Fallen Idols: Disappointing Truths About Five Famous Authors

Now you can say it doesn't matter what an author is like as a person, it's all about the prose they create. You can say that and I will disagree. When I read Hemingway, I carry in my mental sidebar an indelible image of the man behind the prose: tweedy, moustachioed bourbon drinker; the man who liked to fish and hunt and whose idea of relaxation was to visit a bullring and watch a couple of toros bleed to death. I like authors to fit the prose they produce. Would I want to hear that Cormac McCarthy – producer of tightly worded, brutalistic fables – is actually a party pig with a penchant for soft rock and brightly colored cocktails? (He isn’t but you get my point.) No, I wouldn’t, any more than I would wish to discover that Jodi Piccoult is actually a rocket scientist with a PhD in astrophysics.

But sadly, over the years, my cherished beliefs about authors have been blown aside by the cold winds of reality and also occasionally by Wikipedia. Here are five writers for whom the truth gave me a long moment of disappointment:

Jane Austen: Slush Pile Reject

Let me start by admitting that I'm not a huge Austen fan. Apart from a spate of enthusiasm in my teens, I've always seen her work as tarted up bodice ripper material. Elegant, eloquent, but cast in the same wish fulfillment mode as thousands of lesser imitators. Austen's heroines might be a little more feisty than the average romantic protagonist, but however much they protest, they fall for the bloke in the end.

Still, what does elevate Austen above the crowd is her wit and obvious intelligence. She was a meticulous observer of the absurdities of her day and in that respect, she's unsurpassed.

My Cherished Belief

Because Austen's smarts crackle through her writing, I honestly believed that her rise to publication glory was as smooth and inexorable as her prose. I imagined her putting pen to paper one morning and delivering the complete draft of Sense and Sensibility to an enraptured publisher, error and revision free, about two weeks later. Not for her the years spent crying over mangled sentences, wonky plots, and wooden characters that is the lot of most other novices. No. Jane would have taken to writing like Pamela Anderson to home movies: in a seamless unity of talent and passion.

The Awful Truth

Austen’s first book - Northanger Abbey – failed spectacularly to make any mark on the reading public. In fact, it was so crap it didn't even make it into print. Intended as a pisstake of the gothic melodramas which were wildly popular at the time, Austen's first work failed to hit either a satirical or a romantic target. She sold Northanger Abbey to a bookseller cum publisher in 1803 where it languished on the slush pile, unpublished, for almost ten years. And there it would probably have stayed if Austen's brother Henry hadn't bought the book back after the death of his sister and brought it out posthumously as part of a series.

 

Charles Dickens: Mr Nastypants

Like Austen, Dickens was a writer so crammed with talent it practically oozed out of him like the cheese from an overfilled calzone. He wrote whole books as serialised installments, juggling plot and a huge cast of characters with the deftness of a circus act. And he was a campaigner, writing A Christmas Carol explicitly as a conscience nudger for the English middle classes. If YouTube had been around in Dickens’ day he would have had his own channel stuffed with Kony 2012 type videos exhorting people to buy rubber bracelets in support of orphan relief.

My Cherished Belief

Seduced by early exposure to his fiction, my image of Dickens owed a lot to one of his most lovingly drawn characters. Mr Fezziwig from A Christmas Carol is the epitome of the jolly paterfamilias - all mulled wine and good cheer. Eyes moist, I imagined Dickens lugging home a turkey the size of a Volkswagen for the Yuletide table, planting a kiss on his wife Catherine's cheek and tousling the heads of his applecheeked brood a la Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life.

The Awful Truth

Far from being the perfect husband, Dickens decided in his early forties that his wife Catherine – loving, supportive and the mother of his ten children - was no longer fit for the job. Suffering a mid-life crisis straight from the pen of Updike, Dickens removed himself from the family home, sent complaining letters to all his friends about Catherine’s failings, forced them to pick his side if they wanted to stay his friend and set himself up with a younger and prettier woman. As for his children, his relationship with them was so distant that none of them had any idea that David Copperfield – famously based on his own early experiences of working in a blacking factory – was anything but fiction. Dickens had told his friends and publishers about his difficult childhood, but failed to share any of that with his own family.

