BOOK & BLOG
January 14, 2011
Books of the Week:
Ruth Fowler’s Girl, Undressed was originally published as No Man’s Land, and both titles are apropos. It’s a terribly honest, terribly literary, book about Ruth Fowler’s terrible job when she was having visa troubles in New York City. She stripped in what sounds like (even by strip club standards) an awful place, though later in the book she implies that this was a palace compared to other strip bars. To get through the experience, she self-anesthetized heavily. If you’ve ever considered being a stripper, it would be a good idea to read this book first. I don’t know what I thought about this book simply as a reading experience because the subject matter overwhelmed that aspect of Girl, Undressed.
I love ghost stories, and I was glad to reread some old friends in The Virago Book of Ghost Stories. Margaret Oliphant’s “The Open Door” still has the power to chill, and Margaret Irwin’s “The Book” was a new pleasure. The stories are arranged in order of publication and span 150 years.
If you’re a fan of Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, A Hard Day’s Knight is the best entry I’ve read in years. John Taylor and Suzie Shooter are back, together in a very solid way, and to John Taylor’s amazement he is magically given Excalibur. Yes, the Excalibur. Since this is a Green book, complications sprout upon complications, but in the end John Taylor gets to do something noble. There are many surprises and treats along the way.
I was fortunate enough to get an advance reader’s copy of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which has already been optioned for a movie. It’s the most fun I’ve had recently, and that’s saying a lot. Cline’s world is incredibly detailed and I mean incredibly in every sense -- and his young protagonist quite believable and empathetic. I am no gamer, but I had a great time with this book, and I fervently admire Cline’s worldbuilding. I’m going to try to remember to mention this book again when it’s close to publication, but you might want to mark your calendars.
As you might guess, I get a lot of requests via mail and email. Most of them are innocuous, and I’m glad to oblige: people send books to be signed (with return postage), bookplates for me to sign, or simply write to let me to know how they felt about issues in the books and how I handled those issues.
Every now and then I get a more unusual request. One (very young) woman wrote to tell me that she’d enjoyed my first two books. Could I send her the third one? One (also very young, I hope) woman asked me if I’d call Alexander Skarsgard and tell him to send her a signed picture. Or perhaps I kept a signed picture of Alexander around, one she could have?
Uh . . . no.
While a little on the bizarre side, these out-of-left-field letters are at least good for a smile. And I know the answer. There are letters and communications that are more problematical, because my response isn’t as clear cut.
Editors ask me to look at advanced reading copies of books; if I have time, I will, but I don’t always have time, and I don’t always like the books they send me. Sometimes the plot will seem too familiar, or I see too many gaps in the narrative, or I just don’t think the author is very good. That happens, and editors are always quite nice when you say, “I’m sorry. It’s just not for me.”
When the writers themselves ask me for things, refusal becomes far more difficult. On the one hand, I’ve been where they are. This is a very tough business, and there are many people in the field I’m delighted to help in any way I can. I like to give back, since I got tapped by the lucky stick.
On the other hand, some requests are far more reasonable than others. I love to give feedback to very close friends; I love to give a mention about forthcoming books by writers I like. I love to recommend books I’ve read and enjoyed. I’m delighted to have a place on my website dedicated to the discussion of books by other writers.
Unreasonable requests leave me cold, or maybe more accurately, puzzled. One very nice woman thought it would be great if I would mentor her. Well . . . sure, that would make life easier for her. But what if I discovered she didn’t have the talent to back up her goal of being a published writer? What steps had she taken to achieve this herself? Learning as you go is invaluable. This is a business that has to be learned; it doesn’t work like any other business.
I often receive generous offers of collaboration from people who’ve never written anything in their lives.
Or people offer to send me their manuscripts (sometimes handwritten) so I can evaluate their work and return the manuscript with notes. “Does it need to be typed?” they ask. I’m not trying to come across as Superior Writer Woman, and sneer at the naivete of these people, but they make it a bit hard not to.
Welcome to my (mostly happy and rewarding) life. Truly, reasonable and charming people are the norm. Sometimes I just have to shake my head.
© 2011 Charlaine Harris