Monday, April 05, 2004

Crais Novel Delayed Yet Again 

I'd hoped to run this story with some actual statements from the author, his editor and his agent, but none were available for comment at this time. If such comments come in later on, I'll post them here.

But it looks like the rumor that made the rounds over the weekend is true: after an original publication delay that set the book back from this past February to July 20, Robert Crais' THE FORGOTTEN MAN, the newest and much-anticipated installment in his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, has been postponed yet again, this time to February 2005.

And although most fans' reaction to the news has been more along the lines of sadness and disappointment, I'd much rather know why. And wonder a whole host of things, from the simple question of "why again?" to what, if any, impact this delay will have on sales of the book, and Crais' career.

Crais began the series way back in 1988 with a paperback original called THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT. The book, and rightly so, was seen as a fresh, 80s-updated reimagining of the private eye novel. Heavy nods to Chandler, Hamett and perhaps especially, Robert B. Parker, but with enough wit and humor that it won many awards, was critically acclaimed and launched what appeared to be a healthy genre career. Six more novels expanded Elvis Cole's character somewhat, but the books were decidedly "mystery genre." Crais moved from Bantam to Hyperion, but it was his switch over to Doubleday that really signified great things for him. He'd written the 8th Cole novel, THE DEVIL'S CANTINA, for Hyperion, but when Doubleday, in the form of Shawn Coyne, offered Crais more money to join up, CANTINA was expanded, substantially rewritten, and ended up published as L.A. REQUIEM in the summer of 1999. The response was phenomenal. Critics and fans--for the most part--eagerly accepted a more expansive, reflective Elvis Cole, working on a bigger canvas. He wasn't the same character by the end of the book, and the quality of the prose had improved quite a lot.

When Crais announced he would be working on a standalone next, the idea wasn't that much of a shock. Cole was in a precarious position, and it seemed a good idea to let him alone, work on a different character--Carol Starkey, who starred in 2000's DEMOLITION ANGEL. Though LAR had sold very well, ANGEL far outdid the series novel in sales, though there were occasional grumbles about "abandoning" the series. But the gripes really didn't start until 2001's HOSTAGE, although reactions were split--some thought it an extremely enjoyable, fast-paced thriller, while others called it derivative. (Full disclosure: I was in the former camp anyway, even before I learned my name was used as a character in the book. And to this day, I still don't know why.) And when he announced his next book would be a return to the Elvis and Joe and the series, fans rejoiced.

But then, THE LAST DETECTIVE was delayed six months. But hey, these things happen. If the author needs more time, people can wait. However, what people may not have realized at the time was that in between the publication of HOSTAGE and TLD, Crais' editor, Shawn Coyne, had left to start his own publishing company, Rugged Land. So the person who had been so instrumental in bringing Crais over to Doubleday was gone, and in his place was Jason Kaufman, who no doubt had some ideas of his own about the direction of the series.

TLD was published in early 2003, around the time that Random House was going mental with the firing of Ann Godoff and Gina Centrello taking over a merged Random House/Ballantine. And this new Elvis & Joe book was, well....different. More focused on suspense. Faster-paced, more cinematic. And although the reviews were good, people murmured that it wasn't as good as LAR. That the book seemed "over-edited." Crais had, evidently, tossed out a good 80 pages of backstory involving how Cole and Pike first met, which had originally been promised but was no longer in the final draft. There were great moments--especially involving Cole as a young boy--but somehow, the parts were greater than the sum.

But the book did well. And fans looked forward to another Cole/Pike novel the next year. But obviously, we were wrong. Because according to sources, the book isn't even finished yet. Another deadline missed. So what's going on?

I suppose it could be a number of things: other commitments, problems in translating ideas into the written word, editorial conflicts or personal matters. Whatever it is, I guess it would be nice to know, but I'd also like to know why a deadline couldn't be met, especially with the previous history. Is it even reasonable to expect the book to be ready for a February release date?

And I wonder how this news trickles down. Delay six months, and the sales reps have to tell booksellers, who have to change their plans. The story goes that the news leaked out because a California-area bookstore called up a Random House rep to ask about booksignings, only to find out that there wouldn't be any--not for another six months, at least. Delay it, and suddenly those trade publications may not pay as much attention to the book like they would have before. Delay it, and fans simply won't be around to care when the book's out. They can be a fickle sort, after all.

Ultimately, I guess I want to know why. And what's going on in the publishing culture that's messing with a writer's head that he can't deliver the book he's capable of in a timely fashion.

UPDATE: As Dave pointed out in the comments, the latest edition of Crais's newsletter has gone out with the following information:

Some of you may have already heard that RC's next Elvis Cole novel, THE FORGOTTEN MAN, which was originally scheduled for release this August, has been delayed until February 2005.

As RC was finishing THE FORGOTTEN MAN (along with doing triple-duty on his film, HOSTAGE, and keeping tabs on the development of WANTED, the Warner Brothers/CBS series based on his original script, DECOY), his mother was hospitalized with double-pneumonia and emphysema.

RC immediately stopped all work and flew to Louisiana. Thankfully, his mother is now recovering, but her recovery is slow. RC has remained with her to oversee her hospitalization, and her recovery is now the sole focus of his attention.

THE FORGOTTEN MAN has been delayed until he can once more give it his full and complete attention. He apologizes for not personally answering the questions and good wishes that so many of you have sent, but he wanted me to thank you all for the kind words we've received, and make this announcement to explain THE FORGOTTEN MAN'S delay.

Well, what can you say except that we wish Crais's mother a speedy and full recovery. Some things are, indeed, more important than finishing a book in a timely fashion.

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