I write books more for myself than for my readers. I figure if I am not entertained, my reader won't be, either. Author Christa Faust feels the same way…
A reviewer recently accused me of creating a “Mary Sue” character in my Supernatural tie-in COYOTE’S KISS. For those who don’t know what that means, a “Mary Sue” is a too-perfect wish-fulfillment character that represents the author’s own idealized persona.
While I freely admit that the character in question is a wish-fulfillment character, it’s a completely different kind of wish. I created that character not because I’d like to be her, but because I’d like to fuck her. After all, we tie-in writers have to do something to spice up the daily grind.
I don't think I've ever created a character in a book or a screenplay that was a personal fuck fantasy figure. I'll have to try that one of these days…but I doubt it will be in a Monk novel.
Createspace publishes hundreds of thousands of books in print-on-demand paperback format…but the chances of any of those authors experiencing real success are very slim. And here's how I know. The paperback edition of my book THE WALK is a CreateSpace bestseller…in July, it was #4 on their fiction bestseller list, ahead of Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath.
And you know how many copies I had to sell to become their #4 bestselling novel?
Yep, that's it, just 204 copies.
Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased with the sales, because that's found money, another $764 in my pocket on a book that went out-of-print years ago. But my "success" proves just how pitiful the sales are on all those hundreds of thousands of other CreateSpace books. This should be a wake-up call to everyone who thinks self-publishing is a goldmine.
THE WALK is an abberation for me. I typically sell 150-200 copies a month of THE WALK in paperback…while my other titles are lucky to move 8-12 copies each.
THE WALK is also my bestselling Kindle ebook, typically selling over 1000 copies a month (though the sales dipped a bit in June and July), far above my other titles. My next best-selling Kindle titles do less than half as well. THREE WAYS TO DIE typically sells 475-500 copies a month and WATCH ME DIE moves about 350-400 a month.
People are always asking Lawrence Block when he's going to write another Bernie Rhodenbarr book. He doesn't know. Besides, he's not interested in writing what you want him to write… because that's not what drives him, or most writers, to put words on the page. He says:
It’s counterproductive to tell me what you want me to write. I sincerely hope that my writing pleases you, but if you think I’m here to give you what you want, there’s a lot you don’t understand about writing, and no end of things you don’t understand about me. The greatest disservice I could do my readers is to try to give them what they want. That’s just not part of my job description. All I can do is write my books my way, and try to make them so irresistible that you enjoy reading what I want to write.
[…]as much as I might want to write a book about Bernie, or any other character, the desire’s not all that’s required. There are writers who can write anything they’re asked to write, and I thank whatever gods may be that I am not of their number. I probably was, early on, but I got spoiled, and for years now I’ve been unable to go on writing a book unless it engages me.
I love my readers. I need my readers. But some readers have the ridiculous notion that the novelists they read work for them and have an obligation to keep churning out the same book over and over. Some authors are quite content to do that. But even among those authors, I know many of them keep writing book after book about the same characters because they love it, because that's what they are driven creatively to do, and not only because its what their readers and publishers want from them. I'm on my 14th MONK book, and I can tell you I'm not writing them for the money. If I was, I would have quit long ago, because the money is far from spectacular.
Others, like Lawrence Block, would rather go where-ever their muse takes them, regardless of whether it makes the most commercial sense or disappoints some of their fans (I am sure there are scores of readers who wish he'd do nothing but write Scudder and Burglar books for the rest of his life). He writes the story that he has to tell…not the story that you, or me, or the publishers want him to tell.
I admire that about him. Maybe it's that dedication to his muse, and not his readers, that's one of the keys to his prolific output and great success.
Here's why this book is probably the best of the Monk novels to date. It has heart. Actually Heart with a capital H. And Hope. And Happiness.Now, it's never easy to throw words like heart, hope and happiness around in a Monk book. The books are, in many ways, about his eternal suffering. Schadenfreude allows us to enjoy him solving problems, giving us some laughs, and generally making us happy that we are neither him, nor the suffering Natalie. There but for the grace of God … and all that.
But this book has Heart. The newest Monk is one who can see past his own problems to want to do something good for his brother, no matter how discomfited he knows he's going to be. He engages in the kidnapping, not wholeheartedly, but with enough enthusiasm that you can see him straining to think of others before himself.
And the result is Hope. Not thr kind that had him longing, and then succeeding, to get back onto the police force as a full-blown detective. No, that was fool's gold all along. And he realized that not long after getting his wish. No, the hope here is of a re-kindled relationship between the brothers. Of a life that might get Ambrose out of his house more often. Of a Monk who can allow himself the thought of being normal, if even for the briefest of times.
Lastly, we get to Happiness. On the face of Ambrose. More than once. Monk might generate more than his share of chuckles. But smiles? Smiles of actual happiness beyond solving the crime and the chance to wrap up a crime. Ahh, not so much. There were the happy times cleaning up the streets of Paris. But that was another time and another book. But you know, a little sunny disposition is refreshing in a Monk book.
I should note that some potential recurring characters make their debuts in this book. I don't expect to see Dub Clemens again, but this latter day Mark Twainish detective type would be welcome back, healthy or otherwise. That said, Yuki looks to be a keeper. At least Ambrose thinks so. And Randy's replacement, Lt. Devlin, shows some promise. I hope Goldberg keeps her waffling between being a friend and being a foe for Natalie and Adrian.
In a lot of ways, Mr. Monk on the Road is like the other road trip books in the series. Entertaining, informative about the locales and funny. This one adds just a little Heart and becomes endearing.
Thank you so much, Gary!