A.K.A. TREVANIAN

 

As you know, Trevanian has not given interviews in the past, nor has he done stints for radio or television, nor attended awards events, nor permitted publication parties, nor involved himself in such embarrassing marketplace exposures as book signings.� In small part, this was to protect his treasured privacy; in greater part, it was a reaction to the popular writer's willingness to display himself (more often, herself) to the mass public, not unlike the whore standing beneath a St. Denis streetlight, smiling and twirling her purse, desperate to attract clients.� Trevanian, on the other hand, always thought of writing as � if not art in the purest sense � at least one of the higher crafts.� He does not share the contemporary view of fiction writing as the first step in a merchandising scheme for selling paper decorated in ink patterns.


One of these people might be Trevanian!  One might not be.

� Trevanian, speaking about himself in the third person to Judy Quinn of Publisher's Weekly, via fax, 10 August 1998


Trevanian is one of several pseudonyms used by a fascinating fellow named Rodney Whitaker, who was born in Tokyo in 1925, and holds four university degrees.� He was formerly a professor at the University of Texas.� Whitley Strieber was in one of his classes.

After exploding onto bestseller lists in the early 1970s with two revisionist espionage thrillers, The Eiger Sanction (1972) and The Loo Sanction (1973), Trevanian, for reasons that shall be seen, sought to diversify into other genera.� Due to assorted contractual and legal entanglements, he was obliged to continue as "Trevanian" (at least, in American publishing markets), and produced The Main (1976, a roman policier), Shibumi (1979 his meta-spy novel), and The Summer of Katya (1983, a psychological horror novel) � widely divergent books that solidified the myth that "Trevanian" was actually a group of writers, working under a collective pen-name.� After a 15-year absence from domestic publishing, Trevanian reappeared as the author of a Western, Incident at Twenty-Mile (1998) and a collection of short stories, Hot Night in the City (2000).� Thereafter he is credited as the editor of an anthology titled Death Dance: Suspenseful Stories of the Dance Macabre (2002).� Although Trevanian does not contribute fiction to this book, one of the stories, "The Trespasser," is written by one Alexandria Whitaker, also author of a children's book, Dream Sister (1986).

In Trevanian terms, it would be presumptive to assume that Alexandria Whitaker is Rodney Whitaker's daughter � wouldn't it?

Whitaker's very first book was published under his own name, while still an academician:� The Language of Film (1970), a critical guide to the "grammar" of the film medium.� It is this book that protagonist Jonathan Hemlock quotes at length during his under-duress lecture on modern media in The Loo Sanction page 71 of the hardcover, page 92 of the paperback).

As "Nicholas Seare," Whitaker is also responsible for the funniest (and, one hopes, the final) retelling of the Arthurian myth, Rude Tales and Glorious (1983 � the same year as The Summer of Katya).� An earlier Seare, also a medieval comedy, was the hard-to-find 1339 or So: Being an Apology for a Pedlar (1975, � Whitaker).

The so-called "mystery" of Trevanian is largely passive, and easily a puzzle to those incapable of paying attention to what they read.� It is obvious that the above-cited canon is the work of the same writer.� Pattern-wise, the Sanction books form a crystal-clear template for Trevanian's masterwork in the same genre, Shibumi � in fact, the plot structures are practically parallel, and characters from the first two books are easily transposed, or echoed, in the latter.� Characteristic of much of Trevanian's work are the outrageous, punning names he imposes on his characters, from Yurasis Dragon and Felicity Arce (in Eiger) to Vanessa (Van) Dyke and Amazing Grace (in Loo) to Jack O. Diamond and the governmental sub-phalanx known as D.I.L.D.O. (in Shibumi).� T. Darryl Starr, in Shibumi, is an amplification of the Clement Pope character in Eiger, as the boisterous Le Cagot is of Big Ben Bowman.� And so on.� Strong Basque themes are shared, even celebrated, in both Shibumi and The Summer of Katya.� Mountain-climbing and spelunking are paralleled between Eiger and Shibumi.� Such observations are, of course, trivial, but the larger stylistic similarities will reveal a distinct voice, addressing different readerships (he has a pronounced fondness for the adjectival "crisp," and several other favorites include "confect" for invention, and the phrase, "the lagen of memory."� It's a fun game that anyone can play!).

And if that's too difficult for you, it is easier to pick out the name Rod Whitaker, in the onscreen story credits for the film adaptation of The Eiger Sanction (1973).� Trevanian takes potshots at the movie persona of star Clint Eastwood in subsequent books, and employs a rare footnote in the text of Shibumi to editorialize:


In the course of this book, Nicholai Hel will avail himself of the tactics of Naked/Kill, but these will never be described in detail.� In an early book, the author portrayed a dangerous ascent of a mountain.� In the process of converting this novel into a vapid film, a fine young climber was killed.� In a later book, the author detailed a method for stealing paintings from any well-guarded museum.� Shortly after the Italian version of this book appeared, three paintings were stolen in Milan by the exact method described, and two of these were irreparably mutilated.

