After finishing his latest fiction I’m rereading Stephen King’s On Writing which, although not precisely instructional, is the most inspiring book I’ve read when it comes to staying the course as a writer.
Last night this reminded me why:
“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who as ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”
“. . . in my heart I stayed ashamed. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk.”—from Stephen King’s On Writing p50
Count Alexander Rostov is placed under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow in 1922. For life. Because art loves constraints, telling a story within the confines of a single building helps make this both deep and broad. There’s an understanding of Soviet thinking I’ve rarely seen. In the sweep of more than three decades, the joys and pains of life take on a stoic Russian feel, especially in the author’s footnotes which tell us “don’t pay attention to this character, he’s not as important as the scene might suggest” or “sadly, this character, much as we’d love to see them again, leaves our story here and never returns.”
I try to keep this blog on the topic of my books, and not the business of selling them. This post is a long commentary on why I’m glad I went to Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, and why I won’t be going again. If that’s not exciting to you, I’ll see you Friday when I get back to some kind of blogging schedule.
As I noted earlier, the short version: glad I did it, wouldn’t do it again.
My first writing conference, so perhaps my expectations weren’t realistic. I was looking for either opportunities to make fans, or information about writing craft. Neither happened.
This conference is designed for fans to meet and listen to their favorite authors. They did give me a 20-minute session in a side room, attended by 3 people. Fun, but not productive.
Like every convention there were opportunities for people to drink and mingle. I spent the d&m time with my wife instead. (More on that below.)
I heard some interesting panels. But if I’d formulated specific questions and gone looking for the answers I would have found them on the Internet. There is always a certain undefinable emotional benefit to being surrounded by 300 authors and 400 mystery fans, but it’s not worth the $300 conference price to me. (I stayed with friends in Phoenix so I spent $70 in gas and parking rather than $555 for the “convention special” hotel rate.
The Village Id — a witty cozy mystery set in a small English village filled with quirky characters; very P. G. Wodehouse. Check out the 1st chapter.
Coming of age story — a young teen’s life is disrupted when his family has to move in with relatives; he turns to music for comfort
Anacrusis (a mystery with a female lead) — A woman dumps her unfaithful fiancee and moves to a small town where two men amorously pursue her, while one of them awaits the life insurance payoff from the first wife he murdered.
The early days of music videos taught us a number of things, but one of the biggest lessons I took was that musicians cannot necessarily act. The first corollary is that bad acting spoils an otherwise good video. The second is that a bad video takes some of the joy out of a good song.
Stretching a bit more: find video of Irving Berlin, playing piano and singing. Perhaps the worst singer capable of carrying a tune in all history.
One month ago at this moment our yard was silent and white. A foot of snow covered everything, including the lake. The pines had a light frosting of white and the darker bark of the elms and walnuts stood out from it all.
Nothing moved. No sound but a tractor in the distance.
We don’t let go. We claim we’re cursed by the gods to keep pushing the stupid boulder up the stupid hill, but that’s not what’s really happening. We think it’s about the white whale, but it’s us. We pretend it’s about art.
If you’re old enough, you remember a scene, whether in real life or on TV, of a parent telling their food-fussy child “Eat your sprouts; there are children starving in China!”
(If only the kids could send their Brussel sprouts to China. But I digress.)
Do hungry children in another land make it more important for your kids to eat well? Perhaps there’s a thin, very thin, connection with showing appreciation that we don’t go wanting. Try telling that to a kid facing a pile of Brussel sprouts.
How often have you heard an author decry the lack of quality in self-published books, saying that lack of quality hurts us all?
Chapter 1 went live on January 31st (because that’s when I wrote it.)
I’d had the first sentence rattling around in my head for decades. I typed it, for something to do, and the rest of the first chapter came out as if I’d already written it.
The way it ended, I knew I had to keep going.
“Going” is right. In 58 days I wrote 56 chapters. During that time we also moved everything we owned into storage in order to move out of the house we rented before we left for a month-long business trip, which we also had to pack and prepare for, while maintaining some semblance of our normal life.
I get a lot of spam. Not the autobot machine stuff; Gmail filters all that out. I get lots of emails from real human beings who want to help me optimize the SEO for my websites or to provide coding services for my web company.
I used to reply this isn’t a match for me, but that seemed to invite dialog, which also isn’t a match for me thank you very much.
Now I just delete them.
Most of the time they’re canned emails these folks are sending out to anyone who has “website” in their portfolio.
There are other people I’ll move heaven and earth to respond to. Real people, who approach me about something real. A question about publishing or the web or music. Real people who know something about me, and took the risk of putting their hand out to a stranger.
Unprecedented tolerance. Personal freedoms. No idea left behind. DIY.
Everybody’s opinion is equal, and opinions are more important than facts.
I have seen people who can’t spell or punctuate properly, in the comments on Amazon, dismiss the writings of brilliant minds like Daniel Kahneman simply because they haven’t bothered to find out who he is and they happen to disagree with him.
It is popular to pretend that all ideas are equal. All roads lead to Rome. Every method has merits, and everyone should find their own path.
It’s clear that the good quality screwdriver which will last a lifetime, for $6, is better than the junky screwdriver you’ll have to replace in a year for $3.
What slips past folks who’ve never lived in poverty is that if your choice includes “and the other $3 will buy flour so you can bake bread all week, otherwise, you get no bread” then you buy the cheap junk screwdriver.
And then again next year.
Multiply that by every single small purchase decision you make and you’ll quickly see that when there isn’t enough money, it can be almost impossible to escape.