Today, folks, André Jute has stopped by for an interview, so buckle up your seat belts. André is the author of more books than he can count, seven shelf-feet of them, with around three hundred editions between them. He has been published by all the current big six publishers in one or another of their present divisions. Besides being a distinguished novelist, he writes non-fiction as a teacher of typography, creative writing and automobile engineering. His Writing A Thriller has been the standard choice of professional writers for a quarter-century. His novels include Reverse Negative, The Zaharoff Commission, Sinkhole, Eight Days In Washington, and Festival.
Hi, André. Thanks for taking the time to stop in. Why don’t give us a bit of background on yourself?
I grew up in the country town of Oudtshoorn in South Africa. It is the ostrich capital ofthe world. I was agreeably educated. At school my favorite masters were the arts, accounting and English teachers. I went to college first at Stellenbosch, capital of rugby, a game more violent than American football, played without protective gear. Later I studied in Australia and the States. At the Sorbonne I was mainly involved in organizing a revolution, and at Cambridge I did research for a novel on Keynes that fell by the wayside.
I was trained in psychology but didn’t like the barbaric method of electro-shock convulsive treatment, then still common, and became an economist instead. In grad school I studied business and politics. I taught college for a while but it didn’t take. Then I was a merchant banker for about a week, until I got sent to straighten out an advertising agency. They liked me and I liked the excitement, so I stayed in advertising for several years. People think I was a writer, and I did write some now famous headlines, but in all my jobs I was a troubleshooter, the guy sent to fix what was broken.
After advertising I was a “seersucker coronel” which is a polite way of saying “yanqui imperialist” in South America, the guy in shades you see whispering in el presidente’s ear just before he changes his mind about ordering a little massacre of women and children. I had a job for a while as managing editor of a large magazine group but it was boring; I worked for a while for an expansionist newspaper proprietor as his fixer but left him when he wanted me to put a clearly ga-ga old pol back in power after the electorate chucked him out. I didn’t mind doing the impossible but the immoral was another matter.
Then I was a management consultant, and since 1980 I’ve been a communications consultant, mainly to the publishing trades. I am called in when a magazine is being revamped, that sort of thing. One of my designs is probably known to every British writer; I made the original designs for Writers News and Writing Monthly. Perhaps I should say that I have some reputation as a typographer as well, what people call a graphic designer, and several of my non-fiction books are educational standards for typographers, like Grids, The Structure Of Graphic Design.
Many of my hobbies have turned into subsidiary careers. I like automobiles and designed a successful small series car, very expensive. I taught myself electronics and then licensed designs for kilovolt tube ultra-fi amplifiers. I like classical music, so for fifteen years wrote a syndicated newspaper column on it; I had to stop after we were forced to move house twice because my record collection got too weighty for the structure of the house.
Suddenly, I feel like I haven’t done enough with my miserable little life. Note to self: must take up hobbies in quantum physics, marble sculpting, and Etruscan poetry. Er, enough of that. Wherever did you find the time to write? What got you into it in the first place?
I’ve always been a writer; I come from generations of talented people, writers, painters, patissier. My first two volumes of poetry were published in three countries when I was 13. My dissertation was cut down into a monograph that was sold for ten thousand dollars a copy for a guaranteed total run of 100 copies; it is the study on which shopping mall distribution is based — as an economist, my specialty is demographics.
A novel I wrote at sixteen was later published when one of my publishers desperately needed a go project when a drunken writer lit a fire with his manuscript six days before it was due to go to press. Fortunately my juvenile extravaganza was published pseudonymously, though the reviews were amazingly kind, and some were fulsome. I just write all the time.
When I was in advertising, I was aloft so often that my address was given in Who’s Who as “aboard the company jet”, away from home a lot. I’m too fastidious for whores, and my patience with fools is too short to spend my evenings in bars, so I appointed a young lady to my staff whose job it was to see that I had tickets for the opera in any city where I might conceivably land, or a concert, or a play. It naturally followed that I wrote reviews. I’ve written reviews forever too, and music students whose genius I was the first to note have made satisfying careers.
When I decided to be a fulltime novelist my friends in business took up a collection beside the bar that amounted to over half a million dollars (35 years ago when a buck was still a buck). I was very embarrassed when it was necessary to ask them to keep the money and explain that my publisher had already paid me for the novel I was about to write.
A film corporation to whom I consulted hired a novelist to be my mentor. He was not a success. He wrote me a letter to tell me that “your accursed fecundity” would forever prevent me being published. Two years later I had half a dozen novels — or so — under contract. It was an awful lesson in how jealousy can consume a small talent. I took the tip and stopped worrying about what everyone else was doing. Going my own way has served me and my readers well.
Your accursed fecundity. That’s priceless. Hmm. I’m going to have to slip that into some dialogue in one of my works-in-progress. Perhaps a conversation between a government health worker and a rabbit. If the book makes money, I’ll cut you in on a percentage. Speaking of books, what’s coming off the press for you?
The books with which I’m currently conducting a Kindle experiment are a novel and a book of literary criticism.
Iditarod is a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth, about the eponymous 1200 mile dog-sled race in Alaska every year from the first week of March. It is a sports and conservationist novel suitable for all the family, with a definite appeal to young adults. I nearly died three times researching that novel. It’s a very dangerous race.
