The novelist as everyone knows, is a breed apart. Here, for the price of a literary lunch, are three parts of the breed.
Michael M. Mooney, 49, occupies a window seat of Le Terrace at the Madison Hotel, Washington's Correct Address.Coffee is $1.25 at Le Terrace, but Mooney can afford it because Simon and Schuster has just bought his next four books, as yet unwritten. The first is a novel in which "there is a senator and there is a kidnaping." He finds Washington Fascinating, and has relocated here, abandoning the Hamptons.
"You can look at the novel as naval architecture," Mooney remarked, revealing a youth ill-spent racing sailboats. There's displacement, speed, esthetics -- it's a craft that not only has to float, but you have to predict exactly where the waterline will be.
"You can also look at the novel in profile, and then it resembles a breaking wave. If there's 12 chapters, the wave breaks at 10 1/2. All the way up the slope the writer is getting the reader to adopt his point of view toward the material, so the wave will break the way he wants it to. And the writer should know exactly where the crest comes before he starts. Write the climax first! If you don't know where everything is leading, the reader will never forgive you."
Mooney punctuated this practical analysis by grasping a french-fried potato and eating it. He is of Irish descent. He is also having a particularly good year.
His 1972 best seller, "The Hindenburg," is being reissued in a new edition of 250,000. Playboy Press has just come out with 750,000 paperbacks of "Memento," his novel about a socialite madam who manages debaucheries even from beyond the grave. "(The ads read: "A Blistering, Tell-All, Guess-who novel! The biggest, boldest, most salable Playboy paperback ever published!"). Mooney's critical study of the federal arts and humanities endowments, "The Ministry of Culture," is also due out this year.
Meanwhile, an appeals court in New York two months ago upheld a summary judgment on Mooney's behalf over a plagiarism suit that had nagged him for eight years, and held up royalties from Universal's Oscar-winning movie based on "The Hindenburg."
"Universal wanted to settle, but I stuck it out as a matter of principle, and it cost me $100,000 in legal fees," he said. "The case finally went to Judge Irving R. Kaufman -- the censor of the Rosenbergs, remember? -- who ruled that you can't copyright history. It was worth it."
Mooney, who has a strong point of view on such matters, also believes that "point of view is everything when you're telling a story." He took the Winston out of his mouth and reached for the coffee cup.
"One time I was flown out to Los Vegas to help solve a last-minute problem in Ann-Margret's act. She was on stage with two piano players, and the idea was to start this extravagant show with her singing a few bars of a song and the piano players would say 'No, that's not it.' then, she'd sing something else, and they'd say, 'No, that's still not it.'"
"As soon as I heard this, I said, Hey, you're got a 'no' premise. The point of view is 'no.' That's why the audience is saying no -- because you're asking them to. So we just began the act with Ann-Margret's belting out some songs, as she does so well, and the audiences loved it right away."
Mooney is a practical fellow. If somebody asks him what he does for a living, he never says "novelist." "And what do you do, Mr. Mooney?" I sleep till 4 in the afternoon. Nobody would hire me. I really don't do anything, ma'am."
Anne Tyler is lunching in a booth at the Village Roost, a clean, well-lighted place catering to shoppers in a busy mall near the North Baltimore village of Cross Keys.
Tyler's eighth novel, "Morgan's Passing," is just out, and The Washington Post's Book World says its flavor is "alternately lyrical and rambunctiously comic." The New York Times salutes her as "a wonderful writer who "before she is done . . . will have populated an entire imaginary State of Maryland with odd people about whom you are obliged to care." John Updike, writing in The New Yorker, has said, "This writer is not merely good, she is wickedly good."
Except for one thing, Tyler fit perfectly in the credit-card bustle of the Village Roost, her carriage unself-consciously proper, her mascara skillfully applied. The thing was, she occasionally sighed.
"Publishing a book is just about the worst thing that can happen to a writer," she said. "It's like losing your soul, in a way. It's something very private that you have made and one day it comes out, and people read it, and talk about it in front of you. And ask questions."
It is not surprising that Tyler's recent books are set around Baltimore. She does all her writing at home, usually between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., while her two girls -- the older is 14 -- are at school. Her husband is a child psychiatrist.
"I'm such a homebody," she said. A hint of a sigh. Not a sigh of weakness -- for her eyes are interested, and strong -- but of apology for not being a lion tamer, or astronaut or parolee. "I won't drive on freeways. We have a place in Bethany Beach, and my husband and the kids have to drag me there every summer."
She prefers that every day be much the same as the one preceding.