 

J D Salinger: Prolific But Mostly Crap

From the moment I first read A Catcher in the Rye I loved it with the exclusive, possessive passion the average fifteen year old reserves for what they fondly believe is a book written specially for them. For quite a long time, I actually believed Catcher was an autobiography, completely caught up in the idea that Holden, who seemed to think exactly the same way I did about the adult world and all its phoniness, couldn't be anything else but totally real (I was fifteen, catch me a break here). Who was this J D Salinger? I wondered, and why was his name on the cover of the book?

My Cherished Belief

Once I had reluctantly acknowledged that The Catcher in the Rye was fiction, I then persuaded myself (with some help from the rest of the world) that Salinger's classic wasn't only his crowning achievement, it was his sole achievement. For years I believed that Catcher  was Salinger's only published work. I also believed that, in keeping with his visionary status, immediately after writing this single work of genius, Salinger had renounced the world and locked himself in a shed in which he stayed until he died, fifty years later. After all, I asked myself, isn't that what Holden would have done?

The Awful Truth

Salinger didn't stop writing after Catcher in the Rye. He just stopped writing good stuff. Apart from A Good Day for Bananafish - the story which preceded Catcher - the rest of his published work makes dreary reading. His last story, published in Salinger's preferred journal, the New Yorker, was universally panned. Even after that debacle, Salinger kept on writing every day, spending at least a couple of hours at his desk. What he produced never saw the light of day and we can only assume it was of the same quality as his later work. As for reclusiveness, Salinger certainly didn't court publicity, but equally he was no hermit. He lived openly, under his own name and made no special attempt to deter the curious. He wasn't a hermit. He wasn't anything like Holden. I bought Franny and Zooey and yet another legend bit the dust.

 

Philip K Dick: Literary Wannabe

Philip K Dick was also a prolific author, but unlike Salinger, didn't have the same concerns about exposing his work to the outside world. In a career spanning three decades, Dick published 44 novels and anywhere between 80 and 120 short stories (depending on which source you believe), all of them in the sci-fi genre.

My Cherished Belief

Exposed to the film Blade Runner at an impressionable age, like everyone else with a crush on Rutger Hauer, I scoured local libraries for copies of Dick's work, spending long hours  acquainting myself with dystopian other-worlds when I should have been running after boys. As more films appeared based on Dick's work, I conceptualised the writer as a kind of High Guru of the fictional possibilities of artificial humans and memory implants. Philip K Dick, I told myself, was a man so immersed in the philosophical implications of the future that he ate, breathed and probably also shat science fiction the way Barbara Taylor Bradford does romance.

The Awful Truth

Far from being Robert Heinlein with a pulpier mien, Dick wrote sci fi strictly for the money. Not that he made much cash doing it: Dick spend his entire career a missed payment away from the repo squad and the truth is that even if he had done better at spinning a dime from his tales, he probably would have instantly grabbed the opportunity to leave the genre with the alacrity of a flea deserting the cooling body of its roadkill host. For Dick's aspiration was not to become rich, but to write literary fiction. The crushing disappointment of his life wasn't borrowing money from his more successful peers, it was that he never become the next Lawrence Durrell. It was only when all of his unsold literary novels were unceremoniously returned by his agency, that Dick finally committed himself to science fiction full time. Even then the dream didn’t die – over the years Dick repeatedly attempted to have his publishers market his books as mainstream, hoping for cross-over glory, but never with any success.

And finally…

 

Stieg Larsson: Not Very Mysterious

A journalist, well known for his crusading views but totally unheard of in the world of fiction, returns to his office one evening. In one hand a lit cigarette (he’s a hardened fifty-a-day man) in the other a take away hamburger for his dinner (he’s never met a vegetable he didn’t prefer to see in a waste disposal). He climbs the stairs because the elevator is on the fritz. He never reaches his destination. Struck down by a massive heart attack Stieg Larsson dies. He is just fifty years old.

My Cherished Belief

I don't quite know how this delusion lodged in my brain, but for quite some time, I believed that the Millennium trilogy, published after Larsson's death, was a chance discovery by his long term partner, Eva Gabrielsson. My version of events had Gabrielsson finding the manuscript tucked in a sock drawer or lurking on the back of his hard drive when she was finally ready to clear out his things. Unaware he had quietly been working away on the books in his spare time, she delivered them to a publisher friend for a verdict. The friend read them and spotted pure gold. And so the opportunity for the world to witness possibly the longest anal rape scene in movie history was born.

