Man, the Universe can really kick you in the ass, can’t It?
Many moons ago, when I was a much younger Nik, I was having a very bad day.
My life was not going in any direction.
I had just graduated high school, gotten a job which paid $4.20 an hour, lived with my parents (which I did until I got married), had no social life outside the fantasy worlds inside my head, and was absolutely miserable.
I remember it was a Saturday*. I didn’t have any plans other than sitting around in my favorite chair and thinking about how I’d had already lost the race before I’d even gotten my sneakers laced up.
To be honest, I was contemplating suicide. Not my first time. Actually, back then, it was more of a past time.
There was a knock at my door.
It was a friend from high school. Nancy Phillips. She was a red headed firecracker. She was going to college and getting her life rolling. I hadn’t seen her in months.
“Hey, so I had the weirdest thing just happen. So, I was at this bookstore and this wooden plaque fell at my feet,” she said, handing me a bag. “I knew it was meant for you. I gotta go. Bye!”
And she was gone. I went back to my chair and opened the bag. It was a wooden plaque with a sailboat on the ocean at sunset. It had a quote from my favorite book at the time, Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach.
It read: YOUR ONLY OBLIGATION IN ANY LIFETIME IS TO BE TRUE TO YOURSELF.**
The little gift really perked me up.
Now, Fast-Forward to NOW.
I’ve been having a lot of Big Thinks lately. I’m on the verge of my 55th year on this planet and, frankly, I think I’m due for some Big Thinks.
I’ve been reconsidering a lot of things. Trimming away some dead branches and finding new tribes.
But the biggest thing that’s been haunting me is whether or not to continue with this crazy dream of being a Writer.
You have to stop and think about whether or not this is really worth it? Why am I doing this? Why am I spending so much time and energy on fluffs of wordy farts?
I’ve got maybe 20 more years in this meatsack.
Do I want to spend it making up shit?
Do I want to leave behind boxes and boxes of manuscripts, notes, newspaper clippings, books, books and MORE books for whatever poor bastard is left to clean out whatever hovel I finally crawl into to die?
Maybe I should let go, leave behind childish things and do something more adult. More responsible. More useful. Because, face it, if I were to roll up to a car accident, the only thing I’d know to do is tap the poor bugger on the shoulder and say, “So, wanna hear this cool idea I have for a screenplay?”
So, should I give in? Give up. Just realize that I don’t have what it takes to make it as a writer. Maybe I did, a long time ago, but I’m old now. I don’t have the strength, the stamina or the goddamn connections,*** to make any of those dreams that Young Nik had so long ago.
It’s a question that has been haunting me because, goddammit, I don’t know what else to do other than make up shit! It’s what I am. It’s encoded in my DNA.
Anyway, much like that Long Ago Nik, I’ve been sitting around, brooding. Maybe not quite so dramatically to include suicide but, I haven’t exactly been a lot of fun to be around.
And then I got a *DING* on my phone.
It’s a message from Nancy.
Like I said at the beginning of this.
The Universe can really kick you in the ass, can’t it?
*Nancy, if you ever read this, I hope I’m not misremembering this story. And if I am, well, so be it. This is my life, my blog, and I prefer to remember it as such.
**I wish, dear readers, I could show you a picture of this plaque. I still have it. It used to hang next to my desk but, since the move, I have no idea where it is. I spent 30 minutes in the hot box that is my attic, going through boxes, and found nothing. Well, not nothing. I found some cool stuff that I forgot I had and plan on hanging because, ain’t that just the way?
***And, Fortuna Help Me, I don’t have it in me to kiss anyone’s ass enough to make connections.
My favorite writing teacher back at Palomar College started off the first day of class by saying, “If you are in this to make money, let me break that illusion for you right here and now. The days of Stephen King payouts are over. If you think you’re going to make anything near a livable wage, well, good luck. But it’s probably not going to happen.”
That class started off with fifty very earnest students.
By the end of that semester, there were just five of us.
Five stubborn sons of bitches who couldn’t take the hint.
That was a long time ago. An ocean of decades separates that naive girl from me. Sometimes i wish I could go back in time and thank that teacher, David Cowper, for his harsh but real truth.
