The famed mystery writer of the Southwest wrote that advice to me the last year before his death at 83 on October 28, 2008. I had been complaining, whining really, about the lack of success of my writing life. “Keep writing, stay heathy,” he wrote back. I felt freed up, grateful, hopeful. I still do. In fact, that is my mantra when I feel confused, at loose ends, or discouraged.
I wonder if J. D. Salinger had taken this advice, he would have experienced life differently. When he died at 91 this January 27, 2010, Salinger was possibly the world’s most renown and most successful literary recluse. “Hermit Crab,” Time magazine dubbed him. Here was somebody who was up there with the Grammy winners in star power and prestige, yet seemed cursed with the dismal personality of old Scrooge.
Back in the ’60s when I read Catcher in the Rye, my poor little teenage heart beat along with Holden Caulfield’s. I was the catcher, those sheep; I was the rye too. J.D. Salinger was my writing hero along with Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde and Dostoevsky (No females in that short list, alas, but that is another story.)
Unlike Tony Hillerman who wrote 29 mysteries set in Navajo country, Salinger wrote one novel, a phenomenal success that he disdained, and three small volumes of short stories–then nothing else for 45 years.
By all accounts, J.D. Salinger was a phenomenal writer who refused his success. Was he was sick with self-loathing of his own genius, his own work? He must have felt he had no choice. He must have done his best from inside the worm of his illness.
But he did take some of Tony Hillerman’s advice. His wives and daughters say he wrote all that time. What did he leave us? I am dying to read it. Maybe that’s all he wanted–fans dying to read him. Maybe that’s why he shunned all that fame and adulation. To keep us hungry.
Life is strange. Keep writing, stay healthy.
Thank you, Tony Hillerman.