Writing: A trying occupation, even for Bob

Writing: A trying occupation, even for Bob by Bob Karolevitz Years ago I attended a cocktail party honoring writers when I was accosted by a dowager who cooed:

"Oh, you must be the man who wrote that orange-covered book!"

I'll never forget that humbling incident.

She didn't know the book's title, what it was about or who I was. She hadn't read it; all she knew was what color was on the jacket. Since then � some three dozen books later � I have learned to cope with remarks like that.

I don't know why it is, but strangers � when they find out I am a writer � always back me into a corner with their questions.

"What do you write about?" they ask. "Have I ever seen any of your books?" "What was your name again?"

I stammer and stutter that I've written history, humor and biography, about golf, motorcycles, doctors, journalists, inventors, artists, etc., etc. Sometimes I'm tempted to say I'm Tom Clancy, John Grisham or even Truman Capote, but I stifle the urge.

"You have other work, of course," they continue, knowing that you can't make a living just writing, unless you're Clancy or Grisham.

"Oh, I get by," I usually say. "It's like any other job."

Then they want to know how many copies have been sold, what my royalties are and other embarrassing fiscal details. They might just as well ask me what I've got in my checking account.

Apparently it's a universal problem, even happening to writers who have been on the Best Seller list.

Joseph E. Persico, author of The Imperial Rockefeller, once wrote a Newsweek article titled What Not to Say to a Writer. In it he complained about most of the above and then added a couple more confrontations he has regularly had.

There are those he's just met, for instance, who think they've paid him the ultimate compliment by asking for a free copy of his book. He wants to respond: "I have never been introduced to a proctologist and asked for a free prostate exam."

Many times he has been approached by seemingly star-struck individuals who say they have never before met a real live author. He adds: "These same people, as soon as the stardust has fallen from their eyes, will confess shyly that they have a manuscript hidden behind the microwave at home. Or that their nephew, the genius, keeps cruel rejections from Alfred Knopf. Surely, you, a published success, can help them."

I guess those are just the drawbacks of the trade, like well-intentioned folks who never buy a book but tell you they are on the waiting list at the library.

Those of us who write for a living must accept the little grievances which go with the work. We take solace that even big names, like Gene Fowler, find it a trying occupation. He once said: "Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."

Not so dramatic was Robert Benchley, the humorist, who wrote: "It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous."

But the late Sinclair Lewis penned the ultimate line: "Remember, we writers have a rare power not given to anyone else; we can bore people long after we are dead."

Maybe that's what I've got to look forward to.

© 1999 Robert F. Karolevitz

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