This post title doesn’t refer to writers who have become celebrities—Stephen King, John Grisham, J.K. Rowling, and the like—nor does it refer to celebrities who have books that come out under their own name but were actually written by someone else—those books with celebrities’ names printed in big type on the cover, often autobiographies, motivational-type books, or even novels, and the smaller type “With” someone else who actually wrote the book. No, this is more about celebrities who are truly writers in their own right, such as Steve Martin and Ethan Hawke.
I have not read the books of Steve Martin and Ethan Hawke, but I have read some of Martin’s writings in the New Yorker, and they were pretty good and definitely worthy of being in a major publication. I remember when I first read them back in the 1990s, I had to double check to make sure this was the Steve Martin, that wild and crazy guy, and not someone else with the same name. I think I groaned a bit when I heard that Ethan Hawke published a novel, but I later learned it seemed like a genuine effort of his, and he published a second one a few years after that. I imagine Hawke’s novels are probably decent if undistinguished reads, similar in quality and subject matter to a lot of stuff that’s out there and probably better than the standard fiction bestsellers. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s the case.
Of course, those of us struggling to make a name for ourselves as writers have to wonder, what do published writers Steve Martin and Ethan Hawke have that I don’t have? They have their names, for one, as well as access to the best agents and connections. All right, sure. Do they possess superior writing ability? Not necessarily. If both were unknowns, they might be in the same boat as the rest of us who write. We’re all fighting to get our names recognized, but it’s a difficult task with so many unknowns out there. I think most of us would like to hit the big time on our own writing merits, certainly, but we also wouldn’t mind if we had some other legitimate angle that gave us that extra nudge.
For me, I’m not concerned about the seemingly great injustice of celebrities getting book deals while the rest of us toiling writers collect piles of rejections and live unrecognized. I can live with that and the capitalist notion that recognizable names on covers sell books. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. Actually, it’s kind of fun to think that someone like Steve Martin might be sitting in front of a computer right now, doing what I’m doing, thinking of the right way to phrase an idea, wondering if he’s using the right word. At such a moment, we’re equals.