Monday, September 25, 2006

A Fool to Fame

Patty here...

Last week I was talking to my friend Brigitta Dau about how different people react to fame. I can’t remember what brought on the discussion except that she’s an actor and I’m a writer and, as such, our crafts require us to be students of human behavior. Neither of us is famous, though she may well be some day because she has a sharp wit, a ready laugh, and a difficult-to-define quality that some people call “it.”

I told Brigitta an anecdote I’d heard some years back about an aging Famous Author who lived in a smallish resort town inhabited by many people in the entertainment business. Famous Author was lamenting the lack of exercise opportunities whereupon he was asked why he didn’t just go out for an early morning walk in the nearby hills. Famous Author was aghast and replied, “Because I’d be mobbed.”

By whom? I wondered. Sleepless coyotes?

True, he had achieved tremendous success, but he hadn’t written a novel in many years. And frankly, I wouldn’t have recognized him if he was standing next to me in the produce aisle at Vons, squeezing the kumquats.

It was then that I realized I wouldn’t recognize most famous authors if I passed them on the street. I tried to picture Dan Brown's face. Couldn't. James Patterson. Nope. Robert James Waller. Huh?

I would recognize J.K. Rowling. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and I've seen Ms. Rowling interviewed on television. Unlike Famous Author, she seemed nonplussed by her fame. Her humility made me root for her even more. I had that same reaction when I read a recent article about Janet Fitch.

Fitch’s first published novel was White Oleander, which was an Oprah book selection, sold multi-millions of copies, and was made into a movie starring Michelle Pheiffer and Renee Zellweger. I loved the book and the movie. Her second novel, Paint it Black, was just released last week, and from all the critical praise being heaped upon it, it will likely be another blockbuster.

The author was profiled last Wednesday in an article by August Brown in the Los Angeles Times “Calendar” section. Fitch revealed that two 300-page manuscripts (both failed attempts to write a second book) lay moldering in the dark recesses of her desk drawer. Paint it Black was her third try.

“When you have success, people think you know what you’re doing, and you start to agree with them, you think you can conquer the world. But you go from grandiosity to panic. My editor would call and I’d say “it’s fine, going great,” and I couldn’t bring myself to admit it wasn’t happening.”

Later in the article, Samantha Dunn says this about the author:

“You know how some people in writing workshops are stars of the group? Janet was not the star. But she kept at it. She’s done an amazing job of keeping a level head, and she’s gone out of her way to bring everybody along with her. She’s a 3 a.m. kind of friend.”

A 3 a.m. kind of friend. I like that. Janet Fitch sounds like the sort of person I’d be pleased to know. There was a photograph of her next to the newspaper article, so I know what she looks like now. If I ever run into her on an early morning walk, I promise—no mobbing. In truth, if that ever happens I probably won't recognize her. But somehow I doubt that she’d mind one way or the other. She seems to have survived the fame game and landed butter side up. Way to go, Janet.

p.s. This Wednesday I'm off to Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. I'm on a panel on Thursday at 1: 30 p.m. called "But what I really wanted to do was..." The panelists will be revealing some of the wacky jobs we've held in the past and how our experiences became plots for our novels. Hope to see you there! p-


  1. Sounds to me as if Famous Writer simply doesn't want to work out.

    On the other hand, that shy, retiring and modest screenwriter Joe Eszterhas ("Basic Instinct," "Showgirls,") claims in his new memoir that he moved to Ohio, in part, because he was mobbed by autograph seekers in California. He says he "can't even stand in theater lines or in restaurants without being bothered."

    In one of the more subtle and lyrical passages of "The Devil's Guide to Hollywood," Eszterhas also writes: "I'm jealous that Bill Goldman has won two Oscars and I've won none. But I bet Bill Goldman is jealous that I've bedded Sharon Stone."

    The line assumes, of course, that Mr. Goldman has not "bedded" the actress. But if he had, I'm confident he wouldn't have written about it.

  2. Hear that, fans? Bouchercon, Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. That's in Madison Wisconsin. Patty asked for it. Let the mobbing begin! Seriously, have a great time, and sorry I will miss the event. It's always refreshing to be around a lot of seriously famous authors who don't act like "Famous Author."

  3. Paul, the one thing we don't know is if Eszterhas's mobs were adoring or angry. The Devil is in the details.

    And you're right, James. I've never met a famous author in the crime writing world who wasn't open and welcoming to both fans and other authors.

    Sorry you won't be in Madison. The bar won't be the same without you two.

  4. Okay, now I'm hugely bummed, Patty... not getting into the airport in Madison until around 3 on Thursday. I don't want to miss your panel. DAMN!!!

  5. Although I would like to reach a certain level of success as a writer, I think one of the perks of becoming successful is the anonimity that comes with the craft.
    Unlike Tom Cruise, you would be able to lead a semi-normal life.
    And personally, "Famous Author" sounds like he likes the attention.

  6. I agree with you, Leo. Success is what we all strive for, but I can't imagine what it must be like to have people following you all the time. Sounds awful.

    See you in Madison, C.

  7. Hi Patty! *Waves northeast from Iowa towards Madison*