This Will Do Just Fine…For Now

As a writer, do you crave being able to write full-time? Not working for someone else? Creating and managing your own schedule? Beholden to no one but yourself? Yeah, so do I.

Here’s how I imagine my typical day as a full-time writer:

I’d still wake up early because I’ve grown accustomed to working out in the morning. Shower and then spend time with my wife over coffee (because she still works a regular job). After she leaves, a couple of hours of writing. Or, if that day called for it, editing/revising. Late morning, I’d switch over to social networking. Not the aimless “let’s scroll through every account to find out what’s happening” that’s usually done. Instead, there would be a new blog post, directed Tweets, new photos on Instagram, maybe shoot out a newsletter to my e-mail list. (By then, I would have one.) A quick lunch. I love cooking but I don’t cook for me. If the wife had honey-dos or errands for me to run, that’s where the afternoon comes in. I remind her I’m happy to do them, but you’ve got to remember I’d be taking time out from my “job.” I might be able to get in another hour’s worth of writing before she gets home. That’s when I fix dinner. We catch up on the day. I clean up the dishes and it’s writing for the rest of the evening, maybe a little reading. A typical day not including readings, book signings, writer’s conferences, meetings with publishers/agents/editors/anyone important.

Alas…

That job that earns me a regular paycheck requires travel to and from, focus and dedication if I want to keep earning that paycheck. I still squeeze in a bit of networking on breaks and lunch, get some reading done, chat with co-workers who are writers or otherwise artistically inclined. My focus, however, is on the job and being good at it and keeping it. I get the evening to squeeze in writing, blog posts, more social connectivity. That’s what it is, folks. That’s what “Real Life” is. The big paragraph above, that’s a goal, sure, but one that requires an awful lot of work to get to.

Let me be clear: I do not bemoan my life. No matter what you do or desire to do, there is a lot of the mundane you must walk through, like a tropical jungle. And you have a machete in your hand and your chopping away at the vines and plants that are blocking your path. That line from Confucius: It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

So, I am at a good place. Okay, I’m not a full-time writer. But this will do just fine. For now.

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The 10

When I moved to Boston from Florida in 1990, I was literally starting my life over again. I had gotten divorced and had spent eight of the prior ten years in Florida, with it no longer feeling like a home and with nothing to hold me back. Moving back to Boston was like returning to my youth. Of course, at that time I was 28 and uncertain of my future. Nevertheless, it was going to be a fresh start.

Clothes, my writings, and very few personal possessions were my entire world. And books. However, since space was limited (as well as funds for shipping anything significant), I opted to bring only ten books. Twenty-seven years later, I do not recall what they were. Suffice it to say, my house is currently a small library.

It got me to thinking about what were the important books, or rather, what would be THE important books if ever I were in a position of “starting over.” I realized I could make a list now and then later, tomorrow or a month from now, that list might change. My only caveat was that I could not name “complete” volumes or collections, other than poetry. There would also have to be a viable reason for each: WHY were they important. After some thought, here is my list (at least for today) in no particular order:

1) The Bible, Old and New Testaments, King James Version. For the poetry and for the beauty of the language as well as a reminder of my ethical roots.

2) The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. A story of a spiritual journey (which I first read at a low point in my life) seems an obvious choice if I were on a new spiritual journey.

3) Ulysses by James Joyce. I’ve only started it, never delved too far in. Again, the language is magnificent and the story of a journey within a day is impressive.

4) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Never has murder seemed to be written about with such panache. A major influence on my writing.

5) Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. The intricacies of thought coming from an insurance executive is stunning. Truly a craftsman.

6) Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. Such unbridled passion and lyricism. There is nothing like him today.

7) Jazz: A history of America’s Music by Ward and Burns. The companion piece to the documentary series. You can HEAR the music while reading.

8) The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Well, we need some good pulp fiction. Bitter, brutal, nasty, and raw.

9) The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud. If you’re on a spiritual journey, it might be helpful to understand yourself.

