by Campbell Geeslin
David Leavitt’s eighth novel is The Two Hotel Francforts. For an interview in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review he was asked to name his favorite novelist of all time and a novelist writing today.
Leavitt said, “Penelope Fitzgerald. The Beginning of Spring, The Gate of Angels and The Blue Flower are novels I return to again and again, with joy and awe.
“Among writers working today, I have the greatest admiration for Norman Rush. I also admire John Weir, who deserves to be far better known than he is. And I was floored by Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels.”
The Blue Flower has been noted by so many writers that I got a copy from my library and read it. They were right.
QUOTES: William A. Gordon of Rancho Mirage, Calif., has been collecting quotes about writing and publishing for years. In July, he is publishing them under the title 1001 Tips for Writers.
Almost 600 names, many of them famous, are in the index. These include Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and all the usual suspects.
Gordon quoted himself in a chapter entitled “Self-Publishing” with: “Vanity publishing is essentially the kiss of death for any book.”
WHITHER THE NOVEL: According to Tim Parks, author of Italian Ways, “the state of constant distraction we live in affects the very special energies required for tackling a substantial work of fiction.“
This cry that the novel is doomed appeared in The New York Review of Books. Parks wrote that it takes “days, weeks or months, each time picking up the threads of the story or stories, the patterning of internal references, the positioning of the work within the context of other novels and indeed the larger world.”
The article attracted comment, and one reader recalled that Frank Kermode said in the 1960s that “the special fate of the novel, considered as a genre, is to be always dying.”
GOOD SETTINGS: Sarah Moss’s latest novel is Bodies of Light. The setting is a hospital.
Moss wrote in The Guardian: “I’m interested in writing about institutions because they are almost always in some sense utopia projects, attempts to intervene in the ways of the world. Schools, hospitals, orphanages, reformatories of all kinds, begin with ideas that an organization could make things better, redress some of the damage we do to each other. And usually, whether they succeed in the original aim or not, the institutions end up doing damage of their own, because power corrupts and visions don’t work in practice and we are all hopeful but fallen beings.”
Later, Moss comments: “Every novelist loves a madhouse.”
SUBJECT MATTER: Jane Gardam, 85, is the author of 12 novels and eight books of short stories. Her latest collection of 28 stories is titled The Stories. She served her New Yorker interviewer a glass of white wine in her home in Sandwich, England.
Gardam talked about her mentor, a forgotten critic named L.A.G. Strong, who told her “to write about everything—even the linoleum.” Gardam said, “If I’ve got one thing that I really believe about fiction and life, it’s that there are no minor characters.”
A WEEPER: In a letter to the editor of The New York Times Book Review, Ivan Kreilkamp, an associate professor of English at Indiana University, wrote that George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss was “sublime.” That book, Kreilkamp said, “provided Marcel Proust a key model for his rapturous immersion in the perspective of childhood… about which he wrote to a friend that just two pages of the novel could ‘reduce me to tears.’”
MAN OF WAR: Jeff Shaara, 62, has published The Smoke at Dawn, the third in his series about the Civil War. It is his 13th bestseller.
He talked about the importance of research with Greg Caggiano, who has a blog, Reel to Real.
Shaara told him, “The research is usually twice as long as it takes to write the book. I typically read 50 to 60 books for each book, and it has to be original source material—the diaries, the memoirs, the letters, the writings of the people who were there. . . . If you’re getting into the head of a character, and you’re speaking for a real historical character, you’d better get it right because a lot of people out there will get pretty upset about that. . . .Typically it takes me five to six months to write a manuscript because I’m doing it full time.”
SHARING: Mary Higgins Clark is collaborating for the first time with Alafair Burke on a new novel spun out from Clark’s bestselling I’ve Got You Under My Skin. PW said the title would be The Cinderella Murder, and it will be out in November.
Burke, the daughter of detective writer James Lee Burke, has written 10 novels, including All Day and All Night. She’s a former prosecutor who teaches criminal law at Hofstra.
TWO AT THE TOP: Last week, R.J. Palacio had two bestsellers. One was No. 1 and another was No. 2 on the list for middle grade children.
She said on her website that for 20 years she had worked as an art director and book jacket designer but she had always wanted to write. “Wonder is my first novel,” she said, “And no, I didn’t design the cover but I sure do love it.”
The jacket has an oval suggestion of a boy’s head. The only features are big ears, his hair, and one eye with the word “wonder” as giant eyelashes. The story is about a boy with a facial deformity.
Palacio’s second novel is The Julian Chapter and it too is a bestseller, No. 2 on the list. Julian is narrated by a bully.
ANOTHER FOR THE GROWNUPS: Judy Blume’s second novel for adults is scheduled for next summer. There is no title as yet. Blume was quoted in The New York Times: “I’m both thrilled and terrified, my usual feelings at this point.”
STAR CROSSING: Two celebrity authors met at a Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles according to The New York Daily News.
Hillary Clinton was signing Hard Choices. Standing in line, to get her autograph, was TV actor Chris Colfer. The Glee star is also an author. The third volume in his series, The Land of Stories: A Grim Warning, is out July 8. Colfer told the newspaper, “I can’t remember anything I said.”
Clinton’s publisher said her book sold 100,000 the first week. But sales dropped sharply in the second week, according to The New York Times. They fell 43.5 % to 48,000 copies, but was still the No.1 nonfiction bestseller last Sunday. “Mrs. Clinton’s 2003 memoir, Living History, about her years in the White House, sold about six times as many copies in its first week as Hard Choices,” the Times said.
LOVE STORY: Susan Jane Guilman has written three nonfiction books, and now she’s produced her first novel, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. Angela Barbuti interviewed her for Our Town on the Web.
Gilman said, “If you’re going to write a novel, . . . it’s like asking it to move in with you for several years. . . . It’s like living with a lover. So you have to make sure that you’re really in love with it. So in moments where you hate it and hate yourself, it will really sustain you.”
LESS TENSION: Emily Gould’s first book, And the Heart Says Whatever, was a memoir that upset her family, she said. Her new book, a novel called Friendship, has had less impact on her relatives.
Gould told The New York Times Sunday Magazine, “They’ve been really nice about it.” The Times commented that the first book had toughened them. Gould said, “Now we actually know each other, and that’s kind of cool.”
DESK: “Voltaire is said to have written some of his love poems in bed, using his naked mistress’s back for a desk,” according to Robert Hendrickson’s The Literary Life and Other Curiosities (1981). If Voltaire were writing poems today, would his laptop be a backtop?