Robert K. Massie’s biography “Catherine the Great,” which was released in 2011, is reported to be in the process of being adapted into a limited series for ABC.
If the project goes forward, it will be adapted by writer Michael Cristofer, who snagged a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for writing the script for the play “The Shadow Box,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. Cristofer will executive-produce with Debra Martin Chase, who also produced the Whitney Houston film “Sparkle,” among other projects, and vice-president of ABC's Martin Chase Productions Charles Pugliese will also produce.
No word yet on when the series will air.
The news of a TV series adapted from “Catherine” comes after the CW first aired its series “Reign,” a fictionalized take on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, this fall, and, of course, after the success of the HBO hit series “Game of Thrones,” which focuses on many fictional royal figures.
Massie’s book was critically well-received and was on the Monitor's list of recommended fall 2011 nonfiction titles, with Monitor books editor Marjorie Kehe calling it “yet another compelling portrait of a Russian royal” from Massie.
How to revive a floundering publishing industry? Oddly enough, in Italy the answer is a reality TV show.
This Sunday is the premiere of “Masterpiece,” an Italian talent show competition that pits aspiring writers against one another to win a book deal.
That’s right, it’s “American Idol” for authors.
“Italy is a country where people read less and less – they’re publishing more books and selling fewer,” novelist and “Masterpiece” judge Giancarlo De Cataldo told The New York Times. “The book is dying, and we must do everything we can to save it. Even a talent show.”
The creators of “Masterpiece” hope to bring the same attention to books that shows like “American Idol,” “China’s Got Talent,” and “X Factor Indonesia” have brought to music, and, as NPR put it, to “create a new class of literary stars.”
At stake is a book deal with Italian imprint Bompiani, a massive initial print run of 100,000 copies – and the sort of attention and fame most writers could only dream of.
Here’s how the talent competition works: Prospective contestants submit a manuscript of an unpublished novel – nearly 5,000 flooded the offices of “Masterpiece” when the call went out, according to the NYT. Readers select a dozen contestants for each of six episodes, which judges then winnow down to four hopefuls per show.
Each of the four contestants participates in some sort of event that is designed to inform his or her writing (for example, watching a wedding or spending a day with the blind), then return to the studio for the main event: a tension-fraught writing assignment. Writers sit at keyboards facing judges and tap out prose with their words projected on screens for the audience to see as a clock counts down. Time allotted for this assignment? A pressure-filled 30 minutes.
They then read their written assignments aloud to judges, who deliberate and dismiss two writers. The final competition is a 59-second elevator pitch to literary celebrities. A winner is chosen from each of six episodes, then finalists are gathered together for a final competition to determine who wins a book deal – and a good deal of celebrity.
The show, of course, has drawn controversy. Some say it reduces the art of writing to a crass competition and stage act, even farce.
But for some, the appeal of this idea lies in its utter unexpectedness, the jarring juxtaposition of writing – typically a reflective act done in solitude – and reality TV – by its very definition an attention-grabbing forum. And, as the Times points out, this is no-holds-barred entertainment: “All the conventions of the TV talent show are present: the tantalizing possibility of fame, excruciating exposure, an expert panel delivering life-changing verdicts.”
The 49-year-old Roman lawyer and “Masterpiece” contestant Alessandro Ligi spoke to the peculiar juxtaposition created by the show when he said, “There’s nothing more intimate than writing. It’s something I do alone and I don’t tolerate anyone even peeking at my computer.”
But as novelist and judge Taiye Selasi said, “Shy or not shy you’re going to have to – if you want to be a published writer – expose yourself in some way.”
And if viewers think it’s just a bizarre Italian experiment, think again: If “Masterpiece” is a hit, producers will be eyeing other markets.
“Masterpiece: America,” anyone?
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
'The Nazi and the Psychiatrist' author Jack El-Hai discusses a fascinating and appalling 'meeting of minds'
For an American psychiatrist named Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, captured Nazi leader Hermann Göring was both a patient and a project. Kelley wanted to probe the mind of Hermann Göring, to understand what makes a man become so destructive, so heinous, so inhumane.
