Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Dangling Conversations

I used to get phone calls from an elderly man in a nursing home. They came to my desk when I was reporter, though someone had told him I wrote novels as well. He wanted me to write a book for him, or with him. The first time he called, I told him to take a number.

I know you've probably heard this. Every writer, even obscure, minor American authors like me, gets endless queries: "I have this great idea, do you want to write a book with me? I'm sure it would be a bestseller."

Yeah, right.

Usually those ideas run along the lines of: "It's like The Firm except it's set in a (fill in the blank industry.)" Or it's the person's life story, which he's convinced is so interesting everyone will want to read it. (I used to get calls from a guy who thought the Russians were controlling the weather, but he never asked me to write his life story. His I might have been interested in.)

When I wrote young adult novels under the Michael August pseudonym, Michael got letters from adults saying they'd read his book and felt he was perfect to write his/her biography. I'm not sure what part of Mike's YA horror novels qualified him to chronicle lives from suburbia which featured "something for everyone."

Bear in mind all this was before blogs which I assume takes care of a lot of the need for personal biography.

My elderly caller wouldn't have wanted to use a blog. He was convinced his knowledge was so valuable he couldn't reveal it for fear of losing the vast sums of money it would net if only it could be put into narrative form.

What he said he knew
He knew, he said, who the Green River Killer was. Look that up now and you can't help but find Gary Ridgway, but this was before he was caught.

I don't know if Gare was the guy my caller had in mind. He was living a long way from Washington state.

He always spoke of "This individual."

I suggested he contact the authorities.

He just kept contacting other writers. He'd call me back periodically to tell him who'd turned him down. I don't know if he found Ann Rule, but I remember him reading me a letter from Robert B. Parker who politely told him: "I prefer to work alone on my books."

A time or two he called to chide me. "I guess you're sorry you passed up writing about this."

Annoyed, I told him no, but he either didn't notice or didn't care when he heard annoyance in my voice.

Eventually he stopped calling or I moved on and he lost track of me. By now, I'm sure he's passed on.

Looking back, I wonder how badly he wanted someone to write a book. Maybe he just wanted someone to talk to.

And I have to note him as one of the people I wasn't particularly nice to.

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