Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Quiet Writer

There are not many quiet writers left in this day and age. Writers have to be heard and so they are very unquiet and blog and post and respond and twitter and facebook and write and write and write until someone hears them. Tis a sad fact of the author of today who must promote himself or herself to be heard above the white noise of our Internet driven factotum that tells us is in harsh terms where we rank on Amazon or if we even exist. Such is one school of thought.

Charles Portis the novelist of True Grit throws up the old ideal of the writer: the quiet writer. In fact most writers before the Internet were quiet writers. A few lucky ones could spout off in The New Yorker or less known literary rags bust mostly one had to speak through ones books and call it a day. In that way it was amazingly simple and sane and much less demanding. Sort of a long preparation before the big or not so big explosion of a book and then a return to the mine to get the next explosion ready.

The interview with Portis in the New York Times Magazine over his book being adopted once again for film is very interesting in that it is a last look at the way authors used to be. True the old writers such as Hemingway were very big promoters indeed. Ernest perfected the use of media and image and promoted himself through film, press, magazines, and of course his books. He built himself up in a way that any blogger tweeter author would salivate over today. Of course he largely had the field to himself and did not have to worry about millions of other voices. But most authors did not engage in this type of self promotion, most authors were like Portis.

In his interview he barely speaks. He meets the interviewer in a bar and hold s a five dollar bill in his hand and does not let go. He can barely wait to get out of there and only grudgingly consented to talk to the reporter when he agreed that he could not be directly quoted. The seventy six year old Portis hasn't published a book since 1991 and has stayed out of the public eye most of his life. He worked as a newspaper reporter while he published his early novels, one of which of course was True Grit and made into a movie with John Wayne.

I saw that movie as a boy in a small town theatre and later read his novel as an adult. Both times I was riveted  by the story and gave no thought to the author except that he was probably dead. Why? Because I had never heard of him and he had no presence that I was aware of. Of course that is the way literature should be. Let the book stand on it's own without a lot of noise from the author. But this would suppose the author has the guts to let the fates dictate his fortune or lack thereof. So therein lies the rub, most authors cannot afford to be so cavalier about their careers anymore.

So Portis leaves his interview without saying much still clutching his five dollar bill. We will never hear from him again. He is of a generation of writers who prefer to remain in the background and let their books speak for them. What a luxury.
Rocket Man will be out in January

Books by William Hazelgrove