Simple social responsibility now dictates that he avoid exact descriptions of tactics and events which, although they might be of interest to a handful of readers, might contribute to the harm done to (and by) the uninitiated.

In a similar vein, the author shall keep certain advanced sexual techniques in partial shadow, as they might be dangerous, and would certainly be painful, to the neophyte.


The "corporate pseudonym" story arose in 1984, when a man named James T. Hashian claimed he had authored three spy novels (which he refused to identify), then "sold" his pen-name to another writer when those books proved to be a popular success (the "other writer" was also unnamed).� The New York Times reported that Hashian was an American speechwriter and researcher working in the Labor Department, that he had scoured the north face of the Eiger, spent a year and a half at Harvard, and been a Navy fighter pilot.� Following "seven unpublished novels about the American Indian wars and eight unpublished novels about sea battles in the 1812 period," Hashian sold a novel titled Mamigon (1982), based on his "American heritage" � as he put it, "the story of the bloody 1915 Turkish massacre of American Christians who didn't know how to turn the other cheek."� There is a character in the book called "Travanian" (note spelling), and Hashian dropped very broad and unsubtle hints that the Trevanian novels were actually his own work � but nowhere did he actually claim to be Trevanian, saying his contact with "the other writer" somehow "prevented" him from doing so.� Mamigon was credited to "Jack Hashian," and at least one subsequent book, Shanidar (1990) to the contractive "Hashian."� The jacket photo of this latter book reveals a man with his jacket collar pulled up to conceal everything but his eyes, perhaps to promulgate the preferred suggestion that Hashian really "was" Trevanian.

James T. Hashian died in West Newbury, Connecticutt, 11 April 1999.� Databases and bibliographies to this day erroneously credit him as "Trevanian."

Trevanian has also "died" at least once by his founder's hand, and several other times in hearsay media.� Joe Mason, author of Valley Babies: A Conceptual Satire (2003), who himself also publishes under the singular nom-de-plume "Blackbird,"� offered up this anecdote:


In 1987, I was attending the American Bookseller's Convention in Washington, DC, promoting my first book (which is now thankfully out of print). My "agent" at the time had worked at the Post during the tumultuous period of 1965-1969 (through Woodstock and Abbie Hoffman's [or was it Jerry Rubin's?] risible attempt to levitate the Pentagon). We were having dinner at a steak house near Capitol Hill when I mentioned my appreciation for Trevanian and his work.

"Trevanian," he told me, "is dead."

"What?" I asked, instantly upset.

"Read my lips!" he sputtered, leaning toward me across his steak tartar. "Trevanian is dead. His estate sold the name to another author � like the Bond franchise? His last two books were written by somebody else."

I remember being respectfully impressed by this information. After all, Keith had worked at the Washington Post, hadn't he ...?

Years passed. My first two books went out of print. I finally learned how to write. I published a few more things. And I kept right on reading Trevanian.

I recognize now that my "agent" was wrong (about Trevanian and many other things). Having just finished Incident at Twenty-Mile for a second time, I recognize that the same impish wit that used to delight in page-long digressions has now compressed itself to half-paragraph (and, occasionally, footnote-length) musings.

The man's still out there, producing ... and getting better with each passing book.


Trevanian seemed to fall silent following the publication of The Summer of Katya, and it was not until a decade and a half later that he resurfaced, with a two-book deal at St. Martin's Press, which resulted in Incident at Twenty-Mile and Hot Night in the City.� In order to pique public interest and remind readers of his lineage, Trevanian uncharacteristically consented to participate in a bit of show-and-tell, although under strict and very characteristic restrictions: he answered questions by fax and phone, not as Rod Whitaker (the name imprinted on the fax return sheets), but as Trevanian, the motivations for this becoming abundantly clear in what he chose to discuss, beginning with Judy Quinn's inquiry as to why he had been absent from publishing for 15 years.

Let's let the man himself tell the story, at length:


� There has been no gap at all in my writing.� I have never stopped writing, and indeed the hours I spend every day at my work table are more satisfying and necessary to me than the time I spend at the dinner table.� What I did stop doing some fifteen years ago was seeking to publish what I was writing.

My early experiences with publishers in America were not pleasant (although I have maintained polite, even friendly, relations with publishers in Holland, Britain, Japan, Italy, all five Scandinavian countries, Portugal, and Spain).� Trevanian started writing rather late, having already had other successful careers.� At the age of 30, he had pulled back from a promising future writing and directing in theatre, when he recognized that it would mean to spend the rest of one's life working with actors and producers � that is to say, with pretty fools and grasping villains.� He then went into academics and became a full professor, a director of graduate studies, and the chairman of a large department of a major university.� This slow, insidious shift from doing something interesting, challenging and valuable (teaching) to doing something dull, repetitious and superfluous (academic administration) had befallen many people in that trade, where advancement and reward often mean changing from what you do well and happily to something you only do efficiently and grudgingly.

