Paperback writer

Once, when I was a much younger and more callow man, I was sitting with friends over dinner at one of those restaurants that has brown wrapping paper covering the table as well as crayons for decorative activities. Someone said, “Let’s write down what we want in life.” Various declarations were made: marriage, money, good health. I wrote “Fame.” Looking back, it was a foolish and immature ambition.
The closest I ever got to fame was the 1998 publication of The Eatons: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Royal Family. Canada’s most famous department store had gone bankrupt and I wrote the authoritative book, beginning with founder Timothy Eaton and going all the way to the young fifth-generation family members who were working in the stores at the end. “You own that story,” said the late arts and culture authority Peter Herrndorf at the time when he was chairman and CEO of TVOntario.
While mine was never the fame of Margaret Atwood, who has become unavoidable, it was as close as I got. And you know what? There isn’t much chance of fame for most authors, including me. Books have a shelf life somewhere between milk and yogurt.
Where do book ideas come from? When Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, was asked how she chose one idea over another among the many possibilities presented at any given story meeting, she replied, “My nipples get hard.”
My physical reaction was usually a little lower down; a good idea literally hits me in the gut. For example, while holidaying in rural France in August 1994, by sheer chance I happened to stop at a newsstand where a page one headline in the Financial Times leapt out: the Canadian government had seized Confederation Life. Without reading further, I knew immediately that was my next book. Who Killed Confederation Life? won the National Business Book Award.
As it turned out, my failure to find fame didn’t matter a hoot because I discovered something I hadn’t realized was possible during that earlier time in the restaurant. I found the pure, unadulterated joy in the very act of writing itself: word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, rewrite by rewrite. And, as time rolls on, you discover that you need not retire from writing. Writing never abandons you. Fame may be fleeting but writing is forever.

2 Responses

  1. KKPapp says:

    You probably achieved greater fame than you know; it’s really hard to measure. To me, what resonates most is that your joy of writing comes through word by word, sentence by sentence…. post by post. Please keep writing!

  2. Leanne Kay says:

    I also write. But I write lists. Grocery lists, shopping lists, Costco lists, things I need to do to-morrow, people we have entertained and what we served them, Christmas gifts and Christmas cards sent and received, birthdays, jobs that need to be done, phone calls that need to be made, etc. My writing doesn’t bring me fame, but it sure brings satisfaction. (Hilary is also a list maker, but she always puts in a few things she has already done, so she can check them off.)
    I enjoy reading your Musings, and yes, I have a copy of your book on the Eatons. Miss Cowie would be proud.
    Hope this note finds you and yours happy and healthy,

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