Columns > Published on September 9th, 2021

10 Years of LitReactor News: A Followup

2011. Wall Street was being occupied. Sharper Image was getting into the eReader game with the worst tablet ever made. Fifty Shades of Grey was shocking soccer moms with its dirty, dirty, dirtiness and shocking the rest of us with its inexplicable success.

And of course, a plucky little lit website called LitReactor was there to talk about it all.

To help celebrate our 10th anniversary this October, I present a small sampling of news we covered over the last decade. We’ve got some follow-ups, some bad news, and some odd turns nobody could’ve predicted.

Let’s do it.

Whatever Happened to the eBook Self-Publishing Bubble? 

eBook self-publishing took off in the early 2010’s, and there was A LOT of hand-wringing and pondering about the future of literature.

Instead of shaking the foundations of publishing to the core, eBook self-publishing gave us some great stuff, some bullshit, and a whole lot that nobody cares about. We’ve had a few breakout stars and a whole shitload of losers. So...the exact same thing as traditional publishing, and with close to the same ratios.

Whatever Happened to All Those eReaders That Aren’t Kindles?

eReaders were the shit in 2011. Sony made one, Barnes & Noble made one. Nintendo was going to make the Wii U into a reader until they decided to barely even make GAMES for it. Sharper Image got in on the eReader game with The Literati, the worst eReader of all time, which is why I cleverly nicknamed it "The Shiterati."

The eReader boom is over. The only survivors seem to be Kindle and, for a few damned, lost souls dedicated to fighting the evil Beelzebezos, Kobo. The first iPad came out in 2010, ending the short gap between the reign of e-ink and beginning the rise of versatile devices that can be eReaders, gaming platforms, and peddlers of porn.

Whatever Happened to Signing eBooks?

How does an author sign an eBook for an adoring fan?

At one time there was a service called Kindlegraph, later Authorgraph, that'd let you sign eBooks somehow. I tried signing up for it today, and I waited hours for a confirmation email that never came. But the lack of email was a confirmation of sorts: the service is probably dead.

We asked the wrong question in those early days. Instead of asking how we were going to sign eBooks, we should’ve been asking what we were going to do instead of signing books. 

Whatever Happened to Mark Z. Danielewski's "The Familiar"?

The Familiar was a 27-volume, serialized novel. Each volume was enormous, and each had the creative layouts Danielewski (House of Leaves) is known for. It was planned for release over the course of 10 years. The whole thing was brushing up against being the “novel-killer,” the book that changed what narratives looked like, according to the news at the time.

After 5 of the planned 27 volumes were published, the book was cancelled, reportedly due to the expense of publication outpacing sales. Which, duh.

I don't want to call it a failure. 5 books is a good run. Maybe a better description is "overly-ambitious." Like James Cameron making 9 Avatars ambitious.

Whatever Happened to That Children’s Book by a Serial Killer?

Charles Kembo was convicted of killing 4 people. He landed in prison, serving a 25 to life with no possibility of parole.

After the murders, Kembo found the time to publish a children’s novel about saving the environment. It was published under a pen name, J.D. Bauer, Kembo took on a woman’s persona for interviews, and, oddly, while speaking as "J.D.," Kembo claimed to like writing in darkness, nude. I’m fascinated by the question of whether this was honesty, or if Kembo thought this would be something that a typical children’s author would say.

The reviews of the book are...not bad, considering. Although this one provides a head-scratcher:

4.0 out of 5 stars

Not a bad first effort; rape scene may be inappropriate for some children.

Kembo is still locked up, eligible for parole in 2030, and a frequent subject on any number of true crime podcasts, such as Crimey Crime Crimes, Truth and Crimsequences, and Crime and Punishment: A Non-Dostoevsky Podcast.

Whatever Happened to the Mortuary Named After a Crime Writer?

Dundee University held a contest/fundraiser that promised to name their mortuary after a crime novelist. And damn it, they followed through.

The mortuary ended up being named after Val McDermid, who’s been banging out crime novels since the late 80s.

They also named the Stuart MacBride Dissecting Room, and they slapped labels on a series of submersion tanks named after Jeffrey Deaver, Harlan Coben, and Kathy Reichs. There's also one named after Lee Child, but instead of naming it the "Child Tank," they went with "Jack Reacher Tank." Good call.

Whatever Happened to All Those Pet Owls Abandoned By Harry Potter Fans?

Before the little blue bird of sorrow, aka Twitter, ruined J.K. Rowling's life, there was another bird threatening her reputation: owls.

Reports trickled in that Harry Potter fans purchased pet owls, realized that owls, though cute, are nightmarish monsters, and released them into the wild, leaving every tree in the UK littered with throwaway owls.

It turns out people are stupid, but most people aren’t stupid enough to actually go out and get a pet owl. Or...maybe they’re too stupid to figure out how to get one. Regardless, thorough examination of the data showed there’s no uptick in homeless owls that'd coincide with Harry Potter releases. You're off the hook on this one, Rowling...

