Let Readers Desire, Not Shag, You -- Reb MacRath

The less readers know about writers, in general, the better. They don't want to know that some common Joe or Jill transformed their unremarkable life into remarkable fiction. A myth is as good as a mile to most minds. Drop your guard and down you go; for suddenly, alackaday, the bloom is off the Muse.

The writers of the books we read should be part showmen, part shamans, part riddles wrapped in rich enigmas. The more unknowable they seem, the more we feel we know them. Don't let them let us know, we pray, that they're financial cretins, boozy woozies, crybabies, lousy lays or addled diaper-changers with baby poop on their pinkies. Let them give us commanding personas we're never quite able to 'get'.

Old friends and family members love us and forgive our faults. But they're hard put to see our work as they would a total unknown's. How can anything great come from someone they've seen in moments they'd rather forget? Or how can strangers on a plane read anything by anyone who hiccoughed too loudly or raced to the loo?

After Death's a different matter. The more tortured or lonesome a poor bastard's life, the more peace of mind it will bring to the crowds: once again tragic proof that the high price of art isn't worth it.

In the meantime, though, what are writers to do? Let's conclude with some modest proposals:

1) Accept two basic facts of life: we're lucky to have a small circle of friends who accept us as people and writers. And we're blessed if a circle of writers relate to our work though it's different from theirs. 

2) Understand: outside these circles, in the great ocean of readers, too close familiarity will breed neglect if not contempt. And loyal fans may feel let down, possibly even betrayed.

3) We need to stop assuming that readers really want to know every little thing we think or do. And we should give them what they want: the expression of power in motion, no matter how choppy the waters.

4) Let us also watch and learn from those shining wonders  who have their shit together. Without even trying they blow us away with the purity of their personas--never confessing their most hapless scenes, their most pathetic worries, their blemishes or IBS.

Fact: we'll never be Real Writers to most of the people we meet. And we'll disappoint, in person, most of those who love our work.

I never met either of these long-gone superstars:

Ira Levin

                                                                 Lawrence Sanders

And yet, as a reader, I know them. They were tough, sophisticated pros in love with bringing home the bacon to their readers' tables over and over again. What else, really, need we know?

Thanks for the lesson, gentlemen: To give readers what they want, we must put on cool dancing shoes,,,and hide those feet of you-know-what,


Bill Kirton said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Kirton said…
Couldn't agree more, Reb, and yet we're 'encouraged' to use online resources such as this to 'make ourselves known' to readers. But that's rather different, since we can 'make known' an entirely fictitious, more commercially or artistically attractive version of ourselves. In France there's a great series of quite short books called 'L'Homme et l'Oeuvre', each volume dedicated to a literary 'great'. As the label suggests, they examine the life and the works of the literary greats and try to use one to create insights into the other. They're entertaining and mostly persuasive. My take on it is pretty simple - if a book makes me think and/or laugh, takes me outside the everyday, or opens new perspectives, I think I'll 'like' whoever wrote it. In today's paper, there's the revelation that Ted Hughes allegedly abused Sylvia Plath. It came as no real surprise and it's deplorable, unforgivable behaviour and I'd want nothing to do with a man (or woman) guilty of such things, but should I, as a result, reconsider the admiration I had/have for many of his poems?
glitter noir said…
Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Bill. I'v heard all the tales about Byron and not one of them changes my love for his work or my sense that, in his heart of hearts, he was a noble man. Today, just possibly, he'd have been a Twitterer or a an addicted talk show guest. The temptation is extreme. So is the risk of having anything we say, or have said, spread around the world in seconds. I admire more and more those writers who are reasonably accessible and open, but protective not just of their privacy but of their personas and auras.
Reminds me of the time I took a college course in a specific genre of popular literature. My professor had a very romanticized view of the writing life. She seemed very enthused when I told her that I was in touch with some of the writers we were studying. Could I get one of themto talk to the class? Of course! I put her in touch with a man who was a giant of the genre, who, when I approached him, was very gracious, and agreed to do it. In the end, she never followed through and nothing came of it. I stayed in touch with her after the class for a short time, but after I sent her some convention photos I never heard from her again. Haha! I guess seeing writers in their natural habitat was too much for her!

I had one of my doctors ask all sorts of questions about writing, and the writing life. Think he was expecting to hear tales of around the block lines for autographed hardbacks, three martini lunches with agents, and shopping trips with Oprah. I answered honestly, told him about the joys of tedium, drafts and revisions, endless hours of typing, and, as you can well imagine, killed his dreams forever. Haha!

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
--The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
glitter noir said…
Well said, David. I think from now on my stock answer will be: Writing's just rest for me between parties at the Playboy Mansion and wrestling bouts with giant crocs.

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