by Pari

Last night, while flipping channels, I watched snippets of the American Country Music Awards show. I’ll say it: I’m not a huge fan of country. There’s an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism, mocking higher learning, that distresses me. But during the last year, I’ve begun to listen to more of it because of the marvelous story telling in those three-minute vignettes.

On the glitterati stage Sunday night, musicians sang. Fans packed the cavernous MGM Grand, their hands held out as if the air around the performers was holy. They screamed, applauded, swooned and gave standing ovations.

Ah, fame.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have that response when we had book signings? Can you imagine fans so enthusiastic they’d wait days to buy a ticket to a reading?

Most of the writers who’ve earned similar followings were entertainers — singers, actors — or televangelists/preachers, before they ever decided to pen a book. And most of what they write is, ostensibly, nonfiction.

Why don’t novelists earn this kind of rabid devotion? Is it that we’re behind the scenes — that we eschew being recognized — that we’re creators rather than performers?

(Well, hells bells, I’d love the chance to perform!)

Okay, okay. There are exceptions. I bet J.K. Rowling wouldn’t have a problem filling a stadium. Alexander McCall Smith might manage it. Stephen King? Nora Roberts?

Maybe I’m being near-sighted here, but I can’t name a darn mystery author, one who solely writes mysteries, who’d pull in those numbers to a live gig. Not even in Europe, where book events tend to be better attended.

What gives?

Is it that books take more effort to access than sitting back and listening to music? Is it the media exposure factor, that novelists simply aren’t seen enough to make an impression? Is it harder work to sing or act than it is to write a novel (Hell, NO!) Are fiction writers doughy and repugnant (not!) so that large numbers of people wouldn’t want to see them in the first place?

I don’t buy it. Anyone who goes to mystery conventions knows that we’ve got one heck of a talent pool. And I’m not just talking about words on paper here.

Maybe some writers would hate to be that popular. I sure wouldn’t. And I’d love to see that kind of rock star craziness — flicking the cigarette lighters, swaying to the sounds of an author reading a great chapter — for novelists overall. Imagine if our signings generated the kind of super-heated buzz of a Garth Brooks concert, if scalpers routinely haunted the fronts of bookstores because all the tickets had sold out.

What’s your take?
     Why aren’t novelists rock stars? (Or are they?)
     Would it be horrible to be that famous? Would it be horrible for readers if authors WERE that famous?
     What is fame in the first place? Does it matter?


Sometimes it’s just great to be mama bear here at Murderati. Last week, I was so upset about Ken’s departure . . .

This week, I’m overjoyed to announce that beginning June 17, author extraordinaire Tess Gerritsen will join us on alternating Tuesdays.

. . . Tomorrow, we’ll have L.J. Sellers as our guest.

Pretty wonderful, huh?


38 thoughts on “Fame

  1. billie

    Weird – I was just wondering this the other day – why doesn’t it cost to go to readings? So many authors really do give so much when they read.

    I’d pay to go to readings, but as with music, once they hit the stadium scene I’d pass. My favorite way to see bands has always been before they hit the “fame” stage and move to huge venues. Same with writers. (not that I wouldn’t buy the CD/book – just wouldn’t go to the live performance)

    I’ve been to one large hall reading that did cost money (the fee was waived if you bought the book) and it was not very satisfying. But I’m not a “large crowd” person, so…

    If the fame centered around the books, and didn’t infiltrate the rest of my life, I’d be fine with it. If it was at such a level it couldn’t be “turned off” – I’d probably want to pass.

    Yay about Tess joining Murderati!

  2. Louise Ure

    Greetings to my new Tuesday partner, Tess!

    I don’t know the answer to your question, Pari. Maybe it’s because reading a book/learning about an author takes a great deal more commitment than listening to a CD or watching a movie.

    But then, how to explain the massive crowds at political rallies?

  3. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Billie,The other day, my younger daughter said, “I hate being in crowds, but love being in front of them.”

    My sentiments exactly.

    I think that one reason authors are rock stars is that we don’t have a whole machine packaging the person as well as the book.

  4. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Louise,I think your reason is part of the obstacle to rock star status.

    Though, if there were television shows about novelists, sexy things rather than the blah blah we usually see in book interviews, it’d be a whole different picture.

  5. krimileser

    “Maybe I’m being near-sighted here, but I can’t name a darn mystery author, one who solely writes mysteries, who’d pull in those numbers to a live gig. Not even in Europe, where book events tend to be better attended.”

