JSB: Confessions of a Dirty Dog
The reason that adulation is not displeasing is that, though untrue, it shows one to be of consequence enough, in one way or other, to induce people to lie. – Lord Byron
A few years ago I was standing in line at the drugstore when I heard a woman's voice shout, "Jim Bell, you dirty dog!"
Stunned, I looked for the source of the invective. But my vision was obscured by people and displays.
"You are a dirty dog!"
At that point, the people in my line, not to mention the whole store, were wondering about this resonant accusation. No one knew it was directed at me, of course. But that was about to change.
An attractive blonde woman suddenly approached. I recognized her immediately. She was a member of my church. She had this huge smile on her face as she came right up to me and said,
"Jim Bell, you are a dirty dog!"
Now the people in my line were looking back at me, wondering who they were in close proximity to.
"You kept me up all night!" the blonde said.
The old woman directly in front of me looked shocked.
My friend said, "I started your book last night and couldn't put it down!"
With a sigh of relief, I looked at the old woman as if to say, Nothing to see here. Move along.
She scowled at me and turned her back.
To my friend I said, "Thanks so much. That's, er, one of the nicest compliments I've ever received."
"Just wanted you to know!"
I guess I'll take "Dirty Dog" to some of the other things I've been called. As a former criminal lawyer, I'm familiar with more colorful labels. All of them beat the embarrassed silence which follows this more typical response (I usually get this at Starbucks):
FELLOW: So what are you working on?
JSB: A book.
FELLOW: You a writer?
FELLOW: Have I heard of you?
Inevitably, no, and the fellow's face drips with disappointment. I usually excuse myself at that point by saying, "I have to take this," and picking up my cell phone and saying, "Hi Steve. No, I'm not going to give you the rights. I was disappointed in Munich."
The point is, the "celebrity author" thing is highly overrated. Even those with #1 NY Times bestsellers are known only by a relative few. And a yearning for adulation can be destructive. The moment you start believing your press releases, you're on a slippery slope.
Don't worry, though. As a Christian writer, you'll have God taking care of the humility thing.
He's rather good at that.
A couple of years ago I was teaching at a major writers conference, when the daughter of the conference director came up to me and effulged, "My Dad started your book last night and couldn't put it down!"
"He was up past 2 a.m.!"
Feeling a glow come to my cheeks I said, "Which book was it?"
"Oh, I can't remember….it was a one word title."
"Ah! Must have been Deadlock."
She frowned and shook her head.
I tried to think of another of my one word title books. But, having none, could not.
Then she remembered, and beamed. "It was Blink!"
By Ted Dekker.
Another great moment in the life of the celebrity author.
Also a good reminder that writing to become "known" is a false pursuit. The quest for celebrity can only lead one off the track. Or lead to disaster. The young woman from Harvard who plagiarized major portions of another author's work had been offered the golden idol of fame.
"We'll make you a star," the packagers whispered. And she fell for it, and did some unethical things to make it happen.
Forget about stardom. Write for excellence. Tell your story. And if someone calls you a Dirty Dog, and doesn't follow it up with a punch in the nose, take it as an indication that you've done your job. You reached a reader. That's the important thing.
James Scott Bell is the bestselling author of Presumed Guilty and Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure. His website is http://www.jamesscottbell.com/.