Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You have to eat eggs on the road

I like books about writers, written by writers, about their journey, usually to some kind of success. I always think I might gain some magic insight from them which would help me get to the next level in my writing.

A writer's road isn't easy as we writers, or wannabe writers, know. It is full of potholes, narrow bridges and detours. There are times when we are motivated, times when we are devoid of ideas, times when we close our laptop and swear never to write another word. But how many of us have dreamed of being discovered? Wished we could have a helping hand up over those hurdles? Wouldn't you give your eye teeth to have your work noticed by a published author and be drawn into his circle, recommended to his publisher? It didn't work out well, it appears, for Tom Grimes. Except in the end he has a book out of the drama - Mentor.

This is a book about striding up to the brink of success, only to have success disembowel you with a dull steak knife, bow, and then skip away, cackling.

Does that description from the NY Times appeal? It sounds rather disheartening. Does it have something to offer to budding writers, if only as a warning?

Mr. Grimes admits: “I imitated authors. On Monday, I sounded like Vonnegut, who, on Tuesday, became Nabokov, who, on Wednesday, became Toni Morrison, who, on Thursday, became Philip Roth.”

I ask myself - could I ever sound like Vonnegut? Who would even try? And then it seems the book probably tells you more than you want to know about the book world.

Alongside his own downward-spiraling narrative, Mr. Grimes packs this story with book world gossip, the way you stud a leg of lamb with garlic before sticking it in the oven. At one point Mailer gives Mr. Grimes some macho, if baffling, book tour advice: “You have to eat eggs on the road.”

He tells the story of being invited to a cocktail party at the home of L. Rust Hills, the influential former literary editor at Esquire. Mr. Hills pulls him aside and offers him a quid pro quo. “So, you teach my book” — a volume called “Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular” — “and I read your stuff,” Mr. Hills says. “O.K.? That’s how it works. Make sense?"

That's rather sordid and not exactly what you imagine when you have a manuscript you are proud of. So maybe I will give this writer's book a pass. That is the advice of the NY Times reviewer, the would be writer in my life being ME!

Don’t give this forthright and bewildered book to the would-be writer in your life. It might make him or her climb a tall tree and leap from it. You don’t need that on your hands. In any case, I suspect many aspiring writers will find it on their own, and read it between the cracks in their fingers.

Or will I get tempted anyway and read it cringing?

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Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)