by Campbell Geeslin

Ann Packer is the author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier. She wrote an essay about life between books for Sunday’s New York Times Book Review and said, “Some writers always have works in progress, or notebooks full of ideas, or both. Others have nothing, a position I have found myself in.”

Packer ends with, “Characters come into being word by word. If a finished character is an edifice, an unwritten character is very nearly a vacuum. And speaking of vacuum, the floor in here is looking dirty. I should get back to cleaning.”


BIG FAMILIES: Christine Feehan is the author of Cat’s Lair, her latest paranormal-romance to make the bestseller lists. She has written more than 40 novels and numerous novellas.

She was born in California and grew up with three brothers and ten sisters. She and her husband Richard Feehan have 11 children (each had children from previous marriages). Her daughters help her edit her manuscripts.

In a video online, she said that she works seven days a week, eight hours a day. Despite her output, she says she is a very slow writer. She thinks out a plot but says, “The characters take over in the second or third chapters.” All her novels are character driven and they often surprise her, she said. “That’s what I love about writing.”

MEMOIR MAKER Morris Dickstein is the author of Why Not Say What Happened: A Sentimental Education. The professor emeritus was asked by Columbia magazine, “Why did you, a critic, decide to write a memoir?”

Dickstein said, “Even when I was writing about historical subjects, personal elements kept intruding. When I shifted into the personal voice, I felt I was tapping into another part of my brain: a different tone entered the writing, and it picked up a real emotional vibration; I wanted to see if I could do that in a longer story.”

THE SUBJECT: Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust was Joseph Kanon's pick for the Wall Street Journal Book Club in May. Kanon is the author of the bestselling thrillers The Good German and Leaving Berlin.

Asked why he picked Dust, he said, “This is much more timeless [than Vile Bodies]. We’re talking about people who first bruise each other and then are feckless, and finally cruel to each other. And that doesn’t change. I think the way people are to each other is the subject of literature. What kind of lives do we lead? What kind of lives do we want to lead? Those are the great questions. So, I think this is a book that answers them.”

OLD CRIMINALS: Sweden’s Catharina Ingelman is the author of The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, an international bestseller. HarperCollins has purchased U.S. rights. PW online said that the book is the first in a series about a group of retirees who break out of their nursing home and go on a crime spree.

DARK SIDE: Renée Knight’s first novel, Your Hold Over Me (2012), gave her the idea for her second, Disclaimer, just out. She told The Wall Street Journal, “how awful it would be if you came across yourself in a book and there was something terrible in it, something you don’t want anyone to read?”

Knight said, "There have long been women who write about the darker side of domestic life.

“It goes back to Daphne du Maurier and Rebecca. And [British novelist and short-story writer] Elizabeth Taylor looked below the surface of what seemed like a nice and quiet domestic world where she found things are really quite dark.”

A LAST NOVEL: Kent Haruf was the author of the bestselling Plainsong, a novel that sold more than a million copies. In May of last year he was told he was dying, but he set out to write a new novel, Our Souls at Night. Usually it took him six years to write a book, but in an extended obit on his website, Jennifer Maloney says he wrote Our Souls a chapter a day, in about 45 days.

The subject is love that comes late in life, and he told his wife that it was a book about them. The first print run was 35,000 copies. The book was selected as Pick for June by the American Booksellers Association.

Maloney's obit ends: “On the night of Nov. 29, Kent and Cathy Haruf lay in bed—she in their queen bed and he in a hospital bed alongside it. They held hands, talking quietly, then fell asleep.

“When she woke in the morning, he was gone.”

He was 71.

BOOKSTORE ADDED: Jeff Kinney’s 10th The Diary of a Wimpy Kid book will be out in the fall. Last year the demand for No. 9 was so high that the publisher printed 5.5 million copies. There are more than 150 million copies of the series in print in 45 languages.

