NYR iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Dave Astor

GET UPDATES FROM Dave Astor
 

Author! Author! (As Writer and Character)

Posted: 08/03/2012 12:42 pm

Authors often write what they know, so it's no surprise that many fictional characters are authors themselves.

It would take an 80,000-word "blog novel" to name all the books featuring writer protagonists, but I did want to mention some of the ones I've read and then hear some titles from you.

Given that novels usually need a narrative arc, many books with writer protagonists focus on those characters' struggles to become published authors. Will they succeed? Will they fail? Will some literary agents treat them dismissively? Will the sun rise in the morning? (Those last two questions have identical answers.)

One of the classics in the striving-author genre is Jack London's stellar Martin Eden (1908), which is more than a little autobiographical (the title's initials spell "me"). At the start of the book, Martin is a sailor who wants to write but isn't very good at it. Then he struggles and struggles to hone his craft while living in poverty until finally... well, the results for Eden's psyche are rather dramatic.

Another semi-autobiographical work of striving-author fiction is L.M. Montgomery's trilogy of Emily of New Moon (1923), Emily Climbs (1925) and Emily's Quest (1927). Fans of Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and The Blue Castle will find plenty of insight into the real-life L.M. in those three compelling, very readable books.

There are also aspiring authors in Adam Langer's seriocomic The Thieves of Manhattan (2010), as well as literary phonies who don't deserve their success. Langer skillfully skewers fake memoirs, pretentious writers, unlikable agents and driven-by-money-more-than-quality publishers.

Langer's seriocomic Ellington Boulevard (2008) -- which I think is one of the ten best novels since 2000 -- includes a secondary character who's a children's book writer.

Another secondary author character is novelist Pierre Sandoz in Emile Zola's The Masterpiece (1886). Sandoz -- a friend of struggling artist Claude Lantier, the book's protagonist -- is clearly a self-portrait of the hardworking Zola, and Lantier is partly based on Zola's real-life pal Paul Cezanne. Apparently, The Masterpiece ended that friendship.

Friendship is lacking in Stephen King's horror masterpiece Misery (1987), which has best-selling novelist Paul Sheldon end up in the clutches of the psychotic Annie Wilkes. Even harsh book reviews would seem painless in comparison!

Harsh book reviews were among the reasons the Adrian Ludlow character retired from writing books in David Lodge's novella Home Truths. Instead of being an aspiring author, Ludlow aspires not to be an author anymore.

There are also what might be called stealth-author characters. In Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle (1976), Joan Foster writes Gothic romance novels under an alias. And in Atwood's The Blind Assassin (2000), Laura Chase supposedly pens a novel before dying young, but was someone else actually the author?

Then there are fictional versions of real-life authors who appear in books by different authors. Among the examples of that are H.G. Wells in Karl Alexander's Time After Time (1979) and Mark Twain in Darryl Brock's If I Never Get Back (1990). Both protagonists, as might be expected, are part of (excellent) time-travel novels.

Obviously, I didn't mention countless other novels with author characters. What are some of your favorites?

---

Dave Astor's memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional (Xenos Press) has just been published! Signed copies are now available; if you'd like to buy one, contact Dave at dastor@earthlink.net. An Amazon listing is pending.

The part-humorous book is about Dave's 25 years at Editor & Publisher magazine covering, interviewing, and meeting notables such as Arianna Huffington, Heloise, Hillary Clinton, Walter Cronkite, Coretta Scott King, Martha Stewart, Paul Krugman, Ann Landers, and Abigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby"); and notable cartoonists such as Gary Larson ("The Far Side"), Lynn Johnston ("For Better or For Worse"), Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey"), Charles Schulz ("Peanuts"), Stan Lee ("Spider-Man"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Garry Trudeau ("Doonesbury"), Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County"), Scott Adams ("Dilbert"), Jim Davis ("Garfield"), Milton Caniff ("Terry and the Pirates"/"Steve Canyon"), and Herblock.

Comic (and Column) Confessional also chronicles changes in the media, discusses personal stuff, includes mentions of novelists, and more.

 
FOLLOW BOOKS