Whatever Happened to Those Ladies Who Read Topless in Public?

Ah, the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society. A group of women (and allegedly some men) who would read outside topless, exercising their right to let the gals breathe that fresh NYC air.

Their site is down at the moment, but it was active as of March 2021. If you roll over to The Wayback Machine (I'm not linking you to an archived page of boobs, I can't compete with that shit) you can scroll through pictures of topless women. Although I have to say I'm not terribly impressed with the ratio of book/reading pictures to just topless pictures. 

I'm criticizing a web site for having too many pictures of topless women. I've become everything I hate.

Whatever Happened to Those 300,000 Books Set to Be Burned?

In 2005, a woman named Shaunna made a mistake. When her neighbor died, and when the widowed wife of that neighbor was planning to burn his book collection, Shaunna bought it for a little over $800 dollars.

She bought more than 300,000 books. They were stored in a house of their own, which had to be reinforced to hold the weight of the books. Arguments over how to sort, sell, and donate them contributed to Shaunna’s eventual divorce. She said she was going to end up burning the books because she didn't have any way to sort and donate them. Which, you know, pissed a bunch of people off.

According to Shaunna herself, she "finished" sorting the books. What that means, exactly, isn't totally clear, but she's down to a manageable 15-20 boxes that she’s decided to keep.

I say we let her off the hook on this one. Her good intentions paved a path to hell, and damn it, she walked it all the way to the end. 

Whatever Happened to Bookstores Charging to Browse?

Yes, for a brief time, there was chatter about bookstores charging people to browse. When the idea showed up in The New Yorker, readers flipped their shit.

To be fair, this chatter mostly, maybe even entirely, came from people who don’t own or operate bookstores. This was one of those “Op-ed guy from a completely different business has a wacky idea” kind of things, far as I can tell.

I don't love the idea, but if you know of any bookstores doing it, hit me up. I think the perfect location for my new venture, Pete's Book Hole, is two doors down from a bookstore that charges people to browse.

Whatever Happened to E.L. James' How-To-Write Book?

E.L. James was planning a how-to-write book, but instead she's put out 2 more books from the Fifty Shades world with a third on the way.

People, this IS the how-to: fuck craft, get that money.

Whatever Happened to Publisher's Weekly’s Best Bookstores of 2013

In 2013 we reported on Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Bookstore of the Year shortlist. How are they doing today?

Chaucer’s Bookstore: Open
Magers & Quinn: Open
Maria’s: Open
Maclean: Still Open
Square Books: Open

That’s 5 out of 5 for everyone counting.

It’s possible to run an indie bookstore. Not easy, but possible.

Whatever Happened to the Nurse Who Inspired Stephen King's "Misery"?

Although Genene Jones was scheduled for early release in 2018, the DA brought her up on new charges in 2017, and through some legal whatever, she remains locked up.

Jones DEFINITELY chalked up two murders, and it’s projected that she murdered up to 60 people. Er, sorry. Babies. She killed between 2 and 60 BABIES. She was injecting infants with drugs, then hoping to look like a hero when she "saved" them. Apparently, the administration at her employer purposely destroyed records to avoid further prosecution, so it's hard to know for sure just how many times she ran this scheme.

So, I guess you're free to drive recklessly through the Colorado mountains without worry of a woman holding you captive in her house. For now, anyway.

Whatever Happened to St. Mark’s Bookshop?

Lots of indie bookstores came and went over the years, but none got as much digital ink on LitReactor as St. Mark’s in NYC, and it's because the St. Mark's story makes a good stand-in for so many indie bookstores.

Founded in the late 70s, St. Mark’s was the model, the perfect, quaint, yet still punk bookstore. It had famous clientele like Jacques Derrida, Daniel Craig, and Susan Sontag (drunk). It was the kind of neighborhood bookstore we all want to open up in our neighborhood.

There's the simple version of the story, which is that this lil’ ol’ bookshop was priced right out of the neighborhood by mean ol’ New York so someone could open a Starbucks. Which isn’t exactly a lie, but it leaves a lot out.

St. Mark’s had a plagued history of bad decisions that included moving to a new space without consideration of the costs, cycling books through the store too quickly, shipping a ton of shit back and forth without regard for costs, and not only keeping lousy records, but actively deleting sales records bookbuyers needed to help them make good choices.

Up to the economic collapse of 2008, St. Mark's had a good deal with their landlord, Cooper Union, a private college. I don't want to get into it, but through the poking around I've done, Cooper Union looked to be a decent landlord. They did what they could, but St. Mark's still had to move to a third, cheaper location that'd be their last and was marked by empty shelves and some unpleasant staff.

St. Mark's closed in February of 2016.

