I’d like to write for a living. That’s always been my dream. At various points of my adult life, I’ve earned deaux to write, in various media. I even get the occasional royalty check for Olde Works. But it’s far from money I could eat on.
Writing for a living is not essential to my well being, since I have other abilities/experience that keep me employable. Plus, for all I know, getting paid to write full time might totally sap the joy and love out of it. Maybe the dream would turn out to be a nightmare.
Writing is lonely. It’s solitary, requires a ton of time to perfect your craft and complete projects, and can have very few dividends (or none at all). A writer who taught at Brooklyn College once told me, “The world doesn’t need your stories.” (He meant the third-person you, not me personally.) You have to realize that no one’s chomping at the bit, waiting for your next tome. You have to realize that no one’s going to pat you on the back, even when you accomplish something.
It is a vocation that requires a lot of self control, because validation probably won’t come from the outside world for a very, very long time, if ever. In fact, most factors from the outside world will be horrifyingly discouraging. Like these two items that passed over my transom yesterday.
ITEM #1: Yesterday, I saw multiple people tweet that they’d found The Worst Article Ever. Strong words, but a click of the mouse proved it may very well be true.
The article was written by Mark Whicker and appeared in the Orange County Register. It took the form of an open letter to Jaycee Dugard, the woman who recently attained her freedom after being kidnapped for almost two decades. The gist of his piece was, “Hey, girl who was raped and held against her will for 18 years, here’s what you missed in the world of sports!”
The piece is a perfect blend of hackneyed jokes and mind-blowing insensitivity. It reads like something David Brent would write if he were a sports columnist. But I think even David Brent would know there’s no humor in the story of a woman who was captured and sexually assaulted at the age of 11, who lived most of her teen years in a shed, and whose parents had given up hope they’d ever see her again.
After an outcry that should have been predictable to everyone but the column’s author, Whicker half-heartedly apologized. He seemed a bit baffled as to why everyone is so upset, betraying either a stubborn resolve to not back down, or a lack of awareness of the world around him that borders on the autistic.
What’s even crazier: it came to light today that Whicker wrote a similar column when Lebanese hostage Terry Anderson was released in 1991. So not only is he writing creepy, ham-fisted columns, but he’s recycling his old creepy, ham-fisted column ideas.
I’m not angry at Mark Whicker, because I think he might be mentally ill. What angers me is that this article was reviewed by editors at a newspaper with a sizable ciriculation–not The New York Times, but not a small paper, either–and deemed okay for publication.
People whose job it is to judge the suitability of writing, and to hire people to write for them, were perfectly okay with this being in the pages of their publication. Not on a blog, or a web site, or a message board, or a Post-It note. In a god damn newspaper.
Not only that, but the Register–and papers like it–have deemed such crap publishable for at least the last 18 years. I can’t get arrested, but Mark Whicker and his ilk find steady employment. Awesome.
ITEM #2: Earlier this week, airport-fiction-purveyor James Patterson signed a 17-book deal with Hachette. That’s not a typo. That’s a one followed a seven. Seventeen.
Even more insane: This deal runs through 2012. Since 2009 is 3/4 done, that leaves three years for him to make good on the contract. That translates to almost six books a year.
I expressed my exasperation last night to a friend who works for A Major Publisher (not Patterson’s, for what it’s worth). She responded, “Yeah, and he might even write one or two of them.”
Yes, because when you have multiple franchises like Patterson does, you don’t actually write your own books! You farm them out to some schmuck, cut them a check, slap your name on it, and collect the royalties. Just write a plot on a napkin for your underlings to follow and mark up the galleys when they come in. That will be the extent of his involvement for 90% of these projects.
I don’t begrudge the man his success. I think his books are garbage, but he can laugh at me from the deck of his crystal yacht. And I had another friend tell me they know people who will get jobs out of this. Everyone’s gotta eat, so if this deal puts people to work, great. (Maybe Patterson and Tom Clancy can team up and form some sort of literary employment program. It’d be like the WPA, but with more scenes of dudes punching other dudes.)
As with Whicker, I’m more upset with the people who allow this to happen. Namely, the publisher. Because most major publishers have decided to put their weight behind name-brand McFiction, at the expense of discovering anything new. I understand it from a business standpoint, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.
In the next three years, I will struggle to get books I’ve written under the noses of publishers. It’s a really bad time for fiction, I will be told. And it definitely is, except if your name is James Patterson and you have 17 god damn books you’d like to share with the world in the next three years.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be laying down in a cold, dark room for a while.