Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is the World Unfair to Writers?

Timothy Egan is a writer. For eighteen years he wrote for the New York Times. In 2001, he and a team of NYT reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for their series, "How Race is Lived in America." In 2004, his first novel, The Winemaker's Daughter was released by Alfred A. Knopf. In 2006, he won the National Book Award for his non-fiction book, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.

I say all this to establish Mr. Egan's bona fides as a writer.

In 2004, when his first novel was published, Mr. Egan (who lives in Seattle with his family), gave an interview to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which quoted him talking about writing fiction:
"Writing a novel is a life dream that I have had since third grade, so having one published is such a relief for me," Egan says. "It's been an amazing creative experience. It's not like non-fiction, where you have to connect all the dots. This is magic. You create characters and they go off on their own and it's absolutely exhilarating. I've had some really depressing times in journalism over the last five or six years and this novel has been my escape, my fantasy world."
Yeah, he's a writer, all right.

On Saturday, Mr. Egan filled in for Maureen Dowd, doing an op-ed for the New York Times titled "Typing Without a Clue."

In that column, Mr. Egan addresses the issue of celebrities who write books and garner enormous advances in the process.

We know the names. Joe the Plumber. Sarah Palin. People who have never written before and who barely manage to be coherent. Mr. Egan describes writers who have actually earned that title:
Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.
Sour grapes or righteous anger?

This line made me wince:
The idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers think the world is unfair.
Until that line, I was right there with him. But then he lost me.

Of course, the world is unfair. Where has he been living?

Following the recent terrorist attack in India, I saw a photo of the lovely thirteen-year-old girl who was shot down during her first visit to India with her father. Killed by ignorant boys not much older than she was who had been filled with a catechism of hate masquerading as religion.

How can anyone even pretend the world is fair? Much less have an expectation that it will be?

The best we can do is to be kind to each other and keep our own little corner of the universe clean and orderly. And every once in a while, we get to celebrate when some poor soul who didn't deserve to be hurt gets his little piece of justice. Or when someone who was on the wrong path steps off that road and looks back in the right direction.

I am so grateful every time the good guys win.

When I was younger, I used to pray for all the things I wanted in life. These days, I recognize how blessed I am. Instead of asking for things, I try to give thanks for those times when an impersonal universe resets the scales and offers some measure of justice.

I said a small prayer of thanks last night when I saw this story here on my ABC affiliate.

Read Mr. Egan's op-ed here.

And thanks to jesever who brought the op-ed to my attention.


Gina Black said...

He must be a Libra. That was my mother's lament only exchange the world writers for artists.

Maya Reynolds said...

Gina: [grin]



Peter L. Winkler said...

Had Egan done his research, he would have discovered that Joe Wurzlebacher's book is self-published, and Joe's ghost writer's only credit is a self-published novel.

I don't understand why that should upset a successful writer like Egan.

Maya Reynolds said...

Peter: I think somehow Egan believes that the universe of advances is hurt by the large advances paid to these celebrities.

I don't necessarily agree with him.