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    A Writer asks a Famous Writer to Stop Writing Because–Why Again?


    Every writer is jealous of other writers.  Whether it’s fame or fortune or talent, we can’t help but snivel a little when they become Them and we’re still just us.

    Most of us do it in silence or in the midst of a narrow group of co-commiserators.  Not many (Okay, a few, but they’re gone now) do it as publicly as a writer named Lynn Shepherd did recently when she wrote a blog post on HuffPo UK telling J.K. Rowling she’s had her turn and if she had any decency at all she’d hang it up and give someone else a chance.

    Now, who is Lynn Shepherd to be telling the great Jo Rowling she’s being selfish with all that extraneous publishing now that Harry Potter is done and over?  Beats me.  I don’t know and I don’t care.  Honestly, I don’t.  I’m all for audacity and truth-telling but I can’t get past her own admission that she really doesn’t read Rowling.  It’s all about the fame and fortune.  One person apparently shouldn’t have that much.
    A snippet of what she said:

    "I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right? But The Casual Vacancy changed all that.
    It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?"

    I guess you noticed that she never read any of the Harry Potter books?  Seems odd, doesn’t it, that she would then go on to say, “I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”

    Gulp and gasp and get outta here!  I’m a grown-up, I read a LOT.   I loved the Harry Potter books.  I felt a lot of things while reading them, but I’m pretty sure I never felt shame.

    So here’s my dilemma, and I’m going to be honest about this.  I don’t much like that this person who puts herself in league with “ordinary authors” (see above) is getting all kinds of attention simply because she’s in a snit over someone else’s fame. (Check out her FB and Twitter hits.  Many more than I (sniff) ever got.  Hmmmph.)   And here I am, adding to the so thoroughly unearned attention

    But why Jo Rowling?  Because she had the nerve to move on to “adult” books instead of staying in the kiddie section where she belongs?  Because people are buying her books simply because her name is J.K Rowling?  Because she doesn’t deserve it?

    I have a feeling Lynn Shepherd knew exactly what she was doing with this piece.  A friend tried to warn her, but I think she saw it as the perfect attention-getter for her own books.  If that’s what it was, she failed.   Look at this (My bold):

    "So this is my plea to JK Rowling.  Remember what it was like when The Cuckoo’s Calling had only sold a few boxes and think about those of us who are stuck there, because we can’t wave a wand and turn our books into overnight bestsellers merely by saying the magic word. By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn."

    Jo Rowling’s success was anything but overnight.  I get that she's talking about her fame giving her a head start with any subsequent books, but Jo Rowling has certainly paid her dues.  There isn’t a writer on earth who doesn’t know about Rowling’s struggles while working on the first Harry Potter book.  She was a single, jobless mom living for a while on welfare and food stamps.  Her fame was not handed to her.  No magic wands.  Not by a long shot.

    But, by golly, Lynn Shepherd got what she wanted.   First Huffington Post and now here.  (Oh, I’m kidding!)  I admit I’ve never read her books, but I don’t need to in order to say this:
    That was a cheap trick.  I’m sorry I got pulled into it but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have been able to say publicly that that was a cheap trick.

    It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. – Albus Dumbledore”
    J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


    NOTE:  I wrote this post last night, before I heard there was a negative-review bomb against one of Lynn Shepherd’s books over on Amazon.  At last count I saw 44 one-stars, most of them published yesterday.  They were all paying her back for what she wrote about J.K. Rowling. 

    What I wrote above is fair game.  It’s my opinion, just as Lynn Shepherd’s opinion is hers.  What is happening to this writer at Amazon is an attempt to destroy a writer’s work by giving it deliberately low ratings.

    I left my post as it was originally written because my thoughts about Shepherd’s piece haven’t changed, but I’m frankly appalled by the outside attacks on works that have nothing to do with what she wrote at HuffPo.  This is chilling to any writer who writes opinions on controversial subjects.

    Whatever I said about cheap tricks above goes ten-fold for those who think this is a cool way to get back at her.  Get back at her for what?  I think Jo Rowling will be just fine after this.  Whatever I think about Lynn Shepherd, I don’t want to see her own career ruined over a simple thousand-word opinion.

    I hope I’m not alone.


    Luck and timing have so much to do with artistic success that it drives people, myself included, to say crazy things.  I try to remind myself that there have always been thousands of saxophonists as good as Coltrane but the world doesn't recognize them all. It isn't comforting, though.

    Depends on what you mean by "as good as."

    I would wager that there isn't even one undiscovered saxophonist who was as great as John Coltrane as an artist.

    (We could argue about whether Sonny Rollins is as great as Coltrane was, but that's a different discussion, I think.)

