Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sordid Tales of My Sort-Of Career: “A Writer Is Always Writing”

...or. as Ionesco put it, thinking about writing. And then writing. Never forget that last part.

For most of my life I’ve doubted I could ever truly consider myself a writer. Writers write books, and for decades I’d yet to assemble so much as a collection of short stories. I’d tried, sure, but despite the size of the box pictured below, it would be far too slender a volume to be considered a proper book. You really need to be a story-a-day kind of person like Ray Bradbury to succeed at this. I simply didn’t write enough. Just enough to fill a file box with the multiple tweaked editions of those stories and the rejection letters they brought home.

These are multiple copies of stories kept along with their rejection letters. They vary wildly in tone and theme and genre. And, frankly, they’re not that good.

I can put forth a case that the short story market was already over in 1992 and 1993 when I was sending out something every week. Because it was. I was wasting postage and time for that alone. But, looking back, I see the usual crude morality tales written by a starry-eyed fuckwit who thinks he’s going to save the world with his cleverly (to his mind) arranged words.

While perhaps not as turgid and talky as most creatures of writing programs—oh, who am I kidding? My stuff wasn’t that good. “Better than most” doesn’t cut it, even it is true, and that’s up for debate.

For the longest time, my sole publishing credit was a 1990 appearance in a horror comic anthology Taboo #4. I shared the table of contents with the likes of Alan Moore and Moebius...but it was only because the book’s editor liked the artist who illustrated my script, the artist had something to prove, namely that he could get himself published with even one of my stories...and I’m not beaming with pride about that thing, either. I got paid, though. It was the one and only time I’d get paid for writing fiction until 2013, when my novel Bleeding Kansas got picked up by Severed Press.

“So far away and so long ago
But a dream goes on forever.”
Or, in my case, 23 years.
In 1994 I wrote articles for $25 a pop on city council meetings and surf contests for the Imperial Beach (CA) Times in 1994. It was nothing to get excited about, and once I left for Japan later that year, I was done getting paid for writing in the 20th century, and the first decade of the 21st after that.

I had bylines in a sporadically produced lefty giveaway paper based in South Carolina called Point. It felt good getting published over the Internet all the way from where I was living in Japan—it was heady stuff for 1997—but that lasted only as long as the magazine did, and Point folded in 2000.

I’d post links to the pages, but, frankly, I’m embarrassed. The columns aren’t that good, and, besides, I don’t do politics anymore. At all. From any side. Leave me out of it.

My safe space, February 2014. It’s a lot more stripped down now, but that’s another story.

So much for me being a writer. I was just another guy who had been published in some out-of-the-way places. Big deal. For years I felt a half-step removed from the plain-faced girl who gets a poem published in a church newsletter and won’t shut up about it, because it’s all she’ll ever do with her sad, empty life.

I wasn’t a writer. Still, I kept writing. I’ve got a big, formless blob of an unfinished novel that I slaved over for nine years before James Robert Smith pulled me away to collaborate on a zombie novel, and thank God for that. 

My inability to keep a deadline got me fired from the project. Which I took more or less in stride, because, after all, Bob’s the writer. He’s got one novel optioned for film, and a book of short stories so damn big it’s partitioned into sections for themes. Me, well, it’s obvious I just dabble. Look at my credits. What credits? Exactly.

This isn’t even all of my big, formless blob. I didn’t bother printing the last 500 or so pages of front-back galleys I’d written before shelving Cringe City.

I laughed to see I’d actually written something with this title. It’s actually a poignant story that will make a fine novella should I decide to come back to it. It wasn’t a complete waste of nine years.

I abandoned my nebulous mess of a novel for the Wonder Boys foolishness it was. Still, I was writing. Every now and then I have to do one of these major shred-and-purge jobs on the printed drafts piling up my closet, and I come across weird crap I forgot writing. Terrible stuff, most of it.

How I finally became a novelist in my 50s is a multi-post story and podcast all to itself. Suffice it to say I started getting serious writing the novel that would become Bleeding Kansas, and began releasing it in installments on this blog, like I’m doing now with The Wrong Kind of Dead. James Robert Smith dropped a dime on me to an editor at Severed Press, and I was off to the races. The next thing I know, those morbid imaginings I thrashed out in a sunless corner of my small basement room are being translated into German.  

So if you take one thing away from all of this, it’s simply keep going. You are what you do. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Be realistic about your skills and abilities and what you’ve actually done so far—honestly, that’s what I was doing above. Never confuse a realistic assessment with “negativity.” If you’re throwing a pity-party, though, I’m calling the cops.

You’re a writer. Yippi-yi-ki-yay. Try not to make a big deal out of it, because it isn’t. It’s just something you do.

Here’s a twist—Write Hard, LIVE Free. Just a thought.