by Campbell Geeslin

Adam Begley’s biography of John Updike was published last week. Begley wrote, “He wasn’t despairing or thwarted or resentful; he wasn’t alienated or conflicted or drunk; he quarreled with no one.” Doesn’t sound like Hemingway, Fitzgerald or Faulkner or anyone else on the short list of great American authors, does it?  The quotes are from a review in The New York Times.

On the sensitive subject of sex, Begley wrote: “That Updike had affairs, sometimes with his friends’ wives, is not news.”

On that subject, Rebecca West, who wrote two biographies, observed: “Just how difficult it is to write a biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about [the subject’s] love affairs.” Her subjects were St. Augustine and Henry James.

YET ANOTHER: With his newest book, A Call to Action, about the worldwide mistreatment of women, former President Jimmy Carter has his 19th bestseller.

BIG HAT: Most of the photos on Ann Charles’s Internet site show her in a big-brimmed cowboy hat. She writes books that mix genres: mystery, romance, and black humor. She has two self-published series going with the latest bestselling The Great Jackson Stampede and Dearly Departed in Deadwood.

Charles told PW, “I consider all my fans on Facebook my team, and we’re all doing this together, and it takes all of us to make the book successful. It’s not just me—I just write the books.” She said she occasionally uses Twitter, but “I really suck at it, because I like to talk too much.”

Charles’s bio on the internet said, “When she is not dabbling in fiction, she is arm wrestling her two kids, attempting to seduce her husband, and arguing with her sassy cat.”

NEW NOVEL: “I’ve never been intimidated by the idea of having to make up a story,” Kazuo Ishiguro told The Paris Review (2008). “It’s always been a relatively easy thing that people did in a relaxed environment.” Ishiguro has written several successful novels including The Remains of the Day (1982), which sold more than a million copies.

But his next novel may not have been so easy. It took him almost a decade. The title is The Buried Giant and it’s due out in the spring of 2015. The New York Times said, “Details about the book remain mysterious.”  Paul Bogaards of Knopf, the U.S. publisher, said the novel was “something of a departure” and that it “took us all by surprise.”

LOTS OF STORIES: “I have to stir your heart or a book doesn’t work for me,” Harlan Coben, the crime writer, told Goodreads on the Internet. Coben has written almost two dozen books. His latest, Missing You, debuted at No.1 on bestseller lists around the world. He has more than 60 million books in print.

Coben lives in New Jersey with his wife, a pediatrician, and their four children. Coben told Christopher High in an Internet interview: “I always write from an idea and not a character.” Later, he added, “I don’t see crime as a genre.... [It’s] romance, horror, teenage substance abuse, homelessness, friendship, loneliness, the daily pressure of getting your kids to the right schools—everything….its form compels you to tell a story.

WARNING: W.W. Longfellow wrote, “Great is the art of beginning, but the greater art is of ending.”

FAREWELL: Manhattan’s Rizzoli Bookstore closed on Friday with no new location announced. The New York Times did yet another article about the event and interviewed Tim Livingston, editor of a campus literary magazine at Fordham University.  He was on his first—and last—visit to Rizzoli.

Livingston said, “I came to New York because I want to eventually get into publishing. If books are leaving, if bookstores are leaving, where does that leave me?”

LETTER: Yvonne Zipter of Chicago wrote to the editor of Poets & Writers. The following quote is from her letter, which appeared in the April issue:

“I very much enjoyed Beth Ann Fennelly’s ‘Writing the Sex Scene: Nothing Throbbing, Nothing Turgid’ . . . for its sense of humor, but I was disappointed that Fennelly did not mention gay sex scenes—something I was looking to gain insight into [for] my own novel in progress featuring lesbian protagonists. Euphemisms for penis are of little concern to me, but I do know I will avoid the phrase ‘undulating hips,’ common in sex scenes between women.”

FAILING: Scott A. Sandage, cultural historian at Carnegie Mellon, wrote a New York Times review of two books with the word “failure” in the titles.  The books were The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, by Sarah Lewis and The Up Side of Down: Why Failing is the Key to Success by Megan McArdle.

Sandage began with, “Books about failure put both their authors and their readers in awkward positions. Writers are at pains to abase themselves somewhat, to show that they know the terrain by sacrificing some dignity without losing all readability. Many readers, meanwhile, may be willing to ponder how they fail or why they fear it, but few will pick up a book for people who are thinking of themselves as ‘failures.’ Add to this the fact that all books fail to be everything their authors hoped and that almost all books fail to sell, and it becomes clear why books about failure remain few and far between.”

            The Times said the title of a book that Sandage wrote was Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (2006).

BACKSTAGE JUGGLING: Josh Malerman is lead singer and guitarist with The High Strung, a Detroit band. He is also a novelist.  Bird Box, a horror tale, will be published in May.

Malerman was asked by PW why he chose to alternate between present and past. He explained that his main character knows about events in the past—things that the reader doesn’t know. When something is revealed “the reader might think, ‘Ok, I see now why she did this or that!’“

Malerman claimed that doing that was fun for the author. “Makes you feel like a juggler in a dreadful circus; juggling horror clues backstage, waiting for the werewolf on the tricycle to be done already.”

BIG CHANGE: Colleen Hoover has had six romance bestsellers including the latest, Maybe Someday, published by Atria. She lives in Sulphur Springs, Texas.

She talked about her life on her publisher’s website.  She said her husband had been a truck driver and was gone from home 28 days a month.  Since her life-changing success as an author, he stays home and she travels extensively, doing book signings.

About the way she works, she said,  “When I start a book I have no idea what it’s going to be about. I just kind of write what the characters want me to say.” Her next effort, dictated by her characters, is titled Ugly Love, due out in August.

Hoover’s hometown was originally called Bright Star. The name was changed in 1871 to promote the springs as a health spa. If you have ever inhaled a sulfur spring, you may wonder why Hoover and her family haven’t moved away.

AN HISTORIAN: “What makes a good writer of history is a guy who is suspicious. Suspicion marks the real difference between the man who wants to write honest history and the one who would rather write a good story.”—Jim Bishop, 1955.

BAD GUY: Douglas Coupland, 52, is a Canadian author of 13 novels and seven books of nonfiction. His new novel, Worst. Person. Ever. will be out this month.

Coupland told PW that his fictional narrator, Raymond Gunt, was “truly appalling. He appalls me as much as anyone. Characters are strange that way…. What makes Raymond so likeable is the difference between the way he sees himself and the way everyone else sees him. At one point in the novel, Gunt says, ‘Jason Bourne thinks he’s so cool just because he has a chin.’”

TRIPLE THREAT: Arianna Huffington runs The Huffington Post on the Web. She has been promoting her new book, Thrive.

She was a guest on Jon Stewart’s TV show, and he said to her, “I swear, you’re like William Randolph Hearst and Martha Stewart and Oprah, all rolled together now. And I don’t know what the hell is going on.” The New York Times Book Review picked up the quote last Sunday.

DEATH: Mary Cheever, 95, died April 7 in Ossining, N.Y.  She was the widow of John Cheever who died in 1982. The New York Times obituary described her as "a central figure in a literary family." Two of their three children, Susan and Benjamin, are writers, and Mary was author of The Need for Chocolate and Other Poems (1980). The marriage survived Cheever's infidelities with both women and men--even after he wrote about them in his fiction and journals.  Their son Benjamin said of his parents, "Sometimes they were intensely in love, and sometimes they were not."