So Trevanian began to look around for something else to do in life.� From his theatre background (and from certain native gifts) he had always been able to write crisp dialogue, create interesting characters, and work out action, conflicts, and climax structures.� Also, his eye had been trained by his studies in cinema (his had been a department of media studies, and he had taught film theory, film aesthetics, and film making).� So it was more or less inevitable that he could consider writing.� (One of his university degrees had been in comparative literature.)� In the event, he got the idea of writing a quick little spoof on the then-popular super-spy/action genre.� (He did this having seen only two films within this genre and having read only a third of one of Ian Fleming's books � all he could manage before boredom weighted his eyelids.)� He tossed the spoof manuscript over the transom of ten or so publishers whose names he had copied out of some sort of manual for would-be writers.� He received total silence from about half these publishers, and rejections from the rest, save for two, one of which was Crown Publishers.� They wanted to do the book.

The realization that his little caprice might actually fall under the eyes of educated people gave Trevanian pause, and he rewrote the entire thing, having decided that here was an opportunity to blend spoof and acrid wit with socially � and politically � responsible messages.

The resultant book was The Eiger Sanction, in which he blended tongue-in-cheek derring-do, a raft of characters with hokum Restoration names (Randy Nickers, Cherry Pitt, Yurasis Dragon, etc.), realistic scenes of Grade Six mountain climbing (a sport that had long interested him) and the necessary task of ridiculing and diminishing the CIA.� (This was the late 1960s, remember, and the Bay of Pigs-sort of CIA bungling was the one thing most likely to bring the world to atomic disaster.)

The book became an international bestseller.� But to Trevanian's discomfort, even embarrassment, it was only recognized as a spoof by critics in Holland and Norway.� Elsewhere, particularly in America, it was swallowed as a straight example of the genre.� (Some reviewers did sense a dissonance between the genre and the standard of the writing, one in Britain calling the book "a James Bond tale written for the highly literate.")

I suppose it's dangerous to spoof what is already on the rim of the ridiculous.� Imagine a spoof of The Ricki Lake Show, for instance.� Or a spoof of a Martin Scorsese film.� Or of Bill Clinton's version of the liberal Democratic tradition.� Or of The Bridges of Madison County.� Or of � well, fill in your own list, Ms. Quinn.� (Are you surprised that I have seen The Ricki Lake Show?� Well, I have recently been in England, where it is offered to the coprophagic sector of the audience that British television is not prepared to satisfy with the home-dug stuff.)

Finding himself working in Britain a little later, Trevanian decided to accent the spoof aspect of his work by writing a spoof of The Eiger Sanction � a spoof of a spoof!� This was The Loo Sanction, which began as a takeoff on the excessive and meaningless violence of Burgess' A Clockwork Orange.� In this and many other ways (including that scenes of derring-do atop the Eiger were now echoed in a hero full of dope trying to climb a mantelpiece), surely they'd get it now.� After all, a spoof of a spoof.� Alas, no. �The book became a second international bestseller and was gobbled down as another scintillating example of the super-cool spy genre.� So I decided to kill off Trevanian, because I had other and better things to write.� At this juncture, I must tell that I approach the task of writing a book as no other author does.

First I come to the core idea for a novel (and this core idea has been, in every case but two, not a character, or a locale, or a theme, but rather a total, terminal ambience � what in Japanese is termed the aji � that I want readers to feel when they set the book down and think about it for a moment).� I then decide which popular genre would most tend towards this final aji.� This done, I create the best writer to do the job.� It is in the creation of the writer that my approach differs from that of other writers.� Using my background in theatre, plus a breadth of life-experience that gives me access to just about every sort of person, I build up the writer, giving him a voice, a style, a set of insights and prejudices, an educational and developmental background, a set of motivations, an age, a class, a culture, and sometimes a race.

Creating the writer takes a couple of months, during which I am also laying out the social and political messages I want the book to contain.� For me, to write a book just for the reader's entertainment and my profit would be a shallow and, worse yet, a dull enterprise.� But I have always held that the writer's first responsibility is to spin a good tale, one full of action and laughter and crisp dialogue and surprise and engaging characters � in short, all of the attractive stuff with which the writer pays for his right to whisper a few awkward truths into the reader's ear.

While I'm working up the ideal writer, I don't allow myself to think about action, characters, setting, conflict, language, style and all the rest of it.� I'll let the confected writer do that, once I have him in mind and spirit.� Trevanian was such a confection.� He was just the right persona to write spoofs on the shallow macho derring-do/super-spy/hot crotch genre.� Trevanian was clever, hyper-educated, crisp-minded, intolerant of human flaws and vagaries.� He had a vigorous sense of laughter and an eye for the ridiculous in human behavior and pretense, but his was the icy laughter of an angry wit, not the warm and affectionate laughter of gentle humor.� He served me well by punishing the materialists and the capitalists and the warlords while, at the same time, entertaining and amusing the reader.� But a life of spoofs?� And spoofs of spoofs?� Where did this lead?� To a spoof of spoofs of spoofs?

