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Monday, October 24, 2016

A Prolific Spanish Author and the State of Publishing

He should smile, with all the money he made from
writing! Maybe the mustache is too heavy. 
Manuel Fernández y González (1821–1888) used words to gain notoriety and to finance what his contemporaries considered a “bohemian” lifestyle. He wrote dramas, poetry, and more than 300 (300!) novels. Although he doesn’t quite reach the level of infamy of Edward Bulwer-Lytton in English (the “It was a dark and stormy night” author), his Spanish Wikipedia article describes his writing this way: “a feverish imagination, a certain Andalusian grace and genius, excessive verbosity, especially in dialogue… a defining lack of solid learning, bad taste, and a lack of self-criticism.”

Anyone who wrote (or in later years, dictated) 300 novels can’t be hampered by self criticism. King of the episodic novel (novels published in newspapers over the course of several weeks and, only later, bound as a book), Manuel Fernández y González put the words out there. Period. He worked in an atmosphere of incessant creation because he was paid per page. Of course he wrote a lot of dialogue—it fills up a page faster than anything else. Revision or even just reading over what he’d written wouldn't have contributed to the bottom line. It’s unlikely if not impossible for great literature to come out of such an atmosphere, but I can’t help but stand in awe before that way of doing business.

It's inspiring, in a way. The words are out there for the writer to seize!

Some might consider the current self-publishing atmosphere to be similar to the nineteenth-century word machine. I haven't found a way to follow the volume model, so instead I do a lot of revision in an attempt to ensure that the writing is actually good.

The only reason I've heard of Manuel Fernández y González is that one of his 300 novels was Los siete infantes de Lara (1853), based loosely on the same legend I took inspiration from to write Seven Noble Knights. The novel is almost 150,000 words in the original, many of them uncalled for. But within that haystack, there are plenty of exciting and amusing needles. Twists and turns and surprises. It was first released to the reading public chapter by chapter in a Madrid newspaper that cost one peseta per issue. 

If I had a lot more time on my hands, I would do an edition of Los siete infantes de Lara and present a "good parts" translation (à la The Princess Bride) here in installments, just like the first time it was published. 

As things stand, there already exists in English a much more carefully researched and developed version of this tale with fewer words, a modern storytelling pace, and irresistible medieval details: Seven Noble Knights. You can get it December 15, or you can try your luck at getting it earlier in the Goodreads giveaway! Even sooner than that, you'll be able to see the cover. Thanks for sharing my excitement!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Seven Noble Knights by Jessica Knauss

Seven Noble Knights

by Jessica Knauss

Giveaway ends November 13, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway