Friday, July 11, 2014

Look, Ma, I'm a Successful Writer

If you are a writer and someone asks what you do for a living and you decide that instead of making up something more interesting such as "peace mediator for the a secret government agency," you answer, "I'm an author," prepare for an onslaught of further questions.

These questions are fresh in my mind because I participated in an outdoor authors' signing at an annual local event last weekend. Fortunately, we were in the shade and next to the wine booths, so we had lots of visitors (which, by the way, doesn't necessarily translate into lots of buyers because it's hard to carry two glasses of wine and a hot-off-the-press book). Here are a few of those questions, with my answers.

"Are you writing the great American novel?" Well, no. Not all of us are novelists (not that there's anything wrong with that). Some of us have commitment issues and anything over 160 pages freaks us out so much we have to drink (more) heavily. And why American? What if we're writing the great Canadian or Swedish novel? Not to mention that dealing with the word "great" every day you try to put words to paper can be a little intimidating. I usually aim for "not the worst thing ever written."

By the way, at this very same event many moons ago, I sat next to Ken Kesey, a favorite author of mine and one who had written more than one great American novel. His line of fans was huge, while I got mostly people asking where the port-a-cans were located.

"Have you written anything I might have read?" Probably, but you'd never know it. Most of my books have sales in the barely thousands (although I did have one that sold over 100,000 copies), but if you enjoy reading funny greeting cards and bumper stickers or ever used a comedic post-it-note back when those were popular, chances are you've enjoyed my musings. "Having a job interferes with my plans for world domination." That's mine, as is, "Someday we'll look back on this and have no memory of it at all."

"Where do you get your ideas?" I always want to say, "I steal them from people like you," but that's just my inner snarky seventh-grader. I can always calm her down with a trip to the mall. The truth is, I have no idea where my ideas come from. I'm thinking it's a mental health issue because the voices in my head are usually so loud and they can never agree on anything. I once wrote an article for Writer's Digest in which I called the disorder TMIS (Too Many Ideas Syndrome.) Maybe you read it?

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?  Probably when I noticed that the notes I passed in middle school were so much more creative and used better grammar than the ones my friends wrote. I believe that's when artists also realize their talent. I worry that now that students are forced to Tweet their notes in class, this kind of creativity is being stifled. I once wrote a note that took almost a whole roll of paper towels.

Do you consider yourself a successful writer? Why yes, thank you. I'm sitting here at a booth with other writers and we all have books for sale. But it's not the book signings that makes me feel successful. (If you've ever done one and you aren't a best-selling author, you know that most people will walk in the largest arc possible to avoid coming anywhere near you.) I feel successful when I see one of my books at a used book store because is means someone read something I wrote and is passing it on (yes, that's my optimistic take on it!). I feel successful when someone comes up to me and tells me they read my book Not Guilty by Reason of Menopause at their gynecologist's office! Or when they say one of my humor columns on dogs made them feel they weren't quite as crazy as they'd believed. Once I saw someone at a barbecue wearing an apron I wrote ("My other apron burned in the fire!") I felt like Dorothy Parker that day.

What are you working on right now? Other than preventing heatstroke (it was hot the day of the book signing), I'm penning a screenplay. And yes, I realize the chances of it making it to the big screen are smaller than the chances that I, a fifty-something pale-skinned, slightly out-of-shape menopausal woman will become the cover of the next Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar. But we writers are odd like that. We write what we have to, not what we think makes financial sense. That is why we don't have investment bankers working for us.

What's your favorite  fan story? Well, my favorite is about someone who clearly was NOT a fan. I once wrote a novel called Life is Funny. It was the story of a hairdresser who wanted to become a stand-up comedian and accidentally ran for governor of Texas. It was not great. It was, however, American... Texas is still in America, right? The main character is a brazen woman in her early thirties.

One day, I was at a book sale and a woman in her 80s asked about the book. I asked her if she wanted to buy it for herself or someone else. She said herself. I mentioned that there may be some language in it that she might be offended by. She said she would be fine with whatever I  had to say in my book and made the purchase.

A few months later, I got a hand-written envelope in the mail and inside it contained a very fancy note card with someone's initials on it. It was from the woman I'd sold the book to. She said, "I just wanted to let you know I had to burn your book in the fireplace." And that, dear readers and writers, is my favorite "fan" story. I hope you have one that is just as memorable.

Leigh Anne Jasheway's new book, 101 Comedy Games for Children and Grown-Ups is available at booksellers everywhere. Or so she's been told.

1 comment :

Sue Coletta said...

My cheeks hurt from laughing so hard. If your books are as funny as this post-- consider me a fan.