Over at A Dark Planet, David Terrenoire (a man of impeccable literary taste) has brought up a subject we muse about here at the Nomad probably a little too much: Fame and the Writer. Says David:

The truth is, even if a few writers reach rock star status in this business, not many readers are going to hyperventilate if they see them in a restaurant. Even a household name like John Grisham could probably walk through a mall without getting mobbed. Of course, John Grisham has people who walk through the mall for him.

I suspect that writing has lost its mystique. Back in the day, with the lower frequency (not lower quality) of education, fewer people thought they could write a book. It was still a bit of a magical thing.

Now, there are budding writers everywhere. Retired businessmen come up to me at parties and confidently tell me about the book they’re going to write, how much of an advance they’re interested in, film prospects, etc—though they’ve never written anything besides business proposals before. When I was in grad school for writing, a janitor at the library I worked in ranted to me that learning to write was foolishness; anybody could tell a story, so what’s the big deal?

Stars are people who can do something you know you can’t do, and who are prettier than you’ll ever be. Writers do something most of the populace thinks is pretty easy, but the writers are just luckier because they got published.

Before leaving for Texas, I mentioned I did a small reading here in Budapest. Now, it was a great group, I enjoyed myself, and felt like I did well. But upon returning home, something was nagging at me. I thought about it, then understood: No one at the reading (admittedly we’re talking about only 20 people) had ever read any of my books.Why did this bother me? Because, within the cloistered expat world of Budapest, I have a single claim to fame: I’m the only English-language published novelist living in Hungary (that I know of, at least). And I came to the reading because one of the organizers (I was told) thought it was crazy that the only English-language novelist in town hadn’t been to this open-mic night, which has been meeting monthly for years.

And I agreed. When I arrived, I apologized for never having been to their nights before, and they thanked me for coming. Afterward, a couple people said, “Hey that was really good. Maybe I’ll read one of your books!” One of the organizers said that too. Another man—an older Hungarian whose honesty I appreciated—asked if there was violence in the book (the section I read dealt with a hijacking). When I said yes, he peered at me. “That’s why I won’t read your books.”

Then I was back my little apartment, wondering how a room full of budding writers living in Budapest hadn’t gotten around, in the past three years, to reading any of my books.

But I think it’s as I said above. Even in the secluded world of the expat, when you hear about someone who’s doing what you’d love to be doing with your life, your reaction isn’t awe. It’s the feeling that someone else had the connections you didn’t have. That someone else got lucky where you didn’t. Sometimes that leads to bitterness—which I’ve run across elsewhere—and sometimes it just leads to people feeling—or at least acting—utterly blase.

I don’t know. I spent a full decade wanting nothing more to be a published writer, and failing. When I met published writers (and I met some incredibly talented ones) in Boston, I always sought out their work. I was fascinated by their accomplishment, and all I wanted was to learn from them. From their work and from them. I didn’t place them on the Hemingway level of a ga-ga star, but I did raise them above myself, because I knew I was no where near as good as they were; and if I didn’t get my act together, I never would be.

And this attitude helped me.

But in the end, perhaps I should be thankful, as I also mentioned at the Planet:

It’s a drag that I’ll never be famous like Hemingway. But maybe it’s a blessing, as I’ll be less likely to eat a shotgun.