Paperback alchemist

May 26 1980

Paperback alchemist

May 26 1980

Paperback alchemist


Judith Krantz

The news pages have given Judith Krantz's Princess Daisy more space than the book critics think it deserves. On the strength of her first book, Scruples, Bantam is paying $3.2 million for the paperback rights to Krantz's latest, bettering the record (for Mario Puzo's Fools Diej by $ 1 million.!) aisy tells of the struggle of a Russian princess left penniless when Rolls-Royce goes under. Krantz, 52, was a magazine writer with publications like Cosmopolitan and Ladies’ Home Journal for 2k years before turning to fiction in 1976, with Scruples. She spoke with free-lance writer David Weinberger on a visit to Toronto.

Maclean’s: Perhaps we can avoid talking too much about money. . .

Krantz: Good. Won’t that be nice. You can ask anything you want, but that would be refreshing.

Maclean’s: . . . because it seems pretty clear why you were paid so much. Krantz: I still don’t understand it. I’m glad someone does. Actually, I think I know. It is what is called the profit motive. I think Bantam feels it will sell a lot of copies of P?'incess Daisy. It has to sell four million to break even. Scruples has already sold well over four million and Scruples isn’t as good a book. Maclean’s: In what sense is Princess Daisy a reaction to Scruples?

Krantz: Good question, because it is a reaction to Scruples. In Scruples I was really a total neophyte. I had never written fiction. [Scruples is a behind-

7 have fun reading my books, too*

the-scenes depiction of the opulence and decadence of the high-fashion world.] In the publishing community as a whole, Daisy’s considered to be a much better-written book, a much more polished book, and I know I worked a lot harder on it. Scruples just came pouring out like first novels often do. You put so much of the stored information in. I’d worked as a fashion editor for three years, I’d been a consumer in Beverly Hills, I was married to a movie producer. I had all of that background just waiting to come out, but with Daisy I had to do a lot of research.

Maclean’s: How does the polishing show itself in Daisy?

Krantz: I think my style improved. I deliberately excluded the kind of very graphic, very explicit sex scenes I had in Scruples because I was sick and tired of the amount of beating around the head I was getting from the media. I thought, “My god, all I did was write sex scenes and now I’m being treated as if I’m Henry Miller.”

Maclean’s: What writers would you feel comfortable being compared to?

Krantz: Nobody, really. People compare me to Jacqueline Susann and I don’t feel comfortable with that. People compare me to Harold Robbins and I don’t feel comfortable with that.

Maclean’s: Why not?

Krantz: Well, first of all I think that although Jackie Susann was terribly popular, I find that her works now— she’s been dead for eight or nine years— are dated, and mine are very contemporary. And my style is my style. It’s very distinctively mine and hers was distinctly hers. The comparison to Harold Robbins I find rather insulting because I don’t think he writes very well. I don’t think he ever wrote terribly well, but certainly I think he has written with diminishing success because he doesn’t have the foggiest idea about anything about women and how they think. His women are all cookies out of a cookie jar and their sex scenes are all similar and extremely predictable. You know, some woman once came up to me at a party and said, “I know how you do it. You write a sex scene every 25 pages and that’s what made Scruples such a big success.” I said to her, “If that’s what it is why don’t you go home and do it?Do it yourself. Who’s stopping you?” It’s very annoying that people think I have some magic formula. I don’t. I don’t have a formula for writing successful novels. Maclean’s: Yet a formula seems to be developing in your books.

Krantz: Tell me what you think it is. Maclean’s: In both Scruples and Daisy, we have a rich, aristocratic family which has lost its fortune; the heroine becomes a working woman; she moves in with a kooky but liberating roommate; she becomes isolated with her boss in romantic settings—by a hurricane or general strike—the boss notices her for the first time, takes off her glasses and unpins her hair, and falls in love.

Krantz: You know, you’re right! Yes, there are similarities, but they’re not going to be in my next book.

Maclean’s: You consider yourself to be writing entertainment?

Krantz: Yes.

Maclean’s: To say you're writing entertainment is to distinguish it from writing something else.

Krantz: Everyone has his own concept of entertainment. For me, entertainment this year was the fourth and fifth volumes of Virginia Woolf’s letters and the

*Tell me what you think my formula is *

four-volume Leon Edel biography of Henry James. That’s my idea of entertainment. I can’t write as well as Virginia Woolf. I have no pretensions to being Edith Wharton or Henry James or Marcel Proust or Colette. I am simply what I am; I can tell a good story, what they call a good read. That means it’s fast, it carries you along, you want to find out what is going to happen next, you don’t put it down.

Maclean’s: Most people, when they say “I write entertainment," are implying that literature is not entertaining. Krantz: No, no. I would never say that because, you see, that’s what I like to read. I have an enormous love of literature, and it prevented me from writing until I was 48 years old. I had what I call Fear of Fiction, which is, well, if I write it and it is not as good as what I like to read, then it isn’t going to be any good at all. What I didn’t realize was that there is someplace in between what I like to read and what I can write. There’s a huge grey area where millions and millions of people have fun. And I have fun reading my books, too.