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So Close

Gina Frangello had a venture philanthropy firm ready to give her new novel a PR boost. Then her publisher folded.

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Small independent publishing houses, bless 'em, tend to run the gamut from bare bones to dicey—and a writer had best be prepared to take up the slack. When Gina Frangello's first novel, My Sister's Continent, was released in 2006, for instance, her Portland-based publisher, Chiasmus Press, didn't provide much marketing support. "This isn't an indictment of them," Frangello says. "I love their books and they had outstanding taste and a lot of integrity." But at the time, like many indies, she notes, Chiasmus consisted of a husband and wife running the business out of their home. If you wanted a book tour or radio interviews, "you had to take it upon yourself."

So she did. Frangello, who by day edited the literary journal Other Voices as well as a couple short fiction collections a year for OV Books, hired a freelance publicist out of her own pocket. The book did OK, she says, going into a second printing, but she was looking forward to a better result with her second novel, London Calling, which was set to be published next spring by another small independent, Impetus Press of Los Angeles. London Calling had been picked up by the Literary Ventures Fund, a New York-based, nonprofit "venture philanthropy" that plays promotional fairy godmother to a select few literary Cinderellas in return for a piece of the profits.

Founded four years ago by its president, Jim Bildner, LVF has a small but seasoned staff of four. Editorial director Ande Zellman says they don't usually buy print ads and gave up on giving money directly to publishers and authors. But they do have relationships with bookstores like Barnes & Noble, which hosts the LVF book club on its Web site. And to level the playing field between independents and the major corporate publishers, they also create reading guides for book clubs, develop online networking strategies, and employ a publicist. What's more, they'll stick with a book for years if there are signs of life. "The sad thing about the publishing industry at the moment is that they're putting out an avalanche of books but giving them little or no attention," Zellman says. "It's hard for any book to get a fair shake."

The organization's cut varies with every project, but it's generally around 10 percent of net proceeds and doesn't kick in until basic sales goals are met. In the last three years it's worked on a dozen books; its biggest successes include Firmin, a first novel by Sam Savage, which Zellman says landed a handsome foreign rights deal, and Monique and the Mango Rains, a Peace Corps memoir by Kris Holloway that has sold more than 25,000 copies so far.

LVF only considers manuscripts submitted by publishers or agents, and certain requirements have to be met before it will take one on. For example, Frangello's publisher would have had to bump up the size of its initial run for London Calling to satisfy LVF standards. To help Impetus with the cost of doing that, Frangello's pal Alpana Singh, the sommelier and host of Check, Please!, had planned a wine tasting benefit for early November. But then last Friday things took an unexpected turn. Impetus copublisher Willy Blackmore made a sudden announcement that the company was closing its doors "because of financial difficulties" and "will not be publishing Gina's book or any others."

The party's still on, Frangello says, for Monday, November 10, 6-9 PM, at Tallulah, 4529 N. Lincoln. Its status as a benefit and therefore the price were still in flux as we went to press, but you can make reservations at gfrangello@yahoo.com.

Lost in the Stars

There are so many complex issues in this presidential election. Who knows how we'll get out of the financial, military, environmental, heath-care, and entitlements messes we're in? But things got simpler when, during the second of the three presidential debates, John McCain accused Barack Obama of earmarking $3 million to buy an "overhead projector" for "a planetarium in Chicago." The charge was surreal. What could McCain be referring to? Some gold-plated custom number from a secret department at Staples?

By the next morning, newspapers all over the country were pointing out that the money was budgeted to replace the planetarium's nearly 40-year-old sky projection system, which spreads the whole night sky across the dome of Adler's historic Sky Theater.

The request for federal funding wasn't approved, but, according to Sky Theater manager Mark Webb, the planetarium is still hoping to replace the old, two-ton machine—all gears and motors—with something more appropriate for the digital age. Webb says a new system would allow for more flexible, accurate, and up-to-date programs and "would let us see space from anywhere in the known universe."

Amazingly, those pesky front-page corrections didn't stop McCain from making the "overhead projector" claim again. In a jaw-dropping moment during the third and final debate, he hauled it back out using exactly the same words. And that's when all the complex issues of this campaign clicked into focus: if you think the Adler should make do with the old technology—or maybe a blackboard—you know who to vote for.

At Least the Trib Sold Some Ads

With James Dobson's conservative Focus on the Family program on the verge of being inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame (as reported in this column in July), controversy over the choice heated up in warring full-page ads in the Chicago Tribune. The first, on October 17, took aim at Bruce Dumont, head of the Hall of Fame's parent organization, the Museum of Broadcast Communications, blasting him for a selection process that in its final stage came down to an online public vote. Sponsored by DumpDobson.com, a coalition of GLBT organizations, it decried Dobson's "antigay hatred and discrimination." That was countered, on October 23, with an ad—sponsored by WYLL and WIND, both members of the Christian Salem Radio Network, a chain of stations—that featured testimonials from Dobson fans, extolling his "comfort, support, and guidance."

This week additional ads were scheduled to run in the city's gay press touting a protest planned for 5:30 PM, November 8, in front of the Renaissance Chicago Hotel, 1 W. Wacker, where the induction is set to take place.

Gay Liberation Network's Andy Thayer, who placed the anti-Dobson ads, says they were paid for by donations from the dozens of people and organizations that signed on to them. Among those putting their money and names to the cause was State Representative Greg Harris, who last week was still hoping that the Hall of Fame would change its mind and "honor those who have made positive contributions to broadcasting, and not those who have used the medium to preach intolerance and bigotry."

Meanwhile Dumont posted an open letter last week at the museum's Web site, acknowledging that the selection of Dobson has "caused great pain to many in the gay community from coast to coast" and saying he'll encourage a change in the process. But "the Radio Hall of Fame induction," he wrote, "is not about political or religious philosophy." In a phone interview he added that "everything was done with the best of intentions. This is a firm issue of free speech, and even of freedom of religion. We stand by our decision."v

Care to comment? Find this column at chicagoreader.com.

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