Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The PEN is mightier than the awards

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm

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It’s been a year since my last post, but some recent events have prompted one last (or perhaps penultimate) dispatch. No, there’s still no movie news. Several times over the last year someone of note has gotten interested, shopped the idea around to studios, and come up empty. So the movie rights are still up for grabs.

However, there has been news, in the form of a couple of late-season awards for 2009 books. The first was the United States Tennis Writer’s Association Book Awards, an inaugural prize announced in late August. A Terrible Splendor received second prize, losing out to Andre Agassi’s megaselling memoir, Open. (As my agent said, it’s not too bad to lose a close one to Agassi in the finals.) Third prize went to L. Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius.

I went down to the U.S. Open in early September for the awards ceremony, looking forward to meeting Andre and Jon and seeing some great tennis while I was there. Unfortunately, neither of them showed up, and the grounds pass I was given wouldn’t get me into the main stadium. The doubles matches I was able to see in Armstrong stadium were remarkably uninspired. So all I got for my five-hour roundtrip drive was a nice plaque, my photo taken with Mary Carillo, and brief glimpses of Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters, the eventual champions, practicing. Still, it was a fun, if tiring, day, and very nice to have the book recognized there.

That very night, after returning from New York, I had a phone call from Susan Orlean, the New Yorker writer (and author of The Orchid Thief), calling to tell me that A Terrible Splendor had won the inaugural PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. (sic; I’m know why they wanted to avoid “sportswriting,” but what are “literary sports”? The framers faced a grammatical conundrum.) So on October 13, Mileta and I took the train back in to the city for the PEN Literary Awards ceremony, which you can view here. (If for some reason you don’t want to see the entire 75-minute ceremony, you can drag the button ahead: Bob Lipsyte’s gracious presentation begins at 43:40, followed by my two-minute acceptance speech.)

Afterwards, the guys from ESPN’s publishing division took Mileta and me, Bob and his wife, my agent Albert, and two of the finalists, Warren St. John and Will Haygood, out for a fine meal, which lasted close to midnight. All in all, a wonderful evening in the city for us country bumpkins. The next day, it was back to the Berkshires and back to reality: the 6:30 alarm, kids’ homework, and the onset of the seven-month cold season. We were grateful to the acronymically well-matched PEN and ESPN for the splendid night out.

The Mad Dog, the Beast, and Other Animals

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Greetings from the end of the summer, the first day of school here in the Berkshires. July and August held some memorable book events: a second appearance at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport and talks at the Belmont Country Club and the East Chop Tennis Club on Martha’s Vineyard. President Obama arrived on island the same day we did but apparently did not notice the fliers advertising my appearance.

My slideshow/book reading has been catching on at historic old tennis clubs, such as those mentioned above. I’ll be bringing it to the Longwood Cricket Club, host of the very first Davis Cup competition in 1900, on September 14; and clubs in northern California and Texas have also expressed interest in having me come out. Also this fall, I’ll be appearing at a couple of local libraries, Brandeis University (my alma mater), and even a retirement center near Boston. Visit and click on “Events” for details.

If you get Sirius satellite radio, you can hear me interviewed on Chris Russo’s “Mad Dog Unleashed” show live from the U.S. Open today, Sept. 2, at 4:35pm. Chris will be live at the Open, that is. I’ll be on the phone at home. Unfortunately, no book events at the Open have materialized. Luckily, I’ll be there on Saturday for the second reunion of the early-1980s Brandeis tennis team. We were going to play tennis the day before, but certain team members have gotten so old that we are going to play golf instead.

My friend Tom Doe at Longwood made an effort to bring me and Jon Wertheim (author of the Federer-Nadal book) together in New York City for a mock debate on which was the greatest tennis match ever, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. However, there we are side by side on The Daily Beast’s U.S. Open spread. Not sure I’ve ever been called an “expert” before.

Finally, I have to report that the movie-rights deal I announced in May has fallen apart. New York billionaire financier Ted Forstman, a former tournament tennis player himself, liked the book and reached an agreement with my agent, Candace Lake, on May 14. Two months later, however, after a number of other suitors had been turned away, but before paper contracts had been signed, he changed his mind. Candace is now going back to the other parties, as well as a few new ones who have expressed interest. If anything happens, I’ll let you know.

The Irish, the Germans, and the Wimbledon Bump

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2009 at 10:18 am

Well, it seems that since my book came out, everyone has to get in on the act and try to play a new “greatest match ever played.” Federer’s 16-14 fifth-set triumph on Sunday qualifies as a contender due to the extraordinary length of the deciding set, and was exciting to watch, but the quality wasn’t nearly as high as last year’s final. And that one, between Federer and Nadal, actually took longer to play, although that was due largely to Nadal’s interminable toweling off, ball bouncing, and shorts tugging between points. Back before TV timeouts and  ball boys proffering towels like royal attendants, tennis matches occupied much less of one’s Sunday. The Budge-von Cramm match encompassed five long sets in only two and a half hours.

