BOOK & BLOG
February 7, 2011
Books of the Week:
Since I’m working my way through the “Hundred Best Mysteries” list (at least, the ones I hadn’t already read), Little Caesar was next on my stack. I’m sure you’ve all seen the Edward G. Robinson 1930 movie, or at least snippets of it. Well, the book from which it was taken is sheer pulp, and proud of it. The characters are not cardboard, though; they’re all complicated people living dangerous and impoverished lives. Reading Little Caesar now is a slice of Americana, gangster division. Incidentally, W.R. Burnett also wrote High Sierra and Asphalt Jungle, which is an impressive pedigree.
Jonathan Mayberry’s Rot & Ruin is skewed toward young adults, since it’s a coming-of-age novel, but like so many of today’s y.a. books, it’s good reading for adults, too. In post-apocalyptic America, fifteen-year-old Benny Imura is facing a cut in rations if he doesn’t get job. The only one he can tolerate is with his much older half-brother Tom, whom he both loves and hates. Tom is a zombie killer. Some of the points of the book are easy to see coming; some definitely aren’t. This is anything but another zombie novel. Benny and Tom go on a trip into the land outside the city fence, and that trip changes everything. Rot & Ruin is exciting, full of action, and curiously thoughtful.
The Gray Man is absolutely a thriller, and that means you have to buy into the basic premise to believe in the action. Mark Greaney’s talent is the clincher here, because reduced to bare bones the plot is simply ridiculous. But aren’t all plots, when they’re bare bones? The Gray Man of the title is an assassin named Court Gentry, whose last job put him in trouble with the worst people. With thirty or forty killer teams from all over the world trying to get his head (literally) before he can get to a chateau in France, the action is definitely packed. Gentry’s like Jason Bourne on steroids. This is a very solid thriller, and compelling reading.
I had a strange and interesting request this week. An enterprising mom wanted to know if her 13-year-old son could “shadow” me at work for a day. His whole school was participating in a program that advocated “shadowing.” Moms will do anything for their kids, right? And this dedicated mom said that her son wanted to be a writer, and she was sure he was determined enough to try this path to success. She was (very rightly!) worried that disappointment and small earnings would be his lot, but she appreciated his stubborn character.
She was right about disappointment and small earnings. First-time writers today make less than I did on my first book in 1981. I’ve heard the normal advance for a first-timer these days is about $5,000. Less is not uncommon. And any promotional work these days must be done by the writer, at least until you reach a level where you hardly need such promotion any more. Some beginning writers sink almost all their advance into promotion, trying to give the book the lift it needs to get sales to the level publishers will respect.
But I digress.
After I asked Paula to tell her that since the chosen day was simply going to be a working day for me, having a shadower simply wouldn’t be practical for either me or the child. Because really, now what do I do? I sit at a computer all day! I get up and down to let the dogs in and out, I take phone calls, I check my email, my website, my Facebook pages . . . but mostly I’m just staring at the computer screen, and my fingers are moving.
Sure, there are days when I do something more interesting. Some days I set aside for phone interviews. I try to line all those up in a row. He could listen to me answer the same questions over and over! That would be a lot of fun. There are days when I do signings, when I’m on the road. That might be entertaining until I hit the 260th book . . . Oh, yeah, there are those days in the airport. Those are fabulous.
I’ll admit, there are some genuinely glamorous events: if I go to the “True Blood” premiere party, if I go to the EW party at Comic Con, and so on. Why, that’s probably at least ten hours out of the year! And if he wanted to shadow me for those ten hours, he would have a great time, and a totally inaccurate notion of what writers do day after day, month after month.
My favorite cartoon of all time is a very old one by Jerry Van Amerongen, a “Ballard Street” cartoon. In it, a portly man in a tie is pressed against the wall in his living room. The caption reads, “Suddenly, there you are, alone with your own brain.”
That’s what being a writer is all about.
© 2011 Charlaine Harris