Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Writer's Dark Tower

I'm a big fan of The Dark Tower, Stephen King's seven-volume tale of Roland, the gunslinger, and his obsessive quest for the Tower. For those unfamiliar with the series, Roland is a knight (of sorts) on a quest to find the Dark Tower, which he believes will save his dying world. The series is the center of King's vast fictional universe and definitely worth a read.

Lately, I've been thinking about what it means to be a successful writer, and when I heard that King would be releasing an eighth Dark Tower novel (set between Books 4 and 5), it occurred to me that there are many parallels between a writer's journey and Roland's. 

I'm not sure how old I was when I realized that there were people who wrote books for a living, as opposed to, I suppose, my prior assumption that books were monoliths, simply appearing out of nowhere. The fact is that I didn't really understand the concept of employment generally when I was a kid. Case in point -- for a while, I actually believed that my father paid his employer for the privilege to go to work. I think this was because my parents sent me and my sister to private school, which they definitely paid for, and which I imagined was as tough and miserable a place as any workplace. Regardless, when I finally realized that there was a potential career there, it became my life's quest, my own Dark Tower. This quest has been marked with success, with failure, with fear that that I'd never reach the Tower, with the siren call of false Towers, and with bourbon. A lot of bourbon.

But are all writers' Towers the same? Probably not. And what happens when you find your Tower? What happens if you DON'T find your Tower?

Here are the various goals I've thought about in my own career that could serve as any writer's Dark Tower.

1. Seeing your book in print
For better or for worse, this is my Dark Tower, and if you're a fiction writer, it's probably yours, too. Seeing my book in a bookstore is a picture I've had in my head for 20 years. Why is it so important? Ego? The naive belief that a published book equals a financial windfall? The sense you're now the thing you were supposed to be when you grew up? So you can point to tangible proof that all your efforts weren't for naught?

Is the publication of a novel the standard by which a writing career is defined? The strange thing is that with my videos and my blog, it's quite possible I've reached more readers (and viewers) than I would have if any of my prior manuscripts had been published. So why do I still feel like the videos and this blog are just a stepping stone toward some grander goal, toward my own Tower?

Obviously, with the advent of e-readers and self-publishing, anyone can publish a book - I have a couple I could throw up (pun intended) on Amazon tonight (doesn't mean I should). Given the success of a number of independent authors, a bunch more are hurtling toward a digital Tower as we speak. I wonder what they'll find when they get there.

2. Financial independence
This is the sexiest of all the possible Towers. I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about making a nice living from writing. But like all sexy things, it could be the most dangerous Tower, both in terms of the journey and in terms of what you find if you ever get there. It could even be described as a false Tower, whispering a promise that lures you away from your true goal. Stranger still, with a few independent authors striking it rich, you could reach this Tower without ever setting foot in a bookstore, let alone seeing your book on the shelves in one.

3. A wide audience
This blog has gotten about 50,000 hits in the past five months. Hundreds of thousands of people have seen my videos, although because of the way videos spread on the Internet, they may not know who wrote them. But I know they're out there, and either way, I'm beyond thrilled to have had so many eyeballs on my work. But in the same way that Roland recruited Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy, I want to take all my blog readers and video watchers with me on my quest for my Tower.

4. Personal satisfaction with what you've written or with simply having written
It's hard for me to be satisfied with what I write. This is probably true of many writers. For that reason, this could never be my own Tower. I know this for several reasons. First, I'll always walk that line between confidence in my own abilities and constant self-doubt that I'm a hack. Second, I've tried to abandon my quest, only to have it call back out to me, call me names and triple-dog-dare me to keep going.

5. The "I did it, I wrote a book, I can move on with my life" feeling
This doesn't apply to me, but I imagine there are a bunch of people out there who wrote a book, got it published (or didn't), and moved on with their lives. Remember -- Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. And Nothing Else. Ever. Maybe she had another Tower to find.

6. Self-publishing a print book
If I were you, I'd sell any stock you own in any print-on-demand or vanity publishers.

7. Happiness
Writing may not make me burp sunshine and puppies, but I know that I'm a hell of a lot UNhappier when I'm not writing. I get antsy. I like being on the road, no matter how noxious the challenge. When I am writing, I feel like I'm doing the thing I'm supposed to be doing. When I'm not writing, I feel like I need to be writing.

Perhaps there is no ultimate goal, no place to stop and think, "I've done it. I've achieved my goals."

Perhaps there is no Tower at all.

Perhaps the path itself is the Tower.

Perhaps I need to stop hitting the bourbon at lunch.

Friday, March 11, 2011

More ... Other Things You Should Read

First, in light of today's horrific earthquake/tsunami, please consider donating to the Red Cross or to Shelterbox. Click here to learn about Shelterbox and to join a large group of Shelterbox donors organized by an author named Maureen Johnson. The link will take you to another writer's blog post about Maureen's efforts, as Maureen's own blog crashed today from the traffic.