    I don’t know if it qualifies, but -> this (http://www.literaturwissenschaft-online.uni-kiel.de/veranstaltungen/aufzeichnungen/default.asp?linkvideo=http://rzglab15.rz.uni-kiel.de/philosophiendl/wise07/hrv21klass301007.wmv) is a lecture about Dan Browns Da Vinci Code. It is for the general public and although it is held by a full professor for literary theory the lecture hall of the university of Kiel is full. Now think about what would happen if not the professor but Dan Brown would be present.

    (Sorry, the lecture is in German)

  6. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Krimileser (though I’m sure that’s not your name . . .) Thank you for this link; I couldn’t open it because I don’t have media player, but the example is still important.

    Dan Brown is probably an author who’d fill a lecture hall. He’s a great example of someone who is in the public consciousness enough to gain that kind of personal popularity.

    That brings up the distinction between kinds of fame:1. visibility — people recognize you on the street/in a restaurant2. notoriety — people have heard of you

    I do think authors can attain the second kind of major fame. Several have.

    But it’s the idol-worshipping phenomenon that I’m thinking of for this post.

    Are books just too difficult??

  7. Will Bereswill

    I think music is just easier. Discounting audio books, in their infancy compared to music, you can listen to music in your car, while running, working, at the bar, etc.

    Music stirs a different emotion. It doesn’t require a lot of concentration. When is the last time you saw girls dancing to a book? I sure sing when I’m safely in the shower and in the car alone, but I don’t recite quotes from my favorite Thriller.

    In other words, I don’t know how to answer your questions, Pari.

    Welcome Tess.

  8. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Ha!Will,I love your response. I don’t quote mysteries in the shower either.

    But what about actors? Often their words, the ones we quote in casual conversation, DO come from us authors. Why don’t we get the credit?

    I hope the post didn’t sound whiny, because I’m not feeling that way.

    I’m just fascinated by this subject today and wanted some other perspectives. You gave me a great one.

  9. krimileser


    I think it was in one of the recent interviews of Lee Child with Ali Karim that Child spoke about visibility. If I recall it correctly, he said that it happened to him during the years only three times that someone recognized and addressed him.

    You can share the act of hearing music but you cannot easily share the act of reading. Music concerts and political rallies have the power to generate mass hysteria.

    Compared to music it seems not easy to bypass the regions of the brain responsible for rationality during reading. Musicians perform, but writers don’t, therefore bonding should be more difficult.

    * And yes, you are right, my real name is Bernd Kochanowski, but Krimileser is convenient.

  10. JT Ellison

    I think that’s it too — listening to music requires little effort on the recipient’s part, whereas reading take a commitment of time and space and attention.

    I don’t want to be a rockstar, but I wouldn’t mind the perks — ie: the ridiculous sums of money they make and the level of accountability — for musicians, there is a list of how many records you sold. Period. Always updated. You actually have an idea of where you stand AS YOU GO, which we don’t have. We can get a sense of where things stand, and some raw numbers from Bookscan, but that’s not the same.

    I’d love to be able to see across the board, in one place, just how many books are really sold. I’m not sure why we don’t have that kind of transparency.

    But being famous to the point of being recognized… I have been recognized here in town, and it’s horrifying. Always happens at the most inopportune times — leaving a spa after a facial with no makeup and hair shoved under a baseball cap … that leaves a great impression. I need a stylist.

    And WELCOME, TESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Dana King

    Musians (politicians, actors) live throuhg their performances, where they are seen by their fans, and at least give the impression of speaking directly to them. Granted, actors are on a screen, and the musician may be speaking “directly” to a stadium full of fans, but the experience is the same. Their lips move, we hear. They wink, or make some other intimate expression, and we’re included in their world.

    Authors are separated from their fans by the medium through which they communicate, the book itself. The reader has no direct experience with the author, just what is conveyed through the book. It lacks the visceral, direct appeal of personal “contact”, and the reactions, while no less sincere, are also more cerebral than visceral.

  12. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Bernd,What a fascinating discussion.

    I think you’re on to something with the concept of sharing with another and the subsequent possibility of group think/response.

    Also the idea of rationality and the actual mental process of listening vs. reading.

    So can authors with audio books become rock stars? I wonder.

  13. Pari Noskin Taichert

    J.T.,I hear you about wanting the perks w/o some of the other luggage of being famous.

    That transparency would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? But I bet numbers are manipulated in the music industry as well — as they are in the television/movie industries.

    A stylist? Nah, you just be you and people will adore it.

  14. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Dana,Great and clear response . . . thank you.

    That separation, the lack of immediacy, may be the real clincher. Authors aren’t part of the reader’s mindset because of the medium . . . how can someone respond viscerally to the person when the person isn’t there?

