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A Writer's Dilemma

A Writer's Dilemma

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Published by George Pollock
As a college student with a book contract, Billy Stone finds acceptance among proper people. But he asks: Who are they? Don't they know that he is not one of them? He is told, brutally, that everything he has written stinks.
As a college student with a book contract, Billy Stone finds acceptance among proper people. But he asks: Who are they? Don't they know that he is not one of them? He is told, brutally, that everything he has written stinks.

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Published by: George Pollock on Mar 29, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/08/2014

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George Pollock State KidIssue 55
A Writer's Dilemma
Billy now began leading a jaunty social life, seeing Vera almost daily, but also meetingmany new people on campus. At first, he came into contact mostly with students, but veryquickly, in an ever-widening circle, he branched out to their families and friends and thento friends of friends.The emancipated jailbird couldn't get enough of the free life.Social invitations rained upon him. People invited him into their homes, families andlives. It seemed like every home he entered as an invited guest was full of light, warmth,music, art and blessed by a surplus of time and money -- and, above all, family.As powerfully as he was drawn to this lotus land, however, it was also alien to him.Where was the hate, the danger, the powerlessness and the struggle without cease? Therewas something else, too, a feeling that he tried to ignore, but which persisted and gnawedat him -- of being an outsider. Despite all the smiles and warmth directed toward him, hewas still what he was. Which was not one of them.Didn't his mannered hosts with their finely cultivated tastes and expectations know that?Didn't they understand that he was from a dark and brutal world beyond their imaginations? Didn't they realize what they had let into their homes and subjected their loved ones to? He wanted to rip off his mask and say what was really on his mind.
What am I doing here? What do you want from me? Do you think I am one of you? Well, I am not and never will be. I will never stop reminding you that you do not deserve your  privileged life any more than I deserved my non-privileged one. In other words, we areenemies. But we don't have to be; the choice is yours.
One person on campus understood this perfectly -- Dr. Allan Kurlan, of unhappyexperience as an object of Billy Stone's attentions. Several times their paths crossed andeach time Dr. Kurlan avoided eye contact with his young antagonist. The professor wastalking to a lawyer about filing charges against Billy for assault as well as suing. Billyexpected as much and was already into preemptive mode.***Having received permission to monitor summer classes, he showed up in the front row of Dr. Kurlan's freshman psychology class subtitled “When Kids Go Wrong,” and engagedhim in ferocious debate. Repeatedly, Billy sprung to his feet and, in a voice of barelyconcealed rage, challenged the professor:“How do you know?”“What is your source? ““What you say is contrary to direct experience, mine.”And so on.
 
The surprise attacks, together with their power, threw the normally urbane and supremelyconfident professor on the defensive. Self-described as a “practitioner of the vituperativearts,” he was reduced to stammering replies. At the end of class, sharp questions from theinterloper in front hung in the air, begging reply.After a few of classes of this, Billy proposed peace terms, which Dr. Kurlan accepted.The immediate terms called for no assault charges and no lawsuit in return for a peacefulfreshman psychology class. But the pact was much broader. These particulars are best leftto later when their full implications can be better appreciated. Suffice it to say, the broader agreement was highly creative, devilishly win-win -- and bigger than both of them.Post-detente, Billy attended Dr. Kurlan's classes without finding a need to challenge him publicly. Henceforth, whether in class or crossing paths on campus, professor and studentwere both models of civility. With creativity and communication, conflict had beenheaded off and turned toward the achievement of social good. Not for nothing is the art of diplomacy on a higher order than the art of war.***Living on campus, Billy monitored other classes and attended lectures in English history,European history, American history, the American novel and the history of Westernthought. With course reading lists in hand, he spent hours in the university library, browsing, reading, digesting, reflecting.To get a rise out of the library staff, he took out books using his Granite City School for Boys library card. “Gonna sell them for drugs,” he would say, or “Last you're gonna seeof these books.”He was in almost daily contact with Miss Casey and others from Royal Books.Everything was centered around marketing and promotion. The subject of the manuscriptnever even came up until Billy asked Miss Casey about deadlines for its completion.“We're going to get to the manuscript soon,”she said. “We've assigned a writer to the project. She'll be calling you, probably next week.”“A writer?”“Yes. Did you think that
 you
had to write this?”“Yes, I did.”Miss Casey threw her head back and laughed. “Billy, nobody expects you to actuallywrite this book. We've hired a professional writer. All you have to do is talk to her, tellher what happened, answer her questions with the tape-recorder running. She transcribesthe tape and organizes the material. Then we have somebody edit it and before you knowit, we're on press.”“What am I being paid all that money for?”“For your name, Billy, and your notoriety. Name recognition is a marketing tool. You've been on TV so much, people feel they know you. They want to know more about you.That's what sells books, a name and publicity. Nothing like the power of the boob tube for selling books. On top of that, it so happens that you also have a great story to tell. Weconsider that a terrific plus.”
 
Billy frowned.“Now, don't tell me, you of all people, you the maestro of publicity, that you don't knowhow it works. Names don't write their own books. They sell their names, talk to a professional writer and then go on TV and a book tour; they promote, promote, promote.Writers who write their own books and don't have a name -- well, they starve, simple asthat. Relax and enjoy it, Billy.”***This was Billy's introduction to the entertainment industry. Royal Books was a subsidiaryof a publicly-traded media conglomerate named Universal Leisure Media, which alsoowned newspapers, magazines, a movie studio and radio and TV stations. As far as Billycould tell, Universal wanted three things from its corporate child: sales, profits andquarter-to-quarter growth.“To them, my book is just another product to be sold like soap and razor blades,” Billytold Miss Casey.“It's a business, Billy. It's the business of books. There's nothing wrong with that. If wedidn't make a profit, we'd go out of business. I would lose my job, along with a lot of other people. And you wouldn't be getting all that money for a book that you don't evenhave to write.”“But a book is not a product. A writer is not a machine cranking out some kind of widget.You shouldn't just hire somebody to put
anything 
between the covers. What I have to sayis important for a lot of abused kids. It's personal, and I think that's where the emphasisshould be.”“Great, I'll tell them that. I'll tell them that you don't want any money or promotion andthat you would like to write a wonderful book that nobody reads. So, shall I tell themyou're giving the money back?”“When you were a social worker, all you thought about was what was best for the kids.”“Yes, and I starved and let the kids down every day because there wasn't enough time or money. What I'm doing now is more honest. I like the money and I'm not hurtinganybody. I'll tell them you're giving the money back and you don't want us to do the book. Not a problem. We have plenty of other books in development. I'll see you, Billy.”“No, wait. I'm sorry. I have a lot to learn.”“Yes, you do. Now do me a favor -- don't give me any more of your holier-than-thoucrap.”Billy was stunned at Miss Casey's vehemence and less-than-elegant word choice.He soon learned, also, that Fairview University was something other than what, in hisinnocence, he had expected. In place of course work, the Admissions Committee hadagreed to accept his manuscript as a basis for determining his admission to Fairview inthe fall, as an accelerated freshman. He had assumed: bad manuscript, no admission.But David Weatherall told him that he was as good as in. “The committee won't evenlook at it,” David said. “This is a college with liberalism in the woodwork. They're notgoing to pass on a literate, ex-prisoner, firebrand prodigy. Accepting you makes them feeltoo good.”

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