Me Tanner, You Jane

Page 25

I don’t remember a great deal about the writing of Me Tanner, You Jane, and I can’t blame it on hash, neither dynamite nor corned beef. I picked the African setting in an effort to make the book different from others in the series, and looked for a dramatic way to get things going. In The Scoreless Thai, I’d kicked things off with Tanner locked in a bamboo cage suspended in the air, and awaiting execution; Me Tanner, You Jane begins with him already buried.

The opening sequence gave me a chance to use something that had been stuck in my head for a couple of years. While I was living in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I made the acquaintance of a Latvian painter named Valdi Mais. (I had recently published Tanner’s Twelve Swingers, which involves the Latvian Army in Exile, and a local review of the book had led him to invite me to a party.) His English was good, if accented, but he made an interesting mistake on one word, adding the wrong suffix to a verb form; comparison came out comparisment.

I really loved that, and I wanted to have a character make errors of that sort, but I never was able to conjure up another example. So one of the chaps involved in Tanner’s premature interment says comparisment for comparison. Good, I thought to myself. I’ve used it, and now I can forget about it.

But evidently I haven’t.

Looking back all these years later, it strikes me that having Jane call herself Sheena after the comic book character may be more than happenstance. Because I’ve long felt that there’s a comic-book aspect to this particular novel. (You could perhaps say as much for the whole series, but I think it’s truest for MTYJ.) I have a feeling the same thing happened to me when I was writing the book as when I was pitching it to poor Alan Rinzler. I imagined the reader’s eyes glazing over, and tried to bring him/her back by making every plot turn a little more outrageous.

I don’t dislike the book all these years later, not by any means, but by the time I finished it I knew I was done – not just with the book itself, but with the series. I’m sure I’d have changed my mind if it had been a huge success, or even a rather small success, but all it did was come out and sell a handful of copies and vanish. It didn’t even manage to get reprinted in paperback.

What it did do, oddly enough, was remain in print. Nowadays books get remaindered almost before the ink is dry; unless a book continues to sell at a pretty good pace, a publisher drops it from his list and ships the leftover copies to a cut-price wholesaler, and the next thing you know your novel is on the Bargain Books table at Barnes amp; Noble, pegged at about half the price it commands in paperback.

It was not ever thus. Until the government changed the rules, a publisher could keep a book in print as a service to readers and booksellers while still writing off the greater portion of costs for tax purposes. Some swine took the trouble to close this useful loophole, and that was the end of that.

But Me Tanner, You Jane, published in 1970, was still available from Macmillan seven or eight years later. I knew this because a copy actually sold, mirabile dictu, and I got a royalty check for forty-nine cents. If I’d had any sense – and a few hundred dollars worth of risk capital – I’d have stocked up. I had neither, and all I did was tell Otto Penzler, who promptly stocked up. Shortly thereafter the book disappeared.

And here it is, all these years later, in a handsome paperback edition not that much more expensive than the original Macmillan hardcover.

I do hope you enjoyed it.

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