Fame, fortune and failure

Contemporary Nomad has barely been up two days but I’m already highly addicted — not surprising, since I’ve already paid close attention to the collective witticisms of Kevin Wignall, Olen Steinhauer, who comprise one-half of the group blog (John Nadler & Robin Hunt round them out.)

It’s hard to stay away with posts like Kevin’s about how famous writers can really be, and what it actually means anyway:

I’ve been thinking about fame recently. With the exception of JK

Rowling, there are no really famous writers today. Stephen King, you

might say, though I’d argue he’s a brand name rather than a famous

writer. Dan Brown? Well, we’ll have to leave that one to stew for a

couple of years. Many other writers are famous within their own

circles, but I have no doubt that John Grisham or Dave Eggers or Zadie

Smith could walk down the street or travel on public transport

unhindered and unrecognized. Yet the pursuit of fame is still part of

what being a writer is about.

Fame’s a tricky beast anyway. All of

us have a relationship with it and for most of us it’s an unsettling

one. Writers and artists can’t help but envy the widespread adulation

enjoyed by rock stars and film actors. Musicians and actors,

meanwhile, strive for the limited but culturally significant fame of

writers and artists.

He goes on to ask if writers take the fame factor into account when writing, and the backblog comments have been extremely illuminating to that regard. I’ve been thinking about it a little differently, because the concept of fame, at least to me, goes hand in hand with failure. And as my name gets out there a bit more — considering in the last few days alone, I moderated a panel, took part in a reading of my own work and was interviewed at length for a story scheduled to run sometime next week — there’s a real sense of the ridiculous, for several reasons. One, because it could all go away in an instant. Two, because I tend to compartmentalize my life so much that many people who know me, and know me well, don’t really know what I’m up to professionally (and I don’t really mind, because there’s way more to life than what I write and the peripheral perks.) And three, because much as I prefer to demure and self-deprecate, if attention is thrust upon me, I usually welcome it.

But at the same time, I’m even more acutely aware of the failure aspect. For so long I’ve been the one who always got what I wanted — as long as I figured out a way to go after it. More and more, it hasn’t necessarily worked out that way. Or rather, I’d fail in one aspect at the same time I’d get some degree of success (for the same skill set!) and start to wonder who was right, and what I was missing. And no doubt, the longer I write, the more I’ll get disparate comments, reviews and feedback, all in the hopes of some degree of validation.

I do want to get my name out there, but the great thing about being in New York is that so many other people do — creating an overall effect of canceling each other out. So I guess my goal is active anonymity, or to be remembered in some way once there’s really something to remember me by.