Rocks, Thorns, and Cheese

Cerberus

In sixty seconds, what is your book about.

Similar to normal people, writers have their peeves. I have not made pets of mine, because I don’t want to feed them. But wait, let’s switch metaphors. In the swirling stream of life, we all have the rocks that we smack into before we are washed limply downstream.

Of course, like anyone else I smack into the rocks for the usual common reasons, such as one of my relatives calls me about something. (As a side note, do you have people in your family who are REALLY fucking crazy, because . . . it’s not just me, right?)

Anyway, here in the world of writing, which normally sparkles with rainbows of creativity and fulfillment of the soul, and sometimes cheese toast, I also have weeds that grow thick with thorns in the literary garden. Oh, I’ve switched metaphors again. OK, I’ll do this, as I describe a few of the irritations of the writing life, I’ll try to come up with a new metaphor for each one.

Stage Four Cancer

I guess that one was kind of obvious. You knew I was talking about Microsoft. It isn’t possible for a human brain to hate anyone or anything more than I hate Microsoft. More hatred than that would begin to disintegrate the quantum particles that make up the universe.

I don’t hate Microsoft because they think they have a right dominate the world with their software. I don’t even hate them because they charge so much for a product that is duplicated on a piece of cheap plastic that they’ve become billionaires. No, I hate them because every day I have to use their stunningly horrible software.

Both in my job as a medical editor and in my real life as a fiction writer, I spend my days and evenings at the computer, and after years of doing it, I find myself still astonished at the new ways Microsoft Word mysteriously, and pointlessly, does things that make my work harder. I’m truly not exaggerating here.

Cerberus: the Three-Headed Dog Guarding the Gates of Hell

You’ve heard of literary agents. Those are the people who “help” writers find a publisher and get a book published. I’ve heard stories, sitting around smoky fires with roasting mutton, a blanket across my shoulders against the night chill, listening to old men talk about the golden age, when an agent might take a writer on because a book was well written, and the agent would work to sell the book to publishers, who, in those days, would still listen.

Who can tell whether the memories of old men have distorted the past. Was it ever really that way?

Recently I wrote to a literary agent, not simply as one of the crowd of barefoot beggars dressed in rags and clutching the manuscript of a novel. Instead, I wrote because someone I know had recommended me to her own agent. Supposedly, this connection means the agent will pay more attention. And maybe that happened. I did receive a hand-written note, on a card measuring two inches by four inches. It said “I appreciate this query—and the book sounds interesting.”

Oh yeah? So if the book sounds interesting and I come with a recommendation, that means . . . “Alas, this type of fiction is so hard to place these days, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline.” What? Wait, without even looking at it? Yes, it might require actual work to sell a novel of literary fiction, so drop dead. And we wish you well.

I pull my blanket tighter and listen to the old men talking.

Dancing Naked with a Clown Nose

Now if it were literally true, I might be just fine dancing naked while wearing a clown nose. I’m sure I’ve done worse, and after a few beers, that doesn’t sound all that bad. But alas—alas—I’m speaking of something not nearly as fun, the general process of promoting writing.

I know, I know, it’s just how the world is. It’s not enough that we stand up gaunt-eyed and traumatized from writing something in the first place. Then we have to smile on the telephone, go to bookstores and readings and small conventions where no one knows us or cares if they ever do (that’s if we’re lucky and allowed to go), pretend that we’re happy to be there, post stupid shit on Facebook, invent a constant stream of drivel for Twitter.

You get the idea. Or do you? Of course it’s worse than I’m making it sound. But I’m a writer, and I feel a responsibility to write about positive things. Like cheese toast made with Gruyère. If you come over, I’ll make you some.

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