Oh, man, I’ve got to tell you…there’s a certain young lady author whose book I panned on the space not long ago – I won’t repeat her name because she is such a relentless self-Googler (tacky, tacky, tacky). To maintain that ever life affirming peevishness, I look at her website and pronouncements only too often. Lately she’s been webcamming herself at the local chain bookstore with a couple of her "writing" buddies to produce something she calls "Away From the Keyboard: The Writer’s Life Behind the Scenes." Sheeeeeeeesh…I mean here’s someone, although she did achieve that hallowed three book contract, who’s written one pretty darn lousy novel, and her partners, a somewhat older woman who is basically shopping books she hasn’t actually written and a college MFA type who really hasn’t written much of anything but pretty much means to, and yet this trio expects the world to lap up their giggled pronouncements as if they were Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald at the Ritz. The older woman shows her binder with query letter and carefully color coded sections for research and outlines, but admits she hasn’t produced any prose. The guy’s website (and of course he has a website about his writing life) has a fragment of his work, a little drip "between a play and a story," (that is to say not fleshed out enough to qualify as either) which might make the cut in a high school lit mag. But he has a little cap he wears while writing (or thinking about writing) that he can tuck his pen into so everyone in the coffee shop will know his sacred calling as he taps away on his laptop.
When did writing become such a public thing? To me it’s a private act, one that you necessarily do alone, something that there’s a little mystery about, yet in today’s anti-Romantic world, the most important part of writing is not the writing, or even the resulting work, but some kind of process that can be explained in a writing seminar, cobbled together in a writing group or performed in front of an audience, all of which produces a product that can successfully be marketed. Maybe it’s the WASP in me, but I also find it in poor taste to swan about calling yourself a writer before you’ve had anything published or even really written anything. My beloved Laura Lippman is surely entitled to have her own web page, expound on writing and promote her wonderful books in any way she sees fit, but (and O.K., there’s a little jealousy here) does she really have to call a certain fellow I also know slightly a member of the "young people movement in crime writing" when he hasn’t had anything published despite relentless networking? He too has his "writer’s" blog which includes, rather than a peep at his fiction, a copy of his query letter – which in today’s publishing world is the most important prose that can be produced.
The whole public quality of literature is a fairly recent thing – I mean authors had magazine articles and personas, but their actual books were the main thing people looked at. The relentless author touring, signing, appearances, radio and T.V. plugs, web pages, etc. cycle has developed over the last twenty-five years and has done nothing positive for literature. Neither has the mushrooming of MFA programs, writers workshops, and critique groups. My friend was just telling me how all these people were really pissed after Margaret Atwood’s seminar because she basically said that she couldn’t tell them how to write, the only way to learn to do it was to practice eight hours a day for a few years. But people don’t want to write – they want to be writers. I’ve been on the street level of the book biz for long enough to see, not only about a million people who wanted to write a book, a thousand who actually wrote one and a hundreds who got one published, but also fairly successful and good writers who disappeared after their three book contract was over because they didn’t produce a blockbuster. My webcamming legend in her own mind is very young and is to be congratulated for getting published by a major house, but her gigantic lack of perspective argues against her future productions improving. I’m sure in a decade or so she’ll realize that no one really cares about her table talk and what immense hubris she displayed in claiming that she knew anything about the writing life.