On the State of Reading and Writing in America Today

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All the King’s Men Trailer


The Big Picture
by Glynn Wilson

It’s overcast and quiet on the screened-in porch, with just a little low down piano jazz accompanying the trilling of the lady cardinals this Sunday morning as I gather my thoughts for the weekly commentary in this space. My dog Jefferson is sitting quietly watching the backyard and I’ve got about an hour and a half before it’s time to cook brunch. Hang on while I pour another cup of coffee and I’ll tell you what I’m thinking about today.

It has become quite obvious that the American public, hey maybe the world public, doesn’t read much anymore. At least nothing much longer than a Twitter Tweet, a Facebook sentence or a short, snarky blog post. So why do us writers keep on doing it?

I write now, like I always have, for little old ladies who still like to read something well crafted with substance. Mature women have always been the best audience for writing. They always bought the most books, the most magazines and spent more time with a newspaper than men.

While corporate news organizations are still obsessed with trying to titillate the young into reading their sensationalism, the only thing they are accomplishing is to turn off the people who actually read. That has been one of their big financial problems for years, but the numbers crunchers, who we used to call pencil pushers, never seem to ferret this information out with all their research. About the only thing you can do to get men interested is to run some sexy photos of a woman or track down a sex scandal. They can’t help it. It is in their genes (or their jeans).

Why Don’t I Write A Book?

The question comes up quite often, most recently when I ventured out to hear my old friend Mark Kimbrell play some guitar, if I have ever gotten around to writing a book? The answer is yes, but not one that is published and for sale somewhere you can find it. I’ve written several books. But none of them ended up being the right book at the right time for a new author to break into the New York publishing world in a big enough way to make it pay off.

In 1992, after my good friend Spider Martin rescued me from becoming a beach bum in Gulf Shores and helped move me back to Birmingham briefly before I got into the masters program in journalism at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, I took a few months and wrote a novel designed to be a thriller much like John Grisham’s books. Only instead of a lawyer for a hero, mine featured an environmental journalist.

You see from 1989 to 1992, I had figured out how to make democracy work as a journalist covering the environment and politics on the Gulf Coast. After seeing victory after victory based on a certain order of things, from breaking investigative news stories to public involvement to public policy changes, I also wrote a factual auto-biography of my life up to that point detailing those stories.

But I never published either one of those books. Why? Let’s just say the modern economic dictates of objectify prevented it. I entered an academic research program that was as constrained as newspaper journalism when it came to expressing one’s personal views. In short, showing my true feelings was prohibited if I wanted to have credibility as a researcher.

So I spent the next decade chasing an academic research career. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, however, I decided that was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. It took years sometimes to get a research study published in an academic journal only read by graduate students who had to read it, and I had spent too much time in the newspaper business to wait that long for feedback on a piece of writing. Then the Web came along and made instant gratification possible online. So I decided to become a Web publisher.

But during the past two or three years, the pace of change that I have written about many times continues to pick up speed, and people now barely take the time to scan a Twitter headline, much less read an entire article or a book.

So what is a writer to do?

It has come to be my belief over the past few years that people will watch a film, provided it gets enough publicity to get their attention. That’s why two years ago I started experimenting with video. My style is still not perfected by any means, and let’s face it, producing movies is far more time consuming and expensive than writing stories and producing still pictures. We have a long way to go, but I am confident we will get their.

In fact, as part of the research to make the transition from newspaper or magazine style writer to a writer and producer for film, I have become a movie addict. I don’t just let the movies wash over me like the average viewer. I study them for technical details like camera angle and lighting and such.

But then when I notice that some of the best movies are based on books, I wonder if there might still be a place for a book in the big scheme of things? If I were to write a book now, it might be sort of a cross between Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men and John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief. I’ve re-watched both of these movies in the past week on late night cable.

The problem is, I’m not sure there is a recent factual story on which to base such a novel. Back in the 1980s, I went to New York and pitched a book idea on George Wallace. Nobody was interested then. Why would they be interested now? Besides, at least in the flawed character of Huey Long, there was the heroism of populism, enough to get Sean Penn interested in playing him on the big screen.

Wallace was such a reviled character around the world that it would be hard to find a way to make an audience sympathetic enough to watch an entire move based on his life.

I could bring back the environment as a theme and update Operation Zapped, the name of the novel I wrote in 1992. At that time the technology at work was cutting edge stuff. Now electromagnetic pulse technology is actually in use, so I don’t know how that would play as suspense. It might make an interesting movie, though.

The other idea I had from the Bush years was a movie based on a funny caper about stealing Saddam’s lost gold from the Bush ranch in Paraquay. Unfortunately, I doubt if it would make an interesting enough novel to get published. If I had the right connections in Hollywood, it could be pitched as a movie idea and written as a script once funding was obtained.

Anyway, it’s interesting in any event to visit with you on a Sundays and let you know my thoughts on these subjects. As long as my brain keeps on working, I will continue to think of ideas — even if only a few little old ladies who are my Facebook friends read them. It beats trying to rob a bank and ending up in prison.

Pelican Brief Trailer

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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