If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.


Our reason for creating WWK originated as an outlet for our love of reading and writing mystery fiction. We hope you love it, too, and will enjoy our holiday gifts to our readers with original short stories to celebrate the season. Starting on 11/16 stories by Warren Bull, Margaret S. Hamilton, Paula Gail Benson, Linda Rodriguez, KM Rockwood, Gloria Alden, and E. B. Davis will appear every Thursday into the New Year.


Our November Author Interviews: 11/8--Ellen Byron, and 11/15--Sujata Massey. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


November Saturday Bloggers: 11/4 Margaret S. Hamilton and 11/11 Cheryl Hollon.


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.


In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," just published, will appear in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Remembering Pearl Buck

by Linda Rodriguez

Pearl Buck is one of those once-great and now-forgotten authors who’s getting a new lease on life through the influence of Oprah Winfrey. In late 2004, Winfrey selected Buck’s The Good Earth for Oprah’s Book Club. Simon & Schuster's Washington Square Press printed 750,000 copies of a new trade paperback version of the book. Most of Buck’s novels had fallen out of favor with critics and fallen out of print. The discussion that ensued around this Oprah’s Book Club Selection brought several of Buck’s finest books back into print once more.

I know it’s fashionable in literary circles to criticize Oprah, but I believe she provides America, in general, and literary culture, in particular, a real service in encouraging reading and in bringing recognition to forgotten or overlooked works. Look at what happened to Buck. Even though Buck was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, her bestselling and award-winning books, such as The Good Earth, Sons, A House Divided, Other Gods, China Sky, Dragon Seed, Pavilion of Women, Peony, The Big Wave, and Imperial Woman, had mostly been out of print. The gatekeepers of American literature, professors and critics, had pretty much consigned her books to the ash heap as “not literary enough” and “too popular” until Oprah pointed a spotlight back on her Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, The Good Earth.

This is a recurring problem with modern American literary criticism, which is primarily based in academia. When writers originally considered literary and praised for their work become too popular or—heaven forbid!—make too much money from their books, they are soon scorned and relegated to the cultural ash heap of “not literary enough” and “too popular.” If they start out popular and sell well, those works may never even be considered literary—because how can they be if they’re so popular, right? In large part, this derives from a literary culture which has moved mostly to the university and where established writers and critics have their bills paid by other means than their writing. Another whole blog post right there! And in that category of another blog post to come, why is that male novelists can write one or two strong books and be forgiven for weak, meandering work after that for the sake of those powerful books, but too often women writers can write a number of strong books, yet if they should have even one weaker, less well-crafted book, all their work must then be dismissed?

Buck was a remarkable writer and remarkable person, who as a missionary’s child in China found in her backyard the mutilated remains of infant daughters abandoned to die and made them graves, as a teen volunteered to teach ex-brothel workers and sex slaves, as an adult novelist was accused in the U.S. of being a Communist while Maoist China accused her of being an imperialist. She thought, even as an adult in America, in Chinese first. English was always her second language. Even in her writing, she thought in Chinese and translated onto the page into simple, lucid, and powerful English. She worked tirelessly to improve the lot of minorities, women, and children, especially those with disabilities, in America and China. And wrote many books and shorter pieces, some weak and some extremely powerful. At the end of her long life, a frail elder in thrall to a con man, she degenerated in a sad way from the person she had been for most of her life.

Buck always had the reader in mind when she wrote rather than the critics, so it may be a given that the critics would turn their backs on her. I love what Buck said in her Nobel acceptance speech. She pointed out that, in China, "the novelist did not have the task of creating art but of speaking to the people." “Like the Chinese novelist,” she said, "I have been taught to want to write for these people. If they are reading their magazines by the million, then I want my stories there rather than in magazines read only by a few.” Perhaps this is why her stories of people’s lives, especially women’s, are so enthralling. I know they have helped me through times of great physical and emotional pain.

Do you have authors whom you have loved and who have meant a lot to you who have fallen into disrepute or completely disappeared?


Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear January 17, 2018. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com

19 comments:

Kait said...

I think The Good Earth must have been the first Pearl Buck book that I read. I fell in love with China and her writing. Of course in those days China was closed and very mysterious, and the China Buck wrote about was long gone.

She was a groundbreaking writer. I had no idea that her first language remained Chinese. it explains the lovely music in her prose. It is a shame that her novels have fallen from popularity.

Jim Jackson said...

When I retired, I thought it would be interesting to read the Pulitzer-winning novels starting with the oldest and working my way forward. Many of the earliest ones I could not find in the library (The Hamilton County library system in Ohio, which has a huge collection) or purchasing new online. The only place I could find them was through used books.

