Friday, July 30, 2010

What Price Fame?

by Jean Henry Mead

I’ve interviewed bestselling authors who have been accosted by fans asking for autographs, as though they were rock stars. There are also those who insist they have the plot for the Great American Novel, which they want you to write and share with them in the proceeds. Or fledgling authors who write asking, “Would you please read my manuscript?” Most, in my experience, have expected praise for their work, not suggestions for change.

The late Elmer Kelton, one of the West's best novelists, said, "Usually, if they are persistent, I'll promise to read the manuscript and give dubious advice if the person will write the book himself. Less than one in fifty will take me up on my offer, and the few times my hand has been called, I've bitten the bullet and read the manuscript."

While it’s flattering to have people recognize you in WalMart and ask about your books, how long are you willing to accommodate fans who ask for autographed pictures, ring your doorbell during dinner or constantly ask you to donate books for a local charity?

Elmore Leonard said, "While it's nice to get fan mail, a few letters a week, and being recognized on the street, the interviews are wearing me out. I'm asked questions about writing, and about my purpose in the way I write that I've never thought of before  And I  have to take time to think on the spot and  come with an answer."

There are other pitfalls to writing success. One novelist couple was forced to move to a remote area of Wyoming, because a group of people took offense at something they wrote and literally threatened their lives. It may sound far-fetched, but it happens.

Linda Stafford, a Native American writer, said she made the mistake of commenting during a speech at a convention of 6,000: “Stop by for a cup of coffee if you’re ever in my area.” Although she and her husband live in the Colorado Rockies fifty miles from the nearest town, fans starting showing up all that summer to collect not only the coffee but pictures with the author, flowers from her garden and other souvenirs. They even asked to borrow food or use her shower. The couple finally resorted to putting up a sign warning: RATTLESNAKE VENOM FARM. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “I really do appreciate each person who buys one of my books. I would be nothing without my readers. But the very fans who love your books are the ones who will monopolize your time and energy and prevent you from writing. I’m now experienced enough, and tough enough, to say to myself that I owe my fans only a good story for their money. They aren’t buying a visit to my home, or a picture of me with Aunt Mable, or a look into my private life. When I’m on tour, I’m happy to sign books, pose for pictures and have coffee with them if I can fit it into my schedule, but when I’m home, I want my private life to stay private. I can finally say ‘No.’”

I wouldn’t be surprised if bestsellers have eight-foot iron fences surrounding their homes. Those of us who aren’t that well known might want to experience the aura of success for a while but tempting stalkers and fans who constantly ring your doorbell would eventually wear a writer down.

I’ve occasionally received email asking for autographed pictures from as far away as Greece, or autographed books to be auctioned off for a charitable event, which is flattering and I’ve gladly complied. But can you imagine that on a such a grand scale that you'd have to hire a secretary or PR firm to handle all the requests? No wonder Dean Koontz built a house large enough to accommodate every activity, away from mainstream America.

Now that we’ve moved to a mountaintop ranch more than a dozen miles from the nearest town--a great place to write--few people are going to come knocking at my door. It may get lonely up here. :-)


Chester Campbell said...

Hey, Jean, I'd like to come visit you, but I don't know when I'll ever get to Wyoming.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Ah, thanks, Chester. :) Any time you're in Wyoming, come for a visit with your lovely wife.

Jaden Terrell said...

I always wanted to go to Wyoming.

I'd also like for my books and my character to be famous--but not me.

Jean Henry Mead said...

It's beautiful here. Awesome, even. And the door's always open to you, Beth. :)