Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A much needed alibi

It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis

Like a lot of people, I have always wanted to be a writer. Like most of that “lot of people”, I have invented all manner of excuses why I haven't done so. Among them are the standard ones:
  • Too busy working

  • Need a better typewriter

  • Need a better computer

  • Too nice outside today
And so on.

Yes, these are truly lame reasons, but author Lynn Shepherd has come up with one that's hard to top: It's JK Rowling's fault.

For those of you living under a rock the last 10 years or so, Ms. Rowling wrote a rather popular series of novels involving a kid named Harry Potter. I've only read one of the books, for reasons I've explained before, but I can see why the books were so popular. Well, Ms. Rowling made her pile of dough (despite some fundamentalist parents deciding that witchcraft is so evil, the books should be banned), and finally announced that she was done with writing the series.

Now, Ms. Rowling has decided to start writing for adults and has recently published The Casual Vacancy . I have no idea if the book is any good or not, but Ms. Shepherd sees it as a threat to authors everywhere. "Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do," she wrote. So, if I understand the logic, a successful author will drive other authors to ruin.

Does the worried author of “literary mysteries” set in 1800's England think people only read one book a year or something? Is she worried that online book sellers will not list her books because they only have so much space on their servers for listings? Or does she think Ms. Rowling's eloquent prose will make hers look bad by comparison, causing critics to denigrate her work, thereby causing readers to avoid her like the plague?

If that last was her thinking, Shakespeare would have emptied the bookstore shelves years ago.

Of course, the article goes on to say that other people think Ms. Shepherd has harvested a large crop of sour grapes. Ultimately, what can it matter to other authors if JK Rowling produces another best seller or a bomb? Maybe that's really what bothers Ms. Shepherd. If Ms. Rowling figuratively lays an egg with her latest, perhaps she feels that readers will be so turned off they'll stop reading altogether. Or maybe she should just keep quiet and work on her own books.

As to me, since my failure to produce the Great American Novel goes back a long way, I can't really blame JK Rowling. I'd have to lean on someone who's gone on even longer, like Stephen King. I mean this guy's been taking up shelf space at book stores back when book stores were where you went to buy books. Obviously, I couldn't complete with such a juggernaut of authorship.

It doesn't matter that I never gave a thought to what other authors were doing when I was making excuses to myself. It's the principle of the thing. Subconsciously I must have realized that my efforts were doomed from the start because of the writing monolith that is Stephen King. I never had a chance.

I wonder if Ms. Shepherd fears Stephen King? Probably not. After all, he couldn't keep JK Rowling off the shelves.

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