Normally I’m not big on the New Year’s resolutions — haven’t bothered with one for the last 10-15 years, and I’ve never written any of them down. (Certainly never posted one on the web for everyone to see.)
This year is different.
In 2012, I really have to get off my butt and finish the book I’ve been working on for the last three years. Well, . . . I’ve been working on it for three years, but I’ve been talking about it for almost twenty.
Saturday at the club, New Year’s Eve, a woman came up to order a drink and said, “Oh hi, . . . you’re still here?”
“How’s the book coming?” she asked.
I hadn’t seen her since she moved out of town back when Bill Clinton was president.
Three years . . . twenty years, . . . it actually goes back even further than that. I’ve been vaguely planning to be a writer for as long as I can remember.
I think the idea began as a way to deal with growing up.
I was miserable following my parents divorce. I resented my Mom for sending my father packing, although I realize now she didn’t have much choice.
When I was four we moved to rural Hanover, Massachusetts. I was alone a lot because my sister Kathy was attending kindergarten, and my mother taught fourth grade at that same school. I spent my days at a neighbor’s house with a woman whose face I can’t remember.
Then my sister began first grade and for some reason I didn’t go to kindergarten, so I spent another year with this faceless woman, although I remember her as being very kind and making me a lot of soup.
That’s when I began reading. At first it was just comic books (in my defense, I read a lot of Classics Illustrated, where novels like MOBY DICK and THE CALL OF THE WILD were presented in comic book form.)
In grade school I began browsing through the family bookcase. I think it was in third grade that I read Eager Allen Poe’s, “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
I thought, “I want to write a story like that!”
The dream of becoming a writer was something I clung to when things got tough. My first girl friend broke up with me, but that was OK . . . someday I was going to be a writer. Maybe I’d write about the experience.
In college I wasn’t interested in anything I studied; I had no idea what to do with my life, but I shrugged it off.
I was going to be a writer.
It wasn’t something I thought about all the time, and but it was one of those half-formed ideas, a plan for the future that can keep you going.
When I finally headed for Boston to start work on this plan, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I’d heard the stories about young authors struggling for years to be successful, facing hundreds of rejection letters.
I had read the strangest, perhaps saddest of these stories, in the forward of a book titled A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, by John Kennedy Toole.
It seems that after completing his Master’s Degree in Literature, this young man sat down to bang out his first novel. He poured his heart and soul into the book, but couldn’t get anyone to take it seriously. He sent the manuscript to publisher after publisher . . . but all that came back were curt rejections.
Perhaps it was this unrelenting stream of dismissals, or maybe he had personal problems, but in the end – John Kennedy Toole killed himself.
This is a true story.
Like her son, she faced repeated rejection until one day a professor at Loyola University agreed to look at it. Percy Walker later wrote that that the only reason he read the manuscript was because Toole’s mother kept calling him and showing up unannounced at his office — but once he did read the book, he was so impressed he convinced LSU Press to publish it.
One year later, John Kennedy Toole’s A CONFERACY OF DUNCES won The Pulitzer Prize in Literature. (It sounds unbelievable, but this is how it happened.)
John Kennedy Toole apparently had it right when he chose as the title for his book something borrowed from Jonathan Swift:
“When a true genius comes into the world, you shall know him by this sign, that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.”
Anyway, at the time it looked to me like nobody at the publishing houses knew what they were doing. I was as a young man . . . a bartender who wanted to be a writer, but what editor would talk with me except when they needed a drink?
So, I deceloped a strategy. I decided that to be successful, I should establish some writing credentials before submitting a manuscript.
I’d come across something in a literature course that interested me — that would be my first publication, I decided — an academic article in literature. Then I’d write magazine articles, and just before starting the novel, I’d warm up with some short stories. With this professional background as a writer, I figured they’d have to listen to me.
In the meantime, I’d simply continue tending bar . . .
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know what happened next.
There were a lot of wrong turns, a few missed exits and dead-ends. Maybe I should have been more careful making life-decisions — instead of digging myself into one hole after another. One day I was chasing madly after women like Kristin, and the next trying to foil the plots of guys like Dan Crowne.
But put all this together, and it’s taken me twenty years to just complete a three-step plan leading up to a book. (I substituted this blog for the warm-up short stories.)
Well, . . . no sense in looking back or bitching now. At least I’ve laid the groundwork.
This will be the year I finally get it done . . . that’s my New Year’s resolution. This year, Lord willing, I’m going to finish that book.