During the Wimbledon fortnight, aside from my BBC radio appearance, I was also a guest on Irish radio and an international radio service out of Germany. In Ireland I was on the popular “Moncrief” show, a commercial daytime talk show with host Sidney Moncrief. (I don’t think my segment is available for online listening.) And then, on the day of the men’s final, the German radio service “Deutsche Welle,” which provides English-language reports on subjects concerning Germany, broadcast a short interview with me, which you can hear here. (My bit begins at the four-minute mark.)

Also during Wimbledon, the New York Times tennis blog, “Straight Sets,” featured an entry about A Terrible Splendor. The book was also mentioned in a previous entry, to which I contributed as well.

People are always asking me, “How is the book doing?” And I never have a good answer. Do most authors know their sales numbers? I have chosen not to pester my publisher weekly for sales reports, for fear of the answer. But last week there was some indication. I don’t know if the radio interviews helped, as they were broadcast in countries where the book is not for sale, but the spirit of the Wimbledon fortnight did seem to have an effect. An email from Crown’s director of inventory reported “a nice bump in sales.” Orders during the second week of Wimbledon “wiped us out overnight,” he said, resulting in a rushed second printing of three thousand copies “to cover us for a bit.” (The first printing was fifteen thousand.)

And finally, a few more links to post since last time. You will probably not want to click on these unless you happen to be my mother, but here they are:

My 30-minute interview on “Writer’s Voice,” Francesca Rheannon’s show out of Amherst, Mass., is available for download or online listening here. (If you want to just hear my segment, skip to the halfway point.)

We’d been waiting months for a promised review in Newsweek, and it turns out that they did review the book—back in April—but only online. (Click here.) Even my publisher didn’t know about it.

Also a good short one in the Post and Courier, a South Carolina paper.

Looking forward to a booksigning this Thursday at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport and afterwards watching the grass-court tennis at their pro tournament.

BBC link

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2009 at 9:45 am

I taped my BBC interview Sunday morning in Amherst, and a four-minute edit aired this morning in the U.K. It’s short and nothing you haven’t heard before, but since some of you have been asking me how to listen, you can do so by clicking here.


Times Two Plus the BBC Too

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 10:28 pm

When I did my reading at Porter Square Books in Cambridge last month, the owner told me he had “heard from a reliable source” that I was going to be “very happy” with my forthcoming Times review. He was a bit coy, refusing to divulge his source. Reading that review in today’s New York Times Book Review, I realized this may have been because his “source” was either a dream his wife had or a fortune cookie from Wok ‘n Roll.

Or perhaps he was thinking of the Washington Times, which did publish this favorable piece.

It’s a shame the NYT didn’t think to do a joint review with that other “greatest match” book.

On Thursday, I had a message from one Aeneas Rotsis of BBC radio’s “Today” show, England’s most popular morning news show. Ignoring my unfortunate pronunciation of his first name when I called back, he said they’d like to interview me for their show this week, as Wimbledon opens. They’ve been having trouble booking a studio in Albany or Amherst, but when they do we’ll tape it, and I’ll let you all know when you can listen online.

I’ve also been asked to contribute to the New York Times tennis blog, “Straight Sets,” this week, and I’ll let you know when that’s online as well.

Wimbledon begins this week without it’s #1 Men’s seed, Rafael Nadal. Seventy years ago Wimbledon was also played without the man who presumably would have been top seed. In 1939, with Don Budge gone pro, Gottfried von Cramm was considered by most experts to be the world’s best amateur. He won the Queen’s Club warmup tournament easily, destroying Bobby Riggs in the finals. But the All England Club refused his entry for Wimbledon, as he was an ex-con—having been imprisoned by the Nazis for being homosexual. Riggs went on to win the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, and Cramm lost his last chance to become Wimbledon champion.

The McPhee Tennis Zeitgeist

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2009 at 10:59 am

For those still wondering, the New York Times Book Review says they have rescheduled their review of A Terrible Splendor for Sunday, June 21. This is the day before Wimbledon begins, which is presumably their reason for choosing this date. I’m also guessing that they’re planning a double review with Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played. One hundred and thirty-five years passed since the invention of lawn tennis with no books about “the greatest tennis match ever played.” Then I had my idea, sold it, and spent three years researching and writing. Last fall, while going over the page proofs, I read that Wertheim, after attending the incredible 2008 Federer-Nadal Wimbledon final, had decided to morph his Federer bio into a book about the match. What’s more, he was going to use the structure of John McPhee’s tennis classic, Levels of the Game—exactly the idea I’d had three years before! Can I not be original even in my imitation?

Optimists will say that the coincidence, and joint reviews of the two books, will help Splendor, building interest by sparking debate about which match was greater. Pessimists (don’t look at me) will point out that a much smaller group of people will read a review of two tennis books than will read a review of one book about tennis, the 1930s, the Depression, and the Holocaust. The two books are very different: Wertheim’s is a tennis book for tennis fans, and mine is a work of historical narrative nonfiction intended for a general readership. Now that his book is out (as of June 4), however, reviewers will almost have no choice but to lump the two together. 

