Monday, August 10, 2009

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.


Anonymous said...


This may be the finest post you have ever written. Not only did it evoke utter agreement drawn from my familiarity with these things, but it inspired me profoundly.

Richard Wheeler

mybillcrider said...

Ed, Judy loves (and highly recommends) Grodin's autobiography, It Would be so Nice if You Weren't Here. She says it's a wonderful lesson in hanging in there. Naturally I haven't read it.

When I started out, I thought maybe one day I'd write a book that would get some attention, but I never had any pressure to write anything other than what I wanted to write. I've done a lot of different stuff and had a lot of fun. It looks like things are trailing off for me now. I don't have anybody asking me for manuscripts, and some of the markets I wrote for have disappeared. I don't mind. I'll keep on as long as somebody will buy the books. That might not be much longer, and I doubt I'm the kind of guy who'll do it for free. Whatever happens, it's been a heck of a ride. I never thought I'd publish a book, much less a few dozen of them over the course of 28 years. I made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I have no complaints.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Ed -- very poignant and bittersweet at the same time. Ron C.

James Reasoner said...

Great post, Ed. Being stubborn is a great asset in this business.

Matthew P. Mayo said...

Hi Ed,
Thanks for the inspiring post. So much of what you said rings true for me, too, though I'm of a slightly younger generation. All I've ever wanted to do is write for a living (such as it is), and I've only this year been able to go full time writing novels and non-fiction books. I work harder than ever for paltry pay, but I love what I do, and I'm so thankful for this chance ... but I want more!

Cheers (and thanks again),

Max Allan Collins said...

Words of truth.

Speaking as one who as never been the flavor of the month, but has survived in the pulp jungle since 1971, I can only say that I soldier on because of the two factors Ed mentions (a) the need to make a living, and (b) the desire to do good work. The latter is more important, but without the former, you don't get the chance....

I hated the '80s at the time, but I now realize they were a golden age for me -- I had a lovely wife (still do), and a great son (still do), a syndicated comic strip, Shamus awards, a successful regional rock band, New Wave music, some great TV, and the ability to time-shift the latter through the amazing invention called the VCR. I bitch about today, too...and yet here I am on a computer that allows me access to information and opinion and commerce, a tool/addiction I now can't live without.

As Mickey Spillane used to say, every day above ground is a good day.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Your words really stirred me and validated why I stick with what I'm destined to always do. Because that's what makes me happy.

You always provoke the intellect and nudge the emotions, Ed. In your books. And here.

Thanks for fighting against the tide.

It means a lot.

cup of cupcake said...

Ed, I've been a lurker on your blog for nearly a year now. I tried to pay tribute to your generation of under-read great writers in a book review I wrote a couple months ago. Your post today has reminded me of it. Feel free to delete this self-promotional comment but I thought you might like to read the review.

I'm at

David Jack Bell said...

Hey Ed,

There's not much choice except to keep on keeping on no matter what. Persistence--and stubbornness--pay off.



Martin Edwards said...

Hi Ed. You have put it splendidly. Not quitting may not be a guarantee of eventual success, but if one does quit, success is guaranteed never to come.

Juri said...


"As Mickey Spillane used to say, every day above ground is a good day."

This is the first instance when anything written by Spillane touches me deeply.

Thanks also to Ed for a great post!

Christopher said...

Please soldier on because people read you because they love your work.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Very true. Like anything else in life, being a successful writer isn't about giving up.