The Larsson Scandal is the unauthorized guerilla critique of Stieg Larsson, best described as an attack on mythmaking by authors and publishers, and an expose of the hypocrisies of their handmaidens in the media. It is a very funny book for those who don’t mind the blood of a few publishers and a few hundred journalists on the carpet, not at all like the dead serious, and deadly dull, image normally conjured up by the very words “literary criticism”.
Do you have any other works in progress?
Actually, I’m taking a break from my own work to edit another writer’s novel for the Kindle, with the help of volunteers I found on The Indie Spot. I’m working on The Meyersco Helix by Andrew McCoy, a hard sci-fi action thriller with added sex and violence.
When I finish that, I must work on the fourth edition of my Writing A Thriller, a bestselling handbook for other writers that’s been in print for 25 years in ever larger expanded editions, to the point where I now want to rewrite it from scratch to return it to a leaner, meaner state, ready for the ebook generation.
Then I must edit a series of books to launch my protégé Dakota Franklin, but I don’t want to dilute the surprise by saying too much.
Judging from what you’ve shared about your professional career, you’ve obviously mined a great many books over the years for knowledge, inspiration, etc. Can you discuss three books that have had the most influence on you as a person and as a writer?
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was a big novel of ideas that yet told a riveting story. As a teenager, long before I could be identified as a libertarian economist (I belong to the Chicago School rather than the Keynesians), I appreciated that Rand was sharing a bookful of tips with this teenage writer that she didn’t even know, about how the world of books and the world of ideas intersected and could mutually reinforce each other.
Richard Condon’s Infinity of Mirrors showed me that serious ideas did not exclude wit, even whimsy. Condon is important to me not only for the breadth of his vision and the scope of his ideas, but for showing the way out of a style that had become too Hemingwayesque for its own good.
The King James Bible is of course on every stylish writer’s shortlist. From a linguistic viewpoint, it is one of the sexiest books ever written. You can also grab some good storylines from it if the well runs dry. I’m saving that up for my old age, because right now I have forty or fifty ideas that I’ll never find the time to write, but meanwhile the King James Version is an abiding influence on my style and vocabulary.
Interesting point about the KJB. One thing I’ve always mused about concerning that book is the fact that a great many people no longer read it (or other versions of it), which, among other things, greatly alters one’s understanding of many of the great writers, from Shakespeare on down. Sorry, that was an unavoidable aside for me. Speaking of writers, I have to ask the obligatory question as to whether you have any advice for other writers?
Oh, hell, Christopher! Yah, you guys and gals, rush out right now and ensure your place on the best-seller lists by buying my books Writing A Thriller, Start Writing Today!, Keep On Writing! and Writing Proposals and Synopses That Sell. There’s a reason my books for other writers are so popular with the professionals. It is that they recognize the good advice because they’ve worked it out for themselves in practice.
So where does all your inspiration come from?
Generally I just start with a character; he or she has a name and a problem. That’s a story. What flashes the character and the problem into my mind can be anything. In fact, I don’t read the newspapers (even the ones I write for) or magazines or the net, and I don’t watch the news on TV. I’m just never short of ideas. When I was just starting out, I could call on the facts and backgrounds of an adventurous life but rarely did. Frankly, I think a writer who has to go looking for an idea or a character isn’t much of a writer.
Obviously, you’ve been in writing for a long time. At this point in your life, what do you hope to achieve with your writing?
That’s a dangerous question because it invites me to value a reader who chooses me now as less worthy than one who chose me when I started out. It doesn’t work like that. A writer never actually retires, though some stop because they’ve run out of steam. I haven’t yet, and don’t think I will for another quarter-century or so. But I’ve always just written for me — though I let some of my publishers believe different — and readers have come as pleasant surprise. Many of my novels are esoteric, yet people love them. Most of my non-fiction books are expanded notes from teaching class somewhere in some subject I love, and people love them in a different way. Their approval is very sustaining.
I’ll tell you what does change with decades of experience. When I was a young hotshot just out of advertising, one of the questions — or more likely subtexts because my editors were cultured men — I would permit publishers to ask about any project was “How big is the market for this book?” Now I don’t care a damn how well a book sells. My most recent book, The Larsson Scandal, is literary criticism, just about guaranteed a niche sale, or perhaps even no sale. But I enjoyed writing it, I’ve enjoyed the response of the reviewers, the book is selling respectably, and it is a book that I’m proud of. That’s enough.
Of course, it helps a writer be sanguinary about a book written for pride if he has many books, including steady sellers and some best sellers. Next, I’ll prepare something with a big potential for the Kindle. I chose Iditarod for my Kindle experiment merely because it had relatively clean electronic files.
I’d like to steer clear from writing for our last question. I love finding out what makes people tick as individuals (I’m not referring to pacemakers, or excitable folks wearing curiously bulky jackets). You’ve already explained a great deal of that in terms of who you are. However, what about the grand exit? What would you like to be known for when you leave this little planet?
I have a statue in front of my old school already for political activities. At nine feet it is under life size. I would like them to make it bigger, and to bulge more realistically at the crotch.
Seriously? It’s too tough a question. I’ll trust to the fairness of posterity.
André, thanks for coming by. We wish you the best of luck with your further exploits, and particularly with your upcoming March release of Iditarod.