Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

James Salter, 87, has published All That Is, his first novel in 32 years.  He was the subject of a Profile in The New Yorker (April 15). His reputation is as a writer’s writer “or, as John Ashbery once said of Elizabeth Bishop, a writer’s writer’s writer.”

The author of the profile, Nick Paumgarten, wrote: “Salter is not famous. Among many writers, and some literary people, he is venerated for his sentence-making, his observational powers, his depictions of sex and valor, and a pair of novels that, in spite of thin sales and obscure subject matter, have more than a puncher’s chance at permanence.”

The big question: Why has Salter never had a big bestseller when some of his books are a lot more erotic and sexier than a hundred shades of gray?

The following is a brief, random sample of Salter prose, found by flipping open his best-known novel, Light Years:

“Summer. The foliage is thick. The leaves shimmer everywhere, like scales. In the morning, aroma of coffee, the whiteness of sunlight across the floor.”

Salter once wrote: “Life passes into pages if it passes into anything.”

He told his profile interviewer, “I like to write about certain things that if they are not written about are not going to exist.”

TAX TIME:  In 2009, Barack and Michelle Obama paid taxes on $5.5 million. Most of their income came from royalties from Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Figures released just before April 15 showed that last year’s royalties amounted to $273,000.  Maybe everyone who wanted to buy a book by Obama already has one. Will they have to wait till 2017?

REMEMBERED Peter Workman, 74, founder of Workman Publishing, died April 7. Among his many best-selling trade books are The Silver Palate Cookbook, What to Expect When You Are Expecting and The Official Preppy Handbook.

He published about 40 books a year and was noted for the passion with which he promoted his list. His New York Times obituary said that, “one of every three books issued by Workman sold 100,000 copies or more.”

EXPANDING: Like its namesake river, Amazon is spreading out.  It has added two new imprints to its children’s division. Two Lions will publish picture and chapter books. Skyscape will offer titles for young adults.

BACK IN ACTION: “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.”  That is the opening paragraph of the mega-selling Gravity’s Rainbow, published in 1973.

What has the invisible author Thomas Pynchon been up to lately? A new novel, Bleeding Edge, will be published September 17. A press release says it’s set in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley.

Paul Eve, lecturer in English at the University of London, told The Guardian that this novel will be about Pynchon’s “Luddite stance, his fascination with detective fiction and the lifelong politics of the novels with the internet, contemporary capitalism, terrorism—all getting that treatment in one whirling setup.”

TWITTER: Joyce Carol Oates is the author of more than 50 books—the latest is The Accursed—and teaches at Princeton, not nearly enough to keep her out of trouble. With time on her hands, she has now begun to Twitter.  “I compose most of my tweets with care,” she told The New York Times,” as if they were aphorisms.  They are not usually dashed-off.” She has produced more than 1,100 tweets so far.

COLLECTION: The late Matthew J. Bruccoli, who wrote a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald, collected editions of the author’s The Great Gatsby.

Twenty-one of the covers were reproduced in a copy of T, The New York Times’s Style magazine (April 14). The collection is at the University of South Carolina and is worth several million dollars.  But Bruccoli said, “You don’t buy books as an investment. You buy them because it gives you pleasure to read them, to touch them…to see them on shelves.”

Take that, e-books!

SERIAL: Neal Pollack returned to the past to write a serial novel, Downward Facing Death, for Kindle, committing himself to 10,000 words a month.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal he described how he looked back to Dostoevsky, who wrote The Gambler in 28 days, and to Charles Dickens and Emile Zola who wrote many of their books as serials. Tom Wolfe wrote The Bonfire of the Vanities as a serial in Rolling Stone, 6,000 words every two weeks for more than two years.

What did Pollack learn? “When it comes to pacing and plot, serial writing has been a real gift. It taught me to meet the structural challenges of creating a chunk of fiction that needed both to stand alone and to be part of a larger whole.”

Later in the essay, he said, “I found that the last half of the novel was not as difficult as the first. Crafting the first several installments was as agonizing as a trip to the dentist, but by the end of the run, at least I knew exactly where my characters and story were going. There was less exposition and more action. The book’s momentum became at last an unstoppable force.”

The serial was published as a paperback in February.

 

This is the first weekly installment of Along Publishers Row, a regular feature of the quarterly Authors Guild Bulletin.

Comments: 0