Monday, January 10, 2011

Janet Reid Earns $0.12 With a Ludicrous Premise

I was at the supermarket the other day and in need of something to read, so I checked the paperbacks and picked up one called Ghost Country by Patrick Lee.  The liner notes were semi-intriguing but also sci-fi-ish and I usually don't go there, but as I flipped to the inside I noticed that Lee had dedicated the book to Janet Reid.  He also put her in the acknowledgments on the very next page.  I don't know why, but that decided it and I bought the book.  I figure Janet's cut of Lee's royalty from this purchase comes to something like 12 cents.

Here's the thing.  It's actually pretty good, as thrillers go.  It does well what thrillers are supposed to do well -- keeps you turning the page.  However, the premise is ludicrous (I won't go into it here) -- actually doubly ludicrous, since there's this whole wormhole thing in the Nevada Wyoming desert through which alien gizmos keep arriving, which is also central to the plot.  And there are things that are just wrong, the kind of impossible/mistaken things that I find really annoying in books.  Even in sci-fi, be accurate.  So, for example, even in dry Yuma bodies out in the open wouldn't mummify, Mr. Lee -- they have flies and maggots in Arizona, too.  And boreal forests do not grow at the latitude of New York City.

But the interesting part for me is how some writer can take a ludicrous, even stupid, premise and make it work.  Somehow you keep reading it.  I read a Dean Koontz book once.  It had just an awful premise about some genetic experiment gone wrong (I think -- can't even remember) and people turning into various kinds of demon-like monsters at night.  I mean, it was stupid.  But Koontz just kept plowing ahead with it, and it worked.

So, if you care for thrillers at all, Ghost Country might fit your bill.  Don't expect any literary flair to it.  Indeed, the writing is soul-suckingly without any literary merit whatsoever.  But you will keep turning the page.

And of course we still love Janet Reid, even if she turned down our query a long, long time ago (version 1.0, which was kind of sucky).  She's still funny as hell.  I just hope she doesn't spend that 12 cents of mine all at once.


  1. Yeah but Janet Reid also knows a good story-- so if this author is her client, then you can probably be assured of a dang good book, which (it sounds like) you admit it was.

    Nice post.

  2. It's a troubling dilemma, isn't it? Write page-turning fiction that sells, or write something with heart that has a less-wide appeal. I've yet to find the author that can really do both well--although most seem to get the factual elements right (congrats on using boreal in a blogpost!).

    Maybe there are trade-offs that are built in to fiction that will never be overcome, like the way a souped-up classic Mustang can be super-fast and look great, but it'll never be a great grocery getter. Or maybe the need to categorize is simply too ubiquitous, so calling it a thriller comes with certain expectations, for example.

    Great food for thought, Trav. If I find myself in the mood for a thriller, I'll definitely consider picking up Ghost Country, if only to experience the pain for myself. ;)

  3. I'm laughing so hard right now. Best review ever.

  4. Nice post, Litowski. I just read LET ME IN which is a stupid vampire novel which I don't usually buy but my son bought it for me for Christmas and I couldn't put it down. Then there was Ian McEwan's SOLAR which was the most boring book of 2010. So ya never know! There is hope for all of us.

  5. I just watched this movie KNOWING starring the uber-exciting Nicholas Cage. You know, speaking of a bad premise.

    Just what did you think my voice would sound like? All twangy and stuff?

  6. Hmmm, it sounds like it might be good.

  7. I found this tremendously reassuring, but I'm a mercenary. Thanks for bouncing back from those cruel remarks about 2010

  8. I love JR myself. Heard her at a conference once. She seems not only funny, hilariously crude, but also a deeply caring individual. I pitched my book to her, she didn't want it, but sent me away with a note to take to another agent who she thought might be interested. The other agent wasn't, but I was impressed by her kindness. That she took the time to actually listen to my pitch.

  9. Jon Paul - I'll give you an author who can do both well - Justin Cronin. After graduating from Iowa and winning a PEN/Hemingway Award and a Whiting Award for his literary fiction, he went on to write the page-turning post-apocalyptic vampire novel The Passage. But does he do both well IN THE SAME BOOK? I don't think so. The Passage is a page turner, but I don't think it will be winning any literary awards.

  10. It's amazing what a million .12 add up to! Thanks for the most hilarious review of GHOST COUNTRY ever.

    your fan,