But Kelley didn't have much time. World War II had ended, the Nuremberg Trials were around the corner, and a ghastly club of disgraced Nazi leaders had only weeks to live. Göring, above them all, faced certain execution. Yet he retained the bizarre mix of charm and brutality that turned him into Hitler's right-hand man.
In his new book, author and journalist Jack El-Hai takes readers into a detention center in Luxembourg as the victors in the war try to understand the psyches of the vanquished before the verdicts come.
Readers will be both fascinated and appalled by The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII.
The Nazi leaders seem to share little in common – they're variously lively, spiteful, frightened, and quite possibly insane. But they all played a part in promoting evil and their captors hoped to find the threads that bound them together.
I know El-Hai through our volunteer work for the American Society of Journalists & Authors. I asked him to explore the mystery of Göring's personality, explain what the psychiatrist came to believe, and ponder the lessons we can learn from these men about the nature of evil.
Q: What was Dr. Kelley's job, and what did he hope to accomplish?
A: The Nuremberg tribunal needed someone to certify that the top 22 Nazis were mentally fit to stand trial. That was [Kelley's] assignment once he got there, and he was also supposed to keep them in good health.
Kelley wanted to make much more of his opportunity, though. He realized that he was in the daily presence of these men who were widely thought to be the criminals of the century, and he believed he should make sense of that chance.
He decided to study them and give them psychological tests to see if he could find common traits to help explain their behavior. Maybe the traits could be used to identify future war criminals, future perpetrators.
Q: How did Hermann Göring fit into the picture?
A: He was the top-ranking German in custody and Kelley was immediately drawn to him.
The two needed each other in a way. Göring wanted somebody to perpetuate his reputation, he wanted intellectual company and stimulation, and he wanted help communicating with his family. Kelley needed Göring to accomplish this study that he was interested in.
The two were so fit for each other. Both were master manipulators, and they manipulated each other freely.
Q: There were others who assisted Kelley, including a Jewish psychologist and a Jewish translator who hid his religion from the Nazi prisoners. You're Jewish yourself. What was your reaction to learning about these men?
A: I found myself trying to put myself in those positions.
The translator really had to distance himself from that ugliness. I don't know if I would have been able to. I think I would have been just tied up in knots.
Q: One of the most amazing details of your book is how Göring traveled to custody with suitcases full of luxury items, even including hand cream that would become important in your story. Why was this allowed?
A: It all went back to before the Nuremberg tribunal had even been decided upon when there were discussions about how these Nazis should be treated.
The Russians and British were in favor of putting them up against a wall and shooting them, but the Americans didn't want that. They persuaded the others that there should be a real trial for the future: They should be treated like real defendants with no presumption of guilt. Up to a limit, they should have the rights of a normal prisoner.
As for Göring, he was one of the few who'd surrendered. He had packed bags, and a lot of them, and had gone out to meet the US with drugs, medals, pocket watches, and everything else he had with him.
Q: What was he thinking by surrendering with all his lavish accoutrements? Was he delusional?
A: I don't know if I'd call it a delusion. I'd say it was a misapprehension. He believed he wouldn't be treated as a war criminal, that he'd be treated as a conquered leader who might get a chance to lead Germany.
Once he saw what was coming, he accepted that as something the victors had the right to do. But he did not agree with the indictments against him. He thought the allies had committed crimes too.
Q: As you write, Göring was charming. Tell me more about that. How did he come across to his captors?
A: One of the things that really drew Kelley close to Göring was this mix of charming qualities with atrocious qualities.
They connected on one level. They were good intellectual matches, and they even disagreed well. But Kelley saw that Göring had this vicious streak that Kelley couldn't explain.
He was smart, charming, had a sense of humor, was a loving family man. Yet he ordered friends and colleagues put to death and was responsible for horrendous war crimes. Kelley could never reconcile that and I think he saw a bit of himself in that mix of good and bad qualities.
Q: How did Göring address the charges against him?
A: He was in a bit of denial. He claimed to have not to have known about the Holocaust, and that was obviously not true. As for as war crimes – military strategy, breaking treaties – he had no remorse whatsoever.
Q: What about the other Nazi leaders?
