“Sue me for not being Flaubert. I’ve given it the best shot I can.”
— John Jakes in a People Magazine interview
“That’s not only… an injustice to Flaubert… it’s also the defensive whine of a writer who has been thrust into sudden success and feels ragingly insecure about his talent, or the lack of it…. Now I am more secure about what I do….”
–John Jakes in a Contemporary Authors interview
John Jakes’ struggle to become a successful fiction writer was in two ways like that of the United States earning its independence: The fight was won with persistent effort and a little luck.
Jakes wrote in obscurity for more than 20 years while holding down full-time employment. With the goal of earning enough money from his writing to pay for his children’s college education, Jakes hit pay-dirt in 1974.
A writing assignment that a friend turned down landed in Jakes’ lap: Write a series of historical fiction novels that traces the lives of one family from 1776 forward. The assignment turned out to be one of the most successful series of mass-market fiction ever published, the Bicentennial Series, also known as The Kent Family Chronicles. The first novel in the series, the 1974 best-seller “The Bastard,” was an overnight success and re-ignited Jakes’ now-50-year career.
Photo: On Secret Service publicity photo/photo credit Joseph Mick–Dutton, June 2000