Success is a judgment call. For the last forty to fifty years, one question has been my companion. "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" (Gospel According to St. Mark, sixth chapter.)
Recently, as I approach my seventh decade, I asked my own question; "What does it profit a writer to hide his work from the world? The world loses the gift of a possible talented pen." A dedicated writer cannot turn his mind off and forsake his muse, or his pen.
Some of what I say can be found in full in my incomplete series of essays, "My Coming Death." The death of my old style of writing and the birth of my new style of writing. This can be found in my Portfolio on FanStory under my user name (c_lucas).
"Fear of rejection," is nothing more than the "Fear of failing." If a writer trembles when he picks up his pen, it is normal behavior. Sometimes, I feel as if a volcano will explode inside of me because I can't get the words out fast enough. Several hours ago, I was tired, ready to take my medication, and go to bed. A special friend presented a question that I used to get paid to answer. She has the gold key to my heart and I answered it without hesitation.
After we said our usual 'good nights,' the writer in me clicked into high gear, thanks to a little pest--AKA-- My muse, who threw her gold coins into the kitty warning me I would have a sleepless night. My special friend, Nameless, is thousands of miles away and our literary umbilical cord is the internet. By pushing the computer’s off button, we become physically separated.
Not so with my muse, who has a bad habit of letting me drift off to sleep, before she blasts a fog-horn in my ear. She’ll kick my literary butt, and other parts of my anatomy until I start writing. Enough said, about her.
The biggest enemy any writer faces is lack of faith in their work. Groundless fears hinder their creative production. The way I overcame my fears turned out to be quite simple--I wrote about them and posted my them. (They are sprinkled throughout my portfolio, some of them are at the back of "My Coming Death.”)
The hard part about being a writer is, “There is nothing new to write about.” I’ve been told I write in a ‘dead genre.’ Hollywood furnished the proverbial mystical truths, starting with the fast-draw and pure-hearted hero who would kiss his horse instead of his leading lady. In print, and on the silver screen, the hero revealed less than noble traits. Uncensored sex scenes followed, tolling the death knell for the purity of the Western Novel.
Sexual acts happened in the real Old West, sometimes giving the bulls a run for their money, but usually were performed behind closed doors. I was pretty much ignored when I started my writing career on FanStory. The Category, “Western,” pretty much guaranteed my post’s failure. Fans were difficult to snare.
Reviewers’ rejections were much higher than those who praised my work. True reviewers offered encouragement and help. I thank them for their honesty.
I was ready to give up when a reviewer told me she was happy she came across my work. She printed and read each post to her aged father, an avid Western fan, who had given up trying to find clean Westerns. No, she's not my Nameless, but she was one of the first to tell me how much she appreciated my work. I targeted a whole new source of readers, the elderly who remembered the Western in its hey-day.
I still had a long road ahead and friends, who held me to the task. Nameless came along a few months later. She ripped my stories apart, while telling me I was a natural born story-teller. She kicked my butt hard, while patting me lightly on the back. She almost castrated me when I told her I was quitting. No man wants to be viewed as a quitter; let me reword that: “No true writer wants to be viewed as a quitter.” Being born a Southerner with a deeply instilled macho pride, I kept on--still a bull. She has never let up on me. Fortunately, I have several reviewers with the same tenacity keeping me on the straight and narrow.
My writing has improved. I have had some success in promoting my work. I am appreciative of the exposure I have received from a fellow FanStory member, Nancy Wagner in her e-zine, Page and Spine: fiction showcase.
I do not consider myself to be a master wordsmith--The reality of my SPAGs won’t let me. However, I consider myself to be a very good storyteller and I can spin a excellant yarn. My reviews are more positive and I have earned some recognition. I wished I had started at an earlier time, then my stories would not be dying with me. Now, with well over a million words in my computer in poems, short stories and novels, I will be polishing these writings and making a stronger attempt to find an agent and a publisher.
To tie this essay together, I will end it by confessing I was the coward—mentioned earlier, who was frightened to make his work public. A true writer cannot deny their burning desire to be in print.
My closing words, “Write on." Need encouragement? Google successful writers’ bibliographies. I don’t know of any successful writer who has had a golden path when they started. True adventurers, Google POD and Self Publishing millionaires. I have not ruled out this means of publishing. It is the way of the future.
ABOUT CHARLES LUCAS
It’s that time of year again. Those of us who celebrate Christmas look forward to the one day in the year when everything is perfect. We picture the scene; all the family sitting round the lush, green tree singing carols in beautiful harmony. Little children, their cherubic faces lit by the glow from the fire, open their presents with expressions of wonder and joy, lisping their gratitude for what they have received. All petty family feuds are forgotten, and little Timmy throws away his crutches...oh, no, sorry, that’s A Christmas Carol. Well it is all Charles Dickens’ fault that we have this idealised view of Christmas.