"That's why publishing a book is hard. Disruptive. After "Morgan's Passing" came out the phone was ringing a lot and when I went to my room to write, nothing happened. I go there every day no matter what. For three weeks nothing. Not a word. Then two days went by, and I got a quarter of a page."
Another time, Tyler's children were in camp and would not return home until 5 p.m., so she thought she would add an extra two hours to her writing day. "I tried it for three days, that's all. By 5 o'clock on each of them, I was in tears."
To get information about the world, she debriefs her children. For money, she reviews books, despite the discomfort. "I really think there should always be several opinions, because that's all reviewing is. I would never, ever, want to have the last word on anybody's book."
Speaking of money, her eight books have brought her almost none, she said. They are published, raved about by critics, and go on to not become best sellers. "It doesn't bother me," Tyler said. "It kind of gets on my husband's nerves, though, I guess he thinks my hourly wage is pretty low." No sigh.
Anne Tyler, despite the necessity to converse, consumed nearly all of her omelet. That is a clever trick that many interview subjects never learn.
"You know what the most extradinary thing that ever happened to me was?" she volunteered. "It happened when I was in high school and the boy I had been hoping would, finally did, ask me to senior prom. The miserable, and the world had fallen in.
"My mother, in sympathy, brought me the most prized magazine of the house, The New Yorker, which had arrived that day. The boy came by about 3 o'clock, after he heard I was sick, to give me the corsage and just say hello, but I declined to see him. I said I was busy and didn't want to be disturbed.
"There I was, in bed, alone, on the very day that The New Yorker published 'Zooey.' I guess I have never gone back to J. D. Salinger since then. Why ruin the moment?"
Tyler concluded luncheon at 2:30. She had to take one of the girls to the orthodontist at 3.
Patricia Gaffney, 35, at a table near the grill at the rear of the Golden Ox, a steak house on L Street in Washington:
"I love Anne Tyler's books," she said. "But if publishing one menas you have to give up part of your soul, I'm willing to take the risk."
Gaffney is working on her second novel now. Her first, a mystery entitled "Murder by the Book," was finished more than a year ago. It is 310 double-spaced typed pages, in a seven-chapter format. Each chapter is a day of the week, and in that week a classics professor attending a literary symposium falls in love and also solves a murder. "Murder by the Book" is as yet unpublished.
Patricia Gaffney, who worries about not being aggressive enough about selling "Murder by the Book," has an agent in New York, who she worries is not aggressive enough about selling her book, either.
"I got the agent about a year ago, on a referral by a friend. So I sent off the book, and nine months went by without hearing anything. Finally the agent said she was interested, had a few suggestions, and so on. I made some changes. Then I didn't here anything for another three months, and finally one of my friends said, 'Why don't you call her up, for heaven's sake?' So I called. The agent said, 'Oh, we are sending it this very day to Random House.'"
The book came back in two months. It went to Holt, Rinehart and Winston for a three-week stay. It is now residing at Doubleday.
"My fingers are crossed," Gaffney said.
She was not a professional writer before she started on "Murder by the Book." Her trade is that of court reporter.
"Have you ever heard of stenomask? I don't use one of those wonderful little boxes where your finger hits a key every couple of sentences -- that takes years to learn. Stenomask is a thing that covers your mouth like a mask, and muffles your voice, so you repeat everything being said in the court into a tape recorder, and somebody types it up later. I learned it in a day, by practicing on Perry Mason reruns. The money's better than I made teaching English in Chapel Hill."
It happens that Gaffney types 100 words a minute, but she writes novels in longhand. "I wish my brain could keep up with my typing, but it can't," she explained. Since she is not in court every day, there is plenty of time for writing, and sometimes she can compose from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. "That would give me about 20 written pages," she said. "Which the next day i probably would hate."
People congratulate her for her self-discipline, but like many writers, Gaffney does not enjoy the act of writing. It is a great pity, she acknowledged, that in order to have written a book you first have to write it.
"I am completely convinced that 'Murder by the Book' will be published," she said with great spirit. Doubleday, you cannot help but feel, will shortly offer hundreds of thousands.
"My trouble right now is my second one," Gaffney said. "I've got about 50 pages done, and this time the main character is a woman who's just got out of prison and is trying to find the murderer of her husband. But I can't stand her. She's embittered, and I hate embittered people. I don't know why she's so bitter, but she is.
"Do you think I should throw the 50 pages away and start over?"
Twice the waiter at the Golden Ox tried to take her luncheon steak away, and twice she stopped him, saying she wasn't finished. On the third try, she said, "Okay."
Even novelists have to get back to work.