And since we could all use a little more escapist fare on a day like today, here are two more things you should check out this weekend, especially if you're a fan of good comics.

My friends Scott Weinstein and Chris Zaccone write and illustrate After-School Agent, about a 13-year-old boy named Gordon, a typical teenager in every way except one - he's the U.S. military's most secret weapon.

In another vein, check out River City Hall, a satirical strip taking aim at local government. Written and drawn by Wes Walker, River City Hall proves that all politics are local. And awesome.

That's it for now.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Other Things You Should Read.

Lately, I've read a lot about the decline of the blog as a popular medium, as other more popular types of media pop up to take its place. Well, you know what those other media do? More often than not, they give you links... back to blogs.

I love blogs, especially writing blogs and humor blogs. And since I'm deep in the sh*t of a writing project right now, all I've been thinking about lately is writing.

Before I go back into the word mines (shouldn't this canary be breathing?), I wanted to turn your attention to a few other blogs I've enjoyed in the last few months.

The Book or Bust, written by my college friend Melissa Romo, chronicles her journey writing her first novel, which she recently completed. She also is trying something I haven't seen anywhere else on the web -- each week, she posts a list of ten independently published books in a valiant attempt to find the very best ones out there. Quite relevant these days with all this talk of the e-book revolution. Also check out Morning Talks, in which she very amusingly writes about her experience as a mom to two small boys.

I "met" JM Tohline in December, when he wrote a now legendary blog post called The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents. A few months ago, JM wrote 100 literary agents and asked them if they would share the most common mistakes they saw querying writers make. He heard back from about 50 agents, who were more than happy to spill the beans. One of those agents anonymously shared my Write a Novel video with JM, and I was very pleased to see it embedded in his excellent post. JM's first novel, The Great Lenore, will be published in June and is now available for pre-order here.

And lastly, for tonight at least, you should check out Paul Joseph's blog. Paul is wrapping up his first manuscript and has written some very funny posts about life as a writer, particularly this one.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Walking Dead and Other Sundry Items

Good evening everyone,

"After careful consideration" (the same phrase Warner Bros. Television used in its press release about canning Charlie Sheen), I've decided to change the format of The Corner a little bit.

I'm working on a couple of things right now that will make it difficult to stick to what had been my normal practice of posting a new humor column on a (mostly) weekly basis. I can tell that you are DEVASTATED.

Part of me is yelling, "You must keep the weekly columns going! That's how you got here, you ungrateful jackass!" But, the more rational side of me understands (and I hope you will too) that these other projects are extremely time consuming, and, for now, they must come first. I'm very excited about these projects, and so I hope you will stay with me as I work to bring them to life (or as I go down in a blaze of glory).

This blog will continue, and, in fact, I may end up posting more frequently, although the posts will probably (definitely) be shorter. And I'm not going to send you away empty-handed tonight. Here are a couple of things to check out:

On Tuesday, March 8, the first season of AMC's The Walking Dead comes out on DVD, and I encourage you to watch it, especially if you are, like me, a sucker for stories about the apocalypse. Based on Robert Kirkman's comic book series of the same name, TWD tells the story of a group of survivors in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak that has decimated society. It's a terrific story with strong acting. I love everything about this show -- even the film they use gives the show a dirty, washed-out, the-whole-world's-a-grave vibe.

Also, I've been following the story of Amanda Hocking, a young novelist from Minnesota who has become famous (and a little infamous) as one of the most (if not THE most) successful self-published novelists ever. She's been featured in multiple news stories in the last few weeks. According to one report I read, she sold 450,000 e-books in January ALONE. If you're at all interested in her story and in independent publishing, click here to read her blog, and see what she has to say about her success. It's a fascinating read.

Thanks, and I hope you will join me as I press onward. One of the best things about writing this blog is hearing from readers, and I hope you will continue to comment and send me e-mails.

Now back to work.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Time to Make the Doughnuts

For those curious about writing in general, here's a link to an interview I recently gave to QueryTracker, an awesome website with a ton of information about literary agents and a very user-friendly database that lets you track submissions to literary agents. I used QueryTracker a lot when I was submitting my last manuscript. They also have a very good blog attached to the website.

Also, if you haven't yet, please do check out my recently-updated Facebook page. I've been using it more lately, and would like to spread the word about it. Please share it with anyone who you think might like it.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ghost in the Machine

This message is for my e-mail subscribers. For reasons that are unclear to me, on occasion, Blogger will automatically kick out a pretty old blog post to people who receive it by e-mail. It just did it a few minutes ago with a post I wrote as my son's first day of kindergarten approached. SIX MONTHS AGO.

I apologize for this, as I have no idea how to stop it or when it's going to happen. And it irritates the hell out of me, because each time it's happened, I've lost 1 or 2 subscribers within a couple hours of the wayward post.