    Of course, there are probably quite a few who equal or even surpass his technical mastery. But technical mastery is as nothing compared to his artistic mastery, though the two were entwined.

    I think there are people who, given a hearing, could match his artistic mastery, including all the incalculable.  I am not picking on him, either.  I think this is true of every famous artist out there.  You have to get noticed, which us not controllable.  People have to understand what they are experiencing, which is not always possible.  There are whims of fashion.

    Of course, this is also true in non-artistic fields.  There are great investment bankers out there who don't have the right connections to do the deals they could otherwise execute. Skill practice and talent can improve your chances in anything but our meritocracy, such as it is, leaves a lot of merit behind.

    But then your point about timing enters, but in a somewhat different way.

    Coltrane was a pivotal figure; he changed the music in a fundamental way.

    So even if you wanted to say that someone had the artistic merit of Coltrane (however you'd make that determination) his pivotality can't be reproduced and that quality goes, too, to the heart of his artistic achievement.

    Pivotality, by definition, can't be achieved by unknowns unless you're talking about saxophonists who are "players' players." Well known and highly influential among players, but unknown by the public.


    I think there's an intensity to a great artist's ability that sort of demands to be heard. Today, it's a bit different because the current jazz scene is so different from what it was, but if a player wanted to be heard, he went to the clubs, hung around, waited for his turn in the jam sessions, went to after hours sessions.

    It required the person to be determined, but that's sort of what I mean by demanding to be heard.

    Ultimately, though, I can't say this for sure because unknowns are...unknown.

    Edit to add: I'm not saying, though, that Coltrane is the last sax player to be pivotal or the only one who will ever reach his stature artistically.

    But I don't think there are thousands of them toiling away unknown in their homes.

    our meritocracy, such as it is, leaves a lot of merit behind.

    On the other hand, western capitalism has basically developed into the only major culture in the history of the world where an artist can do something avant-garde against the status quo and be rewarded monetarily for it. Where the taste of rich patrons or an official academy or government doesn't own the game, but where they might actually be avid followers, even to the point where they pay big money to have their tastes questioned or even ridiculed. And you do often need the rich and an elite for this to happen, as leaving it to "the masses" does not tender the same results (see for example, official Soviet art or the fate of taxpayer support of the arts when the arts might be something like Andres Serrano's Piss Christ.)

    This is why...while I love to read, go to the movies, look at visual and performing arts ...I dislike hanging out with writers, artists, actors and so on.

    While they are, of necessity, great observers of others, greater analyzers of what they see, in person they tend to be self absorbed and filled with self pity for their own plight and jealousy at the success of others.

    Life ain't fair.

    If your work hasn't caught the eye of an editor or agent (assuming you're putting it out there in the right way), then maybe your time hasn't come.

    Or your work isn't good enough despite your high opinion of it.

    My screenplay writing partner had a different take on this, maybe more Hollywood. Every time he/we saw a crappy movie, he'd say: "That movie sucked. If they're going to make crap like that, why won't they produce our crappy movie?" And he was truly indignant at the unfairness of it all.

    We had mountains of rejections, some very odd. We'd written a script about a girl jockey who wins the Kentucky Derby. It seemed like the perfect thing for Disney. So being Jewish and therefore well-connected in Hollywood, I contacted a relative whom I'd never heard of let alone spoken to and called in a chit. And we did get our script read and "covered."

    The cover said, "These guys are good writers, but this script is filled to the brim with every cliché in the book." Later we were told that "Disney wasn't making movies about animals." Disney wasn't making movies about animals...hmmm.

    The things we don't learn about each other here!  Very interesting. . .

    I spent many years deeply immersed in the writing life, which means I spent a lot of time with other writers.  There might have been more drama, considering the ego thing, but the dynamics weren't much different from when I was a secretary.  Kindness, generosity, cruelty, and jealousy are traits found in any group or gathering.  Even stay-at-home moms know all about it.  Believe me.

    I miss my time with those crazy, creative people.  They didn't drift from me; I did it to myself.  Right in the midst of things I moved up to the north woods where I stopped writing for publication for almost 15 years.  I lost touch with many of them, but some of my best memories are of my times with them.  All that to say you might be missing out on something special by choosing to stay away from the creative ones!

    I do wonder about crappy movies, too.  I'm sure you must have seen the "Project Greenlight" series?  Ben Affleck and Chris Moore sponsored a contest where the winning screenplay would be funded and produced.  It was nuts!  When it was over the winners either washed their hands completely of it or they cried and yelled a lot.  Too much collaboration and too many bosses are sure ways to kill purity.  It's a wonder any of them are any good.

