First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of a writer who called his books "the chewing gum of American literature." That's crime novelist Mickey Spillane (books by this author), born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn (1918). His Irish father was a bartender, and Spillane grew up in a tough neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He worked odd jobs, including as a lifeguard, circus performer, and salesman. He was selling ties at a department store when he met a coworker whose brother produced comic books, and he was convinced to try writing some himself. Spillane worked writing comic prose for a year, then left to join up with the Army Air Forces after Pearl Harbor. After the war, he returned to comics. He said, "I wanted to get away from the flying heroes and I had the prototype cop," so he invented a private eye hero named Mike Danger. Danger was a flop, so Spillane renamed him Mike Hammer and wrote a novel instead.
I, the Jury (1947) took him just three weeks to write, and it was an instant hit. He turned out more than 30 novels, most of them featuring Mike Hammer, including Kiss Me, Deadly (1952), The Girl Hunters (1962), Body Lovers (1967), and The Killing Man (1989). His novels were incredibly violent, usually ending with Hammer executing people. The critics panned Spillane, but he didn't care. He said, "Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar." He said he never had a character who drank cognac or had a mustache, because he didn't know how to spell those words. He said: "I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends." Spillane was incredibly popular - his books have sold more than 225 million copies.
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And there is this personal postscript:
Consider Mickey Spillane's comment -- "I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers." Moreover, I recall reading somewhere that Spillane claimed to be a writer rather than an author. The distinction is worth pondering.
All of this has me thinking quite a bit about the four Kindle purchases I made this morning: complete works of Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens.
I don't know what selections I will read in these collections, but I really could not resist the price -- zero -- so I eagerly became a "customer" even though I might not be a "fan" of the four authors.
Don't misunderstand me. In varying degrees of enthusiasm, I admire much about each author, but I am not whole-hearted in my endorsement of each author's "complete works".
Each is a very different writer (or is one or more an author?), and each -- according to literary critics -- can lay claim to having written (or authored) masterpieces. At the same time, each -- according to literary critics -- wrote (or authored) some substandard, perhaps even execrable pieces (i.e., Poe and Twain come to mind).
This leads me to different ways of looking at these four authors:
Why did each author write fiction? Austen's motivation does not seem to be the same as Poe's; Twain's motivation has much in common with Poe and Dickens; and, being more provocative, I would suggest that Twain and Dickens might be more like Spillane.
And at the root of the foregoing question is this question: did these people write in the pursuit of art, perhaps hoping for but not necessarily needing "fans," or did they write in pursuit of money and "customers"?
Oddly enough, the foregoing issues are much on my mind. Yes, I wonder why writers write. And I wonder why so many people are head-over-heels fans and customers of these writers.
Is all of the foregoing much ado about nothing? Am I bogged down in muddled musing? You tell me.