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Filmmakers behind George Plimpton documentary seek final funds in Kickstarter campaign

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George Plimpton was the founding editor of the Paris Review and continued editing it for five decades. He was the first to publish Jack Kerouac, Jay McInerney and Jonathan Franzen (and others whose name did not begin with J). He also, as the almost-finished documentary "Plimpton!" rattles off in a preview video (after the jump), pitched to Willie Mays at Yankee Stadium and wrote about it; played football with the Detroit Lions, hockey with the Boston Bruins, basketball with the Boston Celtics, and wrote about all of them; photographed Playboy models and wrote about it; played with the New York Philharmonic (the triangle was all they'd give him) and wrote about it. He acted in films, dated Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, performed at an amateur night at the Apollo Theater and was at the Ambassador Hotel when Bobby Kennedy was shot; he helped wrestle the gun from Sirhan Sirhan's hand.

He also, they say, threw really good parties.

Plimpton was a popular journalist, the kind of guy whose sports writing even my non-literary dad would read. "Paper Lion," his book about playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions, was popular enough to be made into the 1968 film starring Alan Alda.

Now a pair of filmmakers has put George Plimpton's life front and center with their feature documentary "Plimpton!" They've interviewed dozens of people and dug into archives and are pretty much done with the film. Their Kickstarter campaign is to raise funds to license all the archival film clips and images they want to use. The plan is to raise $25,000 to finish the movie; with 29 days left, they've got less than half to go.

All the things Plimpton did, and his likable, recognizable pop culture persona, may have come to obscure the skill with which he wrote. While Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion became known for pioneering a new kind of literary journalism that allowed the writer to be present in the text, adapting techniques from fiction to tell their stories -- Plimpton went a step further to be an immersive journalist. We see this all the time now, particularly in nonficiton books: Someone reads the dictionary, performs karaoke, teaches at prison and writes about it. But Plimpton was an early, exceptional practitioner.

Plimpton died in 2003 at the age of 76. With the help of Kickstarter donations, "Plimpton!" may be on its way soon.

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The latest in the Greg Mortenson controversy: His climbing partner responds

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This post has been corrected. Please see the note below.

Greg Mortenson's climbing companion Scott Darsney has been offline in Nepal since a "60 Minutes" story threw into question Mortenson's account in his bestselling book "Three Cups of Tea" and the fiscal management at his nonprofit foundation, the Central Asia Institute.

The "60 Minutes" report, which included questions raised by another bestselling author, Jon Krakauer ("Into Thin Air"), was followed by a 75-page report by Krakauer, "Three Cups of Deceit." First made available on a new website, Byliner.com, "Three Cups of Deceit" is now available digitally from Amazon, and holds the bestselling spot on the Kindle Single list.

Darsney had spoken with Krakauer. Now, after getting a chance to see the questions raised about Mortenson and "Three Cups of Tea," he seems to be backtracking on some of his statements.

He sent an email to Outside Magazine, which was posted Tuesday on its site. For example, Outside writes:

Darsney refutes Krakauer’s debunking of Mortenson’s climbing résumé. Krakauer wrote: “Scott Darsney, Greg’s climbing partner on K2, confirms that Mortenson had never been to the Himalaya or Karakoram before going to K2.”

Darsney’s response: “I must have misspoken, or Krakauer misheard. I meant the Karakoram, not the Himalaya in general. I am pretty sure that [the 1993 K2 climb] was Greg’s first trip to Pakistan, but he had told me of his past trips to Baruntse and Annapurna IV before, for sure, and at the beginning of the 1993 trip.”

Darsney, whose account Krakauer cited in his allegations that Mortenson didn't visit Korphe on his first trip down from K2,  says that he was separated from Mortenson for a time, during which Mortenson "ended up in a village on the wrong side of the Braldu River" and that "It’s certainly plausible" this was Korphe.

