Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Flirtation with Fame by Larry Karp

 Here I am, as posed by a Seattle times photographer to "look mysterious."  The longcase clock behind me contains a rare music box that plays from folded cardboard 'books'.

Larry Karp grew up in Paterson, NJ and New York City. He practiced perinatal medicine (high-risk pregnancy care) and wrote general nonfiction books and articles for 25 years, then, in 1995, he left medical work to begin a second career, writing mystery novels. The backgrounds and settings of Larry's mysteries reflect many of his interests, including musical antiques, medical-ethical issues, and ragtime music. His most recent book, The Ragtime Fool, is the concluding work of a ragtime-based historical-mystery trilogy that covers the birth, death, and revival of ragtime music in America. Larry lives with his wife Myra in Seattle; they have two grown children, and a grandson.

Other mystery novels by Larry Karp include The Ragtime Kid and The King of Ragtime (the first and second books in the trilogy), First Do No Harm, The Midnight Special, Scamming the Birdman, and The Music Box Murders. Larry's mysteries have been finalists for the Daphne Du Maurier and Spotted Owl Awards, and have appeared on the Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times Best-Seller Lists.

Larry's nonfiction books include Genetic Engineering: Threat or Promise?, The View From The Vue, and The Enchanted Ear.

 This is where I write my books, the white outbuilding, down the hill from our house, separated from the neighbor's house by a wall.  No phone, no other people in the room, no Internet, nothing else going on, no distractions outside.  Nothing to keep me from writing. 

 And here I look less mysterious, in my office (with Internet access) in the house, where I go after I finish my day's writing, to take care of the business side of the job. 

A couple new pictures added - Wonderful Pictures!  - - - 
see Larry's comments in the comments section below

by Larry Karp

I'm Mr. Midlist. My seven mystery novels have gotten good reviews, and sold enough copies to keep me in the game. But no one would mistake Larry Karp for Michael Crichton.

Once upon a time, though, I had my feet on the road to the Big Time. Back in 1977, I wrote THE
VIEW FROM THE VUE, an account of my years as a med student, intern, and resident at New York's Bellevue Hospital. The book came out in hardcover from Jonathan David, a small New York house.

Then, one early-spring day in 1978, I got a long-distance call in my office at the University of Washington Med School. The caller identified himself as an editor at a big publisher of mass-market paperbacks. “I guess you've heard we acquired the soft-cover rights to your book from Jonathan David,” he said.

I told him no, I hadn't heard any such thing.

“Well,” he assured me, “we have.” And then he spent 45 minutes by the clock telling me that everyone at the publisher's was crazy about THE VIEW, and that it was going to be a lead issue several months hence. “Dr. Karp, I'm going to put everything behind your book,” he crowed “I'm going to make you the next Michael Crichton. I want to send out two publicity people to get the ball rolling. Next Saturday OK?”

The publicity people, a cheerful and peppy young woman and a young man to match, came as scheduled, took me to a posh waterfront restaurant, and assured me that a year from that day, my star would be eclipsing Michael Crichton's. It did not escape me that the date was April 1, 1978, but I dismissed the implication with a smile.

The campaign was supposed to go into high gear in a few months, but summer came and went with no further word from the editor, the publicity people, or anyone else. The publication date arrived, as did ten complimentary copies of my book, but that was it.

My calls to the editor went unreturned. My letters disappeared into a bottomless hole. Finally, one morning, I called the editor's office, told his secretary I was Jack Marshall, an editor at Random House, that I needed to speak with her boss, and that it was urgent. And by George, she put me through. Talking as fast as my pipes permitted, I asked the editor to please not hang up, that I was not planning to shoot him or sue him...yet. I just wanted an explanation.

I heard a huge, deep sigh. Then, he apologized for having evaded me all those months. “I was embarrassed,” he said. “Just when we were about to launch your campaign, the company decided they were only going to publish westerns, and they pulled the plug on everything else. They were legally obligated to bring out the book, so they did, but they weren't going to put any money into promoting it. Which makes no sense to me. For what it's worth, I'm going to be leaving here as soon as I can find another job.”

But that wasn't quite the end of the story. Fast-forward some twenty-five years to a Bouchercon, where I noticed that this same editor, now working at another publishing house, was going to be on a panel. Of course I attended the session, then afterward, walked up, introduced myself, and asked whether he remembered me.

If I had had a camera there, I could show you the definition of sheepish. “I was sure that book was going to make your career and mine,” the editor said. “I really did think you were going to be the next Michael Crichton, and I've never been so pissed off or embarrassed in my life. I just couldn't bring myself to call you.”

I told him not to worry, that I'd paved a few roads to Hell myself. We shook hands and wished each other good fortune.

I suppose it might've been nice to be rich and famous, but as Mr. Fats Waller used to say, “One never one?” No point complaining. I'm having a ball writing mystery novels that get good reviews, and sell enough copies to keep me in the game. And Michael Crichton's dead.


Vicki Lane said...

What a story! The ways of the publishing world are so strange.

And I love your last line!

Patricia Stoltey said...

A wonderful story and a powerful lesson about the confusing world of writing and publishing. And thanks, Kaye for introducing me to Larry's books. I love ragtime, so this series sounds very appealing

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

From Mary Reed:

What a fun post, Larry. It's a perfect example of an event that ultimately becomes a humorous and lively anecdote, though not so funny at the time. However, I must quibble about there being no outside distractions when you're working in your little white hut. It would be hard for me to stop looking at the bay or inlet as it may be. On the other hand, contemplation of bodies of water I find soothing, which on second thoughts might not be conducive to the hard concentration needed for writing!

Mary R

Larry said...

No, Mary, at the time, it wasn't at all funny.
Re distractions, though, as you can see in the first picture, the window behind the computer has a blind, which is *always* down. But when I'm stuck on something, I turn my head to the right (second picture) gaze out at the fig tree
and Puget Sound, and let my subconscious have full rein. Usually, within a few minutes, I'm back facing forward, banging the keyboard. It works; what can I say?

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Mary - if you haven't already - take a look at the new pictures Larry sent. I'm with you - I would not be able to work; I'd be lost in a whole 'nother world with that gorgeous view he has.

Patricia - I haven't read the ragtime books yet, but they sound wonderful, don't they?

Vicki - I hooted with the last line too.

Larry - Thanks for sharing this story with us. And I love that you tracked the guy down. I love that!