JSB: Carried Away
In the Stephen King short story, "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away," a traveling salesman pulls into a Motel 6 to commit suicide. Life on the road, the isolation of it, has caught up with him.
The only thing keeping him from eating a bullet is his odd journal, a collection of bathroom graffiti he has kept over the years. He thinks people will consider him crazy if they find the journal. He had once wanted to write a book about it.
You'll have to read the story, found in the collection Everything's Eventual, to find out what happens (I write suspense, see?) But it's one of King's best stories, with a haunting subtext about it.
What do we do when we see that which we love carried away?
I've thought about this recently after some postings by a few of my novelist friends who are being dropped by their publishers for lack of sales. Or others who can't seem to land a new contract, despite well reviewed and even award winning novels.
When we are unpublished, we all think breaking into print is the key to the Kingdom. We have arrived in a literary Valhalla to take our place among the gods of print. Odin, looking like Jerry Jenkins, and Thor, a golden-maned John Grisham, welcome us with pints of Mead and promises of immortality.
It's all an illusion, of course. There is no Valhalla. It's more like a dusty Barnes & Noble. And whatever shelf space we have can dry up in an instant. As General Patton once put it, "All glory is fleeting."
You know, I think my most joyful writing came before I was published. Partly it was ignorance – I didn't know that much about fiction (I'd come over from screenwriting) and was just having fun putting down a story as it flowed.
So happy was I that I wrote something in my journal. I said that I would always write, even if I never got published. Even if I had to print out copies at Kinko's and force them on my family at Thanksgiving and on perfect strangers outside Safeway. I wrote because I was compelled to write.
Well, I did get published and it turned into a career, but that does not mean it's all roses, or that it might not go away sometime. No writer is fully immune from such thoughts.
What to do if it happens, if the publishers' doors slam?
I hope I would respond like one of my favorite writers, Preston Sturges. He was a blazing comet of success in the early 1940's, writing one great film comedy after another. He considered the possibility that all he had might be taken away and said, “When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb with a pencil and a ten-cent notebook, and start the whole thing all over again.”
Try to keep that attitude, no matter where your writing goes. If you get published, don't rest and think you've got it made. Keep the PHD mindset: Poor, Hungry, Driven. Half the battle in this game is sticking around.
So stick, and write. And if you must, go to Kinko's. They can carry away your contracts, but they can't carry away your determination.
More about James Scott Bell can be found at http://www.jamesscottbell.com.