organization behind the bid, has created a video explaining why Seattle's literary scene deserves the UNESCO City of Literature designation. It's a fine video, even though that introductory scene from Mayor Murray is a little rough — was that the best take? — but on the whole, it's a fine encapsulation of the features that make us such a great city for literature.

Seattle City of Literature's 2015 UNESCO Bid from Tall Firs Cinema/Samudre Media on Vimeo.

If you agree that Seattle deserves a place in the UNESCO Creative Cities network, you can show your support by liking Seattle City of Literature on Facebook.

On Twitter, the delightful author Laila Lalami announced that her historical novel The Moor’s Account "is the recipient of an American Book Award." Account was also shortlisted for a Pulitzer this past year; you should probably read it, is my point.

Back in 2008, Screenwriter Todd Alcott looked at a rather unique publishing oddity from the 1970s — a book-length marriage proposal to consumer advocate Ralph Nader. These days, we'd call it stalking, but in those days the author Amy Devereaux, after her many letters went ignored, published her 165-page proposal (literally titled Ralph Nader Will You Marry Me?) in a form that can only be called "epistolary plus". It contained letters, songs, stories, poems, and a musical play titled Passionate Purple to Ralph Nader, a musical play.

She's certainly not the first author whose book was filled with delusional thinking. Hers just happens to be a time-capsule of dated akward cringiness.

You, specifically, should be a feminist

Published July 20, 2015, at 11:06am

Paul Constant review Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists, and Americanah.

Finding inspiration and comfort in Adichie's clear vision of why feminism is needed in our world.

Read this review now

Individual tickets for Seattle Arts and Lectures' 2015 and 2016 reading series are now available on their website. This is the best SAL season in years, featuring authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Emily St. John Mandel, Teju Cole, and Claudia Rankine. If you can't afford a full series pass, now is the time to stock up on tickets for the lectures you simply can't miss. The Coates and Cole readings, in particular, will likely sell out soon.

Your week in readings: The best literary events for the week of July 20-26, 2015

Monday: The monthly science discussion series Nerd Nite Seattle hosts a lecture titled “Slimers and Submersibles” tonight at LUCIDLounge. Hilary Hayford discusses using radio to track small marine animals and Tim Dwyer discusses using remote-controlled giant robots to investigate the ocean. But there’s also a special guest appearance at this Nerd Nite: a special bonus "live Q&A with real-life researchers currently at sea on a research mission!” Why would you go anywhere else tonight?

Tuesday: The Elliott Bay Sci-fi and Fantasy Book Group is discussing Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle tonight at 6:30. It’s free and you don’t have to have bought the book at Elliott Bay in order to participate, although you get bonus points if you do. This is one of Dick’s best-loved books — though, frankly, I found it a little disappointing, given that he died before he could finish the story he started in this book — and it’s also a popular television show. Please only show up if you read the book, though. People don’t come to book groups to talk with people who only watch TV.

Wednesday: Author John Colasacco has a new book called Antigolf coming out from a publisher with the delightful name of Civil Coping Mechanisms. Tonight, he’s celebrating at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar with delightful local poet Sarah Galvin and APRIL Festival cofounder Willie Fitzgerald, as well as with a Portland author named James Gendron, who is the author of a book titled Sexual Boat.

Thursday: Let’s be clear that Book Lust Nancy Pearl is a local treasure. I’m not as enamored with Steve Scher, who can be a very bad interviewer. But Scher and Pearl together have an easy rapport, especially when they nerd out on books. Town Hall is hosting a live taping of Pearl and Scher’s podcast, “That Stack of Books,” with a pair of special guests tonight at 7:30. It’s $5.

Friday: Geffrey Davis is a poet who was born here (hooray!) and then moved to Pennsylvania (let’s not hold that against him). He’s a Cave Canem fellow, which is a sign of quality in a poet. (You should learn what Cave Canem is, if you’re unfamliar.) He’ll be reading from his new collection, Revising the Storm, at University Book Store tonight at 7 pm.

Saturday: James B. Moore reads from his poetry collection Spirit Unchained: The Autobiography of a Soul: Collected Poems 1967-2014 at Ravenna Third Place Books at 7 pm. That’s maybe one too many colons for a title to bear, but how often do you get to hear a poet reflect on four whole decades in the business?

Sunday: No events that I could find. Go sit in the sun and re-read a book that you were so-so on the first time. Maybe you’ll find something new to love.

Seattle and Seattle and Seattle

Published July 17, 2015, at 8:03pm

Paul Constant review Jack Lynch's Seattle.

