Confessions of a Useless Complainer — A Special Guest Column by Jane Austen Powers Doe

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Jane Austen Powers Doe, now in therapy, had several additional things she hoped to say after her Salon article. Since I was still on hiatus, and since Ms. Doe threatened to send me a new email every hour, complaining about some new inanity, until I published her followup article, and since I’ve had absolutely no luck with any spamblock software, the only solution was to get her to shut up by posting her followup. Also, at Ms. Doe’s request, I have added a second middle name. Apparently, the Salon staff wanted to narrow it down to one bad cultural joke. Unfortunately, here at RotR, we have to live with two. I hereby post the followup article and continue my hiatus.]

“Midlist authors are, quite frankly, people who should shut their traps. Most of them realize this and maintain a quiet indignity. Many of them are understandably annoyed by their failure to break through into commercial markets, but they are so far involved with the writing racket that they realize it’s ineluctable, and a lot better than working at Starbucks to boot. Which is not to suggest that they’re not working part-time jobs. The worst cases, however, not only fail to appreciate their privilege (notwithstanding lack of lucre), but feel the need to write about it in a whiny anonymous essay.” — David Armstrong, “How Not to Quote Me Out of Context,” 2004, unpublished.

Reader Advisory: Perhaps I did not warn you enough in the other article, but it is my hope to caution you sufficiently this time around. Be forewarned. This essay is worthless to almost anyone outside of reading and writing circles. I’ve broken every unspoken law of decency. I’m complaining about a life just outside every failed or unpublished writer’s reach. I’m also going through a midlife crisis right now and I’m on the brink of a divorce. And Salon didn’t quite understand that publishing a Dave Eggers political satire isn’t the way to revive interest. So they were looking for any sign of misery they could muster.

Unfortunately, they rejected my followup article. They figured that two articles by me were enough. Fortunately, my blackmail scheme has worked and you will hear my complaints, sans sotto voce.

Still with me? Great. I can see you enjoy reading the memoirs of self-absorbed dormice.

I won’t dare reveal who I am. But let’s just say that trying to proposition Michael Chabon was a bad idea. How was I supposed to know that he was happily married? And to a nice attorney-turned-writer to boot! He was actually quite nice about it, and gave me the names of a few authors who would be interested in a quid pro quo that would help my career. At least I think it was Michael. It might have been that scruffy guy who asked me for a smoke just after Michael kicked me out of his house. Of course, Michael was nice about that too. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Think you can figure me out? I’m pretty confident you won’t. Of course, this raises a conundrum. If I’m trying to be candid about the publishing industry and my history as a writer, how can you separate the truth from the fabricated details? We all know the old axiom that writers are, by their very nature, liars. On what imprimatur can a case be made that I’m even a novelist?

Interlude: Edward Champion Emails Me Back

“Will you stop emailing me Word files of your unpublished manuscript and naked JPEGs of yourself? Especially those shots of you at the Colma cemetery. Really! I’m flattered, but I’m not interested. Sorry. I have very specific ways to take care of this part of my life. Besides, don’t you have a marriage to save? Would it help matters if I published your addendum? THEN will you leave me alone?”

The Story

Well, as you all know, Mr. Champion published me. The closest thing to oral sex that I could get from the guy.

Beyond that, there’s the history of the article. I tried to pitch Talbot on an article for their sex section. How does a midlist writer kill time when her husband’s away? What are the many thing she does to not write? And how does her relentless kvetching alienate her from the other people in her life?

Talbot thought it would be better if I narrowed in on more “writerly” things, and suggested the “confessions” approach, seeing as how the Who is Belle de Jour? thing was really big right now. And so here we are.

First off, there’s the David Armstrong quote to address. When I quoted Armstrong initially, it was with the idea that more people would purchase copies of Less than Kind. But even Armstrong had to confess that his book-length confession was more of a deft publishing scam than anything else. In one single stroke, he could draw attention to his previous books and sell a publisher on a niche book.

I decided to approach Armstrong for the article. But Chabon had contacted him and told him a number of deceptions and vicious lies. Furthermore, Armstrong’s name was not on the list that Michael the guy outside of Michael’s house had given me. So he was dead set against seeing me.

What more could I do then but quote his book?

Another thing: Salon hoped that the other anonymous writers would get you to buy into my mostly fictitious story. Well, I made them up too. Never mind the recent news of Jack Kelley, whose fabrications make Jayson Blair look like a harmless cub reporter.

There is, of course, no way to corroborate all this. Lies in a mainstream publication are okay when you’re anonymous.

When they say: “Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair’s books haven’t sold.”

What that means: “They haven’t heard from a novelist.”

When they say: “Aren’t these longass articles detracting from your writing?”

What that means: “Come on, the media environment is self-referential ad nauseam.”

There Was a Time

There was a time, just a decade ago, when articles dealing with the publishing industry would be devoted to more substantial topics. There was a time when the self-entitlement and the collective narcissism of a nation didn’t spill over into the world of writers, when most writers understood that they weren’t in this for the cash and they wouldn’t become rich doing what they loved.

Those times are over.

I’m happy to have done my job and burned a few more bridges in the process.


  1. Exactly. As an unemployed schlub, sitting here with no prospects beyond corporate indentured servitude with minimal compensation and no health benefits, all I could think as I was reading that Salon article, no matter how bad she made things sound, was, “That’s what I want! I want that! I’ll trade, I’ll trade!”

    Or perhaps her article was another one of those, “All aspiring writers should stop trying, right now,” kind of things.

  2. Well, what better way to take out the competition than frightening the aspiring? Oddly enough, this is an approach not dissimilar from current governmental procedure.

  3. Rasputin, why not start a small business. It is tough and you still probably won’t be able to afford health insurance, but its worth it.

    On the other hand, I understand a bit more everyday why Muslims want to see the liberal West burn. Then again, I don’t have much use for decadence or Muslim extremists.

    fooid is such basic emotion and death is such a philosopic concept

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