This question has been much on my mind for the past while. I’ve been accused of being an “elitist” and what have you because I insist that if you write for the purpose of making money, seeking fame and fortune, you are little more than a whore. I have also been pretty clear that I have no interest in pursuing some big, fat publishing contract, nor do I give a tinker’s damn whether you’ve won a Hugo, an Edgar or the fucking Nobel Prize for that matter. Baubles and trinkets. Bullion and bullshit.
Kids, I’ve been offered the chance to write franchise novels (“Star Wars” or “Star Trek”) and told the agent involved to shove it. As far as I’m concerned, you do something like that, “sharecrop” someone else’s universe, you are off the artistic roll call. (Thanks, Bill, couldn’t have said it better myself.)
I don’t go to conventions, suck up to editors, try to flog my work to them like a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.
I don’t shill myself by teaching writing workshops—such ventures help spread the abhorrent lie that good writers can be stamped out like fucking cookies. I’ve written about that in more detail here (the more delicate among you may have to avert your eyes at certain points in the essay).
Okay, so that’s what I don’t want…but what is my greatest aspiration as a writer?
To be the best. To push myself to the limit and produce work that breaks new ground, written in language so finely wrought it’s like reading through a score by one of the great classical musicians. Note perfect. I want to be held up there with the finest authors in the world and not be found wanting.
I have no interest in being average. A “decent” writer. Ugh. Better to be forgotten than instantly forgettable, which pretty much sums up most of the books being released these days.
Because I have chosen to go the indie route, I have automatically rendered my writing suspect in many people’s eyes. If I’m acting as my own publisher and printer that must mean my stuff is no good, rejected by mainstream places because it fails to meet their exalted standards. Which automatically begs the question: have you been in a book store recently, seen the kind of shit the traditional publishers are spewing out like a drunk’s partially digested lunch?
I expend an incredible amount of time and effort revising and polishing my work—my novel So Dark the Night took over three years to write (not including the research that preceded it). And I’m a full time writer. Imagine that. Day in and day out for 3+ years. (Shudder) But I knew I had a wonderful book, was confident that once it was finished and released, people would love it. And I was right.
But, again, because I’m not a self-promoter, I think I’ve hurt sales of both my novels. I even resisted sending out review copies, partially because I knew that no matter how good the books were, how professionally executed and bound, there would still be the stigma of the indie/self-published label. This despite a professional writing career spanning over 25 years, many publication credits, anthology appearances, critical raves. I haven’t sent copies to some of the famous authors I’m acquainted with, seeking their praise and approbation. There’s just something within me that balks at the notion. I want my books discovered, not read because of some kind of viral ad campaign.
So Dark the Night and Of the Night are superb literary efforts. They are sprinkled with genre elements (mystery, horror/dark fantasy) but they are intended for an intelligent, discerning mainstream audience. They have enormous cross-over appeal thanks to winning characters, snappy dialogue and homages to film noir, pulp fiction, and cult cinema and TV. Fans of Paul Auster, Jonathan Carroll, Nicholas Christopher, David Mitchell, Philip K. Dick and Jorge Luis Borges will find a lot to like in both novels.
What they won’t find is the kind of incompetent, derivative, semi-literate drivel that is prevalent both in the self-published world and, as I’ve just related, on the traditional publishing scene as well. You wanna read the next Stephanie Meyer or Dan Brown or J.A. Konrath? I’m sorry, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m a real writer, boys and girls, I seek to create ART. I want to destroy your preconceptions and offer you prose that is exciting, intoxicating and pitch perfect, right down to the placement of commas.
I want to be the best writer in the world.
There. I’ve said it.
It’s a pipe dream, of course, there’s no such thing. But for me, the bar is raised to the highest possible peg and I won’t lower my expectations for any market niche, slot on the bestseller list or dollar figure you can name. My literary heroes are men and women who slaved away tirelessly, selflessly, stubbornly, refusing to conform to the whims of agents, editors or readers. Iconoclasts and artisans, defending their work, their legacies, with the ferocity of pit bulls. Facing penury, enduring lives of desperation, anonymity, pain and hopelessness, yet never forsaking their vision or abandoning their ideals.
With role models like that, it’s impossible to even entertain the possibility of selling out.
My idols would never forgive me.
That’s a picture of my latest acquisition, a leather attache case. Been looking for something similar for ages but the models I like are usually wayyyy out of my price range and the ones I can afford are uglier than Dan Brown’s prose or, for various reasons, just not me.
