Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Writers as celebrities

As I remember it John D. MacDonald once spent five grumpy minutes at the tail end of a Johnny Carson show complaining that writers like himself should be given more time than they received. He was never on Carson again. Of course.

Tales of TV and writers abound. My own relates to the time Barry Gifford hauled my then current novel on to the Today show where he was guesting as the screenwriter of Wild At Heart, a very hot film at the time. I could glimpse my book resting on a table. And just before commercial I knew that the next small segment would see my book held up to the millions who would make it a bestseller. Well, Al Roker, windier than ever, ran long and when the interview was resumed basically all that was said was goodbye.

Barry did very well on the tube. Al Collins does very well. So did Evan Hunter. But face it folks most of us just aren't that exciting or even interesting to the masses because the masses don't read books. If you wrote your book in a whorehouse; or while driving a Nascar; or while having sex with a starlet--then maybe you'd be ready for TV. Otherwise forget it.

I thought of this tonight when I read Ruth Jordan's excellent piece on John Ball in Crimespree #16. In The Heat of The Night had an impact few genre novels ever have. And Ball would have been great TV because as Ruth details the guy packed enough occupations into his years to make you wonder if he wasn't four different people.

That's why non-fiction writers are in demand in radio and tv. They come with hooks. You know, how to lose weight, how to cheat your business partner without him knowing it, the real secret life of Dick Cheney (God spare me the details).

About fifteen years ago a Japanese magazine did an article about my Jack Dwyer novels. Big splashy full color magazine. The woman who wrote the piece even flew to Cedar Rapids to spend a day with me. She did a very nice job and I was thankful that she made me seem a lot more interesting than I am.

The one thing we laughed about was my life history. I wish I could've come up with a few years of mountain climbing and cancer research and having an affair with Princess Di. But as I told her except for four years when I wrote and produced commercials and documentaries all I've done with my life is sit in a variety of rooms and type.

And that sure ain't gonna get you on the Today show.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Pictures at a Revolution (Mark Harris) has a lot of interesting detail about the making of In The Heat of the Night. Also, I can't imagine a writer appearing on Leno or Letterman now. Of course, I can't remember the last time I made it up that late.

Ed Gorman said...

Congratulations on your Derringer nomination, Patti. Your fine writing is starting to get its long deserved notice.

Anonymous said...

You have it just right. Even before TV, when writers were supposedly major public figures, they were of interest only to the two percent who read literature. Nothing's changed.

Richard Wheeler

Anonymous said...

Weak exception, I suppose, is Craig Ferguson's LATE, LATE SHOW...Ferguson being a novelist himself, he's had a few on over the last several years. The first I saw was Lawrence Block.

C-SPAN actually makes a point of featuring NonFiction Books, Damn It, on its BookTV, but grudgingly relents and lets a novelist or poet or heaven forfend a short-story writer on from time to time.

Anonymous said...

And, you know, a television series based on Ball's Virgil Tibbs novels, rather than improbably bent out of the film of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, would've made for rather a better experience.

Ed Gorman said...

Yeah Larry Block's very good. He does Bernie instead of Scudder at least the few times I've seen him.

Anonymous said...

Everything you said is true. That's why celebrities get the big advances for what are often terrible books.
The public will listen to their interviews. The average fiction writer, including myself, are unknown ordinary people who have a gift for imaginative ideas and use of language. But only those who read and write know anything about us.

Jacqueline Seewald
Five Star/Gale