All aboard part two:
We make it in time. We settle down. The train rumbles
into the Paris suburbs. Unlike American cities that
deteriorate from the inside out, Paris is perfectly
preserved. It’s the outlying neighborhoods that are
economically depressed. I think about the Simone. I
never wanted it to go anywhere and then I didn’t have
a choice. She left without giving me her number.
Being a writer helps me get laid. I mean I never
really had a problem but when I was in writing
workshops and discussing my short stories that nobody
liked I was just another Joe going nowhere.
Now girls want to sleep with me before I even open my
mouth. Of course they read my book, which was written
in the first person, so they think they already know
me, the real me. It’s not rock star status but you get
a more intelligent sort of groupie, which I find
enticing. Smart girls are sexy.
The train is crowded. We are lucky to get seats
together. We sit with two girls also traveling with
big backpacks. They are probably juniors at some
liberal arts university. Then I notice one of the
girls is reading my book. She doesn’t notice me even
though I see me staring back at myself. The photo on
the back of the book is flattering.
“He wrote that,” says Don.
“What?” the girl asks. I can tell her mother warned
her to be cautious when traveling in Europe because
her guard is up. Even though Don is speaking in
English and obviously American you can never be too
careful. Back in the States Don and the girl’s parents
could go golfing together. On this train everyone is a
“He wrote that book.” Don jerks a thumb in my
“Yeah right,” says the other girl. She has a band-aid
on her knee.
“No really,” says Jerry. He did, look at the back
The girl turns the book over. Then she looks up at me.
Then back at the book.
“Oh my God! How fucking cool! I love this book. It’s
the third time I read it. I think the girl is like a
combination of a young Daisy from The Great Gatsby and
Daisy from The Duke’s of Hazard. ”
The book has been out for almost two years. If this
really is her third time through it either she does
enjoy it or maybe doesn’t get it. Even though, like I
said, it’s written in the first person and pretty
straight forward. I’m told it’s the characters that
capture the reader. Reading the book is supposed to be
like watching a movie. The characters are that
vibrant. The dialogue is real. That’s what was written
about what I wrote. The youth of today relate to the
protagonists mundane struggles and find hope in bleak
survival. Blah, blah, blah.
I don’t write literature. I write entertainment.
Entertainment is the most valuable gift you can give
to someone. Something to do while, say riding a train.
I’m not saying that the great writers aren’t worth
reading. Hemmingway was my favorite. Fyodor Dostoevsky
is genius. It’s not that the classics aren’t
entertaining. They just aren’t to me.
I’m sure there are many people who enjoyed 19th
century novels. I have read my share. It was a
struggle. I can’t even begin to write epics like F.D
though. It’s beyond me. You can’t write better than
you can read. People shouldn’t try. Anyway I have a
more difficult task then the person trying to write
the Next Great American novel. I’m writing here and
now for this generation. I’m taking on MTV.
“Will you sign it?”
“Will you please sign my book? Oh my God! My name is
“I don’t have a pen.” Whenever I’m asked to sign an
autograph in this way it always sounds strange to me.
I’m signing her book. The book I wrote is hers. She
“Claire you have a pen?” The girl fumbles in her purse
but comes up empty. Marcy turns to her friend with the
band-aid on her knee. Claire hands Marcy the pen.
Marcy hands the book and pen to me. I’m about to write
a bland ‘hope you enjoyed it’ phrase and my name when
Claire speaks her mind.
“I didn’t like it,” says Claire.
I look up.
“Oh.” No matter how many compliments I’ve received
it’s always the criticisms that stick with me.
“It was too simple. Sure the things that happen are
funny. And you got the pain and pleasure of being
young and in love right, but there is no depth. You
have failed to capture the human condition, which is
the basis of all literature.”
I have heard this pedantic critique before. On the
brief school tour I did to support the book, the
professors at the universities and colleges across
American hated it while most of the students loved it.
The academics probably got through F.D with smug
smiles on their faces. I can live with that. I told
myself a long time ago that I would never pretend to
be smarter than I am. I know many people who can write
better than me. My grammar is horrific. I can’t spell.
And still I’m the one who did it. I’m the one who got
all the way through and hit a nerve.
“I wasn’t trying to preach. I was trying to
entertain.” I say.
“Well, I just wrote a story that I thought I would
like to read.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little self involved and very
narcissistic to read your own writing?”
“I didn’t say I read my own writing. I said I wrote
something I would like to read. There is a
I’m telling a lie. I read my writing all the time.
When I struggle with second and third drafts during
editing I am always reading and re reading what I
wrote. But it doesn’t stop there. I do read my book
and stories after they are finished. Since my book has
been published almost two years ago, I have read it
five times, two times more than Marcy. Maybe like
Marcy I really enjoy it and don’t get it, even if it
is in the first person and pretty straight forward.
“So what’s the difference?”
“I don’t really know.”
Now I’m telling the truth. I don’t know. I feel it.
“Well, I think people shouldn’t bother unless they do
it to enlighten. You get so much press while other
true artists go unappreciated. You know who John
Sayles is? Now he is a true artist”
Claire is right. I might get more than I deserve after
just my first book. And I admire John Sayles very
much. What can I do? Of course I wanted to get paid
for my work. There are writers who have written four
novels and still drive a bus. That is not for me. I
didn’t want to be mainstream, the boy band version of
the publishing world, but I wanted to make a living as
a writer. There within lies the difference.
If it gets caught up in the hype I can’t help it. I
never thought I would sell more than ten thousand
copies. Now I’m translated into many languages and
have learned that Air France stewardess are reading
me. I think that’s great. I wish every person in the
world would read the book. Any writer who says he
doesn’t want to be read is a liar. And if he is
telling the truth he shouldn’t write in the first
Storytelling is the oldest art. Along with painting,
the purest form of expression. It is possible to avoid
getting engulfed in the profit margin, to be swallowed
by business, the way film is. Making movies is all
compromise- compromise of ideas, compromise of
expression, compromise of egos, compromise of
creation. Writing can sustain the writer’s words. What
is put down on paper can make it to the final draft.
The only problem a writer faces is getting past their
That’s not to say I don’t love my editor. She is truly
the greatest person I know, definitely more talented
than I am. She captures my jumbled emotions and
leftfield, abstract ideas and helps me word them into
concise compressible sentences. She is on the top of
my Christmas list.
I don’t see editors as evil. Some writers, mostly
unpublished ones, see them as generic creative
killers. I think of them as rock and roll producers.
The Beatles were funny, creative, prolific, artists
who were ahead of their time. A lot of that had to do
with George Martin. It doesn’t take anything away from
the Beatles music.
I sign the book. Hand the book and the pen back to
Marcy. She doesn’t start to read the book again. She
stares at me with a smile on her face. Claire is
looking at me too, but not in the same way. Claire has
an incredulous scowl. Don is trying to inconspicuously
pick his nose and failing. Jerry is looking out the
“You guys want to go to the bar car?” I ask.