Now Kinney has added a bookstore, An Unlikely Story, in Plainville, Mass. He has a studio on the third floor and told The New York Times, “We’re hoping my notoriety as a children’s author will be a draw for people.” The author lives with his wife and two children in the small town, “I wanted to add a bookstore to the landscape.” The Times said Kinney earned $20 million last year.

CELEBRATING: John Scalzi is the author of the Hugo-winning Redshirts and a bestselling writer of science fiction. He just signed a 10-year $3.4 million deal with Tor Books to produce 13 books.

Asked for his reaction to the contract, Scalzi told The New York Times, “My celebration, personally, has just been standing around, exclaiming with profane expressions of delight. And my wife saying, ‘Yes, now go take out the trash.’”

CHARACTER IN CALICO: George MacDonald Fraser, author of a dozen Flashman novels, died at 82 in 2008. A novel he wrote at the beginning of his career, Captain in Calico, is to be published for the first time on Sept. 10.

The Guardian said Fraser once told an interviewer that his first book “took ninety hours, no advance plotting, no revisions, just tea and toast and cigarettes at the kitchen table.”

Fraser’s obit said his famous character, Flashman, “is a serial adulterer who by Volume 9 in the series—Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990—has bedded 480 women.” Wonder who was keeping score?

JUST WAIT FOR IT: Last week, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood turned in a manuscript to Oslo’s public library. It will be published in 2114. The title, Atwood said in The New York Times, is Scribbler Moon.

For the next hundred years one author a year will contribute a newly written book to the project. “[The work] will be sealed in secrecy by the library until being published 100 years later,” the Times reported.

A REAL SPY: Jason Matthews, 63, is a retired secret agent and author of a new spy thriller, Palace of Treason, a sequel to his bestselling Red Sparrow (2013). Matthews told Charles McGrath of The New York Times, “My book is all fiction, but it’s an amalgam of people I’ve known, of things I’ve done, of stuff I’ve lived. . . .

“I guess it’s a reflection of my age and my generation in the Agency, and a reaffirmation that in spite of all the gadgets, it’s still about two people. It’s called humint for a reason--it’s human intelligence--and the only thing that can do humint is humans.”

CRIME ARCHIVES: The University of South Carolina has acquired a Dashiell Hammett collection of hundreds of letters to family members, photographs, more than 300 first editions, and 42 copies of the pulp magazine Black Mask containing Hammett’s stories. There are also 70 letters written by Lillian Hellman. Hammett was living with her when he died in 1961 at the age of 66.

The prize item for display may be the Maltese Falcon statuette from the 1941 film starring Humphrey Bogart.

SEQUEL: Anthony Horowitz has written another James Bond novel to be out in September. The title will be Trigger Mortis. Ian Fleming’s Pussy Galore is one of the characters. Horowitz’s most recent book is his second Sherlock Holmes novel, Moriarty. Horowitz is not one to let popular heroes die with their creators.

NEW IMPRINT: Author James Patterson is establishing his own imprint, Jimmy Patterson, which will release as many as a dozen middle-grade and young-adult books a year. They will include four to six of his children’s books. He made the announcement at last week’s BookExpo America, the annual trade convention.

Last year Patterson and his coauthors published 16 new novels and sold around 20 million copies of his books. Patterson’s own books for children have sold more than 30 million copies. He has published 114 New York Times bestsellers.

GREAT FACULTY: Historian David McCullough’s most recent book is The Wright Brothers. McCullough has a BA in literature from Yale (class of 1955) and in an interview for the May 31 New York Times Book Review, he was asked about the impact of a faculty that in his day included Robert Penn Warren, John Hersey and Thornton Wilder.

McCullough said, “The presence on campus of such literary giants as Penn Warren, Hersey and Wilder was inspiring in the extreme, but greater for me was the influence of the extraordinary lectures on architecture by the incomparable Vincent Scully, who taught us all to see as never before. Wasn’t it Dickens who said, ‘Make me see’?”