Sunday, September 12, 2010

Drowning in Books and The Writing Life

Thriller Guy has too many books. They are piled high around what the family laughingly calls his office, threatening to topple over and crush him as he wends his way between stacks to get to his chair and computer. Like one of those obsessive recluse collectors they unearth every once in awhile in an old Manhattan brownstone, entombed in a pile of old newspapers. The photo above is a pile of approximately 100 Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of recent thrillers that have already been reviewed. There are many such piles around the room, and many more reference books used in the creation of TGs novels. What, oh what, is to be done with all of these books?

In the old days, book reviewers considered review copies to be part of their pay. Back then you received an actual copy of the book you were reviewing, which you could resell to a used bookstore. You weren't supposed to do it, but what were the publishers going to do? Hunt you down and have you thrown in book reviewer jail? In the age of the Internet it's possible sell them on ebay and many do, though TG frowns on such behavior. Used bookstores won't buy ARCs because they aren't supposed to be resold.

Several years ago TG's wife (Mrs. TG) had a friend at work who sent boxes of books to her son, a soldier in Iraq and TG gave the ARCs to her, but the Army changed its policy and no longer allows this because of security concerns (TG can't figure that one out). You are supposed to do it through organizations. A search of the Web turned up only one such place, and it's religious in nature and had some weird conditions that TG was loath to agree to. So that route seems to be out.

Recently he has taken to putting boxes of them out when the used item donation people come to collect the old clothing that Mrs. TG donates to charity. That works, but somehow it seems disconnected from TG's desire to hand the books over to someone who actually wants to read them. Any suggestions, Thriller Guy readers?

A Room of One's Own

TG gets letters and emails from The Little Ones Who Long to Write, plaintive missives that say, If only I had a room to write in, a room to myself, if I had the right surroundings I could pen a book that would make publishers, readers and critics like TG weep at the beauty of my words. TG reads these wistful notes and stops to look around the office described above, the one with the teetering piles of books. This “office” is in a basement with no windows, a room only slightly removed from a bellowing furnace which blasts on and off over the winter months. It is dark, lit by table lamps and some harsh fluorescents. Damp, untidy, cobweb festooned. Piles of paper and more books are strewn around the computer which rests on a desk which is just a door on two-by-four legs. It's a real mess. TG's wife hates it. TG loves it. TG comes down here every morning to work, not host a damn tea party.

A modern fairy tale... Many years ago TG was married to a Very Wealthy Woman (VWW) and lived in a beautiful house in a far western state in a town chock-a-block with other writers, all far more famous than TG. He lived like a modern-day prince. Shortly after moving into this grand abode he decided he would write a book. After all, he was just as smart as the other folks in town who wrote books for a living. Besides, how hard could it be? So he decided to set up a writing room that would fulfill all his fantasies of such a creative haven. The room chosen (one of the half-dozen spare bedrooms) was on the top floor of the manse and looked out through a wall of windows at a breathtaking view of snow-topped mountains. The light streamed in on the beautiful oak work table where a fancy electric typewriter sat, neat stacks of lovely white bond on one side, freshly sharpened pencils, erasers, paperclips and sundry writer's items on the other. Spare, modern bookcases lined the walls. There was a comfy chair where TG could sit and read after a hard day of writing. It was lovely.

So TG sat at his desk every day, a steaming cup of fresh coffee at his side. And sat, and sat, and sat. The mountains were indeed beautiful. The coffee was tasty. And TG's head was as empty as an old tin can. If you dropped a pebble in his cranium you would have heard it echo on and on, finally fading away into silence so overwhelming it was as if the entire world has simply disappeared, vanished, leaving behind... nothing.

So, TG, abandoned this aerie, moved an old beat-up metal desk into the basement right next to a converted coal burning monster of a furnace, surround by walls chipped and peeling. The floor was unadorned concrete and not one damn window anywhere. TG sat down in this damp lair and wrote his first book. Forty years later the Very Wealthy Wife is long gone, as is the castle, and TG is in another basement living happily with Mrs. TG, with more than a solid dozen books written and published and he's glad to be down here.

There's a lesson in there that you don't have to be a genius to figure out. So shut up, you mewling posers, shut up and write your damn book. Write me again when you've finished the first draft.



  1. Would the local library have objections to receiving ARC books?
    With the continuous budget crunches they all face, I would think they'd love to get a box or two. might consider popping a list here on the blog and we could "bid" on stuff from that list. Maybe limit it to two wishes per person with two back-up wishes.

    I'm sure we'd all abide by your honesty in selecting on a first come first serve basis until the pile vanishes.

  2. You have made me feel much better, TG--re your office, that is, not the pile of ARCs you are trying to flog. Of late, I have come to feel a trifle edged in in my spare-bedroom-cum office. At first it was just me and my desktop computer and baroque music; then my wife started working with me on freelance projects--great little researcher with fingers that fly over the keyboard on the newly installed desk to my right; now the bairn, six and filled with a mindless need for hegemony, encroaches the space to my back on the wrap-around desk drawing his endless tales of Mr. Blue and his blue dog, his blue car, and mother with the--you guessed it--blue hair.
    But somehow the description of your basement lair has lifted my spirits. Encroachment is not such a bad thing, after all, especially if it keeps the spiders away.