A: Very few of them admitted guilt or even acknowledged that they played a big role in terrible crimes. One tactic was simply that it couldn't have happened, they knew nothing about it, they never meant for these things to happen.
Q: What did Kelley think about the possibility that these men were mentally ill?
He concluded that by and large, these men were not mentally ill. He would have called them neurotic, but not disablingly so and not seriously.
When we've had to chance to look at other people who have committed crimes since this we often see that they don't meet the definition of insanity or mental illness. They are like the rest of us, but they've taken advantage of an opportunity to climb to power and commit terrible crimes.
Q: Is there a lesson to be learned from what Kelley discovered about the normality – at least from a mental health perspective – of these men?
A: You cannot pigeonhole people who do these things as monsters or subhumans or people separate from us.
It's a human trait to have the capacity to commit these crimes. I think that means it's foolish to try and look for people who are capable of committing crimes like this. It might be wiser to look for situations in which people can seize the opportunity and become horrible leaders.
Q: What can give us hope about preventing leaders from turning against humanity?
A: If they're a lot like the rest of us, that means they can respond in good ways, too. So you must remove situations that will lead them down the evil road.
In almost of all of the genocides that have happened after the Third Reich, there's a pattern of stages. First comes identifying other people as less than human, than comes marking people as being different.
Now that we know what the early stages are like, it's possible to intervene. Now that we can see the signs, I'm in favor of the international community stepping in before things get too far.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
Indies First, the effort to support independent bookstores on Small Business Saturday by having authors work in stores that day, is growing by leaps and bounds.
As of mid-October, almost 300 authors had signed up to work at various indie locations, but now more than 700 are onboard, according to the American Booksellers Association. The writers will be working at more than 400 stores across the country. Small Business Saturday takes place on Nov. 30 this year.
Indies First was created by “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” author Sherman Alexie, who wrote a letter to his fellow writers about his idea in September. The author said the co-owner of Seattle’s Queen Anne Book Company, Janis Segress, mentioned the idea this past spring after Alexie worked there.
“Now is the time to be a superhero for independent bookstores,” Alexie wrote in his letter. “I think the collective results could be mind-boggling (maybe even world-changing).... The most important thing is that we’ll all be helping Independent bookstores, and God knows they’ve helped us over the years.”
The author also requested that writers put a buy button on their sites linking to the store at which they will be selling titles that day.
Today marks the last day authors and/or stores to sign up using the ABA website, but late arrivals can still join by e-mailing the ABA until Nov. 22.
Venice, Italy has also gotten in on the idea, according to the ABA. Indies First in Venice will also take place on Nov. 30. The group known as Venezia: City of Readers, which counts indie store workers and authors among its members, is encouraging people to visit various indie locations and meet authors there.
Wondering if a store near you will have an author working behind the counter on Nov. 30 in America? Check out this map.
Hold your horses, though, fans – James says the book (subject matter undisclosed) is written but, when she was asked in an interview with Entertainment Weekly if she would publish it soon, she said, “I don’t know.”
She said the book does also have sexual themes but added, “It's very different than 'Fifty.’”
The last book James released was 2012’s “Fifty Shades Freed,” which was the third book in her “Fifty” trilogy. The first book in the series is now being adapted into a film starring “Once Upon a Time” actor Jamie Dornan and “Ben and Kate” actress Dakota Johnson.
James told Entertainment Weekly that she’s “terrified” about the movie.
“I’ve been terrified from the moment I published the book,” she said. “You don’t expect this kind of success. Even now it floors me. My only ambition for the books was to see them in bookstores. This is huge. And there is this passionate fandom; we need to get this right for them.”
When asked if she thought she herself would be blamed if the movie didn’t meet fans’ expectations, James said, “Oh God, of course they will. They hold me responsible for everything.”
The author also spoke about the departure of “Sons of Anarchy” actor Charlie Hunnam from the project and the subbing in of Dornan.
“It was disappointing, but it is what it is,” James said of Hunnam's departure. “I wish him well. And now we have Jamie [Dornan], and that’s great. It’s been interesting with Jamie, [the fan reaction] has been so positive.”
