On Novels and Novelists

Harlan Coben: ’Every successful author still has to treat it as a job’

An informative article on one of my favorite writers of thrillers, Harlan Coben. And a very successful writer he is:

He’s written 27 novels, seven of them New York Times No 1 bestsellers. He has 60m books in print in 41 languages, and his advances are well into seven figures. He’s won the big three in mystery awards – the Edgar, the Shamus and the Anthony. The blockbuster French film based on his novel, Tell No One, was nominated for nine Cesars.

Coben lives with his family—a pediatrician wife and four children—in northern New Jersey, USA. He has set many of his popular books in places similar to his suburban home:

Coben says he intentionally draws upon life in his own town in northern New Jersey for his novels. “I like to set my novels in places that are seemingly placid, places that are the fruition of the American dream– house, 2.4 kids, two-car garage – and show how fragile that is.”

Relationships of all types figure strongly in his books: between friends, partners, spouses, parents and children.

For more information on Coben, see my post about his 2011 visit to the St. Louis County Library.

Novelist Pat Conroy starts new chapter with opening of fitness gym

Well known author Pat Conroy (The Great Santini, Prince of Tides) gave up drinking and began dieting about three years ago, at his doctor’s urging. Now he’s starting a fitness gym near his home in South Carolina. The 69-year-old writer explains why:

I’m doing it because there are four or five books I’d like to write before I meet with Jesus of Nazareth, as my mother promised me … and I can’t write them unless I’m healthy.”

How Has Publishing Changed in the Digital Age for Book Authors?

Writer Alan Cheuse declares that the “current situation for a writer appears quite distinct from any other moment since the birth of modern publishing in the early 19th century… . The link between writer and reader has morphed into a rapidly changing field of play.”

He says that marketing a book has now become as “complicated and problematic as the writing of the book itself.” He acknowledges that he has had to learn how to use social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, to spread the news of the publication of his latest novel, Prayers for the Living. He has also written for a blog he seldom used to visit in hopes of building name recognition for himself among readers.

Another difference between the current publishing process and the previous one that he lived with for decades involves getting his book reviewed:

As fewer and fewer reviews appear in newspapers and magazines, more and more come out online. But for the ordinary reader—let’s call her the civilian reader—most of the Internet reviews never cross her horizon.

Even many established writers feel bewildered in this brave new publishing world, Cheuse writes:

It takes as much work to promote a book as to write one, is what it feels like, as much work just to get a new book in this range of certainty as it does to have put in the years to compose it.

Novelist’s journey melds Zen Buddhism, storytelling

Terrence Petty reports on a presentation and interview by novelist Ruth Ozeki during a week she spent recently in Portland, Oregon, as artist-in-residence for Literary Arts. Ozeki’s spiritual companion is a Zen master named Dogen, who has been dead for nearly 800 years. Petty reports:

Dogen has a purpose: to get humans to slow down and think about their actions at every moment and not rush through the days. Be aware. Be alive.

Ozeki was raised in Connecticut by a Japanese mother and an American father. When she was three years old, her Japanese grandparents visited. She was surprised one day when she entered a room and found them sitting in Zen meditation. Interested to find out more about her Japanese heritage, she received a fellowship to study Japanese literature at Nara Women’s University in Japan after her 1980 graduation from Smith College. She later became more serious about meditation as her own parents aged and died.

Ozeki’s latest novel, A Tale for the Time Being, takes its title from an essay by Dogen. The magic in the book expresses her spiritual beliefs:

Words vanish, ghosts appear, characters change shape, and time does weird things. These metaphysical elements come right out of the box of Buddhist principles, intended to convey messages that all things are interconnected, nothing is permanent, and there is no abiding self… . She uses literary techniques that seek to collapse time and space in the readers’ imagination. The effect on readers can be similar to what practitioners of Zen feel as they sit in meditation.

Ozeki was ordained a Zen priest in 2010. She and her husband live on an island off of British Columbia, and last year she completed two months of head monk training at a Zen community in Vancouver, BC.

