Last week the Washington Post ran a review by Elizabeth Hand that all but vaporized Dale Peck‘s new novel, Body Surfing. Peck, the author of literary fiction and well-known takedowns in the New Republic has recently undertaken an odd career shift, moving into thrillers and children’s books (plus a highly remunerative deal to collaborate with Heroes creator Tim Kring). So, closing her review of Body Surfing, Hand had to ask: “Given his past as a respected writer of literary fiction, and a possible future in the land of commercial blockbusters, whatever possessed Dale Peck to write this book?”
The day before the review ran, the Southeast Review had the answer, and a few more besides. In a wide-ranging Q&A, Peck says part of the impetus for Body Surfing was an interest in accessing his inner Stephen King:
The initial idea, I have to say, was just one of those inspirational flashes: “What if there was a world in which…?” But in developing it, I did think a lot about early Stephen King novels, of which I was (and am) a huge fan. I’m not the first person to notice that one of King’s greatest strengths as a writer is his insistence on locating horror within the domestic context, and in Body Surfing I wanted to make sure that readers experience Jasper as a real teenager before he became a demon—that the loss of our everyday existence is every bit as big of a loss as the destruction of the world or the universe or life as we know it, which seems to be the stake in so many thrillers these days.
And, Peck might argue, Hand’s negative review of Body Surfing is all he can expect these days. In the interview, he says that his takedowns (especially the infamous Rick Moody one) have mainly hurt his reputation as a writer, and made it harder for his books to find a home. He figures that any and all potential reviewers would have their knives out, and that left publishers wary:
[E]ditors would—cynically or wisely, depending on your point of view—reject my work, often without reading it, simply because they felt that external factors would make it impossible for it to succeed in the marketplace. At the same time, when I submitted my children’s book anonymously, nearly every publisher in town bid on it, so I knew the problem wasn’t my writing, but how people thought about my writing—or, even more ridiculously, how people thought other people thought about my writing. It’s all pretty tedious, and still dogs me to this day.