Tuesday, April 04, 2006

If you have to wear a nametag, you're not famous.

Recently, a writer we know complained about the downside of fame. It seems strangers press their manuscripts on him, relatives ask to borrow money, and beautiful women send him drinks in the hope he'll sign a fleshy part of their anatomy.

OK, I made that last part up.

But do writers ever achieve real fame? Are they gonna live forever?Are they gonna learn how to fly?

Probably not.

The truth is, even if a few writers reach rock star status in this business, not many readers are going to hyperventilate if they see them in a restaurant. Even a household name like John Grisham could probably walk through a mall without getting mobbed. Of course, John Grisham has people who walk through the mall for him.

I'm at an age where the best thing fame would bring is a window seat at Spago. If I went to Spago. But most of The Planet readers are younger, so I have to ask, would you trade privacy for fame? Is Barry Eisler famous? Ian Rankin? Is there an up side to fame beside instant sales and calls from Paris Hilton? And if you did get a phone call from Paris Hilton, what the fuck would you talk about? Her chihuahua? And is Paris Hilton's chihuahua merely a disgusting euphemism?

I'll let you decide.

I'm not suggesting anyone writes for fame, because that would make about as much sense as writing for money, but we've all had that daydream where we open the Sunday Times and see our book at the top of the list.

Mark Twain was famous. Faulkner and Hemingway were famous. Is there any writer today, besides Stephen King, who would have trouble eating an uninterrupted meal in public? I can't think of one.

8 comments:

Jim Winter said...

"beautiful women send him drinks in the hope he'll sign a fleshy part of their anatomy."

Forget the drinks. Show me those fleshy parts!

secretdeadartist said...

I thought Paris Hilton already knew how to fly, but then again she's not a writer, and let's hope that she never is and that you never mention her name again in this or any other sentence, real, imagined, spoken or written.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I have a distant cousin that's a country music artist, and girls ask him to sign their chests.

They did it in front of me, so it isn't just a story.

Olen Steinhauer said...

Sandra, I think it's different with music. I'm not sure why. Maybe because musicians on average tend to be more svelt than writers.

But this is an interesting question, something Kevin ranted about once. I remember wanting to be as famous as Hemingway, but over time I've learned it just doesn't happen anymore.

Why not? Really?

I suspect that writing has lost its mystique. Back in the day, with the lower frequency (not lower quality) of education, fewer people thought they could write a book. It was still a bit of a magical thing.

Now, there are budding writers everywhere. Retired businessmen come up to me at parties and confidently tell me about the book they're *going* to write, how much of an advance they're interested in, film prospects, etc--though they've never written anything besides business proposals before. When I was in grad school for writing, a janitor at the library I worked in ranted to me that learning to write was foolishness; anybody could tell a story, so what's the big deal?

Stars are people who can do something you know you can't do, and who are prettier than you'll ever be. Writers do something most of the populace thinks is pretty easy, but the writers are just luckier because they got published.

It's a drag that I'll never be famous like Hemingway. But maybe it's a blessing, as I'll be less likely to eat a shotgun.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Fame is one of the strangest intangible desires that humans have. The way people's faces light up at the mention of a 'celebrity' makes me wonder when our evolution as a species stopped.

The kind of fame I'd like is the respect of my peers, with the added bonus of enough real-world fame to keep me comfortable.

That should satisfy me.

That and a holiday house in every country and island on the planet.

Kevin Wignall said...

David, I think Stephen King could walk as freely as Grisham, maybe even more so. JK Rowling, on the other hand, she would still be mobbed and I think the fame thing has probably tipped a little into discomfort for her.

As for wanting fame, I think Daniel gets it right - we want recognition, but not fame. I was on a train recently and the guy across the aisle (late 50s) was clearly famous because a steady stream of people came down from second class to ask for his autograph, which he graciously gave. Before the end of the journey, the first class steward even asked for it. I had no idea who the guy was (but later saw his picture in the paper - Gordon Banks, a famous goalkeeper) but I felt happy knowing that no one knew what I did or who I was and I felt a little sympathy for him.

Stacey Cochran said...

Despite my best efforts, I can safely say that I have never been interrupted at a restaurant with anything or than the check to leave.

Although, now that I think about it, I did get interrupted once at a Mexican restaurant by a very loud mariachi band.

Stacey

P.S. Susan and I ended up buying a house in Clayton. Cary just couldn't fit one more person into their current town limits.

Anonymous said...

Olen hit the nail on the head. The mystique is gone, gone gone whoa baby I get down on my knees for... wait a sec singers still get panties thrown at them, am I right?
Writing used to be entertainment for the masses because what else was there?
Writer's used to drink and travel and live a boys adventure tale. Now all they do is drink and even then nobody wants nasty old liver disease. Still, in this day and age I'd say if you can't write for yourself, you're probably going to die lonely. You and everybody else with unrealistic expectations, but that's a different animal altogether-