Roxane Gay recently pointed out in a Salon blog that all our discussions about whether women writers like bestselling Jennifer Weiner, who writes popular fiction, don’t get enough press coverage miss a major point. As Gay puts it so beautifully: “What most writers have in common is desire. We want and want and want and want.”
I learned this early in my publishing career when an author I was getting to know told me about a contemporary novelist whose first novel was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. It was subsequently on the New York Times best seller list, and sold 500,000 copies. That’s the kind of exposure, notoriety, and sales record most writers would kill for. My friend had lunch with this author, who turned out to be very unhappy. Why? He hadn’t gotten a Pulitzer nomination, and couldn’t let go of the disappointment and frustration.
I know another best-selling author of thrillers whose name is truly everywhere, especially blurbing other people’s books because that name is red hot. This author is making millions from books that sell worldwide. There’s been one book turned into a successful movie, and a major monthly magazine did a long profile of this author. So what’s he pining for? Respect from established literary critics.
Another writer friend, who’s been invited to speak all across the country about her book, and has taught writing workshops more than once in great European venues, is devastated by not having ever been invited to keynote a small annual writer’s conference in her home town.
No matter what level of achievement writers reach, many of us cannot stop hoping for more. Sadly, we don’t wish we were writing better books. We wish we were better known, richer, more respected, adulated even, had more exposure or had what some other writer has. And that wouldn’t be enough, because for many writers, there’s never enough.
Gay’s essay was another voice in the controversy launched last year when Jennifer Weiner went public about not being as respected as Jonathan Franzen, not getting his level of respect or review coverage. A writer of popular fiction, she’s been a New York Times bestseller, has made millions from her books and more than one has been turned into a movie. It’s an enviable place to be, but she apparently envies literary novelist Jonathan Franzen, who’s made the cover of TIME and been the critics’ darling.
Whatever you think about her statements on-line and in the press, or about her writing, I can’t imagine Weiner would be happy if she had everything she thinks she wants, because there would be something else beyond her reach. She’s a writer, after all, and for many of us, our favorite music is what the poet Linda Pastan calls “the song of the self.” It’s a one-voice melody that runs up and down the scale “like a mouse maddened/by its own elusive tail.”
Excerpted from Writer’s Block is Bunk: Advice for Writers
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