Looking over the New York Times fiction bestseller list this morning, I notice that only four of the top 16 titles can’t be classified as mysteries or thrillers. Those include “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” Khaled Hosseini’s book about the enduring friendship between two Afghan women; and “Bungalow 2,” Danielle Steel’s book about, well, what most Danielle Steel books are about.
I suppose that’s good news for writers of mysteries and thrillers, particularly if you happen to be named Janet Evanovich or James Patterson. Surely it must mean there is a vast demand for the genre we’ve chosen. The rest of us can brood over the list, nursing our lukewarm coffee and lukewarm talent, and vaguely imagine the sequels for the breakout novels we have not yet written.
But really, while the bestseller list is every writer’s fantasy, it probably shouldn’t be any writer’s goal. That path leads to imitation and formula, and practically guarantees even deeper obscurity. If not, it leads to books like “The Quickie,” the No. 1 bestseller soon to be available at yard sales all over town — 50 cents in hardcover, barely read once.
Or so I tell myself. In writing, I believe, success lies in telling the story you were born to tell. Or, failing that, in telling the poignant story of your adorable but misbehaving little dog. Anything else, and the pinnacle of success will be forever receding on the horizon. Unknown writers can only say what they have to say and hope for the best. Sometimes, the mountain must come to Mohammed.