    And yet if we do our jobs right, we bring deep emotional responses in our readers as well. It does have that layer of separation that Bernd wrote about . .. the rationality, but is that the crux of the difference?

    Can it be overcome?If it were, would be be selling the person RATHER than the book?

  15. krimileser


    I love that. I wrote “but you cannot easily share the act of reading” because I wondered about the Audio books. I don’t know about them … I listened with our older son to some Harry Potter Audio Books … you can do that with two or three or (?) ten persons, but not with hundred – it is a to intimate act. And, again, there is still no performing writer.

  16. Bill Cameron

    I paid to see David Sedaris read. He filled a hall here in Portland, probably several thousand people. Just read for a little over an hour. I don’t remember the cost — not much, fifteen bucks maybe. Something like that. Then the book signing, but I didn’t wait in line.

    He’s obviously an exception. I think he’s able to draw big crowds at least partly because of the way he reads; it’s a genuine performance. I know I was happy to pay to hear him.

  17. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Bernd,I think with podcasts and other technologies, this might change; can you imagine giant “read-ins?” Events where novelists have fiction slams like poets now do? Wouldn’t THAT be a kick?

  18. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Bill,Sedaris is a great example. I bet there are others, too.

    But, doesn’t he write nonfiction? I know him primarily from his work for The New Yorker.

    I like the idea of author as performer. Not everyone would be cut out for it, but many could entertain that way too if there was a venue.

  19. Bill Cameron

    Sedaris writes what I think they call narrative non-fiction, though I know he writes short stories as well. With that sort of thing it’s hard to know where the narrative ends and the non-fiction begins. In either case, as a reading it seems like it has a quality not unlike reading a story.

    I wonder if he draws so well to live readings because so many people were first introduced to him through his radio pieces, either on Morning Edition or This American Life. People might think of him as a performer first, and only secondarily as a writer — even though he may see it the other way around.

  20. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Bill,I think your point is important. Those writers who have had electronic media of some sort — and a fair amount of it consistently — are more apt to attract larger live audiences. At least, I think so.

    This gets into performance and a basic familiarity that most writers don’t have unless they’ve published dozens and dozens of books . . . maybe not even then.

  21. toni mcgee causey

    I’m late to the discussion as well… I agree with Dana that the book is a physical object between the writer and the reader, and that’s often compounded by the fact that the story the writer is telling isn’t necessarily how they would respond to life, or anything remotely about them, but about these characters. And if we want the characters to truly come to life, we make ourselves as transparent as possible to the service of the story.

    I think it’s that necessary transparency which then prevents us from being a focus of the reader. If we’ve done our job well enough, they walk away from the book really remembering that story, those characters, which have come to life.

    A long time ago, Sandra Ruttan and I were talking about the novelist signings as a sort of rock concert. Rock tours often have an opening act (a debut author), a mid-level act (the mid-list author) and the headliner (bestselling author). If publishing tours were designed more along that sort of idea, there’d be benefit to everyone, including the headliner. The top author is going to get the sales, but also the good karma from introducing the crowd to new people, and some of the fans of the newer people will cross over to the headlining author. (I know I have bought people because I first heard about them when they were publicizing someone else.)

    And welcome to Tess! I am going to miss Ken, though I am delighted Tess is going to a regular.

  22. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Music is just inherently more about sex and dropping your inhibitions. So is acting. It’s more fun. Speaking about writing is never going to evoke the Dionysian response that performing music does, but we authors COULD unleash ourselves more and readers would respond. You can see that happening at cons like RT where the organizers truly know how to throw a party, and cater to that wish=fulfillment side of all of us.

  23. Zoë Sharp

    I’m coming late to this, too – story of my life – but I love Toni’s suggestion. I really like doing events with other authors. Not only do you get the crossover effect, but you can get a really good conversation going between you, which makes the whole thing seem more natural. I think people want to listen to you talk rather than read from a script.

    And a great example of actors taking credit for an author’s words is the film Gladiator. Now, I saw this interview a long time ago, so this is the gist rather than direct quotes, but that whole “Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next” central speech was apparently not in the original script, but written on the fly. I understand that Russell Crowe didn’t like it. In fact, he thought it was “sh*t” (and that bit I do remember directly) So, they tried the scene with alternative dialogue, but that really didn’t work, and, reluctantly, Crowe came back to the scriptwriter and said he’d give his version a try. He did the speech as it appears in the film and everyone thought it was terrific, except Crowe, who said something along the lines of, “I still think it’s sh*t, but *I* make it sound good.”

    Imagine if our fictional characters started taking credit for the words we put in their mouths on the page … Hm, I think I feel a short story coming on.


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