Sunday, March 2, 2014
Reading Jane Turner's regular column 'Turning Pages' in The Age this morning, I was pointed towards a piece from last year in Ploughshares magazine by novelist Rebecca Makkai.
Titled 14 Ways to Tick Off A Writer, the content is, I think, self-explanatory. If you're in doubt, she opens with: Writers are fun and easy to annoy. Minimum effort, maximum rage. She goes on to provide details about how to poke your favourite scribe with a stick just for the heck of it. Mind you, she's mostly referring to novelists with actual publications under their belt, so much of this was news to me.
Anyway, the one I liked most is: Turn up at a reading. Raise your hand to ask a question. Launch into a ten minute description of your novel-in-progress. But in a whiny voice, with a question mark at the end. That totally makes it a question.
This I can relate to. It gives me flashbacks of the uncomfortable sort. I love attending literary festivals, buying books, bumping into folk and chatting, hearing the wise sages of writing dispense interesting facts and advice, but am far less enamoured with the question times after.
Sure, every now and then, you get a good session, with smart people who raise interesting topics that aren't all about them. However, more times than I can count, I've curled my toes and stared hard at the floor while long-winded people try desperately to impress the writer up on the stage with their own brilliant output by going into great detail about the amazingly different novel, which is sort of like the guest speaker's, they're presently working on. Or worse, they give a not so quick rundown of the three manuscripts at home in their drawer that no publisher will take, the inference being that they'd like the guest speaker to champion their masterpieces. Or they launch into a dissertation about how they, with their particular genius, interpreted the writer's work in a way that no-one else has ever done before and they've made a fifty point list of fascinating observations that they alone have uncovered which they would now like to share...
I feel sorry for some of them, I do, the ones with their neediness so nakedly on display or those determinedly struggling with awkwardness so as to seize what they believe is their big moment, but at the same time, such behaviour seems rather obviously ill-mannered to me. Festival attendees are supposed to be smart people, yet some simply cannot comprehend that the audience has paid to hear pearls from the proven writer, not listen to the ramblings of floor stealers.
I suppose it's all human nature though, the kind of boorish behaviour that celebrities draw from certain types. You get the wannabes and attention seekers at conventions of all kinds, be the speaker a star of SF, a Wall Street predator imparting advice on how to smilingly rip money from the hands of the gullible masses, or a combination of the two, namely a Kardashian.