Celebration of Southern Literature: Jill McCorkle on ‘Life After Life’ And Death

This page introduces the audio program of an interview with novelist Jill McCorkle. Her most recent novel, Life After Life (not to be confused with another recent novel of the same title by Kate Atkinson), deals with the often uncomfortable subject of talking about death.

Set in a North Carolina retirement home, Life After Life was inspired by her father’s death, and she spent more than 10 years working on it. The novel is narrated from multiple points of view and contrasts the way dying people view themselves with the observations of others.

Jill McCorkle lives with her husband in Hillsborouth, NC. She is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and has taught at UNC-Chapel Hill, Tufts, Brandeis, and Harvard. She currently teaches creative writing in the MFA program at North Carolina State University and at Bennington College Writing Seminars.

Kevin Macdonald to Direct Stephen King Mini-Series ’11/22/63’

Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 is a hefty tome: just under 850 pages in hardcover. It has been sitting on my TBR shelf since shortly after it came out, but I haven’t read it yet.

Now comes word that streaming subscription service Hulu is looking to get into the original content game, like Netflix and Amazon, with a nine-episode mini-series based on the book. King’s novel features a modern-day high school English teacher who travels back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Actors currently signed up for the project are Chris Cooper, Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Leon Rippy, Cherry Jones, James Franco, Sarah Gadon, and Daniel Webber.

The article doesn’t state when the production is expected to air.

Monday Miscellany

Harlan Coben: By the Book

This week’s New York Times‘s Sunday Book Review includes an interview with one of my favorite thriller authors, Harlan Coben.

Related Posts:

From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers–and beyond

Kid readingThe Pew Research Center continues its study of how the public perceives and uses libraries:

This report describes nine groups of Americans that reflect different patterns of public library engagement. Respondents were sorted into groups based on a cluster analysis of factors such as: the importance of public libraries in their lives; how they use libraries; and how they view the role of libraries in communities. . . .

The typology examines four broad levels of library engagement. These levels are further broken into a total of nine individual groups:

High engagement

  • Library Lovers
  • Information Omnivores

Medium engagement

  • Solid Center
  • Print Traditionalists

Low engagement

  • Not for Me
  • Young and Restless
  • Rooted and Roadblocked

Non-engagement (have never personally used a public library):

  • Distant Admirers
  • Off the Grid

The descriptions of the various groups and their attitudes toward libraries are informative.

9 Terribly Dysfunctional Marriages in Literature

Lists like this always amuse me. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I don’t, and other times I haven’t read many of the books included.

But I’ve read most of these books and so pretty much agree with this list:

  1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  2. The Ice Storm by Rick Moody
  3. Frenzy by David Grossman
  4. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  5. Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen
  6. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  7. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  8. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
  9. “Temporary Matters,” the opening story in The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Dark Quotient: On Victoria Redel and Destructive Characters

the Manhattan-based author Victoria Redel actually seems to enjoy answering questions about her work, which often takes the form of fiction addressing an intense — even boundary-violating — bond between a parent and child. But don’t ask her about her personal life.

Following the 2001 release of her novel Loverboy, about a mother so enmeshed with her young son that she decides to asphyxiate him in a car rather than let him go to school, Redel has found herself explaining to readers that her creation of unlikable, even destructive characters is neither a window — nor an invitation — into her psyche.

A good article for readers who always wonder how much a writer’s works reflect the author’s own mind and soul.

JRR Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf: bring on the monsters

This week, HarperCollins announced that a long-awaited JRR Tolkien translation of Beowulf is to be published in May, along with his commentaries on the Old English epic and a story it inspired him to write, “Sellic Spell”. It is just the latest of a string of posthumous publications from the Oxford professor and The Hobbit author, who died in 1973. Edited by his son Christopher, now 89, it will doubtless be seen by some as an act of barrel-scraping. But Tolkien’s expertise on Beowulf and his own literary powers give us every reason to take it seriously.