Tuesday, December 22, 2015

But what is it you REALLY do?

I learned a long time ago — and considering my first novel came out in 1992, that is a long time ago — that any artistic endeavour, whether writing, painting, sculpture, music, is treated by many as a hobby or past time, not something you pursue full-time and certainly not something you spend your whole life doing — unless they’ve heard of you. For writers, even consistently making the bestseller list doesn’t ensure that the majority of the population will have heard of you. I have a few friends who are very successful authors who make in the six figures every year, and from the first time I mentioned one to an acquaintance who does read (just not in that genre), their response was to look puzzled and respond, “Who?”

About the only author you can pretty sure that most have heard of (outside of the Dickens’s and Shakespeare’s of the world) is Stephen King, odd as that may sound. And please notice that I used the phrase “heard of”. Probe a little deeper and you’ll find most have never read him or could even name one of his novels. I know because I’ve asked.

When I tell someone I’m a musician or writer, I can almost feel their pat on my hat. “Oh, that’s nice,” said in a rather condescending tone. “Have you had anything published?” or “Do you ever play in public or just with your friends?” Another response is often, “That is just so nice to be able to pursue your dreams.” Another favourite is, “But can you actually make a living at that?”

To hide the bit of hurt I feel at either type of response, I usually make light of it, but I also either mention when my next book is being released or where I’m performing next. The usual rejoinder is either (for music), “I should come out and hear you sometime” (which means never) or (for writing), “Would I like your books?” Both mean they’ll no doubt forget the conversation in the next five minutes.

If it sounds like I’m bitter — I’m not. I accept it now as a fact of life. If someone truly appears interested, I’ll tell them a bit more, but I’ll keep it brief. I have business cards for both endeavours, and I may hand them one. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised when I find out they did go out and buy one of my books, or they show up at a gig. If they like what they read or hear, I’ll often get this question: “How come I’ve never heard of you?”

How do you answer that one in under an hour?

Getting back to my famous friends, I’ve discussed this with two of them. What has me smiling now is that they have the exact same story. Now, when they do tell about themselves, they certainly have the “wow factor” going for them when all is revealed, but you can be sure that a lot of people they meet socially have no idea who they are until they do say something like, “I had a movie made about one of my novels”, or “there’s a series based on my series of books”.

What I’m trying to say is that this is all a fact of life, and if you’re an artist you’d better learn to live with it or you’ll wind up being unhappy, even bitter, and that’s really no good. The best revenge is to take solace in knowing that you’ve accomplished something that few people do. In the case of books, they will outlive you. Imagine how cool it is that someone two hundred years in the future may discover your writing and imagines what it would have been like to do something like this or to have met you.

That’s lasting fame — as well as a nice spot of revenge!


Donis Casey said...

Words of wisdom, Rick. Words of wisdom. Of course, in my opinion anyone who is an artist of any sort, especially a musician, is a figure of awe and has my respect.

Rick Blechta said...

…"a figure of awe and has my respect."

Hold that statement until you've actually heard me play!

But thanks...

Eileen Goudge said...

Well said, Rick. Fame can be elusive...or fleeting...for the artist. If we don't take pleasure from the act of creation itself, we chose the wrong endeavor. BTW, I should mention several of your guest posts are authors I might have liked to read but didn't because there was no link to a retail site in their post and, despite my best intentions, I forgot their names and/or book titles after logging off the Type M site. Of course I could scroll back through to find the posts, but who has the time?

Rick Blechta said...

I hear what you're saying, Eileen. I will discuss it with "the crew".