The Modern Day Writer Refuses To Die

(To paraphrase Edgar Varèse.)


Or, perhaps, Paul Simon: “The words of the mid-list authors are written on the subway walls.”

I fear that I’m about to rant, so some time ought be allotted to get small children, pets and those of a more delicate sensibility out of the room. OK? All right. You’ve been warned.

From the New York Times:

Arts, Briefly

Joe the Plumber Lands Book Deal

Compiled by DAVE ITZKOFF
Published: November 19, 2008

Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, the presidential campaign fixture and John McCain advocate better known as Joe the Plumber, won’t have to open his own plumbing business just yet: he has signed a deal to write “Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream.” PearlGate Publishing, a small publisher in Austin, Tex., announced the book on its Web site, The book, which will be written with Thomas N. Tabback (whose novel, “Things Forgotten,” was also published by PearlGate), will address Mr. Wurzelbacher’s ideas about American values, and is scheduled for release on Dec. 1. In an interview with Fox News Mr. Wurzelbacher said he could have signed a deal with a larger publisher. “But they don’t need the help,” Mr. Wurzelbacher said. “They are already rich. So that’s spreading the wealth to me.”

A version of this article appeared in print on November 20, 2008, on page C2 of the New York edition.

You read it right.

New York Magazine notes (on its blog):

Joe the Plumber Gets Book Deal

11/20/08 at 9:30 AM

Joe the Plumber, a.k.a. Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, the Ohio voter who became a celebrity in the last, heady weeks of the election, has signed a book deal with small, Texas-based publisher PearlGate Publishing. Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream, as it will be called, will “address Mr. Wurzelbacher’s ideas about American values,” according to the Times, and be co-written with Thomas N. Tabback, the author of a ridiculous-sounding Christian novel also published by PearlGate. The Times cites an interview with Fox News in which JTP said he could have gone with a larger publisher, “But they don’t need the help. They are already rich. So that’s spreading the wealth to me.” The book will be published December 1, an amazingly quick turnaround time, which indicates that probably Joe the Plumber doesn’t have a problem spreading the wealth to China, either.

Now, before I blow a gasket, let me take a moment to go just one step further and ask the question that neither the NYT or NY Mag asked: WHO is this Pearl Gate Publishing? (Or HERE, HERE and HERE.)

Well, according to the whois for

Tom Tabback
7932 Park Ridge Dirve
Fort Worth, Texas 76137
United States

Registered through:, Inc. (
Created on: 22-Dec-06

And, as nearly as can be told, they have published precisely ONE book.

Well, leaving aside the fact that the whois hasn’t been updated to reflect Tabback’s move to Austin, it’s pretty apparent that “Pearl Gate” publishing is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the guy who’s going to ghost-write (or co-write, or whatever) this fast-turnaround (astonishingly so) cash-in-on-media schlock.

In other words, Tabback decided to put himself on the media map by reflecting in Joe the Plumber’s sudden (and rapidly waning) celebrity.

Never mind that just about everything the guy ever said was a lie. Who cares? All the matters is Tee Vee time. I promise you, you won’t see much of Tabback when they flog the book on the TeeVee book circuit.

Here’s Tabback’s bio, from the Pearl Gate Publishing site:

Thomas N. Tabback

Thomas Tabback was born in North Carolina while his father was stationed with the Army at Fort Bragg. Later, his parents moved to Arizona where he grew up and discovered his passion for writing at an early age. When he was 12, he wrote his first short story and never put down the pen.

With his debut novel, Things Forgotten, Thomas ambitiously seeks to tell a story centered over 3200 years ago, the period of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan. It is a tale of the timeless struggle between good and evil, and the parallels between the lives of ancient peoples and those of us today. Together with his passion for ancient and biblical history, these are the themes which have shaped Thomas as a writer over the last two decades. His writing style is steeped in rich history and the essence of the human spirit, qualities that will surely linger with his readers.

Thomas and his wife of 13 years met and married while they worked a summer job at Universal Studios Hollywood. They now live in Austin, TX with their four children, where he writes amidst the beauty of the Hill Country. He is now writing the sequel to Things Forgotten, which he has already titled Rebellion. All he will say about it is that the journey has only just begun.

“where he writes amidst the beauty of the Hill Country.”

Deathless prose. No credits. This is someone who likes to write, and evidently knows a little something about marketing. But literary talent?

Nope. None needed. (I am not saying that Mr. Tabback has no literary talent. I haven’t read his prose. But in the formulation thus far, none is in evidence … because none is needed.)

Some wag put out a “book” via Lulu (a Publish on Demand site, like café press is for t-shirts) entitled “Sarah Palin Unleashed: The Wit and Wisdom of an American Icon” by Ferman Q. Hardleby. To give away the joke, it consists mainly of blank pages.