10) On The Road by Jack Kerouac. A combination of lyricism, passion, brutal honesty, and unmitigated gall. And a reminder that the road doesn’t end.

That’s my list. I’d love to see yours.

“Persistence” is not a four-letter word.

Those who watched super Bowl LI saw a comeback of epic proportions. The number one scoring offense, the Atlanta Falcons, had a 25 point lead on the New England Patriots with about twenty-one minutes left in the game. I’m sure there were many viewers (some even Patriot fans) who turned off the t.v. or changed channels. Those people missed one of the greatest football games ever, largely because they thought it was already over.

Believe it or not, as much of a football fan as I am (as well as a Boston sports fan), this example is not meant to instigate a discussion about sports. All artists, especially writers, know that the “game” is stacked against them. The world at times acts as though it doesn’t need Art, doesn’t require music to move to, doesn’t need painting a nd sculpture to work its way into our hearts, and doesn’t need the thought-provoking collection of words that writers so desperately try to achieve.

Often, we use the notion of just wanting to complete the novel as a kind of miniature motivation. We have a story to tell and, damn it, we’re going to write our story. But, oh well, the market is flooded; it’s probably not that good; I’ll never find an agent or an editor or a publisher; even if I do, it’s going to be just one of countless books in the whirlpool of the Amazon galaxy; and on and on and on. We dig our own 25 point deficit by relinquishing the victory to others.

If you look at the game, the Patriots didn’t just score 25 points on one play or even one series. They chipped away and maintained their persistence. They did what they trained to do only they started doing it better. Each minor success lead to a bigger one. A score or two brought them respectability. Two more scores tied up the game, making the playing field equal again. And, when they had the chance to win, they marched down the field, an overwhelming sense of confidence glowing like an aura within that stadium.

Wouldn’t we all like more reviews, bigger sales, larger royalty checks? Wouldn’t we give anything for more time to access social media, do blog tours, be at book signings, and, well, write the next one? That’s a large chunk of points to swallow in one setting. So, we do what we can a little at a time until it all becomes manageable, until we are in sight of our goal.

Persistence is the key. Make it your mantra.

A Writer Defines Success As…?

Far be it from me to advise ANY writer what the definition of “success” is on any terms: personal, professional, spiritual, or anything else. Where you are in your career and what your goals are determine that? Did John Irving consider it a success to win an Oscar for adapting his own novel, “The Cider house Rules”, into a screenplay? How could John Kennedy Toole know his novel, “A Confederacy of Dunces”, would win the Pulitzer Prize over ten years after his suicide? And John O’Brien committed suicide two weeks AFTER learning that his novel, “Leaving Las Vegas”, was going to be made into a movie. The bottom line is that we can not judge.

I started with two self-published short novels, largely so I would have something to “offer” my parents who had been so supportive and encouraging throughout my life. Just to have them read those two minor works was a success to me. In a hospital shortly before being taken to hospice, my father inquired about my forthcoming novel through a traditional publisher. Regrettably he did not live to see it published. My mother got a copy and was upset when staff at the assisted care facility were negligent in returning it to her expediently. That was her prized possession. The second novel from that publisher was released after her passing.

Now, with the release of a new historical fiction through a new publisher, I have taken a step forward. Financially? No, not yet anyway. But professionally, I took a risk writing something with a greater degree of difficulty based on the necessary research. In working with a new publisher, The Wild Rose Press, I had the opportunity to work with an editor and graphic design team and a whole group of people who were sincerely intent on looking out for my interests and encouraging me to use all the resources they had available. How is it possible to NOT consider that a success?

Don’t get me wrong. There are the fantasies/dreams/hopes of the New York Times Best Sellers List and a movie deal and attending premieres. The ultimate success? Perhaps. As long as I continue to develop as a writer, tell and engaging story, and am able to connect with readers, everything ELSE that comes from that is just additional enrichment.

If you HAVE purchased “Ark City Confidential”, please leave a review either on the publisher’s site or at Amazon. This will go a long way to ensuring a measure of success.

