Saturday, April 30, 2005

VERY ENTERTAINING ARTICLE on CBC.Ca (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) on prolific writers and the conflicted way they're regarded in the publishing world. Like Alexander McCall Smith, who churns out several books a year in an industry where a writer who puts out one book a year is considered a dependable "house author" whose literary fecundity can help subsidize just as worthy, but less famous, authors.

The appeal of McCall Smith — who has sold more than 7.5 million books in the English language alone — is due to a confluence of factors. He writes mysteries without the off-putting gore; his books are driven by characters and setting rather than plot. (Garner calls them “literary soap operas.”) The books are amiably escapist, and because they’re crafted with something finer than the workmanlike prose of a John Grisham or Danielle Steel, they’re deemed serious fiction. “He makes you feel like you’re there,” says Marian Misters, co-owner of Toronto bookshop Sleuth of Baker Street. “You can drink the rooibos tea, you can smell the village. And I think people love to read that.”

Misters sees no problem with McCall Smith’s prolific yield. “Customers don’t mind,” she says. “If they like a series, they’d love to have one [book] a month, if they could, from the writer.”

Some observers, however, feel that prodigiousness can mar a writer’s canon in the long run.

“[McCall Smith]’s producing much the same thing every time, in a different iteration,” says Nathalie Atkinson, Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly. “It’s not really that different from a mystery writer like Agatha Christie — I still can’t get straight which ones I’ve read until I’ve gone through the first five chapters.”
Read more here.

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