Check this out. This year, I made $28.00 from my Patreon (THANK YOU! I do appreciate all of you lovely beautiful people). I cleared nearly $24 from Amazon. And just last week, I received a royalty check for $7.08 for three stories. That figures out to be (insert calculator noises) $2.36 per story.
On the other side of the ledger, I have spent $675.00 on layouts and artwork. I have spent $100 on editing ( a freaking bargain!) and roughly $300 on swag, books and festival fees.
Yeah. Mr. Cowper was right: If you are in this for a buck, good fucking luck.
HOWEVER, I don’t want to end 2019 on a downer. I want to spread a quick piece of wisdom that injected needed oxygen on my dwindling fire.
A few weeks ago, my friend, M, and I were sitting in the Author’s Circle tent at the Dickens of a Christmas festival in Franklin, TN. The weather was terrible but there was at least a thousand people wandering around the stalls. In spite of that, I couldn’t hook a sale if I’d baited my books with cocaine. My spirits were sagging and M and I started talking about the lack of sales.
“Hey,” she said. “I didn’t come here thinking I’d sell a bunch. I mean, I’ve done okay* but I’m happy to just be here with my book. I have a job that gives me money. This is what I do for fun. I don’t need it to make money.”
I had a flashbulb moment.
And it was then that I realized I had lost my own perspective about the Craft. I was so concerned about the Profits and Loss that I forgot that this was supposed to be fun, goddammit!
I have a day job. THAT pays me money so I can buy food to feed my body. THIS….the writing, creating, doing all the weird, wacky, stupid, useless, fun storytelling…THIS feeds my soul .
I am taking that renewal of purpose into 2020. I’m going to have fun and I’m taking you guys with me.
Buckle up. It’s going to be a spine breaker.
*M published a book, God Bless Us Everyone! It’s an anthology written from the POV of the other characters in the Christmas Carol. I was so happy to get her into our group at the last minute. M came dressed as Charles Dickens and she had this huge, beautiful stage prop of a leather bound Christmas Carol book. She sold quite a few but what was delightful was listening to her talk about her book with such pride and wonder. It never came off as an elevator pitch or a shtick. Just love for something she had created. I learned a lot of from that day.
I don’t write books for kids. It’s not like I have anything against kids. Frankly, I think they’d like my books although I suspect parents and other adults in a supervisory position might disapprove.
And I tried once to write a children’s story. It’s about a boy who tries to save his mother from Death by stealing the Crown of Feathers* from under her pillow. Unfortunately, it turns her into an undead thing and he has to consult three witches to help sort it all out.
While writing it, I consulting with my daughter who is far more mature than me.
“So….do you think it would be okay if I let the Zombie Mom eat the boy’s dog?”
“Okay. How about if she eats the Grandmother?”
So, even when I try to write something for kids**, it all turns out weird.
Which gets me to the point of today’s post.
I was at the annual Dickens of a Christmas festival in Franklin, TN selling books with the Middle Tennessee Author’s Circle*** when this little girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old, comes into the tent and says she likes spooky stories.
Fingers point towards me.
She gravitates instantly to my book, The Problem at Gruff Springs, a Weird Western story.
Her mother tries to push her towards another book. It has a unicorn on the cover. “Look, honey, fairy tales!”
The girl rolls her eyes and picks up my book so I go into my Spiel.
“That story is about Alan Pinkerton who is sent to look for stolen Confederate gold and finds that there are some horrible things in the mountains. Mainly cannibalistic trolls.”
The girl’s eyes widen. “Cannibal trolls! This is the one for me!”
The girl’s mother looked at me with even wider eyes.
“There is no sex or cursing however there is violence and, well, cannibal trolls.”
“This one. I want this one!”
And the mom paid and the kid went home with my book.****
*It’s an Appalachian folk tale. Look it up.
**Even though I think kids like weird and morbid stuff.
*** Truth be told, I was TRYING to sell books. Mainly what I did was stand there, feeling like a freak on display. “Oh, look. So, that’s a Writer, in the wild? How odd.”
****And I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to remember if there were any curse words. I did remember there is a scene with the troll queens pendulous breasts swaying about. Jesus. I’m going to hell.