Grisham’s Camino Island Series Features Struggling Authors

I stayed up too late finishing John Grisham’s latest novel, Camino Ghosts, third in a fascinating series that I hope won’t be the last of these crime thrillers that are also pleasing “beach reads,” though I’m not at the beach. I am, nonetheless, in sweltering temperatures, far too humid for the summertime desert clime. Hence, it feels a bit like north coastal Florida, where Grisham’s series takes place.

I particularly enjoyed the first novel, Camino Island, in pre-pandemic 2017, because it featured struggling writer/author Mercer Mann, local supportive bookstore owner Bruce Cable, and a colorful group of writers and authors, some quite financially successful by penning hundreds of novels otherwise known as kitsch that “serious” readers eschew.

I learned of the second novel, Camino Winds, published in 2020, when I saw an ad for Grisham’s latest, which came out this May. I therefore bought books two and three, and recently also read Camino Winds, a murder mystery wherein an author dies mysteriously during a hurricane.

Most fascinating for me was the initial description of the approaching storm, beautiful writing that read more like literary fiction. Although it was occasionally jarring that the rest of the story did not, sometimes seeming disconnected and perfunctory. I suppose Grisham can get away with it because he’s written at least fifty consecutive #1 bestsellers.

But what makes me covet the entire Camino Island series is its treasure trove of hard facts, critical commentary, and pointed snark about the insanely difficult pursuit of publishing books, and writing itself. Memorable mentions of how brutal bookselling can be, and how publishers are loathe to spend money on publicity and promotion.

In Camino Ghosts, I learned that author book tours are becoming a relic of the past, probably both as a result of the Covid pandemic and the publishing industry’s unwillingness to actually promote books. No wonder so many of us give up on them and self-publish because we’re going to have to self-promote anyway.

It was disheartening what Grisham’s bookstore owner had to say about “pushy” self-published authors in Camino Ghosts. I have not attempted to have my Other Worldly novels placed in any brick-and-mortar bookstore, having learned of the bookselling industry’s scorn when I published a nonfiction tome in 2014. Ironically, Raising Questions: Daring to Denounce the Religious Right to Defend Our Civil Rights makes many salient and prescient points pertinent to the SCOTUS crisis we’re now facing. One of the reasons I’m currently reading fiction instead of watching the news—in order to maintain some semblance of sanity.

In any event, Camino Ghosts involves a self-published memoir through a Florida “vanity press” in the 1990s that produced books for $2000, including 500 author copies, most of which do not actually sell. Local bookstore owner Bruce nonetheless likes the author, Lovely Jackson, despite his noting how her book had no editing whatsoever. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because Lovely’s life story about a barrier island off of Florida’s North Coast settled by slaves hundreds of years ago is a compelling and historically significant read.

While I agree that editing is crucially important, it is also my greatest expense as a self-published author. But at least I can be sure that my novels will still look and read as my books, not some idea of what they should or shouldn’t be by a major publishing house. I also wish I’d had my first Other Worldly novel, Alienable Rights, line edited, as I have the other five. For me, it’s worth the investment for consistency and credibility’s sake, despite the industry’s sardonic views on those who self-publish as merely vain per the decidedly derogatory term “vanity publisher.”

It would seem to me that the traditional publishing industry is ultimately guilty of self-destructive vanity, or the self-publishing industry wouldn’t exist—nor be thriving, unlike brick-and-mortar bookstores who turn their noses up at self-published authors. Have you seen some of the utter crap milled by lazy powerhouse publishers and prominently shilled by unimaginative bookstores?

But back to editing. My latest, Aliens Watch, is currently with my editor for the next six weeks. A great time for reading and learning from the pros. Which is to say I greatly enjoyed Camino Ghosts despite its bashing of self-published authors, many of whom are only trying to get their stories out there while the traditional publishing industry makes that damn near impossible.

Ironically, one of the cruel realities exposed in Camino Ghosts is how little even celebrated traditionally published authors actually make, once literary agents and income taxes take cuts of advances and ultimate profits. Even with a bestseller, many authors can’t afford to quit their day jobs.

I appreciate Grisham for delivering that reality. Along with the truth that even those who land lucrative book deals are under increasing pressure to perform on a timeline, promote, and sell, with lessening support from their publishers. It would appear from reading the Camino Island series that a great many traditionally published authors struggle with completing a second novel to the satisfaction of industry expectations.

Me, I just keep writing and self-publishing my Other Worldly series. I’m already taking notes and doing research for book eight, Alien Origins. It keeps me occupied, with no pressure to actually please anyone but myself and the few readers I’ve acquired along the way. I wasn’t destined to make money at this anyway, though I would love more readers, and interaction with them. But I was always compelled to write. Another tidbit that Grisham highlights in his Camino Island series.

Some of us write because we’re driven to tell a story, to expose a truth, or to impart a message. Like Grisham, I ultimately didn’t want to practice law, though I did for years, but not as a litigator. My Other Worldly series contains legal smatterings and snarky jabs at the profession, though I didn’t end up writing legal thrillers like Grisham. But I have enjoyed so many of his, along with his much-deserved derision toward corrupt lawyers and judges.

I am most grateful to this celebrated and wildly successful author for his Camino Island series about writers. Like my Other Worldly series featuring aliens among us, Camino Ghosts  sends the message that we writers and struggling-for-respect authors are not alone in our quest to be read, and be heard.


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