Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Thing$ I Learned from How to Write a Be$t Seller

-- Rommel and Patton (AKA Hour of the Fox) was originally going to be called The Rommel Legacy, and was going to be an alternative history of post-war Europe, if Rommel and Patton had negotiated an armistice in 1944.  Rohmer writes:

“That kind of historical novel isn’t everybody’s cup of tea…”

Or, apparently Rohmer’s.  The final book is 100,000 words about Rommel thinking about an armistice, but having a car accident instead.  The war follows its historical course.

“Now all I have to do is write it…”

Or not.

-- Retaliation, Rohmer’s business procedural about a Canadian bank taking over an American bank wasn’t inspired by a internal memo from an unnamed Canadian bank called “How to Take Over an American Bank.”  Rohmer was thinking about it before he came across the memo. So there.

-- Rohmer is aware that, in most literary works “conflict grow(s) out of character.”  This well-worn path the master eschews.

“In my fiction the characters and actions are designed to carry the message I want to get across… The characters personify institutions or nations.”

What’s that Fitzgerald line about characters, and starting out with a generalization and ending up with nothing?  Well, not that.  Rohmer starts out with President America and ends up with a be$t $eller.

-- When Rohmer bases a character on a real person, he is guided by a legal and artistic vision:

“I always have my thinly disguised character doing good things.”

Too many writers of potboilers make up terrible things about famous people and let the reader guess whom they might mean.  (Result: Entertainment)  Rohmer answers to a higher standard.

-- Rohmer freestyles his novels, and doesn’t like it when people monkey with what comes out.

“You can dictate your thoughts into a machine or directly to a stenographer… That’s the technique I use.” (p.62)

“When I got the manuscript back, the editor had altered almost every sentence in the book.  It took me four days to erase 98 per cent of the changes.” (p.106)

Drop the mic.


  1. About the only general suggestion I can make about choosing a title is that it should in some way suggest the plot…
    – Richard Rohmer How to Write a Best Seller, p. 111.

    In what way did The Rommel Legacy suggest the plot? The Desert Fox has no plan, rather he is following a course set out by others. And that course? Well, it hits a wall with the botched assassination attempt - after Rommel exits stage left (encountering tree).

    Rommel & Patton and The Hour of the Fox don't exactly suggest the plot either. In the unlikely event of a reissue, I suggest The Days of the Jabos.

  2. I suppose the Legacy would have been an alternative Europe where Germany had made piece in the West and concentrated on fighting Russia in 1944. Not sure it would have made a lot of difference, except maybe Germany wouldn't have been divided or de-Nazified? It's a what if premise that actually doesn't change much.

    Jabos sounds like a cross between juggalos -- you know, the sexy fun Insane Clown Posse fans -- and yabos. Back in the 80s you could sell a lot of VHS tapes called The Day of the Jabos.