Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mystery Writers Get $700 Billion Bailout

Untidy writer's lair BB (Before Bailout).

By Chester Campbell

Now that’s a headline I’d like to see. We could all buy new houses with large offices to accommodate our walls of books, our PCs and printers and piles of manuscripts. Maybe a swimming pool outside the window urging us to finish the book and dive in.

Of course, if you happen to be Stephen King or John Grisham, or somebody of their ilk, you might get removed from the bailout list. They probably have more houses than Donald Trump.

There may not be any bailout for writers (did I say “may not?” Ha! make that “won’t”) in the offing, but bailing out to the tune of billions is the hot topic of the day. Which brings up the question of should we be writing about current events?

I like writing on topical subjects, which got me in trouble in the early days (think early nineties). I enjoyed reading spy novels all through the Cold War years. I devoured every Helen MacInnes book that came along, then took on Graham Greene, Len Deighton, John Le Carre, Robert Ludlum, and Tom Clancy. I had written a spy story back in the sixties which went nowhere. When I retired and started writing in earnest, I naturally returned to the spy genre.

Finishing the first book in 1990, I kept it topical with the emerging post-Cold War period. The bad guys were dethroned KGB agents and assorted on-the-way-out Communists. The first three books involved a trilogy of stories linked through a former FBI agent who was recruited by a CIA spin-off.

I got a different agent for each book. The first one quit and the second died. The third book landed with a large agency, which had me sweat blood to trim out more than 100 pages. Then they let it languish. I can picture the pristine pages of my manuscript gathering dust on the top shelf in a musty back room. The story involved an operation run by an ex-KGB officer to fire mortar shells loaded with nerve gas into the Fourth of July symphony concert crowd on The Mall behind the Capitol. After the agency merged with another, the new guy finally sent out my manuscript.

I received a copy of the letter from an editor at Tor Books. He said he liked my writing but the story was dated. This was some three years after the agency accepted the manuscript. Had it been sold during the first year, it likely would have been published about the time of the nerve gas attack in a Tokyo subway.

But the spy story market had about dried up. That’s the problem with writing topical fiction. It can get out of date in a hurry. On the flip side, tales of the recent past have come back in vogue. So maybe I’ll try it again. Particularly after I get my share of that $700 billion bailout.


Pat Browning said...

Just another example of an editor without a clue.

However, it's suddenly un-dated, what with Russia going into Georgia (the country) and the U.S. rumbling and grumbling about it.

Also, if you could dust your KGB story off and get it into print NOW -- after all, we have a vice-presidential candidate who can see Russia on a clear day ...

The Cold War seems to be coming back around.

And even if it doesn't, it is now Historical Fiction. Just look at the sudden flow of books about World
War II.

Try another publisher. (-:

Pat Browning

Ben Small said...

You've got a lair? I gotta get me a lair. Maybe my publisher will give me a golden parachute, too.

Beth Terrell said...

I want a lair too--and Chester's is very nice.

Chester, as Pat suggested, it probably wouldn't take much to make your KGB book timely again.

L.J. Sellers said...

Fortunately for writers only, most crime never goes out of date!

Chester Campbell said...

Pat -- thanks. I'll probbly do something with it before long.

Ben and Beth -- did you realize what you'd get if you switched the "a" and "i" in lair?

Chester Campbell said...

You're right, L.J. Today's crimes are just yesterday's with new faces.