The Business Insider calls Darsney's email a "Non-Defense Defense" of Mortenson. In particular, it cites one paragraph:

If Greg is misappropriating funds, then show me the luxury cars, fancy boats, and closets full of shoes. This is not a “ministry” or a business gone corrupt. Are there not other NGOs and nonprofits that stray now and then? Don’t they also spend more internally as they get bigger, especially when growing quickly? But their intent and purpose still stay on the course of the mission.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy writes in an opinion piece, "A charity must serve a public interest rather than a private one, and any financial benefits provided to an individual must be incidental compared with the amount spent to advance a charity’s tax-exempt purposes." There seems to be some confusion over the "purposes" part of Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, which billed its primary purpose as building and supporting schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The article says:

The shock over the institute’s spending is due in part to the mixed messages contained in its informational tax return and on its Web site. For example, the tax form for fiscal 2009 lists domestic outreach and education as the charity’s largest program expense. However, the “program” section of the institute’s Web site fails to even mention domestic outreach and lists only the programs it conducts abroad.

Last week, the leader of a Pakistani think tank who says he was misrepresented in Mortenson's books as a Taliban terrorist -- he appears in a photograph in "Stones Into Schools" -- told CNN that he was considering legal action against the author.

Meanwhile, Mortenson recently canceled an appearance scheduled for May 3 in Boston, citing an operation he'd undergone to repair a hole in his heart.

RELATED:

Investigation throws 'Three Cups of Tea' author Greg Mortenson's charity work into doubt

Greg Mortenson Responds to '60 Minutes' questions about his 'Three Cups of Tea' story

-- Carolyn Kellogg

[For the Record, April 26: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Jon Krakauer's report.]

Photo: Greg Mortenson with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the opening of Pushghar Village Girls School, 60 miles north of Kabul in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, in 2009. Credit: Department of Defense / Associated Press

Best Translated Book Awards now worth $5,000, thanks to Amazon

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The University of Rochester's Three Percent, a website and resource for international literature, will be able to include a cash prize with its Best Translated Book Awards next year, it announced Thursday, thanks to a grant from Amazon.

The awards, launched in 2007, are designed to draw attention to the best-translated works of fiction and poetry. The translators of the original books, as well as the authors of the works in their original languages, will each recieve a gift of $5,000 when the winners are announced in April.

Three Percent is so named because just 3% of books published in America are works in translation -- the country is a net exporter of literature. The University of Rochester is also home to Open Letter Books, a small publisher focused on works in translation.

The long list for the Best Translated Book Awards is announced in January, and a short list in February, in an effort to build interest in the works that have made the cut. The winners are announced at the PEN World Voices Festival in April in New York.

While Amazon's grant is good news for authors and those interested in works in translation, it sadly won't benefit previous recipients of the awards, including the pictured prior winning books by Gail Hareven and Elena Fanailova, and their translators Dalya Bilu, Genya Turovskaya and Stephanie Sandler.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton launch charity e-book

ClashofthegeeksThe image is designed to strike fear and loathing into the heart of anyone with a sense of decency: writer/actor Wil Wheaton, wearing the evil-clown sweater, astride a winged unicorn kitten, attacking author John Scalzi as a greenish, ax-wielding Orc. With volcanoes.

The cover of "Clash of the Geeks" was designed by artist Jeff Zugale, at Scalzi's direction. All the contributions to the book, including stories by Scalzi and Wheaton, are based on the image.

Donations made for the e-book, which Scalzi is calling a chapbook, are voluntary -- technically, it can be downloaded for free, in multiple formats -- and will benefit the Lupus Alliance of America.

A few hours after its launch Monday morning, $3,000 had come in. "We don't have a particular sum in mind to raise, and speaking from experience of having done several charitable writing projects, results really are all over the board," Scalzi told The Times in an e-mail. "We'll be happy with whatever we get. But off the top of my head I'll say this: If we eventually raise $25,000, I'll consider this a successful project. If we raise $50k, I'll feel like King of the Internet."