It’s Got to Start Somewhere

Please allow me a diversion from my usual musings on writing and the writing life.

I had an idea, probably silly, because, after all, one man can’t change things. But one man can try.

I am disheartened by the racial tensions in this country which have brought out the absolute worst on both sides. Civil discourse seems to be a thing of the past. I posted over a month ago that I simply wanted to have a conversation with someone who was diametrically opposite of me. I figured that would be a good start. Regrettably, no takers.

Then I remembered a former co-worker who seems to be thoughtful and well spoken with passionate ideals. He is younger and black. I reached out to him to get together, maybe a Facebook Live chat to show others that two people CAN communicate with each other. This was set up twice and fell through both times.

It’s important for me to say that I am not writing this to call him out. His comments were disconcerting. He felt as though people were too screwed up in general and that nothing was going to come of this. Perhaps he is right. Maybe it’s an attitude shared by his generation (he’s in his twenties) and race has nothing to do with it. It could very well be that the older generation, MY generation, has done nothing to instill any confidence at all in creating Hope for the future.

That’s when you stop and realize what you have speculated. HIS generation. MY generation. Just lumping everybody into a group. No accounting for individuals. Not looking at a person…as a person. Separate from all others of the same age, race, religion, socio-economic standing, sexual orientation. The question to be posed has to be: Who are YOU?

So, this one young man who seems frustrated, may indeed reach back to me, may try to take a step forward and do something which probably won’t accomplish anything. He’s a good kid with a good heart. Perhaps he’ll find a renewed sense of Hope. All I know is that it’s got to start somewhere.

Anyone?

Something Beyond Words

I recognize that poetry, among the writing disciplines, is probably the most subjective. The commentary and feedback I’ve received from contest entries gives a wide range of reasons WHY the piece in question was not worthy of a prize. Largely, I read comments regarding strong imagery. I respect and accept the comments, knowing full well I could enter the same piece the following year and a new judge might feel differently.

But some 25 years ago, I was associated with fellow poets Joe Gallo and Cathy Coley in Boston where the poetry scene was lively and engaging. Our discussions revolved around our respective readings and how they related to our own work. Prosody, versification, word choice were all intensely discussed. Rhythm was as important as rhyme (or off-rhyme). The SOUND of the poem was highly significant.

Consider the Latin word “carmen” which primarily signifies “verse” (as in the Carmina Burana). The word itself is derived from the root meaning “to sing” and, as such, carmen could mean “song” as well. The word we use to designate a verse could also mean a song.

I have come to see contemporary poetry running alongside the visual arts, whether painting or sculpture or even graphic design. What we can see is vastly more important. Accordingly, we want our poetry to create a visual sensation. But why not close your eyes and listen, allow the poem to create a mood, perhaps a biorhythm which you can feel innately?

One of the things Joe Gallo referenced was poetry that went beyond words. However he meant it, I took it as meaning the creation of a sensation not exclusively linked to what we can see. While I admire young poets creating vistas of imagination and exuding colors and textures, I would like to encounter someone who pays as much attention to form (even old forms that are rarely used or considered) to dispatch a wave that can only be felt and not seen.

Perhaps that poet is out there. I will keep looking.

Being Virtuous

Family, friends, co-workers — anyone who is NOT a writer — just doesn’t get how the writing and publishing business works. If you send a query, people will ask “Did they read your stuff?” or “Are they going to publish it?” I am probably the only writer they know. The agents and editors and small presses get bushels of queries. The process is painfully slow.

Perhaps I should be more eager. At my age, there may not be as much time for real publishing success. Then again, I’m a better writer now than when I was younger and had more time. I’ve fallen into the comfortable mode of coming up with new stories and continually developing my craft. It’s a Zen thing (or maybe, in my case, a Dudeist thing).

There is a little bug creeping inside of me, scratching away at my more refined and in-control instincts. I’ve been around long enough to recognize that writing is not a money-making venture for either the writers or the publishers. Only a handful of writers are successful enough to make their living solely as writers. Even then, there is the constant networking and book signings and appearances at conferences for the purpose of selling their books.

