Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Are You Influenced

Writing. Notice the gun. Ever feel like that? Ever sit around naked? I have never sat around naked once. Even when alone, I take pity on God.

Are you ever influenced by a book's receiving a lot of attention? Did you rush out and buy THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO? How about THE DAVINCI CODE? (I see Karen Olson is talking about this too).

Are you more likely to read a book like Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE because it is causing a media frenzy?

How calculating should an author be when writing a book. What sort of writer thinks I bet people will love a book with vampires or werewolves or mutilation or secret ancient texts?

I just read an interview with Muriel Burbery (ELEGANCE OF A HEDGEHOG) who said she gave no thought to such a thing when writing it. And I doubt most writers do. Most writers can't even tell if something is commercial or not, I imagine.

I read one of Cronin's earlier books, MARY AND O'NEIL when it came out and sent him a fangirl email, something I almost never do. I think it was the only time I ever did it, in fact. But I have to say I am somewhat disappointed that he is so clearly going for the best seller with this one. His earlier books sold around 70,000 copies. That seems like a very good number to me. Not Stephen King or Janet Evanovich territory but still...

Is Cronin wrong to try for a more commercial success. Can a huge blockbuster be as good as a smaller book? I'm sure it can. But most of them aren't. Maybe James Michener pulled it off. Anyone else?


42 comments:

sandra seamans said...

Maybe Pat Conroy? He seems to walk to his own beat when he writes. And he seems to sell pretty well.

And no, I never sit around naked. Don't want to scare the grandkids to death, as they never knock before they charge through the door.

Anonymous said...

Are you ever influenced by a book's receiving a lot of attention? Did you rush out and buy THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO? How about THE DAVINCI CODE?

I must admit I am, but not in the way you might think. I'm more likely NOT to read something that is getting all the attention than read it, or at least wait until all the hype dies down.

Way too often I find that there is very little if anything that can live up to the hype, and even if something is good (or very good) that could be the case.

Examples? Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Lion King on Broadway. Both were so built up in my mind by the time I saw them that I was extremely disappointed until a second viewing helped.

The Producers, which won every Tony Award that year, was a major disapointment, even with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

Books? I couldn't get 50 pages into DaVinci Code or The Lovely Bones.

I trust word of mouth from people I respect a lot more than reviews or hype.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Pat Conroy is an example of someone I read because so many people I know recommended him. I haven't read all his books but I really liked the ones I did read.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

How calculating should an author be when writing a book. What sort of writer thinks I bet people will love a book with vampires or werewolves or mutilation or secret ancient texts?

Robin Cook
James Patterson


Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Pat Conroy's best-sellerdom is based on his ability to touch people I think. Not calculated. Not that I can blame writers nowadays for trying to find a hook to keep them from sinking into obscurity.
But like Jeff, I am almost repelled by such bids for fame and rarely read those books.

George said...

I'm pretty sure Stieg Larsson didn't plan for his THE GIRL WHO... novels to be international best sellers. But I know Dean R. Koontz does because I've read his book on writing best sellers.

Dave Zeltserman said...

of course Cronin's not wrong for what he did. This will give him the financial security to write the books he wants to write, and more power to him.

Anonymous said...

Patti - Interesting questions! I don't buy or read books because they're best-sellers. I really don't. I do read a book I wouldn't have considered if people whose opinions I trust rave about it. But I don't read just because there's media hype.

Funny about writing...when I write, I don't think, "Gee, everyone will want to read about...." although of course, I don't know an author who wouldn't want a best-seller. I think about what works well for the characters and plot I have in mind. Maybe I oughta be more pragmatic...

pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder if you can return, Dave. Does that voice inside your head become more commercial without you realizing it? And in this climate, who can blame anyone for assuring a future for themselves.
I agree about Stieg Larson-I am quite sure he never gave it a thought. And some of his success is surely based on his death.
I think that pragmatism doesn't come for most, MK. They write what they write.

Todd Mason said...

The kind of writer who thinks, I will do this only because it will be a huge or at least a reasoably commercial success is called a "hack."

James Michener always struck me as a terrible writer...undigested lectures in his later work, I gather perhaps even written for him by his research assistants, clumsy bits of business in the early work such as, in TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC, having a GI have to choose between his hometown sweetheart and his new in-theater heartthrob and then don't resolve that but go for cheap bathos and "realism" by having him KIA. That, my friends, is Hack in the more pejorative sense.

Why do you think most writers don't know what is commercial, Patti? And you think such gambits are new? They have been one of the elusive temptations since the beginning of professional writing. Did you think, say, penny dreadfuls were written at the height of their authors' artistic aspirations?

Well, perhaps some where. It seems that Intentional bestsellers only infrequently work out, while clumsy, bad writers who strike a chord with their readership, such as Anne Rice and too often Stephen King (King can do much better), will find a receptive audinece. Conviction helps. That's why writers as clumsy as Ian Fleming (eventually) and Jackie Susann have found audiences, and part of the reason THE DA VINCI CODE has been such a commercial juggernaut.

The right sort of publisher support or, as with Fleming, freakish occurences (a loose but spectacular film series, the recommendation of a hipster President) speed the plow.

