Publishing circles were reeling today after this morning’s surprise announcement of the merger of pop fiction titans James Patterson and Clive Cussler, who between them are likely to account for twenty bestsellers in calendar year 2014 alone. While neither author could be reached for comment, a source close to both men confirmed that the deal will include all rights—film, electronic, and audio—to the two authors’ innumerable backlist titles as well as all current and future work.
“This is very unsettling,” declared Georgette Rasmussen, proprietor of Books Are Our Friends. “Independent booksellers are facing desperate challenges these days, and I don’t see how this can possibly help us.”
Interviews with two officers of Authors Guild, both of whom insisted on anonymity, brought curiously contradictory responses. “I think it’s very exciting,” said one. “This shows the great resourcefulness of our membership, and the inherent ability of writers to adjust to changing conditions in today’s publishing environment.”
Her colleague was less sanguine, characterizing the merger as “appalling, and very much of a piece with the consolidation in publishing. You could see the handwriting on the wall back in 1962, when Harper & Brothers gobbled up Row, Peterson & Co. If Patterson and Cussler combine, how can other authors possibly remain competitive? They’ll almost have to follow suit, and you can look forward to the day when half a dozen mega-writers dominate the market.”
The two Guild representatives did find one point of agreement. “If you want to know who gets the blame,” said one, “you don’t have to look any further than Amazon.”
Literary agent Morgan Wheelwright cautioned against a rush to judgment. “First of all,” she pointed out, “there’s no certainty that the Department of Justice is going to sign off on something this unprecedented.” Her chief concern, she added, was for those clients of hers who were “co-writers” for one or the other of the principals. “We’ve been assured that our writers’ jobs are safe, and that if anything there’ll be a need for additional writers to keep the increasing stream of books flowing. If that’s so, I think this is a great opportunity for our writers, and writers in general.”
Marketing maven Jason Bordelaise echoed this sentiment. “I can see a time,” he said, “when every writer will start out by ghosting for or co-writing with a mega-writer, and that’s a win-win for everybody. The huge challenge in publishing has always been selling an author’s first book, an unknown quantity with no market awaiting it. And after that there’s the hurdle of the second novel, scorned by all those readers who were understandably disappointed with the first. But now there won’t be any first or second novels. Every book published will be a known quantity. Who could possibly object to that?”
One executive of a Big Five firm, insisting on anonymity, questioned the term merger. “Patterson has 15 books slated for 2014 publication,” he said. “Cussler has what, five? You call it a merger. I call it a lark pie.”
A little Googling helped us with that one. When Syria and Egypt linked up in 1958 to form the United Arab Republic, cynics likened the disproportionate amalgam to a pie consisting of equal parts of lark and camel—one lark to one camel. (In 1961, the Syrian lark took its leave and the experiment was over.)
The blogosphere, as you can imagine, has been buzzing, as internet observers and ardent self-publishers have been airing and sharing their thoughts on the new development. While every possible view has been given voice, all seem to agree that the times are indeed changing.
As further evidence of this, please note the rumor—still unsubstantiated!—that talks have been initiated between representatives of Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark.
• By the way, if any Bouchercon attendees want to brush up a bit on Albany’s criminal past, they might start with this story about an 1827 murder at a “stately mansion” overlooking the Hudson River.
• I haven’t seen the NBC-TV series Kingston: Confidential since it first aired back in 1976. But over the last few years I’ve started looking around on the Web for downloaded episodes or even clips from that show, which featured Raymond Burr as R.B. Kingston, the editor in chief/troubleshooter for an international news media conglomerate. What did I get for my troubles? Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Yesterday, though, I stumbled across the opening sequence from the series on YouTube, and have now added it to The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page. You can go directly to the Kingston: Confidential intro here. Now, if somebody would only release that Burr series on DVD ...
• This show, though, doesn’t register with me at all.
