“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”
So said Winston Churchill, the conservative politician, imperialist, warrior, historian and one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th Century. Though scowling, cigar puffing frown is best remembered as the face of victorious defiance during World War Two, Churchill suffered a long period of ostracism and neglect between the wars. He retired to his relatively modest estate at Chartwell and wrote a biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, and his memoirs, which, it turns out, were premature. World War Two, as he called it, would not just be the United Kingdom’s “finest hour,” it would be his.
His sentiment about writing has been true for me, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call the work a monster (the Latin root corresponds to words for mountain and “what shows” or is most obvious). And, due to changes in how the English speaking world writes, distributes and reads book, what you fling–or, as I prefer to see it, offer gently, with the greatest good intentions–to the public is most often ignored. Most traditional gate keepers–agents, editors, booksellers, critics and those eager minions who search for anything other than a comic book, toy or video game to turn into a movie–want something that’s already popular, in demand or otherwise “sold.” What’s merely worth reading is…nearly worthless.
Such discouraging truth has discouraged me. I wish I could say I’ve had that unshakeable faith in myself that is so often cited in celebrity interviews as a reason, if not a necessity, for the kind of success that brings your work to those who may most enjoy it. To attain those brief minutes of fame is to risk eternal damnation on social media (and the mainstream media that now covers a tiny portion of social media as news) for not making the correct and timely responses to current events of which you may know little or, worse yet, be misinformed. Failing to respond is now considered a response, as controversies swing back and forth, what “side” you’re on doesn’t matter as much as how many responses you get. Worse than that, cyberspace is now inhabited with pranksters, trolls and other anarchic types who will say and do things on line that are cruel, rude and grossly false, just for the fun of it.
I always wanted people to like what I did as a writer. If they didn’t like it, I hoped that they would at least consider that my intentions were honorable, given the constraints and exigencies of the creative life. This has happened with most (though far from all, alas) of the small critical reception my work has received.
My mood about my current novel has been up and down over the last year. I’m now at the point that I don’t want to kill the monster as much as I want to finish it so I can say to myself that, with the few years I may have left, I wrote something worth the struggle.
Anything else is…something else.