book buyers and godfathers

There’s an interesting article in the online version of the Wall Street Journal about Sessalee Hensley (that name is too good to forget; I may have to use it for a character one day). Ms. Hensley does all the buying for Barnes & Noble stores, and thus wields a lot of power. But the article actually makes me a little hopeful, a rare thing when it comes to the big chains. She is quoted as saying:

“I’m looking for work that sings off the page,” she says simply. “But I don’t like the terms literary and commercial fiction, because if you love a book you love it whether it’s Marcel Proust or Terry McMillan.”

As far as my own writing is concerned, it doesn’t happen so often anymore but for a long time people would stop me to say how much they loved Homestead, (which got a lot of critical acclaim, but sold modestly) and when was I going to write a real book again? The idea being that historical adventure/romance wasn’t real, or serious enough, or good enough, or something else equally off-putting.

It’s a common problem for novelists who move back and forth between genres, this open disapproval of what is seen as divided loyalties. Mario Puzo wrote The Fortunate Pilgrim (he called it his best and most literary work, and the one that made no money). Then he wrote The Godfather and the rest is history. I wonder if people stopped him to ask when he was going to write a real book again, and if they did, whether or not it bothered him.