Thursday, September 24, 2015

You Might Still Become Famous, But Forget About Getting Rich.

NPR had an interesting story about the struggles of literary writers to sell books.  According to this report, the books on the short list for the Man Booker prize in England are simply not selling. A well-known serious writer named Anne Enright sold only 9,000 copies of her latest book in England. Tom McCarthy, the author of Satin Island, sold 3,500 copies of that title. A literary agent named Jane Dystel claimed that for a literary author to sell 25,000 books would be "sensational." The decline in book sales seems congruent with a sped-up and more superficial world. I wonder how many readers are left who can commit to a lengthy novel that will challenge him or her to do such things as pay close attention and think deeply.  That is hard to accomplish with your phone alerting you to a new Facebook update or email about every 20 seconds. Writing literary fiction in the 21st Century may prove to be an abstruse exercise done primarily for the sake of doing it.  Fame, and apparently fortune, are not rewards for writing these days. The serious writer of this era may be creating works that are noted by an ever-smaller group of people, mostly academics. That said, there is no reason not to write literary fiction. Tell your story the best way you know how.  Put it up on Amazon. Then go to work because that is the only way you are going to pay your rent.

NPR Story On Book Sales

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

More On Poor Harper Lee

As you will recall, the lawyer who handles the affairs for Harper Lee floated the idea over the summer than there might even by a third novel out there.  This fine barrister, Tonja Carter, felt the need to call in an expert to determine if the manuscript pages she found were, indeed, a new novel. Sadly for Ms. Carter, and all the millions of dollars she envisioned flowing towards her, the expert would not play along.  The expert, James S. Jaffe, found that the manuscript was just another version of To Kill A Mockingbird.  It is nice to see one person with some integrity involved in this sordid mess. So, at least until Ms. Carter finds another manuscript in Harper Lee's cookie jar, this should be the end of any additional titles coming out.
       News Flash: Now there is talk of another Harper Lee book, this one a true crime story.

The most interesting question for Ms. Carter might be this: if Harper Lee is really in her right mind, why did you have to bring in Mr. Jaffe? Why didn't Mr. Jaffe speak with Harper Lee? I mean, isn't that the most straight-forward way to address the question of the third novel?  Did Harper Lee go from compos mentis to addled as soon as the checks started coming in for Go Set A Watchman
If Carter is pulling these sorts of stunts while poor Harper Lee is still alive, I wonder what happens when Harper Lee dies? I wonder just how many books Carter has that she will attribute to Harper Lee. This is a disgusting saga that highlights the worst of human behavior. Ms. Carter, can you heed the words of Joseph N. Welch from all those years ago:  Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

NYT Article On Harper Lee's Putative Third Novel

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Steven King, Of All People, Wonders: Can A Novelist Write Too Many Books?

In a recent column in the New York Times, Steven King ponders the question of how many books is too many for a writer who wants to be taken seriously. With at least 55 titles under his belt, you can guess what King thinks about this issue.  But I have to take the other side of the argument. 55 novels is just too many for any serious writer. Way, way too many. I cannot imagine anyone with something profound to say would need 55 attempts to get his or her point made.  What is more likely for a writer getting much past about 10 novels is that he or she is going to just tell the same story over and over again. The creative mind is tricky in coming up with new ways to illustrate an idea. Though I do not write anymore, ideas still flow through my imagination all the time. The more I dwell on these ideas, though, the sooner I recognize them as themes and stories that I have already explored. The other danger for writers who persist in putting out book upon book is diminishing skills.  To write well takes extraordinary mental energy and concentration. These are two things that time steals away, no matter how much you resist. I remember reading William Faulkner's Snopes trilogy.  The Hamlet is classic Faulkner, with sentences that last for pages and an intensity that all but burns the eyes of the reader who beholds the words. But by the time you get to The Mansion, his energy is spent. The Mansion meanders where The Hamlet charged. I'm sure Faulkner had the same desire to tell stories at the end of his career as he did at the beginning. But no mortal could keep it up forever.  If you have an important story to tell, do so. Once you have accomplished this, put down the pen and write no more.  Better one great book than 55 very good ones.

Steven King And The 55 Novels