    You're right, Ramona.

    It always felt to me that artists were excessively cruel...toward other artists and their work. But maybe I was being overly sensitive.

    This probably goes back a bit to the Woody Allen conversation we were having (don't worry; not going there!) where, when we're moved by a work, we expect its creator to live up to what we felt on a human level when we were experiencing the art. I'd have to say that Frank Sinatra is the poster child counter example that disproves that theory.

    I did see some of that series, but I think by that time my discouragement had taken me over so I felt a bit disengaged from it.

    But you are definitely right about the miracle of good movies getting made. The ultimate in collaborative arts with zillions of pitfalls waiting to blow your budget and pull the whole thing down.

    I wrote four screenplays with a partner. The first two were fun; the second two were hell. I tried writing with someone else one other time, and it was a disaster, too. My guess is most writers gravitate to writing because they don't want to collaborate. They want what they want, and they want to see it come out that way. Hence all the classic tales of writers becoming alcoholics in Hollywood as directors mangled their work.

    It's a bit better now for the common person because new technology has made the movie-making process accessible and MUCH cheaper. So, if Michael is right and there are all these Orson Welles hiding in the bushes, we should see them start to come out.

    Maybe you should try your hand at screenwriting again. I get very excited thinking about the direction storytelling will take with the advances in CGI using sims. Writers will be able to have total control over the visualization of their stories including the ability to cast any actor from any era at any stage of their career.

    Ooh, the future's so bright.cool


    Hehe. It's gurgling around.

    Gee, I'm wondering if this woman does much reading at all.  I quote:

     "there’s so many other books out there..."

    When a "writer" makes such an egregious and pedestrian grammatical error, it pretty much tells you everything you need to know about why she probably isn't signing books at Barnes & Noble. 

    It seems to me that this Lynn Shepard is operating under the delusion that there is a finite amount of fame and success and if one person has too much, there is not enough left for other people.  The way I see it, is that, unlike fossil fuels, fame and success are renewable resources,  and when creativity is released, fame and success will expand to accept it.  There is no shortage of creativity, except in the minds of those that believe in a scarcity of imagination.   These are self-imposed limitations, not universal ones.

    Wise words, as always, from Mr. Smith:

    There is no shortage of creativity, except in the minds of those that believe in a scarcity of imagination.   These are self-imposed limitations, not universal ones.

    This all made me recall a game show (Alex T) answer I heard yesterday:


    Faulkner on Hemingway:
    “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

    Hemingway on Faulkner:
    "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”


    And... they were both right!


    Off topic but since you are again writing about writing, how did Microsoft's Scrivener work out?


    Emma, I haven't done much with Scrivener beyond following a Scrivener forum.  There are jillions of problems with it and it's not that easy to figure out, from what I've seen.  I just haven't found that block of time it'll take to concentrate on it.  I would rather be writing!

    I haven't given up on it, it's just not on my active to-do list.


    Thanks for the update. 

    Thanks for the update. 

    Shepherd is making very common, but disastrously wrong-headed mistake. The arts are not a zero-sum game. Nothing would get better for Shepherd, or other writers like Shepherd, if J. K. Rowling stopped publishing.

    [And P.S.: what on Earth does Shepherd want? Rowling tried publishing with a pseudonym, so her novels could stand on their own without the hype, and the rest of us didn't let her.]

    There isn't a pot of artistic and commercial success that gets divvied up. One person having less doesn't mean that someone else gets more. If Yo-Yo Ma gives up the cello tomorrow, the second-most-famous cellist in America doesn't suddenly become a star. If Matt Damon decides to stop acting, some struggling actor in LA won't suddenly start getting work. If [name famous movie actress here] divorces her husband tomorrow, my chances with her remain zero.

    Was Hemingway less famous because of Faulkner? Was Faulkner less famous because of Hemingway? Or were both more famous than any literary writer today, even Morrison, is? Hammett and Chandler were both bigger deals than any mystery writer is today; that they were both working at the same time didn't cut either's fame in half.

    Blaming someone else's success for you own frustrated ambitions is a terrible self-deception. It can lead you to behave spitefully and unfairly toward others. And worse, it's unhealthy for you.

    When you feel like resenting others because they've gotten something that you haven't, and catch yourself thinking They are the reason that my novel hasn't been published/my film can't get made/my band doesn't get enough gigs, step back and take a deep breath. You're only hurting yourself.

    Shepherd is so far out to lunch that on my first reading of her first paragraph I was sure she was joking!

    She sure stepped into it!  Murder in Mansfield Park is not the kind of book I would take the time to read.  I am not into murder mysteries. I watched Mansfield Park on DVD from the library.  I did read the Harry Potter books to the kids or we listen to the audio versions.  They were fun.   

