So, the other day, a fan of mine (I do have them) suggested I act more enthusiastically about my book. I need to sell it like it’s the greatest thing since movable type. This was in response to my disappointing Kickstarter campaign. As of today, I have only managed to raise about $900 of the $10,000 needed for editing and marketing. But the thing is, I am not a salesman. I couldn’t sell Gatorade to a man dying of thirst. Nor can I bring myself, in good conscious, to brag. Judging my writing is like judging how attractive you are. It just looks bad. Unfortunately, I am in the unenviable position of prostituting my mind, and as I have been learning lately, a big part of the publishing industry is shoveling BS. I cannot express my level of disgust for covers declaring such and such author is brilliant, or promises of, You won’t be able to put it down! It’s true about 10% of the time, which is why my favorite jacket is of Catcher in the Rye. Front and back are identical, just a horse on a merry-go-round. No praise whatsoever. Nada. Zilch. And the ironic thing is, Salinger is a true, literary genius. But just like me, he abhorred anything that was BS, or as he put it, phony. Nowadays, saturated by video games and YouTube and Twitter feeds, the influx of phoniness would probably make his head explode. But it’s worse for us, I think, because all this click-bait crap (You won’t believe what happens next!) is turning us into zombies.
|This remarkable illustration by Steve Cutts|
We hunger for memes like the walking dead feasting on brains, but have no appetite for genuine storytelling, for anything meaningful or nuanced. But story is what I live for. It isn’t just something that matters a lot to me, it’s the only thing that matters. Call me crazy, but story is what we are. Our religions are stories. Our lives are stories. And when I am dead and buried in the ground, all that my children and grandchildren will have of me are memories, my story. Even when the human race goes extinct, the thing that will remain is our story. To trivialize story is to trivialize existence itself.
Given a chance, a good book can outcompete any form of entertainment. But it takes patience, something we don’t seem to have much of these days, and publishers have taken note. My favorite novels are classics, like The Iliad, A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Grapes of Wrath, but the industry urges us to avoid such books, lest we fall into the trap of writing that way, because substance takes too much effort, and the payoff, however life changing, takes too long. Modern style (if you can call it style) is reflected in books like the The Martian, so instead of, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” readers are treated to, “I’m pretty much fucked.” Hey, obscenity is fine, simplicity not so much.
As an aspiring author, I am getting to a point where I cannot enjoy reading. While there are some truly great new books out there, The Road and Never Let Me Go come to mind, these are far and in-between, and you really have to dig through the dreck to find them. And there seems to be no pattern, no way to be guaranteed of a good read. Not every classic is great, for instance. After Frankenstein, I found Bram Stoker’s Dracula to be dry and dull, a glorified slasher from the 1800’s. Both A Princess of Mars and Tarzan are equally inane, but then I have to remember the context in which they were written, and the target audience, pubescent boys living in the 1900’s. More and more, I am coming up with excuses for bad storytelling. “Well, this was written at a different time,” or “This was popular then,” or “The publisher rushed him,” or “She’s a well established author and this is the fifth in the series, so the demand for quality isn’t there …” Now you may be wondering, why am I even bothering with excuses? Because I don’t have the status to knock a famous piece of fiction. I am a fucking restaurant employee asking people what they want on their pizza, so what the hell do I know?
And this, this, is the dichotomy splitting my brain in two, the thing that’ll have me foaming at the keyboard in an insane asylum someday. Prudence dictates I never compare, never admit, “Shit, my book is better than this, a lot better, in fact …” But I cannot help these feelings, and the frustration that follows. It’s like being in love, and you want to share it with the world, but she’s a married woman. Too often, when I start reading a new book, I find myself reworking the story a dozen different ways, to improve it, and I just have to the put the damn thing down in frustration, especially if said author is a millionaire. On the other hand, if a writer truly intimidates me, I am overjoyed. I am overjoyed by Kazuo Ishiguro and Cormac McCarthy, by Robert Holdstock and David Mitchell, and dozens of others. I want to have them over for tea and get deep into words.
This is the kind of person I am: people come to the restaurant where I work and say, “You’re pizza is the best in the world!” I hear it all the time, and every time I feel embarrassed, and worse, like I am somehow deceiving the public. Best in the world? According to who? Some customer? Nah. I’m sure some fancy chef in Italy or New York can make much better pizza. How good of a book is Ages of Aenya? Is it great … good … decent even? This I know to be true, it’s a lot better than half the books on my shelf. The trouble is saying it. Who would believe me?
The hardest part about being a writer isn’t the writing, it’s getting people to notice you, to discover what you’ve spent half your life bringing to the world, in the hopes that, just possibly, it might stir something deep inside of them. The writer/reader relationship is a lot like romantic love, when one pines for the other, but the love is unrequited. Having to remain humble in this instance is like being Gatsby, throwing the biggest party from afar, in the hopes the one you cherish stumbles through your door.