Last month I was asked to write a post for my friend Heather. She was doing a list of her favorite not-so-famous authors in a list of writers from A-Z on her blog Proud Book Nerd. I was happy to do it, but now that it has been a while, and because I am lazy, I thought I would share that post here. At least this way I will know where a copy of it is. Check out Heather’s site and her great list of authors you might not have heard of (yet.) And now the post…
Although I still suffer from chronic depression, I don’t hear the voices anymore. This is what a man actually said to me at one of my first book signings. He stopped, turned over one of my books, nodded, and then gave me this gift—the first line for a book I hope to one day write.
I collect first lines, sentences that people throw away not realizing their worth. Once while driving my son and his friends home from a trip to the video game store, one of the kids in the back seat said, “I’m the world’s most unluckiest person; whenever I throw something in the trash, I miss.” I kept repeating that in my head until I could find pen and paper. For a writer it’s like finding a twenty on the sidewalk.
Lately it feels more like I’m becoming a hoarder. I’m a fantasy writer and these sentences lend themselves more to literary fiction, or clever short stories filled with porch swings, estranged brothers, and the ghost of a childhood dog or perhaps a goldfish. I don’t do much of that. I write about sword swings, strange brotherhoods, and ghosts of wizards or perhaps a goldfish. When you think about it ghostly goldfish are just one of those things that work anywhere.
The point is that I keep these things in files and notebooks but never use them. I take them out occasionally. I look at them like jewelry and try them on the way a widow might while thumbing through photo albums with yellowed pages. They are the keys to a car I don’t drive anymore. It lies under a tarp in the garage and quite frankly, I’m not even sure it will even start. Still, I remember the way it used to roar once upon a time, and how it ate the open road. And the road was open back then, back before I was published.
I’m not lamenting getting published, that’s like cursing about dying and going up instead of down—but it does close doors. They aren’t locked. I could force a few open if I worked really hard, but that’s the thing. After struggling for decades to get to the mountain, it’s hard to even think of hiking another. But you see, I never intended to be a fantasy author. I guess I never intended to be any kind of author. I never knew there was a choice. I assumed it was more like a buffet and you could go up for seconds and thirds. The first trip is really just to taste stuff anyway, to see what you’ll load up on the second trip. Only it doesn’t work that way. Once you leave the runway and the landing gear is up there isn’t much going back. I established a fan base of people who like what I wrote—not what I might want to write. After forcing them to develop a taste for light-hearted adventure, I expect they will be peeved if my next novel is about the tormented mind of a serial killer driven crazy in contemporary Detroit. Maybe he’s the one with the ghostly goldfish—a fishy Caesar, who decides who dies like a less humorous, less corporal, Audrey II.
Instead I need to play to the audience I made. I entered into a contract with them, a contract I didn’t know about until after I signed. I mean honestly, who knew that when I was bored one day and started writing a nutty, medieval, six-act opera about a self-serving thief and an idealistic soldier that it would be the one. I wasn’t even taking it seriously. I didn’t care. I had written dozens of books and even more unfinished beginnings that went nowhere. This was no different. But it was, and now I look back across the piles of science fiction, horror, mysteries, and coming of age tales, and I take out my first sentence jewels and put them on. I glance at myself in the mirror and wonder what might have been.
Back in the drawer they go, and the albums fold and slide away. Like I said I don’t regret being published, but it closes doors that once were open; doors through which blew exotic breezes. Winds from distant lands where I will never venture and over seas I shall never sail.
Although I still suffer from chronic depression, I don’t hear the voices anymore.
My problem is that I still hear the voices.