Sara Gran on That Unputdownable Quality of Mysteries
This Week on the Book Dreams Podcast
“I always think of that moment in North by Northwest, the Hitchcock movie, when someone is falling off one of the mountains in Mount Rushmore, and he grabs someone’s hand, and then he loses their hand, and then he grabs their jacket. And then the jacket starts to rip.”
In this week’s episode of Book Dreams, beloved mystery writer Sara Gran talks about how suspense writers create that “compelling unputdownable quality” that keeps readers turning pages from the start to finish. With refreshing candor, Sara also assesses the traditional publishing business, which she refers to as “Simon’s Random House of Penguins,” and reveals why she has launched—with tremendous early success–a new small press called Dreamland Books.
With characteristic incisiveness, Sara says of her decision to release books outside of the traditional publishing industry after spending more than twenty years as an author within it, “I feel like if you are not a successful writer, get the f*ck out of the industry ’cause it’s not working for you. And if you are a successful writer, get the f*ck out of the industry because you can.”
From the episode:
Sara Gran: I will also say, and I’ve said this all the time in every interview, authors specifically, not other kinds of writers, authors of fiction, book authors, book novelists are the most passive group of people I have ever met when it comes to managing their careers.
About a year ago I sent out a newsletter saying, “Oh, you know, I think I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m not happy. I think I’m gonna do my own thing. I’m not quite sure what, but I just can’t keep going like this ’cause I was not happy.” Some of the letters I got from other writers, bigger names than me in many cases, were astonishing of the shit that they had put up with for years and years and years.
Julie Sternberg: Oh, wow.
Sara Gran: And, it’s like, “No one returned my phone call for three years. So then with the next book…” And I’m like, “There was a next book after no one returned your phone call for three years? Tell ’em to go f*ck themselves and move on with your life.”
Julie Sternberg: Yeah.
Sara Gran: There’s something about–I don’t know if it’s a psychology of the business–I think there is a real sort of weakness and timidity in a lot of novelists these days in general in what they write in addition to how they approach their careers. … So one thing I wanna do is put together a little series. I don’t know if it’s gonna be a written thing or a video, but just really outlining step by step what I did. And, as I said before, one thing that you like doing when you get older is you don’t want to just do the thing to do the thing for yourself. You want to sort of create a path for other people. So one motivation in doing this was just to create that little trail through the woods for any other mid-career writer who might wanna do the same thing.
Sara Gran is the author of the Claire DeWitt mystery series. One of our prior guests, Nancy Pearl–a librarian so renowned, she inspired a librarian action figure–has this to say about the first book in the series: “The more I think about it (and I’ve been thinking about it a lot), the more I believe that Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is one of the very best mysteries I’ve ever read.” Sara’s latest novel, The Book of the Most Precious Substance, which the New York Times deems “palpably seductive,” was published by Sara’s new small press, Dreamland Books.
Book Dreams uses books to explore topics we can’t stop thinking about. Hosted by Julie Sternberg and Eve Yohalem, Book Dreams releases new episodes every Thursday. Visit our website for more about the show: www.bookdreamspodcast.com