Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Anne Stuart; Bill Pronzini

Ed here: Last week romantic suspense novelist Anne Stuart wrote a blog piece talking about the struggles she's had to endure over the years mostly due to indifferent publishers. She included in her complaints her present publisher Harlequin. She was promptly criticised by many for committing career suicide especially because, two days after her piece appeared, her new Mira (Harlequn) book appeared on the NY Times extended bestseller list. She was then called an ingrate. Why would she complaine about the company that finally helped her make the bestseller list?

My own reaction to her article was two-fold. I didn't think it was wise to publicly attack the people who paid her--and I thought she was heroic to state exactly why making a living at writing fiction is so difficult. Every point she made was valid.

On Galleycat today a writer named Deborah Smith came to Anne's defense. What should be kept in mind here is that editors have just as many sour tales to tell about writers as writers do about editors. I say this after having edited two magazines and two lines of books. I once spoke to a group of writers who got angry when I defended editors. They took the position that all writers are by nature innocent, reliable and pure of heart. While editors on the other hand... It just ain't so, folks. Believe it or not there are a number of writers who are a pain in the arse to work with. And when promises are broken on the editorial side (we're really going to promote your book etc.) the decision is often made by senior editors who work closely with the publisher. The editors lower down on the food chain don't have that much say in the matter. That said, I repeat that Anne's complaints were absolutely accurate and rendered in a reasonable tone. She is a brave woman and a damned good writer.

In Defense of Anne Stuart from Galleycat

The Anne Stuart story has become one of our most popular items this month, sparking conversations across the book-lovin' blogosphere. It also prompted novelist Deborath Smith (right), herself a NYT bestselling author, to write in with a few words of support for her colleague. "Anne may sound wishy-washy to you," Smith emails, "but look, it's a freakin' miracle her book made the NYT list given the general screw-ups, apathy, bad planning and all-around incompetency of the NY pub houses. She made that list because she has slogged her way through numerous disasters and built a readership; not because Harlequin suddenly decided to do something sweet for her."

"So yes, she can be thrilled and make nice with Harlequin today while still expressing real caution and cynicism," Smith adds. "Harlequin didn't make her career for her; no publisher did. Anne succeeded on her own while surviving an enormous amount of publisher bungling that makes it, as I said, a miracle that any author rises out of the shadows to find an audience." Is the path to publishing success as dimly lit as Smith describes it? Or do authors succeed thanks to their publishers, rather than despite them? Tell us your stories...

Posted by Ron | 11:24 AM | Mailbag |


The Crimes of Jordan Wise, by Bill Pronzini.

Walker & Company, $24. Publication date: July 2006.

Actuary Jordan Wise tells a joke on himself a third of the way through the novel: (paraphrase) an actuary is somebody who doesn’t have the personality to be an accountant.

If you watch many true crime shows, you see a lot of Jordan Wises. People who fall into crime through circumstance rather than those who go looking for it.

Jordan becomes a criminal only after meeting Annalise, a troubled and very attractive young woman who needs two things badly – sex and money. But in order to get the sex on a regular basis, Jordan must first provide the money. He embezzles a half million dollars and flees with Annalise to the Virgin Islands. In this first part of the novel, there’s nice James M. Cainian detail about how Jordan comes alive for the first time in his life. Some of this is due, whether he admits it or not, to the danger of committing a serious crime. But most of it is due to Annalise and his profound sexual awakening.

The central section of the book reminds me of one of Maugham’s great South Seas tales – lust, betrayal, shame played out against vast natural beauty and a native society that, thanks to an old sea man named Bone, that Jordan comes to see value in – even if Annalise, her head filled with dreams of Paris and glamor, does not. Old Maugham got one thing right for sure – as Pronzini demonstrates here – a good share of humanity, wherever you find them, are both treacherous and more than slightly insane.

There are amazing sections of writing about sea craft and sailing that remind me not of old Travis McGee but of the profoundly more troubled and desperate men of Charles Williams who find purity and peace only in the great and epic truths of the sea. That they may be as crazed and treacherous as everybdy else does not seem to bother them unduly.

There are also amazing sections (almost diaristic sections) where Jordan tells of us his fears and desires, his failings and his dreams. In places he deals vididly, painfully with his secret terror of not being enough of a man in any sense to hold Annalise.

The publisher calls this a novel and so it is. Pronzini brings great original width and breadth to the telling of this dark adventure that is both physical and spiritual. He has never written a better novel, the prose here literary in the best sense, lucid and compelling, fit for both action and introspection.

You can’t read a page of this without seeing it in movie terms. The psychologically violent love story played out against a variety of contemporary settings gives the narrative great scope. And in Jordan Wise and Annalise he has created two timeless people. This story could have been set in ancient Egypt or Harlem in 1903 or an LA roller skating disco in 1981. As Faulkner said, neither the human heart nor the human dilemma ever changes.

No comments: