RARA-AVIS: Apples and Oranges, sour grapes, and luck.

From: Jack Bludis (buildsnburns@yahoo.com)
Date: 27 Feb 2009

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    I usually don't do point-by-points, on others opinions, so I won't this time.
      First, Kathy Griffen is someone I MUST watch when I spin the dial and see her. That being said, it has nothing to do with hard-boiled, noir, or even mystery fiction--perhaps more about me and what floats my boat.
      Will I read her book? If I see it in the library I might pick it up.
      Does it relate to best selling fiction? Not in the least.
      Do I care that she gets a big contract? No more than I care that nobody wants George Bush's memoirs.
      How does best-selling fiction relate to better selling crime fiction?
      First, most best selling fiction, until the movie comes out, is primarily "literary." Boys talking to dogs, flying kites in Afghanistan, take offs on Hamlet, Lear, or what have you. Slice of life that it is interesting to many on some intellectual strata that I can't reach or comprehend. And much of it by insiders in a given profession or social strata.
      Best selling crime fiction is usually well constructed, but I say "usually." Some of the best constructed and written crime fiction I read is by Reed Farrel Coleman. I recently discovered Steve Hamilton although he was right there in front of me for years. Richard Helms comes in with those guys too. Oh, yeah, let's not forget Dominic Stansberry.
      None of those people, as far as I know, has reached the important best-selling lists.
      In my opinion many of the old-favorites here on rara-avis are not well constructed ... he did this and he did that, and wow wasn't that exciting ... whew close call ... that's telling 'em ... hit the sonofabith ... uh-oh how do I close this hole ... eh, fuck it, I gotta get this in the mail out. One other favorite here other than RED HARVEST, which I mentioned a couple of days ago, is another one I don't get ... Jim Thompson's GRIFTERS, and while I'm on the subject of grifters, Lawrence Block's GRIFTER'S GAME, is on of the most disappointing Block's that I have read.
      I'm rambling a bit here because I am in the last stages of flu-like symptoms, but let me get back to the subject of best selling fiction, particularly crime fiction.
      No matter how good a novel, no matter how well written, no matter who writes it, it requires a certain level of luck ... luck first that it's published. The first step, and even when they are published like those I mention above. and even when they get great reviews, as I think all of them have done, it takes some kind of other-worldly, somebody-up-there-likes-me, kind of fortune to have something in the story that grabs. It might be the subject, like the in-depth family saga of the Godfather (Godfather alone is a saga without the movie sequels.) It tells the public something they didn't know they wanted to know.
      It might be the way a crime is committed or how it plays out ... something new that surprises or hits the stands at about the same time a real crime hits the headlines. It does not usually work when the writer begins to write after the crime has hit the headlines when dozens of real writers and thousands, if not tens of thousands of tyros copying from the headlines. 
      Other things that are luck is that a publisher decides too shoot the advertising budget on one book. Especially at that the book has something.
      Great books are written fairly often. I'll bet that a few of them never even get published and many sell less than ten-thousand copies, sometimes even with good reviews.
      There used to be a publishing adage: if it's reviewed by (not reviewed well by) The NYTimes, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, the Saturday Review, and the NY review of books, it's bound to be a best seller. Now, there are far more books to review and far less print space to review. And it took a little bit of luck to get all five of those venues to take a look.
      Rather than suffer you another post I'd like to thank Jim Doherty and Patrick King for their posts on RED HARVEST. I am certain that it was Jim and one or two others who argued me into RED HARVEST the last time. Jim, thanks for your comprehensive point-by-point. Patrick and Carrie thanks for your points as well ...
      Back to the subject:
      No matter how well you write, no matter how hard you push, no matter how they advertise, somebody up-there, out-there, or something in the ether has to make that last push to the best seller. In a sense, it's our stars, not from ourselves, that make us (them) best sellers. It's the same luck that gets people talking about the work.
      You can try to plan it all you want. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. Luck may or may not be a lady ... she may be just a witch who cackles as she slides her finger down the spine of the winner.
      Read, read, read; write, write, write. If somethings going to happen, it will.
      Jack Bludis


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