The Writer’s Story

In the wine post on Monday, we talked about the story around the wine is what allows for its experience. Sometimes that story is its price. But it can also be it’s history, how and why it’s made, the passion behind it’s creation. Superstar agent @davidrjacobsen tweeted that can be said of so many other things, like beer and sports. Donald Dewey says that’s true even of writers:

Some writers are more stimulating as ideas than as workers at their craft. We can be reluctant to admit this because it opens us to charges that we don’t grasp their art sufficiently, that we have no literary sensibility, or that we have the intellectual patience of the Vandals. Radio talk show hosts aside, nobody likes to be accused of philistinism.

Two writers who come to mind instantly in this regard are Ernest Hemingway and J. D. Salinger. I truly love the notion of a newspaperman forging his fiction while driving ambulances through the battlefields of World War I, ducking under Franco’s bombs in the Spanish Civil War, hunting lions and rhinos in Africa, getting into alcoholic boxing matches with old Brooklyn Dodgers, discovering religion in bullfighting, marrying god-knows-how-many-times, feuding with other famous people over the pettiest of ego matters, calling Marlene Dietrich and Ava Gardner confidantes, earning honors in Castro’s Cuba, and, finally, blowing his brains out rather than submit to some degenerative disease. There’s a magnificent novel in a picaresque, complex character like that; it goads my imagination, moves me beyond a few staid criteria even to contemplate it. But for my (lack of) taste, Hemingway himself didn’t write the novel; in fact, he didn’t write it about a dozen times. The idea of Hemingway was simply bigger, more expansive than his fiction.

For diametrically opposed reasons I feel the same way about Salinger. Unlike the sprawling canvas of the Hemingway idea, the Salinger idea is the tiniest of miniatures: guy writes short stories and novellas about the Central Park West crowd, then turns into a New England hermit. People think he’s faking it, but he isn’t.

This might perturb some writers. They want their work to stand by itself. Philip Roth says, “Just read the books.” But why not embrace the story you write for yourself. The narrative that surrounds you. You can create that writerly aura that makes the book glow with intrigue. Hemingway and Salinger and even Roth did this (probably not intentionally). And another one of my favorite writers Don Miller does this well with his latest book. Publishers probably call this having a platform, but I think it’s more than that.

You can always be like Mark Davis, a novelist who staged a kidnapping to promote his book.

By the way, I’m changing my name and moving into the wild where I’ll write my first novel in coyote sweat and squirrel tears.

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