    Maybe she will learn a lesson from this.  Also maybe she will make up her own characters in her next book.  I laughed at the one star reviews.  Will people read her now? Probably not anymore then they did before.  

    Momoe, I don't know what kind of writer she is but most of the one-star reviews are phony.  They're pay-backs for her article on J.K. Rowling.  Most of them were published yesterday, after her article came out. 

    Will people read her now?  I don't know.  But I hope the decisions will be based on her work and not on the dozens of one-star reviews that have nothing to do with her book.


    I know they were from non readers and in response to her remarks.  I still thought they were rather fun.  The reason was I have a large stack of Harry Potter striped scarves sitting in front of me that my grand daughter-in-law is making for Metro-Con coming up in July.  She hopes to have several hundred of them made by then as well as the other scarves she made before Christmas.  She tells me she will sell all of them because Harry Potter is still a well loved character.  I knew about Shepard's Hufpo piece as soon as it came out.  The Hogwarts were on it. We looked her up and read the promo's of her 2 books.  She made a cheap shot to get traffic to her books on the web.  The Hogwarts are obliging her. At least that is how they see it. 

    She made a cheap shot to get traffic to her books on the web.  The Hogwarts are obliging her. At least that is how they see it.

    I dunno.  Maybe this hits too close to home.  I think trashing someone's book on Amazon because she wrote an infuriating essay is crossing way over the line.

    How about this?  What if Michael Wolraich wrote a post that everyone came down on and someone thought it would be cool to punish him by heading over to Amazon to mob-review his new book?  (I'm using MW as an example only because he does have a new book coming out.)

    When I look at book reviews at Amazon I'll often just look at the ratings and if there are too many low ratings I move on.  Unless it's a book I already know something about I don't look to see what the reviewers are saying. 

    IMO, no matter what she said in that essay, she didn't deserve that.  I don't see the Hogwarts as heroes.  It's something Malfoy and his bunch would do.

    I agree with Ramona. The punitive Amazon reviews are over the line.

    Ted Nugent has said a bunch of things that deserve censure. Going to pummel his old albums in online reviews. Neither am I going to ding Cat Stevens albums because Yusuf Islam can be an idiot.

    Public speech should get pushback when it's earned it. But the pushback should be related to the public speech itself.

    Your Malfoy comment makes me think, "What would really bookend this nicely is if JKR came out and condemned these Amazon mob-reviews in exactly that language." There's nothing like coming to the defense of someone who has just insulted you to make you look like a class act.

    Great idea!  I'll bet if she knew about this, she would do it, too.  I'll be watching. . .

    They are JKR fans and the most loyal that are still spending time and money to promote her characters and books.  They buy and collect Harry Potter items.  I read all the reviews that were 4 and 5 stars first and then looked at the 1 stars.  The 1 stars made a point to say they had not read the book and didn't like her assessment of JKR.   The social media slap her on the wrist with the outrage she caused.  She kicked over a bee hive.  

    My grandson bought me Mike's first book, the same kid who showed me Shepard's article. By the way he is an English major and wants to teach.  He and his wife had no idea that I had any association on line with the author.  They just thought it was a terrific book that I would like.  They were very pleased with my thrill over the gift.  As we worked on the Harry Potter scarves he read the tweets and comments from the article as they came in. The last time we followed tweets and comments together was the night Wendy Davis did her filibuster in Texas.  The comments and tweets were for the most part very entertaining about Shepard.  The 1 star reviews came later but were not from the early tweets and comments.  Those 1 stars probably came from Amazon accounts. We looked her up to see what kind of author she was because non of us knew who she was.    

    I know all of you work very hard on your writing and she did too.  Just the same, I had a fun adventure and quality time with my family exploring a stupid mistake a writer can make.   


    Momoe, that's so neat that they bought you Michael's book without knowing that you knew him!  Yay, Michael!  Yay, your kids!

    I really don't have a problem with loyal HP fans going after her for what she wrote, but I still think it crossed the line when they went over to Amazon to trash her book.  Fair play would be to stick with the essay she wrote, which is what they found offensive, and keep the comments to the content of the essay. 

    It doesn't matter that they made it clear they hadn't read her book and were only creating a review because they were angry at what she said about Jo Rowling.  They weren't satisfied with just sticking to the forums where the discussions were about the essay.  When they moved it over to Amazon they clearly meant to hurt her where it hurts most.  To me that was a Malfoy move.



    This is exactly why I haven't blogged for so long--to give you all some oxygen.


    PS Excluding my usual sock puppets of course.

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