And hasn't BoucherCon, like WorldFantasyCon, become at least as much a means of meeting up with multiple editors and/or writers (depending on who one is) as anything eles, an extended job fair? Looking at some of the hackish ass-kissing, I mean of course professional networking, at the 2001 World SF/Fantasy Con was particularly offputting. I'm not sure depriving the Left Coast writers and what fans choose to come is the way to go there...but lowering the costs, where possible, can't hurt. Particualrly in times when people w/o business reasons to go might find it prudent to save their money...

And, goodness, Patti, any gods know what you look like...I'm unsightly, but I've never let that stop me when it's just me, or when in the presence of those what can stand the sight...Sandra's importunate grandkids introduce another factor...

Todd Mason said...

Who's the guy in the photo? Is that from BODY HEAT?

Todd Mason said...

(For some odd reason, Turner's image from that film is more indelible in memory than Hurt's.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Michener was no stylist but you did feel like you'd learned something. I can't think of an example quickly but someone must combine both truly good writing and big commercial success.
One of my greatest desires is to be a disembodied spirit floating around so I never have to deal with a body again. I felt this way at 16 and I feel that way now. I am no more comfortable with my naked body than yours or anyone's.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Just some picture that came up when I googled imaged writing.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Patti, Rex Stout liked to repeat Samuel Johnson's quote: "Only a blockhead would write except for money."

You may or may not know this, but Rex Stout's first book, "How Like a God" is brilliant literary noir, and he followed this up with several more literary thrillers, none of which had any financial success, before starting his Nero Wolfe series. I think a lot of writers start off writing the books they to write, and at some point learn their lesson and start thinking more along the line of that Samuel Johnson quote. I'm sure Cronin will have no problem switching gears back to writing the literary books he excels at, but whether he'll want to or not is another question.

Todd Mason said...

I felt I'd learned precisely how Not to write historical or epic-sweep fiction from Michener.

Contrast Richard McKenna (died before he could write much after THE SAND PEBBLES), Gore Vidal...and in sometimes related fields, Michael Chabon, Joyce Carol Oates, Katherine Anne Porter, Margaret Atwood...all sustained commercial successes if not quite outselling Harry Potter.

Todd Mason said...

John D. MacDonald being another sustained artistic and financial success...even if the McGee books might be the lesser of his works, and his biggest single success a "promotable" bug-crusher and minor as well, CONDOMINIUM. Publishers take some of the blame here. But he's also built his audience over the decades.

Ed Gorman said...

I always keep a time bomb ticking on my desk when I'm writing naked. If I don't write 5000 words in half an hour the bomb goes off. It's one way to increase my number of pages per day, Otherwise ole Ed gets blowed up real good. Please tell me that isn't Rep. Steve King from Iowa in that photo.

Charles Gramlich said...

Perhaps it might be TMI, but I do sit around naked while alone at home. It's all comfy. As for the influence question, I am generally counterinfluenced to buy books that get a lot of hope. I resist them almost at once, although I might have bought them eagerly without the hype. I typically give very little if any thought to marketability while I"m writing.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'll have to find out who he is. Interesting the naked stuff overcame the blockbluster stuff. That's why I am willing to discard my body.
The success of the sustained career of those mentioned--all of who I like--are not quite blockbluster writers. IMHO. Although I have never seen their numbers.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Not King, Ed. I am not going to name him because I don't want him coming here and suing me. That darn google blog search.

Todd Mason said...

Define blockbuster, Patti. Those folks have sold in the millions, all told, in paperback, with the possible exception of McKenna, who might've made it past the million mark with THE SAND PEBBLES.

Hatred of the body is pretty extreme. Though clearly I'm just denying my hatred of mine by not taking care of it sufficiently, even as I realize that would be a boon to anyone I inflict the sight of it upon...but exercise is so damned dull...

Todd Mason said...

Google owns these here Blogspt blogs...hence the favoritism we get in their searching...

Richard R. said...

"I'd schedule it east of the Mississippi where most readers and people live."

That's fine, the rest of the country, about 2/3 of it, can just go whistle into the wind? Only one of three Bouchercons is held in the west, after all. Everyone talks of how expensive San Francisco is. No more so than Boston, New York, Chicago, Miami... on and on. Anyone who has difficulties, physical, mental or financial, with long-distance travel should get a shot at something closer every third time, it seems to me. The last B'con I attended was Las Vegas (and it wasn't a very good one, sadly). If it's the hotle that too expensive, stay in a cheap place and take BART in and out of the city.

Writing is a business, unless it's a hobby. Any writer who wants to sell books will have an idea of the market and write to it.

Entirely naked, perhaps not, but only a pair of shorts? Frequently. In a warm climate it's just plain self defense.

Re: Sandra Semans' comment. NO ONE comes in our front door without knocking, and almost always having called beforehand. We expect people to respect our privacy as we do theirs.

Hype almost always turns me off to a book, film, anything. I did read (audio book) Da Vinci Code, not because of the hype but because of the debate among readers whose opinions I respected. I thought it was enjoyable fluff but not worthy of the sales it garnered. Though for me that's true of many best sellers.

Loren Eaton said...

