Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lobster Boy

I re-read an interview with Charles Runyon where he says that after he's through writing a book, he feels like a "hollowed out lobster." Maybe that's been my hangover since finishing the last book. Maybe it's not so much a lacking as an emptying and after a few weeks, as with Runyon, whatever's gone dry begins to refill. I'm kind of feeling that way, and I'm hoping so. The writing business is discouraging enough without dragging unstable personalities into it.

I'm noticing good writing again: Ron Hansen's "Nebraska" had me marveling at his descriptions, his use of unusual but perfect adjectives and the evocative tone of the whole thing. I'm reading Stark House's "A Trio of Gold Medals" (which includes the Runyon interview and his book, The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed - great stuff, as are the other two books included). Yesterday I was excited that the hundredth issue of Granta came in the mail. So I think things are being recharged.

In the midst of feeling encouraged, the Rara-avis list has had a few posts about the current state of the publishing industry. Someone makes the point that since whatever's going on has been doing so for the past twenty five years and probably shouldn't be thought of as transitory. Others point out that the average advance for a new writer is about four grand minus your agent's commission. This is not new news, and if you break that number down to an hourly figure for not only the writing but the pursuit of an agent, conference attendance, etc., it's not even pitiful.

So you ask yourself if what you're doing is worthwhile, is it realistic, is it fair to your family, and to your family's future. Who can answer things like that? Right now, my spine would likely not allow me to go back to a desk job and obviously precludes a manual labor one. In a way, I'm really kind of screwed and don't have a lot of options anyway. Plus, if I think about it honestly, I'd probably blow my head off if I had to go back to IT and the kinds of people that polluted its upper levels at the time I left.

The prospects for becoming a professional writer may be extremely bleak, but kinda sorta so what? Is that reason enough to pack it in? Because it's difficult? Books are still being written and published, the trick is to write well enough or entertainingly enough to crack that nut. I don't understand the people I've met who manage to write a single book and then spend years traveling to conferences trying to meet people whom they might sell it to. Write another one. Then another. Get better. At some point you should create something that demands to be published.

That's what I think, anyway. Maybe it's just because it seems too hard to walk away without actually failing at it first.


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