For our midterm paper in my rhetoric class, we had to write an imitation of Thomas Wolfe’s essay “The Saturday Route,” which pokes gentle, sarcastic fun at the artists, designers, and famous people of NYC. Although the assignment seemed daunting, I ended up having a lot of fun with it. In my imitation, I wrote about famous authors and the publishing world, and Writing in both the literal and figurative sense, instead of Art. I won’t make you read all of it, but I thought it might be fun to share the better parts. I’ll admit up front that some of the authors I pick on (like Neil Gaiman) are actually my favorites.
Friday Night in the Literary World
Is that Neil Gaiman, the artsy fantasy writer, posing over there by the champagne fountain? With those artsy tousled curls, and that black wool pea coat, and the most soulful gaze since Lord Byron was bled to death on his way to Greece? Well, it has to be Neil Gaiman.
And there beside the Niagara Falls of Champagne, Neil Gaiman, author of Neverwhere, which ranks on the artsy scale somewhere between The Gunslinger and Perdido Street Station, turns and calls: “Greg! I saw you at that conference in San Fran, but what happened to you in Boston?”
One is not to find out immediately, because Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, has just been cornered by the Mormon, Orson Scott Card. Neil has been following The Circuit of exclusive Friday night parties and writers’ conferences clockwise around the globe. Gregory has been following The Circuit counterclockwise. But they let the moment pass, because they know they will meet up sooner or later at a fellow writer’s party and catch up on Boston. Or, if not there, at an editor’s party, somebody’s release bash, that writing conference in London, or the New York Pitch, or the Sewanee, or one of those places.
And so will Nicholas Sparks – nothing Southern about Nicholas Sparks on a Friday night, no Wrangler jeans, no halfway unbuttoned paisley shirt. And so will the all-American James Patterson and his female counterpart Nora Roberts – James Patterson is not giving up on the swanky Friday night parties just because the newspapers run headlines such as “Has He Ever Written a Word?”
And so will Stephen King, Anne Lamott, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Fern Michaels, Adriana Trigani, Elizabeth Berg, Alexander McCall-Smith, Janet Evanovitch, Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Henry Hartfield, Thomas Mifflin, and, well you know, everybody.
The thing is, any poor writing student from around the globe knows what happens on a Friday night in their apartment. All the old fashioned students break out their journals and notebooks, and write and write and write, and sometimes they scribble things out or chew on the end of their pencil, and the technology-savvy students power up their laptops, and they type and type and type, and sometimes they delete whole paragraphs or curse at the screen.
But what about the famous authors? Just because one attends exclusive parties and is Nicholas Sparks, there is no need to give the whole business up. Never mind the quaint charm of Writing in the literal sense. In the world of Nicholas Sparks, there is a new kind of Writing, The Circuit. And none of your scribbling in notebooks. In The Circuit, authors can talk about Writing from San Francisco to New York to London to Paris and back again. And, naturally, no banging on laptops. Although, on The Circuit, they do sometimes extend a kind of grace to the young up-and-comers, that of The Passing of the Manuscript.
As the sound of rustling paper interrupts the murmur of conversation and the clink of champagne glasses at the party where Neil and Gregory are mingling, about twelve a.m., everyone slides their eyes towards Hartfield and Mifflin. Henry Hartfield of The New Yorker just arrived a moment ago, and is making his rounds. He meets “hundreds” of people he knows. So does Thomas Mifflin, of Houghton Mifflin, and his wife, the tall, gorgeous redhead, who are hung up with Orson by the champagne fountain. So does everybody, because everybody is moving around the room now.
Adriana! Stephen! Henry! Anne! Thomas! Orson! And Stephen and Adriana embrace and he Passes her the up-and-comer’s manuscript, and Henry Passes to Anne, and Anne Passes to Henry, and then Henry and Thomas trade it, and Thomas and Stephen and Stephen and Anne and Anne and Orson, who is left holding the pages, unsure of what is expected of him.
Irresistibly, this promenade of authors, editors, publishers, and up-and-comers attracts a train of ghost writers, Harlequin romance authors, editors of indie publications, and other literary world undesirables. One whole set is called “Teen Fiction” – as in, “Her? That’s Maggie. She’s Teen Fiction” – melodramatic hacks and stay-at-home moms, who want to know what They are discussing on The Circuit. Also a vast crowd of literary agents, both young and hip and old and earnest. And writing psychologists, theorists, teachers, and professors, press agents, social climbers, culture climbers, and men who have been banging on laptops or women who have been scribbling in notebooks but have the right connections. So, by 1 a.m., James Patterson and his team of ghost writers are strolling around the room like a sleek mother goose with a line of rumpled little goslings.
In the upper story of the penthouse suite in New York City, Nicholas Sparks, his black tie loose and his blazer slung over his shoulder, is standing in a corner in front of the penthouse owner’s gold baroque wallpaper, between two oil paintings, a Kandinsky and a Marc. All around people are starting the business with the elbows, nudging, saying, “That’s Nicholas Sparks, Nicholas Sparks, Sparks, Sparks, Sparks, Sparks.” Everyone sort of avoids the corner, except Maggie, who is trying to get to the desert table, and sees the empty space in the corner as the quickest route.
“What’s that?” Maggie Stiefvater says to Holly Black, who is also Teen Fiction, as they say. “It looks like one of those cream-filled things.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, relax,” says Holly. “He can’t stay in the corner forever.”
It goes on for quite a bit longer, but I’ll spare you the rest. Still, it puts a smile on my face every time I read it, and I’ll be saving it for days when I’ve gotten a barrage of rejection letters and I’m feeling down!