Found this beauty at a thrift shop (secondhand goods) in Saskatoon. Spotted it and let out a crow of pleasure which was slightly mitigated when I discovered that the case sported a hideous logo from some hog producers convention. Well, shit, I’m supposed to be creative, aren’t I, I figured I could come up with some method of fixing the problem. Bought the briefcase for five bucks, brought it home and immediately set to work. Taped off the edges and used black spray paint to get rid of the logo. Still left with a shiny area that had to be covered up with…something. But what? How about a patch or sticker of some kind? Which led to me going ’round and ’round, trying to think of a symbol or design that distinguished the case as mine.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on anarchy lately, its history and proponents, and have increasingly come to see that for an independent-minded, stubborn, recalcitrant asshole like me, anarchism is the perfect philosophical system. No bosses, no hierarchy, no cant. Found a place in England that sold a sticker that was just about the perfect size to do the job and while I was scrolling through their catalogue, came across the “Kill Your Television” decal.
I hardly ever watch television, except for the news and hockey on Saturday night. We have a grand total of two channels in our house, and one of them doesn’t come in very well. No cable, no satellite, no need. That old Springsteen song comes to mind: 57 channels and nothin’ on. During those rare occasions when we stay in a hotel, I always have a quick troll through the available stations and rarely find anything worth watching, except if I’m lucky to catch an episode of “South Park” or, thanks to a tip from my sons, one of the weird send-ups featured on “Robot Chicken“.
Whenever I go into one of my tirades about television and other time-wasters, I usually get some sort of feeble response like, “well, I only watch television to relax”. A sentiment that is lost on me.
Relaxation? What’s that?
I checked my daybook last week and out of the last 365 days, I’ve taken a grant total of nine days off from writing. Nine days. And that includes weekends, holidays, everything.
And so, I suppose, I have no one but myself to blame for my recent big crash, a eight-day bout with pleurisy (lung inflammation) that knocked me on my ass. My body was simply worn out, my immune system utterly fucked. Couldn’t work, found myself stuck on the couch with a pile of James Crumley books and a stack of movies. I might have tried to work…except I read up on the condition (curse the internet!) and discovered that in severe cases, doctors have to stick a long needle in your lung to siphon off the fluid. Oops. And then I read about some of the famous people, including Thomas Hardy, who have croaked from pleurisy.
Where’s that couch? Rest, rest, must have rest!
I know writing will eventually kill me but not yet. My sons are still only teenagers and I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me before I turn up my toes and start taking harp lessons. When the time comes, I intend to go out like David Gemmell, who was discovered by his wife, sprawled across his keyboard, dead of a heart attack. That’s an author’s death.
Real writers don’t need an idiotic event like National Novel Writing Month to get them kick-started. Every year when November rolls around I cringe because I know a horde of amateur fuckwits will be filling forums with progress reports on their masterpieces, playing at being authors. Romance writers and fantasy wannabes, hobbyists who do great disservice to those of us who pay the price day after day, year after year, as we go about honing our craft. Do these fucking morons have any idea the kind of sacrifice and pain the writing life demands from its practitioners? Do they really believe their pathetic, semi-literate efforts are deserving of any kind of respect or approbation?
And listen to them scream in outrage if one presumes to set them straight: how dare a professional writer tell them that their efforts aren’t taken seriously and mock them for their silliness. Lemme tell you something, kiddies: someone who unclogs a toilet isn’t a plumber, someone who screws in a light bulb isn’t an electrician…and someone who scribbles a few thousand words into a notebook with a flowery pattern on the front ain’t an author. Sorry to prick your balloon.
I’ve been writing for nearly 25 years and each day the process of sitting at my desk and commencing work requires discipline and courage, consuming enormous amounts of physical, mental and spiritual energy. The other day, I received a note from one of my favorite authors, Nicholas Christopher (Veronica, A Trip to the Stars, The Bestiary). He wrote:
I am working my through the first 100 pages of a new novel…and finding, as always, that writing of any kind, but especially the writing of novels, is a humbling profession. You start all over again and realize it doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many books you’ve written — nor should it get easier, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to and trying to reach new places with your work.
This from a man who has more talent in his big toe than I’ll ever possess, even if I lived to be three hundred.
NaNoWriMo is a gimmick, a fallacy and a fraud. Those who play that game are beneath the contempt of the authors they’re trying so hard to imitate. For thirty days they get to pretend to have the drive, talent and passion of their betters.
Then reality intrudes. Writing, it turns out, is hard work, doncha know? Shucks, you even have to know how to spell .
For many participants of NaNoWriMo, even that is too much of a reach…