Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Talk Thursday: Who, Me? Already?

My friend Kevin asked me an interesting question the other day. He asked me why I wanted to be published, anyway. He wanted to be published, he said, so that other people would get a chance to read his stories. Why did I want to be published? And in the grand tradition of wordsmiths everywhere, I stared blankly at the screen (this exchange took place through e-mail) and could think of not word one to say.

For me it was a question rather like “Why do you want to continue breathing air?” It had never occurred to me that there was an alternative. I write stuff; therefore I want to get stuff published. Why wouldn’t I want to do that? I mean, what a strange question. But the more I thought about it, the less I could come up with any grand all-encompassing Reason. Fame? Ha! Fortune? Ha! A Jedi craves not these things. Which is good, because they’re frickin’ scarce. Median annual income for a writer the last time I checked? $20 grand. Which is not bloody much, and since that's the median, half are making more and half are making less. Dem ain't good odds. So eventually I agreed that, yeah, I wanted people to read my stuff, too. Which is basically true. But it’s not the grand, all-encompassing Reason. Which is good, because I’m not sure that I even have one.

Anyway, all of a sudden the prospect became kind of daunting. After all, neither of us know what lies beyond this, the Land of the Unpublished. So, although in general I don’t have a decent prognosticating bone in my body, I took my brain forward in time to that unknown when; when I’ve found an agent (or rather, another agent; I had one once), when the agent’s pronounced the manuscript salable, when the salability has been conclusively proven by the advent of a contract; when my lawyer (likely Boss Dave, if he’s up for it) has pronounced the contract signable; when I’ve signed it; when somebody’s written me a check, I’ve cashed it, it hasn’t bounced and I’ve paid the light bill with the money. Oh, and when I walk into a bookstore and see Mindbender sitting on a shelf someplace, hopefully not clear in the back underneath Dear Abby's Keepers: Columns To Live By but I'll take whatever I can get. So what’s that time like? What if it’s not like the movies? In short, what if it sucks?

“Working two jobs, for one thing,” Kevin points out. There’s always that. Both of us have been through multiple jaunts of unemployment and are doing pretty good to have one job apiece. And neither of us are quite crazy enough to quit our day jobs; not even Dan Brown-style runaway bestsellerdom would convince me to do that, and the last time I checked, I didn't even look like Dan Brown. Them publishing contracts don't exactly come with health insurance (though there’s a persistent, unsubstantiated rumor that Lloyd’s of London has insured Stephen King’s brain.) So, yeah. Working two jobs. One might point out we’re already doing that and just not getting paid, but that’s quibbling. Deadlines, phone calls, Big Discussions, meetings and more meetings. I had a dream once that Joan called me at work and told me I needed to call the production assistant right away because there was some kind of problem with Chapter Fourteen. "Okay, I'll call at lunchtime," I said, and Joan said, "No, you need to call right away, it's an emergency." Wondering what in hell kind of publishing emergency could possibly be more important than whatever legal emergency I was currently wrangling I agreed to call right away. Just then my alarm went off and I woke up, reaching across to my nightstand for the phone. What's it called when your night job starts interfering with your day job? Daylighting? And here I don't even have one yet.

Then there's all the other stuff. I mean, very few people make a living at this writing thing, and I sure don't expect to, but even if you don't, sooner or later you're going to have (gasp) fans. Or people who like your stuff, anyway. What happens if they start showing up on your doorstep at two a.m. because you said something in Chapter Fourteen (which is always a bitch) that reminded them of something their best friend's mother's aunt said in high school? What if they, you know, recognize you in public, when you're doing your level best to hide behind your laptop at Afrah and turn out your frick'n Thursday blog post? I mean how embarrassing. I get wigged out when people recognize me outside of OA meetings, and there's for Godsake rules about how to handle that. Here there be no rules, and what if they start bothering your wife? Believe me, the Stephen Kings and Dean Koontzes of the world have nothing on the utter scariness of a bothered wife. I will go to the ends of the earth to avoid bothering my wife.

Interesting questions, all. Are they problems I would like to have? I don't know. Are they problems I am going to have eventually? Yes, one way or another. My prognostication bone may not be decent, but about that I believe it absolutely. And I will probably find some way to deal, just like I do with every other weird situation I stumble into/get invited into/walk into/get thrown into. But the Big Question of why I want to get published, which I still have not answered to either Kevin's or my satisfaction, continues to hover over all this and ask me if, in fact, I'm even ready. If the right agent were to suddenly materialize at this very moment, and my reaction would be something like, "Who, me? Already?"


Cele said...

really you crack me up. You want to be published, because you have something to say. Enough said.

I use to want to be published, but who reads poetry any more? Especially metered poetry. Unheard of.

You on the other hand have something to say. Just ask us, your adoring fans.

Jen said...

You can blame academia for the demise of poetry. All the poets are college professors and are writing poetry for other college professors, instead of people who actually like to read poetry, like, I dunno, you and me.

On the other hand, take a long hard look at some popular song lyrics. Poetry has a second life. I'm particularly fond of the work of one W. Stuart Adamson, who's unfortunately dead, but before he checked out he left us this gem, among many others:

The streets are filled with empty faces
Nothing here is new.
It's just the same in other places
I have journeyed to.
I was the first upon the water,
Last upon the land.
I walked into the silver mines
With my pockets full of sand.