Scalzi is the author of "Old Man's War" and has twice been nominated for a Hugo Award. As a young man, Wheaton portrayed Wesley Crusher on "Star Trek: Next Generation" and later began writing (he's also lately been seen on "The Big Bang Theory"). Both Wheaton and Scalzi, who are friends, are engaging, disarming writers who've been blogging since the early days; often, they share their in-jokes with their readers.

They invited those readers to contribute to "Clash of the Geeks" in a writing contest, getting hundreds of submissions about the picture. "We were originally supposed to have just one winner, but when it came down to it we couldn't decide between the final two (by Bernadette Durbin and Scott Mattes)," Scalzi wrote. "Then we realized we didn't have to choose between them, and picked them both."

Although the contest was implicitly designed to be open to amateur authors, Scalzi encouraged anyone to participate. "Heck, if Joyce Carol Oates wants to try to explain what’s going on in that picture, I’m certainly willing to let her do it," he posted when explaining the contest. Asked by The Times if Oates did indeed submit a story to the contest, he replied, "I can neither confirm nor deny a Joyce Carol Oates submission, or that it involved an unusual use of peanut butter, or that she created an etymologically viable language for the Orc character to speak, or that she was ultimately undermined by sloppy characterization of the unicorn pegasus kitten. Really, this sort of speculation is totally unnecessary. "

The e-book, which is published by Subterranean Press, also includes stories by professional writers -- Patrick Rothfuss, Catherynne M. Valente and Rachel Swirsky -- as well as a tech-oriented one-act play by online gaming community legend Stephen Toulouse, and the musical transcription of a ballad by songwriter John Anealio. All take on the very serious clash of an Orc-like Scalzi, a clown-besweatered Wheaton and the terrifying unicorn pegasus kitten.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image credit: Subterranean Press

Battle of the New York literary balls

One StoryParis Review

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This week, the Paris Review announced that it will hold its annual spring gala, the Revel, on April 13. Philip Roth -- whose first story was published in the magazine in 1958 -- will be presented with its Hadada Award. The host committee is a stellar literary lineup, including Salman Rushdie, David Remnick, George Packer, Gary Shteyngart, Paul Auster and Peter Carey; proceedings will kick off in style:

Benefit chairs Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg will welcome guests to Cipriani 42nd Street. The evening’s celebration kicks off with rousing music, followed by an elegant dinner and a memorable program featuring luminaries from New York’s literary community.

That's pretty glamorous and, as it's a fundraiser for the magazine, the evening carries a glamorous price tag: individual tickets start at $500. There are higher levels of support, but you know what they say -- if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

Those packing thinner wallets have an alternative: One Story Magazine's first-ever Literary Debutante ball. One Story, which publishes many first-time authors, is riffing on the idea of "debut," smashing up the stiff tradition of being presented into society with writers who are just starting out. In a ceremony hosted by John ("I'm a PC") Hodgman -- who wrote One Story issue No. 1 -- award-winning authors will present new writers. Expect hilarity to ensue.

One Story's Literary Debutante Ball, whose committee includes Michael Cunningham, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ben Greenman and Colson Whitehead, will be May 21 at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Tickets are $50 and, for the big literary spenders, sponsorships are available for $500 and up.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Dancers at the Viennese Opera Ball in February. Credit: Justin Lane/ EPA

Giant Robot asks for your help

Giant Robot

I remember when Giant Robot magazine was born in 1994, a scrappy little black and white 'zine. The early- to mid- 90s were a great time for magazines, but almost all of them -- including the one I worked on -- folded long ago.

Not Giant Robot. Its focus on Asian American and Asian crossover culture, both pop and underground, made it increasingly popular. It quickly went glossy, becoming a fantastic showcase for new artists working in a variety of media. Its celebration of toys, T-shirts, books and art compelled it to go retail, opening brick and mortar shops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Next to one store, on Sawtelle Boulevard in West L.A., they even opened a diner, GR/eats.