It was a blow. A literary landmark shutting down is never a good thing. And while I like to think there's a place in the world for a badly-run-but-still-beloved bookstore, Manhattan is not that place. It's too crowded, too unforgiving, and the rent is too damn high.

I hear summers are nice in Rawlins, Wyoming...

Whatever Happened to Ray Bradbury’s House?

Remember when Bradbury's house was for sale? Well, clearly none of you bought it. 

The house was sold under pretty normal circumstances. The iffy part: The purchaser, an architect with plans to demolish and renovate the house, claims he had no idea that the house was Bradbury’s. And even when he found out, he didn't really give a shit:

I could make no connection between the extraordinary nature of the writer and the incredible un-extraordinariness of the house. It was not just unextraordinary, but unusually banal.

He’s not wrong. The house itself was not architecturally significant. But I don’t think anyone was arguing that the significance of the house was in its architecture.

The efforts to preserve the house were too little, too late. Here's the property today:

There's certainly an argument to be had that sometimes a house is just a house, and we don't need to save everything. I just wish that argument hadn't happened at 10265 Cheviot Drive.

Whatever Happened to the Goat Farm That Could Be Had for an Essay?

For an essay (and a $150 fee) you could enter to win a goat farm valued at $350,000. But here’s the catch: The farm would only be given away if the hosts received 2,500 entries. For those keeping track, that’s $375,000. Unfortunately, the sellers didn't receive the required entries, so they didn't give it away. Guess we'll just have to pick from any of the other 1,800 memoirs out there by foolish writers who fantasized about a rural life and then realized goats aren't pets and farming is damn hard work for damn little money.

Whatever Happened to Waterproof Books?

A company Kickstarted a line of waterproof books, which came out, but there hasn’t been a lot of movement beyond the four initial titles, which were boring, public domain classics. If you want to go waterproof: Jaws by Benchley or The Deep by Nick Cutter. Get something that’d be enhanced by reading it on the water. Damn, at least go Moby Dick

Whatever Happened to Cormac McCarthy’s "The Passenger"?

It's been a minute since Cormac McCarthy published a novel. 7,884,000 minutes if I can get all Rent about it.

In 2015 we got some details about McCarthy's work in progress, The Passenger, and every year since, like a ritual, Book Depository lists December 1st as a potential release date. There was a brief moment of excitement in 2020 when the release date was listed as being in October 2021 instead of December 1st. But it's since been changed to December 1st, 2022. 

All we know for now is that the novel follows a female lead, and that it’s long. 

Whatever Happened to the Bookstore That Offered Discounts to Open Carry Customers?

An Austin, TX bookstore gave customers who open carried a 10% discount.

For those who don’t know, open carry is when you carry a non-concealed weapon. Like having a gun in a hip holster. This is currently legal without a special permit in 30 out of 50 U.S. states.

The store closed its brick and mortar in 2017, although they promised/threatened to continue spreading the good libertarian word via a bookmobile. 

It seems their social media was also mismanaged. I present to you this highlight from the store's Facebook:

Because the former managers decided to turn BNB’s YouTube channel into a 24hr Kratom commercial, the YouTube channel was banned for violating community guidelines promoting drug use.  After a lengthy appeals process, YouTube has decided to keep the ban in place.

Whatever Happened to the Tingleverse Dating Sim Game?

Supposedly, Chuck Tingle and game developer Zoë Quinn were working on a Tingleverse dating sim for all the buckaroos out there.

I say "supposedly"'s a little complicated.

Zoë Quinn was at the center of the whole Gamergate thing, so it’s tough to come by information about her that’s not from a hateful nerd or an ever-forgiving nerd.

Here's what I know for sure: The game raised $85,000 on Kickstarter, it doesn’t exist at this time, and the last update came 2 years ago. 

Tingle later tweeted that he has nothing to do with any videogames. Pretty emphatically:

I can't confirm this part, but the word on the street is that Tingle claimed he and Quinn talked about the Tingleverse a bit, he explained how it all works, and he allowed the project to move forward, but his involvement was limited to a few Twitter conversations, and none of the Kickstarter money went into his pocket.

Is there a way to wrap this up by saying I'm confident that Tingle isn't at fault here, and I'm not interested in assigning the fault anywhere else?

Whatever Happened to the 9 Year-Old Who Blurbed Alan Moore's Novel?

When Moore released his epic novel Jerusalem, he used a line from a 9 year-old's fan letter as his book blurb:

All in all, you are the best writer in human history.

Whatever happened to the kid? 

He's only like 16. I don't assume this level of fame went to his head and he pulled an Edward Furlong. Looking into it any further makes me feel like a creep. Let's assume he's cool.

Get The Familiar, Vol. 1 by Mark Z. Danielewski at Bookshop or Amazon

Get The Distant Echo by Val McDermid at Bookshop or Amazon 

Get Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales at Bookshop or Amazon 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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