Ktismatics

11 December 2008

The Life of $

Filed under: Culture, Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 5:35 pm

In yesterday’s discussion on the Navel Gazers’ post, passing reference was made to The Da Vinci Code as an example of financially successful commercial fiction. It brought back to mind a conversation Anne and I had with a commercial novelist, a friend of a friend, I guess it must have been about four years ago now. I’m not exactly sure what his genre is called — survival supernatural adventure thriller maybe. I’d regard him as a successful mid-list author, having had several books published with most of them still in print as paperbacks. I read one of his books and found that he writes very well, with snap and idiosyncrasy.

It wasn’t hard for us to identify him at the coffee shop, since he’s got the casual grizzled look characteristic of old-school Boulderites. He’s climbed Everest, lived in various exotic locales, been in jail at least once, and now he’s somewhat uncomfortably settled into the middle-class life with wife and kid. We had to enunciate very clearly and face-on, since he’d lost most of his hearing to the cold in some climbing debacle. Throughout the conversation he continually looked over his shoulder, as if he suspected that someone was spying on us.

He told us about his six-figure settlement with a major Hollywood studio that had put together a screenplay based at least partly on one of his novels but without paying or crediting him. His sense was that the studios do this sort of thing regularly, figuring it’s cheaper to pay off the lawsuits than actually to pay the authors what they’re worth. The studios can afford the high-priced lawyers, the writers can’t.

He said he wished that he wrote books his young daughter could read, but he had to spice up his work with the usual “adult” elements of sex and violence. He said he wished he’d written The Life of Pi, which is a survival adventure story that’s both more literary and more kid-friendly than his own books. He felt locked into his authorial persona and style: the readers expect a certain kind of book from an established author, preventing him from experimenting and growing as a writer. What about creating a new pen name, we suggested: then you could write what you really want to write. I don’t have the time or energy to do that and still keep up with the demand for my usual stuff, he replied.

He talked about the disaster that was his most recent book. Previously he had written a first installment of a possible trilogy and, because it proved to be his biggest-selling book ever, the publisher gave him a big advance for the second volume. While he was writing this second installment his editor left the publishing house and signed on with a competitor. This editor was working on the manuscripts of two writers at the time, and he managed to take one of them with him to the new job. That writer was Dan Brown, and the book was The Da Vinci Code. Our new friend’s book, having been left behind, found itself orphaned, without an internal champion to move it forward. The new editor apparently resented being assigned this book in mid-edit and decided to bad-mouth it to the head of the publishing house. The publisher sent our new writerly acquaintance an extremely critical letter which included a list of ten things a new writer should do in order to write a good book. The writer was ordered to come to a meeting in New York to discuss the book, which he would have to pay for himself. Eventually the book came out, but the publisher did nothing to publicize it and effectively let it die on the shelves. At the time of our coffee shop discussion our co-conversant was working with his agent to find a new publisher for his next book.

Dan Brown still writes promo blurbs for the back covers of every one of this guy’s new novels.

Advertisements

6 Comments »

  1. of course da vinci code is a good example of the petit objet a, as i’m sure you realize; i think that story works on the principle of getting people to look for something they can never find…

    Like

    Comment by parodycenter — 11 December 2008 @ 5:42 pm

  2. The object is found in Da Vinci Code though, isn’t it, at least by the hero. So the hero becomes allied with one who both has the object (the blood of Jesus) and is the object (the descendant of Jesus). There’s some merging of the sexual orders here, as the living descendants are female. And now the hero will mate with this descendant, having the complementary object that will keep the line going into future generations. At least that’s how I remember the story going. The hero then keeps the secret object hidden from others who would discover it in order to destroy it — the all-male priesthood of the Church, who realize their lack, who envy the hidden Big Other who has what they lack, etc. I read this book while living about 100 miles from the church where Mary Magdalene is purportedly buried. I’ve even visited the tomb, which is open to the public. So it seemed strange that no one in the book thought of looking there for Magdalene’s remains. Anyhow, Dan Brown found the Holy Grail of commercial fiction, which reassures other aspirants that it exists and that they too can find it if they just keep looking.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 11 December 2008 @ 11:22 pm

  3. That writer was Dan Brown, and the book was The Da Vinci Code.

    Thanks for telling me the author’s name. Or should I say ‘thanks but no thanks’, because it was rather distinguished, I think, not having known nor cared a shit about who did this. I don’t know who wrote ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ either.

    “He said he wished he’d written The Life of Pi, which is a survival adventure story that’s both more literary and more kid-friendly than his own books. He felt locked into his authorial persona and style: the readers expect a certain kind of book from an established author, preventing him from experimenting and growing as a writer”

    Especially when you don’t know how to quit being completely and totally victimized by your readers’ expectations. Poor dear. I don’t really like ‘successful mid-list’, because these a-list and b-list are mainly truthful only when used as camp by me and dejan for Hollywood minor talents…If you don’t want to be subject to the ravages of the rules of commercial fiction, such categories might well be avoided (‘skilled hack’ will do fine), but in this case I don’t fully object to the usage, as it seems somewhat accurate.

    “Dan Brown still writes promo blurbs for the back covers of every one of this guy’s new novels.”

    The best part of this is the way you put it at the end of the Saga of a Mid-List Writer. Very much like the end of fact-based TV movies, as “John Gaycee was executed on …” . “The bodies of several of his victims have never been found”, or “Celia Johnson has changed her identity and retired to private life as a makeup artist…’

    But good piece, I’ll vow.

    Like

    Comment by South'n — 12 December 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  4. Thanks, South’n. So I emailed Dave the MC to see if he could recognize which local commercial fiction writer Im alluding to in this Saga. I don’t believe that Dave has returned — no need to, inasmuch as he’s fulfilled his mission of promoting his next Open Mic event and his comedic blog in his comment on the prior post.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 14 December 2008 @ 3:29 pm

  5. Update: Dave came back and correctly identified the author in question. For being the first caller Dave receives tickets for two to an informative half-day seminar in Branson Missouri.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 15 December 2008 @ 10:11 am

  6. Re-reading your entry about the Boulder author, I found myself gritting my teeth at Hollywood–the reference to studios paying lawsuits rather than paying authors their fair share. I have certainly always known that the behind-the-scenes is quite corrupt, but when you know someone who has been the butt of such avarice, the malignancy turns one’s stomach.

    Oh and thanks for the tickets Dr.

    See you soon.

    Like

    Comment by Dave — 9 January 2009 @ 8:33 am


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: