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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

At a loss for words

by Robin Friedman | New Jersey Jewish News | February 7, 2008

I’ll admit that I haven’t kept up with all the legal intricacies of the writers’ strike. But I do know this: When a lack of writing shuts down television, that’s something.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was five. At that tender age, it was all about scribbles — with accompanying pencil drawings — on the many adventures of various talking squirrels.

Later, I graduated to the high school newspaper, then the college newspaper, and finally to professional journalism and novels for teens and tweens.

But the field of writing has changed — drastically.

What is benignly termed “the new media” today mostly means, at least to me, the triumph of pictures over words. And I don’t mean the fact that everyday English has been reduced to a code of accepted abbreviations (“lol!”), mysterious combinations of numbers and letters (“gr8!”), and symbols masquerading as facial expressions — ;).

I mean that today’s on-line news is often delivered as a “slideshow,” YouTube makes at least one headline at every evening news broadcast, and the fastest growing segment of book publishing (the only one?) is the so-called graphic novel, i.e., a book-length comic strip.

There’s nothing wrong with change, and I’m not going to use this space to bemoan that. Change is inevitable, and standing in its way is almost never productive. No, what bothers me is a personal love lost, and that is the sheer beauty of language.

I love words. For me, it’s always been about writing the words, the words, and only the words.

I adore alliteration, for instance, and will often spend time just trying to come up with the perfect prose, ideal idiom, exact expression, or spot-on saying. (See what I mean?)

Language is, and has always been, my bliss; not just a way to communicate, but a way to connect.

As an author, I receive a lot of positive attention, for which I’m endlessly grateful and appreciative. It delights me to hear from a reader or spot my book in a store. I’m thrilled when I see a new cover for the first time or when my agent likes what I’ve sent. But there are very few real prospects in writing fiction for a living. It really isn’t the fabled book tours, colossal advances, and sitting on Oprah’s couch. Those perks are for a precious few luminaries — and I’m not one of them.

Communicating my deepest fears or aspirations, making a reader laugh or cry, provoking indignation or connection — that’s why I’m in it. Evoking exquisite attunement in a complete stranger 100 miles away through the written word — that’s the intimate bond I seek.

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but where’s the challenge? It’s too easy.

Of course, there will always be exceptions, such as a certain 784-page hardcover book about a boy wizard and all its eager copycats, but these are the exception, not the rule, which is precisely the reason they are so celebrated in the first place.

As we become a faster-paced society, I suspect our “literary” expression will continue to shrink. That doesn’t mean there won’t be niche markets for people who enjoy reading, and writing, the English language as we know it.

But these markets won’t represent wider audiences; I assume they will take on the flavor of going antiquing. On the other hand, selling to the masses means writing for the masses.

And look what happened with that.