By Campbell Geeslin
“Sometimes I suspect that my obituary in The New York Times,” Andrew Greeley once wrote, “will read, ‘Andrew Greeley, Priest: Wrote Steamy Novels.”
The Catholic priest, 85, died May 30 in Chicago. He was the author of 120 books, 10 of them bestselling novels. The first of his sexy books was The Cardinal Sins (1981). The obit also said: “It was easy for Father Greeley to dismiss critics of his novels as prudes. Other critics, however, found the sex not prurient but preposterous.”
Greeley claimed that his popular novels were “the most priestly thing I have ever done.” But early on, Greeley denounced the Church for the mishandling of the child abuse crisis. A Times editorial two days after his death said he was “strident, defiant, alarmist and exactly right.”
BARING IT ALL: Rachel Howard, author of The Last Night, explained how taking off all her clothes and posing nude for a studio full of artists improved her writing.
The essay ran in The New York Times. Believe it.
Howard had heard instructions shouted by the teacher to the students at their easels: “Find the gesture! What is the essence of that pose? . . . The whole pose—quick, quick! No, not the arm or the leg. . . . What is the pose about? Step back and see it—really see it—whole.”
Remembering the teacher’s instructions while at home writing, Howard said she didn’t worry about words. She thought about how her fictional characters were sitting. A more interesting point of view of what was happening came from a different character. The page she worked on became a mess. “But I had captured the movement of the scene,” she said, “not one line of dialogue connected clunkily to the next action. There was the whole. It made leaps. It had perspective. It had emphasis and connection. It had life.”
CALL ME WHAT? H.L Mencken, my favorite crank, coined the word “bibliobibuli.” If you read too much, you are one of them. He wrote: “I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.”
Wonder why bibliobibuli didn’t make it into my dictionary?
REAL FICTION: Jeanette Walls’s novel, The Silver Star, was published last week. She is the author of the bestselling The Glass Castle, a memoir about her harsh childhood with a monster, self-absorbed mother. Four million copies are in print. Her second book, Half Broke Horses, was about the early life of one of her grandmothers. It was described as a true-life novel.
An article about Walls in The New York Times Magazine quoted her, “We all have our baggage, and I think the trick is not resisting it but accepting it, understanding that the worst experience has a valuable gift wrapped inside you if you’re willing to receive it.”
Walls told PW, “The Silver Star is the first real fiction I’ve ever written. I believed I was incapable of making things up. This is the first time.” Writing fiction versus writing nonfiction, she said, is like “navigating on the open seas versus a river.” In writing fiction “everything is a choice.”
The Times’s Janet Maslin summed it up: “This is a book in which nothing is complicated, good and bad are polar opposites and life never fails to make sense, in a hokey and homespun way.”
THE BOMBING: Scott Helman and Jenna Russell, reporters on The Boston Globe, will write a book about the Boston Marathon bombings. It will tell the story of that day and all those who were affected, the publisher, Dutton, said.
Riverhead Books had announced earlier that Masha Gessen, another journalist, was at work on a book about brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the bombing suspects.
FAN FICTION: Have you ever read a comic book and thought, “Heck, I could write a better story about Superman than that”?
Now may be your chance. If Amazon makes your manuscript about a comic hero available in its Kindle store, you will be paid 35 percent of the net revenue for works of at least 10,000 words and 20 percent for stories of 5,000 to 10,000 words. Amazon and the holder of rights to the original character will split the rest. Amazon is negotiating for a large number of famous fictional characters to make them available to freelance writers.
THE BEST: Colum McCann’s eighth book, Transatlantic, comes out this week, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine saluted author and book with a major article. McCann is quoted on the power of fiction to convey the real world: “The best writers attempt to become alternative historians. My sense of the Great Depression is guided by the works of [E. L.] Doctorow, for instance. My perception of Dublin in the early 20th century is almost entirely guided by my reading of Ulysses.”
SHIFT FOR E-BOOKS: PW had an article about several authors who have gone from publishing houses to self-publishing. One of them was Stephanie Bond, who has written for Harlequin, Random House, HarperCollins and St. Martin’s Press.
Her books blend romance, women’s fiction and mystery. She has no clear genre–and that was a problem. When it came to promotion, “Publishers didn’t know what to do with me,” she said. Bookshop staffs didn’t know on which shelf her books belonged.
In 2010 she began working with Indie Book Collective to market her e-books.
PW said, “Over 15 years of publishing 60 titles with traditional publishers, Bond books had sold four million copies. During her first year and a half of self-publishing 14 projects, she had hit the one million mark.”
When she received a six-month royalty check from Harlequin, it was less than a day’s self-published e-book income from Amazon.
TRENDS: In a roundup of six novels published last month, Susannah Meadows in The New York Times summed up with: “Call it octogenarian chic: This month’s collection offers a pair of novels that feature old guys rallying for second chances. And there are two aggressively imaginative short story collections that resist any labels whatsoever.” The story collections are The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories by Ethan Rutherford and A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel.
ALL LIES: “I hate dreams,” Michael Chabon wrote in The New York Review of Books. ”I hate them for their tedium, how they drag on, peter out, wander off. Pretty much the only thing I hate more than my own dreams are yours . . .
“As soon as you begin to tell a dream, as Freud reminds us, you interpolate, falsify, distort; you lie. . . .
“Dreams in art either make sense, or they make no sense at all, but they never manage to do both at the same time, the way dreams do while we’re dreaming them.”
Any writer who recounts a dream, Chabon believes, is guilty of “a low trick.”
BOOK MAN: Kim Merker “was a designer, typesetter and printer of some of the most beautiful books made in America in the late 20th century,” wrote Paul Vitello in a New York Times obituary. Merker died April 28 in Iowa City. He was 81 years old.
His Stone Wall press, started in 1957, published many young poets but also Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. Ten years later, Merker went to the University of Iowa where he became an instructor in printing.
Sidney Berger, a fellow printer, said of Merker, “He never wanted vast numbers of readers . . . A press run of 200 books is grueling enough. . . . He just wanted to make beautiful books.”
STORYTELLER: Mary Ward Brown, 95, died May 14 in Marion, Alabama. She was the author of Tongues of Flame (1986), It Wasn’t All Dancing (2002) and Fanning the Spark: A Memoir (2009). Southern historian Wayne Flynt said: “She wrote like a tortoise, sniffing out every nook and cranny of existence, watching and listening as black and white lives bumped up against each other.