So I decided to kill Trevanian and do other kinds of books, written by other confected personae.� Each of these books would be in a different popular genre, because I was interested in speaking to the mass reader, and not to the academic, the critic, the aesthete.

(Note: I should have mentioned that I had an advantage in creating books in various genres.� My Ph.D was a methodological study of content analysis techniques, and skills in this field helped me identify the salient content and style aspects of each of the genres I have worked in.� Additional Note:� This academic background of mine might be confusing.� I have four university degrees, each in a different field.� Then I taught in yet other fields.)

So I slew Trevanian and began a pattern of work that I have had ever since:� I worked on half a dozen things at the same time.� The first of these to come to a boil was a tale set in Wales in the 14th Century, a tale that dealt with one of the surprisingly frequent, apocalyptic "ends of the world," and that held out some hope for humankind.� There was also wit and laughter, and many jabs at my eternal enemies.� To write this one for me, I confected a wry old Welsh professor, Nicholas Seare.� I offered this book to Crown Publishers, as I was obliged to do by the terms of my contract with them, but they did not want it.� Like most publishers and film producers, their idea of what was good was whatever had most recently made them some money.

I wasn't upset about Crown's refusal.� They hadn't paid me very well for two bestsellers in a row, so I thought I was well rid of them.� At this juncture came my first encounter with an agent.� He appeared on my doorstep, and we chatted about the Nicholas Seare tale and about other things I had brewing, chief of which was a cycle of five novels set in Montreal (home of the French/Indian side of my family).� These novels were to deal with various segments of that fascinating, multi-cultural world, and each of these novels would be written in a different genre:� a love story, a story of revenge, a roman policier, a tale of struggle to success at the cost of humanity, a mystery story.� Many of the characters would be recurring � a lead in one novel turning up as a walk-on in another.� And each of the novels were to be named for the section of the city in which the principal events occurred.

After a great deal of work, I built up just the right writer, possessing just the right qualities of insight and style, to write this cycle of books.� He was Jean-Paul Morin.� I decided to write the roman policier first, because its principal character, a policeman, could most easily be woven into the following novels.

Well, ma'am, this agent fella from New York City, he ups and tells me that he thinks he can place this here Nicholas Seare book for me, and also, probably, the Montreal cycle.� And I looked forward to having someone else deal with the distasteful haggling and bartering parts of any writer's career, while I got on with writing books with Nicholas Seare and J-P Morin and whatever other writing personae I might confect in the future.��

Then came a confusing period.� I was in France, working, so the elements never became very clear to me.� Suddenly, Crown was suing me for breach of contract.� Then I learned my new publisher � the one who had bought the Welsh fable by Nicholas Seare and with whom I had contracted to do the Montreal cycle by J-P Morin � had released the fact that they were "doing a book by Trevanian."

I got a lawyer from New York to represent me, and he assured me that the Crown action was only a petulant nuisance suit.� After all, I had offered them my next book, and they had turned it down.� But the next thing I knew, an aged judge in Brooklyn had decided that the Nicholas Seare book was not, in fact, a "book" at all, and therefore I had failed to offer Crown first refusal on my next "real" book.� I couldn't imagine how this could be, as the Seare book was a thing in hand!� With pages!� With a cover!� See?� Indeed, a critical success!� (Meaning, of course, that it didn't sell that well.)� But, as I said, the judge was old and easily baffled, and Crown's quick, clever lawyers managed to convince him that not everything in binding is a "book."� One could bind his laundry list, but that wouldn't be a "book" in the sense of a "book," or what we in the legal profession call "a book sort of book."� And the old ass bought it!

The lawyer said "whoops!"� The agent said he didn't know how this had happened.� And I was in the soup, and the lawyer and agent were fired.� Also, at this moment, some information came to me that led me to believe that Crown's case had not been made of whole cloth.� It appeared, at least from the distance of the Basque mountains, that there had been some sort of "understanding" between my agent and my new publisher.� All of this was, and remains today, quite vague.

The upshot was that Crown would drop their suit (and I had already spent a good portion of what I had made on the two Sanction books defending myself) if I would write another book for them � as Trevanian!� And I was also committed to the other publisher, because my agent had worked up a "first refusal" clause for my next book with them.� In the end, I was able to buy my way out by releasing the Montreal roman policier book under the name "Trevanian," rather than under the name of its writer, Jean-Paul Morin.� As you might imagine, I was not very pleased with the New York publishing scene at this juncture.

Well, The Main came out, and readers who associated the Trevanian name with crisp, shallow action novels blinked and wondered what the fuck?!� The book was a bestseller in the US, but in the middle part of the list.� With its shell-game structure of a real novel buried within a popular genre, it was a pretty complex book for the American mass readership.� (The inner novel was about the inability of western males to deal with grief and loss.)� But The Main sold very well abroad, a French critic describing it as "a tale invented by Simenon and told by Balzac."

