Sunday, December 07, 2014

Bookstore Musing

I love to go to bookstores. They are my favorite places to shop. I'm going to miss them when they're gone.

Two nights ago I hit a couple of bookshops on my rounds. I've found that not only are they great places to spend my money, they also almost always spur me to think and to write. Just being among the stacks of books makes me fool good and seeing all of the stuff in print spurs me to wonder about what I want to write, how I want to proceed with what I am currently writing, and force me to consider what kind of writer I want to be.

This latest trip especially had me dwelling on that last point.

What kind of writer do I want to be?

When I was younger all I wanted to do was write for a living. I didn't want to get rich doing it, but I wanted to be able to work full-time as an author. Frankly, I didn't care what kind of work would get me to that point--all I knew was that I wanted to produce prose for a living.

Initially, I wanted to write pulp fiction for a living. This meant that I'd create fantasies of one type or another. I'd generate worlds and outlandish characters and oversized plots. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's what some of my favorite writers did and it's no surprise that I wanted to follow along those lines. My initial modest successes were in producing and selling this type of thing. For a while--a brief while--I figured that I was on the right path and that soon I'd be able to sit behind a keyboard all day to make my daily bread.

I figured wrong, of course.

I've had a lot of writer friends over the years, and I honestly have never known anyone who wrote full time for a living. I've known people who wrote and didn't work, but most of those cats were being supported by someone else--usually their parents. And I've known people who were squeaking by on the starvation sums they were gathering from their fiction while their families suffered because of their stubbornness. But absolutely none of my friends have ever done well enough from writing to pay the bills and keep the debt collectors away and the lights on and the table supplied with food. It was never easy to do for anyone and I've always had to maintain a day job, even in the years when I did relatively well with writing.

And now it's even more difficult than before.

After selling scores of short stories to dozens of markets and hundreds of pages of scripts to many comic book publishers and a number of novels to several book companies, I knew that I'd likely never make the transition to full-time writer. Only a very few folk make that kind of dough from their prose.

But standing in those shops and peering over the thousands of titles always makes me wonder again what kind of writer I need to be. Should I continue to pursue the path of pulp fiction? Should I change direction and pen mainstream work? Or do I toss fiction aside and work on non-fiction? All of these thoughts have occurred to me.

Likely, I'll stick with the weird fantasies and hard-boiled fictions that have always fascinated me and spurred me to action. I'll continue to gravitate to the sections of the bookshop shelves that hold such volumes.

But, man, I am going to miss the bookstores when they're gone.

Like the glaciers, they're melting away.

And soon they'll be a fading memory...


Lawrence Roy Aiken said...

The poet W.H. Auden remarked in his book _The Dyer's Hand_ (a great handbook for writers recommended to me by James Dickey) that writers made more money on the speakers' circuit than they did actually writing. Of course, to really make money, you've got to sell to Hollywood. Even Stephen Kind didn't get rick writing. He got rich when Brian de Palma made _Carrie_ into a movie. And then _The Shining_ followed, then _Salem's Lot_ for TV, then _Creepshow_ with Romero, etc.

James Robert Smith said...

Actually, King got a $300,000 advance for CARRIE paperback rights. That's early 70s bucks. Real money. Made him enough to work as a writer full time. Before the movie. I love the story of how Kirby McCauley (his agent) asked him if he was sitting down before he told him the amount. King lied and said he was sitting down. (He was at a pay phone because he couldn't afford a home phone line.) Then when he heard the numbers his legs slid out from under him and he went down on his ass.

There was a time when some writers could make a living writing. Once upon a time. Now the numbers of folk who can say that is a fraction of what it once was. Admittedly, it was always a small number. And I'm not talking about getting rich. I'm talking about paying the bills. These days, as one writer put it who once paid the bills with her work, "the more you write, the less you make".

dogboy443 said...

It was always rumored that before his return to Repairman Jack, F. Paul Wilson received a $1 Million advance on one of his books. I couldn't find cold facts to back this up, but it's been a rumor for years. Of course he is also a medical doctor and was pretty well off anyways.

James Robert Smith said...

Wilson has sold a lot of books. So it's quite possible a publisher thought one of them would be worth a one million dollar advance.

And apparently he is a medical doctor who doesn't need the extra money. But hey...who doesn't like more money?

One of my favorite authors, Richard K. Morgan, got one million dollars for the film option to ALTERED CARBON. That allowed him to go full-time as a writer. I dream about such a score.