“She’s an Author”

E, my amazing neighbor, a tiny, alive, awake, aware dynamo of a woman in her 70s, introduces me to people as her neighbor then says, “Martha’s an author.”

“A what?”

“An author.”

“What?”

“She writes books.”

Every one of those people has looked at me a second time, usually out of the corner of their eye, and returned their attention to E.

I started watching a movie the other night called Poison Pen. It is awful, but it’s about an author. He’s a stereotype. Corderoy jacket, leather elbow patches, shaggy hair, socially awkward, elitist (he wants to be on the shelf in the bookstore where one finds Joyce, Dickens, etc.). He’s published one GREAT book, a Booker prize winner, and nothing since. His contract has been bought by the company that owns a pulp magazine, Poison Pen, and they tell him he can pay back the money he owes them for an advance on a second novel  that he has not written, he can write the novel in 3 days, or go to work for the magazine.

Then we get to see the author “authoring” — desperately trying to write 100 pages in a weekend. He drinks a lot. He stays up all night. He jumps on his sofa. He runs around his room. He curses at his typewriter (typewriter???) he says, “It’s good, it’s good, it’s good — it’s shit.” You probably get the picture, but there’s more of this. Ultimately, finally, expectedly, he goes to work for the magazine…

I don’t know what happens next because I hated the movie. It was badly acted (among other things)… And NO one writes like that. It isn’t even physically possible to write like that. To write, you sit down and you write, though I agree that doesn’t give much for a camera to shoot.

So I did a little google search to learn about stereotypes of writers. The film pretty much caught most of them:

  1. Writers are prone to alcoholism. — I am sober as to be called “teetotal.” How do I feel about alcohol? My mom and brother were drunks; booze wrecked their lives and their addiction to booze didn’t help mine. I don’t like the way alcohol changes people, including me. However, the first time I had a martini, I did one of the most interesting pieces of art I’ve ever done.
  2. Writers have pet cats. — Cats are nice, but I live on a busy highway and I have these dogs, see?
  3. Authors need gallons of coffee. — Dusty and I need our cup every morning.
  4. Authors are depressed and melancholy. — This is the fault of writers through time, especially the “romantic” time. Some of them really liked the melancholy pose and others, well, you know, Hemingway. BUT most didn’t.
  5. Writers are eccentric. — This point is disproven by the fact that almost everyone who can read believes they have a “book inside waiting to come out.”
  6. Authors have a god complex. — I don’t even know what this is. I guess it means arrogant. I think arrogance is in the eye of the beholder; we can attribute arrogance to a lot of people who are simply shy, introverted, or preoccupied. I might seem arrogant to people for various reasons, but they might be wrong.
  7. Writers are reclusive. — There was a day when I was working on Martin of Gfenn and I realized two things about writing a novel. First, you can’t hang out with a bunch of friends having a good time AND write a serious story at the same time. Second, writing a novel can be absorbing, engrossing, a whole world. You might not even NOTICE you’re all alone until you write that last word and wonder, “Where’s everybody?”
  8. Authors are unkempt. — Some people are unkempt. Some of those people are possibly authors.
  9. Writers are broke. — I’m broke. ONE thing I’ve learned from promoting The Brothers Path is that book promotion costs money. It’s a major investment. It’s like raising a kid. I’m glad I save my change.
  10. Writers chain smoke. — No.

A long time ago — when I had a Mac Classic and hung out with the Boys on Bikes — I had just gotten a video camera specifically to film the boys riding their BMXs. The first day we worked on the film was SPECTACULAR!!! but when it was over, I was tired and really wanted to get off by myself. In those days, all I wrote were letters. I am still not sure what I was doing, but I think it fell into the general category of “apprenticeship.” I was immersed in an idea when there was a knock at the door. I knew it was a boy. I’d ASKED to be left alone until the next morning. Grrrrr!!!

Sure enough, it was Mikey, the youngest, 11.

“Can we talk?”

“Mikey, I really want to write.”

“Why?”

“I want to be a famous writer.”

“I don’t want you to be a famous writer. I want you to be a nice lady with a red truck.”

I was touched and my values got squared away right then. I sat down on my porch with the little boy.

“OK, Mikey, what’s going on?”

“I just wanted to say, I love our movie. Today was the best day of my whole life.”

So I don’t know about this author thing. I’m not writing anything right now. I was working on a sequel to The Brothers Path but I think someone else may have written it already. Not sure, but I have bought the book that might make my efforts meaningless or at least unnecessary. The novel I’ve been working on doesn’t engross me much. I have yet to figure out who the story is about though I do know what happens to the people and have written one good chapter — the final chapter but then, who knows? Maybe it wants to be the beginning…

Those who stereotype us authors would call this writer’s block. I just call it lack of conviction.

Looking for a featured image for this post — something featuring an aspect of Goethe’s life, Goethe being a man free of the BS stereotypes of our absurdly silly age, I found this beautiful post. 

4 thoughts on ““She’s an Author”

  1. I love this, Martha (and the other post, too). You would know better than anyone about all the writer myths and generalizations. You think people are intimidated by E’s introduction of you? I would be! A writer…dang!

    • I think they don’t know what they’re supposed to say. E loves my novels and she’s read them all. I think she wants to recommend them to people and I think she thinks it’s cool that I wrote them. She’s right, but it’s almost like she’s said, “She’s a leper!” 😀

  2. Sometimes, when one of those horrible movies about an “author” is on … around here it’s probably some black & white thing from the 1930 that I hate on principle because it’s one cliche after another … I yell at the TV. This has one positive effect. Garry will eventually give up and turn on something else.

    The only single truth about authors is that writing is a solitary occupation. You can be all kinds of sociable when you are between writing projects, but if you want to author anything — serious or otherwise — you aren’t going to do it with a party going on. Not even with a beloved “other” talking to you. It’s impossible. People who need people ALL the time may want to be authors, but they aren’t going to be.

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