Friday, April 15, 2011

A fine Piece of Writing

Ed here: Megan Abbott and Sara Gran call their shared blog The Abbott Gran Old Tyme Medicine Show. I've only started reading it and now I never miss it because in terms of keen observation and wonderful writing I think it's without peer.

In the piece I'm linking to a writer named Stonafitch writes a memoir of his uncle William Harrington who wrote crime novels and ghosted a large number of books. Stonafitch charts the life of a man who never won the acclaim or fame he wanted and turned bitter because of it. Harrington lived large as they say. He also lived in one of those inchoate alcoholic hazes that only the true warrior drunks can sustains. Sometimes for years. (I know whereof I speak.)

His bitterness reminds me of a few writers I've met along the way. There was one critically acclaimed horror writer who wrote for Mystery Scene I couldn't take more than a few minutes of on the phone. I've always been an enthusiast. I enjoy pushing writer and books I like. But no matter who I mentioned he'd have some snarky remark to make. He'd always been thought to be The Next Big Thing but not even two lead slots with a big house broke him out and by God he was going to take it out on the rest of us. A prick.

This is a remarkable piece of work. And when you finish that scroll down to Megan Abbott's take on Gloria Graham. Eloquent and definitive.


The real Uncle Bill was often charming and occasionally mean but it was excusable because he was a writer, and so, insecure and deeply flawed. He looked like a pocket-sized Norman Mailer, without as much genius or popularity but with an extra dose of street smarts. Bill inspired a kind of fearful awe in our family because he was pretty much always half-drunk and prone to conversational bullying.

Bill took great delight in turning any family occasion into a debacle, which I appreciated, kind of:

Florida, 1968–Family vacation. We climb a tower at a scenic overlook. When everyone else is climbing down, Bill grabs me by the ankles and hangs my scrawny, seven-year-old ass, Pip-like, above the Everglades. When I scream and squirm like a psychotic shrimp, he tells me now you know what if feels like to be scared.


I had dinner with Bill spring of my senior year in college, hoping for advice for a young writer about to venture out into the marketplace. What I got instead was an evening-long, soul-killing rant about his huge book advances, celebrities he knew, and how bad most other writers (Harold Robbins!) were.

After dinner, which included drinking most of the red wine in southern Connecticut, my ursine uncle padded off to his study to write. I could barely walk but Uncle Bill was writing, or appeared to be. My last memory of that night? His puffy face and glittering eyes lit green by the screen of his expensive PC, the first I had ever seen.

There goes a pro, I thought at the time, too young to recognize a drinker with a writing problem. After that, I lost touch with Uncle Bill on purpose, trying to avoid contagion from the palpable bitterness that pumped through him like central air.

for the rest go here:


Chad Eagleton said...

The Medicine show is damned brilliant. But we should expect as much from two of the best writers out there.

Matt Paust said...

Terrific writing. I knew an "Uncle Bill," in fact I am struggling not to become one.

Steve said...

Thanks for the link, Ed! A fine piece of writing indeed -- and a cautionary tale for all of us.