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Scribe dismisses 9/11 novelists as ambulance chasers

D'Souza in studio

I sent a note to Tony D'Souza, author of a drug trafficking novel called Mule, this morning, following his appearance on Michael Silverblatt's KCRW show Bookworm, and I think I should send it out to the readers here as well.  The note went something like this.

I really wasn't fussy to hear him call people who wrote 9/11 novels "ambulance chasers" and even suggest they were in it for some commercial success.

His precise quote at 26:15--in fact, it's the last thing he says in the interview, is:

What I feel, you know, proudest about my book, is that writers can be ambulance chasers--we all know that. A moment can come of, you know, 9/11 or the Wars in Iraq or whatever it is, and a bunch of writers [emph. his] will jump on board trying to capitalize on that, and I have no guilt on my conscience about trying to capitalize on the Great Recession because we have lived it, we have lived it as we struggled through it like everyone else.  And so I feel I had a right to write this book.
My own belief is that in most cases, writers who wrote 9/11 novels were not jumping on board of any trend.  They were trying to understand something about our culture and the transformations that were happening in America immediately subsequent to the event.  They simply felt themselves to be writers who thought that the most politically and socially inverting event of our American lives deserved the kind of scrutiny in fiction that we afford other subjects.

I know I went on to write mine, I was thinking, "Things are changing really fast, and I could barely stand myself as a writer if I didn't write something about this."

I had hoped that D'Souza would revisit his opinion on this, but no luck there.  He wrote to me:
I'm sorry I offended you and that you were caught up in my sweeping generalization. I stand by my point, however. Writers can be the very worst sorts of ambulance chasers extant in this world, even elbowing lawyers out of the way in their drunken, egoistic hustle for money. From novelists, to poets, to memoirists, to non-fiction journos, they are out there, their track shoes on, chasing the ambulance of the story. 'It will sell! It will sell! It will sell!' whirling like maniacal laughter in their heads. Maybe not you in 'The Plasma of Terror...
Well.  As for novelists "capitalizing" on 9/11--there couldn't be a topic that's presently more commercially toxic to readers under forty.  In fact, my 9/11 novel is the only novel of mine that I have never even considered submitting to a commercial mill.

I doubt that the general public will be ready to read about the run-up and aftermath of 9/11 even for another decade.  We're still too much involved with the often terrifying political, cultural, and social consequences of all the changes that followed.