The Awful Truth

Sadly for my fevered imagination, a little research for another article soon put me straight. Larsson’s ambitions to break into fiction were long held and ones he had discussed repeatedly with his many contacts in the publishing world. He eventually secured a contract to write the series with the Swedish publishing company Norstedts, with a plan to produce an eventual ten installments. The reason that none of the books were published before his death (which may be the reason my addled brain came up with the 'surprise discovery' story) is that Larsson held onto the drafts until the third book was almost complete – perhaps because he conceived the story as one uninterrupted manuscript and edited them in that way.

How dull. Along with the conspiracy theories about Larsson’s death (rumors still fly that the books are lightly coated non-fiction and he was killed by a vengeful ex-Nazi), this is an addition to the Larsson legend that seems likely to persist, mainly because it’s so much more exciting than the truth. Something tells me that Larsson, conspiracy theorist par excellence, would approve of that.


And after all that sharing of how wrong I can be, I'm feeling a little sweaty and ashamed. Help me out here - tell me I'm not the only one. Did you have an image of an author which failed to live up to reality? Did you think JK Rowling was a man? Or that China Mieville's mother actually called him that? Put me out of my misery and please say you did...

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Comments

.'s picture
. April 25, 2012 - 7:49am

Would I want to hear that Cormac McCarthy – producer of tightly worded, brutalistic fables – is actually a party pig with a penchant for soft rock and brightly colored cocktails?

Rhetorical question. If you couldn't imagine McCarthy as a drunk, he'd just be a boring "genius." And he probably is. Both I mean. 

 

Putting down Catcher In The Rye...or let's say Salinger himself is pretty cliche' even for me. (Of course a bias Catcher In The Rye fan would say that) but still.

I can't comment of Phillip K. Dick but if I did read him, I'd have something to say to that. 

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

"And so the opportunity for the world to witness possibly the longest anal rape scene in movie history was born." 

Graphic yes, longest, no. Remember Last House On The Left

Your articles are often Riske' and are probably constructed to get a rise out of people, which now that I think of it, are what (some of) these books are all about. You can't put them down as completely irrelavent because they have something the reader can take away from them. A deeper meaning, buried deep somewhere in the (plot? characters? etc.) 

"And after all that sharing of how wrong I can be, I'm feeling a little sweaty and ashamed." 

Oh maybe I should have read the whole article before I commented. I guess I'm no better than Salinger. ha.

jennydecki's picture
jennydecki from Chicagoland is reading The Foreigners April 25, 2012 - 7:55am

My mistake was JK Rowling. I read the first book and was absolutely sure that she was the wife/daughter/cousin/maid of an editor or book publisher. Admittedly I was not a fan of the book, but I also wasn't a detractor. I just didn't care that much about yet another group of gangly kids trying not to be misfits or whatever.

Now that I know the truth, I learned an important lesson. I should never, ever be in a book acquisition department.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life April 25, 2012 - 8:33am

re: anal rape

See: Irreversible

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters April 25, 2012 - 8:36am

Since Franny and Zooey is actually my favorite book, I have to disagree with that.  I think it's much better than Catcher.

Larry Nocella's picture
Larry Nocella from USA is reading Loser's Memorial by Larry Nocella April 25, 2012 - 8:38am

Great article and your admissions are brave. I might say the real image of an author served to further turn me off. I've never been a fan of Hemingway. He has some superb single quotes and I appreciate that he writes sparsely (as I hate verbosity) but I find his fiction lifeless and his macho-macho-man reality is more than I can stand.

He irks me as does any alpha-male stereotype who would probably want to fight me in the pub because I would say something smart-assed.

Then again, I can be annoying. Ah well.

Lar

Author of the novel Loser's Memorial - available now.

 

 

Nikki Guerlain's picture
Nikki Guerlain from Portlandia is reading Necronomicon Book Three April 25, 2012 - 8:57am

Nice article. Full of tart as usual. But I suppose that comes from being one of my favorite sluttylemons ;-p

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer April 25, 2012 - 9:04am

I think it actually comforts me that none of them are really all that different than any of us, barring talent, era, and perhaps death.

It's comforting to know that Austen was rejected, that Dick wanted to be taken seriously as a literary artist, that Salinger wrote crap despite his genius, or that Larsson was working on producing his writing for a book deal.

That is much more real and in tune with what all of us deal with at different levels. It's much better than thinking of them as literary gods.

