Monday, July 24, 2006

Mickey Spillane and peanuts

For those of you who don't know already, Mickey Spillane, author of various "hard-boiled" detective stories, passed away last week. He once said, "Those big-shot writers...could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than cavier."

Clearly, he believed he was writing "salted peanuts" -- and likely would put all genre fiction in the salted peanut category.

Here's the thing -- as much as I love the fact that salted peanuts sell more than cavier, in my own mind, I'm always writing cavier. Of course, plenty of readers and critics of literary fiction would disagree, but I never, ever think I can do less than my best with a book. I never think, "Oh, well, it's just the fictional equivalent of a bowl of salted peanuts, so I can just toss it off and call it a day." No doubt my life, and especially my writing life, would be a lot less stressful if I could. But I would have to be a different person.

Now, I've had books that "wrote fast." It was almost like taking dictation. I think that happened because of a magic combination of characters and where I was in my life. Out of 42 books and novellas, it has happened three times. But even then, I never thought I was just "tossing off" a book. I was thinking, "Holy moly, this is wonderful! And wow, wouldn't it be nice if every book went like this?" However, since these were not my first three books, I knew that they were minor miracles of creation, and should be celebrated as such. A very lovely exception to the rule. And every book has moments like that -- where a scene just flows. But otherwise? There's rewriting and reworking until I get the book as good as I can make it.

When one of my books is on the shelves, it may look like the literary equivalent of salted peanuts, and go down just as quick and easy. I sure hope it sells like salted peanuts. But before it hits the shelves, I'm treating it like cavier, and nothing but my best effort will do. Or I might as well go sell real peanuts.

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