You see, writing is a TOUGH business. It is not an easy thing to master, and if you don’t believe me, then just try it some time.

Unfortunately, publishing — that is, putting the writer’s words on paper — is, increasingly, a stunt.

Writers need not apply. Aforementioned, we have two variants of the publisher’s carney tricks. Big publicity stunt and selling a book filled with nothing. (At least the pages are honestly blank, and might be used for actual thoughts, unlike a million “celebrity” books in this blighted age.)

A tyro writer’s (self) publishing company is going to co-write a non-writer and non-thinker’s “thoughts” in a cash-in-on-the-notoriety monstrosity entitled, tentatively Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream.

I doubt that even DC comics would pick up THAT title, even though it SOUNDS more like a comic book than a “book” book.

It’s a stunt. You get that? Joe the Plumber has nothing to say, as a writer — or, rather, any jerk in a bar is just as qualified. And his “ghost-writer”? Somebody who’s published his own “Left Behind” sort of fiction?

But that is what publishing has devolved into these days. ANYONE who has a “Q-rating” gets a “book deal.”

And then, like Joe the Plumber, or Sarah Palin, or Little Theodore Nugent can go on the talk radio circuit (helps to be a rightie, since there are few leftie radio outlets) and the TeeVee circuit and even get a “NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!”

And prance and preen that they’re a “bestselling” author.

And each and every time, they piss on my profession. Right there in public, in front of Gawd and Everybody, and no one calls them on it.

Because this is the Age of Paris Hilton.

(A bestselling “author,” natch.)

Things aren’t very good out here in writing land. My friend Joe Gandleman at The Moderate Voice writes, yesterday:

Continued Problems In Journalismland: AP To Cut 10 Percent Of Workforce

November 20th, 2008
By JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief

It has been said over and over by newspaper people recently that the newspaper biz ain’t what it used to be….and neither has the newsmagazine biz…and now it turns out neither is the wire service biz: the AP reportedly plans to trim its workforce by 10 percent:

Reuters quotes sources at AP who were present when AP Chief Executive Tom Curley delivered the news as part of a “town hall” meeting with employees. The cuts are said to be made to assist AP to cope “with tough financial times and ailing member newspapers.”

AP said in a statement that “All areas and ways of doing business are being reviewed. The AP, which recently instituted a strategic hiring freeze, may need to reduce staff over the next year. If so, it hopes to achieve much of the reduction through attrition.”

AP has made headlines this year as members have resigned or have considered doing so, including the Tribune Company.

No matter where you look, the industry is cutting back. Just a few instances:

*The venerable Christian Science Monitor, even with its heavy subsidization from its Church, will no longer be a paper newspaper but only an online newspaper.

*The San Diegio Union-Tribune here in San Diego, CA (my alma mater) is up for sale, limited buyouts were offered, and a slew of sometimes legendary newspaper people who got them or didn’t get them have left the building. Those who remain and didn’t get buyouts could eventually be laid off when the paper sells.

*Cutbacks are underway at the L.A. Times. The paper doesn’t look the same on Sunday: the paper used to have a world class Sunday opinion section. It is now a shadow of what it was (if it appears as a section anymore, or than two pages).

*Florida’s Palm Beach Post cut 300 positions this summer and is expected to axe 300 more by next year.

The overall business outlook for newspapers is similarly grim, according to one respected measure

It’s just as bad, if not worse, in authorland:

The confessions of a semi-successful author

I’ve published several books, won adoring reviews, and even sold a few copies. But I’ve made almost no money and had my heart broken. Here’s everything you don’t want to know about how publishing really works.

By Jane Austen Doe

“A midlist author is one whose books are well received but have failed to make a commercial breakthrough; whose work sells solidly but unspectacularly, who’s well known within the writing community but the majority of book buyers have never heard his name.”

— David Armstrong, “How Not to Write a Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author,” 2003

Reader Advisory: By the end of this story I will have broken the most sacred rules of modern authordom. I’ll tell you how much my publishers have paid me for the books I’ve written. I’ll tell you how many copies each of those books has sold. I’ll share with you some of the secrets, lies and euphemisms told to me by my publishers, editors, publicists and agents in their efforts to comfort, pacify and motivate me, and I’ll share some of the salient facts that make those secrets, lies and euphemisms such common industry currency….

And that may well be the reason that none of those magazines bothered finding out who Pearl Gate Publishing was: the publishing industry is one long scam of aliases, shell corporations, pseudonyms (trust me: I’ve written under over fifty), and sleight of hand, endlessly turning molehills into mountains, and résumé inflation the likes of which haven’t been seen since George W. Bush claimed to be qualified for the presidency.

And in this case, there is honor among thieves. They routinely ignore scams and anonymous sourcing as a sort of professional courtesy.