I find that picture frightening on a number of levels.

Todd Mason said...

Well, I'll grant you FLOWERING JUDAS and such sold only Well in paperback after Porter's SHIP OF FOOLS was a bestseller in paperback.

Anonymous said...

Certain authors (the aforementioned Cook and Patterson) have made no bones about studying the market and tailoring their writing accordingly.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say, if that's your cup of tea.

They are obviously very successful as millions of people (not me) buy what they sell.

I think S. King has said many times he'd write even if he didn't sell and we can probably take him at his word. I think the problem with people at his level of success is that they are (apparently) too big for an editor, which is what he certainly needs.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It was in Alaska three years ago but that was even more prohibitive for us. I thought of you when I wrote it Rick, knowing how happy you were to go. But the flight prices for us were in the $500 range last I looked. That means for us both to go would amount to around $2500. If I were a novelist, I would surely go, but as basically a fan, it is too much. Alas.
St. Louis for me. And perhaps Noircon. Several of my husband's conferences are always in Chicago, maybe that's best--some central place. Not these spots on the coasts. Although maybe a big crowd is not the issue.
Yes, frightening, Loren. I think he does have shorts on but the gun is what scared me.

Todd Mason said...

Well, from the WIKIPEDIA page that sources the NEW YORK TIMES obituary:

SHIP OF FOOLS outsold every other American novel published in 1962. It was a Book of the Month Club selection and immediately, the film rights were sold for $500,000 ($3,596,026 adjusted for inflation).[1] In 2008 the book finally went out of print but a reprint of the novel in a new Library of America edition is expected in 2010.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That is one book I always meant to read and didn't. Todd, if you remember it why don't you do it for forgotten books? I did see the movie, I think. Was Simone Signoret in it or am I hallucinating. I'll go check.

Todd Mason said...

Not nearly well enough (I've got a lot of candidates for FFB like that that are ahead of SHIP in the queue), and I suspect my copy is in Virginia storage rather than handy moving box storage. Not that I couldn't temporarily or permanently take on another copy.

Haven't seen the film, but Signoret sounds likely.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, great cast. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059712/

Joe Barone said...

I tend to avoid the megasellers. How many times have I had the experience of liking a person's early books and then just dropping out. Patterson was that way for me. Evanovich.

I did read the Dragon Tattoo book long after it became a big deal. I was fascinated by Lisbeth (maybe not spelled right). I'm struggling to get through the second book.

Richard Prosch said...

I think blockbuster writer Stephen King has certainly turned in some fine writing. Hype however has forced me to avoid King, J.K. Rowling and all of Neil Gaiman's post-Sandman work.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I did like the first Larson book, but I stopped there. Nothing will keep me from the movies though.
I like King's short stories best. Those darn novels are too long.

Eric Beetner said...

Put me in the category of someone who avoids over-hyped books and movies. There are so many books out there I know I don't need to buy the Millenium trilogy because I can find one for a quarter at Goodwill five years from now. Even then the hype has overshadowed any enjoyment I might get from it. Nothing kills the pleasure of a book faster than thinking "I'm supposed to like this."
I never begrudge anyone huge success though. If the people who do read a big book get enjoyment out of it then it is a win-win.

kitty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kitty said...

I read THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO for the same reason I read almost all books: I read the first page and liked it. I had no idea that it was so popular when I read it. I really liked the character Lisbeth Salander -- she reminded me of Kalinda on "The Good Wife" -- but I was very disappointed that she and Mikael Blomkvist had sex. It would have been a much better read if they hadn't. The story became too improbable for me, so I have no intentions of reading Larsson's other two books.

To answer your question: No, I couldn't care less about any media frenzy over a book. Most of time I'm not aware there even is one, unless it's a Harry Potter book.

Barbara Martin said...

I often write in my pyjamas in the morning, but nude: never.

As for Justin Cronin's The Passage: I have it as an ARC and despite some of the horrible reviews I've seen about the author's writing style I know I'm going love this book. Why? After reading the first page his writing is deep with excellent description and in multiple layers. There is more to this book than meets the common eye, and therein lies the magic.

The publisher is the element creating the media frenzy because they think it will do exceptionally well. Let's hope they haven't overdone the advertising.

I withheld reading THE DA VINCI CODE until it came out in paperback as I had read the first three chapters online just after it was announced on being published. The writing and grammar was horrid. Later it was obviously edited and improved, but that first impression lasted. And Brown's incorrect placement of the stairs in one of the Tube stations in London irked me to no end. A writer is supposed to be factual in those elements are expected to be.

Dorte H said...

No, I never sit around naked, but I am heavily influenced by hype: I tend to give the book a wide berth. When I read the first volume about Lisbeth Salander, there wasn´t a lot of hype about it, but I would never have bought it myself anyway because of the off-putting title "Men who hate women". My children gave it to me, though, and THAT made me think it might be a good book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

She was a great character. Highly original, Kitty.
Naked is a state of mind for me.
Interesting what our children choose for us.

Travis Erwin said...

I tried sitting around naked but got tired of all the flash photography and then seeing my picture in The Enquirer and Globe. For the last time people I am not Sasquatch.