Not Like God

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24 September 2009

Stephen Elliott, author of the recently released The Adderall Diaries, and founding editor of The Rumpus, is “not like God.”  But he’s been doing interviews recently, like this one at SMITH mag.  There’s something in his voice that always arrests me, something in the easy movement between hardness and softness.

It’s a common misperception that for some reason we should be telling stories about other people instead of ourselves. It’s completely wrong because it overlooks the most important person, the reader. Writing a book without accessing your experiences is like building a house without a hammer. The person living in the house doesn’t care whether or not you used a hammer. She only cares if the roof leaks. The book is no more or less valuable because the writer is present within the text. It’s a false concern. It’s like when we were adolescents and we couldn’t wait to denounce our favorite band. It’s not really about anything. It’s just bitter cynicism. And it’s irrelevant…

You can almost feel that the reader is foremost for him even as he answers interview questions, like he’s cutting straight through the main purpose of an interview, i.e. to promote his book, to connect with the reader — let’s just be real, I always feel him saying in the subtext.  Like, what else is there? Which of course is the best way to sell books, i.e. connecting in that real way with readers.  It’s a fascinating sort of loop, if you’re someone who pays attention to these kinds of things, i.e. how authors get involved in the promotion of their own work; and Elliott seems to do it effortlessly (although, that’s the other loop — the appearance of effortlessness which I’m guessing requires quite a bit of effort).

[What would you like to tell your happy friends at SMITH Mag?]

That I love you. That you should write for yourself. That the rewards of writing are not material. That you need a through line in your lives. You can’t just go from project to project, from book to mountain. You have to have community, continuity, rituals that keep you even as you change.

This struck me, too: “Some people read to escape; I read to connect.”  This seems to me a rather radical, and lucid, statement, simple as it is — in the wake of Dan Brown‘s new blockbuster release.

Elliott writes at length here about his writer’s journey (i.e. his life journey). “Connect” seems the right word for everything he’s trying to do in his life; keeping the writing and the editing and the promoting as real and as grounded as possible; living with and through depression and financial challenges and addiction while continuing to find genuine joy and focus in reading and writing.  With the critical success of The Adderall Diaries, his promotional savvy, the rising popularity of The Rumpus… I begin to worry a little.  About this writer I know not at all, except through these interviews and personal essays.  If the movie deal comes next, and lots of speaking engagements, and an offer to teach full-time at Prestigious U.; I don’t know…

I worry, Stephen Elliott.  About how you will navigate all this success, as you become a literary commodity; which can be so disconnecting.  But don’t get me wrong: I’m rooting for you.

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