Almost every author I know is friendly, generous and helpful ... but that's in part because I try to give as much as I get to the relationship, and not act like a scraping sycophant or a terminal favor-mongerer.

But everybody, I'm sure, knows at least one jerk. Somebody who's forgotten what it was like to be a struggling author and now has no time or interest in their old friends. Somebody whose desire to protect their time, energy and privacy leads them to be brusque or dismissive. Somebody whose ego and sense of entitlement leads them to demand more for attention and investment for themselves at the expense of others.

What brought this to mind was the man on the current cover of Time magazine, Jonathan Franzen. He's America's most celebrated literary author at the moment ... and, by many accounts (including his own), one of the biggest assholes in the publishing business.

From a New York Times review of his 2006 memoir, "The Discomfort Zone":

Mr. Franzen turns his unforgiving eye on himself and succeeds in giving us an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant,
pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed. ... While some readers will want to give Mr. Franzen points for being so
revealing about himself, there is something oddly preening about his
self-inventory of sins, as though he actually reveled in being so
disagreeable.


He describes reasoning that “not having kids freed me altogether” from having to worry about things like global warming: “Not having kids was my last, best line of defense against the likes of Al Gore.” And he describes the judgmental outlook that he and his wife shared for many years: “Deploring other people — their lack of perfection — had
always been our sport.”


Do you know authors like this? Or has your experience within our fraternity been overwhelmingly positive?


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Ha ha! So far, definitely positive. Of course there are some pushers and some narcissists. But I think most writers are sensitive and genuine - we're in this business to make sense of the world, and I think most of us have helpful rather than selfish instincts. Call me Pollyanna if you want.
Most writers I've encountered have been nice.

I'm a royal jerk though, so it evens out somewhere.... I guess....
the artist as a young jackass: petulant,
pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed.


Writers don't have a monopoly on this kind of attitude. :) You could substitute the name of almost any other profession in that sentence. (I don' t suppose Franzen is just being tongue-in-cheek?). It's a good description of the so-called "narcissistic personality." (The curious thing is why anyone would admit to this---except for more attention---as you suggest, the delight in being perceived as an enfant terrible). Emphasis on ENFANT. The damage is done when such people have influence over others---family, friends, the public---for anyone who trusts a true narcissist for help or advice will be sadly disappointed. Such people are incapable of true giving, of professional generosity, because they can brook no competition. Their sense of entitlement conceals a massive sinkhole of insecurity. You might encounter these types anywhere--- in academia, in the arts & among writers, in medicine, politics, sports. Creative people are considered more prone to this "condition" because so much of the self is bound up in the work that for some self and work are inseparable. It's also said that the truly gifted, as well as those who are secure about their success, are usually the ones most willing to share, and to be kind to others in their own profession.
I've always believed that important thing to remember when dealing with others--especially with your own colleagues, is, " do no harm."
Thanks, Jim, this was one of the better reviews I read in a long time. I agree with Michiko Kakutani's view about Franzen. There’s something disingenuous about self-important authors like Franzen pretending to be humble and introspective about their failings as a human being. They often recite their misfortunes with a nod and a wink, suggesting their superiority over everyone else.
I've met only nice people, but frankly I don't make demands on them.

As for Franzen, if the idiot irritates you, try to get hold of the Oprah show tape where he was being confronted with proof that he made up his "memoir." Priceless videos of an author squirming under the accusation that he's been lying all along.
That wasn't Franzen. You're thinking of James Frey.
Ouch! Quite right! So it was. Have to check out Franzen.
Franzen was the guy who temporarily killed Oprah's book club. Ultimately maybe a more interesting story than the Frey debacle. The question about that one is why anyone would expect something called "creative non-fiction" to be 100% factually accurate, and where exactly the line is between that and what we think of as fiction.
A description like "creative non-fiction" is absurd. Most people would read that as fact which is presented in a beautiful stylistic manner. What is more disturbing is that people bought the book (high concept, no doubt) because they believed he'd been a drug addict and in the gutter and made it back. That is a specific bestselling genre in non-fiction books: the inspiring tale of those who overcame enormous odds. What of the parents who gave the book to their drug addict children? What are the chances the kids went right back on the drugs when they found out the author was a fake?
Think of the children!
proof that he made up his "memoir."

Interesting idea, the fake memoir. After all, who would want to write a memoir? Now anyone and everyone who wants to share the fascinating details of their unique and fascinating lives can just blog. :) But wasn't the same allegation (fake fake fake) levelled at "Augusten Burroughs," for "Running with Scissors?" A friend loaned me a copy, and although I found it amusing at first, it soon wearied the palate. And I wasn't surprised to hear that a lot of it had been---if not faked---very much exaggerated.
I think the explosion of these fake memoirs is because every writer wants to think they're Hemingway, living a life of adventure that they then write about, instead of a frustrated and grumpy scribbler stuck at a desk jotting down little stories.

I call it The Running of the Bullsh*t. ;)

Which will be the name of my own faked memoir, where I talk about my life as an adventurer where I, my friends Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and Shaggy's dog Scooby drive around the country solving mysteries that would have remained unsolved if it weren't for us meddling kids.

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