White Man Writes Book, Is Somehow Not Immediately Handed Publishing Contract

No matter how hard you think you have it, someone always has it worse. This is perhaps the strongest lesson we can learn from Michael Wolff’s heart-wrenching USA Today profile (titled “White Men Tell Stories Too“) of Kevin Morris, a struggling big-time entertainment lawyer who wrote a book that no one wanted to publish because he is a part of an oppressed minority.

Kevin Morris, you guys, is a white man.

Now, I know what you may be thinking. “Lots of white men write books! Eight of the top 10 books on The New York Times bestseller list are white men! I can name lots of contemporary white male writers! Like probably 50 of them, right off the top of my head! And I haven’t even had my coffee yet!”

But here’s the thing — it’s not that easy for all of them. Kevin Morris, you see, wrote a whole entire novel, and no one wanted to publish it. Like, he wrote the novel, and when he finished, he went to various publishers and asked them to give him money for it and to publish it, and they said “NO.”

This is, of course, hard for me to relate to. As a woman, it’s as though every time I walk down the street, someone is offering me a book deal.

“Good day, Robyn! Might I offer you six-figures upfront to write the Great American Novel?”

“Hey Robyn! You look great in that dress, but you’d look even better on the cover of a book jacket! Have some money!”

“Did it hurt?”
“Did what hurt?”
“When you fell from book publisher’s heaven! HAVE SOME MONEY!”

“Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, can we publish you maybe?”

It’s like, never-ending. So perhaps I take it for granted.

Now, one wonders exactly why a first-time writer, who has never published any fiction before in his whole life, might not be offered a publishing deal on his first novel. Could it be that it wasn’t that great? Or that he just wasn’t a good fit? OR, was it because he was a middle-aged white American man telling the story of a middle-aged white man and no one cares about middle-aged American white men anymore because women and minorities have stolen all the literary fiction for themselves.

Michael Wolff supposes the latter.

Kevin Morris is a 51-year-old entertainment-business lawyer, one of the best known in Hollywood, with a roster of powerful and famous clients whose careers and fortunes he helps navigate through the complicated waters of a new media age. At the same time, as though in some contrary act of media resistance, the senior partner at Morris Yorn writes fiction — what is now called, dismissively, “literary” fiction — mostly about the fate of one of the least-popular media subjects, middle-aged white men.

That might as well be a setup of a Kevin Morris story, the rich and successful professional, feeling sorry for himself — indeed, feeling the weight of the world’s contempt and disregard — nevertheless perseveres.

So resigned is Morris that instead of leveraging his personal media muscle and vast contacts to get his book published, he merely endured repeated quiet rejections of his first novel. He didn’t even bother submitting his collection of short stories, White Man’s Problems, to publishers. He just published it himself on Amazon.

Did you know that literary fiction was a dismissive term? I did not. But yes. What a tragic tale this is. “He just published himself on Amazon” – like some kind of … well, half of the people I know. Though they’re all just writers. They’re not big-shot Hollywood lawyers or anything.

Wolff suggests that perhaps our entire culture has turned against the idea of white men telling the stories of white men, even though there is such a grand tradition of white men telling the stories of white men. He suggests that “white male media” is now a “lost form or marginalized genre” Who is to blame? Women. For reading.

The echoes here are of a former generation of American writers — John Cheever, John Updike, Raymond Carver. But, as it happens, fiction is now largely a form dominated by women readers and hence women’s stories. Or, it is too, in many of its recently celebrated instances, a form for exploring overlooked cultures — leaving, arguably, that middle-aged, culturally undistinguished, American male as now the most overlooked.

JUST LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE TEACH WOMEN TO READ! We miss out on the rich inner lives of dudes like Hollywood lawyer Kevin Morris. Le sigh. Just think of all the white men out there who probably want to write novels, and here we all are clogging up the publishing industry with our garbage women stories. Which are all, as you know, about our periods. Wolff goes on:

Morris’ day job is representing writers and filmmakers, some of the most successful in the business. That job is most often seen as a dealmaker’s job. But in another sense it involves a larger notion of competing stories — and of whose story gets to be told. It is even possible to see the entire media world as a set of rear-guard actions, if not head-to-head battles, as to whose version will be the dominant culture tale. Whose narrative is it? The tech narrative? The women’s narrative? The anti-one-percent narrative?

It is a hard war to fight — a battle of causes and self-interest and PR as much as storytelling art. Morris himself, understanding the brute power of dominant stories, seems to have retreated. The problems of working class sons from the ’60s and ’70s who have made it up to high professional status and top-notch cars, no matter the depth of their feeling, aren’t in today’s media world worth a hill of beans. Hence, Amazon. Or, put another way, Amazon is Morris’ quiet rebellion against the dominant story culture.

Ugh! Women and minorities! Always dominating the cultural narrative! Forcing rich white men out into the sidelines with only their top-notch cars to comfort them at night! Sure, they run all the things, and they pay us less, but if you prick them, do they not bleed? They feel things too. Deep things. Things women and minorities couldn’t possibly begin to understand, as they are always too busy complaining about things like rape and being murdered by police officers and toilet seats being left up.

But don’t worry your pretty little heads, for this story does have a happy ending. Thankfully– Morris’s friend and client, Matt Stone of South Park, threw him a small book party in his apartment, and Morris’s book was scooped up by his buddy Morgan Entrekin, who works for Grove/Atlantic. His book, again, actually titled White Man’s Problems will be published this week.

So unfurrow your brows and wipe that sad look off your face–the boy’s club system works after all! And you too can be picked up by a major publisher, if that major publisher is friends with the dude from South Park who is also your client! DREAMS DO COME TRUE.* [USA TODAY]

*If you are a middle-aged white dude who is a big shot Hollywood lawyer and Matt Stone is your client and his friend is a publisher for Grove/Atlantic.