In what is widely seen as a defeat for authors and publishers, a federal judge today dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit that the Authors Guild brought against Google for its Google Books project.
With his dismissal of the suit, US Circuit Judge Denny Chin affirmed Google’s argument that scanning more than 20 million books and making “snippets” of text available online constituted “fair use” under US copyright law, according to Reuters.
“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits,” Judge Chin wrote in his decision, citing research and access benefits to students, teachers, librarians, scholars, and underserved populations, while maintaining “respectful consideration” for author’s rights.
“This is a big win for Google, and it blesses other search results that Google displays, such as news or images,” James Grimmelmann, a University of Maryland intellectual property law professor, told Reuters. “It is also a good ruling for libraries and researchers, because the opinion recognizes the public benefit of making books available.”
In 2004, Google launched its Google Books project after agreeing with several major research libraries and universities – including Harvard University, Oxford University, Stanford University, and the New York Public Library – to digitize current and out-of-print works.
In 2005, a coalition of authors and publishers represented by the Authors Guild launched a lawsuit against Google for copyright infringement.
In March 2011, Judge Chin rejected a proposed $125 million settlement between the Authors Guild and Google. Since then Google Books has digitized and indexed millions of books without copyright holders’ permission.
In his ruling, Judge Chin said Google’s digitization project was a transformative use of copyrighted books in that it gave books a new purpose or character, thereby making it legal under copyright’s fair use doctrine.
The Authors Guild says it plans to appeal the ruling.
“Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world's valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works,” Authors Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken said. "Such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense."
For now, however, the ruling paves the way for Google to continue expanding its online library and, perhaps more importantly, expands fair use rights and sets a precedent for future projects. As the Washington Post writes, “Many innovative media technologies involve aggregating or indexing copyrighted content. Today's ruling is the clearest statement yet that such projects fall on the right side of the fair use line.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Neil Gaiman’s novel “Neverwhere,” which was temporarily taken out of classrooms and libraries at a New Mexico high school after a parent complained about its sexual content, has been restored to Alamogordo High School.
The book by Gaiman had been taught in sophomore English classrooms at the school and had been available in the high school library. Staff stopped teaching the novel and took it off library shelves while district staff reviewed the book and decided whether or not it was appropriate.
But according to the Kids’ Right to Read Project, the district now states the book is “educationally suitable, balanced and age-appropriate” and the novel will return to classrooms and the library.
The Kids’ Right to Read Project had previously composed a letter that it gave to the school district, requesting that “Neverwhere” remain at Alamogordo High School.
“We're thrilled to hear that Neverwhere will be returning to classrooms,” KRRP coordinator Acacia O’Connor said after the verdict was announced, according to industry newsletter Shelf Awareness. “We hope that the administration will continue protecting the academic freedom of its teachers and students as the district evaluates its policies.”
The book was challenged after parent Nancy Wilmott looked through the book. Her daughter was reading it for class and Wilmott was offended by a scene with sexual content.
“I really think that the school needs to let the parents know what their students are going to read beforehand, not the day before or after," Wilmott said in an e-mail written to the Alamogordo Daily News at the time. "I am not a closed-minded parent that thinks my kids should hear no evil. Just not something with such graphic detail – a intimate situation between two adults.”
After the book was challenged, another parent in the district, Melissa Wilde, created a petition asking that “Neverwhere” be restored to the high school. The petition also stated that those who signed it wished for “the [school] board to work with its teachers to create a better policy for dealing with any future issues like this, that gives parents [an] outlet but that also clearly respects teachers' judgment and students' freedom to explore a variety of subjects.” The petition garnered more than 300 signatures.
A new trailer for the film adaptation of Veronica Roth’s novel “Divergent” shows more of protagonist Tris’s struggle and her relationship with her instructor Four.
The film stars Shailene Woodley as Tris Prior, who is living in a dystopian version of Chicago where people are sorted into certain factions based on their personality (Abnegation for selflessness, Dauntless for bravery, and so on). She finds herself in danger when she takes the test which determines what faction a person joins and discovers she is “divergent” – she doesn’t fit into just one faction. Actor Theo James (“Downton Abbey”) portrays Four.