I burnt the thousands of pages of notes, and character studies, and structures, and dialogue passages that would have been the Montreal cycle.� The whole project had become contaminated.

But I was still obliged to give Crown another book.� Another "Trevanian" book.� I swallowed this bitter pill and decided I would indeed write another book within the super-spy genre, but although it would be published under the name Trevanian, it would be written by an altogether different persona.� Like The Main before it, and like the books that were to follow, this would be a real novel hidden within a popular genre.

I dug back into my youth in Japan and worked up a writer for Shibumi, a book just barely within the conventions of the slam-bang super-spy, but one that offered the reader a virile style of excellence that had nothing to do with force, braggadocio, or violence.� It blended a good yarn with a life-philosophy, and was an instant international success.� After this book � a bestseller all around the world, even in such languages as Finnish, Hebrew, Turkish and Polish � I had abandoned the super-spy genre.� After the definitive exercise of the genre that was Shibumi, there was no point in me writing further in this genre � or anyone else, for that matter.

By now, a core of intensely loyal Trevanian buffs from around the world had figured out the Trevanian shell-game � the fact that Trevanian was not one voice, but a series of socially and politically committed writers who wrote in various genres, always giving great attention to their craft and to the business of candy-coating the messages with great lashings of story, story, story.

But for the mass reader (and for some baffled reviewers), here were confusions.� Who was this "Trevanian?"� What the hell kind of book did he write?� (En passant, Ms. Quinn, I note that your Question #3 reads, "A lot of critics comment that your books are extremely eclectic in terms of genre and subject matter."� I assume by "critics" you mean New World reviewers.� And the very question suggests that they have a very loose grip on the definition of the word "eclectic."� But that's New World reviewers for you.)� Reviewers and the kinds of readers who follow genre writers were baffled, and some were angrily disappointed.� They had expected one thing, and they had got another.� They were comfortable with the generality of authors who write the same book again and again, with slight changes in the names of their characters and in settings and backgrounds.

I'm not saying there's anything necessarily wrong with a writer's plowing the same field again and again.� After all, it's not only the pop-pap pumpers, the Jeffrey Archers and Collinses and Krantzes and Barbara Cartlands and Robert Ludlums and Louis L'Amours (if that's the spelling) who narcotize their brain-dead readers with the same book again and again.� Quality writers have had similar genre limitations.� Jane Austin is one shining example.

I decided I would stop writing until I figured out what to do with this many-minded monster I had been obliged to create.� My plans for having many personae were in ruins.� And anyway, I was sick � not of writing, which I have always loved, but of being obliged to deal with the sorts of people one meets in Major League American publishing.

Some years passed, while I did other things.� But every day I wrote for a few hours, and the number of novels and short stories simmering away on the back of the stove built up.� After having spent so much of my life wandering from place to place, I now made the difficult decision to settle permanently in Europe.� This was not easy, because I have a great fondness for many things American, particularly the geography of the country.� But political and cultural climates in America made me decide to spend the rest of my life elsewhere.� I could feel the growth of anti-intellectual fundamentalism of the kind we thought we'd killed off with the Dayton Monkey Trial; and I saw evidence all around me of the compassion-fatigue that gave rise to the "I've-got-mine-and-to-hell-with-you" mentality of Reaganism, with its trickle-up poverty.� CNN was in charge of "the truth."� American films were becoming a blend of comic strips and video games.� And American publishing?� Well, we are the world's principal villains, and principal victims, of the soul-crushing Consumer Mentality.� (Only Americans "shop till they drop.")� So I suppose it's only natural that American publishers should take the lead in viewing books as "product," and in seeing lit-biz as a matter of buying pulp paper cheaply, distributing patterns of ink over it, then packaging the product snappily and selling it at an outrageous markup.

So I settled permanently in the Basque mountains, where I concentrated on short fiction under a variety of names and in a variety of styles.� Like most writers who enjoy the craftsman aspects of the trade, I delight in the short story form � even though the genre has taken a hell of a battering from the shapeless, post-cultural stuff preferred by literary and "little" magazines.� I delight in the watchmaker skills of honing and tuning a tight, crisp short story, and over the years I have published short stories, in one persona or another, not only in Europe, but in several American magazines and journals.� Harper's, for instance, and Playboy, and � let me think � oh, Redbook, and some "little magazine" out West, and the Yale Literary Review � well, here and there; I can't recall them all. *

Then, after a break of four or five years, I decided to take a couple of things off the back of the stove and offer them on the marketplace.� One was a novel, the other was a piece of intellectual whimsy by Nicholas Seare.� The novel was to be of a mixed genre � partially love story, partially horror story.� This was The Summer of Katya, a tale with a potent central role for an exceptional woman.� The Seare book was a bawdy retelling of parts of the Arthurian legend, Rude Tales and Glorious.

