Saturday, March 17, 2018

Greasing the Wheels

Writing’s my retirement grease.  If I have to explain the concept to you, obviously you’re not up to date on the Simpsons.  Well, come to think of it, it’s been a few years since I’ve watched it myself.

Willie, the groundskeeper at Springfield Elementary is saving the grease from the school kitchen’s traps for his retirement.  Homer, on one of his get-rich-quick schemes, has been collecting spent grease to supplement his income.  When he targets the school, Willie spies the truck sucking up the goo and cries out “My retirement grease!”

Daily work is not only non-satisfying, it’s also time-consuming.  I sit at work thinking how there’s little to do and I could be getting so much writing done while I sit, staring at a screen, waiting for an email to pop up.  I don’t make enough money to retire.  My plan had been to die on the job, but then I realized, if I could make money on my writing, I’d have some grease.

Right now the lubrication is coming from non-fiction.  I’ve actually got two non-fiction contracts on my desk and my poor fictional self is suffering.  There’s no future in non-fiction.  Agents only want clients with high profiles and university posts.  Those of us who are working stiffs only get agency attention when we break through the glass walls, ceiling, and floor.  Shattered glass everywhere.  Retirement grease flows.

You see, I’m not making a bid to earn a living as a writer.  I’m realistic enough to know that’s impossible.  I would, however, like it to be my retirement grease.  Otherwise it’s die in an unfulfilling job, waiting for an email to pop up.  Is there anything so wrong with wanting to supplement your income a bit?

My last non-fiction book earned less than $100 in royalties.  That won’t even pay for one week’s commuting bill to work.  Willie is my guide.  I grew up working-class, just like he did.  And he knows the value of some retirement grease.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Author v. Writer

Being published because you’ve managed to string some words together and bought a publisher’s interest with your money doesn’t make you an author.  I once read that Donald Trump has written more books than any other president.  Really?  A functional illiterate is an author?

We struggling writers know better.  Writing is a lifestyle, an outlook on life.  We carry around notebooks, slips of paper, or electronic devices that are crammed with thoughts and observations.  We spend quite time either scribbling or typing.  We create meaning.

Books are a commodity.  There was shock in the publishing community when an Amazon spokesperson referred to books as simply another form of merchandise some years back.  Publishers blanched.  Books are so much more than paper and ink.  They are miniature universes, cheap.  Anyone can afford to be a god of a secondhand cosmos.

Trump has been famous for many years and famous people have no trouble being published.  I crawl out of my warm bed at 3:00 a.m. into a chilly writing nook to ply my avocation.  I make very little money for my writing.  I do it nevertheless.  Friends can’t make out the logic in it.  There is none.

Being a writer is a way of life.  The lucky few find agents and publishers who pay them handsomely for their thoughts.  Often they aren’t the best thoughts, either.  That’s not an arrogant statement, it’s simply an observation.

Generally I don’t write with money in mind.  Marketability is synonymous the death of creativity.  Still, struggling writers are only human.  If someone came to me and said, “Can you write something like this?  I’ll pay you…”  wouldn’t my answer be yes?  This is the rack on which writers are strapped.

Who wouldn’t resent being compared to Trump?  Writers are a liberal literati.  Our thoughts go beyond accepted borders.  Here be dragons and drag queens and diamonds made of dung.  We recognize no limits.  We bow to no potentates.  Unless, of course, someone offers us cash…

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Horrible Writing

As a writer of horror (and the greatest horror is in trying to get published) I watch horror movies.  Part of the fun is that some poorly made movies can be quite good while some studio productions can be awful.  The difference is in the writing.

I’m sure we’ve all seen horror films that are dashed together startle scenes and gory with no plot or storyline.  Good escapism they may be, but they leave you hungry.  The mind craves a story to follow, even in horror.  Especially in horror.

I’ve recently entered the market for buying a house.  I’m a first time buyer.  Probably it wasn’t a good idea to binge watch the Amityville trilogy.  The first film is okay, being loosely based on the book.  The second film is more disturbing than scary and that’s because of an evil father.  The third is pure tripe.

Amityville 3-D has plot lines raised and dropped like fire bombs over Dresden.  So spare in its writing that actors are frequently given no lines, they stand stupidly watching things that’d make a warrior scream.  No wonder the screenwriter was billed under a pseudonym.

I’m not picking on this film alone.  The point is that what makes a film good is the writing.  Of course, if you’re reading this blog you probably know that few people like to pay for writing.  Literary magazines sometimes try, book publishers actively try to avoid, and some movie producers abhor paying writers.  They are, however, the ones who spin and weave the threads that make whole cloth.

It’s a curious state of affairs that those who come up with the ideas, the story line, the narrative arc, are devalued in the process.  Perhaps its because we struggling writers yearn for whatever we can get.  Society prefers cheap entertainment.  When it gets what it pays for, as in some horror movies, it will complain.  After all, it’s less costly than paying a writer.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Neglectful Parents

If I was a parent I’d be accused of neglect.  I have to say 2017 was the least published year of recent memory.  Not that I’ve been neglecting my fiction, but I had a non-fiction book accepted and I work full-time and commute to that job—you get the picture.

I’ve also had a personal epiphany.  If you can write, you should get paid for it.  I know a publicist (not my own; I don’t have one) and she says she won’t let her authors even write an op-ed if they don’t get paid.  I guess I’d never get published then.

My Medusa novel had a flicker of hope for a few moments.  A publisher actually wrote back asking for the rest of the manuscript.  That’s never happened before.  Then the editor disappeared.  Even called me by the wrong pseudonym.  I’ve gotta wonder about that because the second half of the novel’s even better than the first.