The trailer shows Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews, the leader of the Erudite faction, telling teenagers about the test.
“The only way our society can survive is for each of you to claim your rightful place,” she says. “Today you will take a test that will help you discover who you truly are. The future belongs to those who know where they belong.”
After Tris takes her exam, a woman named Tori (Maggie Q) who administered it tells her, “The test didn’t work on you.”
Tris and others are shown training with Four, who instructs the transfers to Tris’s new faction, Dauntless.
“Divergents threaten the system,” Winslet says later in the trailer. “It won’t be safe until they’re removed.”
Check out the full trailer for the film. “Divergent” comes to theaters March 21.
Most diaries might be considered private – but what about Malcolm X’s diary? What is private and what is considered “on the public record?”
That question is at the heart of a legal dispute pitting Malcolm X’s family against a book publisher planning to publish parts of the late civil rights leader’s diary.
Later this week Third World Press, a Chicago-based publisher, plans to publish “The Diary of Malcolm X,” a reproduction of a private diary the leader kept during the final year of his life as he traveled to the Middle East and Africa, just before he was assassinated.
But Malcolm X’s family has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in a Manhattan federal court alleging Third World Press does not have the right to publish the diary, according to the Associated Press.
“X Legacy [Malcom X’s estate] was created by the heirs of Malcolm X to protect and enhance the value of the property held by his estate,” the suit says, adding that only X Legacy has rights to publish, reproduce, and distribute his diaries.
Third World Press likely got hold of the copies from the Schomburg Center, where they have been on loan since 2003, and it recently started a crowd-funding campaign through the website Indiegogo to publish and promote its collection, the suit says, adding, “TWP continues to act as if it’s entitled to exploit intellectual property it does not own.”
Third World Press vice president, Bennet Johnson, has said it has the right to publish the diaries, “no doubt about it.”
Complicating the situation are two facts: The journals are part of a collection of memorabilia loaned to the New York Public Library by Malcolm X’s daughters in 2003. And, one of Malcolm X’s daughters, Ilyassa Shabazz, is a co-editor of the book, along with journalist Herb Boyd. In a video on the publisher’s website, she says, “It’s really beautiful that we get to see Malcolm in his own voice – without scholars, historians, or observers saying what he was thinking or what he was doing or what he meant.”
The publisher’s website says the book “describes the deep emotional connections [Malcolm X] developed during a period that was constantly colored by his prophetic sense of impending tragedy.” The website also says that in his diary, Malcolm X set out a “unique action plan for African Americans.”
As Media Bistro put it, “What’s private and what is privileged to the public? ... nothing is ever off the record. Does that include personal life experience of a historical figure – and one of such prestige and cloaked anonymity – as Minister Malcolm?”
The courts and Malcolm X’s estate may do well to settle the matter now or prepare for more legal battles to come. The year 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination – a year likely to be chock full of new releases on the civil rights leader.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
But “Harry Potter” mania shows no signs of abating. As we reported yesterday, the butterbeer beverage beloved by “Harry Potter” characters can now be ordered at Starbucks. And once you finish your drink, you can head to the nearest US Post Office to pick up your "Harry Potter” stamps (available for a limited time).
Twenty Forever stamps, showing such characters as the Weasley brothers (friends of Harry’s) and wise wizard Dumbledore as well as well-known scenes from the books, will become available to consumers beginning Nov. 19.
“In the books and films, Harry Potter's life changed with a letter, so we couldn't envision a more fitting tribute to commemorate the world created by J.K. Rowling and brought to life in the Warner Bros. films," president of Warner Bros. Consumer Products Brad Globe told USA Today, referring to the letter Harry Potter receives via mail, inviting him to attend the magical school of Hogwarts. "We think fans around the world will share our excitement in seeing the films take their place alongside the most significant figures and events in history as part of the U.S. stamp program.”
And even as “Harry Potter” fans sip their butterbeers and apply their “Harry Potter” stamps to holiday cards, more Harry Potter products are heading their way. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," a movie based on the “Harry Potter” spin-off book and to be written by J.K. Rowling, is in production, and a new “Harry Potter” theme park is under construction in California.