Monday, July 03, 2006

I know this isn't exactly a revolutionary statement, but...

Frank McCourt is a really good writer. And the thing is, he didn't start his first book till he was like 100. That is such a fricking important lesson for writers who are being bullied by non-writers or asshole-writers for not publishing anything of note before the age of 18 or 24 or 30 or whatever the cutoff age might be at that moment. In college I was working on a piece of short fiction for my Mary Gordon class when a lanky crew cockswain peeked her head in the door to ask what I was doing. "Why are you wasting your time?" she asked, oblivious to the very existence of Emily Post or her ilk. "Every story's been written. You're just part of the endless rehash."

That was just irritating, but it was downright damaging when a guy who somehow wormed his way into boyfriend territory interrupted my description of a really good fiction writer with a question along the lines of "what have you written lately, anyway?" Actually, his statement was a lot meaner and a lot quieter, and I'm not going to bother mulling it over here, but the utter inanity of it is what interests me. Unlike sitcom acting, unlike being a shortstop, unlike teaching, unlike childbirth, unlike lead guitar, unlike almost any other job or vocation or art or creative activity, writing is something you can legitimately hope to excel at even as your skin grows liver spots.

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to quote at length in a blog -- I'll try to keep it to below 250 words, like they do at magazines -- but like McCourt's students at Stuyvesant, I have trouble keeping compositions to a minimum:

In the world of books I am a late bloomer, a johnny-come-lately, new kid on the block. M first book, Angela's Ashes, was published in 1996 when I was sixty-six, the second, 'Tis, in 1999 when I was sixty-nine. At that age it's a wonder I was able to lift the pen at all.

Oh, that wasn't so hard after all. McCourt makes everything easy: reading, quoting. Such a nice guy. Of course, every aged accountant with a Dell isn't going to have an Angela's Ashes in his soul, but it literally doesn't hurt anyone for him to hope he might.

In my case (wtf? it's MY blog! Let McCourt start his own frickin blog!), I've written a crapload of books, three of them even in my name. Despite the dismissive attitude of the William Morris agent who briefly inherited me when the one who'd signed me left to breed, I like my little paperbacks. I think they are better than that Traveling Pants book he held in such high regard. (I'm not even going to dignify that title by italicising it. I am rebellious and eloquent.) Two of these books are even dedicated to the asshole from 2 paragraphs ago (he didn't like how I phrased the first one). So I have no worries that I'll hunker down and type out some brilliance relatively soon.

Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But shoon, and for the resht of my life.


twobuyfour said...

THAT's the spirit! I think I'll write one too. But I have a lot on my plate today. I'll start it tomorrow.


Wait. Tomorrow's 4th of July. I'll start it Wednesday.

I mean it. I have some very interesting ideas.

annalytical said...

i remember reading the guinness book of world records when I was little (1976 version, man with longest nails, fat twins on motorcycles, tallest man next to a sign that says "no standing" -- you remember, right?) and learning that the youngest book author was 6. i was devastated (i think i was 7.) but what you say is so true -- we can write and write and write and no one can call us ancient (or they can but we don't have to worry about becoming homeless when they do). thanks for putting a positive spin on a writing career today...

Madfoot said...

That is hiLARious, because I actually had to have a conversation with a friend when I was like 24 because we were both so sad we were too old to be prodigies. I mean hello, did I really want to be Tama Janowitz?!

And anyway, what has that 7-year-old written lately?

Of course, I new a girl who published her first book at 11 and last year she published her first grownup novel and got all groovy writeups in PW and EW and whatnot... but that's Another Story Entirely.