Significant Stuff

April 28, 2010

Lilian Jackson Braun is 97 years old and someone finally realized it.

Here’s what I think happened…

Back in 1966, LJB – not to be confused with LBJ – although PBJ which is a much closer comparison – writes a sweet, light-weight, decently crafted mystery book starring a crusty middle-aged reporter and his crime solving Siamese cat(s).  It’s cute and finds an audience.

And the “Cat Who…” mystery series is born.

A bajillion titles later – or 29 – craftsmanship has steadily been replaced by name recognition.  The legions of adoring Qwill, Koko and Yum Yum fans keep buying whatever is put out simply because.

I enter the scene a few years ago in a post-surgery, drug-induced stupor.  Lying on the sofa with a pillow across my tummy, I am loaned about a dozen of these lovely little books from my good and generous friend Lynn, the book pusher (aka Librarian).  They’re perfect.  I adore them.  Hey, I’m high.

Post-Percoset, I discover that I still love them but the affair dwindles.  A few days ago, in a fit of nostalia, I discover LJB on the library shelves and pick up book number 29.

I open the book with a contented sigh, which turns to bewilderment by the end of page 2, quickly followed by “What the…?”  This is terribly written!  I wasn’t expecting art, but I was expecting a story at least.

This book reads like a first draft story outline.  It’s a mish-mash of he said, and then, and an overly liberal use of exclamation points! which is the ultimate crutch for any writer.  Hey!  If you don’t have the craftsmanship to be able to express in words the appropriate emphasis or stress of your meaning, just throw in an exclamation point!  Bonus points if the ! is used inappropriately and in a bewildering fashion!

Back to my timeline…

The public wants more.  The publisher wants more.  It probably took forever for this first draft to be created by this lovely, white-haired nonagenarian so once it was out of her hands, it went straight to type-setting.  I imagine she accidentally put the draft in the wrong envelope.  I imagine that her editor opened an envelope expecting a first draft only to discover a signed contract for publishing her 29th book.


So, now the scuttlebutt on the LJB fan forum is that book 30 has been shelved.  It has a name.  Heck, it might even have a first draft, but apparently someone realized that that is not enough.

There comes a point when an author’s name shows on the cover in a type font larger than the title.  We all know those authors (Stephen King, John Grishom…) and a saavy reader will double check the reviews before picking up the latest.  Those are warning signs that celebrity and fandom may have surpassed content.  Not saying that they have, but if you want a good read, don’t rely solely on the name of the author.

Perhaps it’s time to let the series die a natural death.  From the wildly awry content gleaned from book 29, it seems that LJB is winding things up anyway.  Perhaps, Putnam (the publishers) should hire a ghost writer to flesh out book 30 and let her kill the series with dignity.  Fans will forgive number 29.

So, what’s significant?  Several things, but most of all, we all need a good editor.


Susan Scot Fry

Update… This is quite a long post – what else is there to say?  More.  Which is why we all need an editor.  I do, anyway.  And, I will be so bold as to say, yes we ALL do.

I had opportunity to talk to someone about finding a second set of eyes on a particular aspect of the Shakespeare in the Park project.  When we talked about his ideas, it was with a “well, of course this is necessary” sort of attitude.  But, until it was brought up to the point of needing to make a decision, he was most likely going to go without.

How lovely it would be to have an editor at any time.  Someone who took your genius and helped you polish it up for the world to see.  Now, that’s a fairy godmother.


3 thoughts on “April 28, 2010

  1. I’ve often wondered if some of the stuff I have read is written by the author or if it was ghost written to begin with. Look at James Patterson. 10 billion titles coming out every year that he co-authored? I’m sure just having his name on the book makes it a best seller, but I can’t imagine he is actually working with ALL of these people to write these books. And some of them, well they are just plain awful.

    The perfect example of this for me really is Patricia Cornwell and Isle of Dogs. Talking fish? Seriously? NY Times best selling author, and she comes up with talking fish? I can’t believe that she wrote this and if she actually did, that her editor said, “Wow! Talking fish! Now that is a KILLER idea!”


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