While looking for an agent for my non-fiction (couldn’t find one of those either) I came across several who said they liked quirky fiction.  I’m just no good at selling myself.  That’s a sin, by the way, in the publishing industry.

Between my pseudo and real-nyms, I’m pretty active online.  When I sit in editorial board meetings, I hear about non-fiction authors who are famous but who don’t do a thing to promote their books.  Publishing’s a funny world, I guess.  I work in it and maybe some day I’ll understand it.

Over the holidays, which amounted to about five days without work, I managed to write a new short story.  I haven’t had time to think about a publisher.  I even came up with a new twist on a ten-time rejected story.  What I lack is the time to take care of my babies.

I hate being a neglectful parent.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Neglecting Fiction

Every day in Trump’s America the line between fiction and fact becomes effaced.  Not that that’s any excuse for neglecting my fiction, in fact it seems as good a reason as any to press on with it.  I’ve got a non-fiction book under contract and that keeps me away from my mistress Muse in the “fake news” world.

It’s too bad, really.  I’ve got a seventh novel well under way and I’ve got a potential publisher considering one (at last) for publication.  The thing is, for a man being published is about the closest you can come to giving birth.  Months of gestation, after having seeds planted inside, and perhaps then you have something to say.  Something that will grow up beautiful.

As someone who has written literally millions of words, I’m always amazed at how difficult it is to find others who want to read them.  The internet’s a crowded place.  My daily commute to and from work forces me offline for a few hours a day, and it is a bit of a learning experience to cradle a book like holding somebody else’s baby.

Since my writing time is limited, and I have a non-fiction book with a deadline, I have to let the fiction go free for a while.  2017 has been the slowest publication year I’ve had in fiction since 2009.  I simply haven’t had time to get the stories submitted.  They’re still coming—I wrote one just last weekend.  But who has time any more?

I’ve read that the earth is slowing down in its rotation speed.  I personally think it’s speeding up.  My bus schedule hasn’t changed, but since last year I have even less time than I used to.  I keep thinking that vacation time will come and it will stop and I’ll have a chance to catch up.  Then a non-fiction contract lands on my desk.

It’s not that I’m complaining.  The boundary between fiction and fact barely exists at all.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Dead but Dreaming

One of the most challenging aspects of being a working writer is dithering.  Shilly-shallying.  Not being able to decide.  Is this story done yet?  Should I revise it for a tenth time?  When do I stop writing fiction and get back to non-fiction?  And all of this has to be decided for a mere half-hour of writing time a day.

I’ve neglected this blog a little because I’ve been finishing up a non-fiction book.  To no one’s greater surprise than mine, an editor at Penguin is actually reading it.  You just never know.  Meanwhile novel number seven has been demanding my attention.  One through six haven’t been published yet either.

Don’t forget the children.  Stories.  Lots of stories.  Some days three or four story ideas crowd into my head at a time.  And I only have half-an-hour to write.  Decisions, decisions!

I’d pretty much decided to turn back to non-fiction for a while when I had an unexpected email.  A publisher actually wants to see the whole manuscript of my Medusa novel, Interview with the Gorgon.  For those who haven’t read my past posts, this novel was under contract with a publisher about six years ago.  Then they dithered.

The editor who’d accepted it for publication left the press.  They decided they didn’t want to do it.  No kill fee.  No thank you.  Just “my name is no.”  Funny thing about it is, since then many presses—after I went out and bought their books just so I could make comparisons—also said “not for us.”  Getting this email was completely unexpected.

I used to be a professor at Breck University.  Now I profess nothing.  I work for a faceless corporation in New York City that publishes non-fiction books.  Getting to and from work takes three hours a day.  Sleep takes a few, too.  Writing is the orphan child of my time.

I’ve never given up on Medusa.  I’ve never given up on this blog.  To read me is to love me.  Even if your name is no. If only I could make up my mind.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Vacation Blues

Stress can be great for writing.  Having too little time to practice the craft, in some odd way, makes it flow more easily.  Take the case of the working writer on vacation.

I sometimes feel bold enough to call myself a writer.  My job doesn’t depend on it, of course, but who finds meaning in their job?  My sense of purpose comes in the off hours.  Nevertheless, each day presents minimal opportunities to spend with my true vocation.  Then comes vacation time.

Unstructured days spread out before me like a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest.  I have stories I’ve been working on for months.  I have at least two non-fiction projects going as well.  At last I will have long, open days when writing will flow and I’ll live in the gooey comfort of constant inspiration.  As if such things ever happen.

Vacation is family time.  Writers—those of us who live alone in our heads—can’t simply separate ourselves from those who support us.  As if to underscore the point, inspiration has booked her vacation at the exact same time as yours.  I awake early and breathe the chilly mountain air.  I stare out the window at the beautiful scenery.  Nothing comes.

I know a fairly famous writer.  His name on the cover guarantees a stint on the New York Times bestseller list.  Sometimes he meets me here at our vacation place.  He sets up an invisible boundary around himself.  He writes.  Family leave him alone.

Writing, I know, begets writing.  The important thing is to practice.  To practice constantly.  Vacation comes and that lake looks awfully inviting when the days are so warm.  These hiking trails aren’t on offer near my home outside New York City.  I can sit and brood there.

I know when I get back to the frustration of a daily commute to a dead-end job, my muse will be cuddled around me in the morning, encouraging me to skip work so that I can write.  Ideas will be urgent and persistent.  I won’t have time to get the ideas down as they trip over one another in my head.  In exasperation I will say, “I need a vacation.”