Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lost and Found

A writer friend and I were talking the other day about where we are in our careers -- we're both rapidly approaching the decade mark, which evidently these days makes us Incredibly Ancient Authors -- and he asked me how much I think I've lost, turning pro. I thought he meant that in a financial sense, and started to laugh. I've learned from my mistakes, but brother, they weren't cheap. When I started giving him figures, he clarified: what have I lost besides money.

I thought about it. There were my illusions, which Publishing ate, raw and still quivering, with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Pride doesn't goeth before a fall in this biz; the people you put on pedestals do. So do misconceptions, assumptions, naivete and a large chunk of youthful fantasies. The industry made a very quick ragout out of my ignorance and innocence, and served it with a side order of extra crispy fried trust. Sure, some of these things needed to be the early bird special, but some should never have been put on the menu. I told him all this.

You can't move into a village of cannibals and expect to be a vegetarian, my friend calmly pointed out. Eat or be eaten.

I didn't like hearing that. Eat or be eaten, those are our only options? Where were the Here Be Cannibals signs? And who says you have to move in and pull a chair up to their table? Leave. Escape. Build your own village. Make it the Village of Extremely Pissed-Off Vegetarians. And, whenever possible, go back and kick some cannibal ass.

After assuring me that his diet was mainly vegan, my friend wisely moved on to ask what I'd found since turning pro. Access to the planet via print and the internet is a big one. I could never have met so many people if I'd remained unpublished. Being paid to do what you love is a privilege. Friendships, the rare kind, with a few select people who understand you as you understand them, as no one else ever has or will (even the mainly-vegan variety.) The immense satisfaction of seeing a lifelong dream turned into reality. Brief, silent, towering moments of victory after a battle with a book, before you head off into the next one. Beauty. Other, nebulous stuff that doesn't lend itself easily to words.

Feasts of flowers, not flesh.

What we lose and find as professional writers isn't the hardest part of working in this industry, though. I think that comes later, after you've been around for a while, and you watch other writers turn pro and make their choices. You can tell a writer whatever you've learned, and no matter what you say, most of them are going to believe it will be different for them, because they still have their illusions. Most will stroll right by whatever Here Be Cannibals signs you've put up, and insist whatever is bubbling in the industry cooking pot is simply mystery chicken for the next village con. You can make all the signs you want, but in the end all you can really do is hope that they don't end up sitting shock-eyed on a blue plate, or working diligently at becoming the village's next executive chef.

(dedicated to C., who should eat more vegetables)

28 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. My first profession was as a police officer, and what you've said here describes that experience: after nearly a decade, I moved on to teaching.

    Now, after almost ten years as a teacher, I'm in the same boat, and I hear your words in my own voice as they rattle around in my head, again.

    Two years ago, I began pursuing yet another love: writing.

    (After all, a writer has some control, right? Right? Hello?)

    Now I understand things: I obviously have a keen desire to be swallowed whole, chewed with great vigor, and spat to the earth from as high a spot as possible. (While smiling all the while over the little things driving us freaks to do what we do.)

    At least you've saved me the expense of a therapist!

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  3. The Village of Extremely Pissed Off Vegetarians sounds like a great place to live.

    Yesterday I saw my favorite--and only groupie. He's a charming six year-old red-head who looks at me with the kind of adoration usually reserved for rock stars, all because I wrote his favorite book. It made me remember why I like writing so much.

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  4. Village of Extremely Pissed-Off Vegetarians? I am so there! I know 50 ways to cook with tofu and I'm not afraid to use 'em. Also, I know the secret to making soy cheese actually taste like something besides cardboard.

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  5. Thanks to generous writers like you, the folks who post at AW and FM, and places like Preditors and editors, etc, I am armored and warned about the cannibals. There are likely many more traps that I don't know about, but at least I understand that there *are* traps. And at the end of the day, I keep writing for those intangibles and the flame of a dream that won't be guttered, no matter how fierce the wind.

    Thank you.

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  6. bran fan12:34 PM

    I am still clueless about what the cannibals are capable of, but thanks to blogs like this one, I am at least aware that they exist. Previously I had no idea.

    Any specifics about what a rookie writer should prepare for in her first year? My agent is trying to sell my first manuscript and I've already experienced some unpleasant things. What more is ahead?

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  7. I love this, lol.

    Am currently dwelling in cave outside of cannibal village with remnants of illusions to keep me warm. Water cold, mushrooms meaty, though the carcasses that litter the landscape tell the tale.

    I've heard there are occasionally escapes, and the cannibals are forced to eat crow instead...

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  8. I've never dealt the cannibals, at least not personally - have heard many whispered warnings, though, as well as the beating of the drums in the distance. I have, however, met several alone on the road. Scouting parties, perhaps? I smile, plead an urgent task, then scurry along my way. Most of the folks I've met along the journey are Vegetarians. Some are pissed off. Some supplement their diet with an occasional tunafish sandwich and chips. Most munch their apples and offere to share as we walk along the same roads, going our own directions yet walking together just the same.

    What I truly fear are soul-stealing, brain-eating Zombies. I'd like to think I can escape those, too. Back away as I look for a quick exit, maybe find a shotgun one of the pissed off vegetarians dropped. Something. Anything. But I can't. Even if I could, I can't. Instead I accept the offered vegetarian apple, wish my new aquaintence well, and hope to hell the filthy Zombie minds his place and stays within me.

