I recently saw a PBS American Masters documentary on J.D. Salinger, the iconic and reclusive writer, whose book “Catcher in the Rye” still sells 250,000 copies a year sixty some years after publication. Every writer would like the royalties from that book for he would then be free to write and not have to worry about paying bills. Unless, of course, you are an alcoholic, womanizing, gambler, sort of writer, in which case you are never writing to begin with. You are having fun.
Two things that struck we I want to share about writing. Salinger’s readers often sought him out, making the pilgrimage to New Hampshire, parking at the end of his long driveway that went up a hill, or waited for him to come across one of those wooden, covered bridge that charms New England. These readers thought he had the answers because they identified so closely with Holden Caulfield, sometimes too closely. Salinger would try to tell them, often frustratingly so, that writers write fiction not because they have answers, they have none, but because they have questions. I believe that to be so, otherwise fiction would not be written, for if you had answers you would write self help books which dominate bookstore sections on psychology. Of course there are so many self help books it is apparent there are too many answers, or perhaps wrong ones.
From personal experience I can say my novel “Loonies in the Dugout” is a satire on fame and celebrity with an underlying satire on coming of age novels (which I am not fond of), but interwoven in the story are questions about many things that the characters explore. They don’t have answers, neither do I. Many of those thematic questions are carried over into “Loonies in Hollywood” that is both a true life murder mystery, but also a homage to Chandleresque private eye stories, while at the same time satirizing the archetypical noir sleuth.
Secondly, Salinger was able to escape the hoopla and just write. He wrote for himself because he loved the art of writing. What he didn’t like was publishing, which is agony I am sure as editors want to drop commas, change sentences, cut this, change that. I am sure editors are helpful, but the process the writer goes through must be maddening. Salinger was a perfectionist and he did not like the process of someone tinkering with his stories.
For Salinger writing was the endgame, not the fame. He rejected fame so he could write.
It should also be noted that between 2015 and 2020 Salinger has authorized some of his unpublished writings to be published. In addition to a novel and novella, there are more Glass family stories and at least one Holden Caulfield story.
I learned much about Salinger from this superb documentary and I urge you to seek it out. It was made by Shane Salerno, who, along with David Shields, have written a biography on Salinger. Here is a link to the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Salinger-David-Shields/dp/1476744831/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1390761719&sr=1-7&keywords=j.d.+salinger. I have not found the DVD on PBS so I assume it is not yet available, but I am sure it will be some time this year.
Cemetery Tales and other Phantasms: http://www.amazon.com/Cemetery-Tales-other-Phantasms-Nelson-ebook/dp/B00G9JND9Q/ref=la_B00EEVHN38_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1390763574&sr=1-2