What an Unfortunate Time to be an Unknown Writer

Unless of course you are between the ages of 13 and 16, or if you copy the pages of someone else’s book and say you are just “mixing”, or if you are already some celebrity from some other fabulous art niche, because you are like Starbucks, and you have to be on every corner.

So many wonderful things in the world of writing: blatant plagiarism, and novelty marketing, and of course the post 9/11, as “they” like to call it, whirl of a million bucks book sales in one week or you are nothing. It’s funny how the marketing world attributes its need for speed greed and instant gratification sales based on the deaths of hundreds of people. What ever happened to reflection? to enjoying life? Marketing decided that we all need to move faster and we need more, more, more, because we’re all going to die soon. If were all going to die soon than who cares if you get rich quick, you are going to die soon.

This is old news to most, but I have had my head in the antiquated books, and only recently came across the articles regarding, Helene Hegemann, and the super old news, Kaavya Viswanathan. I’m not going to bitch much about either of them, since I am never going to read either book (besides I think Kaavya’s book got pulled). Not based on principle, although I think you’re pretty much an asshole to take someone else’s work and say it is your own, and you’re even more of an asshole to say you didn’t steal you are “mixing” like a DJ, and all the kids are doing it; to paraphrase Miss. Hegemann. I’m not reading them because I don’t like chic-lit. Plan and simple, same story over and over again and I never ever relate. As for Miss. Hegemann’s book about a 16-year-old girl who dives into the underground Berlin club and drug scene after her mom dies…  who needs to read that when you have already known and lived with 16-year-old orphans, and runaways in the club scenes in London and Germany (okay so not Berlin) plus once you’ve read Irvine Welsh, or watched Harmony Korine’s Kids, you’ve kind of run the full gamut on the teens do drugs, have sex, and party scene. Or maybe I’m just old. Or maybe it is principle! Sure there are a lot of drugged out, living life crazy teens, look at Basketball Diaries, but at least you know they really wrote it (Well no one claims they didn’t). Man I have a book I could write myself, granted I would be pilfering from the lives of my friends, but that is what writers do- ha-ha, it is not plagiarism it is… hmmm what the hell is that? Anyway, I’m certain, Miss. Hegemann’s book is very “authentic” as she mentioned or should I say Airen the uncredited (now credited) author who inspired portions of her work. Who knows, it’s “mixing”. In a way I think I know what she was trying to do, Douglas Coupland did it in his books. I still remember reading Smith lines from his book, and getting so pissed off because he never mentioned that he was using lines from The Smiths, but I loved the Smiths so I knew. He had a book called, GirlFriend in a Coma- I mean COME ON! (Maybe Coupland did thank the Smiths somewhere. I read the books in high school, and the whole thing just bugged me.) The sad thing is all they have to do is mention it, you know like in a preface or a forward, “some work is inspired by so and so and thank you”. I’m sure that wouldn’t be enough for some, but it would be enough for me, and we know what I think counts. It isn’t really these stories that give me the writing blues as much as thinking about the people so willing to publish them and back them up. Can you really blame these women when they are offered million dollar book deals? Maybe there is no originality, but there should be integrity.

I happened to be dancing around the new york times reading back and forth about these two stories, and then a brief flurry of other plagiarism bits, when I danced across this essay written by Rachel Donadio. It just gives me the writers blues to be reminded so often of the difficulties of ever getting published if you are unknown. And this article was written in 2006, so, I am not even taking into account the panic of the recession and the publishing break-up (whatever it will be). I look at my own manuscript on my desk top, not even printed out, and think, no one will ever be interested in reading this, it isn’t chic-lit, it isn’t hip, it isn’t a best seller. I couldn’t write a best seller if I tried. You have to be able to write what the majority wants or what the marketers think the majority wants, and I have never been very good in the popularity game. If I were to write about Vampires in love, you could accuse me of plagiarism because it would not come out of my head. At least Donadio ended her essay on a positive note or hopeful note about the individual writer’s voice.

All this week I’ve been whining about how I can’t find a place to submit my work, and I’ve been feeling like I just don’t fit in this world, I should have been anything but a writer (or an actor). I picked up, Into the Heart of a Life: Henry Miller at One Hundred, edited by Frederick Turner. I love Henry Miller, it was Miller more than any other writer that made me want to be a writer. I don’t even think he is the best writer, but he and Kerouac will forever be in my heart as my early muses. It was the way they would tear through a page and just scream: this is life! I never knew writing could be so passionate, so a flame, so filled with living, and that was want I wanted, and want, more than anything is to live, to experience, and then to share, to “suck the marrow of life”, as Thoreau had said, and then so many quoted after. In the introduction to Into the Heart Turner quotes Miller from letter’s Miller had written to his friend Schnellock, he writes:

Somewhere, there must be an audience waiting for my words. Where? Why does nobody want what I write? Jesus, when I think of being 38, and poor, and unknown, I get furious. I refuse to live this way forever. There must be a way out.

When I read that I thought, oh my god, that’s how I feel right now. Only, I think of being 37, being poor, and unknown. I don’t get furious, I get depressed. Maybe it would be better if I got furious. No matter what I am not Miller, but it feels good to be in the company of someone who has felt like an absolute failure, and has been destitute just to keep writing. Henry Miller was in a different time, and the pace was so much slower, although, I bet it felt fast to all of them. It seems easier in these times to get lost and ignored in the mush, and push, and greed of the world. I think somewhere there must be an audience for my words too? But maybe not, maybe this is the age of celebrity stories, and the rehashing of the same genre tales, because people don’t want to try something new or daring, and why should they when the diagram for money has already been built. Still,  there must be a way out, and I say that verbatim, because, I did think it, so it is mine, although Henry said it first, so I’ll quote him. Right Henry, there was a way out?


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