In the 1980's Jack Lynch wrote a series of travelogue-by-detective-novels. His book Seattle is full of poetry, cliche, and an overhwelming feeling that the ideal Seattle is always hiding in the recent past.

Read this review now

Gawker proves the importance of editors in the most backward way possible

For the last twelve hours or so, the internet has been railing against Gawker for publishing a post that allegedly outed a non-public figure, a man married to a woman, for trying to hire a male escort. This is, of course, a dumb and wrong post for Gawker to publish. Full stop. There's no hypocrisy to unveil, no Republican moral double-back-flips to disprove in this story. Some guy has a social life that other people might describe as screwed-up. Who cares? Where's the story?

Gawker publisher Nick Denton just wrote a dumb post explaining he is taking the controversial post down because stories "have to reveal something meaningful. They have to be true and interesting. These texts were interesting, but not enough, in my view." This is not what you want a publisher to say. You want a publisher to withdraw a post because it's morally wrong, not because it's not interesting enough. Denton's post doesn't indicate that he's learned any kind of lesson from this.

The best commentary on this whole sad affair was written by former Gawker writer Adam Weinstein at his blog. Weinstein (who, to be fair, was recently fired from Gawker and so is maybe not the most impartial human being) explains what his experience at Gawker was like and he identifies what he believes to be the problem with this whole story:

A quick caveat: This is an editing problem, not a writing problem. The story author, Jordan Sargent, is young and smart and talented and energetic, as are virtually all of the content producers I meet today – at Gawker, at the New York Times, at even the handful of sites I have major issues with. We all need editors to push us to report better, to write better, to exercise better judgment. As former Gawkerer Richard Lawson explained here and here last night, our bloggy world doesn’t incentivize that kind of editorial oversight. But that oversight is what makes the difference between good writers and writers who are also good but make very bad calls, and have to live with those calls, and also have to live with your smarmy abusive online threats. (Stop the abuse. Don’t answer childishness with more childishness.)

You really should read the whole post, but you should also bear in mind that every reporter who leaves a paper believes that the time they worked at the paper was the end of a golden age. I'm sure dozens of other former Gawker writers (and hundreds of former Gakwer readers) would identify the site's golden age as 2008, or 2007, or 2004, or 2014. From the moment of inception, every publication is dying in the mind of some reader or contributor or another (The Seattle Review of Books was so cool when it started two weeks ago, but it really went downhill when that idiot Paul Constant published that dumb review of the Ayn Rand biography.) This argument doesn't interest me as much as the question of editing.

The thing about good editing is it's invisible. There's less and less editing these days as publications in the business of — ugh — producing "content" need to make merciless cuts in order to preserve the bottom line. But when editors disappear, or when editors are overworked to the point where they can't do their jobs effectively anymore, incidents like this Gawker story start happening. Books are published every day that a few decades ago would have been considered not ready for publication. (Read To Kill a Mockingbird and then read Go Set a Watchman and you'll likely learn a vital lesson about the importance of editing. Same with Hemingway's posthumously published works.)

Because it's hard to make a case for editors, editing is dying. Media outlets atrophy and die when editors disappear. Books fumble their perceived cultural importance when editors are stripped of their role in the publication process. More and more every day, you can find proof of why good editors are so necessary to good writing. That proof, sadly, is only visible when editors are absent.

Marvel Comics recently announced they were publishing hip-hop themed covers on all their books in October. This launched a conversation about the fact that Marvel doesn't hire people of color to write their books, which kind of makes this whole hip-hop cover thing smack of appropriation.

Comics critic David Brothers wrote an excellent long Tumblr post about why people of color are unhappy about this cover tribute, and you should read the whole thing. But here's a taste:

Storm is the highest profile black character in comics. Which is great! But…she’s mostly been written by white men, and a very small fraternity of black men, throughout the decades. Imagine what a black woman could bring to the character. Shouldn’t a black lady get a chance at bat? I grew up on Alison Sealy-Smith, and I’ve got a soft spot for Halle, but there’s a gap there... you can’t celebrate and profit off something without also including the group that you’re profiting off the back of. Marvel has made a lot of money off brown faces. A portion of X-Men’s juice is from the struggle for civil rights, and we all know what the phrase "black Spider-Man" has done for the perception of your company. (He’s Puerto Rican too, tho.) So to see Marvel continue to profit off something very dear to black people without actually giving black people a seat at the table…I was going to say it “stings,” but in actuality it sucks. It makes Marvel look clueless and it makes black people wonder why they bother with your comics.

A good rule of thumb for this kind of thing is that if you're treating race like a costume, you're wrong and you should apologize and stop what you're doing. I think that's what Marvel is doing here. Now go read the rest of what Brothers has to say.