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Writing Wednesday: On Art & Commerce

June 15, 2011

So last week I was writing about motivation and what fuels you to get through a story.  Then a couple weeks before this entry posts, I was walking by the river and I thought to myself:  You know what I want?  I WANT TO GET PAID!!!

Typically we bash people who want to get paid, calling them sell-outs and worse.  When Alex Rodriguez abandoned the Mariners to become the highest-paid player in baseball for the Texas Rangers, he was viewed negatively, especially when he couldn’t single-handedly (or both-handedly since you really need two hands to play baseball) get them into the playoffs.  In the art world, various authors, directors, etc have been labeled as “sell outs” for doing something more commercial.  Yours Truly has probably lobbed the sell out tag a few times, including in the “Must Be the Money” blog entry where I used it against Bret Easton Ellis and others who write sequels long after the fact.

But if the Tea Party has taught us anything, America is all about grabbing as much cash as you can, even if that means old people and kids die in the streets.  Selling out is your patriotic duty as an American!  (Unless you’re a government union employee; then you should just work for free.)

This isn’t about politics, though.  This is about me justifying being a sell out.  In my case I think I already wrote one damned fine “literary” book which didn’t make me a millionaire.  Is it wrong then to want to do something more “commercial” and actually get paid enough to buy a tank of gas?  I’m saying no.

Now the exception is if you’ve already made a bunch of money from your “literary” books then doing something commercial is just selling out.  In my March Madness book/author tourneys I ragged the shit out of author Michael Chabon because after he won the Pulitzer he’s done nothing but write more commercial books (kids, thrillers, nonfiction, Spider-Man 2 movie) but he’s already made his bones not just with books but for instance selling the movie rights of books like “Wonder Boys” for a cool million or so.  (How much of that he’s actually getting I don’t know.)  Anyway, the point there is he’s making decent money so there’s no need to write commercial junk when you’re oh so good at doing “literary” stuff.

My situation I’d say is more like an indie film director who’s done some well-regarded films and then gets offered a big superhero or horror studio film.  Should he turn it down because it’s not “art”?  I’m saying no because he’s already done the art stuff so his “legacy” is probably secure even if this big studio movie completely sucks.  Why not get paid?

It reminds me of when I was reading Ingrid Bergman’s biography years ago.  The book mentioned in the ’60s or so she played a supporting role in “The Mixed Up Files of…[something or other]” and the book questioned why a highly-regarded actress, one of the best of her generation, would do that.  The very candid answer was that the studio offered a shitload of money for a small amount of work.  So, why not?  Even if that movie sucked, it wouldn’t make people forget great films like “Casablanca,” “Notorious,” and “Anastasia.”

So there you go, sometimes it’s OK to sell out.  Now the problem for me is figuring out just how to sell out.  My problem has always been that even when I try to do more commercial ideas I screw it up somehow so that no one’s interested.  Selling out and not getting paid for it really blows, I tell you whut.

And actually to refer back to Mr. Offutt’s post on James Frey and I Am Number Four, if he came along and offered me that deal, I’d probably do it.  But I’d probably screw it up.

Anyway, if anyone has any great commercial ideas they need someone to write for them, I am available!  I also do birthday parties and bar mitzvahs!

Friday is a sequel to an entry on sequels…


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  1. LOL! Well, at least you know where your priorities are. 😉

  2. With regard to the sellout…I am torn. Part of me hates them and part of me realizes that this is America and I want money too. If I could sell out, I would. I think everyone feels this way. If you don’t…you’re stupid. Money is all that matters in capitalist America. There are very few people in life that get any satisfaction before they die that cannot be attributed to money. I’m sure Mr. James “Pittacus Lore” Frey is constantly on the lookout for new people. His company is called Full Fathom Five, LLC. I did a google search to see if I could turn up some contact information for you but alas, I could not. Writer’s Market or some other source might have contact info for you and then you could send some work his way and he (or an assistant) could tell you if it sucks or not.

    • It would really destroy my self-esteem if I were rejected by Pittacus Lore. That’s like a painter being told they aren’t good enough to paint velvet Elvii!

  3. I’d sell out in a heartbeat, I made that choice long ago. This reminds me of… whatsisname from the Amadeus movie. He got everything he wanted in life, being one of the most respected musicians in the world, but was consumed by jealousy upon recognizing Mozart’s genius. The guy was a moron.

    Me, I think that I’d much rather live the life of whatshisface than Mozart. I don’t care how much I’m adored after I’m dead. I’d be dead! Give me glory now. I don’t care if future generations think I’m a hack.

    I figure, if I get it in my craw to do something literary and memorable, I can squeeze it in between my novels about Space Ninja’s and Subterranean Mutant Raves.

    • Salieri was his name. The fact you can’t remember his name would only piss him off more. I only know that because I finally watched “Amadeus” a couple weeks ago. Good movie except they needed a better actor for Mozart.

      But yeah, if they aren’t reading my book 100 years from now, big whoop. Chances are either no one will be alive in 100 years or no one will be able to read, so whatever, live fast, die young, eat, drink, and be merry and all that stuff.

  4. There is no afterlife. There is only the now. I’m atheist so when I’m dead I’m nothing but decayed matter that used to be alive. I could give a shit at that point if no one reads anything of mine. Give me money, sex, and fun while I’m alive.

  5. pk hrezo permalink

    It’s hard not to sell out at some point if you’re that big of a name. Peeps wanna pay you, and why refuse in the name of art? Especially if you do something really good with the money.

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