This past Sunday was a very notable one. That curmudgeon of the art of telling people about trivial things in his life -- one Andrew Aitken “Andy” Rooney -- bid farewell to viewers of 60 Minutes as he did his last segment of “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney” after 33 years.
That probably means nothing to most of the readers of blogs today. Rooney is 92 and one of the final cogs of the old 60 Minutes regime (Morley Safer being the other) to bow out. After all, Rooney began his segments in 1978, before many Internet followers were born. If you said Rooney used to write for Arthur Godfrey, the return looks would almost be comical.
Yet, Rooney is part of a quickly dying breed -- the old-fashioned news gatherer and deliverer, that trusted face that generations of Americans came to trust night after night or week after week. A glance at the hosts and correspondents on 60 Minutes reads like a Who’s Who of American journalism: Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer, Harry Reasoner, Eric Sevareid, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Morton Dean, Charles Osgood, Charlie Rose, Lesley Stahl, Meredith Vieira and Christiane Amanpour.
With all the cable news channels, it’s hard to find such a cadre of news reporters today.
And that’s the point I make with Rooney’s departure. It’s a signal that what once was so great about the world of news and of writing continues to erode, without any replacement. I doubt we’ll be as sad when Anderson Cooper or Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh leave the air.
It’s the same with the world of fiction. It does us no good to lose an Arthur C. Clarke without a Stephen Baxter to take up for him. The same can be said of Ian Fleming, whose mantle was taken over by John Gardner or Marion Zimmer Bradley whose literacy legacy passed on to Diana L. Paxson.
Readers may hate me for saying this, but, even with the explosion of online publishers and blogs, I don’t believe enough writers are really stepping up to the plate to take the place of writers who are leaving us or may soon be.
For example, if you mention horror, it’s hard not to think of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Charlaine Harris and Clive Barker.
Ask about the next generation and, well, it gets fuzzy. Max Brooks wrote World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide, but those are just two books.
The tragic death of Leslie Banks (aka L.A. Banks) on August 2 from adrenal cancer left a hole that still has not been filled.
|L.A. Banks (1959-2011)|
Not to despair, as there are some names out there. Tananarive Due, for example, and L.J. Smith, author of The Vampire Diaries.
Of course, the irony of Ms. Due is that she is black. She writes primarily horror but has dabbled in science fiction, the genre of her husband, Steven Barnes. In the horror genre, she can at least count on the likes of Maurice Broaddus, Brandon Massey, Evie Rhodes, Chesya Burke, Sheree R. Thomas, Zane, Robert Fleming and Terence Taylor.
For science fiction, it must be said that no African-Americans, save maybe Steven Barnes, have stepped up to follow Samuel R. Delany (Babel-17, Dahlgren, Triton). The closest contemporary was the late Octavia Butler. Delany is 69 and still waiting.
What must we do to rectify these aforementioned situations?
We must write and write well. No more incorrectly using “lead” instead of “led.” No more silly arguments about whether or not to get rid of adverbs.
Just because it seems a brand new online publisher pops up every day, it doesn’t mean you give a half-vast effort. The biggest problem with the online world has been this belief that since it isn’t necessary to meet the stringent standards of the traditional book publishers like Penguin and HarperCollins; that writers don’t need to put forth as much effort.
Yes, we do. We need to put out the best product we can. We need to write the novel of the year every time.
Because, instead of being one manuscript among a few hundred at the big publishers, we are now one story among tens of thousands. We have to rise above the throngs and make our work stand out.
Then, one day, we, too, can take our hard-earned places where once the admired giants of our profession once stood, becoming beacons of hope and inspiration for those coming behind us.
Enjoy your new life, Mr. Rooney. And may you live long enough to actually be replaced.