Thoughts on being rich and famous

I talked to a judge recently who’s working on a mystery novel based on personal experiences while a prosecutor. (I’m not saying anything more than that because it’s not my story to tell.) I may be able to give him a bit of help in figuring out the process for writing and selling a mystery novel, which’d be nice. I wanted to share a thought or two in passing on writing and its compensations.

I’ve always been fond of a quote from Dr. Johnson, quoted in Boswell’s Life of Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” (Isn’t it amazing how some things don’t change over the centuries?) Boswell cites Johnson as responsible for any number of timeless epigrams (many of which seem to be frequently attributed to Oscar Wilde roughly a century later), including this particularly apt one: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” It’s worth looking up some of Johnson’s other thoughts, particularly if you’re a writer. He’s got a lot to say about writing and money, particularly along the lines of how good it is to conjoin the two as much as possible. Along the same lines, someone also once told me that Judith Merrill (noted science-fiction writer) said, “Writing books may get you fame and glory–not money, mind you, but fame and glory.”

All these sound bites about writing and money got me to thinking about my own thoughts on fame and fortune. But the most signficant example of what to focus on happened to me directly. They aren’t nearly as epigrammatic, sadly, but they make for an okay story naytheless:

Back in November 1988, I was in the middle of my 2nd & 3rd books at the same time (hot tip: do not try this at home!). I remember that I was feeling very full of myself and I can still see myself coming home from my day job, walking through the front door, and saying to my then-wife something fatuous about “being rich and famous.”

She looked at me and said, “You know, Bill Murray was being interviewed on TV today and the interviewer started flipping him a raft and said ‘You know, you haven’t handled fame very well.’ And Bill Murray got real bristly and looked right into the TV camera and he said ‘All you boys and girls out there in Television-land who think you’d like to grow up rich and famous, let me give you a piece of advice: Try “rich” first, and see if that doesn’t do it for yuh!'”


Ever since then, I have held to the idea that I would do what I could to go for “rich” first. Fame (well, “notoriety” perhaps) I figured I could take care of on my own.

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