Tomorrow I’ll be interviewing Henry Winkler, co-author of 14 children’s books and, for those born after 1985, the actor who portrayed Arthur Fonzarelli in the 1970’s sit-com Happy Days. Sometimes when I tell someone what I do they will get a blank look on their face as they try to think of something to ask me about my job. Invariably, they come up with this: “Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever interviewed?”
I suppose come Saturday I’ll have my answer to that. Truth is, the words “famous” and “writer” don’t usually belong in the same sentence, at least not as the idea of fame has evolved over the last half century. Yan Martel made this point during our recent interview. His book, Life of Pi, was a kind of famous book – sold millions worldwide, beloved, and so on – but Yan Martel retained his anonymity.
Yet beyond that, writers can sell millions and millions of books and even their name would still be completely unknown to the vast majority reading-age Americans. For instance, I think you would be hard pressed to find five people under 60 who aren’t aware that Twilight is about vampires. You would be hard pressed to find five people under 60 (at least non-writers) who know who Stephanie Meyer is.
All for the better I think. I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with fame, especially if you have chosen a career that puts you in front of a camera or on stage. In fact, if you can pass through the crucible of fame and come out the other side with your humanity and humility intact, you will only be better off for it.
But writing is a solitary business. You cannot love writing unless you also love to be alone. There are certainly those writers who also love to be in front of audiences, and they will hopefully find a means to do so, but most writers require long periods of isolation. I certainly do. As I’ve gotten older, I find I need more of it. I cannot write unless I can hear what it is I wish to say, and the noise of the public square can distract. Nothing, after all, is more distracting than wondering what someone else will think of what you have written, even if that someone has loved your work before. Shut your door to the outside world. You can open it when you’re done, but in the meantime allow the world through you in fertile silence—only there can everything you might want to say possibility exist.