On Monday (10/10/16) I will once again cast a stone into the river. Another unveiling release, another Hail Mary pass, another lob. (Not another chuck, I would say, because I’m not trying to give anyone a black eye.) Can you hear me cringing or sighing or wincing or hoping? If so, you might be a writer, too. Voila, the rock gets its own arc and a landing of undetermined quality. Endgame.
Why do it? the voice asks.
In simplest terms, I have to. (More on that, soon.)
This time, I invite readers to board a shuttle with a sniper’s beam rifle secured under their seat. Rather than a view of the California coastline or the Danube, their window shows them space giving way to a wintry planet, then a mountain fortress. Everyone aboard is frightened, but there’s no option to turn back. The war is on and a rare fuel must be protected (or, at least, not relinquished to the enemy) and the stakes are very high.
Captain June Vereeth, our heroine, isn’t the only one who didn’t ask to be in this conflict or to raise a rifle on the inhospitable world of P-75. War lives up to its reputation for superceding everything else, however, and a blast that redefines ‘victory’ soon leaves Vereeth and four soldiers stranded alone on the planet. Without a ship, or a radio, some 50 million miles behind enemy lines. Dangerous wildlife start taking an interest, and the power-hungry enemies (Mitasterites) start returning to the surface by the hundreds. In galactic parlance, you might say, our heroes are utterly screwed.
In my last published novel, The Churning, I asked readers to live in the shoes of an egotistical Persian-American soccer star who finds himself as a hostage for crazed villains in a house. He learns some things about himself and his lifestyle. The story was a little dark.
For my first offer, Watching the World Fall, I gave readers a sane, disease-stricken father whose act of kidnapping a college football demigod is, he believes, a righteous gift for his son. (It was my first real novel, so it involved nine years of bumbling and mistakes, first.)
There’s also The Song of Jemma and other short stories with various worlds and predicaments. The list goes on.
All told, even with Booktrope’s marketing of the re-released “The Churning” and so forth, maybe 500 people have read my stuff. I don’t think it’s up to a thousand. The river where I lob these stones is wide and gushing. (If I really seek an exploratory adventure into crushing depression, I could calculate my hourly earnings as a writer.)
Why do it? the voice asks. Why take that penalty kick if you know the ball’s going over the bar?
Grumble. [Insert sarcastic cartoon depiction of writers as laptop-bearing Starbucks junkies here.]
Because I don’t know how to do anything else? No, that’s weak, and it’s far from the truth. I parent. I play and coach soccer. I (try to) fix websites. I cook. I lead kids, when asked. I chauffeur and cater and entertain and organize (mostly without being asked). I make repeated attempts at tidying/updating the house, often with laughable failure. I live.
Could it be that I don’t know how to do anything better than I write? My soccer buddies would be quick to point out that my on-field antics provide no competition. If I poured 1,500 hours (and excessive coffee consumption) into a meal, could my culinary creation be superior? That’s doubtful, too.
Why do it? the voice asks.
Could it be that a deeper compulsion is at work within me? That, for better or worse, a storyteller is what I am? Ed Viesturs was born to climb, Chuck Yeager to fly and Bobby Flay to cook.
Uh, Mister Edison, they’ve made successful careers out of their passions. You’ve made bupkis.
But, is that the point? Raking in dough? [This, by the way, is how all unsuccessful writers console themselves. It’s easy–just cling to the calling of art.] Is money the reason to rise in darkness, pace the kitchen (or out in the fog–even better!) and try to bring a little order to all the voices upstairs?
(I am lucky to be one of them. The ideas flow. Without exaggeration, I picture the creative side of my brain as a kind of Heathrow Airport. All those queues going in different directions, complete with scowls and polite smiles and laughter and lost luggage and fears about missed opportunities. Those multitudes aren’t quiet, either.)
The point I’m trying to make is, it’s not really a choice. Some of those outbound planes have to actually taxi and take off. Does an artist ever stop making art? Wouldn’t that make the world a little less lively or colorful? If I’m good enough to get positive response from the few people who do read my work, isn’t that good enough for a storyteller?
Chances are, it’s going to have to be. There’s no Knopf or Random House or New York Times printed anywhere near my name right now, and that may be true for all time. I accept that certain things are out of my hands.
Measuring the quality of consolation prizes, however, is a matter of perspective. Yesterday, a friend told me she couldn’t put this book down. I must’ve been pulling my hair and filling my ears with loud music for 7-8 months trying to come up with a satisfying way to tie the story together. Then, like an old song you long form, it arrived (and gives the tale a pro-environment twist). Bam, lucky.
And a year from now, if I’m standing ready to lob another stone knowing how Endgame didn’t make much of a splash, will I still throw?
It’s what I do.