Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Hemingway. Whatever happened to writers of
that caliber? I guess nobody drinks that much anymore. Thatís not what this
essayís about, though. What do they have in common? They all knew. Based on
correspondence they had with loved ones, editors, and friends, they had the
power of premonition with their novels. All three of them came to a point in
their professional careers where they said, ďThis may not be my best book, itís
definitely not my smartest, and Iíve written more personal pieces, but this is
the one. This is the one Iíll be remembered by.Ē I find that fascinating.
Itís not a rare phenomenon with alcoholic writers of the early 20th century,
either. Itís happened with others. Anthony Burgess, Brett Easton Ellis, Milan
Kundera...I wonít bore you with obscure Dennis Miller-esque trifectas, but
itís true. They had the literary clock, which comforts me.
How in the hell could they know, though? And what does it feel like? To
sit back after completing a book, take a breath before itís released into the
wild, and realize that this is the one that matters? To realize from the
depths of your being that nothing you wrote before or long after will make as
much as an impact as the shining creation you finished? Maybe a mixture of
sadness and joy. Depression over the fact that nothing you did after that would
measure up to the masterpiece, and the joy from knowing that you accomplished
what you set out to do as a writer. You struck a chord with nearly every human
soul who pored over the printed page. Yours wasnít the book some secretary
read on a tropical vacation because she wanted to turn her brain off and try not
to think about what she had to go back home to. The guy on the bus greedily
zipped from page to page, eating up every word and every turn of phrase
because he didnít want to miss a beat. Class-rooms hundreds of years from now would
read something that you wrote during the worst hangover of your life at the
worst time in your life and it still turned out okay. Goddamn.
Some women say they have a biological clock. They have to ensnare,
attract, mate, and nest with a man. And I mean that in the most pro-feminist
sense. A lot of men my age have a career clock. They want to have the CEO
position by thirty, retire by forty, and start a trust fund for their ungrateful and
slightly stupid yet pampered children by fifty. I donít worry about any of
that crap. Itís the book clock that kills me. Ticking away in the middle of
the night, waking me back up out of the blocks, moving me from sponging up pop
culture to translate that into an article or a review or a funny limerick. It
wonít stop. I forget what started it, and I canít find anything to stop it,
even if I wanted to. Tick, Tock. Tick bloody tock.
This book is almost done. Tick. This is whatís bothering me. Tock.
And here we are in another self indulgent piece pondering the nature of this
fantastical hobby. Itís not magical, itís not as romantic as anyone thinks it
is. I donít sit at a desk on long Saturday mornings and dream out of a window.
I donít take long walks on the beach and write on papyrus during sunset with
a rare quill and enchanted ink. Most writers who freelance are lucky if they
pull in thirty thousand a year by the time theyíre thirty five. Most writers
who hold office positions as journalists have shit jobs with shit pay and
shittier perks. Itís almost worse than broadcast radio. Thereís the rare
Stephen King or Robert James Waller (who made a mint with "Bridges Of Madison County "and, thankfully, went away and never wrote a popular book again), but the
majority of us eke by with nothing. They say that writers get boring once they
become famous. I wish I could give you an answer on that one. I can tell you
that writers who are broke write about whatever the hell they want. So maybe
you give up your individual artistic freedom when the checks start rolling in.
The market just isnít what it used to be. Most people will wait for a
movie to be made before they go and buy the book. If it isnít a self-help novel
or a steamy romance with Fabioís rippling abs on the cover, housewives (the
majority of book buyers out there) wonít support it. And if itís not gloom,
doom, and anti-conservative anarchy served up Stephen King-style, confused and
testosterone-amped teenage boys wonít buy it. But Iím not making excuses,
here. Iím good at one thing: Essays. Thatís it. Clever people often ask me,
ďTom, you should write a Real Book.Ē or ďTom, what you need to do is write a
Movie or a Popular Cartoon!Ē and to this I reply, ďActually, my next project
is to write about the asshole who gave me foolish suggestions.Ē Iím not that
vicious anymore. I tell them that I donít have the scope. I can go out on a
limb and write a little creative project or when Iím trying to capture the
heart or get into the skirt of a love interest I can whip up a decent poem, but
thatís it. It could change, but I doubt it. Maybe some day. The essays are
the thing, though. And itís not a Fortune 500 business, that. The last time
essays were popular people were carving Victorian Furniture and Henry David
Thoreau was wandering around aimlessly in the woods rhapsodizing about log
cabins and back home serenity. I picked the wrong century to make money on this
sort of thing.
Essays are a dirty word. Dave Barry writes them minus the message and
plus the fluffy, harmless wackiness. At a weighty 500-600 words so that the
newspapers can cram it into the lifestyles section between a hard hitting
journalistic expose on growing cherry tomatoes in the spring and the latest Dear Abby
letter about crotch rot. Am I jealous? Hell yes. Heís got the pole position
in the rankings and it doesnít look like thereís room for number two. Andy
Rooney, one of my heroes, was in the right place at the right time (note that I
had two opportunities to make a cute pun by substituting the word Ďrightí
with Ďwriteí). He reported for World War 2, ambled onto 60 Minutes, and spent
forty years complaining about joggers, weight gain, and fixing the shingles on
his house. I love that man. He could complain about anything. And whatís
the point of writing an essay if you donít have something to piss and moan
over? So I bide my time and try to mentally will a brain aneurysm for Dave Barry
through transcendental meditation. Iíve still got a little time left.
Most writers worth anything make their debut by the time theyíre thirty.
If you canít come to the table with some A-material by then, you might as
well come up with a new self help concept or dress up an old one. Most writers
who have any sort of staying power hit their stride or hit the public
consciousness with a vengeance by the time theyíre thirty. Tick..................Tock.
Iíve got two years left. Itís like a death sentence. Itís time to get
Four years ago the goal seemed easily achievable. I was the toast of the
town and whatever social circle I couldnít schmooze my way through, I bought
my way into. To my complete shock and disbelief, Buffalo NY isnít what youíd
call a launching pad for historical greatness. So it was back to the drawing
board. Iíve done a lot of freelancing and spent a lot of time wiping egg off
of my face. Iím not bitter, Iím not upset, and Iím not scorned. Iím
determined. Plan two. I threw up a white flag and started reaching out to some
agents. And some of them want to see the completed book. For all I know, one
of those wonderful princes or princesses of commerce could be reading this
right now. To that I say: I love you, and letís do business. My ass hurts after
that line. Joking.
So itís a mad rush to whip up twenty more quality pages and stir up an
Ďití factor before they move on to the next shining star of essays. Iím sure
they have scouts for that. Iíve done my homework. No more self publishing.
Iím not going anywhere near subsidy publishing. Print on demand is nice, but
only if you want enough royalties to buy a can of paint thinner to drink every
six months. This is the last tunnel in the rat-maze. Itís the correct one,
and it took me twenty eight goddamned years to find it. Tick Tock.
Minus twenty pages. Can I make some money and a dent on the general
public? Iíd settle for a mild rash on the collective unconsciousness. Two years
to go. Less than two years. Itíll be down to a year next October. Time to
wise up, dry up and fly right. Iíve got a solid book to let loose. Itís not
Ďthe oneí, but itís warm. I hear that they love individuality and an
informed opinion out there on the bookshelves. Letís hope itís enough. Iím
shooting for a six figure advance when they option the film rights.
forwarding my messages to Walden pond,