Do you know this man? He appears at least a couple times a day in my Twitter stream. I think he’s hot. And a damned good writer. But even with all that going for him, if I went to a restaurant and he was sitting at a table in the corner, I would never recognize him. And it’s not just that I have a problem with pattern recognition (though I do), because if I were the hostess of a restaurant and someone called to make a reservation for “B. Eisler,” I wouldn’t automatically give him the best table because I assumed he was that Barry Eisler.
And yet, this is precisely what happens on TV. Take the show Castle. Bestselling thriller novelist Richard (Rick) Castle is recognized everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Plus, he has more money than the average Texas oilman. OK, sure. I know he’s supposed to be fantastically successful, but he has one hell of an apartment, plays cards with the mayor, is allowed free reign in the police station, and has his release parties at—if I recall correctly—the Tavern on the Green. (Or someplace similar. The actual name may not have been mentioned.) Ummm . . . seriously? No. People have their release parties at places where their fans can come see them, not places where people have to dress in black tie to get their hands on the book!
And when does Rick Castle write his books, anyway? Between chasing down criminals, attending various social events, taking care of his perfect daughter and less-than-perfect mother, he never seems to have a free minute.
In this respect, the most true-to-life author on TV is probably Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. I know! It sounds preposterous! But she lives in a small town, so it’s not unlikely that she would be recognized by all her neighbors. She has a small, affordable-looking house. You actually see her writing, even. She turns down events because she has to write and the engagements she does take on (though they lead her into murder) are usually tied to her writing.
But the writers of Castle aren’t the only ones portraying the publishing industry in completely bizarre ways and leaving Jessica out there on her own. One that made me laugh out loud was the Criminal Minds episode entitled “True Night.” In it a graphic novelist (a comic book artist, to those unfamiliar with the term), is picked up in a limo by his agent, who is distressed that he might be late for a signing.
Wait a minute, I have to wipe the tears of laughter off my face before I continue. The comic book artist has an agent who has a limo and driver? And the agent comes to the author’s house to ferry him to a signing at a comic book shop? This episode takes place in Los Angeles, and the writers must have been in la-la land when they characterized the agent’s position in this way.
And then there’s the darling, dorky McGee from NCIS. He’s made a ton of money off his first—and only—book. He’s made millions off this book. So much, in fact, that his publisher has a framed picture of him on her wall. She keeps his work-in-progress manuscript in a safe in her office and no one else is allowed to see it. (He doesn’t, apparently, have an agent. Not very smart. After all, who’s going to pick him up in a limo and ferry him to his signings? Oh, wait, he doesn’t do signings. He doesn’t do anything to publicize his book at all. And yet, miraculously, it sells like hotcakes.)
I have the sneaking suspicion that all these ridiculous, over-the-top portrayals of authors, agents, and publishers are masturbatory fantasies by the writers of the television shows. Television writers are not that different from novelists, after all. In fact, some of them are novelists. So they know perfectly well that the world they depict is pure fantasy, unless Barry Eisler’s walking more red carpets than he’s Tweeting. And it’s not fantasy that the viewer really needs. Oh, sure, Castle has to be famous for the series to work. But some of the credit for that could have gone to his famous actress mother and not to his personal authorial success. And someone had to notice the graphic artist in Criminal Minds going off the rails, but that could have been a friend. And McGee could have written a half-dozen books before becoming a big enough success to afford a fancy car, and have his book—if not his face—recognized everywhere.
Laura K. Curtis lives in Westchester, NY, with her husband and 3 dogs who’ve taught her how easily love can co-exist with the desire to kill. She blogs at Women of Mystery and maintains an online store at TorchSongs GlassWorks. She can also be found on Twitter and poking her nose into all sorts of trouble in various spots around the web.