Monday, August 22, 2011

Kathryn Stockett Is My Hero

We like to make heroes of those who press on against mounting odds, so Kathryn Stockett qualifies. For those who don't recognize the name, she is the author of "The Help," the hugely successful novel about African American domestics in Mississippi during the turbulent years of the Civil Rights movement. Do I praise her for diving into sensitive subject matter? Not now. If she had written the book in the 1960s or early 1970s, then yes.

I regard Stockett as a hero because she stayed with her dream. She received 60 rejections from agents before one finally took "The Help" as a worthy project. Sixty!!!! She went for more than three years, sending out query after query. Rejection letter after rejection letter followed, some of them with nasty wording about her ability to write.

But let's analyze this just a bit. There were 60 agents armed with extensive college background in fiction writing, 60 agents with experience in the publishing trade, 60 agents who had dealt with varying degrees of writing success with their clients. They all took that experience and knowledge and deemed Stockett as not worthy of being published, or even requesting a partial manuscript. But here is the really delicious part:

They all were dead wrong!!!!!!!!!

"The Help" has been near the top of the NY Times bestseller list for numerous weeks. Why? Because readers liked it!!!! What a novel (no pun intended) idea. Writing something that readers like, even though it is out of the box. Sticking with your dream even after agents with Sarah Lawrence and Ivy League degrees say you aren't worth their time. Staying with your project until someone takes a chance. "The Help" is a major movie, and a pretty darned good movie at that. (I thought it could have been better, but it's a cut above most of the garbage Hollywood is putting out these days.)

Kathryn Stockett has taken a place next to Ken Kesey and my mentor Lyman Jones as heroes. Here's to those who stick to their dreams despite considerable pain. (By the way, I just finished the second chapter of Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion" ... which goes from page 43 to page 99 and includes sections with five different characters talking about unrelated things in the same paragraph and a rambling stream of consciousness by a drug-influenced young man who just tried to commit suicide. Great stuff, tough to get through, but worth every bit of effort.)

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