“MIA” Missing in Action: a casualty category assigned to the status of armed services personnel reported missing during active service, generally during combat environments.
Whenever asked what authors and books have made their greatest impression on me, I always answer: Nicholas Guild “The Assyrian,” Robert McCammon “The Wolf’s Hour,” Wilbur Smith “River God,” and David Morrell “First Blood.” Each is a highly acclaimed, award-winning, well-published author in his own right. Their combined books stacked one atop the other would be almost as tall as me. And no, I haven’t read every book they published, but have managed to read quite a few.
These are authors I respect for the depth of their research and unique qualities of writing. They have served as my mentors of the craft. Each year I pull out their books, reread them as if for the first time then reverently place them away until the next year. Finding some of these authors’ books in print today is almost impossible unless you wish to pay several hundred dollars (I searched the Internet for a copy of “The Assyrian” and it was selling for $360.) Fortunately, many of their books are returning to publication in eBook formats at lesser costs.
Wilbur Smith and David Morrell remain quite prominent in the public’s eyes today. They have websites and generously communicate with their readers, especially Mr. Morrell. Robert McCammon returned from a lengthy absence, is accessible to his fans, but more will be coming on this fine author in my next blog article, “Missing in Action, Part 2: Author Robert McCammon, “The Wolf’s Hour.” But what of Nicholas Guild?
I recently completed a reading of “The Blood Star” (pub: 1989), the sequel to Guild’s “The Assyrian” (pub: 1987.) When you are wrapped within the intensity of a great author’s writings, you find yourself divided while reading their works. On one hand you anxiously devour each page, yet on the other, a sense of dread enters you because the last page is drawing near and the story will end. Nicholas Guild showed me how historical fiction should truly be written. For that I am eternally grateful.
From 1975 to 1995, Nicholas wrote 11 novels. His last work, “Angel,” supposedly contains a dedication to Susan Sheridan with a rather cryptic passage from Dante’s “Devine Comedy” that translated as best I can ascertain to, “…In the middle of the path in my life, I find myself in darkness…”
I found this odd, especially with it written on his last novel. Then my former police side kicked in with its questioning, investigative nature. So many years have passed without further word from Guild. I wondered where he was today. Why had he stopped writing? Why had he seemingly fallen off the ends of the earth? No man so prominent within a professional community as he was, vanishes without reason.
What began as a simple exercise to satisfy my curiosity quickly became an intriguing puzzle and analysis of a man’s mental state. With all of its pros and cons, the Internet is an amazing tool. I found his basic bio and assorted reviews of his novels. Guild obtained his PhD at the University of California at Berkeley in 1972 and as other authors have, moved on to become a professor of English Literature at a university. Connecticut was given as his last known residence where he was enjoying life with his family. Eleven novels, his writer celebrity growing, and all came to a screeching halt in 1995 after the release of “Angel”—then he vanished like a magician upon a stage who swirls a black cloak around himself and disappears before your eyes in a cloud of smoke.
I read articles and reviews about him until my head throbbed. I realized before me was the answer as to why he had stopped writing, only the water was too muddy for me to see through. Taking a walk to think, I recalled experiences with my agent and editors of publishing houses during the same period (80’s into the 90’s) that Guild was rising in public popularity. I remembered conversations with well-published friends and the industry stories they whispered as if spies were about us.
The publishing world may appear massive and magical from an everyday reader’s perspective but in actuality, it’s a small world where few secrets exist. Editors changed employment at the big houses so swiftly then that it became the norm. Most editors were quite young during that time, not long out of college, and believed they knew what the public truly wanted and how they thought. The big houses often played favorites with their authors which created dissension over matters such as advertising and printing runs. New book ideas were often killed by editors, and authors wanting to write in different genres were frowned upon, balked at, and argued against with fervor. There was often tight-fisted reign upon authors in terms of story revisions and the next book to be written. While some of these actions proved beneficial for the industry, others became detrimental. Such was the publishing world’s environment during those years. I hope it is different now.
But the muddy water began to sufficiently clear, allowing me to see possible reasons why such a gifted writer as Nicholas Guild had turned away from his talents and became missing in action. I jotted notes upon paper and began to study each:
- Had the depth of his research, thought, action, dialogue, and characters become so demanding that by the end of the book he was mentally drained? Once you read “The Assyrian” you will fully understand the intensity I speak of here.
- Did he want to break away from his original genre path but found confrontation with his publishers?
- Did it reach a point whereby editors were attempting to overly control his writings?
- Although his writings were well acclaimed, did he discover he was not equally favored by his publisher as they had provided for with other in-house authors?
- Were there physical illnesses, some medical issue such as cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease involved which forced him to abruptly stop writing?
- Or did he simply ‘burn out’ from the constant combat in mini-battles with publishers and chose to retreat into an educational world of literature where there appeared to be fresh air for the long term?
These are all assumptions on my part. There is nothing concrete to base an answer on. But my gut feeling tells me he willingly chose the fresh air at the cost of being declared missing in action.
Wherever you are, Mr. Guild, I wish you the best in all of your endeavors. If by some miracle you should ever read this, I respectfully say, “Thank you for being one of my mentors.”