Two things: I'm also blathering about Pam here, and I'd like to address the notion of "authentic" life.
This won't take long.
Why did I give Pam Grier a copy of Neon Lights? Because it's funny, it's smart, and it's about more than dollars and cents. Why do I like Pam Grier so much? Because she's funny, she's smart, and she's about more than dollars and cents. Authenticity has nothing to do with masks. We all wear a hundred differing masks in the course of a day. For some of us those masks are made of our flesh and soul flowing to meet those of others; for others those masks are made of plastic idiocies: the baubles of wealth, the foibles of personality dearth, the outright deceit of malice. For some of us it's not about flowing into and around another person, it's about crashing into them. It's all force and imposition. Force and imposition are marks of the inauthentic life. Me, I try not to insert myself without invitation. Ms. Grier was in my town recently to speak about the paths she's taken. I bought a ticket. When else am I going to see Pam Grier? I mailed a copy of Neon Lights care of the venue because I didn't want to be that guy, the one who stops the line because it's all about him. Then, on event day, I grabbed another copy in case she didn't get the mailing. What'd I do? I left it in the car. Intentionally. This wasn't about "Ms. Grier, please endorse my book so I sell millions of copies, please!" Wasn't about doing the shuky shuffle. But then, miracle of miracles, I was seated at the head table. Her table. And scanning the crowd I saw that others had brought her gifts, and that's what my book was meant to be: a gift. So I ran back to the car while she was doing the rounds of the room, signed the copy with a note of thanks, hustled back to the room... and held the book in my lap because, you know, THAT GUY. She returned to our table and told us about different things she was involved in, and there wasn't to my mind a moment to interrupt and say "HERE, MS. GRIER, READ MAH BOOK." So what I did was I waited. I flowed. She got up to talk to someone and I asked the person beside me to slide the book to her just as Pam sat back down. She looked at the cover, looked at me, flashed that lovely, devilish grin that is Pam Grier's and Pam Grier's alone, and said, "I'm gon' pray for you and anybody sitting next to you!" I think she saw in that cover more than dollars and cents, particularly coming from her background. Much love to Nathaniel Hebert for his outstanding design. She saw a bit of devilment, a bit of wonder, and a bit of respect. I took that copy of Neon Lights because she inspired the soul of the book in the best of ways, and that's what living the authentic life is about. Inspiring others. It's a human necessity to inspire one another to merge and flow. The thrill of Pam Grier liking my book enough to recommend it to others is electric; the thrill of somewhere, somehow Pam Grier laughing deeply because of what she read in my book whether I ever know it or not is stellar. The calming joy of saying "thanks" in my way, of the merging and flowing life lines of Ms. Pam Grier and myself, that's on par with the essential cosmic. I get that same thrill thinking of you.
Social media, a pernicious falsehood designed to sell things, has shifted the regard for the arts and artists. We live in a strange time when artists have to feel friendly and familiar to a consuming public. I didn't read Harlan Ellison growing up because I thought on some spooky plane that he and I could be buds; did it because his words were saying something, and I respected that. But more and more frequently authors have to "engage" readers. Goodreads, Twitter, and host more -- something about them feels wrong and false. Reading becomes "personality reading," like watching Tom Cruise in a movie.
Me, I don't necessarily need or want to see the person behind the curtain. I fritter on Facebook but that's mostly to keep from poking cats, not to tie "me" to my books. My books are out there on the ocean trying their damndest to swim; they don't need me weighing them down. I'll putt-putt by every now and then to shout "Stroke! Stroke!" at them between sips of lemonade under my umbrella on my dinghy, but, seriously, if I thought "presence" equaled book sales I'd be "friending" the unborn (Fetal Book?) Even this website, is it going to convince droves of readers to click purchase links?
Ultimately it's the words. If the words do right, they'll swim a bit. Granted it's a huge ocean, but I think of readers as kin to hammerhead sharks, ceaselessly searching and ever vigilant for something that stirs their blood. The meaty bits inside, not the outer wrapping. Ultimately I've got to say something in my books/blog/writing that says something an amorphous "you" need to hear. Something more than "Stroke! Stroke!"
Here's what I mean. You're a writer, a solitary soul, bad posture, wild hair, nervous ticks. Sexy stuff but stressful. So you need to have fun. You just strung together the hugest domino chain there is: a book. Reader opens the book, first domino falls, you hope to gods that by the time the last one tips there'll be a perfect domino representation of the Sistine Chapel.
So what to do? First rule of Write Club (note: you are going to run across this Chuck reference a billion times as you seek out new writes and new interpretations; go with it) is Don't Take Yourself & Your Words As Seriously As You Think Others Should. You are not your mama. You are not an anachronistic genius writing with a quill. You are not ever going to write a passage so brilliant and funny that Rosario Dawson, Idris Elba, and Gina Torres grant you an hour in their presence with lax morals.
So write yourself something like this:
Literary Agents: Are you able to take a satire on urban publishing featuring pretty much nothing but black folks and turn it into a movie deal starring Vince Vaughn? If so, you are the agent for me.
If you’re willing to swat a sandwich out of a fat man’s hands, you are the agent for me!
Are you a motivated self starter with a proven track record of success? Have you blessed holy, unpublishable crap with the gift of PR and publication?
Do you thrive at making sure grown-ass people who might otherwise be considered adults keep track of dates?
Hi, I’m Clarence Young, writer of NEON LIGHTS, the funniest urban, chick lit, literary street fest the world is ever likely to produce.
If you answered “Yes!” to any of these or even shrugged your shoulders in an “Eh, why not?” fashion, the NEON LIGHTS team is ready for you! Send a note to cyoungbooks_at_aol_dot_com stating that signing this book just might rekindle your marriage and YOU just might be the next sexy agent featured in Poets & Writers magazine as one to watch! Email now!
*Note: exclamation marks not proof of book’s implied or impending success; Equal Opportunity Writer*
Knowledge of howlingly existential states (life, not Iowa) that force us to laugh at God a plus.
Agents-slash-insurance salespersons need not apply.
Then you pick up that quill and get to it again. Write it, dammit. Slasher-movie it (otherwise known as editing). Send that sucker out. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Soaping up can be a huge source of fun.
I suppose this should be where I take my shoes off now. I used to blog HERE. I'll likely continue to walk past the old house on occasion. Memories and connections are strong things. It'll take a bit of getting used to these new digs. A website. My website. The words echo a bit in this new house. I'll need to re-learn the acoustics.
When I started ThingsIDidatWorkToday it was a wonderful lark free of the illusory trappings many authors hope for: I knew it wasn't going to attract the attention of thousands; it didn't put me one link click away from an agent's joyful interest; it wasn't about to become a featured craze in anyone's viral sheet. It was for fun. We forget about having fun while racing spectres toward half-formed finish lines. I don't want to forget the fun. I don't want this new house to be about SELL SELL SELL BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS, especially not here in the WHY section, because there's enough of that coming from a billion directions as to make one dizzy. (Note: dammit, buy my books.) I want to continue to be as goofy a doof as I've ever been without worrying about image, sales impact, leveraging, synergying, or otherwise being an annoying douche.
So screw it, don't buy my books. Let's have some fun.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY