I sometimes move on from my old work and almost forget it exists at all. I shouldn’t do that when it comes to anything I’ve tried to do, but especially not with my last book, Dark Glasses. It contains a lot of things that – in my view – still resonate. Here’s just one of them.
Recently, I had the good fortune to be interviewed on KFAI’s Write On! Radio program. They talk to writers of all stripes, including me apparently. Though I was coming off an uneven couple of days, I did my best to hold the line and deliver the goods. If you have time to listen, my bit picks up around the halfway point. In the interview, I talk about Comedy Album, Richard Brautigan (one of my favorite writers) and his classic book Trout Fishing in America (the cover of which is the feature image for this post), and, of course, I bring up my personal white whale, Johnny Grisham himself. Happy Saturday, good people! https://www.kfai.org/player/?episode_id=25592
More than one blogger has noted that I’m not a great dancer. I don’t dispute that. But I also think it’s an unfair generalization. When it comes to slow-dancing, it’s my view that I’m actually quite gifted. And when I’m slow-dancing, unlike most things, I don’t go halfway. Nosiree, I go all out!
Not only are my steps dull and methodical, not only is my embrace feeble and weak, but I actually slow my core metabolism down to a significant degree. In such situations, it’s not uncommon for my heart rate to drop down to two to three beats per minute. True story: on at least three separate occasions my partners were convinced I had died in their arms. They all found it rather unsettling and deeply creepy. Not me. But then again, I am a true, hard-core romantic. A proverbial knight in shining armor – that’s me!
I’m a writer and I have often wondered if I’d have made any kind of a reporter. My gut feeling is…I would have made a really poor reporter. I just don’t have a newshound’s instincts. But my respect for quality reportage is real, true and heartfelt. And I honestly believe news is important. As I’ve said all along, News is important, because if it wasn’t important…it wouldn’t be news™️.
For me to be a reporter, I would have to be able to add my own spin to a given story. Observe:
“Local police say the man, who was crushed earlier today by a steamroller, was wearing a crushed velvet suit.”
This reporter is quick to add that though it’s assumed the victim’s velvet suit was crushed to begin with, if it wasn’t, it sure as hell is now!
You’ve already learned so, so much. Under my tutelage, you’ve gone from someone who couldn’t even type to someone who has met John Grisham in person AND written a best-selling novel. You better pinch yourself – just to make sure you’re not dreaming!!
Now, unless that pinch snapped you out of this literary wonderland, there’s only two or three steps left to go. I’m going to keep it pretty simple: Why did you start writing? The answer, of course, is money. Few vocations are as profitable as writing creatively and you wanted your share of the largesse. It makes perfect sense. And now? Now you’re in the catbird seat. It’s time to talk about the sweetest plum of all – the advance. The pile of money a publisher is going to hand you (interest-free) for the rights to your next masterwork.
You get one shot at this, Tolstoy. One shot, Sylvia Plath. DO NOT BLOW IT!!
What you’ll want to do is play it close to the vest. Tell your literary rep you have a dynamite concept. Tell them the follow-up book is practically writing itself, but add that you can’t say more; you don’t want to jinx it. This is when you have to bury your pride at sea and really sell it. Lay it all on the line! Meanwhile, are you actually doing any writing? Hell no! What are you, some kind of machine? There’s only one Stephen King and he resides in Bangor, Maine. The best that you can do (and me, too) is to pretend you have another idea as good as the one that drove your first book. It’s time for the piper to be paid and for once in your whole damn unprofitable life, you’re the piper!
However, as this is all playing out, you do need to do some work. Start building a new identity on the side. Pick up some wigs, theatre makeup and clothes unlike anything you’ve ever worn or would wear. Think about a name you could grow into – a whole new persona. You’re probably wondering, is all this preparation for pocketing your advance and vanishing into thin air? Here’s my unvarnished answer to that: You’re g-damn right it is.
You really are learning, you know that?
You’re a writer now and, as a writer, you must prepare for the inevitable: that moment when you meet John Grisham himself, face to face; peer to peer. Though I’ve never met the man, meeting John Grisham…I’m guessing there’s nothing like it in the whole world. But you have to be ready for it. For, in fact, it’s not the moment you meet John Grisham. It’s the moment that John Grisham meets YOU.
When you see him, wherever you see him (and this will happen), look him square in the eye and turn up the charm to about an 11. Then smile real pretty, spread your arms wide and say, “Johnny Grisham, you gorgeous hunk of river meat! Get over here!!”
