Saturday, August 18, 2012

THE DOG IS IMMORTAL

I have come to accept that the affection of my readers for me, if it exists at all, is largely bound up with their fondness for my characters.  By this I mean that, if I died, they would be a bit troubled, but if I killed off, say, Charlie Parker, they would be very angry indeed.  I do not take this too personally.  If my readers choose to feel more strongly about a fictional character than they do about me, a living, breathing person with bills to pay and dogs to walk, then so be it.  I'm not saying it isn't hurtful, but I put it up there with my other half's continuing infatuation with Brad Pitt: if Brad Pitt should turn up on our doorstep to claim her then, reluctantly, I shall have to learn to live without my beloved, and there will be no hard feelings.  On the balance of probability, though, I suspect that she is going to have to make do with me for the foreseeable future.
The matter of a reader's affection for a series character was brought home to me by a recent article in The New Yorker.  (Yes, I have a subscription to The New Yorker, and it's the best $120 a year I've ever spent.  As my friend and fellow author Declan Hughes once put it, he feels better for just having it in the house.  I never read everything in it, and there is at least one cartoon in every issue that I fail to understand, but what I do read, and what I do understand, probably makes me a better person, or at least makes me feel like a better person, which is Declan's point.  I think.)  Anyway, in the July 2nd issue there is a lovely article by John McPhee about the editing process, and it should be required reading for every aspiring writer, not least because it illuminates the sometimes grey area between proof-reading and editing, which are two very different things.  Increasingly, in this heady age of self-publishing, the distinction between the two is being willfully blurred, and the result can only be work of inferior quality.  
A sidebar: with two new books about to be published, I'm already steeling myself for the inevitable e-mails, often written in a suitably harrumphing tone, pointing out the typos that have crept into the finished works.  These missives are, in the more ill-tempered cases, accompanied by the same question: doesn't anyone proof-read these books?  The answer, of course, is yes: I go over the manuscript and the typeset pages so often that I start to become depressed; my editors read them; their copy-editors read them; the proof-readers read them.  And you know what? Mistakes will always creep through, because that's the nature of all human endeavor.  The Wrath of Angels is almost 160,000 words long.  Even if one were to find 16 typos in that manuscript - which I hope is not the case - it would still only represent a margin of error of .01 %, which most scientists would accept as pretty good indeed.  Being an author has taught me to be forgiving of such matters.  Yes, it may be annoying to find typos or errors in a book, but the miracle is that there are not more.  Where errors are pointed out - preferably discreetly, which is the sign of good breeding - I'll always try to correct them for the next edition, but the triumphalism of a minority of correspondents is very wearing.  
Sorry, where was I?  Ah, yes, The New Yorker.  So, as a boy John McPhee was a fan of the Silver Chief series, written by one Jack O'Brien.  The series concerned the adventures of a sled dog in the "Great White North", and they were catnip to the young McPhee, which was why he was quite distraught when the author died.  Some years later, he happened to be visiting his Uncle Bob, who had published the Silver Chief novels under the imprint of the John C. Winston company.  He was quite surprised when a man arrived for an appointment with his uncle, and was introduced to McPhee as "Jack O'Brien, the author of 'Silver Chief.'"  The gentleman in question appeared to be in the fullest bloom of health, and when McPhee shook his hand it didn't fall off, as one might have expected of the hand of a man who had been deceased for some time.  When the man left, McPhee remarked to his uncle that he had been under the impression Jack O'Brien was dead.  Uncle Bob replied: "He did die.  He died.  Actually, we've had three or four Jack O'Briens.  Let me tell you something, John.  Authors are a dime a dozen.  The dog is immortal."
So there it is: authors are mortal.  Characters, if the authors are very fortunate, live forever.  
Although I'd like to be the first author to reverse that trend.

15 comments:

AnswerGirl said...

The New Yorker article John refers to is here, although the full text is available only to subscribers: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/07/02/120702fa_fact_mcphee

TomH said...

Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his Holmes... having him wrestle his way to extinction while perched above the falls. Seems as a writer ACD wanted to be taken more seriously by his readers. The outcome proved near disaster and so he revived SH by having him miraculously reappear in public (and with nary a full explanation).

But that sort of thing feels contrived and seldom does the attempt bear serious consideration.

I for one appreciate the occasional break from Charlie Parker. For me it began with Nocturnes (and one of my favorite characters: The Headmaster). Then of course, Bad Men (with but a cameo appearance by Mister CP); and then TBOLT, and The Gates, and etc., and etc….