.'s picture
. April 25, 2012 - 9:11am

"And so the opportunity for the world to witness possibly the longest anal rape scene in movie history was born."

 

Graphic yes, longest, no. Remember Last House On The Left

 

But just pointing out a factual statement.

 

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast April 25, 2012 - 9:42am

"re: anal rape

See: Irreversible"

Ah - a gap in my movie education - ditto 'Last House on the Left' (which does sound like a deathless classic). Perhaps if I said 'longest anal rape scene in a mainstream movie'?

Anyway, that scene has to break some kind of record. Loudest screaming? Most loathsome Swede? Something like that...

 

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks April 25, 2012 - 9:45am

I read Catcher in the Rye at fourteen, hated it, and swore I'd never read another Salinger novel. Then I read Franny and Zooey at eighteen and felt like I'd wronged myself by waiting so long.

Also, I thought it was well known that Dickens was a bastard.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life April 25, 2012 - 9:45am

Honestly, I don't remember the original Last House being that bad. Are we talking about the remake?

And yeah, that Swede is so gross and creepy. But Rooney is an angel.

Henry Baum's picture
Henry Baum April 25, 2012 - 11:17am

Re: Salinger and PKD - Can't tell if trolling...

Alex Creese's picture
Alex Creese April 25, 2012 - 11:35am

In response to the anal rape scene, what about the original I Spit on Your Grave? That rape scenes in that film must be longer than the ten minute anal rape scene in Irreversible. But just one scene of anal rape? Then yes, Irreversible takes the cake, with its ten minute, uninterupted, single shot rape scene. It makes GWTDT pale in comparison. 

Calum Davidson's picture
Calum Davidson April 25, 2012 - 11:45am

I loved this, you've made a point I've been suspecting for years (although I did always know Dickens was a bastard). Contrary to your point, I've loved John Irving for years, but my (very slight) disappointment came with the more novels I read, and the realisation he's EXACTLY THE BLOODY SAME as the characters in them, rather than some imagination genie. Still, I saw an interview with him a few years ago where he was unexpectedly and pleasingly a total arse to interviewer, so that made up for it.

Rather than the old 'don't meet your heroes' stuff, I tend to try and follow my father's approach to books, music, films, everything -  "I don't give a damn what they're like as a person, I don't want to know who they are or what they've done. I just want they stuff they make."

 

Cédric Stempin's picture
Cédric Stempin April 25, 2012 - 11:51am

"like everyone else with a crush on Rutger Hauer"

I'm pretty sure you were the only one...

Avery Quinn's picture
Avery Quinn from Little Elm, Texas is reading Hot Water Music, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, April 25, 2012 - 1:39pm

Sooooooo you just decided to ignore PKD's Confessions of a Crap Artist?

Teri Skultety's picture
Teri Skultety from California is reading those things that can hold her attention for the duration April 26, 2012 - 1:33pm

Glad to hear and know of authors flaws, and figure, that means there's more hope for all us writers. 

 

 

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade April 25, 2012 - 6:13pm

I was appalled to learn that Jim Thompson's prose universe actually mirrored his life. I have the opposite preference: I like to think that the prose universe of an author is all created and not "confessional."

PandaMask's picture
PandaMask from Los Angeles is reading More Than Human April 25, 2012 - 7:40pm

KONY 2012 is fake and a scam...

Either way interesting article.

I felt like it was more about bad things happening to great authors.

When I was 16 I thought Catcher in the Rye was based on my life also. Still a great book.

Most famous people are assholes, but I still respect their work.

 

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast April 26, 2012 - 12:49am

Re: Irreversible. I now have to see that movie. Not for the rape scene but because it has VINCENT CASSEL in it (and Monica Bellucci which is another definite plus)

Re: being the only person with a crush on Rutger Hauer. Really? He was goooorrrgeous! Blonde, muscular - he even wrote Roy Batty's final speech: 'all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain'. How can you NOT fall in hopeless crush with him?

Re: forgetting 'Confessions of a Crap Artist' - isn't it kinder if we did?

Re: Kony 2012. Here's what I think of that - http://opinionista.us/jason-russell-kony-2012/

 

 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life April 26, 2012 - 6:24am

Cath, I heart Vincent Cassel. If you like horror movies, I highly recommend you seek out 'Sheitan.' It's one of his craziest performances.

