Monday, March 30, 2015

A Selfish Grief

I remember finding out about the suicide of Kurt Cobain.  I was with my brother in 13th Ave Music, our local indie record store (anyone remember those?), and it was written up on the whiteboard where the new releases were usually written.  For those of us that were into his music, it was an unexpected shock; we were young and alive, and the man who had sung all our songs, so new and vital in a way that only is possible when you first hear something that speaks to you, somehow, he wasn't. 

It was a strange thing to be sad for the death of a man you had never met.  It felt personal, but not; it felt devastating, but not.  A real voice, an original talent, was stilled, and all the songs that might have spoken to us would never be written.  It has happened to me since then, Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut and so on.

Sir Terry Pratchett died recently. and I have been thinking of him a lot since then.  It is a strange thing to be sad for the death of a man you have never met, but even still...

It made me think of the relationship between an author and a reader.  I realized that the reason I was sad was not related to him as a person, though by all accounts I have ever read, he was as exceptional and brilliant and kind a person as his books would lead you to believe (which is not always the case;  I have read accounts of people meeting their favorite writers and walking away disillusioned and wanting a shower).

My sadness, however, had nothing to do with Terry Pratchett as a man.  It stemmed mostly from my own selfish loss.  What he had provided for me as a reader was gone.

There is an assumed relationship we have with our writers; we somehow think we know things about them because we have read their words and stories.  But that isn't the truth.  Judging from how little we know about the people we sleep next to every night, assuming we know anything about a person from the stories they have written is just damn silly.  Someone like Vonnegut, from his writing, we can probably assume a few things of his general worldview, his thoughts about people and war and willful stupidity.  Probably we can do some of that with Pratchett as well, at least to some extent, divine his thoughts about science and politics and religion and discrimination, but most of that comes from us, not him.  We lay ourselves over the things we read.  The images that spring from a writer's words are from our own head; the words are just the catalyst.  The voices in which the characters speak are our own, and as indescribable as colors.  We have to speak of these things in the negative. We only know what they aren't.

Readers everywhere have lost a lot, but I think it is a selfish loss, a loss of all the voices stilled, of all the images unseen.  We will miss what he did for us.

I will miss Vimes, Carrot, Granny Weatherwax, Vetinari, Tiffany Aching, Angua, Nobby, Colon, Death, Rincewind, Ridcully, the Dean, Moist Von Lipwig, The Luggage, Nanny Ogg, Foul ol' Ron, CMOT Dibbler, and all the rest, because they are all static now, captured in time, mosquitoes in amber.  As he wrote, we got the sense that between the books, life went on on the Discworld, people just carried on and lived their lives as all of us do.  No doubt we will get the usual post-mortem nonsense, the unfinished stuff and the b-side stuff that always follows, and certainly there are people that can keep it wobbling on for a while, but for all practical purposes, life on the Discworld as we have known it for the last thirty years or so has stilled.

We will never get to see the inevitable confrontation between Carrot and Vimes, Carrot taking on the role of king, and Vimes having to stand against him, tearing the watch in half, ripping the city in two.

Even great A'tuin, the World Turtle, has stopped his endless swim through space and time, frozen.  The Discworld, world, and mirror of worlds, has stopped spinning for us.

A genuine, original voice has been quieted, a bright spark in a dumb, dark world has gone out, leaving us here listening to echoes.

I still listen to Nirvana; Cobain's music is still damn good even after all these years.  I will still read Vonnegut and Adams and Pratchett.  All that is different now is that I don't have any new Kilgore Trout stories, any new trips through the galaxy with Arthur Dent, and all the Small Gods be damned, now I will have no new Discworld stories to look forward to, either.

As readers, we have no right to grief.  That should be reserved for Lyn, and Rob, and Rhianna, and Neil, and all the others that knew him as a man, not as a source of entertainment.  We only get to grieve, briefly, the loss of all the stories and magic and wonder that his work provided.  A selfish and self-indulgent grief.

And the show goes on.

Still Writing,
RP

If you have anything to add, or feel compelled to tell me my opinions are dumb, please take a moment to comment.
If, for whatever reason, you can't or won't comment here, you can also reach me on Twitter @RDPullins or via email: dissent (dot) within (at) gmail (dot) com.


   

Monday, March 16, 2015

Patience

Something you should know about writing a book: it takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of work.