In reality, for many it is the most stressful time of the year. It all starts in June, when the family have the annual argument about who will be the host of the celebrations. There’s always one member of the family who never EVER offers to do the work. Inevitably everyone will end up piling round to the one relative for whom the word “no” simply isn’t in their vocabulary.
Two months before the big day, the political minefield of present buying begins. The kids have to have presents of equal monetary value. If they are still young, size matters. There will be hell to pay if little Lucy has a bigger box to open than young Charlie. One child cannot receive more gifts than another, even if the total cost is the same. Teenagers will expect the latest gadget, even if the price tag necessitates a second mortgage.
Then there’s the rest of the family to buy for. Sister Deborah always buys expensive presents because she’s got a posh job as a solicitor in the big city. With a smug expression on her face, she’ll be grateful for the low-value gifts she receives from her poor relations, gushing, “Oh, you shouldn’t have, I know you can’t afford it.” Her children never say thank you, and the rest of the family vow never to buy for them again, until a rush of guilt forces them into the shops. Old Uncle Ernie and Auntie Mabel always say they don’t want anything, and then complain when everyone buys them bath salts.
The lucky host has to buy a mountain of food that could feed the starving children all over Africa. Every year someone in the family develops a new ‘food intolerance’, so gluten-free, dairy-free and meat-free alternatives have to be bought at astronomical prices. It’s only one day but everyone shops as though they won’t be able to leave the house for the next three months. The veg aisle resembles a war zone as desperate housewives do battle for the last pound of sprouts.
On Christmas Eve, with all the shopping done and the children in bed, four hours of wrapping gifts and food preparation begins. The children’s toys are all marked ‘batteries not included’ so parents waste precious time raiding all the cupboards and taking the batteries out of every household item, reciting the time-honoured festive mantra:
“Batteries not included? That’s bloody ridiculous; you wouldn’t buy a car without a damn battery, would you?”
Finally, at two in the morning, the weary adults collapse on the sofa and guzzle the sherry the kids left out for Santa. Santa! Oh, God, there’s still the kids’ stockings to do. For the next twenty minutes, muffled swearing issues from the kids’ bedrooms as the little angels have thoughtfully booby-trapped the floor with the most pain-inducing toys in their arsenal. Eventually, frazzled parents fall into bed, fed up with the whole damn holiday.
At six in the morning, the whole household is woken by the sound of a toy horn which both parents swear they never put into anyone’s stocking. It’s pointless even thinking about going back to sleep. Those poor unfortunates with relatives coming over have spent the night worrying about getting the turkey cooked. They stagger into the kitchen, bleary-eyed, to discover that the damn thing is still frozen. Great. The offending bird is dragged upstairs and dumped in the bathtub, in the faint hope that the hot tap will finish the defrosting process in time to get it into the oven.
Meanwhile, the kids are bouncing off the walls, because they’ve already eaten all of the stocking-filler sweeties. If the main presents aren’t opened soon, there’ll be a riot. In the lounge, the tree’s given up and dumped its needles into the carpet. It looks like it has been through a hurricane. The electric heater with fake glowing coals illuminates the faces of two little demons tearing paper off the presents with wild abandon.
When the relatives arrive, it is obvious that family feuds are not forgotten. Aunty Sue and Aunty Sharon still aren’t speaking because of what someone said about someone else thirty years ago. Dinner (finally served four hours late) is an uncomfortable affair, as everyone puts on paper hats and pretends to be jolly. At least everything is cooked properly.
After dinner, the older relatives fall asleep in their armchairs, and peace reigns until some idiot suggests playing a game. All the family arguments for the last ten years resurface again, disguised as accusations of cheating in charades. Several people have had far too much to drink and can barely stand, never mind mime a film.
At last it is over. The relatives have gone, the children are asleep. It is time to curl up in front of the television with a pile of leftover turkey sandwiches. At this moment the day is remembered with fondness. In memory it becomes the perfect Dickensian Christmas. Tomorrow is Boxing Day. The sales are on. Time to start buying for next Christmas.
ABOUT EMMA FAWSON
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Author Paul Theroux presents his story "Monkey Hill" as the first of three novellas in his collection The Elephanta Suite. He lets us share in Beth's and Audie's month-long stay at a health spa somewhere in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The reader learns how differently the couple reacts to the India they are experiencing. Audie recognizes his life-long futile chase after the "new" as nothing but deception and repetition. Wealthy, he learns his wealth has bought him essentially nothing. He teeters on the brink of losing hope at this turn of events, while nevertheless enjoying the ride.
Beth, on the other hand, is aroused and assumes a new independence of thought and action. Yoga and her massage therapist create a fresh awareness of her body and of how she has spent her life waiting for Audie. The scenes and smells of a nearby town, the Muslim-Hindu conflict, the story of the elephant, the monkeys, all frighten her. She is stricken and adventuresome.
