Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"What Are You Writing?"

I ran into someone in the supermarket yesterday. We've known each other for most of the time I've lived in Davis. Our children grew up together but we almost never see each other (this is the situation with most of the people I met during the years I was doing PTA stuff). We're both rather shy, so we never developed a real friendship, but we both liked to write so that was one bond that we had. (We've both also buried adult children, which is another sad bond that we share.)

I run into her, usually like this, in the supermarket, maybe once a year, maybe not for several years. Her first question is always "how are you?" and her second question is "what are you writing these days?"

This year the question was prompted by her seeing a letter to the editor by me and letting me know how nice it was to see me "writing again after all this time." She then asked "what else are you writing these days?"

I never know how to respond to that because I'm in the paper every week for at least one review (sometimes two or three reviews) and every couple of months for a full page story on the front of the entertainment section. She obviously had never noticed any of those, which surprised me because she's a theatre person herself.

Or maybe she does notice but feels that doesn't count.

"What are you writing these days?"

Why does that question make me feel guilty? Heavens, I write every single day. I write too much. But I "just" write this journal. It's not "serious writing." She's had a book published. I bought her book, but it's in a genre that is not something I normally read, so I've never read it--I just bought it to be supportive.

She's in the middle of her second novel, but is working full time now and doesn't have that much time. But I'm "retired," so "what are you writing these days?"

It shouldn't make me feel guilty, but it does. Yeah, I know I can write, and somehow questions like this make me feel like I should be writing, you know, "Important Stuff."

However, I have no desire to "write a book." People think that if you can write, you should write the great American novel, as if it's a simple little thing and that it will make you millions.

First of all, I write crappy fiction. My fiction is not believable, the dialog is stilted and I have no ideas whatsoever about plots. I've never had an active fantasy life, so I don't have a hundred plots floating around in my head just waiting to be put into writing. I tried it once, when I did Nanowrimo, and I did manage to complete my 50,000 word novel, but it was horrible. I wrote it and I could see that it was terrible.

But, more important, I've seen "publishing." I've seen what happens when a good book tries to get published. It's amazing to me that new authors ever emerge on the scene at all.

Dr. G spent about $1,000 to find a publisher that would cover half the cost of publishing his book--and it's a good book! It took a year of shopping the book around, with contacts. I cannot tell you how many publishers returned our packet (each packet cost at least $10 to produce) unopened with a stamp on it that they did not accept unsolicited material.

He tried getting an agent and that was also a thankless, expensive, time-consuming project.

Eventually it did get published and I wonder if he ever made enough in sales to begin to make a dent in the money he paid to have it published. Still, I suspect that getting his second book published was made a bit easier because he had one book under his belt.

So, faced with the knowledge that I write crappy fiction and that even great books only get published because of extraordinary good luck, why would I be "writing something" that I know I don't write well these days?

I love what I write. I love this journal. I love it when I get feedback from people who have followed it for any length of time because I know that at least someone is reading it.

I have such a good time conducting interviews, as I did yesterday with the writer and director of a new movie that is being premiered in Sacramento in July. I get to meet such interesting people and it's fun when a story comes together "just right."

I'm working on two right now--the one on the movie which is having a "test preview" here in Davis in June, and a big splash feature article for the founder of the young people's theatre, who is directing his last show (which he also wrote). I did a big deal on him a few years ago, and there will be a lot of duplication, but I hope not too much. I love this guy anyway--we've worked with him off and on for 25 years or so (and he was a speaker at one of the Paul memorials) and I really want to do right by this article.

So I guess that's the answer to "what are you writing these days?" even if my friend doesn't know that I write stuff like this, and even if I'm never going to appear on the bookshelves of the local bookstore.

One nice thing about sites like LuLu is that you can self-publish without spending a fortune. From time to time I think about doing a "best of Funny the World," if only for my own benefit.

1 comment:

Harriet V said...

You have enough material to do books on any number of subject. Example: Puppies Who Have Adopted Me. All profits on that one to go to the puppy shelter; I'm sure they need it!

Self-publishing may be the way to go, just to expose the subject to new audiences. It's especially important for those who don't believe you're a writer because you can't show them a book. (As bad as having to publish in order to earn tenure...) Lulu worked best for someone I know; I also know people who used other publishers that didn't work as well. (Not to mention the book I worked on, where we kept telling the author to DELETE THE OLD FILE FIRST, so he wouldn't use the wrong one. When his book came out, it was full of errors I know I corrected!)