The Seare books are for a rather rarified readership, so this book had only modest sales in Britain and America � sales that were further reduced by the mishandling of the book by its American publishers, who placed it on "folklore" shelves, rather than where it belonged, in "humor."� I released The Summer of Katya under the Trevanian name, although it was, in fact, written by an internal first-person author whom I had spent many months confecting.� It became the best-selling of any of my books.� But it's true that its sales in Europe greatly outstripped its sales in North America.� And some said the book was "too European," meaning, I suppose, that it didn't deal with middle-aged ladies playing musical beds, with business success, with slambang action, with sea creatures biting off legs, with horror in small towns, or with political and legal scandals.

Also, the book was set in France just before the First World War, and non-American settings (I was told) turn Americans off.� At all events, the book went well.� And the numbers of Trevanian buffs increased internationally.� By now the Trevanian buffs around the world had got the idea, and knew the game.� They were looking for a quality of writing, characterization, and message, and enjoying the "spin" Trevanian put on each genre he touched.� But some North American readers were miffed and muddled about Trevanian's movement among various popular genres.� In fact, a bizarre letter was forwarded to me (and this is exceptional, because I have asked publishers not forward mail from readers).� It was from an irate reader who felt cheated when he bought a copy of The Summer of Katya and didn't find the slam-bang action he had anticipated from having earlier read The Eiger Sanction.� I found out what the book had cost in America and sent him his money back, with instructions not to buy another Trevanian book until he grew up.

Crown's Nat Wartels died.� He was just about the last of the human publishers, publishers with faces and personalities, as differs from anonymous internationals and commercial combines that feature non-literary interests and "media entertainment" mentalities.� Crown became part of such a gaggle, and I no longer felt any tie with them.� Particularly, considering their damage to my many-personae career their legal suit had caused, and their handling of the Seare book.

During the publication of Katya I found that publishing in America had changed notably.� It had become what those with no fear of hyphens might call the "New-American, Mac-Kultur, multi-national, lit-biz," with its garment industry values, tastes and methods (and we're speaking of the ready-to-wear segment of the garment industry).� I thought I'd wait for this sub-Philistine phase to pass over, so I returned to my home in the Basque mountains and continued to write � but did not seek to publish.

Then, a couple of years ago, I decided that "New-American, Mac-Kultur, multi-national lit-biz publishing" was here to stay, and I'd better try to accommodate myself to it.� I was fairly confident I could find a publisher, because � for all my interest in those things that make modern publishers recoil and look over their shoulders with hunted expressions, structure, for instance, and metaphor, and literary craftsmanship, and political content, and flights of irreverent whimsy, and harsh, castigating wit � Trevanian still knew how to tell a story full of character and laughter, and surprises, and action, and suspense, and all that sort of good-selling stuff.

So I offered a big book, a one-volume, wide-canvas, integrated version of a trilogy about young artists in Paris involved in the 1848 revolution.� I had a new agent who sent this tale around to most of the Major League American publishers.� The response was universally negative, but the reasons were mixed.� Two publishers found the book "hard" � complex structure, many interrelated characters, too many "big words," this last is a quote, God save American letters.� But most publishers said it was a splendid book full of laughter and tears and great characters and bright dialogue � but it was too complex and too political.� (All of Trevanian's heroes have been anti-capitalist and anti-materialist, but America has evidently become more touchy about this cultural flaw.)� Above all, they didn't believe it attracted enough readers to justify the effort necessary to re-introduce Trevanian to a new generation of readers. **

The principal villain of the book was a ruthless, uncultured immigrant publisher who took the name Hubert Medoc, and whose narrow money lust and crass indifference to art was also drawn with Balzacian harshness.� And I don't suppose this helped all that much.� Also, the book was offered in a maladroit way:� copies were sent to many publishers, giving them only a few days to read the 1000-plus pages of manuscript and make their response, and in several shops they had to read in one weekend.

The most sensitive of the reactions to the book came from St. Martin's Press, which in my day had been the most "highbrow" of the Major League (and the least "major" thereof), sometimes losing money while gaining prestige through introducing British poets to the American reader.� Thomas Dunne loved the book and tried hard to persuade his German masters (yes, yes, even St. Martin's had been swallowed by the multi-nationals) to gamble on the thing.� He failed.� But his effort gained my loyalty, and so when I chose another book with which to pry open the American market � a Western, not a genre likely to frighten off American readers � I offered it to St. Martin's.� This book was Incident at Twenty-Mile, which we're now bringing out.

I suspect that St. Martin's desire to do other Trevanian books will depend on how well this tale does in the marketplace.� I shall probably offer them another book or two.� But I'm beginning to think that Trevanian should turn away from the Major Leagues and begin offering his stuff to regional, "committed," or academic presses, now that the Majors have frankly admitted that they have abandoned the culturally upper end of the market.


*� Above and beyond the contents of the collection Hot Night in the City, Trevanian's short fiction has been included The Antioch Review, B.B. Uitgerversmastschappij (Amsterdam), and The Editor's Choice: Best Short Fiction for 1985, edited by George E. Murphy, Jr.

