A mastermind of promotional genius
Sometimes, you just can’t give a damn. Especially if you’re a genius writer like Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy had spent most of his adult life as a relatively unknown novelist. He wrote 10 books, of which, altogether probably sold no more than several thousand copies each.
Most writers would have called it quits after their first “unsuccessful” book. But let’s put this in perspective, because McCarthy’s writing has been funded by all sorts of grants starting in 1965 with a Traveling Fellowship award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters and he was also awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, a.k.a., the so-called Genius Grant which is awarded to many types of endeavors, not just writing, when he wrote his fifth novel, Blood Meridian, rightfully hailed as a masterpiece of American literature. His first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was also awarded the Faulkner Prize in 1965.
So as of 1965, McCarthy had a reason to keep writing, whether or not his books were selling. But it would take a movie based on his sixth novel, All The Pretty Horses, which won the National Book Award, that catapulted McCarthy’s work onto the mainstream literary stage. Before that, known only in the most upscale of literary circles, mostly among Fellowship Committees and a “handful” of loyal readers who had discovered his work.
In a sense, McCarthy was well-paid for his writing through Fellowships and Grants as opposed to sales generated from readership. All the same to him. Money is money, regardless how it is earned and where it comes from. And what better source than a distinguished panel of judges on Fellowship Committees who appreciate great literature. Their votes count, and they count big, as only McCarthy knows all too well.
This is why during Oprah’s interview (McCarthy’s first and only interview at length with the media.) she asked him if it mattered to him if anyone liked his writing. His reply: (paraphrasing) “Not really, it doesn’t matter to me.” To which Oprah said, “You are a different kind of author.” Yet, his reply only meant that he was getting paid either way and he had approval from the most important gatekeepers in the business. Oprah interpreted his comment as an odd statement coming from an author who always depends on mass readership and book purchases to be successful. I guess she forgot about all his prestigious book awards, Academy Awards and accolades.
When you have award committees on your side with deep pockets, who needs to sell books? And why should it matter to McCarthy who I’m sure thinks that if dumb readers don’t get his writing, award committees do get it, and they pay nicely for it.
I’ll bet McCarthy never had to promote his books in any way. And when you’re an award-winning writer, why should you? Your awards are your promotion, publicity, name recognition, platform, all wrapped up into one. And of course it doesn’t hurt if your editor is William Faulkner’s former editor at Random House. Always a plus.
Of course, McCarthy had “unwittingly” done what he always avoided doing, or never had reason to do in order to make money as a writer. He went on national television, on one of the most watched talk shows in television history, and still promoted his book(s) The Road. Yes, another Pulitzer Prize winning book and Academy Award winning movie.
You think sales of all his books shot up after that awkward interview? You bet they did. And I was one of the first schmucks to buy just about every book he ever wrote. Is McCarthy a genius writer? Well, yes, but not even genius writers are perfect novelists. And by that I mean that in my humble opinion, some of his characters are outright cartoonish. Yet I wonder if this is not one of his ingenious ploys, to juxtapose cartoonish characters alongside real, deeply developed and highly polished credible characters. Much like a Jerry Louis and Dean Martin routine, a straight man and funny man. Hmm, I think I’m on to something. Maybe I’ll give that a shot some day. You never know, the Fellowship Committee Board might just take note and my days of promotion are over.
(This was a dream I had the other night and absolutely has nothing to do with my waking thoughts. Ahh, let me see, to win a MacArthur Fellowship, first I’ll need a body of 12 nominators who will appeal to a selection committee and if I get passed them, then to the President of the Board of Directors, and then I just might get the phone call of my life. Not so bad. Now if only I was a genius writer. That’s the one, small detail, I always forget.)
Check out the McCarthy Interview with Oprah here:
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