Fiction by the ton
TOGETHER, THEY FOUNDED THE RAN AN EMPIRE THE LIKES OF WHICH THE WORLD HAD NEVER SEEN Lyle Kenyon Engel -- the patriarch, a weathered veteran of New York's publishing wars, who pulled up stakes and found riches with a daring new venture.Skip to next paragraph
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Marla Engel -- the beautiful former radio actress who became Lyle's second wife and helped guide, the family fortunes.
George Engel -- Lyle's son, a likeable man who was neither wild nor impulsive and didn't mind working for his father.
PROUD, TALENTED MEN AND WOMEN CAUGHT UP IN THE SWEEPING SAGA OF BOOK CREATIONS INC., AMERICA'S FOREMOST FICTION FACTORY.
:It was not a dark and stormy night when I visited Twin Streams, a rambling estate tucked in the unforebonding Berkshire foothills. There weren't any frightened women in Victorian gowns racing down the lawn. I was certain no evil men with wolfhounds lurked in the distant forest, and coming up the drive I was seized by no eerie premonitions. But would I come back alive? And what be served for lunch?
Dodging mudholes, I pulled up inside a compound of low buildings, constructed of half-timbers and plaster in the Tudor style. My host's son, George Engel, was waiting to greet me. A large man, he smiled benignly and led the way through an open door. There, in the half-dark of an entranceway cluttered with boots and umbrellas, I came face to face with the thing I had driven hundreds of miles to find: a stack of paperback books.
Or rather, many stacks of paperback books, fresh from the printers, their bindings unwrinkled and their covers gleaming with eye-catching action. Mass-market reading.The kind of book found in supermarkets, between the double- edge razors and the panty hose display.
"Well, yes," said George, "those are our latest offerings." He gestured toward an inner room, where more novels were strewn about the floor like piles of gold in a king's treasury. "Come on in and I'll show you around."
So began my day at Book Creations Inc., a fiction factory surrounded by the peace of the New York State countryside. There, in the midst of chirping birds and hopping bunnies, founder Lyle Kenyon Engel, his son, george, his wife, Maria , and his staff dream up sagas of thrashing action and torrid romance.
Historical fiction like The Kent Family Chronicles. Espionage thriller like Nick Carter spy novels. The Southern Gothics of The Windhaven series. Balzan of the Cat People and his exciting adventures. Pulp novels of the type sold in airports, drugstores, and hotel newsstands.
Lyle Engel himself does none of the writing, acting instead as a book's producer. He hatches an idea, expands it into an outline, sells the outline to a publisher, and then assigns one of the 80 writers he keeps under contract to write the book.
The result, in Mr. Engel's own words, is not "undying literature." But it is an uncanny measure of popular taste. Over the past 15 years, Book Creations has produced more than 5,000 books, which have sold a total of 300 million copies.
Author John Jake's Kent Family Chronicles, a seven-volume saga tracing United States history throught the eyes of a single family, has alone sold 26 million copies -- one for every 10 people in America.
Over an elegant lunch, Lyle Engel taps his finger tips together and explains how, in the age of television, he can make a best seller sell and sell and sell. His eyes dream with the fire, The love of the chase common to self-made men.
"The books have to be interesting. They have to suck the reader right into the story and make him feel he's a part of it. In bygone eras, before TV, people had the patience to read long books that developed slowly. If you start reading Dickens or Balzac sometimes it takes a third of the book before you learn all the characters. Today, books are read and digested at a much faster pace."