**� This work-in-progress (in 1998) was titled Street of the Four Winds, and Trevanian describes the research he did for it in the Publisher's Weekly article:� "I have researched everything from language usage (through letters and popular theatre), to dress (down to kinds of underwear worn by the poor � none, in most cases, for the males), to diet, to levels and details of education for all my characters (there are about 50), to movements and methods in art (the principal characters are young Bohemian artists), to the last details of the great February and June revolutions in the streets of Paris, which events form the ultimate defining moment in the lives of all the characters."

He also touched on a few other future projects:� "I've finished the character development and narrative line of a novel in the who-done-it genre that will take a look at aspects of American higher education since the collapse thereof in the 1960s.� Now in third draft (my stuff goes through between five and twenty drafts, most of them concerning buffing and honing) I have a modern version of the epistolary novel in which two people meet and know one another exclusively through the telephone.� Then there's a revenge novel with a splendid woman lead, a brilliant 55-year-old woman who is of a now-impoverished Boston Brahman family.� And there are half a dozen more, in various stages of development."


Blurbage will have you know Trevanian is a "New York Times bestselling author," but usually doesn't point out that he enjoys this distinction having never made a public appearance, never done an in-store signing, and, indeed, a is a person who divides his writing life from his private life so cleanly and definitively that it makes you wish others would follow his example if only because it boils away personae and publicity and soapboxing and stunts, and leaves reputation and impact to be determined by one thing only, the thing that actually matters � writing.

Whereas the modern era of the intrigue thriller can be said to have begun the instant President Kennedy noted that one of his favorite books was the James Bond adventure From Russia With Love, by Ian Fleming (thus commencing a spy cycle that still thrives today, thanks to endless recycling), Trevanian put paid to the whole genre when he wrote the be-all, end-all blowout adventure of hit men, paladins, corrupt agencies, dirty tricks, black ops, honor, betrayal, and the conflict of technology with the human spirit, Shibumi.� Not coincidentally, this novel also brackets the trendwave begun specifically by From Russia With Love's runaway success, for another reason specific to its own plot, which will be left unspecified in the hope that a reader or two might wish to uncover it for him or herself.

As of this writing (November 2003), his most recent work as Trevanian is the short story collection Hot Night in the City (2000).

Typically for the multi-faceted entity we are compelled to denote as Trevanian, the title story establishes an odd precedent I cannot recall having seen in any other collection, that is, "Hot Night in the City" appears twice, bookending the other contents.� This psychological tale of stalker and stalkee is presented first from the viewpoint of one, then recapitulated from the viewpoint of the other, with differing resolutions.

The author's penchant for presenting wry nod-and-wink fables based on classically ethnic storytelling structures, principally Basque and American Indian, is exerpted here in "Minutes of a Village Meeting" (from Harpers), "That Fox of a Be�at," and most splendidly in "How the Animals Got Their Voices: An Onondagan Primal Tale."� As with the best campfire stories and folk-tale legends, these veneer deeply adult concerns in musical, almost hypnotically simple language, or, as the writer says in the voice of She-Who-Creates-By-Speaking-Its-Name, "tales meant to amuse on top and to teach underneath."

"Sir Gervais in the Enchanted Forest" is a chapter of Rude Tales and Glorious presented here as a stand-alone story.� If you need a strong, satirical breeze to blow away the bad taste of too many bloated, gassy, airy-fairy King Arthur books, this story adequately suggests the potent antidote that is Rude Tales.

"The Sacking of Miss Plimsoll" (from Redbook, where it appeared as "The Secrets of Miss Plimsoll, Private Secretary") is another kind of rude tale, specifically, one of those writers-writing-about-writers ragouts that seems the inevitable duty of anyone who has been a writer long enough to call themselves a writer without hanging their head.� One reader noted it as "the shortest biography of Hemingway I have ever read."� Not that Hemingway is named, of course � so consider the story a fictive litmus test for your own literacy.

"Snatch Off Your Cap, Kid!" might have been a missing chapter from Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, had Bradbury leavened his juvenile enthusiasms with a teaspoon more adult cynicism.

Surely by now you get the picture.� Trevanian's collection gear-shifts effortlessly from modern to period, parody to suspense, urban to sylvan, and yes, from dread to awe, with a refreshingly-honed wryness and surgical exactitude of language you may find refreshing after one too many cookie-cutter horrors.� The thirteen stories here, while not the "feast for every taste" described by the inadequate jacket copy, nonetheless serve up a palette of styles and trajectories broad enough to encourage the curious reader to investigate the larger canvases this writer has created ... whoever he might or might not be.


