by Campbell Geeslin
About 40 mystery writers and would-be mystery writers showed up at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, where Herman Melville and other notables are buried. The writers spent a day touring graves and a mausoleum. They heard from a man who works for a company that builds crematories. James Barron went along to cover the event for The New York Times.
The idea for this day of background research came from Linda Fairstein, author of Bad Blood and a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Her great grandparents were buried at Woodlawn, and she had visited the place as a child.
Lawrence Block, a writer of bestselling mysteries, noted on Twitter: “At Woodlawn Cemetery. Need men’s room or grave of someone we don’t like.”
ROSS’S WAY: Writers sometimes come up with an apt way to describe their editors. James Thurber said that John McNulty, who wrote for The New Yorker from the 1930s until his death in 1956, told him that their editor Harold Ross “has two gods, Upper Case and lower case.”
The quote comes from the introduction to The World of John McNulty (1957), a collection of McNulty’s pieces that appeared in The New Yorker.
FOR HER: Last Sunday, The New York Times Book Review “turned its full attention to women and power.” A dozen books by women were reviewed. The only book by a man was The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig. The crusaders were two women and two men. A woman, Irin Carmon, wrote the review.
WINNER: Patrick Modiano, 69, of France, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last Thursday. He is the author of 30 books, of which only a dozen or so have been published in English. The Nobel awarding secretary, Peter Englund, called Modiano “a Marcel Proust of our time.”
In a 2012 interview in Le Figaro, Modiano said, “I dreamed that I had nothing left to write, that I was liberated. I am not, alas. Am still trying to clear the same terrain, with the feeling that I’ll never get done.”
After last week’s award, he said: “I have always felt like I’ve been writing the same book for the past 45 years.”
NEW BOOKSHOP: In November, Kate Layte, an editor at Little Brown, will be opening a new bookstore, Papercuts, JP, in Boston’s Jamaica Plain. Layte told PW, “I want it to have a really good selection of fiction and nonfiction, and books that don’t translate well into e-books like graphic novels.”
TIP: An article in The New York Times Business Section encouraged the elderly to write their memoirs. Recommended reading: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The Times article offered a list of five tips. The fifth: “Turn off your Internet, e-mail and phone.”
PROLIFIC: Last week, John Sanford’s name was in capital letters bigger than coffee cups in a full-page advertisement in The New York Times. The author of 42 books was promoting a new one, Deadline, the eighth in his Virgil Flowers series.
Lucas Davenport, the hero of Sanford’s Prey Series, apparently shows up in this new book. The advertisement says Flowers “gets a call from Lucas Davenport. A body has been found . . . and the victim? A local reporter.“
Sanford started out as a local reporter on the Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
THE WAY IT WAS: John O’Hara wrote a Foreword for the 1934 Modern Library edition of his classic Appointment in Samarra. It’s an account of how things were for one writer in the old days.
O’Hara worked a full time job and wrote at night. He said: “This novel was written on a new portable typewriter with an all-black ribbon . . .
“After I had written the first 25,000 words I submitted the manuscript (a word which I prefer; it’s a more graceful word, and after all the hand is used in typing) to Alfred Harcourt, of Harcourt, Brace & Company, and he asked me only one question: ‘Young man, do you know where you’re going?’ (Meaning did I know how the novel was going to end.) I said I did, and he thereupon subsidized me at $50 a week until the novel was finished.
“The subsidy was just about right.”
BUZZ BOOK: A first novel, The Girls, by Emma Cline, 25, earned a seven-figure advance (for three novels) from Random House. Cline works in The New Yorker’s fiction department. The New York Times said, “The novel has become one of the buzziest titles at the Frankfurt book fair for international publishers this week.”
O’CONNOR TROVE: Emory University has received 30 boxes of Flannery O’Connor’s literary drafts, journals, letters and personal effects. These will soon be available to the public and are expected to shed new light on O’Connor. The writer was 39 when she died of lupus in 1964.
According to The New York Times, O’Connor once predicted that no one would be interested in her life story because “lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy.”
O’Connor will be inducted into the American Poets Corner at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan on November 2. Her companions there will include Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.
EARLY CAPOTE: About 20 previously unpublished stories and a dozen poems by the young Truman Capote will be published in 1915. They were discovered among his papers at the New York Public Library.
David Ebershoff, the book's editor at Random House, told The New York Times, “Reading the manuscripts—with his corrections and edits—is fascinating. You can literally see a young genius at work. . . . these early stories show that Capote’s talent and way of experiencing the world was with him from a very young age.”
A female character in one of the stories says, “I was so young that I had never thought that I could grow old, that I could die.” The story ends with a description of an old woman lying dead with snowflakes in her hair and flowers at her cheek.
P.S.: An older Capote once said: “I think the toughest thing in the world is to survive decades of creative work, working creatively and consistently, trying to do what you want to do and survive. Look at me. They build me up, tear me down, build me up, tear me down, up, down, up, down.” The quote is from Charles Ruas's Conversations With American Writers (1984).
ABOUT A TALE: Jodi Picoult has written 23 novels. Her latest is Leaving Time.
Asked by The New York Times Book Review to name her favorite novelists she said, “It wasn’t until I read [Hemingway’s] short story ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ that I was appropriately blown away. Here’s a piece about abortion that never actually mentions the phrase, and in fact the omission (and its reason for never being uttered) is the most critical element in the story. It’s one thing to craft a reputation as a novelist for the words one uses—it’s a whole new playing level to be revered for what you don’t say, but manage to convey anyway.”
JUST READ ON: Even as increasing numbers of adults have taken to reading books written for young adults, bestselling nonfiction writers have begun reworking their books to suit the young adult market. Laura Hillenbrand has simplified Unbroken. Jon Meacham is recasting his biography of Thomas Jefferson. Mark Kurlansky has published children’s editions of his nonfiction books Cod and Salt.
The trend prompts a personal observation: when I was 11 or 12, and had finished the Oz and Hardy Boys novels, I became an underage a reader of adult bestsellers. I read Gone With the Wind, the scandalous Anthony Adverse and all the Book-of-the-Month Club selections.
There were many things about real-life adult behavior I didn’t understand. I knew that I wouldn’t catch on to everything going on in an adult novel. When I came across characters behaving in mysterious ways I just kept going.