You can get through life as a one-trick pony – if it is a really good trick.
— Clement Seagrave
Soldier, cowboy, fireman, policeman, fighter pilot. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.
From the first time I pondered the question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I knew I would be a writer. Not based on some childish fantasy of novels piled high on book store tables or my name leading the credits of motion picture trailers. No, my vision was more prosaic. More utilitarian, fundamental, practical.
The only thing I could do was write.
Oh, I could argue that I hit a baseball pretty damned well, and could have built cloud castles around the expectation, ubiquitous in my generation, that I would be playing second base for the Cincinnati Reds for a couple decades before being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and then opening a bowling alley. But by the time I was eighteen, no one was offering to pay me a dime, not even a college scholarship, to play baseball, whereas I had been receiving monetary compensation and perks for my writing since age fourteen. The hometown newspaper paid me twenty cents for a three-paragraph game summary and box score of each Little League and Babe Ruth League game, plus a certificate for ten free White Castle hamburgers if I made deadline for every game that week.
If not an epiphany, it was at least a clear message.
As a child in a lower-middle-class, blue collar town, the metamorphosis from General Motors clock-puncher larva to novelist butterfly, or even scrivener moth, was a transition fraught with obstacles. Public school was a fragile chrysalis, battered by storms. A sixth grade teacher made me aware I was on shaky ground when we turned in our first book report. My report was a critique, a glowing critique, of a science fiction book I had written myself. When I convinced her it was true and showed her the thirty-six page, handwritten manuscript, she panicked. “Jesus H. Christ!” she said, sinking into her chair. “What the hell am I going to tell the principal?”
Not the sort of reaction to send the free spirit soaring toward the literary stratosphere.
College was a far better incubator. Lots of like-minded writers hanging around, drinking cheap wine, smoking ragged weed, taking part in the political and social upheavals of the era, and writing about it. Badly. I wrote a novel. A children’s novel. A good one, actually. No publisher was interested.
Journalism was a paying proposition, however. If someone tells you news writing is easier than creative writing, they are mistaken. It is more difficult. And there are all sorts of attendant difficulties: objectivity, precision, accuracy, AP Style, interviews, research, fact-checking, deadlines, editors. And the painful acquisition of photography skills. But from a blue-collar perspective, the paychecks are regular. Not lavish, but regular. And you get a by-line. Fame seems important when you are in your twenties.
Then came the Internet, and the traditional world or journalism came tumbling down. Reporters and editors all turned to the dark side of the profession and became propagandists for corporations, governments, agencies – in my case, a liberal arts college. Not the worst place to serve as hack, if you are going to be a hack.
Two years ago, I wrote another novel, and after a painful three-month search for an agent to promote it, e-published it. The book appeared on Amazon/Kindle coincidental with my retirement as a public relations writer. When people ask how the book is selling, I tell them, “Well, you know I quit my day job.”
In the next month, I hope to e-publish that children’s novel, languishing on a shelf for years and now rewritten. And I am at work on another novel. And I hope to be a disciplined enough journalist to write weekly pieces for this blog.
It’s what I do. One-trick pony.
If you would like to take a look at my novel, you’ll find it here:
Or go to the Amazon.com website and type ‘Hunting Birds’ into the ‘search’ box.
Our apartment was certainly filled with writin’ fools. But then, there was a certain kind of woman who liked that kind of thing. The first book I wrote, “Womp” I hammered together after leaving Columbus and living with my parents. Had a job at the local 7-11, from eleven pm to 8 am. When traffic petered out around three, I’d front the milk case and write for an hour or so. Probably the most miserable period in my life.