As a poet, I sometimes am aware of the envy of other writers. It happens mostly at book festivals and events that have multiple authors. Perhaps it’s not something we want to admit or talk about – the dirty laundry of the industry – but it’s understandable. The fact is that other writers can be jealous because, as a poet, I get the perks of being an author– the cachet and respect and business cards – without having to do a lot of the promotional drudgery.
I’ve shared book signing tables with Maya Angelou, Orson Scott Card, and, most recently, Gillian Flynn who wrote Gone Girl. Writers like these have to deal with long lines of people who keep asking them to do things; they have to sign books, answer questions, and agree to photos. They have to sit there for hours. I suspect they suffer from calluses on their autographing hands, repetitive stress injuries, and dry throats. I worry about no such health problems.
I look at those lines and pity the writers. Poor Maya Angelou. Poor Orson Scott Card. And I think, “Thank god, those people are not here to see me.” As my wife and children know, I hate to be asked to do things, and, as my colleagues know, I’m terrible at small talk. Luckily, as a poet, it’s not a problem. At any event, there will be only a couple of people bothering me about my books. This leaves me lots of free time to text, do crosswords, stare and make faces at the people in the lines to either side of me. Sometimes I lay out a small picnic. Sometimes I even do some writing. I’m not one of those writers who complain they can’t find time to write; it’s easy for me. I just set up a signing.
I sense the irritation of the other authors. They have to work hard, while I get to be there and call myself a writer as well. And, often my photo is even as big as theirs! I want to tell them that it’s not my fault they picked the wrong genre, but I realize it’s not always a choice. Some people write novels because they can’t write poetry.
So, although we smile at one another, there’s the frank truth about authors. They envy me, and I feel sorry for them. While they have to worry about mundane concerns like royalties, agents, and their position on the best seller lists, I am free to live the life of the mind and concentrate on what is important like mastering another level of angry birds.