Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Stephen Witt's Atlantic Yards novel gets a boost, though not much, from Bruce Ratner

Maybe it doesn't qualify as brutally weird, but it's sure rather odd.

Apparently--as the Twitter exchange at right suggests--the notorious Stephen Witt, former Courier-Life journalist and self-published author, pitched an article to the Daily News about how his Atlantic Yards roman a clef, The Street Singer, was picked up by a publishing house run by Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner's sister Ellen Ratner.

The Daily News reports:
In 2011, the developer emailed Witt about the book after read a Daily News story about the coming novel.
“He said his sister has a publishing house,” Witt recalled.
And before long his novel, which he initially planned to self-publish, was being sold in mainstream bookstores.
Nice of Ratner to help out a friend/ally, I guess. Maybe he remembers the hug he got from Witt.

The Daily News says Witt "wrote glowing pieces about the project for local papers" and that he has "frequently been criticized by opponents who called him biased in favor of the project." 

Really, you don't need to hang that judgment on "opponents. "That's an easy call.

A self-help house

What's weird is that Changing Lives Press describes itself (above left) as "Leading publishers of self help titles," and this was the publisher's first foray into fiction. 

So it's unlikely the book has sold much in mainstream bookstores, or that Witt, in the Daily News's words, has particularly "cashed in."

Witt sounded a little peeved: "I do think once they read it and saw that I made fun of [Ratner] too that made them think twice about promoting it heavily."

Or, perhaps, Changing Lives Press does not have much expertise in promoting fiction.

Forest City spokesman Joe DePlasco said, in closing the web article, "If I had a time for every author who wasn't satisfied with how a publisher marketed a book I could buy the Brooklyn Bridge."

Here's something a bit bizarre: the print version ends with an extra sentence, quoting DePlasco: "I thought he was thrilled that they agreed to publish it, because otherwise he wouldn't have had a publisher."

Update

Witt, whose original comment on the Daily News was simply to claim his novel was the first about development in the Bloomberg years and to point readers to the Daily News review, went on to comment:
Okay, me thinks Gersh Kuntzman, my one time nemesis and former editor, did a hatchet job on me and my novel, The Street Singer: A Tales of Sex, Money & Power in a Changing Brooklyn. I certainly bit hook, line and sinker on letting Gersh misconstrue my words and thoughts. Should have known better as a journalist. And since the character's name for the citizen blogger is Neal Smelt (as the commenter below noted), I can understand Norman Oder getting in on the bashing. All that said, the novel remains a satire on NYC during the Bloomberg years making fun of media, celebrity, gentrified newcomers, bloggers, high-brow writers and development. All while paying tribute to the many talented subway musicians. I think it's worth a read, but then again, I'm the writer. Either way, fans of my writing, please be on the lookout for my collection of short stories coming out next year. Cheers!
He added:
On another note, I am thrilled and thankful that the Ratner family published my book. I have no qualms with how they have marketed the book and they have more than lived up to their commitments in the publishing contract. They are true patrons of the arts!
True patrons of the arts, and of self-help books.
Was it "hard work?

Witt papered over the Changing Lives publication in a blog interview last February, crediting "hard work" rather than any friendly connection.


It's a little more complicated.

He actually first published The Street Singer through Never Sink Books in September 2012. It published in the following month by Changing Lives Press.

Five stars?

In a comment on the Daily News article, Witt pointed to the Daily News review, which played down the Atlantic Yards aspect and focused on the street singer's journey.

Though three reviewers on Amazon gave it five breathless stars, I didn't find the book, even as satire, a particularly illuminating take on Atlantic Yards--though it did have some thinly veiled characters I recognized.

Witt did get some licks in against his critics, including a character based on me. Then again, Witt last year apologized for his "tendencies to have personal axes [to] grind," so he's not the most reliable narrator.

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