I was in the shower the other night - and why the hell ideas hit me in weird places like that, I'll never know - when it hit me. I've had more success with Chief of Staff' than with The Brotherhood. The books clubs I was lucky enough to attend showed me how damn passionate people can become over imaginary people, and their imaginary lives. I never knew that you could get sucked so headlong into someone else's world like that. Watching people argue with each other about what the characters in the books I'd invented, and listening to them giving drawn out explanations of their behaviors, and the hidden meanings behind them, was crazy. Sometimes I sat there and thought, "Damn, that's pretty good. I should have thought of that." Seriously. Whether or not they were hallucinating or really wanting to be part of the lives of the people I pulled out of my head, the end result was that I was flattered. I'd entertained them. I'd made them think about topics even I hadn't considered while I was writing. And they wanted more.
In all, I was the guest at three book clubs, each discussing Chief of Staff. That's 3 more than I was invited to for The Brotherhood. And part of me is actually glad about that. I wrote that first novel so long ago. I'm different now, but not by a lot. Even so, I believe that the experience of writing both novels, and the way I've accepted the fate of an author (and a self-published, self-marketed author at that), has changed me and I've grown, as well.
It probably isn't a good idea to speak for all writers, so I'll just give you my point of view. When I first started, I was convinced that I was going to be a millionaire all from the royalties from my books sold all over the globe, and the gross sales from the blockbuster movies featuring the line, '...from the novel by Mark Vertreese.' Then I realized how crazy difficult that was going to be. Grisham and Sparks and Connolly and blah blah blah, I'm not. What I am, though, is a guy with a passion for writing, a bit of a lazy streak which of late has won out over hitting the keyboard, and a life that seems to be going 100 mph at various times. I wrote Chief of Staff because the literary agent who liked The Brotherhood asked me if I had anything else to give her. I sent the finished product to her eight months later (it took me 3 years to write The Brotherhood), and never heard from her again. Compare that with the throngs of readers (yes, I said throngs, and you won't change my mind) who've not only read Chief of Staff, but have absolutely LOVED IT, I shake my head at that no-show literary agent, and the universe. And I understand that writing isn't about getting rich. I'll take the money in a hot second, but I don't create to get paid. And if you look at the odds, I probably never will. Part of me says that sucks. But the realistic part of me has come to terms with that. At 41, I'm grounded enough to know the difference...but I'm still a bit of a dreamer.
I went to lunch some weeks back with a guy whose opinion I trust a great deal. We'd actually gotten together for a work-related reason, but as he listened to me complain about my job and express my love for writing that I'd let languish for far too long, his advice was crisp and truthful. "You need to get out of your own way." Prophetic and biting and honest and just damn plain right. My talent is writing. I create to make people laugh and cry and think and feel. That's what I do well. And that's what I haven't done consistently for too long. That made me sad. I felt sad that I was denying the people who like what I write the opportunity to read the things that fall out of my head, pass through the laptop, and force them to contemplate life, and maybe crack a smile or try to stifle a gut laugh. And I was depriving myself of the joy I feel in providing that for them. Trust me, the absolute WORST feeling I ever have is the moment right after I've released a project to the public or to my editor at Charlatan Magazine. But I get a total thrill out of people letting me know my book or short story or article hit home for them, or that they tweeted it to a friend or shared it on Facebook. That's what I add to life on this Earth. As I drank in my friend's words, I felt that spark again. And I loved it.
I'm sitting in the office of my new house (moving here and not writing was part of the lazy side, the atrophying of my skill), I am listening to my wife guide our son in the steps required to make banana bread. I love banana bread and I can't wait to see how it comes out. For me, that's kind of like writing, but I don't have a recipe to follow. She's telling him what to add and how to mix it. I'll start with the title to a novel, maybe have the beginning and ending in my head, and I come up with the bits in between. And still, it's a mystery to me the whole way. Just like their banana bread, when I write, I can't wait to see how it comes out.
A long time has passed between finishing Chief of Staff. Short stories and articles aren't quite the same in scope and don't require nearly the concentration or imagination as are required to keep several plots and character development strong for 400 pages. I'm pretty damn good at making shit up, but I'm super nervous about how this next project is going to turn out. I got the idea from one of my book clubs - in Raleigh - and I'm anxious about putting thought to laptop. I'm not giving myself a deadline yet, but I'm committing to you...all 11 followers, and anybody on FB who hasn't gotten tired yet of reading this entry...that The Jewel Box is on its way. Life will be breathed into it just as life was breathed into me at that fateful lunch. Even though I've been in this position before, it's a brave new world in many respects. I hope you love it. Ah...smell that banana bread!