    Some days, I'd rather get eaten by the cannibals.

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  9. I often wonder why I left my safe and oblivious little meat-and-potatoes village for these windswept, occasionally barren heights. I toil alone in the scrubby wilderness, hiding from the savage natives, rooting for nuts and berries in the scant foliage, and trembling in the cold night by my wisp of a fire.

    And then I nearly fall off the edge of a cliff, reorient myself, and realize...my God, what a view! You can only get that view up here, and for that one, blissful, almost blindingly beautiful moment, I will gladly dodge a thousand savages.

    Ahem...and probably will. Ugh. Right now? Toiling in the wilderness. Not so much noticing the view.

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  10. You've got room in the Village for a slightly-lapsed vegetarian who likes chicken, right? That's not mystery chicken, just the regular kind.

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  11. I'm joining Raine in her cave. The few illusions that I had are nothing but a ghostly veil I'm almost ready to let go of.

    In the meantime I am sharpening my own spear. While I won't go hunting, I will not give into the cannibals without a fight.

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  12. A great essay. Thank you for posting this.

    Wierd. I thought I had successfully left a comment before.

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  13. Shawn wrote: At least you've saved me the expense of a therapist!

    Then my work here is done. :)

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  14. Darlene wrote: The Village of Extremely Pissed Off Vegetarians sounds like a great place to live.

    We make a mean spinach lasagna, too.

    Btw, D., I saw a copy of Agnes & the Hitman at the store, thought of you and bought it for my TBR pile. I love the flamingos. :)

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  15. I'm afraid my worst expectations will be met and surpassed, and I wonder how I will hang on to my soul?

    Reading Agnes now. What a hoot.

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  16. Charlene wrote: I know 50 ways to cook with tofu and I'm not afraid to use 'em.

    Woman after my own heart.

    Also, I know the secret to making soy cheese actually taste like something besides cardboard.

    A gallon of Tabasco sauce! Lol. One of my tricks: when I make broccoli-cheese soup for me and my daughter, I substitute half a cup of liquid fat-free non-dairy creamer for the soy milk in the recupe. It makes it taste creamier.

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  17. LJ wrote: And at the end of the day, I keep writing for those intangibles and the flame of a dream that won't be guttered, no matter how fierce the wind.

    Amen. Keep the fires burning.

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  18. bran fan wrote: Any specifics about what a rookie writer should prepare for in her first year? My agent is trying to sell my first manuscript and I've already experienced some unpleasant things. What more is ahead?

    A lot. For most of us the first year is like a year-long initiation, with all kinds of hazing and insults and impossible expectations dropped on your head. It doesn't get better after the first year, but it doesn't shock you as much, I guess.

    If you keep your expectations reasonable, protect the writing and take the disappointments in stride, you should get through okay. The people you meet are really the tricky part. I try not to say trust no one, because there are some decent people in the industry who can help you. But be very careful who you trust.

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  19. Raine wrote: Am currently dwelling in cave outside of cannibal village with remnants of illusions to keep me warm. Water cold, mushrooms meaty, though the carcasses that litter the landscape tell the tale.

    I can see you in a crystal cave, connected to a vast underground network of tunnels, caves, waterfalls and forgotten cities, all protected by a very fierce guy with a beautiful voice who looks a little like a lion. :)

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  20. Tam wrote: What I truly fear are soul-stealing, brain-eating Zombies.

    But you never joined SFWA, Tam. You're safe. ;)

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  21. Gutterball wrote: You can only get that view up here, and for that one, blissful, almost blindingly beautiful moment, I will gladly dodge a thousand savages.

    Yes. That view, that cliff, that edge -- they are our armor.

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  22. Buffysquirrel wrote: You've got room in the Village for a slightly-lapsed vegetarian who likes chicken, right?

    Absolutely. We're the Extremely Pissed-off But Understanding Vegetarians. As long as you don't introduce red meat. Then we have to roll you in cabbage leaves, hang a bouquet garne around your neck, and send you back to the cannibals.

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  23. Sasha wrote: While I won't go hunting, I will not give into the cannibals without a fight.

    That's the reason I don't give up hope. I know when I pass the torch to the next generation of pros, I'll be entrusting it to writers like you. You are the future, Sasha. Not them. They won't be around.

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  24. Maripat wrote: Wierd. I thought I had successfully left a comment before.

    Blogger has been twitching today. I tried getting on earlier, and it bounced me a few dozen times. And I own this place. :)

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  25. Eva wrote: I'm afraid my worst expectations will be met and surpassed, and I wonder how I will hang on to my soul?

    Don't sell it. Hang on to your friends. And protect the work. Protect the work above all else.

    Reading Agnes now. What a hoot.

    I took a peak at the first couple of pages, and it looks really good.

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  26. PBW, if there was someplace to nominate blog posts for "Best of the Year", this one would get my vote. While it pains me that so much of what you said is the reality of this business, your post is eloquent and elegant.

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  27. Pride doesn't goeth before a fall in this biz; the people you put on pedestals do.

    You haven't...

    Just wanted to mention that. :o)

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  28. Shilo's right.
    Looking at your feet, all I can say is "nice pedicure."

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