Thirty-five years ago this month my life was changed forever. I was twenty-five years old and my first book was published. It was a gothic romance, published by a subsidiary of Ballantine, and suddenly everything was magic. There it was, the cover with the ingenue in the front, the big old house in the background with one light on in the window. It was written in the first person, no sex but hot kisses, massively flawed but very original.
Something changes when you first see your words in print. Something they can't ever take away from you. No matter what happens, even if you never sell another book, even if your life sucks from that moment onward, you still have a little piece of magic you can hold in your hand, a proof that you're special.
Waaaay back then (April, 1974) when BARRETT'S HILL was first published, I figured there'd be times in my life when I wouldn't be able to sell a book. I figured doing talking gigs, at schools and libraries, would help support me, I thought if I could just make 10k a year I'd have enough, maybe 15k if I wanted to do a little travelling. I saw myself as a journeyman writer, with a thousand stories to tell and the time to tell them.
Well, in fact I've always been able to sell what I write. I never have had to go through the dry spells that most writers do. And I've never made a cent at talking gigs (with the few that have paid me I've turned around and donated the fee). And god knows I could spend 15k in a day if I really tried.
And I don't think of myself as a journeyman writer. I'm a little more stuck on myself nowadays -- I think I'm gifted, with something rare and wonderful that most of the world fails to appreciate. I also think I'm full of shit half the time -- it's never good to be too enamored of one's self.
I do know that I could no more stop writing than I could stop breathing, though I spend a great deal of time wishing desperately that I could just walk away from the utter crap that is publishing. The impossible stresses, the things out of your control. Part of me longs for the good old days, when I knew no other writers, when I typed out my story on a manual typewriter, three drafts worth, and sent it off blind to an agent in New York and crossed my fingers. When I didn't know the rules, when all that mattered was the story.
But you know, that's part of the price you pay for the magic of holding your book for the first time. You'll never be that naive, that hopeful, that innocent again. But it's worth the price, a thousand times over.
So when I bitch and moan (which I have made a vow to stop doing -- someone recently quoted the horrific, hurtful things I've said in public and I've cringed) just remind me that it's a choice I made for the magic, and I'd make it again, without blinking.
Writing is magic. Seeing your book in print is magic, such magic that even thirty-five years later I still remember the amazement of seeing it in a store, of holding it in my hands.
BTW, if you want your very own copy of BARRETT'S HILL you can find it at Amazon for a mere $200:
In the meantime, I need to get ready for the next thirty-five years of stories to tell.