Which Came First? The Writer or the Author?


A while back, an obnoxious blogger that fancied herself a serious author said that writers are not authors, and real authors are those that have been published and cut their teeth in academia, meaning a teacher or a professor of sorts. The rest of the poor souls plodded on through pages of typos and third-rate editing. I hope Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Capote don’t become too riled over her observation. I know in my heart, those men could give a flying shit.

Being the smart-ass that my mother raised well, I challenged the blogger on her assessment of the current literary scene and its “wink-wink” secret membership.

I knew she was a teacher right away because the following lecture and browbeating reminded me of high school. Much high-handed rhetoric and pontification without explaining anything. Sound familiar?

My measured response was that you must first be a writer to become an author. A writer is anyone that puts to paper a story of fact or fiction. It matters not if anyone ever reads your effort; it’s done and sealed. If your writing makes it to a publishing house or a website, you may call yourself an author, but you are still a writer. Nothing changes but a definition and perhaps a fat check.

My first writing was around ten years old and was on a Big Chief tablet. I was working my way to being the second coming of my beloved Mark Twain.

My uplifting teacher at the time had no problem telling me I would likely become a writer. Of what, I asked? She said maybe a book or a novel or a newspaperman; she thought I had a knack for the genre. She did encourage me to learn typing, which I did on a 1930s-era Underwood that occupied my parent’s dining room table. I was the only kid in our neighborhood that knew typing. My friends were google-eyed envious as if I had broken the enigma code or figured out the Orphan Annie decoder ring. I did gloat a bit, but not too much.

So, at 72 years old, I consider myself a writer; A hundred-plus short stories and interviews later speak of my efforts.

I have, over the years, been published a few times; Interviews about the rock scene in the 60s and early country music, so even though I received little to no money, I could, if I wished to, call myself an author. But it’s all a wordplay around egos. So, until I can come up with something as serious as Thomas Wolfe, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, or my beloved Mark Twain, I will remain a humble writer.

23 Replies to “Which Came First? The Writer or the Author?”

  1. Um…if you “write/type”, aren’t you the “author” of what you “write/type?” I suggest that your obnoxious (smug) blogger has a bit of a problem with critical thinking and logic.

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  2. Well said! An acquaintance once asked me somewhat incredulously if I considered myself an author when we were discussing my blogging. I felt it was more ignorance than aspersion in his case, but it did give me some insight into his character that I had not recognized before.

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    1. Bloggin is writing, and sometimes it may put you in the author’s chair. It’s a line that is easily crossed, or blended. In the last ten years, I have attempted to read some of the new schlock. Sent many books to the Goodwill.

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  3. I always enjoy reading your stuff, Phil … so you must, indeed, be a writer. I suspect, however, that before you became a darn good writer, you immersed yourself in reading. So, the answer to your title question, “Which came first …” has to be “a reader.”

    I visited Mark Twain House in Hartford twenty years ago (and also Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house, next door … which reminded me of my grandmother’s house), and for anyone who enjoyed Samuel Clemens’ work, it is possible to feel the man’s presence in that house. You can also smell the cigars.

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    1. You are right Mustang. The reading comes first. In order to learn to write, you must emerse yourself in good books. Twain and Stienbeck taught me the cadence, Hemingway the words and Wolfe the brush to paint with. Thanks, and oh yea, keep it up.

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    1. Granbury Texas. Maureen and I live at the base of Comanche Peak ( the mountain ) not the nuke plant, but it is near by. Been here almost 11 years after we escaped from Dallas.

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  4. Didn’t Steinbeck drop out of the higher learning circle and go rouge? Twain is my hero, good writing but it was 30 plus cigars a day that I’m in awe of. Later Phil. Oh yeah CB could “give a flying shit” also.

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    1. He started college, found out it wasn’t for him. He spent almost a year among the Okies and transplants to the San Juanqine Valley to better understand their plight, living in the fruit picker camps among the destitute. Out of that came The Grapes of Wrath, which was supposed to have been a series of articals but became one of the greates books written.

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      1. Im a fan of Big John and a lot of other writers that probably woudnt make the grade in certain circles but in the words of that great Texas scribe from the Cactus Patch “who gives a flying shit”.
        (Im immersed in a Jim Thompson trip right now and enjoying every word)

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      2. Not many great ones these days CB. Perhaps Amor Towels and Eric Larson, and if you like nior crime, James Elroy. When we lost McMurtry, an entire genre vanished with him. I don’t make a practice of reading female authors, but I know of two that are exceptional. Paulette Jiles writes historical fiction about 1830-70s Texas, and Sahrah Bird covers life in the 30s. Jiles lives in Utopia Texas and Bird is in Austin. I recently completed Of Time and the River by Thomas Wolfe, another great one lost too soon. I’ll check out Jim Thompson.

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      3. Big Ellroy guy. He got his vibe (along with a lot of others) from Thompson. You know Im a McMurtry fan. How are you with Cormac? ‘The Crossing’ has stuck with me. Ill keep peeking in on you. Thanks for the leads. Off to smoke a Twain Special.

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      4. Perfidia and The Storm are two of his best. I’ve read all of his from the get go. My collection was accidently sold in a garage sale along with about 60 other hardbacks, so now I must start over. Ellroy is not for everyone. He tells it like it was in that time and holds nothing back so many folks are offended, but like Thomas Wolfe that wrote in the 1920s and 30s, America was a different landscape. Even Harper Lee might be considered a racist these days. I don’t live in the past, but I do appreciate the best of American literature. I recently re-read McMurtrys “The Last Picture Show.” My Lord, what a book that told it like it was in small town Texas. I loved the movie, but the book was heads above. Anthony Doer is another new author you might like. “Cloud Cuckoo Land” and “All The Light You Cannot See” are destined to become classics. I was in Archer City a few years back, and the place hadn’t changed from my last pass through twenty years earlier. I plan to read more of Cormacs work soon. Travels With George is another good one if you dig history. My parents were not readers, nor writers, so my obsession comes from some rouge gene in our family tree. Possibly my aunt Norma who introduced me to Philip Roth and Thomas Wolfe 50 years ago. I’ve read and re-read Hemingway and Stienbeck so many times, I feel related to them. Kerouac is brilliant, but it’s an ass whooping read. There is not a young man today that would not identify with his characters in On The Road. I couldn’t make up my mind which one I would rather be. Not only are you a music historian, but I know now that you are a well read earthling. Did I mention that it’s good to have you back in the mix?

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      5. Good stuff Phil. Yeah I go way back with Ellroy. Well put on your comment. Give ‘Paris Trout’ by Dexter a try if you want a a good bent read by a very good writer. I ate up all his books. Reread them also.
        I’ll be dropping in here and there. One of the first books I read as a youngster was ‘In Cold Blood’ A gift from the old man. I still have it. Just lent (gave) it to one of my sons. We will talk more of this in the future. CB did a few takes on books he liked. I think you chimed in.

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      6. CB, I re-visited In Cold Blood last month, after 30 years. Capote was one of our best, but the darn book destroyed him. Other Voices, Other Rooms put him on the map.

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  5. Boom! I’ll say it – you are a good writer. Or author, whichever you prefer. Mrs. Mischen wanted me to be a writer, but I was too busy to put any time in it. So the only writing I did was letters to my friends. I keep thinking I’d like to write my memoir. Not for anyone but me, but I can’t decide if I should make it fact or fiction. ;o)

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. Mrs Mischen and Mr. Green were the two teachers that gave me defining moments. She pushed me maybe more than the others as did Mr. Green. You should write your memoir, if nothing else for yourself and family. It’s never too late, and I’m certain you have a lot to say.

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