When you interview John Jakes, who writes historical novels with about the same frequency you and I sign checks, Pyramid Publications obliges you with a set of quesions you may ask him. Questions like "Are you excited about having the largest first printing in history of any book, with 3 million copies of 'The Warriors' coming off the press?"
"The Warriors," as it happens is, like the five Jakes books that preceded it in the series, a mammoth novel concerning yet another generation of the fictional (and fertile) Kent family who are now living during and after the Civil War. It is, in fact, 682 pages long, and frankly by the end of it, you can't remember who did what to whom, except that it was all done in passion and there was a lot of yearning involved, which is why another Pyramid suggestion. "Ask about the cure for freckles," springs so easily to the lips.
"Hmm . . ." replies John Jakes. "The cure for freckles . . . I can't remember exactly."
He looks up, seeking guidance, a huge thick-set man with a surprisingly gentle voice.
"Milk and bread," supplies the publicity man from Pyramid who shepherds him around.
"Oh yeah," Jakes nods his head, a sparsely vegetated planet covered by a crew cut of graying brush, "yeah that was how one of my characters in 1865 tried to cure her freckles - by putting milk and bread on her skin. I don't think it worked, though . They had some dandies back then . . ."
With 15 million copies of his last six books in print, you would think John Jakes would be a fabulous celebrity. Or, at least that he would act like one. He isn't and he doesnt. You would also think he made up that name.
"Do you honestly think I'd make up that clunky name?" he asks, astonished. "John Millington English, Edward Stuart Grant - maybe. But John Jakes???"
Heaven forgive us, John Jakes is a real nice guy. He lives with his wife of 25 years and his four children in Dayton, Ohio. His unwiedly body is encased in black-and-white checked trouses with a matching jacket.
At 45, the man is well on his way to becoming a millionaire, which is something you can neither resent nor envy, when he says, "One of the things I've done with my money is buy 275-worth of new gutters for my house in Dayton. Well, I was going to buy a Mercedes, but I didn't because it was too expensive. So I got a Cadillac Seville for $8,800. And I finally bough my wife a mink which is something I'd always wanted to do." His wife deserves that mink, too. She's the one who cuts his hair.
"I can't tell you why I'm not a celebrity," says the author. He laughs. "It's my haircut, I guess. You know I have several friends in the science fiction community, and some of them have monstrous egos. You know, they walk into a room and expect everyone to recognize them. And I thought, Aha! That is what not to do . . . I don't think I'm eccentric," he concludes mildly. "Certainly I can't get to first base on a national television show."
"John," prompts the publicity man, "John you were too on a national TV show."
On yeah," he amends. "I was on 'Good Morning, America.' But that was a horror story." He Shrugs massive shoulders. "I don't have too much time to worry about it."
Not if you turn out one novel every four or five months, you don't. John Jakes spends about five months researching each episode of our history - he's proud of that. "It pays off," he says, and then sits down each morning at 8:30 to write at least one chapter a day. But while at least one chapter a day. But while the research may reslut legitimate histogry, the dialogue tends to be - no matter what era it's set in - brezy 20th-century.
"I do take dialogue from people at parties," he admits. "Especially people I don't lke. I think to myself, 'I'll fix you. But you'll never know it.'"
The books in his series all have similar-sounding and highly macho titles: "The Titans," "The Furies," "The Seekers," and the upcoming one will be "The Lawless."
"What do you want?" he asks with a chuckle. "The Defeated"? And coming soon -"The Failures'?"
"The Warriors," his latest, has, like all the others, come out in paperback first, (before going into Doubleday hard cover) and its back cover contains the tantalizing phrase, ". . . young Jeremiah Kent is tempted by a lascivious Southern belle into a web of lust and murder."
But the plain fact is "The Warriors" is a whole lot anmer than what it's cracked up to be. John Jakes' characters - and in this way they resemble Jacqueline Susann's exactly - spend a whole lot more time longing and lusting then they do . . . doing.
"I do that on purpose," says the author. "I have received only three nasty letters from readers - and I receive 50 a week, and reply to all of them. Anyway, the nasty one all raise the same objection: 'In a story on American history, sex has no place.'"
He grins sardonically. "But the Doubleday Book Club, which offers my books never puts out a warning with me. You know, they have this warning: 'Warning. This book contains steamy passages,' Well, mine don't get that."
Never mind that John Jakes got his M.A. in English leterature form Ohio State - he always found that "useless" after he stopped wanting to be a teacher. The way he got his start was by writing for publications with names like "44 Caliber Western" and "10-Story Western." This, as it happens, was the list he also gave his department head when he was asked to supply the names of places his works had appeared.
The department head studied the list which was supposed to appear in the publication of the Modern Language Association.
"I don't think this is quite the kind of thing we had in mind," said the department head. Jakes withdrew the list.
"So I became a little disgruntled with academia," he says. These days Jakes informs ambitious English students that it's a real shame the pulps are dead. "Pulps are the vaudeville of fiction," is how he puts it.
For the better part of his life Jakes has been writing science fiction books "that sank like a stone" and historical novels - 50 in all.
These books had titles like "Mention My Name in Atlantis," which supposedly combined elements of a science fiction parody and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." And he also wrote jingles for Frigidaire because he worked for many years as an ad man. And his old publishers told him what a crummy name John Jakes was, so his historical novels were blessed with the pen name Jay Scotland.
And then one day - you know how these things are - a bunch of people from Pyramid were sitting around the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] which happens [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in a restaurant in New York and the persons who was then editorial director thought up this idea is a series in hour of the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] . And they asked the man known as Jay Scotland to do them.
And John Jakes thought - why not? It was an exciting idea and after all his ad agency in Dayton had just lost that Frigidaire account. So he quit his job, took the $15,000 advance, and supplemented his income by writing scripts for corporate [WORD ILLEGIBLE] meetings.
And that is what it takes to become a best-selling author.
And now - it's incredible - people stand in line at the Pentagon for an hour-and-a-half just so Jakes can sign their books. People cant't wait for his next book in the series to come out. Universal optioned his series for a possible movie. And last year John Jakes had a ulcer, which is the true sign of success.
John Jakes is even beginning to - just beginning to, mind you - talk like a star.
The reason he is not yet a millionaire, he explains, is because of the IRS and - here he shoots a look at the publicity man, a look tempered with a grin, "Because of the unduly large amount of money my publishers with-hold against possible returns. Forty per cent. I'm not saying I'm not going to get paid. It's just rather slow to flow, and someone else is making the interest right now."
You look at this man, John Jakes, and you can't help thinking along Madison Avenue lines. You think - This guy would be dynamite on the "Today" show if only he'd grow his hair.
"I'll tell you," says Jakes, "When I was in grad school earning $95 a week, I couldn't afford to go to the barber, so I bought a pair of clippers for $7.95. And my wife God-bless-her cut my hair. Well it's been 25 years now, and I'm on my second pair of clippers.
"But look here -" he takes out his drivers license, and proudly displays a photograph of himself with a mustache and a beard. "That was me last year. See I was in this community play in Dayton. Uncle Vanya . . ."