Sunday, August 19, 2007

On Fantasy

"But I never let a fantasy get away, because I always stop to analyze it." Shelley Duvall

Charlie Bakst reading Yesterday's Fatal on a beach in Italy.

Jan: I'm not talking about sexual fantasy (sorry guys), but writer fantasy. It goes like this: You are walking through a crowded airport, or through a crowded beach, and all of a sudden you come across someone reading YOUR book.

The perfect fantasy, of course, is when you have no idea who the reader is. He/she is just one of the many fans you never knew existed. In this photo, the reader, who sent me the pic, is a friend of mine, Charlie Bakst, but he was reading my book on a beach in Italy -- so I figure that makes up for him not being a complete stranger.

Once, my daughter, who has experienced the highs and lows of my writing career, called me up from college screaming excitedly. It turned out that as she was leaving the cafeteria, she saw the clerk at the register reading my book, A Confidential Source. So although I didn't actually come across the reader myself, I get fantasy points, right?

A couple of years ago, I was speaking at a mystery brunch in on Martha's Vineyard (hosted by Edgartown Books) and Robin Cook -- yes, the best selling medical thriller writer -- made a joke of hoping to stumble across someone on South Beach reading his book. You'd figure for Robin Cook this would be an everyday reality.

So I'm curious about how widespread this fantasy thing is. Is it just Robin Cook and me (I doubt it) or do we all have a verson of this, not just writers, but artists, musicians, teachers and even lawyers??

RO: It's a rush, no doubt about it. I haven't had the book version yet, but some years ago I produced a video called Say it By Signing, for friends and family of hearing-impaired people who sign; also acquired a book on the same subject. Not a huge market, but if my book does as well, it will be champagne all around. I saw the book in the window of a small bookstore in Bar Harbor, and the video was picked up by a nationwide chain (anyone remember the dear departed Nature Company?) I was ecstatic. it didn't even matter that I didn't make a lot of dough on it...I was thrilled. I think it's the Sally Field, "you like really like me" thing.

HALLIE: My fantasy was to find my books for sale at an airport or train station newsstand. One day, my daughter phoned me from the Los Angeles airport to say that she was looking at a copy of OBSESSED right there at the newsstand! Then I found out they change the book displays every 24 hours.

In a related be-careful-which-fantasy-you-wish-for scenario--I was chatting with a woman author I'd met at a conference a few years ago. I told her my book-at-the-aiport fantasy, she she told me this story. Her husband worked for Hudson News (they're the franchise that owns all the newsstands in airports, Grand Central...) and he was able to use his muscle to get HN to order up 300,000 copies of her first paperback novel. She was ECSTATIC. The publisher was ecstatic, too. 100,000 copies were sold. Pretty great, right? BUT (and this is a very big "but") 200,000 copies were returned. This was very bad news for the publisher because they lost a huge chunk of change, and it was the last novel she did with them.

HANK: Here's a fantasy come true: look at this photo of my Prime Time as one of the staff favorites at the wonderful Willow Books in Acton MA. (Whoo hoo. See it? Right in the middle, top shelf?) Now, as for my next big fantasy: please all of you take a moment to send good karma that I make the deadline for Air Time. I'm not even going to tell you when it's all too scary. Back to to reality.

JAN: So aside from the obvious ones -- book gets made into Oscar-winning movie -or making the NYT bestsellers list - I'm curious to hear about other writer fantasies. Also, the comparable career fantasy in other fields! There must be a chef fantasy, salesman-of-the-year-fantasy, and dermatologist fantasy, right?


  1. Do we have to hear the dermatologist fantasy? That might be a little gross. OTOH, I did see Liza Minelli leaving my dermatologist's office last year....she looked pretty good.

  2. I think I even know what the dermatolgist fantasy is: Stop treating icky skin disease (paid for by insurance provider) and start making a bundle in instant cash with botox and a zillion different laser treatments I keep getting direct mail for!

  3. My writer/salesman fantasies are intertwined:
    1. The Department of Homeland Security passes a public law that requires all federal government agencies to purchase the product I sell. The resulting commission is so big that...
    2. I leave sales to write full time, get a book deal, great reviews and then personal notes and emails from Michael Chabon, Philip Roth, Annie Proulx and Ian McEwan, telling me how much they enjoyed my book.

    Too much?

  4. I've decided this is my latest writing fantasy: Within a week after a book of mine comes out, I search the local library sites & THERE IT IS. Preferably MULTIPLE copies. I figure, the way library budgets are these days, if they get you in that fast, you've made it.

    Of course, there's the flip side: Linda Sue Park, a Newbery winner, tells this story. When she won the award, her son said, "Wow, Mom, Do you realize now how many kids out there in the world will be FORCED to read your book." :)

  5. Lisa,

    That's awesome. I love the detail and am now totally motivated to upgrade my own fantasies. The beach thing clearly needs tweaking!

  6. Hi Becky,
    We must have been posting at exactly the same time -- I think your fantasy has a good chance of being a reality -- but you might have to wait longer than a week. It seems like there is delay from when library gets the book and when it shows up when you Google. (not that I've ever checked my own books, a bit compulsively, of course.)

  7. I am still waiting and hoping for the proverbial airport fantasy. I try to bring it on artificially sometimes by draping my own book across the vacant seat next to me, hoping someone will see it and think.....oh, I must read that!!
    I'll keep you posted.


  8. Forget the airport fantasy.

    Every Saturday summer morning I haul around in my van searching for killer yard sales which, by the way, are a tremendous source of character study and plot ideas. I imagine someday I'll stumble across a well-worn copy of THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY tucked in a bin underneath some 8-track tapes and an electric tub spa mat.

    The pages will be doggie-eared, the spine creased with a fifty cents sticker on it, but I'll get it for a quarter. Then, and only then, will I know I've made it.

  9. You've inspired me to crank it up a notch Jan:

    3. Truman Capote comes back to life, calls me and insists I must go with him to a soiree in Paris to meet Gertrude, Virginia, Henry Miller and the rest of the gang who are all back to life and living in the same time period. He tells me Hemingway can be a nasty drunk, but he's a real hoot most of the time. :) Oh, and Picasso, Modigliani, Klimt and the gang will all be there too.

  10. Okay, Lisa I'm definitely there with you on Capote(just finished reading In Cold Blood for the very first time, a few decades late, but what a treat) and Hemingway (fellow journalist, we'll keep him away from the whiskey). Virginia, but only if she's on Zoloft, and I'll skip Picasso. etc. and substitute F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (something a little stronger than Zoloft for her.) Hey just had a new idea for a quiz. How about which pharmaceuticals could bet help which famous literary figures?
    I better go to work. I could fantasize forever.

    And Felicia, like your yard sale fantasy. And about its potential for plot and character.... Hallie just finished a book that uses a yard sale as the inciting incident!

  11. Jan, thanks for the heads up on Hallie's story. I'll look forward to that.

    Yard sales are stories waiting to be told... wives practically giving away the ex's belongings for a penny, a collection of brand new infant items never used, the beloved remains of an estate by their sorrowed survivor... they practically beg to be written. I am as much interested in the people and listening to their stories as I am about the eclectic items they have. I've lost many a great bargain because I'm so engrossed in studying the people there...

  12. Ladies, I stole your idea and posted about writerly fantasies today myself. There is no shortage of them out there!