So, I’m sitting at a gloomy bar and gazing dreamily into the mirror behind the array of bottles. I’m not thinking about anything deep, really. Just wondering if my nose is getting bigger and if I should do something about that.
A burly man sits down next to me and taps his fingers on the bar to summon the bartender. Then he turns to me.
“You must be a writer,” he says.
I nod happily, giant nose bobbing up and down.
“That’s right,” I tell him. “What gave me away? The deep thought? A clip of conversation that hinted at an ability for literary gymnastics? An air of seething imagination?”
“No,” said the man. “I just noticed that you drink a lot.”
Misconceptions about writers are everywhere. There are still those who remain convinced that we are all modern incarnations of Faulkner, stumbling from our drunken beds just long enough to eat food directly from pans and to pound out five thousand words of prose before climbing back into our bottles.
I can live with this particular myth. Let them romanticize the craft by imagining us all as brooding intellectuals chained to our addictions as we cope with the crushing weight of genius.
But other misconceptions absolutely slay me.
If you get one book out there – just one, mind you – there will be those who assume you are fantastically rich. They will wonder aloud why you’re driving around in a 1992 Stanza when you must have a vault of cash somewhere from all of those book sales. They will ask you directly why your shoes have holes in them when Saks is just a short jet ride away.
Is it any wonder we drink?
There are those who will offer up advice on getting your book into the hands of a behemoth publishing house, or getting crazy buzz for an existing book, in one easy sentence: “You ought to send your book to Stephen King.”
Yes, Stephen King, who writes three novels a week and tours like a rock star, will probably save your ass. He’ll drop everything, flip through your rough draft with all its crazy margin notes and coffee stains, and see that it gets off to Random House.
With a personal recommendation, of course.
When the masses get wind of your writing efforts, they will immediately presume that after writing a novel or two, you are now tapped out of ideas. They will approach you in corner stores and windy parking lots to save you from literary asphyxiation.
“You know what you should write about?” they will say. “Boy, have I got some ideas for you.”
They say Faulkner was a sober man until this started happening.
Most authors I know have more ideas afloat then they have time to write them. Presently between novels, my most pressing problem now isn’t conjuring up some grand idea but deciding which of a half dozen to tackle next.
Do I want to write about the iPod playlist delivering subtle messages to the music listener? Should I go with the cannibalism plot dreamed up one weird night while dining with the in-laws? Do I want to write that story about what happens within the brain in the final seconds of life?
Lots to choose from, yet a minimum of two people today will try to convince me that their ideas require immediate attention from me personally.
Who among you will share his bottle with me?
There is a certain mystery about anyone who makes a living out of the written word. Non-writers look upon the author the way they look upon a campfire, wondering over the seeming magic of it. They want to know where all those ideas come from. They want to know what it is like to have a million words circling in the sky of your mind all at once, like a murder of crows that never flies away.
The mystery and the stereotypes don’t hurt much. They’ve been around since the first caveman, having not yet discovered liquor, scrawled his thoughts upon a stone. When people marvel over you as a writer, they will be more tempted to check out your work, forking over money you can use to buy new shoes.
Embrace the mystery, I say. Greet all of those misinformed comments and answer those endless questions with flourish. Stare into the mirror above the bar like the pensive literary beast that you are and make them wonder about what goes on within that writer’s mind.
And while you’re at it, take a look at my nose. Seriously, is it getting bigger?
Mark LaFlamme is an award-winning crime reporter and columnist at the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine. His weekly column, Street Talk, where he often compares editors to bats, spiders, extraterrestrial slugs, and “other beings too diabolical to describe,” has been named Best in Maine and Best in New England. In 2006, LaFlamme was named Journalist of the Year by the Maine Press Association.
Read an interview with Mark LaFlamme here.
Check out LaFlamme’s books on Amazon:
The Pink Room
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