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Monday, April 23, 2012

Lucius Malfoy vs. Neil Gaiman

I never cease to be surprised by the ironies of fate.  Why one artist, despite similar talent and ability, rises to stardom, while another toils in obscurity.  Recently, I realized that the actor Jason Isaacs, who came to my attention through the PBS miniseries “Case Histories,” and currently stars in “Awake,” also played Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies.  Given his strong portray of the villain, one would think the actor would have felt some assurance that his services would be requested for all the movies.  Yet, after “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” Jason Isaac’s reportedly had to get down on his knees and beg J. K. Rowling to include him in the final three films.  Talk about the glamorous life of an actor!

"Please, Ms. Rowling, please write me in!  Please please!"

I find it ironic that despite his incredible range, and noteworthy performances in a long list of movies, TV shows, and stage productions, Jason Isaacs remains solidly under the radar of the paparazzi.  Unlike the similarly-featured Daniel Craig, he can take the London Underground to a movie premier.  People may go gaga over him when he’s on the red carpet, but they don’t notice him on the train ride home.  And that’s the way he likes it.  While he imagines he’d like to earn “obscene” amounts of money, he prefers his “calm, sedate and suburban” life to what he sees as the “hideously compromised” lives of those who have skyrocketed to stardom.  Such as, for example, his body double Daniel Craig.

Like J. K. Rowling, another author who has learned that becoming a superstar writer will cost you your anonymity is Neil Gaiman.  I had the pleasure to seeing him at last year’s World Fantasy Convention.  I admire his work in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre, as well as for connecting so readily with his fans through his website, blog, Tumblr, and Twitter.  But I think he first drew my attention for his simple approach to writing.  He repeatedly tells authors aspiring to be published that there are three things one must do to become a successful writer: 1) Write, 2) Finish, and 3) Submit.  Anyone who can boil down all the intricacies of the marketplace, and the essential makeup of a successful author, into such a basic formula obviously exhibits a certain clarity that can only aid them in communicating to readers through their fiction.  

At the recent World Fantasy Convention, I laughed until my sides ached during his panel discussion with Connie Willis.  I took careful notes as he charted his progression as an author during his Guest of Honor interview.  But then the breath caught in my throat as he announced that he was considering dramatically cutting back on his internet activities to concentrate more fully on his writing.  And when he admitted that he was seriously considering not attending conventions any more, my jaw dropped.  

He went on to share that he no longer enjoyed attending conventions because he could not walk the halls unnoticed.  He couldn’t peruse the books and other items for sale in the dealers’ room, or contemplate the works displayed in the art show.  He couldn’t simply hang out in the hotel bar and hope to meet a few new friends.  Why?  Because he had grown too popular.  His fans were always hunting him down to ask him a few questions, or asking him to sign their books, and that would be all right, except for the sheer number of them.  To paraphrase a popular Carpenters song: “Crowds appear whenever Neil Gaiman is here.”

Neil Gaiman: A Literary Giant

Despite my perfectionist tendencies, I sometimes wonder if part of my reluctance to follow Gaiman’s formula through to completion stems from my fear of the disruptions and change success might bring.  To quote Charles Stross, “Writers are often boring people.  They stay home and they, like, write for hours and hours every day.  Watching them write is really boring, because believe it or not, it takes much longer to write a book than to read it.”  Charles is being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here, as anyone who has ever seen or met him at a convention knows that he is anything but boring.  Still, he has a point.  While Alf Wight (who wrote as James Herriot) may have written his books in the living room, watching TV with his family, for most of us the writing life means willfully condemning ourselves to solitary confinement, and then having little to talk about when meeting others socially.  

Typical Nonwriter/Writer Interaction at Party
Nonwriter: "So, what've you been up to lately?"  
Writer: "Um, er, well...let's see...I've been writing?"
Nonwriter raises eyebrows.  "Really?  Please excuse me while I refill my glass.  Then I want to hear all about it!"

While I’ve come to grips with this aspect of my chosen endeavor, and even to enjoy the solitude and quiet, I need to validate my efforts by finishing and submitting.  Do I want to walk in the shoes of someone like Steven Brust (or Jason Isaacs), with a number of well-loved books to my name?  Absolutely.  Do I want to be like Neil Gaiman or J. K. Rowling or Daniel Craig, making “obscene” amounts of money and living a “hideously compromised” life?  Not so much.


I guess, when you think about it, worrying about becoming a superstar player is incredibly stupid.  Especially when you’ve yet to make the team.

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