Two days ago I wrote about the difference between being a writer and an author. Here is a great story to illustrate that point. When Andre Dubus III was a small child, his father attended the Iowa Writers Program. Some evenings a man with curly hair and a mustache would come by the house and smoke cigarettes and watch Batman cartoons with Andre. That man’s name was Kurt Vonnegut.
Andre would grow up the son of a respected short story writer and essayist. His father, Andre Dubus, was what we would call a writer’s writer. When Andre was in his 20s he showed a short story he had written to his father. His father said, “Congratulations. You’re a writer.”
Andre eventually decided to submit a short story for publication. He sent to six magazines, five of which declined. The sixth, Playboy, accepted the story and paid him 2,000 1980 dollars for it. Andre would go on to publish a collection of short stories, and then a novel, and then another novel called The House Of Sand and Fog. When his always-supportive father read his second novel, he said, “Get yourself a tuxedo. You’ll be going to the National Book Award Banquet.”
The House of Sand and Fog was indeed a finalist for The National Book Award. It was also an Oprah Book Club selectee and was made into a major motion picture. All of this is described in Andre’s excellent memoir Townie (excepted here in Author). I interviewed Andre after Townie’s release. I thought it was a great book, and wanted to tell him so.
When I met him in the hotel lobby before our interview we shook hands and I asked him how the book was doing. “Great,” he said. “Really great, actually. The reviews have been fantastic, better than for any book I’ve ever written.”
“Well, that doesn’t surprise me, Andre.” I wasn’t sure how to tell him how much I liked the book. Sometimes praise can be as awkward as criticism. “Look – I really liked this book, but I don’t just want to lavish you with praise.”
“Go ahead and lavish,” he said. “I’m an insecure writer.”
I don’t believe he is an insecure writer. I believe Andre is an extremely secure writer, or else he would not have been able to write Townie or the House of Sand and Fog. But despite having grown up with a writer father who loved and supported him, despite selling his first short story to Playboy, being on Oprah, getting great reviews and selling lots of books and all the rest, Andre Dubus III is still an insecure author.
He is insecure for the exact same reasons you or I are insecure. No matter how much success we may or may not have had, when a story leaves our hands, it belongs to the world and not just to us. Hopefully, we loved that story; hopefully that is why we wrote it. Whether the world will love it as much is we do is not what causes our insecurity. Rather, it is the belief that if the world loves it less, we will love it less. It is the belief that something outside of us can pull us from what we love, from the only source of our security.
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