Oh, USA Today. It’s not like anyone thought you were a real paper before, but boy howdy did you do some excellent work on the literary beat yesterday. In case you missed it because you frequent actual news outlets, Michael Wolff wrote an actual article about how hard it is to succeed. As a white male. In publishing.
No, seriously, he did. No foolin’.
Now I could write a reasoned response here, pointing out the Unbearable Whiteness of Being that is contemporary publishing, but we talk about that a lot here at Book Riot (and we ain’t stopping anytime soon). So instead I’m going to mock Michael Wolff’s premise with gifs. Everyone good with that?
Kevin Morris is a 51-year-old entertainment-business lawyer, one of the best known in Hollywood, with a roster of powerful and famous clients whose careers and fortunes he helps navigate through the complicated waters of a new media age. At the same time, as though in some contrary act of media resistance, the senior partner at Morris Yorn writes fiction — what is now called, dismissively, “literary” fiction — mostly about the fate of one of the least-popular media subjects, middle-aged white men.
Because literary fiction and the lives of men are synonymous, of course.
That might as well be a setup of a Kevin Morris story, the rich and successful professional, feeling sorry for himself — indeed, feeling the weight of the world’s contempt and disregard — nevertheless perseveres.
Oh good a book about how everyone is against the super rich white guy.
So resigned is Morris that instead of leveraging his personal media muscle and vast contacts to get his book published, he merely endured repeated quiet rejections of his first novel. He didn’t even bother submitting his collection of short stories, White Man’s Problems, to publishers. He just published it himself on Amazon.
But in a minor reversal of fortune, the book appears this week from Grove/Atlantic because Grove’s publisher, Morgan Entrekin, stopped in at a small book party his New York neighbor, Matt Stone — the co-creator of South Park and a Morris client — was giving for Morris. Entrekin read the book, made an offer, and Morris exited the self-publishing business.
In part, this is a story about how a certain level of, if you will, soul, has manifested itself among one of the most soulless, compromised and despised archetypes of our time: the Hollywood lawyer. And in part it is about what might be called white man’s media, a lost form or marginalized genre. And in part it is about that eternal issue of how to get published.
He just called stories about white people “a lost form or marginalized genre.” He must literally not have access to any form of media that has ever existed.
It would be tempting to say that Morris is the opposite of a Hollywood lawyer, except that, as one of the most successful talent representatives in the business, that cannot be. He must be the sharkiest of the sharkiest. On the other hand, he perhaps represents a cultural change that has yet to quite register: Hollywood, instead of representing arrogance and hubris and opportunism and cultural hegemony, has become quite a vulnerable and self-aware place.
The Sony hack might be seen as just the latest aspect of a challenged industry. There is, too, the ever-falling value of Hollywood stars — Morris’ clients — earning a fraction of their old fees. And, of course, the fact that Hollywood as a West Coast power center has come to seem so much lesser than Silicon Valley 350 miles to the north. Much of Morris’ legal practice is now about surviving and trying to defend against the world of the Google Goliath. Music dead, print dead, film and television the last hold out.
That is the tenor of most of Morris’ stories. The achievements of successful middle-aged men ought to be satisfying, but such satisfaction is ever-dimmed by a world that success does not alter, a world no longer impressed by such success, a world often conspiring against it — and finally, pulling intricate emotional chords, a world where success robs you of the right to express yourself (who really wants to listen).
Life. Is hard. For middle-aged white men. Because the world changed. And they don’t get to be the boss anymore. And so, tragedy, I guess?
The echoes here are of a former generation of American writers — John Cheever, John Updike, Raymond Carver. But, as it happens, fiction is now largely a form dominated by women readers and hence women’s stories. Or, it is too, in many of its recently celebrated instances, a form for exploring overlooked cultures — leaving, arguably, that middle-aged, culturally undistinguished, American male as now the most overlooked.
Fiction is dominated by women’s stories, showed no statistics ever.
Morris’ day job is representing writers and filmmakers, some of the most successful in the business. That job is most often seen as a dealmaker’s job. But in another sense it involves a larger notion of competing stories — and of whose story gets to be told. It is even possible to see the entire media world as a set of rear-guard actions, if not head-to-head battles, as to whose version will be the dominant culture tale. Whose narrative is it? The tech narrative? The women’s narrative? The anti-one-percent narrative?
It is a hard war to fight — a battle of causes and self-interest and PR as much as storytelling art. Morris himself, understanding the brute power of dominant stories, seems to have retreated. The problems of working class sons from the ’60s and ’70s who have made it up to high professional status and top-notch cars, no matter the depth of their feeling, aren’t in today’s media world worth a hill of beans. Hence, Amazon. Or, put another way, Amazon is Morris’ quiet rebellion against the dominant story culture.
In some sense, Amazon’s self-publishing program, prompting one of the greatest outpourings of unrewarded writing in history, suggests some terrible need to tell stories and, perhaps, unmet story demand and, just as print dies, a remarkable hunger to be published. There is some pathos here, this silent desperation to write what, in all but a few cases, will never be read.
You’ll have a hard time convincing anyone with eyeballs that the majority of good writing that will go unnoticed by publishing and unread by compassionate readers is white guy lit.
In Morris’ case, with his own acute understanding of zeitgeist realities, he seemed compelled beyond career and even ego to write for no other reason then that he had something to say and, somehow, a preternatural ability to say it.
White Guy Self-Publishes: Is Hero.
Amazon’s legion of self-published authors is perhaps just more evidence of our infinitely fractured culture. Too many stories is just another sign of a broken world.
Too. Many. Stories. Equals. Bad.
But in another, positive, sense, Amazon has provided the wherewithal for us to know that a heretofore soulless person, a son-of-a-bitch lawyer, an emotionally impacted white man, worst of all, one without a genre, is home at night writing deathless prose that might make you weep.