ACD wanted to be taken more seriously as a writer and so he killed off his main source of attention (and I might add income). You don’t need that. As already proven, you’re writing is as richly varied and layered as you want it to be.

My only warning would be to stay away from The Falls.

Mich said...

Hopefully I'm not the only exception.... I like all of your books as a whole more than I like the individual characters. And having met you quite a few times now at book signings, I must say I like YOU rather a lot as well. I would be far more upset if something unfortunate befell you than if you killed off Angel and Louis.

....but please don't kill off Angel or Louis.

;)

xoxo

Stacey Lunsford said...

Someone else could try to write Charlie Parker (perhaps Brad Pitt) but Charlie is not a dog and your unique vision is not an interchangable part on an assembly line. And you write other great stuff. People who would miss the characters more than the creator are missing the opportunity for future greatness. No pressure.

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

Well, I hope Charlie Parker makes it up to Alaska, where I live, before he dies. It seems like Charlie never makes it any farther than the east Coast or deep south in his travels. I can only imagine what a road trip on the AlCan highway would be like with Charlie, Louis and Angel. (Hmmm, I wonder what that says about me, lol) Thank you, John Connolly, for your wonderful books. You have many fans here in the 49th state.
Sincerly, Karen

TomH said...

I subscribe to the 'Donnetian' (made up word) attitude toward isolation. Truth is most times we need people more than they need us. It's a busy world out there and it hurts when attention is not paid. Just keep allowing the chips to fall where they may. That way it's all good.

TerseaG said...

Dear John
Interesting that you should choose to ponder the loss of author vs. character. As one who lives for every single Charlie Parker book, one of the few grave concerns in my life is this: should something befall you (tragic in itself) before we know the full story of Charlie, and whether he is - in fact - the one fallen angel hoping to redeem himself, what then?

It is a real and deeply-distressing thought. Are there any contingency plans in place? Or, in keeping with the dark tradition of our beloved Charlie's world, will you find some way in which to ghost write the final book?

Know this: a new Charlie Parker novel from you, is like Christmas every day. It is one of my (and my hubby's) single biggest indulgences in life - thank you for sharing your talent with the world.

Emma Jones said...

I am busy mum and hard working woman with not much time to spare.
But I want to say how much I love your writing. I enjoy Charlie Parker's character so much and I find his partners Louis and Angel a great addition to his life and story. I love seeing all sides to your varied characters, good and bad, as with Ying and Yang you can't seem to have one without the other in a good read. After reading your blogs I see alot of your thoughts and ideals in Charlie Parkers character which means that no-one could write about Charlie as you do!

I often find myself at 2am in the morning still reading! and I don't want to stop but the bags under my eyes are getting larger by the minute!

All in all I love your books. I have already read "The Wrath Of Angels" and can't wait for the next installment. (No Pressure.. Ha Ha..)
Thanks for all your books so far and I hope you keep going strong for a long time to come.

Kindest Regards, Emma Jones..(oz)

TomH said...

Something worse than wondering over the sense of who you are and how you are being accepted as a person is the real sense of being ignored... for who you are or what you are... and the whole while without so much as brief explanation of a shifting in attitude. Advice would be to not worry over what might be.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Connolly,

My remarks are unrelated to your blog, albeit related. I simply want to let you know my world is a greater place due to your writing. So, thank you for doing what you do and for walking your dogs, no matter the weather!
Peace and Luck,

Mari A. Delaney
Elmira, NY

Aaliyah theukflight said...

Truth is most times we need people more than they need us.
Cheap Flights To Sydney

Judith McLean said...

I would just like to say I love your books about Charlie Parker, re-reading them again and again. I love to read about Louis and Angel and I especially love the banter between Charlie, Angel and Louis.

Judith
Stockton on Tees
England

Judith McLean said...

I would just like to say I love your books about Charlie Parker, re-reading them again and again. I love to read about Louis and Angel and I especially love the banter between Charlie, Angel and Louis.

Judith
Stockton on Tees
England

Aynon Doyle said...

Nice article John though I am reading it some 4 year late. Its true that some characters in fiction can be written by any author, but you have a unique voice laddie and we will be able to tell the difference. As to who goes first author or character? Well I think even though Charlie is living in America, an Irishman is telling the tale and the greatest Irish tales seldom have a happy hereafter. All I ask is that when it is Charlie's time let him die a hero like Cuchulain and when the raven comes to part the veil let his wife and daughter be waiting with open arms.

Aynon
South Africa