That process of trying to find award-winners of less than a century ago was an excellent reminder that I should write for my audience today, because the chances of anyone reading me long in the future are zero (with a small rounding error).

~ Jim

Margaret Turkevich said...

I remember Pearl Buck as a glamorous, iconic figure lifted from the pages of Life magazine, the Good Earth probably a book of the month club selection. I read the Good Earth in junior high and enjoyed it very much.

Grace Topping said...

Pearl Buck wrote enthralling stories and did much to raise awareness about the plight of the people in China, especially that of women. I'm sure that she would have been quite pleased that Oprah selected one of her books for her program.

Gloria Alden said...

I was lucky enough to have parents who loved to read. They belonged to the Book of The Month Club and bought and read her books as well as many others. When they died my siblings only
took a few of their vast collection, and I took all the rest including some really old ones from my grandparents. I have two by A. Conan Doyle that are not about Sherlock Holmes, Vanity Fair by William Makepiece Thackery, and so many other really old books that I think my father
may have been collecting, too. I read The Good Earth and remember liking it. I still have 5 of her books and I think I'll start reading them again, especially Death in the Castle.

Warren Bull said...

Authors rise and fall as they are forgotten and re-discovered.

Ramona said...

I was young when I read The Good Earth and it made a huge impression on me. Some of her other writings are terribly dated, but that's to be expected.

The Pearl S. Buck house is only a couple of hours from where I live. There are writing classes there as well as tours. I keep putting off a field trip. I think you've motivated me to arrange it. Thanks, Linda. Great post and a most worthy subject.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Kait, she'd long been a favorite of mine. Years ago, when I lost a lot of books in a flood and tried to replace them, I found that hers, along with several other fine women writers like Edna Ferber, were all out of print, so I had to seek them out at used bookstores and library book sales. I was so pleased to see that Oprah's selection of her caused publishers to bring her books back into print.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, you're right. I did a post one year--I think as a guest blog--showing the Publishers Weekly top book for every year of the 20th century, and very few of them are still in print or even have been heard of by modern readers. A sobering experience. I might see if I can find that and post it here in a few weeks.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Margaret, she was an articulate, glamorous figure and an activist for many good causes, highly respected. Then, as a fragile, vulnerable, quite elderly wealthy woman, she fell under the influence of a predatory con man, and her reputation suffered for things he did in her name.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Grace, I think you might be right, but I know she would have been thrilled to see all the bright young Chinese women studying for graduate degrees in the US with intentions of going back to China to be doctors, scientists, economists, and politicians.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, I think you'll like her books. One of the reasons I think you will is also one of the main reasons she was pushed aside, in spite of being a Nobel Prizewinner (as well, of course, as being female, which played a big part). She publicly said in her Nobel speech that she was writing popular books for the people and not for the academy and critics, almost always a kiss of death in the US literary scene. She believed very strongly that she should be telling a story that would interest and entertain her readers. She did it with a great deal of artistry most of the time, but she never forgot that aim.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, may we be rediscovered in time--and may we rise now, first of all.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Oh, yes, Roberta! Do go to the Buck house and then tell us all about it. I wish I could go with you.

Shari Randall said...

Thought-provoking post, Linda. When I worked in the library, a never ending task was "weeding," pulling books with low circulation or bad condition from the shelves to make room for new items. We saw authors fade from popularity - big names, best sellers like James Michener and Tom Clancy were on the chopping block all the time. I'm glad Oprah gave Pearl Buck a reprieve. It's sad how many books - and entire subject areas - were under review because people simply weren't checking them out. When our school systems cut art classes, staff had to fight to keep gorgeous, expensive art books on our shelves since they fell under the "weed because of low circulation" rule.

KM Rockwood said...

I never realized Pearl Buck was anything but a famous well-regarded author.

The quirks of the tax laws make books go out of print very quickly now, and make it unfeasible for publishers/brokers/bookshops to hang onto wonderful books that are somewhat slow sellers. When book inventory was not so highly taxed, they cold be kept in stock. One of the advantages of print-on-demand and ebooks is that they manage to overcome this inventory tax.

Linda Rodriguez said...

After I lost many loved books due to flooding years ago, I thought I'd just check them out from the library since many were "classics." To my shock, I found the library had discarded even those "classics." That's when I started the trudge through used bookstores and library book sales to replace them. Sadly, I'm now having to decide which of those books can't come with us since our space is drastically reduced from what we had. Fortunately, a poor town in the Cherokee Nation needs a library and has no books, so singlehandedly I'm going to be able to furnish a library for them.

Linda Rodriguez said...

And that last comment was for you, Shari. LOL

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, you're absolutely right about the destructive tax laws that so horribly impact authors, publishers, bookstores, and books.