• I’m pleased to say that I have read most of the works on novelist Stav Sherez’s list, in Shots, of “The 10 Best Crime Novels You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of.” The exceptions are Glen Duncan’s Love Remains and Barry Gifford’s Southern Nights, neither of which I recall ever seeing in bookshops.
• Meanwhile, the Classic Film and TV Café has posted its selections of “The Five Best TV Detectives.” There are no surprises here, though I would probably have substituted some character with a bit more grittiness--say, Lieutenant Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) of Crime Story, Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) of Miami Vice, or Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) of Longmire--for Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher.
• Two birthdays worth celebrating today: Scottish actor David McCallum (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Invisible Man, NCIS) turns 80, while Batman’s Adam West will be blowing out 85 candles on his own birthday cake. I wish them both well.
• It’s about time Bob Newhart won an Emmy!
• Thanks to correspondent Nancie Clare, The Rap Sheet had last weekend’s Bloody Scotland festival well covered. But now the blogger who styles herself “Crime Thriller Girl” has begun weighing in with her own series of recollections from that convention. Click here to read about her experiences on Day 1.
• This may be something that only an editor could love. But, boy, I sure do love it. In his blog, Past Offences, Rich Westwood analyzes the correct spelling of whodunit/whodunnit and looks at the history of that term. The short answer seems to be that Americans (like me) prefer the one-n version, while Brits like the two-n style.
• Something to enjoy during this weekend’s downtime: “The Floater,” the premiere episode of 87th Precinct, a 1961-1962 NBC-TV drama based on Ed McBain’s detective novels.
• R.I.P. Richard Safarian, who directed episodes of The Wild Wild West, I Spy, and other 1960s TV espionage series.
• I’m not a big fan of James Patterson’s thriller fiction, but he won me over with this news. According to the Los Angeles Times,
Bestselling author James Patterson wants to support independent bookstores, and he’s putting his money where his heart is. On Monday he pledged to give $1 million to independent bookstores in the next year.• Issue No. 14 of Crime Factory is now available. It includes an interview with Peter Corris, author of the Cliff Hardy private-eye novels, as well as Peter Dragovich’s look back at the film made from one of my all-time favorite Western novels, Ron Hansen’s The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (1983). Oh, and too-infrequent Rap Sheet contributor Kevin Burton Smith has a short story in this issue, “The Peach-Streaked Blouse.”
“We’re making this transition to e-books, and that’s fine and good and terrific and wonderful, but we’re not doing it in an organized, sane, civilized way. So what’s happening right now is a lot of bookstores are disappearing," Patterson told CBS’ This Morning.
Patterson says he hopes the funds will support everything from raises for staff who haven’t gotten them in years to larger projects. What’s essential is that the bookstores have a viable business model and that their shops include a children’s section.
People interested in learning more can fill out a form on Patterson’s website.
• This is a great photo of the young John le Carré. Can there be any doubt that he was cut out to write espionage fiction for a living?
• Happy 80th birthday this month to Kirkus Reviews!
• And happy third anniversary to The Nick Carter & Carter Brown Blog and its compiler, “Scott” from Denver, Colorado.
• I’m most pleased to see that Criminal Element’s Leslie Gilbert Elman has taken up the task of reviewing the current season of Foyle’s War, the historical whodunit starring Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks. Her write-up about “The Eternity Ring,” last Sunday night’s installment can be enjoyed here. Foyle’s War will continue this Sunday, September 22, on PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! series with an episode titled “The Cage.”
• And yes, it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day. Time to get your aaaargh! on.
ZOO is a stand-alone thriller written with Michael Ledwidge, who's collaborated with Patterson on another stand-alone novel I read a while back, THE QUICKIE. I thought that one was okay. Ledwidge is also the co-author of a series about New York police detective Michael Bennett, and I haven't read any of those.
