A woman at the door

A woman came to the door yesterday and asked to buy a copy of The Great Liars. Her business is driving people to and from the airport. Once you leave the freeway for the countryside, it is dark and a kind of intimacy is created. She is a bright, pretty woman interested in the sorts of things we are, books and old movies and what remains in the popular culture that isn’t debased or depraved. I’m looking at you Adam Sandler and Cyrus Miley, and that’s just off the top of my head. I read the other day that Maria Shriver doesn’t want her son dating Miley, who seems to have a wildness problem to put it as gently as possible. It seems she was carried dead drunk out of a European nightclub the other night where she had danced nearly naked on stage with a man dressed as a penis. Any mother would worry. Shriver married into the Hollywood crowd and knows their decadence better than most. Any parent who pushes a child into show business ought to be horsewhipped. Seriously. One of the greatest child stars ever was Bobby Driscoll, who was in Treasure Island and Song of the South. The former is a classic but the latter isn’t seen much. Uncle Remus is too Uncle Tom for modern tastes. Driscoll was a brilliant natural actor. Then the usual story unfolded; the roles went away as he got older and that was it, his life was basically over. He ended up a derelict and was found dead of an overdose in an empty lot in New York City. His body had been there quite a while.
In a job like our driver’s, a talent for conversation is an advantage; it is about an hour and a half from the airport and you don’t want dead air. Like us, she was from California and finds Arkansas a little — shall we say slow at times. Allison is her name and she asked how I passed the time in our sleepy village. Writing, I said, and soon she was drawing out the details. That was months ago, so I was surprised when she showed up wanting a copy as a Christmas present for her husband. You’ll like it, too, my wife said. “It has a strong female character.”
There is a certain prestige to being a writer. I think the good books people read over their lifetime rub off a little, even on the authors of bad books, which abound as never before. People can’t help liking you, at least at first; it is like you have instant credit with them. Their fondness for Robert Louis Stevenson or Jane Austen shows in their eyes, and you bask in the reflection of their glory.
I think this is why writers will do anything to find an audience for their work, even give it away. Book Bub, a shrewd marketing outfit, realizes this. They charge a pretty good fee to promote books on their mailing list, which is said to have hundreds of thousands of subscribers hungry for fiction so long as it is free or only 99 cents, which as far as I can see constitute the majority of the offerings. It is easy to see why authors are driven to this. You spend months or years (or just weeks to judge from some) and when you are finished you want someone to read it. Otherwise, it is like that tree in the forest that crashes to earth unheard. Still, it seems sad to give away your work even if you somehow convince yourself you are building a brand. My son took a class from Robert Stone, one of the most accomplished writers of his generation. He was a strangely bitter man who warned his students on the last day against becoming writers. “It’s a rotten life.” Makes you wonder why we do it.

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