Since we seem to be on a kick about my career today, this question from J:
Me and my friend were discussing the type of fame you have, and we decided you have the perfect type of fame. You are unlikely to be mobbed in the streets, however, at certain places (ConFusion, for example, we were on our way there when we had this discussion), you are among the most famous, most recognized, and most well-respected people in the room. Do you agree that this is the perfect fame level, or would being just a little bit more, or even a little bit less, famous suit you better?
Well, before we begin, let us note that to answer a question like this, I have to dispense with any usual mode of modesty. We’re all agreed about that? Good. Let’s begin.
And to begin, J pretty much exactly pegs my level of fame. I am famous in a very constrained and limited way, to a small number of people, who have to go to a certain place at a certain time in order to see me at all: usually a science fiction convention or a book signing. Outside these constrained and limited circumstances, I am distinctly unfamous; indeed, as a late-thirties balding man of modest height, weight and physical attractiveness, I am practically invisible to anyone under the age of 30, and visible to anyone over that age only to the extent that they have to walk around me, or have to have some limited amount of social interaction with me as we stand in a line or some such. Since I’ve been a published author, I have never been recognized by someone unknown to me outside a convention or book signing. And even at conventions, I often go unrecognized, partly because that famously scowly picture of me in my novels gives people the impression that I’m a six-foot, four-inch serious badass, instead of the five-foot, eight-inch goofball that I actually am.
The level of fame I have isn’t actually fame; at best, it’s notability, which means a small chunk of humans know what I do and among them I’m recognized (or my name is, anyway). In my case, I’m known in science fiction circles and in blog circles. Where fans and cognoscenti of both media congregate, I’m occasionally a topic of conversation. Were I to get hit by a bus tomorrow, I’d get a write-up in Locus and Boing Boing and possibly the Dayton Daily News (“Area Author Flattened”).
And this suits me just fine. When I was younger, I wanted to be famous — that is, “people recognizing you in the supermarket”-level famous — and then I actually met people who were that famous, and after a while you notice that it’s actually a hell of a burden and you start to feel sorry for them, despite their celebrity. Really famous people can’t, in fact, go to the supermarket without being accosted, can’t eat at a restaurant with the expectation that they’ll get through the whole meal unmolested, and can’t walk down the street without some idiot texting Gawker about it. Then there are the starfuckers, stalkers, passive-aggressive grovelers, and so on and so forth. Yes, you get to be famous, but you also lose a lot of your life. That seems to be the deal, in any event.
At this point in my life, even if I wanted to be that famous, I doubt I could actually manage it. For one thing, I’m too old; all the really famous people these days started being famous in their early twenties, when they still had hair and/or perky breasts, neither of which I have. For another thing, I’m in the wrong line of work; the genuinely famous in our culture are actors and musicians. There are famous writers, to be sure, but with the exception of four or five megasellers (Rowling, King, Rice, Grisham) their fame accrues to their name, not their face. You could stand next to a best-selling author and not even know it, even if you were reading their book when you were doing it (trust me on this one).
For a final thing — and this is really the key — I don’t want that level of fame. When I did my book tour last year, I had a hell of a lot of fun getting up in front of people and signing books and meeting readers and fans, and when my two hours were done, I was spent. I wanted to hide in my hotel room and not see anyone. When I go to a convention, by the Sunday afternoon of the convention, no matter how much of a good time I’ve had, I am done – I want to go away and be alone and not be on. I am fairly extroverted and socialized for a writer, but eventually I want you all to disappear. And if I was really famous, you all would never go away. This is why celebrities eventually crack up, you know. There’s only so long you can be a monkey on display before you start throwing your poo at people.
So, yes, J: I do have just about the perfect type of “fame” for my own sanity and ego. I’m glad you noticed.
(there’s still time to ask questions for Reader Request Week 2008: Post your question here.)