ZOO is sort of like a Seventies disaster movie. Remember the old Fox TV show "When Animals Attack"? That's pretty much the plot of this one. All over the world, animals suddenly go crazy, start acting in uncharacteristic ways, and attack humans. When it gets bad enough, it leads to the sort of global apocalypse usually associated in fiction with nuclear war or zombies. The narrator for most of the book (Patterson and Ledwidge do a little switching back and forth between first- and third-person, but not to the point of being annoying about it) is likable biologist Jackson Oz, who winds up leading a group of scientists trying to find out what caused this phenomenon and what to do about it before humanity is wiped out.
It's certainly not marketed as such, but ZOO is actually a near-future SF novel. I'm not really enough of a scientist to know if what's behind the sudden rise of animal aggression is possible or not (in the words of the great Neal Barrett, Jr., "Who do I look like to you, Mr. Wizard?"), but it all sounds plausible enough and I suppose that's all that really matters in a book like this. There's plenty of action, good characters to root for, and the story really races along. I assume Ledwidge did the bulk of the writing, and it's good enough I might well check out some of the other books he's done with Patterson.
I'm not real sure about the ending, but overall ZOO is probably my second favorite Patterson novel after THE JESTER, a historical adventure yarn set during and after the Crusades that was co-authored with Andrew Gross. I think it's worth reading.
I’ll be on a panel at the Romance Writers of America annual conference in Anaheim in July – “The Care and Feeding of the Writer’s Soul.” Ever since I committed to doing it, I’ve been pondering my contribution and examining my own practices when it comes to nurturing my writer’s spirit.
But I wanted to open the topic up for discussion here to get your input. If you could create a box of affirmations for the writer, what would be your personal contribution?
On my computer I have been collecting sayings that have meant something to me over the years. These have come from author speaking engagements, emails, or things I’ve found online that inspired me enough to post it where I could see them every day. Affirmations can be reminders of author craft you want to repeat or they can be a way to keep a positive attitude or make progress in your career.
Here are a few sayings on my computer that mostly deal with author craft:
“Stick with the action.” Romance author Dana Taylor
When I muddled an intro action scene with back story, Dana wrote these words in an email after she critiqued the scene.
“Be there.” James Patterson
Patterson was a speaker at am RWA conference in 2004. He filled a ballroom, standing room only. By these two words he meant to put your reader into the scene using all their senses. He also said that he puts as much care into the first sentence of each chapter as he does the first line in any book. (I wonder if all the James Patterson(s) do this?)
“Trust the talent.” Robert Crais
I heard Crais present this on a video he sent via email in one of his newsletters. He talked at length about how he writes in constant fear, but that he trusts the talent that has brought him his success. It reminded me that all people have doubts. That’s human nature, but when you have a natural storyteller inside you, you should trust it.
“Get in, make your point, then get the hell out.” Robert Gregory Browne
Rob spelled this out when he explained ELLE on a blog post. Enter Late, Leave Early. The method is best explained by the TV show “Law & Order” where the scenes are sharp, concise, and don’t over-explain to slow pacing. The barest essentials of the scenes are captured to move the story along and a viewer’s mind fills in the gaps in action. The same works for books.
Here are a few that would be my contribution to keep a positive mental attitude:
“I touch new readers with every story.”
“My books are unique because they are filtered through me and my personal experiences. I’m not in competition with anyone, except me, to be the best author I can be.”
Here are a few silly ones:
“I never get my page numbers wrong. I must be good at math.”
“When I kill people on paper, they stay dead. Booya!”
As for practices to keep me positive, I have a shredding ritual for any rejection to expel the negativity from my house. Try it. It’s liberating. When I complete any project, I also treat myself with something that isn’t food—time off, vacation, fun evening with friends or family, attend a book signing, buy a new outfit. I used to think that each positive step in my quest to become a published author was only a small part of a longer future—that celebrating too much is a distraction that can swell your head. But now I celebrate everything. Life’s too short not to cherish even the smallest of pleasures.
Please share your thoughts. What would you write and contribute to an author’s affirmation box? What practices do you have to keep your mind positive and your writer’s soul nourished?