Friday, August 22, 2014

Obscurity and Fame


Writers have conflicted feelings about fame.  On the one hand, it's a necessary attribute of the kind of success we want our books to have.  On the other hand, we are by nature creatures of the shadows.  Obscurity, anonymity, and the freedom to wander about wherever we wish without being noticed are valuable tools if you want to write about human beings.

A few years ago, in Chengdu, China, Neil Gaiman spoke for a bit about the inconveniences of being as famous as he is.  This was in a private conversation, so I won't share the details.  But afterwards, when Neil was off talking with somebody else, Rob Sawyer looked thoughtful, and said, "I think now that I only want to be forty percent as famous as he is."

I thought about this at Loncon, when I was sitting at a table full of friends and somebody approached George R. R. Martin with a paper napkin and a pen.  George turned in his chair and was reaching for the napkin when one of his entourage leaped up, shouting, "No, no, no!  He can't sign!  It's not allowed!  No signatures!"

Which was a reasonable thing to do because if it had been allowed, George would have been swamped with autograph seekers, and he wouldn't have been allowed to enjoy the convention at all.  I am not exaggerating here.  I recall running across another of my genuinely famous friends at a Worldcon and stopping to talk with him in the hall.  A crowed gathered around us.  Within minutes it was so thick that nobody could get by.

Whenever Neil or George has a signing, there are rules about how many books will be signed, whether there will be inscriptions, whether it's permitted for them to talk.  Just so a reasonable number of people will be able to get autographs.  I, on the other hand, signed autographs for an hour at the convention, and was able to chat a bit with everybody who showed up with books.  It was a very pleasant experience.  And when the weekend was over, I could return to obscurity.

I'm not saying I don't want my books to be better known, mind.  Only, to paraphrase Saint Augustine, "Lord, make me famous -- but not just yet."

Above:  I couldn't find an image to fit today's post.  So instead you get a painting by Charles Knight.  From the Field Museum.  One of sacred places of the world.


1 comment:

Bruce said...

Stephen King was at the 1981 World Fantasy Con. And even at that pro-oriented, oh-so-serious convention he was frequently surrounded by people holding out books and asking for autographs. That made me decide that while I'd like to be a successful writer, I'd rather not be a famous writer. At least not at that level of fame.

(Considering my rather meager bibliography of published work, it doesn't look likely to be something I'll ever have to fret and worry about.)