by Campbell Geeslin
Judith Regan is back in the book business with a new imprint: Regan Arts. Earlier in her career, she published and promoted bestselling books with sexy titles. She made money, created controversy, was fired by the News Corporation, sued, and won a reported $10 million settlement.
She has a staff of 17, sharing office space with Phaidon. The New York Times said “she has a slew of new authors to play with, many procuring books that are in one way or another personal to her.”
The major problem Regan sees at the moment is Amazon. She told the Times, “I think their agenda is total world domination. They want to kill you. The end. And you have to take on the mind-set that you’re going to kill them first. Didn’t you see The Godfather?”
NEW RULE: Catherine Lacy tweeted about Harper Lee’s new book: “All novelists are now prohibited from complaining that the second novel is ‘taking forever’ to write.”
PROLIFIC: Andrew Jefferson Offutt V died in 2013. He was the author of more than 400 books: two were sci-fi, 24 were fantasy, and the rest were pornography, published under 17 pseudonyms.
His son, Chris Offutt, inherited all the artifacts and wrote an article about them, “My Dad the Pornographer,” in The New York Times Magazine.
How did he write so many books? “He’d get an idea," his son said, "brainstorm a few notes, then write the first chapter. Next he’d develop an outline from one to 10 pages. He followed the outline carefully, relying on it to dictate the narrative. . . .Writing with a felt-tip pen, he produced 20 to 40 pages in a sitting. Upon completion of a full draft, he transcribed the material to his typewriter, revising as he went.” His wife typed a final copy to be sent to an editor. “Working alone, Dad could write a book in three days.”
A hand-lettered sign in his office read: “Writing Factory: Beware of Flying Participles.”
HOW TO START: Several writers were asked about how to start the writing process, and their suggestions appeared in the Penguin Random House newsletter on the Web.
Charles Baxter, author of There’s Something I Want You to Do (2015) said to “leave the big violence to the movies. It’s better to start with a small mystery and build up to a bigger one. The truth about a situation is always big enough to sustain someone’s attention.”
Brad Taylor, author of No Fortunate Son (2014), wrote: “In the first couple of paragraphs, the reader isn’t asking questions about the characters or plot. He’s asking one simple thing: ‘Why should I keep reading?’ And that’s what I try to answer in the first two paragraphs.”
Brock Clarke, author of Exley (2010), said to “write the kind of story that is the exact opposite of the kind of story you hate.”
ABOUT STYLE: Ernest Hemingway wrote: “In stating as fully as I could how things really were, it was often very difficult and I wrote awkwardly and that awkwardness is what they called my style. All mistakes and awkwardness are easy to see, and they called it style.”
LIFE’S WHEEL: Megan Cox Gurdon writes about children’s books in The Wall Street Journal. She said, “It seems remarkable now that when Natalie Babbitt published Tuck Everlasting in 1975, people scolded her for dealing with the subject of death in a book for elementary school students and middle-schoolers. ‘I was trying to point out that it’s something that everybody has to do it, so let’s get used to the idea,’ Ms. Babbitt, 82, said in a recent interview, ‘It’s astonishing how well young kids deal with that.’”
The book has just been released in a 40th anniversary edition. In it, a sad immortal old man— Tuck— says that “dying’s part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing.” Then he adds, “If I knowed how to climb back on the wheel, I’d do it in a minute. You can’t have lived without dying. So you can’t call it living, what we got.”
BUST TOO: Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer was awarded the $50,000 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize for his book, Lincoln and the Power of the Press. The prize and a bronze copy of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s life-size bust of Lincoln will be awarded on April 23.
ALIVE AND WELL: William Fiennes is the head judge for the Folio prize. He told The Guardian that the literary novel was far from dead. Eighty books were considered. Fiennes said that he had been struck by how many novelists were “reaching for new ways of telling stories” and experimenting with form—evidence that the novel is “flourishing with life.”
The Folio prize aims to recognize the best English-language fiction—“regardless of form, genre and geography.” Two Americans made the short list of eight finalists —Jenny Offill (Dept. of Speculation) and Akhil Sharma (Family Life: A Novel), who was born in Delhi. Fiennes said the books under consideration “all say something true about the human experience in a way that feels new.” The 40,000- pound prize will be awarded in London on March 23.
CRIMINAL DUET: Joyce Carol Oates wrote in the February 16 New Yorker that “the quintessential form of the contemporary crime writer is the interrogation: two individuals in a room, one of them the suspect and the other the detective.
“Here we have the essence of drama. We know that the stakes are high: a violent act is at issue. The setting is stark; the language is almost purely dialogue, with the unpredictable swerves of actual life and none of its rambling asides, graced by a swiftness of storytelling in a genre in which exploitation often improbably and sometimes belabored, must be provided somewhere before the final line of the final chapter.”
AN EASIER WAY: Richard Ford’s new book is Let Me Be Frank With You. The novelist has been teaching writing at Columbia University since 2012 and was interviewed in the alumni magazine. Ford said that he had always envisioned the new book as four novellas. He said, “I didn’t want to undertake a great behemoth of a novel, having just finished one [Canada, which came out in 2012] and wore myself out trying to get all its words into their right places. In other words, I guess you could say novellas seemed easier and more pleasurable. You do have to enjoy yourself sometimes. Everything that’s good doesn’t have to be hard.”
DARK L.A.: John Heilpern interviewed Michael Connelly for the March Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair. The fictional Harry Bosch has been the antihero of 19 Connelly thrillers since the first, The Black Echo, in 1992. The setting is Los Angeles: “It’s a town that reaches for the brass ring but always misses it.”
Connelly said, “As a writer, you look for inspiration wherever you can get it.” When he begins a new book he ritualistically reads Raymond Chandler’s Chapter 13 of The Little Sister (1949). The fictional detective, hard-drinking Philip Marlowe, says, “Maybe we all get like this. In the cold half-lit world where always the wrong thing happens and never the right.“
Connelly reviewed Richard Price’s The Whites for the cover of last Sunday’s Times Book Review. He observed that Price “considered the crime novel something more than a puzzle and an entertainment; he saw it as societal reflection, documentation and investigation.”
PERFECT MATE: Nora Robert’s latest novel is Obsession in Death. She was asked by The New York Times Book Review what she planned to read next, and she listed five books on her night stand: Stephen King’s Revival, John Sandford’s Deadline, The Long War, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and Reed Farrel Coleman writing for the late, great Robert Parker in Blind Spot. She said, “I’ll get to them all eventually. And before I get to them all, I’ll have piled more on. My husband owns a bookstore—the perfect mate for an addict.”
ABOUT LOVE: Charles McGrath, a former editor of The New York Times Book Review, has been a Times “contributing writer” for many years, and will now contribute an occasional Bookends column to the Review. His first on Sunday was about “the best portrayal of a marriage in literature.”
McGrath wrote about a couple of Anthony Trollope characters who appear in several novels: “Marriage, both here and in his other books, is not necessarily ecstatic but, rather—when it works—a shifting arrangement of tradeoffs. . . . gradually, over the course of thousands of pages, [it] warms to understanding and to a fond attachment that is erotic in its own, understated way. She thaws him out and he loves her for it.”