But the magazine, which is the lifeblood of Giant Robot, is in trouble. Our economic slump has hit it from all sides:

In addition to several distributors cutting out small press or folding altogether, paper has become more expensive and postage has skyrocketed exponentially. And while there has also been the support of loyal advertisers, the middle class of supporters has dropped, creating peaks and valleys in income that force us to live issue to issue. Complicating matters, store revenues and art show sales have suffered along with the economy, depriving the magazine of resources that allowed it to operate freely and thrive without the benefit or constraints of being part of a large publishing house....

We have done the math, and an infusion of $60,000 (hopefully more) will ensure another year of full, unfettered operation with no strings attached to a shifting media paradigm, advertising climate, sketchy distributors, and the economy -- each of which we are not ignoring but addressing straight-on. In concert with the other measures (not to mention the realignment and recovery of our shops), we feel that Giant Robot’s future and its continuing impact of society will be secure.

Longtime editors Erik Nakamura and Martin Wong ask for help in the video above. Many donor levels come with prints, books or original art -- and one comes with a GR/eats free lunch.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

The indie press sale for a cause

Gavin GrantKelly LinksaleSmall Beer

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Small Beer Press, founded by author Kelly Link ("Magic for Beginners") and husband Gavin Grant, is having a holiday sale of all titles and donating $1 from each discounted book to the Franciscan Hospital for Children. This morning, Kelly was on the radio in Boston to help with an on-air fundraiser.

On their website, Grant explains why they're making the effort for hospital: It's because of their daughter, Ursula, who was born nearly four months early in February. After the ICU, surgeries and a couple of other hospitals, Ursula landed at Franciscan this summer, and is expected to check out in the spring.

Life has been hectic, and at times quite difficult, but everyone says being a parent is like that. Ursula is an absolute joy & a delight -- and also the reason that we won’t be traveling for a while! Her lung condition, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, means that for the next few years we’ll need to keep her away from people during the flu season, and we’re investing big in Purell. The trach means she can’t speak, but she is fluent in kicking and smiling. She’s nine months old now, but only about five months old “corrected,” referring to her original due date, which is how you are supposed to think of a premature baby, in terms of weight, development, etc. She’s 13 and a half pounds, and by the time she is two or three years old, the damaged areas of her lungs will be small enough in proportion to the areas of healthy lung tissue that she shouldn’t need either supplementary oxygen or her trach. We’re learning a lot about babies, respiratory care, and how awesome nurses, doctors, and respiratory therapists are. At every hospital we’ve been to, we meet cool people because of Ursula.

Other independent presses are also having sales: McSweeney's has bundled books for discount, and Dzanc Books is offering some titles for 50% off. But neither of those sales includes cute baby photos.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Kelly Link and daughter Ursula. Credit: Small Beer Press

Gregory Maguire, author of 'Wicked,' does a good deed

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Gregory Maguire, author of seven books for adults and five for young readers, is probably best known for "Wicked," his retelling of "The Wizard of Oz" from the witch's point of view.

But creating stories that explore the nature of evil, or what we perceive as evil, hasn't made him bad. In fact, he's done something very good with his new book, "The Next Queen of Heaven." A comic novel set in upstate New York in late 1999, the book features a teen girl as troublesome as they come; her devout mother, who, after a bump on the head from a religious statue, either begins speaking in her own profane code or in tongues; a local semi-out choirmaster; and a surprising nun. Maguire moves easily in and out of even minor characters, so the town comes alive in many dimensions, most of them funny and slightly bonkers.

Did I mention that "The Next Queen of Heaven" is free?

That's the good part. Maguire has chosen to publish the book with the Concord Free Press, which will distribute all 2,500 copies of the novel, for free, to anyone who asks. They ask two things in return:

  • That you make a donation to charity and tell them what it was.
  • That you pass on the book and ask the next reader to do the same.

