Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Joe the Writer

While I've been toiling away editing other authors' manuscripts, revising that still-unpublished novel, tweaking that still-unproduced-but-optioned-twice screenplay, and remembering my days as co-publisher of a small press, it seems that Joe the Plumber has snagged a book deal. So of course, "serious" writers everywhere are having hissy-fits as they remember that publishing, like life, is unfair. Timothy Egan in the New York Times pens one of the hissiest of fits:

The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.
Read the whole thing. It's the most unintentionally funny piece of self-important pomposity I've come across since my wife and I overheard that slacker teenager at the other table grumbling, "F***ing fascist bourgeoisie rules. I'm sleeping on Jerry's couch tonight!"

I wanted to write a take-down of Timothy Egan's column. I wanted to author the most savagely funny take-down of Egan's self-important pomposity that could ever be written, but Tim Blair beat me to it:

If Joe turns out to be so poor a writer that he uses reeking Warholian clich├ęs in an opening paragraph, I don’t want him writing books either.
And when Egan reminds us that Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was "a blank sheet of paper," Tim Blair counters:

Hemingway never saw a sheet of paper with Egan’s words all over it.
Read the whole thing. I couldn't have done a line-by-line take-down any better myself.

Of course, I still wanted to write something about this. Having been a writer, an editor, a publisher, and often some combination of the three, I thought about posting a "serious" rebuttal to Egan's points, but then I would have had to taken his column as seriously as Egan apparently does. So I thought about mocking the whole subject in some other way, but Iowahawk not only beat me to that as well, he actually found Timothy Egan's first draft of the column in question:

The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

Ha! I didn’t think so, Baldy McUnlicensed O'Notaplumber. No more than an unlicensed cooker-person would entrust me with the cooking of his/her meals, nor the illegal blower of leafs with the operation of his/her leaf blowing machine. See, Joe? You fell right into my clever rhetorical hypothetical-toilet-fixing trap. And with good reason: because my skill is as a highly-trained journalism-writing professional, and even a failed unlicensed fitter of pipes such as yourself recognizes that I should be kept away from dangerous stovetops and power equipment and toilets.

And by the same token, you shouldn't be allowed near dangerous word processing machinery. Not when too many good, licensed novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when there are dozens of extra words in Roget's Thesaurus for "good" and "author" and "unpublished." Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate, wasting away in dank unlit torture cells, all because some stupid unlicensed plumber has hogged up all the publishing business advance money.
Read the whole thing. Even my still-unproduced-but-optioned-twice screenplay isn't this funny.

Now seriously, shouldn't I be upset that Joe the Plumber has a book deal? Sure, the publisher side of me would have slapped down an offer the day Joe became known. And the editor side of me would gladly sleep on Jerry's couch for a month if I could get that assignment. But the writer side? Shouldn't I be just as hissy and equally fitty at the savage injustice of it all? Isn't my novel still unpublished? And after how many agents of mine thought a contract was a given?

Sorry, but I just have to laugh, because a serious and experienced writer like Timothy Egan actually seems to think that Joe the Plumber will be writing this book all on his own and without the help of a serious and experienced ghostwriter. And that but for "friends of celebrities penning cookbooks," "train wrecks just out of rehab," and "politicians with an agent but no talent," we would have a Golden Age of Big Advances and Large Print Runs for Worthy Yet Obscure Writers.

Sorry. I just have to laugh. Because even though I was a publisher and still am a writer and an editor, I try not to be that big a fool.