Mark Terry

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Body of Work

October 10, 2007

I confess to having author envy. Sure, I'd love to be a bestseller like JK Rowling or Dan Brown (only with more anonimity, anonymity, ano... how do you spell that, anyway?). I mean, really, who wouldn't want to be worth a fortune and be able to do whatever you wanted to, at least from a financial point of view, for the rest of your life? Hey, I'm not an idiot.

But in truth, when I open up a book and look at the list of books published, the authors I envy most are Robert B. Parker, Dick Francis, Ed McBain and Stephen King. A second tier bunch, I guess, would be Sue Grafton and Jonathan Kellerman and I'm sure there are others.

It isn't even exactly their amazing critical and commercial success. In fact, that's not what I'm getting at.

I'm jealous of their body of work. I open up that book and see that they've written 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 books over the course of their career, and in some cases that includes short stories and screenplays and teleplays, and I think, "Someday that's what I want."

Robert B. Parker's latest novels have been pretty so-so in my opinion and a few others (probably more than a few), but I often think that if you actually get the opportunity to publish as many novels as he has, some of them are going to be pretty uneven. King strikes me as being pretty reliable although I don't like all of them ("Lisey's Story" just didn't work for me). I never warmed up to McBain's Matthew Hope novels and Dick Francis had a couple clinkers there in recent years, although I recently read "Dead Heat" and thought it was pretty good.

I think that as artists--and you have to realize that I very, very, very rarely think of myself in those terms--we often need to think more about body of work than we do the success or failure of the individual work; that success or failure decided by the marketplace, more often than not.

I also realize that as a writer, versus, say, a novelist, I already have a large body of work in the nonfiction arena. Seven years of technical journals I've edited; 6 or 7 years worth of columns and book reviews I've written; hundreds of magazine articles on a wide variety of topics.

So I've got a question for you? Are there any authors out there that you admire for reasons that don't necessarily have to do with commercial or critical success? And why?


Mark Terry


Blogger spyscribbler said...

YES! Ohmigosh, YES! One of my goals is to write over one hundred novels before I die, the biggest reason I really envy Nora Roberts.

I don't know why I'm obsessed with the number, but I am. I've never told anyone before, though. :-)

7:56 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm not sure Nora writes all her own stuff any more(in fact, I just had a discussion with the clerk at Borders about this yesterday; she didn't think Nora did. I mentioned James Patterson, who for a fact no longer writes his own stuff). But it's a good point.

[on that point, I met a woman at a writing convention who said she ghostwrote romantic suspense and romance novels for a bestselling writer who we'd all recognize but she couldn't identify due to contracts. She said she was almost embarrassed about how much money she made to do this. I note that it probably didn't stop her from cashing the checks. I wouldn't mind being embarrassed in that way.)

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I'm afraid I started getting novels published too late in life to end up with a huge body of work. Plus, my next published solo novel will's first! These days you'd need to be really successful to build up a body of work beyond even a handful of books, the way publishers dispose of authors.

I always was amazed by how Georges Simenon cranked out over a hundred Maigrets (even if they're short) and each one I've read is a gem. Not necessarily a masterpiece but

10:42 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I was thinking the same thing, actually. Most publishers won't give authors that kind of slack these days. I keep thinking that Elmore Leonard never hit the bestseller lists until his 18th book, I think it was--"Glitz."

I'd never heard of Jonathan Kellerman before "Silent Partner" which was his 4th book or Robert Crais before "Sunset Express" his sixth.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Sounds like Elmore Leonard wouldn't ever make it to bestsellerdom today!

2:44 PM  

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