The Price of (Non-) Fame


I suppose we all know that the writers life is not glamorous.

Gone are the days of the glossy literati, if they were ever real. No Dorothy Parkers and Truman Capotes rule over social circles. If you want to be a rock star, well, you pretty much have to be a rock star.

Or a wealthy young woman with plenty of cash to spend on clothes and time to spend clubbing, but that’s neither here nor there.

We all also know the writers life is solitary, with long hours at our desks, in our heads, thinking about people who don’t really exist. And when our stories do go out in the world, they go without us. Maybe they have a little photograph of mom or dad, to show where they came from, but really, readers experience books without the authors. The author is incidental, in the end.

If any of us nurse ideas of being recognized, of red-carpet celebrity, we should give them up now.

Neil Gaiman, who is arguably closer to being a rock star than most authors, went to the Golden Globe ceremonies the other day, because he was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film for Coraline. Neil was accompanied by his fiancee, Amanda Palmer, who is actually a rock star.

(If you read this blog regularly, you know I’ve become recently attracted to this couple — don’t worry, I’m sure the crush will fade soon.)

The best part is, when Life.com posted the Red-Carpet photo of them, the caption said:

Musician Amanda Palmer (L) and guest arrive at NBC, Universal Pictures And Focus Features Golden Globes After Party held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 17, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California.

I actually didn’t post this link right away, because I thought they’d fix it, given the chorus of corrections showering them. But no.

So it goes.

At least we’ll never worry about the paparazzi.

Fantasies and Delusions

I was seized by a fantasy yesterday evening.

This happens to everyone, yes? That’s right, you’re reading or scanning Twitter or some such and this dream flies into your head of what might be.

Mine? That Neil Gaiman read my book and thought it was so great that I got to hang out with him and Amanda Palmer.

This is them on New Year’s Eve, from Amanda’s blog, from whence I obtained this great pic. I’ve been following Neil on Twitter and I feel like I like him so much. I started paying more attention to him around the time I wrote this post. He and Amanda have been publicly involved since midsummer. At one point, around this concert he tweeted something along the lines of “I’m making tea and Amanda is dancing in her scanties. we call this division of labor.”

I have a total crush on both of them.

I know, I know — it’s the false intimacy of the internet. In person they might be shallow and self-absorbed. Probably three days after I write this, we’ll hear some UK tabloid screaming that AFP has been dragged off to rehab and we’ll see a bedraggled Gaimain looking gaunt and haunted as he sorts out his finances.

But it was a bit of a revelation to me, because I’ve been sorting through why I want literary success so much. Forgive me for belaboring, since I suspect I’ve run through this particular soul-search on here before.

I count my blessings: I have a great life, a terrific loving relationship with a wonderful man; I have family and friends who love and support me; I have a career I enjoy, with fabulous colleagues and the best boss ever (and I’m not saying that just because I know she reads this) that pays me well enough for the man and I to have a lovely lifestyle; we have a gorgeous house in a beautiful place; I enjoy terrific health and I feel good about how I look. I want for nothing, really. I am happy. I see people struggling with dire health issues, with dysfunctional families, straining to make it economically and I count my blessings. I should be satisfied.

And yet, I’m not.

I have this wanting that claws at me. Sometimes it feels like it’s at the back of my throat, as if I’m longing to speak. Like spiders of yearning wiggling around in my chest.

I want that book contract.

It’s not validation as a writer that I need. I’ve got that with the essay collection, which makes me luckier than many writers. More money would be nice, but it’s not a huge consideration. Do I want fame, celebrity? I’ve never had much desire to be a rock star and I’m not hugely social, so I don’t think so.

I think I just want to get to hang with the cool kids. Maybe it always comes back to that.

Or maybe this is what it feels like when you’ve got the pyramid of needs handled. If I review my list of blessings, I’ve got the Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging and Esteem going. Now I should be all about the morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving….wait! This is the pinnacle? Acceptance of facts??? This is my reward for getting my shit together?

Hell, no wonder I just want to hang with Neil and Amanda!

Your Local Bookseller

I love bookstores. And libraries.

I suspect all writers do, because we all started out as readers. My mom would take me to the library every Wednesday afternoon where I was allowed to check out five books at a time. (My mother’s rule, not the library’s.) I would have to make those five books last all week. Wednesdays became my favorite day of the week.

Then I started getting an allowance and was old enough to go to the mall by myself and I discovered bookstores. When you could buy the book and keep it forever and read it as often as liked, at least until it fell into tatters. Not that I didn’t have lots of books, but now I could have the ones I picked out for myself.

Even better, the bookstore people were as smart as the librarians, but they could talk without whispering and could show you new authors you’d never heard of!

Everywhere I visited or lived, I would check out the local bookstore. It was part of the character of a place for me. I liked talking to bookstore people. When I began to write, and my own book was published, the independent bookstore people were the ones I turned to. My favorite local store sponsored my book launch party.

All of this is on my mind because Neil Gaiman referred to this blog post of his via Twitter.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ll want me to just tell you what it says so you don’t have to go read it. Though it’s an interesting read.

Basically an independent bookseller is castigating Gaiman for a free Harper-Collins download and accuses Gaiman of not caring about the survival of booksellers. Which Gaiman refutes. He also says, and this is what’s interesting to me:

My local bookshop (now deceased) was physically arranged so that finding a book and then buying it was harder than walking around around the shop and going back out again; the bookseller mostly sat at the cash register in the middle of the shop playing online chess, and he tended to be unhelpful, vaguely grumpy and to treat people who wanted to buy things as nuisances (he was nice to me, because I was me, but still); he didn’t stock paperback bestsellers because “people could always go to Wal-Mart for those” and when the she shop closed its doors the final time they put up a note on the door saying that it was Amazon.com that had driven them out of business, when it manifestly wasn’t — it seemed to me that they didn’t work to entice people into the bookshop (which is what those paperback bestsellers were for), and didn’t give them a pleasant experience when they were there…

I knew exactly what Gaiman’s referring to. David and I even spent time helping a young, enthusiastic manager of a local store rearrange the shelves to prevent this exact situation. The owner for time out of mind, put the shelves back the way they had always been.

The young, enthusiastic manager was terrific at selling books. She learned me and what I liked. She became like my crack dealer, luring me to the shop with books I couldn’t resist. She would call or email me and say “Such and so author has a new book out next week — I knew you’d want it, so I put it on order.” And, of course, I couldn’t resist. She passed me review copies of new books to read and give my opinion on. She asked customers who were fans of particular genres to set up recommended reads tables. When I did my taxes, I noticed that a huge chuck of my book purchases went to that store.

Of course she didn’t last. And now the owner has everything back the way it always was, the recommended reads are only “literary” ones and I stopped buying books there. Amazon was faster, easier and more fun.

What I’m thinking happened is this: back when I discovered bookstores, those were the only places to buy books. I was happy to get whatever they threw my way. Then came the BIG bookstores and they were like the candyland paradise in Charlie and Chocolate Factory — everywhere you stepped, you could simply pluck a wonderful book off the shelf. Then came Amazon, where you could access paradise without leaving your house.

I love bookstores. Always will. But the bookstores no longer always give me what I want. I don’t think the solution is for them to try to change me.