But bless the bloggers. I’ve had a number of very nice emails from readers (maybe I’ll put them on the site at some point), and this grad student in North Carolina posted a stellar review on his blog. Too bad he’s in a Ph.D. program in medieval history instead of on the Times Book Review staff.

The New York Times No Book Review (yet)

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2009 at 11:35 am

If you’re still poring through Sunday’s New York Times Book Review looking for their review of A Terrible Splendor, you can give your eyes a rest. Though they had told Crown that that was the date it would run, it did not. No explanation; now they just say they’re “waiting for a new run date.” I’ll keep you posted.

Rob Hardy, the Amazon top-50 reviewer who posted a stellar review on the book’s Amazon site, also published it in his local paper, the Commercial Dispatch of Columbus, Mississippi. Not sure what the literary scene is like out there, but it’s a nice review. There’s also an odd little review, that feels more like an abstract, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

I’m glad to announce that the historic Longwood Cricket Club, where Gottfried von Cramm and Henner Henkel won the U.S. doubles title in 1937, has asked me to give my slide show/reading there this summer (date to be determined). And the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport has asked me to come back for a booksigning on July 9, during their pro tournament. The best part of all this is that I’ll have two more chances to play on grass courts.

Spiele and the Eagle

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2009 at 10:18 am

A Terrible Splendor will be published in Germany in July, with the title Ich Spiele um Mein Leben (I’m Playing for My Life). The publisher, Osburg, plans to launch the book the week of July 18-26 at the German Open in Hamburg, and former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich has agreed to take part in the presentation. Click here to see the book’s pages in Osburg’s summer catalog.

Our local paper, the Berkshire Eagle, finally reviewed the book this past Sunday. If there is anyone out there who doesn’t faithfully read the Eagle cover to cover, you can view the review here. Got an even better writeup on the book’s Amazon page by Rob Hardy, one of Amazon’s Top-50 reviewers. I suppose these are people who review books as a hobby, although Hardy apparently also writes reviews for his local paper.

Look for a review in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review (online beginning Saturday morning), and then on Monday I’ll be doing a live radio interview on  “Writer’s Voice” on WMUA-FM (Amherst, MA), audible on their web site live or after the fact.

“I Was at That Match!”

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2009 at 3:03 pm

At the beginning of the question-and-answer session following my reading at The Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass., a white-haired elderly lady stood up and declared, “I was at that match!”  She grew up just a mile from Wimbledon, she said, and for her sister’s sixteenth birthday they got tickets to the final day of the 1937 Interzone Final between the U.S. and Germany. In the last match of the day—the one they’d come for—she rooted for Cramm while her sister cheered on Budge. 

Other events brought similar surprises. During the Q&A at the Hall of Fame in Newport, Frank Crawford took the podium and reminisced at length about the Don Budge he had known for years in Maryland. And at the Cambridge Tennis Club on May 13, Bud Collins and his wife, Anita Klaussen made a surprise appearance—they had earlier RSVP’d that they would be in Europe by this time. Bud was very gracious and concluded the evening by saying some very nice words about the book to the audience of about a hundred club members and guests.

While in Boston, I taped an appearance on the sui generis “Literati Scene” TV show, produced top to bottom by the octogenarian husband-wife team of Smoki Bacon and Dick Concannon, after which all the guests (and in my case wife and agent) were treated to lunch at the Park Plaza. When I know the air date, I’ll announce it for the benefit of those of you in the Boston area.

The only review since my last posting was this nice spread in the Washington Post on May 3. Looking forward now to the New York Times Book Review piece, which we are told is scheduled for May 31.

Finally, I’m happy to announce (unfficially, at this point) that we’ve sold a two-year option on the movie rights. This is still a long way from a movie being made—only 2-5% of options eventually result in a produced film—but it’s a big first step. More information coming next time, after the papers are signed.

Books and Books

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2009 at 12:03 pm

The five-city, six-event Terrible Splendor World Tour ’09 kicked off last Wednesday with a reading at Books&Books in Coral Gables. Due to a great effort by my local connections, the room was packed, there were plenty of interesting questions, and the store sold all their copies of the book. The next reading is this Saturday morning at The Bookloft here in Great Barrington, Mass.

Richard Pagliaro at Tennis Week wrote a great review of the book, which you can see, along with his interview of me, at The Wall Street Journal also published a long review. Although a bit mixed, it was mostly positive, and apparently was responsible for a surge in sales. The Boston Globe also ran a brief review in Jan Gardner’s Sunday “Shelf Life” column. The Globe is planning a regular review as well this coming Sunday, as is the Washington Post

Finally, if you missed my NPR interviews, here are some convenient links to listen to just my parts of the shows: “The World” (click “download” or the arrow next to the speaker icon) and “Only a Game” (my segment begins at 48:10).