Tender Care's picture
Tender Care April 26, 2012 - 1:52pm

What, you're disappointed because Austen wasn't perfect and had to try hard? If anything I think that makes her more admirable that she was able to become such a literary figure, not a reason to shame her.

Teri Skultety's picture
Teri Skultety from California is reading those things that can hold her attention for the duration April 26, 2012 - 2:17pm

 

 

That's what I'm saying. Authors are people too. I'm a woman first and then, a writer. I'd have thought it wasn't true if they said Jane Austen had sprung from the box all perfect from the get go. 

SGJ's picture
SGJ from Midland, Texas (but in Boulder, Colorado, now) is reading weird fiction and horror fiction and science fiction and literary fiction and innovative fiction, or maybe a romance or a western or a magazine on bowhunting or show trucks or anthropology April 27, 2012 - 5:01pm

wasn't Cassell also lead in that DOBERMANN short from forever ago?

anyway, there's some writer called "George"-something, I think, some bigtime, double-famous job -- whom obviously I've never read -- who I think is really a woman. yes? like back from the Eudora Welty days or something. perpetually confused me. and I've searched and searched just now, but all I find is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Female_authors_who_wrote_under_male_or_gender-neutral_pseudonyms.

and, I'd like McCarthy more if he were like you say he isn't, I think. and I (also, like whoever it was saying this) completely despise his whole persona. I mean, I still dug MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, but it was in spite of his character, not because.

PKD, though (and I loved CRAP ARTIST). same way Thomas Hardy and Poe (and Faulkner, yes?) wanted to be poets, were just doing what they could to get by, I think if PKD had actually set his sights completely on science fiction, we wouldn't have got the results we did. the pleasure and endurance of his work is that it's always reaching. it's a kind of false reaching, sure -- literary fiction is no better than science fiction, etc -- but who says you can't built your own windmills out of straw, then tilt at them all day? all career? for all us always?

Teri Skultety's picture
Teri Skultety from California is reading those things that can hold her attention for the duration April 30, 2012 - 4:22pm

Trying to paint Salinger as anything near normal is kind of a travesty, really. I mean, I've read quite a bit about him but you can just wiki that and uncover all kinds of strange. To say that he wasn't writing anything good anymore, we wouldn't know, he wouldn't let anyone publish anything. 

 

I haven't read any PKD, I have one of his books here in my TBR stack. Have seen Blade Runner, obviously. I didn't know he wanted to be a literary fiction writer and was writing sci-fi to pay the bills.Sounds like a lot of angst for him but if we do this, writing, then it's all grist for the mill one way or another, isn't it?

 

 

 

 

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes May 4, 2012 - 8:48pm

Philip K. Dick wasn't as broke as legend would have it. In a letter to NBC  ( http://www.philipkdick.com/new_letters-nbc-spillane.html) he states that in 1980 he earned $184,000, yet preferred to remain in his modest apartment with the broken down couch that his cats had trashed, regardless.

Mark's picture
Admin
Mark from Lexington, Kentucky is reading The Chronology of Water October 2, 2012 - 11:46pm

I haven't read any PKD, I have one of his books here in my TBR stack. Have seen Blade Runner, obviously. I didn't know he wanted to be a literary fiction writer and was writing sci-fi to pay the bills.Sounds like a lot of angst for him but if we do this, writing, then it's all grist for the mill one way or another, isn't it?

The Philip K. Dick story is fantastically weirder, more subtle, and more complex than "frustrated literary wannabe settles into sci-fi to pay the bills."

I'm not sure that description could charaterize any successful genre writer, as high proficiency and acclaim aren't guaranteed and low-hanging fruit in the "slum" genres for the almost-literary talent to scoop at will. But in this one case, I'm especially sure it doesn't fit. 

In Februrary and March of '74, the author began having a series of intense mystical experiences, the first of these apparently triggered by a dose of sodium pentothal administered for an impacted wisdom tooth. When the pharmacy delivery girl showed up at his door with more medicine, she explained the fish emblem on her necklace as a symbol that early Christians used to recognize one another. That moment altered PKD's entire perception of things like space, time, and casuality. He reputedly began to experience himself as simultanously living the life of Philip K. Dick and that of an early Christian named Thomas, from the age when Christians lived furtive and secretive lives, under persecution in Rome. It only gets weirder from there.