You do the writing, the line editing, you send it out to friends to read.  You wait.  They take forever getting back to you.  You want feedback and you want it now, but it's a novel right?  It takes time for people to read.  They finally get back to you, except for a few stragglers, then you have to implement (or reject entirely) all the suggested changes.  Then while you do that, you find a ton of stuff you missed on your initial edit that needs fixed, then you add some things that you intended to put in there originally, but didn't, and then you realize that those changes, now seen as crucial to the integrity of the book, change stuff that happened before, so you have to go through the entire manuscript and fix all that stuff for continuity.  This part takes forever, because during all this, you also probably have a job, you have to take the kids to soccer practice, go to the grocery store, maybe smooch the wife from time to time to make sure that she knows that you are still alive, you have to hang out with the family, you watch a little TV, maybe play some video games.  You gotta live too, right?

Plus, the new idea that you have been putting off writing while you work on the first book needs addressed.  It's mostly mapped out in your head because that's how you commute to your job: turn off the radio, it's never good news anyway, so be productive a little, spend the otherwise wasted time outlining stories.  You know how long the writing part takes, so you'd better get started writing the new novel now, like today.    

So after all that, you have your manuscript, it's edited and polished to a shine and ready to go.  

So you want to publish it traditionally rather than self- or e-publishing because part of the whole dream is to be able to walk into a bookstore when you are out and about and find your book.  So you need an agent.  OK.  You get online you type into Google, "literary agents."  You find a handful that seem like they might want your book, your beautiful baby.  You write a query, look at the submission guidelines and fire it off.  Then you wait.  Most agent's websites say plus or minus six weeks or so. That's fine, you will fill that time writing the new book.  Your manuscript is awesome; surely you will not have to do this too many times.

You put your head down.  You write.  New book is getting bigger, you'll knock this one out in no time.

Get rejected.  Oh shit, that sucks, like bad, but that's OK, it's only one.  You take out the garbage, you watch your kids' Christmas pageant, you go on a bike ride, you write some more. Time passes.  You get rejected again.  And again.  It should be getting easier, right?  But it seems to be getting worse, each rejection seeming to be a profound statement that you might be overstating the quality of your writing, that maybe you can't cut it as a writer, maybe instead of outlining your stories at work, you should be bucking for promotion, because you're going to be there for a long, long time.  But even still, the evidence is mounting that nobody wants your book, your precious little baby, maybe you should go back to school, maybe you should be using your time doing other things like mowing the grass, or maybe you should take up intramural basketball, get in shape, maybe more wisely use all this time that you have clearly WASTED POURING YOUR GODDAMN HEART AND SOUL INTO A BOOK THAT NOBODY WILL EVER READ BECAUSE IT IS A GIANT PIECE OF SHIT.

Whew.  Take a deep breath, take a step back.  Read your book again, make sure it's not a giant piece of shit.  It's as good as you remember, no, better than that, the distance you have had from it makes it seem great.  Clearly those agents that rejected you didn't give it enough careful consideration.  Get back online, re-work your query, find other, better, more suitable agents, people that will give this beautiful, precious manuscript the love and care that it deserves.  No doubt, this time it's a lock.

Nope.

No.

Not for me.

Dear WRITER, thank you for your submission, but unfortunately, we feel that...

Seriously now, why the hell are you even writing a new book when nobody wants the one you have already?  What the hell are you even doing with your life?  The times you wrote instead of doing something you wanted to do?  All a waste.  Your new manuscript is getting bigger and more intricate, way more ambitious than the first, more moving parts, which seemed like a good idea back when you started it, because back then you weren't such a failure, you had a good book that everyone would want to read, but now you realize that no one cares about you and your book, no one gives a shit about what you have accomplished, what you have sacrificed, how hard you worked, no one even notices that you are there.

You have to increase your visibility.  Start a blog, get on social media, interact with other writers.  read some nausea-inducing articles on self-branding and self-promoting.  And OK, yeah, maybe it makes a kind of sense, but you're a goddamn artist, you're not a prostitute, are you?   Read about some incredible writers and their own struggles with rejection.  Read about perseverance, and determination. 

And through all this, you have to keep believing in yourself, keep believing in your talent and your value, in your drive and skillset.  You have to just fucking hang in there, hang on, hold on to hope.

You have to keep believing in your work, in your words.

It's hard, and it takes forever, but what else is there?  What else do you have to offer?  And if you stopped, if you could stop, what then?  All the stories just pile up inside your head, all the words go unwritten, unsaid?  Could you stop even if you wanted to?  For better, and often for worse, it is what you are.  And it's hard and heartless and discouraging and fraught with rejection and failure, but you can't change what you are.

You are a writer.

And your words will be read.

Eventually.

Still Writing,

RP