I feel as though Didion, in describing herself in the preface, is in a way preparing the reader for the worst. That’s not to say she doesn’t have faith in her writing abilities (though all writers surely have some doubts), but she’s letting them know what the truth of it is. She says how she uses her small size and her mannerisms to her advantage. It’s as though she’s saying, “here’s what I do. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either.” She knows that she seems rather non-threatening, and I feel as though she may feel a little guilty about that.
Normally, I would say that writers do what they need to do to get their information and make the story as accurate as possible; however, in Didion’s case, I feel like she has some reservations about it. It’s the words that she chooses to use, “people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.” It’s an odd bit of information to include; that her presence always runs counter to the best interest of the people she’s talking to. Then she talks about always selling people out; as though that’s how she copes with her mixed feelings; like a child saying “well all my friends did it!”; Didion is saying, “all authors are going to sell somebody out”.
However, I have to say that I don’t feel as though writers are always looking to sell somebody out. It could be me and my naivete, but I don’t see it like that. Especially when it comes to creative nonfiction. I feel as though the author is trying to get the story out there, and they’re using the things that they know (writing and using the imagination) to further their cause. Naturally there are always going to be exceptions, and of course there are some writers who are out to sell somebody out. The first example I can think of is actually from the Harry Potter series (please don’t think I’m a total weirdo…). If you’ve ever read it, you know all about Rita Skeeter; for those who don’t, let me give a very condensed explanation.
Rita Skeeter is a writer for the magical newspaper, The Daily Prophet; and she writes ridiculous stories to get a rise out of people. She takes things out of context, and she’s out to get Harry Potter and his friends. So when I think of a writer looking to sell somebody out, that’s the type of person I think of; someone sneaky, and deliberately trying to twist the truth to fit their own agenda.
I do feel that at some point in their career, a writer is bound to sell somebody out. It’s almost inevitable. It’s something like corruption in politics; they start off with the best of intentions and sometimes they have to do something a little dirty to get the story out there. Writers are bound to sell somebody out at some point, and they’re bound to make somebody their enemy in the process. It could even be with the purest of intentions, or not realizing that they’re intentionally selling them out; but it is going to happen eventually.
I know that seems to contradict what I was saying right before that, but it’s really not. See, writers don’t want to sell someone out, they’re not looking to do it; it happens sometimes. Though, now as I re-read what Didion says, that could be what she’s referring to. Perhaps she’s telling us that she started out doing what was best, and somewhere along the way, she started using her size and her mannerisms to get what she needed; she knew she didn’t seem threatening, so she went with it. Perhaps in saying, “writers are always selling somebody out”, she’s saying that the person being sold out doesn’t necessarily have to be the person she’s writing about; it could be the writer themselves. In forgetting her ideals, perhaps she believes she is, in a way, selling herself out.