Writers, who do you hate?

Recently, my good professorial friend invited me to speak to her English comp classes at the University of Delaware.

I visited three classes in rapid succession, each in a different building on this pretty campus, and as we walked from building to building, my friend and I brainstormed some ways to fine-tune the class time, and we decided that since a Q&A seemed to work best, we’d devote the bulk of the final class to that.  There were a lot of good questions of the flavor I’d been expecting, stuff like “where do you get your ideas” and “how do you get out of writer’s block” and “how do you find time to write,” etc. etc.  By the time we reached the last class, I was feeling almost like an old hand at the game.

So in the last class, I had a few back-and-forths with the students and started to gauge the pulse of the room.  Smooth sailing.  One student asked me to name an author I loved, and I went on a little about Rudyard Kipling.  Then, right after that, a guy nearly stumped me with a question I’d never expected: “what author do you hate?”

What did he mean by “hate”?  As in, professional jealousy?  We’d just covered the fact that writing isn’t the best way to make money, so is he referring to more successful writers?  While I stalled to think, I figured I’d troll the room.  I’d guessed from the discussion that a lot of them enjoyed Stephanie Meyer, so I gently joked about her a little. (I don’t think it went over well.)

My real answer was this: I don’t hate anybody.  I don’t think “hating” writers, or their work, is germane to my own work or to a discussion about writing as a whole. There are authors out there with huge visibility, who get lambasted with criticism over the quality of their work, but that’s the nature of the beast.  With more exposure comes more fans and also more criticism.  But that doesn’t make an author any less successful, and I applaud anyone who reaches that kind of success.  I’m not in this as a race against anybody; I’m only racing myself and a ticking clock.  I don’t believe in nursing hatred, or in fanning jealousy, or any other pitiable, self-absorbed behavior.  I believe in celebrating someone’s success, in fostering community, and in taking inspiration from someone else’s triumphs to make myself work all that much harder.

I hoped that answered his question with some semblance of grace.

And then I somehow launched into this diatribe about predatory contracts and told them the story of that time James Frey went shelling out his shitty sharkish deals to unsuspecting MFA students.

But after some reflection, I think the student who posed the question probably just meant whose work don’t I like reading.  To answer that, I’m not really sure.  If I don’t like reading somebody’s work, I just don’t read it.  This equitable practice makes for a less grumpy Hildey.

(There was that one time I slogged through 50 Shades of Grey, but that’s another story…)

Roger Ebert passed away yesterday after a battle with cancer.  Salon reprinted an article of his; it is cogent and beautiful, and like many reflections on the nature of death, is one of those bright flashes that lets you achieve mental escape velocity from the daily grind, if only for just a moment.  Read it here.

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