Living Out Loud: : Literary Lunacy

A writer's life

I have a book of short stories coming out this month. No, wait, that's been changed to the first of the year. It will be put out by a publishing company whose name you'll recognize. No wait, that probably won't be happening either.

The only facts I know for sure is it will be available to be ordered at any bookstore and will come out as an original paperback. The initial press run will be small, and there won't be much promotion on it.

If I sound a bit bummed out on this, it's because I am. What I'm finding out in the wonderful world of book publishing is one day you're a "hot property," and a week later you're a dead fish.

An editor at my publishing house at first called my stories "masterful and original," then later said they were simply about "the failures and shortcomings of middle-aged men." In the beginning, we were on the phone almost daily.

Now he'll eventually return my call. The last time we talked, I reminded him I have a binding contract on the publication of the book. He said he was all too aware of it.

Basically, all that initial enthusiasm has turned into something comatose.

I also have another publisher I work with, namely CityBeat. A few weeks ago we put out our annual Literary Issue, and my book was to be a part of that special paper. Writer Chris Kemp interviewed me; I sent the literary editor the finished edited manuscript of the stories and also sent him my photo that will be used on the back of the book.

If you somehow missed reading anything about it in that issue, it's because the story never ran. At the last minute it was pulled, because an exact publication date wasn't known and because the editor didn't have a physical copy of the book in his hands.

While I can perhaps understand this decision, it's just another frustration to deal with as a writer. When I want to feel sorry for myself - which has been the case a lot lately ­ I often say out loud why do I have to fight for everything?

When I first joined CityBeat in their business office six years ago, I had to fight to get anybody to read any of my material. When this column started almost two years ago, I had to fight with the Web editor to make sure it actually ran on our Web site every week. When the decision was made to run the column once a month in the print edition, it was a struggle to really make that happen. And throughout my eight years in wanting, needing to take writing seriously, I've had to fight off the depression of getting all those rejection slips in the mail sent to me from various publications I'd sent my stories to.

Of course, dealing with publishers and dealing with rejection really has nothing to do with the job of making sentences. Trying to make those words sound and ring true is what keeps me going as a writer. When I'm at my desk working on an essay, a short story or even just writing in my journal, I'm at my absolute happiest.

There's pleasure in reading other people's work, too. Reading a good book by a new young writer is joyful, because you become excited for them and look forward to even better work. Reading words by a seasoned writer is also rewarding, because it inspires you to make your own sentences better.

So being a writer is my life, and feeling sorry for myself gets me nowhere. This is a path I have chosen, and I think all of us who put words on the page go through the same pain and frustration when others don't take our work as seriously as we do.

The reality is we as writers — when you can strip away our egos — really don't write for publishers or editors or others. I think we write for ourselves, for the pure enjoyment of trying to make our words meaningful. When I can put my ego aside, I know if I never had another story published, it wouldn't stop me from writing.

My favorite writer, and now a friend, Richard Ford, probably states the case of being a writer better than anyone: "It's dark and lonely work and nobody has to do it."

The bottom line is I'm lucky. So many of my friends who write are still trying to get heard while my stories have been published in various publications. I've also got this weekly column that I write and/or edit and, yeah, that book will be coming out right at the beginning of 2006. I should be counting my blessings.

The book is entitled, Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories. When it comes out, I'll be doing book signings and readings and hopefully all that will be announced in this publication. So come on out and see me early next year. If you tell me my book is good, I'll probably give you a big hug. If you say it's a book about the failures and shortcomings of middle-aged men, I'll probably just shake your hand.

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