I had the pleasure of Rod Whitaker's company over the course of an undergraduate college semester in 1977. It was an advanced seminar titled Media Criticism. At the time he was writing (or finishing) Shibumi, though we didn't know it until later. He would never admit that he wrote "commercial" fiction, under any name, even though we had pretty much figured it out early on. The academic dean had clued me in on this newcomer to campus and suggested I take the course. "He is an interesting man" is all the dean would say. Whitaker had apparently offered to teach a course or two in exchange for office space and use of the university facilities. He had very impressive academic credentials. If I didn't believe then that this man was Trevanian, I did later. Shibumi came out around 1979 and when I read it I couldn't believe how many things in the book were things I'd heard before! I pulled out my notes from class and there they were--stories, words, phrases, characters, all of which appeared in the book. Indeed I found a whole page of notes on the concept of "shibumi," a word I'd never heard of before then. I can say that the "real" Trevanian is indeed as learned, erudite, funny, and in some ways as odd as you might think by reading his fiction. In class, his wit was so fast that he was often delivering his second or third punch line as you were still appreciating the first. But he could also be very challenging as a teacher, operating on an intellectual plane that was far more sophisticated than most any other professor I'd ever encountered. He would invite the class to his home once or twice a month to have extended discussions on varied topics (he would also give an occasional guest lecture to the university community or to the public on certain academic subjects--insofar as you dealt with him as Rod Whitaker and not someone else, he was very gracious). Wine and cheese would be served in the parlor of his impressive Georgian-style home (his wife is a first-rate artist) and we would sit mesmerized by Whitaker's tales, "rude and glorious." Although it was clear that he had could present an incalculably cold front if he wanted, to me and all the students in that class he was an extraordinarily patient, supportive, and gracious teacher. And I don't think I've ever met anyone with more charisma. I'd say, though, don't get too hung up on uncovering details of this guy. He is very, very private (though curiously I see that his daughter is publishing some works now under her own name) and has long since moved permanently to France. He is a literary craftsman of the first order. And he is, among many other things, a trained actor. He loves to create characters and loves to deal in the realms of facade and ruse and misdirection. He works very hard to "create" the ambiances that one feels in his fiction. But if you really want to get a peek into what makes Rod Whitaker tick, read the short story "Mrs. McGivney's Nickel," published in Hot Night In The City. It hits real close to home.

� post by "Ashford" on "gnooks" Trevanian discussion board


After dropping tantalizing hints about the possibility of an authorized Trevanian website ("We have been asked to contribute � I shall do that, if the project seems worthy."), Trevanian actually endorsed someone else's site:� The Theory of Eight (http://www.theoryofeight.com):

I have another gift for you. A website.

Among those non-logical (perhaps sur-logical) things that I prefer not to batter my logical brain against, but nevertheless must accept on a certain level and to a certain degree because of personal experience or testimony from people whose judgement I admire and whose honesty I respect are accounts of mothers who have displayed extraordinary--indeed super-human�strength at moments of danger to their children, and stories of premonition and extra-sensory communication. I recently came upon a phenomenon of this extra-logical sort through a friend, a crisp-minded, no-nonsense playwright in Paris. It�s called �the Theory of Eight�, and it is new and all but unknown in the wider world. This Theory of Eight provides insights into human strength and weaknesses, into character, into potentials for successful interactions with other people � all this based on the moment of your birth. At first glance, this is not unlike astrology. But those who have found the twelve pat, inadequate personality sets that are the basis of conventional astrology to be of little value � save as a device for losers in the �Seventies to pick up other losers in singles bars � have found the insights offered through the Theory of Eight to be rich, subtle, flexible, and above all, uncannily accurate. Often uncomfortably accurate, as I can affirm from experience. My playwright friend had heard about the Theory of Eight from somewhere, and, happening to know the birth date of a man she was considering taking on as her agent (she had met him at a birthday party for him) she followed a caprice and sought to find out more about him by contacting the Theory of Eight website. She also asked for an analysis of her own birth date and time, because she was interested to know how well, if at all, their two personalities would blend. My friend has always disclaimed any belief in the sur-rational nonsense, but what she discovered was sufficiently consonant with her own intuition that she decided to look elsewhere for representation, and she subsequently learned things about this man�s work and behavior made her thank Fortuna for having avoided him.

Some time later, this playwright was working up a group of characters for a play, a modern version of Arthur Schnitzler�s Reigen, a cycle of ten romances in which each character has an affair or at least a fling with the next, and the last in this chain of love meets and loves the first in a final, rather bitter scene. It was essential that her characters be colorfully different in personality, attitudes, values, etc., and she struck on the idea of pulling birth dates out of the air and getting a Theory of Eight rundown on aspects of personality, emotional strengths and flaws, characteristics of mind and spirit associated with these birth times. She also discovered the likelihoods of warm romantic blending or of harsh antagonistic spark-striking latent in putting any given two of these characters together. On the basis of what she learned, she created the cast of characters for her most successful play to date. Piqued with curiosity, I looked in on the Theory of Eight website and gave it my birthdate. What I learned about myself was astonishingly accurate and appallingly insightful. As though someone had private access to my soul. So accurate and insightful was it that I decided not to seek similar information about those close to me. I�d rather not know. How does this Theory of Eight work? No idea.

�2000Trevanian

 

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