So far, more than $97,000 has been donated through the distribution of its books -- Maguire's, which has been out for just a couple of weeks, is the publishing house's third.

"I admire that the books as well as the publishing model raise questions about art's inherent value and the commodification of content," Maguire says in the book's press materials. "I like knowing that this book is out in the world, helping generate donations for great causes."

It's not Maguire's first good deed -- he founded a children's literacy nonprofit in New England way back in 1987.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Gregory Maguire. Credit: Chitose Suzuki / Associated Press

RELATED: 

Take the book, then give

A Lion Among Men: Volume Three of the Wicked Years

An unusual publishing venture: take the book, then give

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In the beginning, there was a book: "Give and Take" by Massachusetts-based author Stona Fitch. "Give and Take" was orphaned at a publishing house when its editor departed, and it didn't find a new home. Fitch just wasn't sure what to do with it. So he decided to give it away.

But there's a catch: He gives you the book for free and asks that you give money to charity.

Fitch has founded the nonprofit publishing house Concord Free Press which operates on this unusual Robin Hood-style publishing model. The press gives away its books, and its readers give away money. Readers, who get the books by requesting them from the website or at bookstores (now, mostly, in New England), are asked to note their donations on the company's website; using its GivingTracker, they can log in the exact numbered edition of their book, how much they gave and to whom.

Nonprofits large and small have received donations, including Amnesty International, the SPCA, Lupus UK, the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center and Seeds of Peace. One man "gave away 9£ on the streets of Edinburgh"; another handed "$60 to Billy, a homeless person." It's all kind of wonderful and heartwarming, if not entirely sustainable.

So far, its website says, it's generated 300% of its startup costs -- but all that money has gone elsewhere. To maintain enough income to produce the two books a year it plans to publish, Concord Free Press will have to rely on more than T-shirt sales -- meaning, most likely, that it'll need some donations itself.

All of this would be pretty meaningless if the book wasn't worth reading. But it is. This isn't a review of "Give and Take" -- I've only just begun it -- but I can say that it has an Elmore Leonard quality, slick and slightly nefarious characters sped along by lean prose. "Give and Take" is about a piano player who quietly robs his female conquests, then turns around and gives money to the needy. Concord Free Press' Robin Hood publishing model really did begin with a book.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

L.A. library transfers to cost a buck?

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In the face of a citywide budget crisis, the Los Angeles Public Library is proposing a service charge for books circulated through inter-library loan. If approved, the $1-a-book fee will take effect July 1.

If this were a kind of luxury tax, it wouldn't seem all that bad. I mean, a dollar, right? But some people are concerned that it'll affect the smallest, least-funded branch libraries -- and their patrons -- the most. That's why they've launched this blog urging people to write to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and library leaders and to organize opposition to the fee before the May 1 City Council hearing on the library's budget.

There are about 70 branches of the L.A. Public Library serving the city's readers (a few branches are currently closed for repairs). Obviously, not all branches can have every book, but most are available within the library system -- via inter-library loans -- for free. Author Cecil Castellucci, who volunteers at a public school in Echo Park, told the no-fee campaign organizers:

As a read-aloud volunteer at Mayberry Elementary school, I use this service to get the perfect books to read to the students. For example, I used the inter-library loan service to get books on opera to read aloud to the kids in preparation for their field trip to the L.A. Opera. As a young adult author, I find it appalling to be charging $1 for an inter-library loan.

While the organizers are soliciting suggestions for how to support the library, I know of one sure way coming up April 30. It's the library's annual gala dinner, a fund-raiser for the library foundation that this year will honor author Larry McMurtry ("Lonesome Dove," "Terms of Endearment," "The Last Picture Show"). Tickets are $750 apiece. Sure, that's a lot of smackers; but it would also pay for a lot of books zooming around the city through inter-library loans.

Carolyn Kellogg

photo by Tom Martin via Flickr

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