Entries from February 2011

Pacific Ocean

Sugimoto - Pacific Ocean

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Pacific Ocean

Categories: Art · Photography    Tags:

Rockefeller Center, New York

Rockefeller Center, New York City


Categories: Art    Tags: ·

Copyright Run Amok

Last week I reviewed the copy-edited manuscript of Defending Jacob, the last step before the manuscript is sent to the production department. Production will lay out the text in proper book format, a stage known as “galleys.” So copy editing is really the last chance to make changes before the book designers take over. It is about cleaning up details: grammar, typos, internal consistency (things like dates and characters’ names), and fact-checking. (Technically, you can still make changes after the book has gone to galleys, but it is more expensive. If the bill gets high enough, the standard Random House contract permits the publisher to ask the author to foot the bill himself.)

Copy editing is also the time when I make sure I have permission to use any copyrighted material that is quoted in my book. It is the author’s responsibility to secure reprint rights — and to pay for them.

In the case of Defending Jacob, there was one such quotation, which was used as an epigraph on a section title page. The quote was from H.G. Wells’s 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come, which predicts events from 1933 through the end of the twentieth century. Here was the quote:

In 1900, a visitor from another sphere might reasonably have decided that man, as one met him in Europe or America, was a kindly, merciful and generous creature. In 1940 he might have decided, with an equal show of justice, that this creature was diabolically malignant. And yet it was the same creature, under different conditions of stress.

To use these three sentences, I had to determine, first, whether the book was still protected by copyright. If the copyright had expired, the book would be in the public domain and I could quote from it freely — freely in both senses.

No such luck. It turned out, The Shape of Things to Come was originally due to enter the public domain in the U.S. in 1989, but the copyright was extended for another 20 years in 1976 by the federal Copyright Act, then extended again for another 20 years by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. So The Shape of Things to Come — a book that has been out of print for years now — will not enter the public domain in the United States until 2028, 95 years after it was first published, 82 years after the author’s death. (A good summary of current copyright rules is here.)

Continue reading →

Auden: September 1939

TNR - September 1939

Auden’s “September 1939” as it first appeared in the October 18, 1939 issue of The New Republic. (Click image to view full size. Source.)

Categories: Poetry    Tags: · ·

Penn Station, ca. 1910

Penn Station


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Quote of the Day

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Albert Einstein (via)

Categories: Odds & Ends    Tags: · ·

Blue marble

Blue Marble

Earth as seen by the Apollo 8 astronauts orbiting the moon, December 29, 1968. (NASA, via)

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Daniel Pink: What Motivates Us

Categories: Creativity · Productivity    Tags: · · ·

Photo of the Day

Eisenhower's Air Force One

Eisenhower’s Air Force One. Photo by Christopher Griffith. (via)

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Photo of the Day

bluefin tuna

“This past summer, Kenji Aoki photographed a live 5-foot bluefin tuna for a New York Times cover story. The fish was kept still using acupuncture and was fed through a tube in the back of its mouth.” via

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Alec Soth - Falls 26

Alec Soth, “Falls 26” (2005). (via)

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Oceanscape - Renata Aller

Oceanscape by Renate Aller. (via)

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Photo of the Day

Jazz Club

Dancers in a jazz club, Washington, D.C., between 1938 and 1948. Photo by William Gottlieb. (via)

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Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday at the Downbeat Club in New York, between November 1946 and March 1947. Photo by William Gottlieb. (via)

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New York, 1958

52nd Street

52nd Street, New York, ca. May 20, 1948. (via)

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David Mitchell: Plot and character

I prefer to discuss the human heart through characterization, and to address the human condition through plot.

David Mitchell (via theparisreview)

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

Columbia Park, Philadelphia, 1901

Matty McIntyre

Matty McIntyre, left fielder, Philadelphia A’s, 1901. Probably taken at Columbia Park in Philadelphia, the first home of the A’s. (via George Eastman House)

Categories: Photography · Sports    Tags:

Creating Billy Bathgate

“He was born in that first sentence, in the rhythm of it, in the syntax. You could even hear his breath just by reading that sentence out loud to yourself.”

— E. L. Doctorow on the creation of Billy Bathgate, a character who arose not from Doctorow’s research or his own childhood memories — not, that is, from a concept — but organically in the moment of writing, from words on the page. In another interview Doctorow has said of the 131-word sentence that opens the novel,

“I found Billy in the syntax of that sentence. What you see, if you care to look, is all there in the breathing. It was the only thing I was sure of when I began — that the story came from that first sentence. It carried his rhapsodic intelligence and was capable of sustaining his keenness and emotional response and fear. His voice sustains or finds its form in a long roving sentence. It’s part and parcel of Billy. In all my books I’ve stumbled upon a voice in which to tell the story. It’s not my voice — it’s the character’s.”

The lesson (if there is one): Don’t wait too long to start writing. Don’t waste time perfecting your ideas. Trust that inchoate notions will coalesce into concrete things as you write them into existence. (Of course, an alternative lesson you could draw from all this is “Be E. L. Doctorow.” Now there’s a demoralizing a thought.)

Photo of the Day

Bronx snow melter

Bronx snow melter. Photo by Joseph O. Holmes.

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Mannahatta, 1609

Manahatta 1609

Mannahatta, 1609, as Henry Hudson found it. Reminds me of this:

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

More about The Mannahatta Project here and here.