April 2, 2006 in Features

Books of Saul

By The Spokesman-Review

On the Web

Book club online

» Love to share your opinion? You can go online at www.spokesmanreview.com/interactive/bookclub and post your own capsule review of “The God Project.”

» The Web site offers access to features on and/or interviews with all the authors whose books the club has been reading since October 2002.

» There also are links to other book-related sites, such as the audiobook journal AudioFile, the Spokane Public and Spokane County libraries, the Seattle-based press Sasquatch Books and personal sites of writers such as Sherman Alexie, Chris Crutcher and Jess Walter.

The world of American authors is filled with stories of success long denied.

None is more striking than that of John Saul.

Now 64, Saul has seen 27 of his books hit print (that last one, “Perfect Nightmare,” comes out in paperback April 25), and a 28th – “In the Dark of the Night” (Ballantine, 352 pages, $25.95) – is due July 18.

But as with many would-be novelists, Saul spent years toiling, suffering one rejection after the next, before he finally found the right formula to fit his talents.

Saul, who splits time between homes in Seattle and Hawaii, is the writer of the moment for The Spokesman-Review Book Club. His 1982 novel “The God Project,” which touches on particularly familiar Saul themes – threats to children – is the club’s April read.

“The God Project” was Saul’s sixth book. His first, “Suffer the Children,” had appeared five years before as part of a gamble that editors at Dell had decided to take on an unknown, unproven writer.

Before that, Saul was the epitome of the struggling artist. He’d attended a number of colleges, including Montana State University, before stepping into the work world. But for every paycheck that went to pay rent, he typed dozens of pages of what he hoped would be his entry into the writer’s club.

Saul wrote for 15 years before Dell, after rejecting one manuscript, inquired whether he’d be interested in submitting something in modern horror, a genre that was just then becoming popular with books such as Stephen King’s “Carrie” and William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist.”

“Dell was looking for someone to compete with Steve King (as if anyone could),” Saul said in a 1997 interview on bookreporter.com. “I got the job and have been happily at it ever since.”

“Suffer the Children” ended up making a number of best-seller lists, reaching the top spot in Canada.

And that was just the beginning. Every one of Saul’s subsequent books, which range from studies of the supernatural to straight psychological thrillers, has been a best-seller.

The descriptions that have been applied to most of them are similar: “(a) hair raiser worth your time (Playboy), “creepily compelling” (Kirkus Reviews), “tantalizing” (San Francisco Chronicle), “all the right scares in all the right places” (Seattle Times), “a finale that Cecil B. DeMille would have died for” (Los Angeles Times), “Mr. Saul is a skillful writer” (New York Times).

“The God Project” tells the story of small-town Massachusetts and what happens when children start turning up dead. One mother, as a way of handling her grief over what appears to be a case of SIDS, looks closer at her baby’s death.

What she discovers leads to suspicions of a conspiracy that involves a number of children, either dead or gone missing. In the process, the book ends up exploring an issue that has made plenty of headlines in the two decades since the book’s publication: genetic manipulation.

That’s John Saul. He may have come to the literary party late, but he’s worked hard to make up for it.

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