Fact V. Fiction about My Former Column
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Earlier today I received an email at johngroganbooks.com from a man who enjoyed the Marley & Me movie but has not yet read the book. He hit upon a misperception left by the movie that I think now is as good a time as any to correct. Writes the emailer Baileysdad: "In the movie it was portrayed that a lot of your columns in Florida were about Marley. I think with the movie out, it might be nice to put those columns in book form."
Yes, the movie does give that impression, but it is not accurate. It is one of the many small fictions the scriptwriters took (with my knowledge and consent) to better help pack my nearly 300-page book into a two-hour movie. In the movie version, my character, played by Owen Wilson, is a somewhat hapless journalist relegated to covering methane leaks at the local garbage dump and not having much luck making a mark journalistically. Then he is talked into writing a column (another fiction: reporters kill to get a shot at their own column, and indeed I competed against several other candidates to get mine). Grogan is still not quite finding his voice as a columnist until .... yes, Hollywood drumroll... he starts writing columns about his crazy dog Marley. The columns are a huge hit with readers and Grogan more or less makes Marley a regular subject of his column. See how the world's worst dog makes the man?
That's the film version. In real life, I was a senior writer on my paper's enterprise team, writing long take-outs for the Sunday front page. Then I tried out for and received the position of metro columnist. As a metropolitan columnist, the great majority of my columns played off the news. One day I might be at a murder scene, the next at a tax hearing, the day after that in a classroom or out in the Everglades. Into this mix I sprinkled personal essays based on experiences in my own life. And of those personal essays, a handful were about about life with Marley. The total sum of Marley columns from my ten years as a columnist, both in Florida and Philadelphia, is about a dozen. Looking back on it, that was about the right mix. There are hardly enough Marley columns to fill a pamphlet, let alone a book.
And that leads me to a related topic, which isn't very pleasant for me. My former newspaper, the (once great but of late teetering on the edge of bankruptcy) Philadelphia Inquirer has published two unauthorized collections of my columns I wrote while employed there. They published them without my consent or involvement or even advanced knowledge. I had no say in the selection or the cover or title, and receive no compensation. Despite that, the appearance to the casual shopper in any bookstore is, "Oh, look, John Grogan has a new book out." After all, my name and the words "author of the bestseller Marley & Me" are prominent on the covers. It's a reasonable assumption. At every book signing I do, some poor soul asks me to sign one of these. I regretfully have to tell him or her that I cannot sign the books because they are not mine. (The Inquirer owns the copyright as it does with all staff-generated work). I feel bad having to disappoint someone who just plunked down their hard-earned cash, but I just can't endorse this cynical repurposing of my earlier work. In my opinion, the actions of the Inquirer and Vanguard Press in publishing these two collections is not only disrespectful and cheesy, but pitiful -- a desperate attempt by a once-proud but now failing enterprise to glom on to a former employee's success. Who knows, maybe next the Inquirer and Vanguard Press will want to publish my collected dry-cleaning bills.
It's a free country, and I won't tell you what to buy. But if you see a book with my name on the front and the words "selected writings from The Philadelphia Inquirer," you'll know you've arrived in the land of glom. And if you have any doubts, turn the book over and read the very, very fine type on the back cover.
That's it for now. Over and out... john
posted by John Grogan at 11:34 AM