A letter to some writers
I got a long e mail from an old writer friend of mine today. We've had similar careers, a number of successes but no break-outs, though we wrote two Best Seller types of books at the same time. And suffered the same fate. (If you want to read about agents who are always pushing these Best Seller ideas on their clients, read Dean Koontz's new novel--a truly hilarious look at publishing, agents and critics).
My friend was talking about all the people we knew who'd never gotten their due and how so many of them had fallen away now, lost cars, homes, marriages, got lost in alcohol or drugs or despair. He said he wished it was the eighties again and we were starting out, both of us having come out of magazines in the seventies to write novels in the new decade.
I reminded him that back in the eighties many of the book writers I knew were telling me that they wished it was the sixties again because that was the golden decade. I soon learned that the golden decade was any that you didn't happen to be inhabiting at the moment.
I also reminded him of something wise Charles Grodin once said (I'm paraphrasing here): A lot of the young actors I hung out with were a lot better than I'd ever be. But they gave up. A lot of them went into real estate. But that's why I'm here today. Because I didn't quit.
I believe Grodin was asked in this same interview why he'd had to audition five or six times for his masterful part in Midnight Run, getting the part (I believe) only when Robert DeNiro said he'd pull out if Grodin didn't get it.
To me that was another example of hanging in there. I always thought of Grodin as a star. I imagine he did too from time to time but he put up with the nonsense and finally got the part. (Who else could have played it anyway? One of the best performances of that whole era.)
Full time writers of my generation (and this is true in all genres) are struggling with an abysmal marketplace, the dominance of new sub-genres (horny vampires--who knew?) and a flood of new kids on the block who are damned good writers.
Mixed in with the scramble to eat is the will (never lost) to do our best work. We're too old to write the break out book but we're not too old to write the book that will survive us. Not some monster bestseller but a book indelibly our own that will speak to at least a few people after we've passed. Unlike publicity departments and reviewers, the internet is a democratic institution. Just last week somebody said they were starting a website about Eliot Chaze, a major writer whose work is often referred to but seldom read since his death twenty years ago. Chaze will finally get a deserved following. The size of it is irrelevant.
So ladies and gentlemen of my generation--many of you whom I know through my years editing Mystery Scene--let's not give into the despair there's so much of on various blogs. Let's do what we need to to survive but also make time to write the kind of book we set out to write long, long ago.