Archives for: August 2008
Raise Your Hopeful Voice
It is interesting how things work, sometimes. The previous post was from Friday, and as the tone of it suggests, I was feeling pretty unsure of where I am as a professional writer and where I am going.
That evening when I got home, my wife had picked some movies up from the library. (I'm a big fan of movies in general, and I've dragged my wife into my passion for cinema. For her part, she's added to it by introducing me to foreign films I wouldn't have watched when I was younger, and together we've plunged deeper and deeper into the magic of movies.) One of the movies she'd brought home was "Once," which I recognized purely for the fact that the song which won the Academy Award for "Best Song" this year was from that movie. I didn't really remember it, but I was curious to see if the music from the movie was as good as people had raved that it was.
Well, different people like different things, so don't take this as a recommendation to see the movie necessarily, but I really liked it. It was low budget, an Indie film, but really well done, and I thought the music was fabulous. The plot, basically, is about the collision of two musical people and the songs they record together, as their lives so briefly intersect. It captures in a lot of ways the passion anyone of artistic inclination feels toward their craft, and the struggle to produce something worthy that many go through who aren't paid for their labor but are talented and gifted nonetheless.
The oscar song, Falling Slowly, really struck me, especially the repeated line "raise your hopeful voice," which was especially apt that night, given what I'd been wrestling with. After the movie, I dropped by YouTube and found the clip of the Oscar moment for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who sing the song, and in Hansard's almost giddy, emotional acceptance speech, he implores the audience to "make art, make art."
I suppose many writers out there, laboring in obscurity, might think my genre fiction efforts in The Binding of the Blade hardly qualify as art, but if I may take a little license with the word, I was encouraged by the song and by Hansard to embrace the love for story which was first and foremost driving me when I set out on this writing journey to begin with, never knowing if I'd be published at all.
I still don't know where I am, exactly, or where I'm going, professionally, but that's all right. People rarely know as much as they think they know about such things. It is enough to know I have a love for words, and to a degree, a gift for story, and I will use it as I may.
Self-Doubt & the Artist
When did Tommy Tutone know they were a one hit wonder? (My apologies to those who know multiple Tommy Tutone songs and feel this label has been misapplied.) Much of the audience for my books will be too young to remember Tommy Tutone or "Jenny," but for those who do, you know as I do that a quarter of a century ago, the number 8675309 was the most famous phone number in the world, and woe to anyone unfortunate enough to have it.
Did they sit in their recording studio, champagne in hand, imagining great vistas of success opening up for them in the future. Did they envision a string of hits riding up the charts until they were established as legends of rock and roll? And if they did, at one point did it dawn on them that the pinnacle of their greatness lay not ahead, but behind, receding somewhere in the rearview mirror?
If I'm honest about the last few months, I will admit that for the first time in a while, seeds of self-doubt about my own writing future have begun to creep in and take root in my mind. As these things go, The Binding of the Blade was not nearly as successful in book terms as "Jenny" was in music terms, so the comparison is perhaps, not very apt, but if getting into print is somewhat analogous to a song getting onto the radio, then maybe there's a shred of sense in the reference. At any rate, the question is similar, do bigger, greater things lie ahead, or have I already reached the peak of my particular mountain, or hill in my case, and am I descending the other side even though I don't know it?
Now some will say this is silly, after all, All My Holy Mountain just released two months ago. It must be far to early to be wondering if my writing career is over. And yet, I would remind those people that I finished writing All My Holy Mountain two years ago. Since then, I have written a crime novel, started two other novels and one non-fiction project, and none of the four are under contract. So, I find myself more than two years removed from my last submission of a manuscript for publication with part or all of 4 books on hand and at present, nothing to show for it and no imminent prospects either.
At this point, part of me begins to protest that all is not quite this dark. It is true, after all, that when my three year term with my former agent concluded last month, I was able to find a new agent in the industry who is well respected, and surely that suggests it is too early to be contemplating my writing obituary. At the same time, though my new agent was very positive when we first met about some of my ideas and past work, I await the far more important pronouncement of approval for the proposals and writing samples I've sent of the actual books. It could well be that upon closer examination, my execution of those ideas isn't something he finds as encouraging as the concepts themselves. And what then? What if when push comes to shove the works themselves don't have that certain something that would grab an editor and inspire them to invest in that book and ultimately in me? Will I find myself, like Tommy Tutone, going on with life, answering the occasional email from people who ten, twenty years after the fact have just discovered a dusty copy of Beyond the Summerland and are asking "where is he now?"
Now I implore you, post no comments assuring me of either present or future greatness. If you're reading this post, you're probably already a fan of my work - which I appreciate - but continued opportunity to write is not really up to you or to me. We don't own a publishing house. I've written this, not to solicit encouraging comments, as I have received plenty of those already, but as an honest accounting of where I find myself these days. And perhaps also, to suggest to all the would-be-authors out there, you have to hold onto your own dream and believe in your own story. This doesn't mean that when people who know what they're talking about, like editors and agents, tell you that you're not ready or the project isn't ready, that you ignore them, it means that you're going to need perseverance as well as talent if you're going to make it in this world.
You and I have more in common than you might think. While I currently have books in print, you and I have exactly the same number of unpublished books under contract - zero. In fact, for all either of us knows, you may go on to publish far more works and more successful works than me. I may be descending from my zenith while you rise from your nadir. Who can say?
So if you ask me, "Are you resting on a bench during your ascent up the mountain toward publishing success & grandeur, or are you sitting on the chairlift taking a ride back down the other side, waving good-bye to the vistas you have only just come to see and enjoy?" then I'd have to say my answer depends on the day you ask, because honestly, I just don't know.
Back to School
I wrote at the end of May about the beauty of summer when you're a teacher (which I am) and about the 79 day weekend which I was looking forward to enjoying.
Well, weekend's over.
That's right, even 79 day weekends come to an end at some point. Yesterday, August 14th, school started. If that sounds early, that's because my school likes to get a full semester in before Christmas, which I absolutely think is the right thing to do. Where I grew up, in Baltimore, most schools started around Labor Day but ran until mid-June. So, they'd have half of June and then July/August for summer. However, they couldn't finish a semester by Christmas, so exams were in January, which makes no sense whatsoever. Taking a break for Christmas & coming back to school to be tested over all the things you forgot during break is really odd. Starting in mid-August means we avoid that, and since we get out in late May, we still have a summer break of about the same length, only it is June/July and half of August.
Anyway, I digress. My point is that I'm back. Students are also back. We're in full swing. Like it or not, my day job has once again exerted its claim upon my time, my talents - whatever they are, and my energy, limited as it is. On the one hand, this is always a bit frustrating. Even if you like your job, most people, given the choice, would rather be doing something else. Summer gives time, freedom, relaxation and so forth. School means work. Even if its enjoyable work, it is work.
However, there is always something energizing about the start of the year, at least for me. I may drag my heels the last few weeks before school starts and mope about going back to work, but once I get going and back into it, I feel the excitement of a new start. I always liked school as a kid, even if I didn't always admit it, and I still do. This brings me, in a meandering, round about way, to the point I wanted to make.
Do something you love.
If you can't find something you love, at least do something you like.
In all seriousness, I know that enjoying your work is not the only consideration. Bills must be paid, and teaching, as an example, is not the most lucrative profession. Still, I suspect that I'm a lot happier than many people I know with my job, even many who make a good deal more than I do. More to the point, I suspect that I look forward to my days a lot more than they do.
As far as it lies with you, find a job you like, and do it well. I don't think you'll regret it.
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