The point is that the realities delineated in the Salon piece, from 2004, haven’t changed much. If anything it’s only gotten worse. The publishers and the printers do anything to save THEIR profitable bottom line, and it’s beem mostly at the expense of the AUTHORS.

Who, increasingly are forced to publish themselves. Like Joe the Plumber’s new publisher/ghostwriter. Or Ferman Q. Hardleby’s book of blank pages (proving, I guess, porn producer Dave Friedman’s old maxim: give me a good box cover and I can sell BLANK tapes).

I covered the grim life of the modern author in my series on the suicide of Thomas Disch, in “A Failure of Decency,” “Hypatia and the Burning Library (pt. i),” and “Hypatia and the Burning Library (pt. ii)” (oh, all right, and the coda, “Who Killed Thomas Disch? A Solomonic Decision.”)

That last, by the by, was the classic case of the New Malaise of Idiosis: a family who’d inherited Manhattan real estate took Disch to court to evict him from his rent-controlled apartment because it was in the name of his recently deceased partner. The twins of that family, it should be noted, are in the “Celebrity Stakes” with appearances on the David Letterman Late Show, etc. Any societal notoriety (e.g. Paris Hilton, Joe the Plumber) counts for more than a life in letters.

You know, they’ve finally managed the Publisher’s Wet Dream: books without Authors. Just some vapid “celebutard” who can appear on the Tonight Show, and sign “autographs” — these days, usually a subliterate squiggle laid down with a Sharpie®

Yes. These are our new “authors.” The brave inheritors of American Letters, new holders of the mantle of Thoreau, Emerson, Poe, Melville, Hawthorne, Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Crane, London, Kerouac, Kesey and all the rest. None of whom had spellcheck, I will note — or needed it.

I remember being a young writer, and reading the interviews, as Twain and Hemingway stressed critical listening and the author’s ear. As George Plimpton’s marvelous Paris Review infiltrated the inner sanctum of the author’s discipline, the despair, the silent striving; the rejections, the grotesque edits, the ripoffs, the endless odd and menial work that the writer takes — both to sustain him, and to afford him the research that his fiction will spring from.

All for naught.

When years of striving to master one’s craft is trumped by a celebrity raving into a microphone, editing the transcripts and slapping a cover on the (printed in China) book … when the cheap acid paper will turn yellow(er) and crumble within a few years (or, nearly as long as the overnight sensation has lain unread by anyone since that first, media-strategized spike in sales, timed to the week, like any other cheap horror movie in the mega-corporation’s inventory) … when a million blogs spew a billion words, almost all as empty and greedy as Joe the Plumbers’ or Paris Hilton’s (I ask you, how is SHE qualified to “write” her memoirs? And yet she did.) … when writing has ceased as all but an avocation for community college instructors of English, where is Letters?

Where is literacy?


And, without literacy, can democracy survive? We know that an Empire, like Rome, or Great Britain, or the Ottoman or the Persian can flourish without literacy. All had, at times, 2% literacy rates and ran just fine.

But the American Revolution was fueled by a literacy rate of over 90% in the Colonies, with a 92% literacy rate for WOMEN in Massachusetts. Jefferson thought that democracy could not exist without literacy.

Can we imagine that Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” could be read by a majority of the population? In the Colonies of 1776, as many people read that pamphlet, proportionately, as have watched ANY Superbowl. Language drives our democracy, and GOOD language becomes, in that context, vital.

But when we are presented this endless parade of grinning golems, representing a publisher who manufactures celebrity books the way that meatpackers manufacture sausages, can we truly say there’s such a thing as literacy?

And, when over 50% of the population thought that the “Theory of Evolution” was wrong and suspect, during the height of the Bushian Jihad, can we truly suggest that “education” as envisioned by the Founding Fathers (sons of the Enlightenment, as they all were) hasn’t completely broken down and mired in the foul muck of ignorance and superstition?

You know: Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free? How can we have self-rule when the majority of Americans don’t have the slightest clue as to how our government actually works?


In the final analysis, the only freedom that can be obtained absolutely is the freedom of the mind. But, without access to the great ideas, with only access to mediocre and irrational ideas, we become slaves of wretched ignorance: the full citizens of an idiocracy.

Ogg want McNuggets.

Language is the mother of all tools, and the single most valuable tool that we own. All law is language. All politics is language. Everything from cookbooks to the most exalted poetry requires language. And, as we debase our language, we debase that freedom of the mind.

And we end up with bloody ideological battles over Sarah Palin trivialities like this, cross-linked across the Atlantic Ocean in a high-tech miracle of utter banality over banality.

