More thick skin than talent.

I put off working on my own novel and read about James Frey instead. Vanity Fair has done a story on his life after the A Million Little Pieces fiasco.

I didn’t read his book. I don’t know if I will because life is short and I’ve got hundreds of books on my list already and I don’t read biographies much–fictionalized or otherwise–but this article was worth reading.

Where is that line between truth and fiction (lying) and what a writer owes the reader and what a reader can realistically expect. What struck me most though was the venom people spewed at the man. So, maybe he lied or the publisher lied or maybe they were exactly lying or maybe whatever. But calling him “dung” or “fuck face” is absurd. He wrote a book and got caught lying. Why do people react this viciously? I honestly thought less of the name callers and more of Mr. Frey for enduring it.

But, of course, in my own self-obsessed writer way, I also thought about my own writing. I write fiction, and not thinly veiled autobiographical fiction either. Pure made-up stuff. The lying part isn’t what bothers me. What bothers me is the way people react to something that doesn’t really affect them. Don’t like an author? Don’t buy the book. I find this fairly easy advice to follow. Don’t like to read bad words? Don’t buy the book. Don’t like violence or drug taking or insert-other-moral-failing here? Don’t buy the book.

Bought the book and hated it? Got offended? Well, the other day I bought some grapes and a few didn’t taste very good. Somehow I got through my day without sending hate mail to the grocery store or the growers or the migrant worker who picked them. What is it with people who send hate mail because they don’t like something?

I can be as self-obsessed and centered as the next struggling soul, but I don’t take it personally when a novel or a movie or a song offends or disappoints me. Generally these things don’t require me to take time out of my life and away from my family or my work to write a cruel and ugly letter (or email–I do forget what age I’m living in.).

I’ve been plenty angry plenty of times and I’ve called people names behind their backs. But when I imagine putting those words down in print or on tape and I imagine sharing them the world, I think, you know, the insult just isn’t worth it. I’ll look like a harpy or worse.

But if you want to have that bestselling book, Frey’s is a cautionary tale no matter what kind of book you’re writing. The world loves you, until it doesn’t. Being a successful writer may require more thick skin than talent.

5 thoughts on “More thick skin than talent.

  1. I agree with you. Although I do not condone what he did (and I’ve heard about others like him), I also understand how difficult and frustrating it is to get published. If you are not multi-cultural, gay, lived through hell and come back to tell about it, it seems like it’s hard to get published. That may sound harsh, but it feels that way. So I can understand the urge to do what he did, although he shouldn’t have done it. I have no respect for it, and I won’t read his books. Although, like you say, I’m not going to waste my time writing hate mail either. But I don’t have a lot of sympathy for him either. He dug his hole.

  2. Okay, here’s my one allowable cliche for day: The Frey situation is a tempest in a teapot.

    It’s as simple and complicated as this: you are where your attention takes you. And to finesse the point, as Deepak Chopra says: You are your attention.

  3. I think the backlash wasn’t because he lied. It’s because people felt so foolish for making him rich and famous. Without jealousy, there is no betrayal. Without greed, there is no thievery. And the last lying memoirist to get outted? She disappeared without a ruckus because no one had bought the book, no Oprah fan club yet.

  4. I too have been irritated at the excess of hate given to him.
    I also found the whole thing intriguing, where that line is between “truth” and “fiction”.
    I understand that he lied, in that his premise was that he was writing of events that actaully happened, when some of them did not. And yet, why the need to have things be literal. Sometimes it feels like we have confused real with true.

  5. I was talking to a blogger friend about this — not about Frey, but about the need to spew venom at writers. My commenters (as you know!) are a wonderful supportive bunch, her blog is bigger and pulls in more random traffic and she gets lots of comments telling her what a bad person she is. It’s true that it says much more about the person who would take the time and energy to do that than it does about the writer.

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