11 de febrer de 2015

Richard Price Finds His Pseudonym for ‘The Whites’ Annoying

[The New York Times, 10 february 2015]

Alexandra Alter




Richard Price is a skilled literary ventriloquist, with a pitch-perfect ear for deadbeat street slang and sardonic cop banter. But when he tried impersonating another writer, with the aim of writing a fast-paced, plot-driven crime novel under the pen name Harry Brandt, he couldn’t quite pull it off.
His new novel, “The Whites,” about a New York City detective haunted by a mistake in his past and a criminal who got away, took him four years to write instead of the roughly four months he had planned on, and proved just as intricate as the sprawling urban portraits in his celebrated novels “Lush Life” and “Clockers.”
In spite of himself, Richard Price wrote a Richard Price novel.
“You realize you only know one way to write,” Mr. Price said during an interview at his home, a five-story Harlem brownstone built in the mid-1880s, where he lives with his wife, the novelist Lorraine Adams. “I knew how to dress down, but I didn’t know how to write down.”
Mr. Price had good reasons for going undercover for “The Whites,” which will be published next Tuesday by Henry Holt. He wanted to inoculate himself against literary critics who might sneer at him for writing a slicker, more commercial book. He was already late on delivering a separate novel, set in Harlem, that he owes a different publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and hoped to hide the fact that he was moonlighting. And he wanted to see if he could write a stripped-down, heavily plotted best seller, without sacrificing his literary credentials.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for Richard Price fans, it didn’t work out that way.
“I thought I was going to write according to a certain number of rules for the genre, then the rules went to hell,” Mr. Price said. “Everything seemed to beg for more complexity.”
“The Whites” centers on Billy Graves, a middle-aged New York City detective who works the overnight shift on the felony squad, and who’s still obsessed with a suspect who escaped charges in a triple murder case. The novel weaves together multiple plotlines, as Billy and his old detective buddies stew over past crimes that haunt them, and Billy’s own family comes under threat from a stalker with a grudge.

Mr. Price said that in his more than 20 years of hanging around with the police to research his novels, he’s met a handful of detectives who fall down the rabbit hole of an unresolved crime, carrying boxes of case files with them into retirement. Mr. Price said the cops’ single-minded pursuit of their failed criminal conquests reminded him of “Moby-Dick,” giving rise to the book’s title, “The Whites.”
Mr. Price said he did “zero” research for the novel but drew heavily on things he had seen during previous ride-alongs with the police.
“Cops to me are a kind of addiction because they get me to places I can’t get into otherwise,” he said. “I think the writer I most identify with isn’t a writer, it’s a photographer, Weegee.” Mr. Price owns several photographs by Weegee, the photojournalist who captured stark scenes of urban life and crime in Manhattan in the 1930s and ’40s.
“The Whites” is full of Mr. Price’s signature flourishes — dead-on dialogue, complex criminal characters and subtle explorations of big themes, like the morally ambiguous relationship between cops and those they set out to police and protect.
After a tussle with his publisher and editor, who argued that the pen name would result in “commercial suicide,” Mr. Price agreed to reveal his identity by using a transparent pseudonym. The result is a somewhat awkward double identity on the book’s cover: “Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt.” It was an unusual feint that misled no one, least of all Mr. Price’s fellow novelists.
In a cover blurb, the novelist Michael Chabon wrote, “Richard Price isn’t fooling anyone with this Harry Brandt business; only he could have written ‘The Whites.’ ” The novelist Dennis Lehane, a friend and fan of Mr. Price’s, says he’s baffled by the fake name. “With all due respect to Richard, I think he’s wrong,” Mr. Lehane said in an interview. “This is another Richard Price book; it’s not a supermarket book.”
Friends say Mr. Price is incapable of cutting corners, even for television and screenwriting jobs. He rode with the Baltimore police to get a feel for the city’s criminal underbelly when he was writing episodes of the HBO show “The Wire,” according to David Simon, the show’s creator and producer. “He’s not going to leave stones unturned once he gets into a story,” Mr. Simon said. “That’s just turning off his brain, and there’s no way for him to do that.”
Other high-profile novelists have used pen names to experiment with different genres, including John Banville, an Irish literary novelist who writes crime fiction as Benjamin Black, and J. K. Rowling, who is writing a series of detective novels under the name Robert Galbraith. Once readers learned that Galbraith was actually a pen name for the author of the Harry Potter series, the novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling” went on to sell more than 450,000 print copies, according to Nielsen, which tracks 85 percent of sales.
It seems odd that 41 years into his celebrated career, Mr. Price is having a sort of public identity crisis. A native of the Bronx who grew up in a housing project, Mr. Price published his first novel, “The Wanderers,” when he was 24. He’s since written eight novels and about a dozen feature films.
Now, at 65, he’s in a hyperproductive phase, with his novel, a movie and a handful of TV shows on the way. HBO is currently shooting “Crime,” an eight-part mini-series that he wrote, starring John Turturro as an ambulance-chasing New York lawyer. In April, Lionsgate is releasing a feature film based on Mr. Price’s adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s novel “Child 44,” a thriller set in Stalinist Russia. He has several other crime series adaptations in the works, including an HBO show he’s writing with Mr. Simon and the novelist George Pelecanos about Times Square in the 1970s, and he’s adapting “The Whites” for Sony and the producer Scott Rudin.
Mr. Price sounds conflicted when he talks about his screenwriting work, dismissing his TV and film scripts as “money jobs” that distract him from his fiction. His novel “Lush Life,” which hit the New York Times best-seller list when it came out in 2008, was hardly a smash hit, with sales to date hovering around 175,000 copies.
“I couldn’t support my children off the royalties, couldn’t pay their school tuition, couldn’t pay my mortgage,” he said. “I still have to do things for money, but all I want to do is write novels.”
“The Whites” came about partly because Mr. Price wanted to see if he could make more money from his fiction by writing a major best seller. In 2010, he met with John Sterling, who had edited “Clockers” and “Freedomland,” and a few other editors at Henry Holt, and delivered a Hollywood-style pitch: He wanted to write a series of urban crime novels under a pen name. Holt bought the book for publication in 2011.
Mr. Sterling said that when they were several years past the original publication date, and Mr. Price was polishing his third or fourth draft, he suggested ditching the pen name. “He was no less obsessed than he was working on ‘Clockers’ or ‘Freedomland,’ ” Mr. Sterling said.
Ms. Adams, who met Mr. Price about five years ago and married him in 2012, said she was always skeptical of his plan to “make a quick buck” in a few months. “He just gets so engrossed in the mental mystical algebra of what writing a novel is,” she said.
The process involves months of making lists, taking notes, writing character sketches and possible scenes, and mapping out the story on pieces of paper that he shifts around the dining room table, as if trying to put together a puzzle.
Mr. Price says he’s happy with all the work he put into the book, but now wishes he didn’t have to share credit with Harry Brandt. Every time he sees a book review referring to the author as Brandt, he gets annoyed.
“It seemed like a good idea in the beginning, and now I wish I hadn’t done it,” he said. “This pen name is like pulling a rabbit out of a glass hat.”


0 comentaris:

Publica un comentari a l'entrada

 
Google Analytics Alternative