The first time I saw her was in a skit where she was a magician's assistant, with a name something like Shegundalah. The first thing you noticed was her large chin, and of course she emphasized it for the sake of humor. Ruth made quite a career out of that chin, but I read once that she had to resist all kinds of pressure to "do something" about it. "They" said she would never make it in show business otherwise.

Sara Paretsky was told early on that she'd made two really disastrous mistakes in her writing. First, no one reads mysteries set in Chicago, and second, no one is interested in a female private eye. She stuck with V.I. and did okay despite her critics.

Every writer, maybe every person, has to decide at some point how much he will change to appeal to the masses. The tricky part is seeing past your own ego, I suppose. I have met authors who boast that they won't change a word of it despite their agents' pleas. Sometimes that's bad. We may think of ourselves as avant garde when we're really just strange. Still, how does one change who he is, what he wants to say?

So what's the balance point? Do we keep that funny-looking chin or do we try for mass appeal? I guess the answer is that we do what we're comfortable with. Ruth Buzzi after facial surgery would have been just another wanna-be comedienne. Sara Paretsky with a male protag in LA might have melded with a hundred other Raymond Chandler write-alikes. You have something unique somewhere that you have to tap into as a writer. If the world doesn't get it, that's too bad. You may be weird, but maybe your brand of weird will catch on, and you can start the newest Big Thing.

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