PKD began to receive "transmissions" from what he thought to be a divine or otherworldly source, something that could look back from outside of time or from the distant future with something close to omniscience. One bit of information he was given led him to the intuitive diagnosis that his son had a deeply internal and potentially life-threatening hernia. Medical tests later confirmed the diagnosis and eventuated in a necessary surgery.

Philip K. Dick spent the last eight years of his life and career interpreting and reinterpreting the sort of "Gnostic awakenings" he had in '74. He wrote compulsively and voluminously about these experiences. The Exegesis was published last year in one book of nearly a thousand pages, and it's highly cut down from his original writings of mystical speculation. Yes, his later fiction is consciously preoccupied with many of the same themes, but if he had merely been riffing on mystical and philosophical ideas in the service of speculative fiction -- for which he could reach an established market -- then a more calculating Philip K. Dick could have written at least half-a-dozen additional novels during the time he spent writing speculative nonfiction in the mode of inquiry, multiply restated aphorisms, and personal ruminations.

A natural skeptic in one mode of his reasoning, he became deeply obsessed with the veracity of the handful of intense mystical revelations he had experienced in February and March of '74. PKD openly doubted, disputed, and wrestled with his own ideas on this matter, both personally in coversations with friends and in his extensive writings on the topic. He was intellectually honest and perplexed and clearly not intent on starting or reviving a cult. No graded levels or special initiations and no overarching attempt at internal consistency, just a lot of grappling. According to the accounts I've read, he sometimes fell into depression and a fair amount of certainty that he'd merely been going insane.

Other times, he thought that even his early (pre-revelation) novels had been the attempt of some greater consciousness working through him to reveal the same set of mystical truths in an allegorical language. Or at least he would express things in that high mystical mode, however gently balanced with irony and self-criticism.

None of this did he try to market as a commerically viable or even convert-seeking religion, nor as a revival of Christian Gnosticism. PKD spent nearly the last decade of his life deeply engaged with sorting out the truth of these personal revelations for himself and for anyone who cared to keep company with him, often writing about these things all night long until exhaustion, then waking up a few hours later and calling a friend with some new revelation.

For the purposes of this response, I'm not invested in the truth value of Gnostic, heretical, or deeply mystical sects of Christianity recast into scientific-sounding language, I'm merely pointing out that Philip K. Dick was deeply and obsessionally concerned with these topics himself -- almost despite himself -- and the evidence of this obsession is that he took up these concerns in not just a few thousand, but in hundreds of thousands of words. Words not cast as either literary or speculative fiction and not aimed at winning prizes and not publishable until long after his death. And when he wasn't writing about these things, he was often deeply wrapped up in something related and as relatively arcane to pop culture and Western sensibilities as his serious attempt to learn Aramaic.

PKD was probably much better at channeling the big ideas that obsessed him than purely as a stylist. And he may well have had early and dashed ambitions of being accepted as a "literary" writer, and no qualms about saying so to anyone who would listen.  Dick was not a megalomaniac; he was sincere and often self-effacing; but he was religiously obsessed and questing, almost despite his conscious attitudes; not a materialist and not a one-dimensional slave to simple and obvious forms of ambition. The bigger picture that emerges is that of a troubled genius who had mystical experiences he couldn't quite fit or integrate into his everyday life, but equally couldn't ignore.

Readers may dismiss or dispute many or even all of his specific claims. I don't care.

Of course, pointed argumentation on these matters would require reading his voluminous non-ficitonal recountings and speculations in the first place. And most casual fans won't and don't ever have to do so. The only strong claim I wish to make is that it seems to me PKD spent far too much time and energy on these ideas in distinctly fringe science and philosophical formats he could never hope to sell. And the work sat predictably unpublished until many years after his death. This seem to me a prevailing counter-evidence for anyone who would like to dismiss this aspect of the author's drives or motivations as an attention-getting ruse or gimmick or minor handmaiden to his career in fiction.

He was a complex, wickedly intelligent, and troubled man. "Wicked" in the figurative and complementary sense, but deeply moral and decent, I think. Scrupulous. The kind of person who sometimes confesses more about himself than he should, leaving damning tidbits that can easily get taken out of context later. That's why the caricature of a frustrated literary writer selling out to genre just doesn't get it. The mercenary move isn't as easy in commerical fiction as people like to imagine, but to whatever extent it's even possible, it seems doubly unlikely and unfitting in the larger picture of this particular life. Reductive and myth-busting explanations always sound smart and sophisticaed, but the truth in this case seems bigger and even more interesting.