I would like very much to be in that small circle. Not elitist, mind you, but just smiling that a long-standing dream had come true. But we know not to tempt fate and assume that a response to a query may lead to a request for pages; a review of pages might bring back an inquiry for the entire manuscript. Only twice have I gotten past that stage. It’s a gratifying feeling and I’d like to experience it again.

This system was not of my own creation. This is how it works. They say that patience is a virtue. I have no other recourse but to be virtuous.

What An Artist Can Do

It has been eighteen years since I have held residency in Boston. And yet I still feel violated. I lived there at a very significant point in my life. It was after the sadness of a divorce five years earlier had morphed into inspiration; when I met good friends who convinced me that I was, indeed, a poet; when childhood dreams of living and working in Boston had come true; and, ultimately, when I met the wonderful woman who would become my wife.

The first explosion occurred barely a block from the music store we both worked at. The concept of a ‘music store’ is an anachronism that can not be overlooked, largely because this kind of life, this world we live in now, makes the mid-90’s seem like a giant anachronism. I and several co-workers probably ambled out to the sidewalk, trying to catch a glimpse of the elite runners making it to the finish line. I was standing there, so many years before the madness.

I accept the fact that I am older now, not nearly as bohemian, responsible, with a consideration toward “selling out” more so now than back then. I understand the importance of the impact of 9/11 and how this time in history has specific protocols and procedures. On the opposite side of 50, I hold life more dear than ever before and recognize its frailty.

And yet I still feel violated.

I can not continue to absorb any of the media, whether it is news, talk, sports, online, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts. I do not care to allow political heads thump chests in front of me nor do I desire to consider the financial repercussions. Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Dudeist — none of them have anything new or different to say that has not already been said after Columbine or Waco or Oklahoma City or NYC.

I’m waiting for the painters and poets and singers and writers to make sense of things. I’m waiting for the only group that can reach down into the ultimate depths of humanity, into the pits of depravity, behind the clouds of depression, and raise us to the heights of a blessed light. I’m holding my breath for the first song or stanza or canvas to portray strength and hope and love, words that do not need capital letters because they already stand apart from the other words. A tune or lyric or sculpture will carry me forward and renew my faith.

That’s what an artist can do.

If…

A recent change in fortunes has gotten me to think of a new plot line.

I went through unemployment to re-employment.  I won’t go into details or bore anyone with the “meant to be” New Age axioms.  But as I was leaving my new job today (which IS so much more enjoyable than my old job EVER was) I was replaying the circumstances of my departure.  But instead of rewinding and replaying, I considered a new scenario.  What if I said THIS instead of THAT and I never put myself in the position that lead to my separation from my old employer?

My mind did not even begin to consider the personal ramifications.  I immediately went into WRITER mode and thought of a novel in which every other chapter was the same story except different, perhaps parallel, taking a different track than the main story.  I am aware of a movie called “Sliding Doors” with Gwyneth Paltrow that is of the same concept and I even considered that while driving (still paying attention to the road, of course.)

That movie was seminal for me in that you could consider parallel stories.  When discussing this with my wife tonight, she said that as a reader she would get confused by chapters 1 and 1a and then 2 and 2a, instead suggesting a complete story followed by Part Two titled “OR…”  I know it would be difficult to get published in the manner that I had originally intended but I still believe it would be fascinating to follow parallel lives of the same character.

After my literary thoughts faded, I returned to thinking about my personal situation.  I make no great philosophical claims.  I am not Buddhist so this is the only life that I am aware of and I was not given a handbook at birth.  We grow and we learn, as people and as writers.

These recent events may have had more gravitas because of being married instead of single, a homeowner with a mortgage instead of an apartment dweller with no responsibilities, and getting precariously closer to fifty.  But they were not the worst things to happen in my life.  And perhaps I am better for it.  Judging one’s worth and value by an hourly dollar amount demeans the integrity of the person.

So, from a personal standpoint, there is no need to consider the IF.  The writer in me is still far too curious.