Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What's all the fuss about?

Yesterday, I got an automated call from the library telling me a book I'd had on order over the summer has finally arrived. It's The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. Frankly, I want to find out what all the fuss (and especially that huge advance) is all about. I've heard various opinions, but the book must have something going for it. A publisher push can get a book onto the NYTimes list for a week or two, but it takes more than that to keep it there, and this book has been on the list for several weeks.

So I went to the library and picked it up. The book is huge and weighs a ton. I'm thinking, no wonder it took her ten years to write it. (And as a sidebar, if I took ten years to write a book, would it be worth a $2 million advance? Who knows? I never will, because I'd go bananas spending that long on one story. Ain't in my nature.)

But then, when I got home, I opened it and actually reared back because, Hello! Giant font! Then I looked at the cover again and saw "large print." Whew. There for a minute, I thought the publisher was making the story literally bigger than it was.

I've just started it, and so far, it's...well, okay. I have a theory (a sort of formula, really) about what makes books like this one popular. You take a fictional character everybody's heard of, created by a dead author (so no pesky copyright issues) and you add some interesting scenery and several cool bits of historical data. Now, that's just the basics, sort of like the romance "formula" -- couple with troubles wind up together at the end of the story. Quick! Write 400 pages! And like writing a romance, if it was that easy, everybody would be selling such books. There's the matter of style, voice, characterization, etc. etc. And frankly, I have no desire to write about somebody else's character. That's why I don't quite get fanfic. Make up your own people! It's so much more fun!

That said, never say never. If I ever get to the point where my editor says, "Gosh, kid, it's been swell, but we're not buying any more books from you," I have my well-known fictional character all picked out. And no, I'm not going to say who it is. *G*

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