Jack Engelhard on political correctness and the search for success

Part two of a conversation with the international bestselling author of Photo: Jack Englehard, author of "Indecent Proposal"

FLORIDA, October 9, 2012 — Political correctness is a very tricky subject.

In some ways, it can help us avoid awkward situations. After all, if we have no guide for proper etiquette or at least a sense of common courtesy, then such a deficit is nothing to champion.

This is not to say that political correctness does not have serious downsides though. In today’s publishing world, it can constrain writers who want to bring controversial issues to the forefront. If artists are asked to revise their works for the sake of someone else’s ideas, then what on earth is next? 

Jack Engelhard, the international bestselling author most known for his 1988 smash hit “Indecent Proposal,” has experienced the ramifications of political correctness firsthand. In this second part of a candid discussion with me, he explains why he has opted to self-publish his books in recent years, how culture clashes play a role in his novels, and much more. 

Joseph F. Cotto: In the film version of “Indecent Proposal,” the aforementioned cultural differences were omitted. What are your feelings about this?

Jack Engelhard: Oh, that was fine with me. A book is a book and a movie is a movie…and the check cleared (from Paramount Pictures). In a sense the book endures because of the movie and in spite of the movie. The Kindle edition has opened it up to an entirely new generation of readers. The book has been translated into more than 22 languages and just last week I signed over a contract with a publisher in Romania for paperback.  

So while it appears that the movie has somewhat been forgotten, the book seems to be getting “refreshed” day by day. Anyway, you cannot impose one medium of art upon another. The movie has its own language, and meanwhile not a word was changed in my novel…which sinks or swims around the world on merits of its own.

Cotto: Over the last few years, you have ventured into the field of self-publishing. How has this worked out so far

Engelhard: I’m just too politically incorrect to go that route, traditional publishing. In a recent novel of mine, “The Bathsheba Deadline,” which also contains moral dilemmas, I was asked to change everything to fit the prevailing dogma, and I refused, so I got it published My Way.

I can’t handle the gatekeepers to our culture, and I can’t wait for agents and editors to scratch their heads as days turn into years. Life’s too short. Besides, it’s no big secret that traditional publishers now expect writers to, up front! “share the costs.”  So practically all of it is really self-publishing…and Mark Twain self-published as did Walt Whitman and a hundred others that we now revere.

“Indecent Proposal” was first published by a literary house, Donald I. Fine (Elmore Leonard/James Jones) and was then carried by Simon and Schuster…and I was not happy. So somewhere along there I said to myself, that’s enough.

Cotto: Culture clashes play a large role in many of your novels. What especially interests you about them?

Engelhard: Growing up Jewish taught me that everything is about culture…and cultural differences.

Cotto: Generally speaking, what sort of moral message do you try to convey through your novels?

Engelhard: No messages. Tell your story and hope it illuminates and makes someone think…even think differently.

Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how you became such a successful novelist. Tell us a bit about your life and career.

Engelhard: I wonder if anyone of us is really a success. Every work of art is an approximation. We never get it exactly right. I find myself competing AGAINST “Indecent Proposal”…which has become so much the classic that I dare not touch a word. So I wrote “The Bathsheba Deadline,” delving further into the waters of temptation and moral choices. Maybe “The Bathsheba Deadline” will be the bigger novel. 

We never know what will succeed and we never dare call ourselves a success. As for more about me, let’s just say that to hit that patch of success you travel a thousand roads of rejection and failure – but, heck, that one success makes up for it all.


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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