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"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters

I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Broken Bushy Tail

In the past couple of days two successful writer buddies of mine dropped me lines saying they were thinking of pulling out of the publishing biz. Their emails were practically identital. It was too difficult to make a buck. It was too hard on the ego to try to write quality fiction only to be told by one's editor that it wasn't commercial enough. Sales were down. Advances were down. The magic was gone.

Crises of faith, rages at peers, editors, and fans, disgust with the quality of work you read and the work you write, bouts of bitterness, thoughts of quitting, it's all a part of doing this insanity we do for a living. It's a part of the process, right up until the day that one of us actually quits and decides to 9-to-5 it and nab some health benefits.

One pal said that writing just wasn't fun anymore. It was a painful experience now having to make deadlines. Picking up the published books and seeing his work in anthologies and magazines didn't give him the same thrill anymore. The overwhelming, profound grandness of literature had downshifted into malaise. Writing had become just a job.

It's a lesson we all learn. Some early on and some later in life. I lost a lot of my bushy-tailed and bright-eyed sensility of fun early in the game. It's probably served me well over the long haul.

Listen well, chillun. We're about to go into a flashback sequence here, where the screen gets wavy and squishy, the film desaturates, and here we are in the yellowed past.

After my novel DARK FATHER came out I received a very positive review from Charlie Grant, which thrilled me to no end (I was always thankful to him for that, even though he seemed to hate my fucking guts in all the years that followed). A few days later I met Joe Citro for drinks at a bar on LI, which was a big thing since he was the very first living, breathing horror writer I ever met. If you haven't heard of Joe, he had a number of eerie novels out at the time, most famously THE UNSEEN. Talking to him was like being welcomed into the inner sanctum. Then Doug Clegg called me to say how much he dug my work. Another writer taking the time to chat with insignificant me.

I was 25 and still riding a high when a few months later I picked up the latest issue of CD--which was still pretty much in its infancy at that time--only to read an interview Citro did with a dude named Richard Weilgosh.

Who the fuck is he? asks you.

I'm still not sure. He was a reviewer, and who interviews reviewers asks I.

I'd never heard of him before or since, but Joe treated him like royalty. Of course, the inevitable question, "And what's the worst book you read this year?" came up, and--as if you couldn't see this coming--Weilgosh responded DARK FATHER.

Oh, my heart, my broken bushy tail.

He said it was both unreadable and predictable.

How can you predict what you can't read asks I.

To know there was some cat out there I'd never met before who actually HATED my book, called it THE WORST...well, that was an eye-opener. That was a bright-eye dimmer. And here it was in black-and-white for all to see between the pages of my fave mag.

But that's a part of the game. You need a thick skin to survive attacks from the outside, but you need to know that there's just as many skirmishes and wars going on inside. The doubts, the fears, the rust, man...you quit writing for two or three days and the rust just builds and clots and covers. It's a hellacious ordeal trying to break free.

You bitch and moan and vent. You try to keep the faith between the battles with frustration and disappointment. In the end it all comes back to being a part of the thing you love most...that searing, overhwelming, breathtaking feeling you get when words on a page are strung together so well that they come to life and squeeze your heart.

That's why we keep returning to the desk and doing what we do.

Well, that, and the hot chick groupies, of course.


Ricky Lee Grove said...

Oh, man, just what I needed to hear, Tom. Even though I'm in a completely different field than you (animation), the ideas still apply because basically if you don't love what you are doing and are willing to take the knocks then why do it? I've had a terrible last few months and reading your post has given me a bit of courage to just let the crap roll off of me.

And weilgosh? He's in the dustbin of history. A place I'm sure he has listed as a permanent address on his business card.

Thanks for making my day!

Unknown said...


Incredibly ironic that you posted on this subject, a fellow writer friend and I were talking about this very thing just the other day, and though I haven't enjoyed 1/100th of the success I always dreamed about, the very idea of it has soured over the past couple of years, for many of the same reaons you talk about: the frustration, the lack of money, etc. And one other reason: the lack of professionalism at my level. This friend just recently got a rejection from a well-known mag after 581 days. FIVE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-ONE DAYS. It no way no how takes a year and a half to read and reject a story. That just shows total lack of respect and regard for the writer, and this sort of stuff happens all the time. It gets discouraging, especially to those just starting out, or trying to. A 9-5'er ain't no fun...but more and more I sense the writing life ain't as fun as I used to think it might be.

Anonymous said...

After 28 years and over 500 books I still get a kick when the UPS guy brings me a box of my new book. I've had the highs and the lows change on me, but that is still there, so I guess I'm still okay.


Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, the highs and lows. Like you, Tom, I lost my rosy eyed cherry way early in the game. I'm doing this and will keep on doing this. Some days I just HATE it, others I am so in love it's sickening. Right now, I'm living the ultimate "be careful what you wish for" dream, as I am writing a book a month for the next year and edited an anthology (13 book deal). Now if that was ALL I was doing (ie. got a decent advance and could just write) I would be so fucking happy you'd hear me singing from Canada to Mexico. Alas, this deal is not like that and so I still have to put in full time hours at my freelance editing bread and butter job and do the tarot parties. And be a mom. And be a wife. I'm already developing an ulcer and I'm only on book five.

But would I trade it? Not for anything.

Gerard Saylor said...

Glad to hear you're not cashing in. I'm also glad The Coldest Mile is slated to release soon.

Unknown said...


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Miserable experience.They ripped me off for $600 for a dissertation and refuse to give me my money back.”
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