From there, after an uncomfortably long (for him) embrace, slap him on the back and say, “Hey, I hear you wrote a book called ‘The Firm.’ What’s that all about? Is it some kind of exercise book? If not, what is it about? Just know I don’t read paperbacks. But I’ll sure check to see if my local library has a copy in Hard Cover. If they don’t, I’m sure you have hundreds of unsold copies lying around. Could I just have one of those? Preferably a first-edition?” Before he can answer, squeeze his hand so hard it turns blue, pretend you see someone way more important than him and mutter, “Terrific. I’ll have my assistant get you my address.” Then give him a light clap on the shoulder and mutter, “See you later, Jack.”
And that’s it – you did it. You’ve met John Grisham. Was that so hard?
You’ve made it! Your debut novel is selling a robust 16 copies per week and now everyone wants to know more about you. It’s a good thing you’re on a nationwide reading tour – so you can tell them!
The thing to remember about doing a live reading is that people have been doing this kind of thing since the dawn of the cavemen. Think about it: simply picking up a book and reading it. You’ve been training for this since you were in Kindergarten!
The only question is, do you play ball (i.e. play nice) or do you lash out and bite the hand that feeds you? This question is not as easy as it might sound. Remember, anyone can do a live reading, so long as they can hold a book and project coherent sounds from their person. Is there anything particularly memorable about that? Not really. Not unless you’re wearing an especially jaunty tie (women) or a colorful silk scarf (men). No, if you want to be remembered, you’re going to want to clamp your teeth down on the nearest set of hands and then repeat as often as necessary.
Start your reading off with a patented eye roll and then a scowl. Thank your crowd for being there and tell them how great it is to be able to do their reading for them. Tell them, “As long as I’m here doing all the work, does anyone have any food they would like me to chew for them? Food which I can then deposit, already chewed, into your open craws?” And from there, be sure to let them know that you’re more than happy to come out into the crowd and tilt people’s heads this way or that before moving about on the stage. Heaven forbid they should have to put in the effort to physically move their heads from side to side. This is their night. You’re there for them. Make sure they know that. Tell them at least twice.
You’ve done it! You’re a famous writer and now everybody loves you. It was all worth it, wasn’t it? (Of course it was!!). And now that it’s the Year 2023 and Covid is no worse than the flu, it’s time to take your act…on the road! That’s right, my friend: you’re about to embark on a reading tour!!
But before you set out, let me run a hypothetical past you. It goes as follows: Your flight leaves in just over two hours. You realize you’re hungry, so you decide to go to Arby’s, because, well, they have the meats. In an effort to save time, you utilize their drive-thru. Only when you pull ahead and rifle through your order, you realize you didn’t get the Horsey sauce packets you requested. Now, do you A) Drive off and enjoy your sandwich ‘this much’ less for the lack of Horsey sauce? Or do you B) Squeal the tires, do a Tokyo Drift around the front of the restaurant and then double park behind four cars before storming inside and dropping the old “Do you know who I am??” card on top of the Assistant Manager in Training?
(This one is easy, folks; you really shouldn’t have to think too hard about it).
The correct answer, of course, is B. You’re a famous author now. And someone’s going to try to short you four packets of friggin’ Horsey sauce??
I don’t think so. Not on my watch. It doesn’t happen. So don’t let it happen to you!
Success! You did it! Two months of writing in your spare time and you’ve finished your first novel! What’s more, not one week after typing ‘The End,’ you’ve secured a literary agent! And just two weeks after that, your book is on its way to the printing press! This is what it’s like to be a writer, my friend (though, to be fair, things usually move a little bit quicker than this). You might think the hard part is over, but you…would be wrong! Dead wrong!!
Now we get to the hard part: finances. Your debut novel is about to hit the market. Do you A) Play it safe? or B) Assume your book is going to be a best-seller and soon thereafter turned into a major motion picture starring Harrison Ford?
Any writer worth their salt will tell you there’s really only one option here: Option B. That economical car you drive? Trade it in for a new sports car. The studio apartment where you hang your hat? It must go. That pricy condo on the Tony side of town is where you need to be. You’ve sacrificed. You’ve worked long and hard. You’ve spent your share of time in the desert. Now? Now it’s time to enjoy the fruit of your labors!!
So you want to be a writer, eh? Alright. Okay. Fair enough. But you can’t first become a writer without first picking up some supplies. Here’s what you’re going to need:
- 1 table
- 1 chair
- 1 typewriter (Smith-Corona)
- 1 inkwell
- Black ink (two quarts)
- 6 pens (feather)
- 1 eraser
- Reams of paper (3 or 4)
- Typewriter ribbons (several)
- a Thesaurus
- 1 Garbage Can (Large)
You’ll also want to keep a bottle of cheap gin at the ready – at all times.
Once you have these things? You’re almost ready to write. Soon, the student will become the master!!