And we must remember that spoken language is inferior to written language, in subtlety and ability to express complex and nuanced thought. Spoken language may express mood and feeling better, but written language is the basis of our civilization — which is why there is something fundamentally perverse about putting our WRITERS on television as talking heads. The ability to speak glibly and personably is not related in the least to the ability to write exceptionally, and to put thoughts together elegantly.

The writer on television is a very pallid example of the mind behind the written words, and does both writing and talking-head punditry a profound disservice. Worse: writing requires a contemplative state, a calming of the roiling torrents of thought engendered by the deluge of data streaming into the writer’s mind, and a thoughtful distillation of meaningful thought. TeeVee glibness merely requires a loquacity essentially bereft of stammer, stutter and the endless invocation of that mantrum of clarity: Uhhh.

That we can find a few writers with both gifts is unsurprising, but it creates the false impression that mere glibness equals insightful essay. Nothing could be further from the truth.


A good example of idiocracy showed up today on the junk news show “Inside Edition” when the new Ashley Simpson baby made the celebutard news (since a celebrated person dropping foal is somehow considered “news”), with the hoo-haw jibe that it was a typically celebrity “bizarre” name: Bronx Mowgli [last name of Ashley Simpson’s husband or hyphenate of same].

Showing a standard green “Bronx” highway sign was the visual explanation of the first name, but the middle name, Mowgli, was explained as the name of that hero of “Walt Disney’s” The Jungle Book (with footage from same.

No, goddamit! It was Rudyard Freaking Kipling that wrote the freaking Jungle Book stories. But TeeVee morons don’t know or don’t care, thinking the audience of “Inside Edition” to be morons and knowing that the only way they could relate to “Mowgli” was via an animated cartoon bowlderized and sanitized from the Kipling tales. And they may well be right, of course. But this is subliteracy and bastardization of thought in spades, like virtually all of the “reality” shows and the “game” shows that currently take the place of old, literate television, like, say, “The Twilight Zone,” or “Star Trek” or even “Perry Mason,” which were written by real writers, using actual English with genuine, honest-to-gosh IDEAS behind them.

Now, Thomas Disch is abused by smug imbeciles on internet talk radio, but Paris Hilton gets to plug her book on David Letterman. No one in the world would suggest that Paris Hilton was a superior author to Thomas Disch, of course, but only one of them went off after their interview and blew their brains out with a revolver.

On the Fourth of July.


Remember, we live in a country in which 90% of all TV weathercasters cannot properly pronounce “temperature” or “February.” I mean, when all you do is the freakin’ weather, a failure to master the months of the year and the term that you use MOST OFTEN in weathercasting bespeaks an horrific stupidity.

Of course, it could be worse: they could be sportscasters.*

[* Q: What do you call somebody who likes to hang out with reporters?

A: A sports writer.]

You see, during those long imperial years, there may have been only fractional literacy of an acute minority, but the literate were the ones in charge. During the pre-Civil War period, teaching a slave to read carried with it a death sentence — for the slave, not necessarily the one who TAUGHT reading.

Because reading is power. And as we lose reading, lose authors, lose the discipline of writing, our freedom is lost as well: Mad Queen Paris Hilton ruling from throne set on a mountain of skulls. Abraham Lincoln only had a grade-school education, but taught himself by reading. Now, could any high school senior READ the Gettysburg Address (or, the magnificent first and second inaugurals), let alone WRITE anything that approaches the grandeur of Lincoln’s prose?

We used to take pride in being well-read and well-spoken. Now, we seem to prefer rank stupidity — else how do you explain Sarah Palin’s celebrity AFTER she got caught vamping on questions that she clearly didn’t have a CLUE as to their answers? As the comic Ron White observes, you cain’t FIX stupid.

But Sarah Palin is in line, according to several reports for a $7 million book deal. For a book that she WILL NOT WRITE. Just as Joe the Plumber will not write HIS book. And We, the People are to blame for the auctorial success of the morons and the suicide of the gifted authors.

As we do not support good writing and eschew BAD writing, we slit our own throats by slow degree. Still …

Grieve not for me. Do not feel sorry for us. Mourn, instead, the civilization and culture that is increasingly separated from your experience. Mourn for the constant, hypnotic drone of the TeeVee talking heads, as writers strive to be “celebrities” on the news shows, thus, upping their Q-Rating and turning them into ever-more sought after “writers.”

It pains me to see writers of subtlety and nuance turned into organ-grinder monkeys, dancing an improvised stand-up comedy schtick for the amusement of rude and interrupting host “journalists.”

This is what a writer can aspire to?

Oh brave new world that has such people in it.

Brave, maybe, but never free. At least not in the way that counts.


We literary critics look forward with bated breath to that grand tome to soon emerge from the protean genius that is Joe the Plumber. And, a little later, from Sarah the Palin.



crossposted from his vorpal sword

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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