We all have our lists of Great Ideas. And, no matter what agent Don Maass thinks, we're not always bubbleheads when we pitch a new book as our best. But another list claims my attention today: Great Impossible Ideas.
Imagine, for example, a TV show called American (Wr)Idol. Or So You Think You Can Write. Or The (Inner) Voice. That's right, a sizzling reality show that brings the same excitement to the writing business as the others to singing or dancing. We could start with a montage of lead contestants training (perched for hours at their desks...taking long walks on the beach...filling trash cans with rewrites and bottles of booze...etc.). Then we'd move briskly along to the auditions for auditions: writers working for weeks on their queries which net them form rejections: 'Promising but too pitchy'...'You write well in places but--well, not for us.'...Onward to the Main Event: the final 12 who make it to full manuscript reads by top agents...And on.
That has Hit all over it, just the thing for Simon Cowell. But it will never come about. And so my mind keeps turning to another show that does exist...one that has far darker ties to the writing trade. This appalling show is:
Season after season, Survivor portrays the overthrow of the strong and decent by weak, conniving s.o.b.'s. Alliances are made, gaining the numbers required to boot the good-looking, the charming, the buff. Bold-faced contestants lie and scheme against their closest on-show friends while assuring us all in dramatic asides that, hey, this is only a game. In one unforgettable show, a lovely Asian girl salvaged a friend's bottom teeth from the deep, then gave up her family reunion reward so the others could meet with their own kin. This poor kid was then voted out because she was too likable to beat in the show's final vote!
The most infamous Villain on the show, so far, is Russell Hanz--a millionaire oilman who insists that he is 'completely honest' in all his dealings outside the game.
On the show, at least, Hanz proved to be a holy terror: a Machivellian bully capable of bitch-slapping a whole tribe to his steely will. The look on his face when he found himself aced by a "dumb" innocent blonde was almost worth the anguish of having watched him for twelve weeks. And every now and then a player you don't want to spit on wins. Still, I've stopped watching Survivor because I see the game daily at work. There, no-talent bumpkins band into cliques, battling for promotions by voting their foes off the island: shunned or, better, unemployed. Then, of course--Survivor style--they begin smearing their allies.
It's the way of the world, some might tell us--as it's always been and will be. Should it be any different with art? Don't look too closely and you might conclude that the patron saint of writers is our old friend, Jeff Probst:
Here's Jeff with some squirming treats for those who've secretly trashed friends and foes, then gone on to dump allies no longer of use.
Literary politricks isn't something we like to discuss. It exists. But the part of us that recoils from it is the better part. There should be something nobler to any artistic alliance than the spirit of a game show. Are true alliances reciprocal? In the positive sense of the word, sometimes yes. But not on a tit-for-tat basis. Not payback but Paying it Forward. Moreover, true alliances aren't formed for the sake of convenience.
There's no need for us to vote anyone else off the island. No need to steal or burn anyone's rice. If we see writing as a procession dating back thousands of years, our chances are better for staying on course. In this procession, we all stand behind and before, driven by our ruling values, not treats. And our best allies aren't favor factories--but those who share our commitment to putting our values to work.
So thanks, Jeff, but I'll pass on the chance to slime my allies or myself. And while I write I'll play some tunes by American Idol's top Losers:
In closing, as an example of a true alliance at work: Lynne Garner, of Authors Electric, recently wrote of her successful posting of "a small album of images" on her hedgehogs Facebook page. Within hours the page had 23 new Likes and went on to reach 11.2K people. With thanks to Lynne--I owe her one--I post my own candidate for Best Hedgehog Photo:
And here's the post to Lynne's terrific post on successful use of social media: