There are a lot of shady people today who will price books way out of sight. This is great for detective fiction not so great in reality. Sometimes their errors are caused by ignorance and sometimes it's darker than that. If they say it's a first edition and when it arrives, you find it isn't, you have a hell of a time getting your money back. I don't do much buying on the Internet. I used to like buying in the store when I had it. I've had people drive up to the front door with a truck of books.
"You want to buy some books?" one man asked. "I have a truckload of these Franklin Library books."
"Don't think so," I replied.
"I don't know what's the matter with these people," he said. "I mention Franklin Library in bookstores and they are turned off. But they are all signed - Catch 22 by Heller, there's Walker Percy signed, Robert Penn Warren."
That's when what had been lukewarm interest became very active interest. "Wait a minute, let's go out and look at them," I said.
BookThink: Are you still heavily involved in bookselling?
Not now. I stay in the ABA. When my wife and I got out of the store, we sold our stock to a man opening a new store there. But I kept the mysteries. A few times a month, I go out and look. Occasionally I find something. My wife deals with the business part of it. It really isn't the fun it used to be.
BookThink: When you plan a new book, what comes first - the bookselling angle or the plot in general?
The former; the bookseller's info comes to my mind first. It becomes a matter of chasing the bookman angle. In the one I'm writing now, it's difficult to see what these books have to do with the story. This makes for some long nights with this sinking feeling it won't work. My books have always worked because I've been willing to go back to the beginning and start over when there was a problem. That's when I find what makes it come to life.
BookThink: I've heard you use a manual typewriter for your writing. That must make revision difficult.
Until two years ago, I used a manual typewriter. I'd pick up a vast sheaf of paper and rewrite the book. When you start rewriting, the story changes. It twists and goes on in a different direction. I'm not telling people this is the way to write. Sometimes it bores me. Sometimes I have deep despair when I know it's going to bore the reader and start writing again for the eighth time. Then I find I'm writing a different story and it's working. I've done this many times. I deep down know I'll find a way to make it work. Since Booked To Die, I haven't abandoned a story. Once I discovered Janeway and had him as a character, I found it was ok to assume things will work out.
When my typewriter broke, I couldn't find anyone to fix it. Editors were asking if this guy didn't know it's the 20th century. I used to mount fierce arguments with friends in favor of typewriters. Writing on a computer is not the same. With a typewriter I can bend over my pile of manuscript and pick up the last twenty pages. That's when the changes come about. The typewriter is a right brain machine and writing is a right brain activity. With fiction, you can't take ten pages and retype them and come out with the same story. It's endless discovery. Computer advocates don't know what it is to retype repeatedly and suddenly this character comes floating up.
BookThink: In The Sign of the Book, Janeway says, "In a few years much of the romance would disappear from the book trade forever." Is that your view?
I don't know if it's inevitable that the book business will lose romance. My wife tells me, "You make it sound like doomsday." Today all the emphasis is on money, not just can I get what it's worth. A lot of people are selling books that are not what they claim. Yet they ask for obscene amounts of money.
BookThink: Janeway goes to a book fair and sees a book repeatedly change dealers' hands, going from $600 to over $6000 quickly. Did that really happen?
A friend told me that story about a year and a half ago. Right then I knew that I was going to use it in a book. That's the stuff that makes you want to go out there and look.
BookThink: As a bookseller and writer, how do you see your own books as collectibles? What trends do you see?
I see what everybody else sees. They've gone crazy since Booked To Die came out. I don't know if this short-term trend will survive. Generally a writer's book prices go nuts for a while, then cool off. Sometimes a writer only has to write one bad book and that mystique is gone. But The Bookman's Wake [written after Booked To Die] caused mixed feeling - some love it and others hate it. I think it was not a disgrace. Then I got great reviews on the next book, Bookman's Promise. But I know there's no use trying to plot trends.
Look, I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I'm flattered when someone wrote me recently that special copy of Booked To Die sold for $1500. This was the copy owned by the woman who helped me run my bookstore, so it's an association copy. I wrote a two-page silly inscription to her. She was there when I was trying to get my books written. She would come in, open the store, and be there when I needed her.
BookThink: When you finish writing a book, do you give it a final editing to tie up any loose ends?
My wife Helen is a great sport. I don't know what I'd do without her. We've been together thirty-five years. In the past two to three years she has become a superb editor. I have rather severe Attention Deficit Disorder, and she knows I'm likely to slip up on some things, so she goes through the manuscript again and again.
I'll see her standing on the doorstep saying Uh --." And I say, "Don't come in here with that." She'll say, "I don't think you meant to say this." Then I'll start to argue with her. I argued with her about raising the kids, and I argue with her writing my books. She's got an opinion and an attitude; I value that. I don't like it when she's dumping grief all over my head but I couldn't do it without her. She doesn't write the books but she has a big role in them. I never go back and re-read my stuff. She does.
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