Read this novella, dear writers, to learn how Theroux skillfully wields the quasi-forbidden "head hopping" which occurs throughout, and of how he does not need to wait till a subsequent section to switch the POV. We are never in doubt about whose impressions he is rendering.
Read the novella to encounter the charm of the Indian storyteller, Dr. Nagaraj, who chatters on and on: in the restaurant, driving to the "holy town," at the shop where Beth buys five-thousand-dollar shatooshes, walking up the hill to the spa. The charm of his monologue is his non-stop talking, taking up today where he left off yesterday, and finally arriving at the crux of his story. His grandmother has seen him as the instrument of release for a boy who flees a stampeding elephant. We are so enthralled by Dr. Nagaraj we forget Theroux is the storyteller behind the storyteller. (A writer can learn something from this.)
But there's something more we discover about Beth - she sees, she experiments, and she comes to herself, so to speak. There's more to me than anyone realizes, she tells herself. And so, both she and Audie achieve their own deliverance. Thus Dr. Nagaraj's story is a useful metaphor skillfully delivered by Theroux.
After their simultaneous adventures and without understanding the cause, husband and wife are forced to exit the spa as Theroux-style examples of "ugly Americans." In this subterranean comedy, the joke's on them.
ABOUT CAROLE MERTZ
editor's note: All reviews are the sole opinion of the author. They are not an endorsement by Page & Spine. -NKW
The pen is mightier than the feather duster … but not nearly as erotic. – L. Oliver Bright
Go ahead, snort and sneeze all you want, but my friend’s observation is valid, and particularly relevant to this particular time of the year.
See, I steadfastly refuse to spend the next three weeks scrubbing, sweeping, scouring, swabbing and sandblasting layers of vaguely organic matter off my walls, floors, countertops, kitchen utensils, and toenails just so soused Aunt Sophia can tell me what a good housekeeper I am—for a bachelor. For a bachelor. Good old Aunt Sophia, mistress of the backhanded head-slap. What, all bachelors have to be slobs? Doesn’t anybody remember Felix Unger? The man used to sterilize poker chips … and potato chips, for chrissakes.
Still, I admit I am a lousy housekeeper—yes, even for a bachelor. Remember Felix Unger’s roommate Oscar Madison? Well, I don’t mean to brag, but when it comes to housekeeping, I make Oscar look like Felix. Right down to the spaghetti wallpaper. Al dente. And I’m damned proud of it. Oscar was just a sportswriter. Me? I figure I’m Pulitzer piggish without even breaking a sweat—but watch out if I do. The way I see it, that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ crap is just that. I mean God gave the whole world a bath, but who did he save? Noah and a boat that had to have stunk to high heaven, right? Looked at in that context, stinking to high heaven has to be a good thing.
Besides, me and the roaches get along just fine.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. A little. There hasn’t actually been a roach in my house since the day before Cousin Earl joined the State Police and the day after Cousin Tammy got put on probation—in wholly unrelated ceremonies, mind you.
Look, all indications are that I’m a soon-to-be iconic figure in the rarified air of immortal literature. And believe you me, that air smells a lot more like shrimp-scampi sweat than Pine Sol, Glade or Lemony Pledge, honey.
I am not, nor will I ever be a scrubbery schlub, and I refuse to be mistaken for one. I write, therefore yesterday’s dried-on egg yolk is totally beneath me—and beneath today’s pancakes, and probably beneath tomorrow’s French Toast, too. But what do I care? I’m a writer.
Listen, we writers have traditionally been held to much, much lower standards when it comes to the pedestrian practice of … environmental policing/dust bunny patrol. I mean, can anyone imagine suggesting Ernest Hemingway Swiffer-swish The Snows of Kilimanjaro off his own kitchen linoleum? Not if you don’t want to sip tapioca through a straw for the rest of your life.
Can you picture Edgar Allan Poe Fabreeze-ing Raven droppings on the sofa? Ha! Nevermore!
Or how about Truman Capote polishing … okay, bad example.
The point is, we writers are a messy lot, and we have no reason to be ashamed of it. We are creators, not cleansers. We have no time for dish rags, dust mops, and toilet brushes the rest of the year, so what’s so special about December? Hell, Santa grants special dispensation to writers, so why can’t Aunt Sophia?
All I’m suggesting, writers, is that we all embrace our inner slovenliness and celebrate it as a perk of the important work we do. Painters slop paint around and nobody raises an eyebrow, right? Well, let’s get everybody used to the fact that writers can slop slop around, too! C’mon, it’ll be fun.
I can’t do this without you, you know. I mean, Aunt Sophia finds one neat writer and the whole scam gets blown into the bathtub … kerplop … you know that, don’t you?
So, we’re all in this together, right? You ain’t going to leave me out on this limb all by myself, right? Right? Hello? Helloooo?
ABOUT LEE ALLEN HILL