A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (My New Year’s resolution)

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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.

As a child Mike Q was an avid reader of comic books.

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.

Years later, his still distraught Mom dusted off her son’s opus and began sending it out herself, apparently determined to sanctify his effort.

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.

It’s easy to become distracted, working behind the taps.  Maybe I didn’t put as much time into this project as I should have.  There were a lot after-hours parties and nights spent raising hell.

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.

Maybe I should blame it on Jackie Rabbit and Maude the Broad.  Or Paul and Sonny, Joey Cigars, or Johnny La La, . . . or any of one hundred real-life characters from stories I haven’t posted yet.

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.

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13 Responses to A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (My New Year’s resolution)

  1. David says:

    I never intended to be a writer, but stumbled into it as a way to achieve other goals. I can honestly say that there is nothing quite like it. It is oddly the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what level of success you achieve in any industry, being published is a universally recognized accomplishment. I want you to know the feeling because it is tough to describe. You have done the hard part and survived the story, now you just have to get it done. I can tell you this for sure, once it is finished you will never doubt that it was worth every second of the struggle.

  2. Dude, you’re a hella good writer and I look forward to reading the book in 2013!

  3. scribbler50 says:

    Happy New Year, Mike, and make this the year you do it.

  4. Case says:

    Hell of a story about that guy not getting published. Good writing, don’t give up. Your stories have heart and they have balls.

  5. Starbucks8294 says:

    Just do it, man. Let them know you’ve not yet begun to fight. Happy New Year!

  6. Joel says:

    Mike!! Awesome New Years ¨resolution¨- I could go for a Honey-Badger right about now. Hehehe – Your writing is Classic – You will kick-ass 2012!!

  7. MikeQ says:

    David: I look at your network of blogs, the great book you put out, all the other irons you’ve got in the fire, and I’ve got to shake my head wondering how you find the time to do it. Thanks for the encouraging comment . . . it’s good just to see that it can be done.

    JoeSixtop: I came home after work Sunday night to find that three of my favorite bloggers had left comments on this post. Thanks gentlemen! Joe, thanks for the words of support.

    Scribbler50: Happy New Year to you as well, Scrib. As I just said above, it was great to see your comment in my “pending” file. I always look forward to your new posts, so your encouragement is most appreciated.

    Case: Good to see you again, and glad to hear you like the stories. Heart and balls, . . . that sounds like something I should be shooting for . . . I like that. Thanks . . . comments like that help keep you going.

    Starbucks8294: Thanks for the fighting words, my friend. Always good to see you . . .

    Joel: How is South America . . . Chili . . . finally being able to get together again with your wife? You should make your own Honey Badgers down there . . . get a bar job (if your wife will let you). : ) Stay in touch, Joel.

    (When you’re ready to send that screen play/draft, use the “stories@lifeonacocktailnapkin.com email address. I never have trouble with email there.)

  8. Kenneally says:

    We’re all back to work today, so I hope you are too, back to work on your book! Good luck and happy new year!

  9. Llylak says:

    Happy new year and best of luck to you!

  10. Colleen says:

    I have ever faith you can do it!! Just do it!!

  11. Jacob says:

    Sadly the JKToole story is typical of publishing today. You have your work cut out for you. Good luck. Nice blog, by the way.

  12. OPearson says:

    If the book is as good as this blog, I’ll buy it. Go for it.

  13. Dorene says:

    Mike, I do remember Miss Eveland and your poem about the snowflakes “marching down like little soldiers from the sky” — even then you had a way with words! I know you can do it! Thanks for lending me the sweater in Math class, too.

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