Dark scribblings

John's Ramblings and News

Why writers write what they write

Posted by [email protected] on July 18, 2011 at 12:22 AM

A few years back a writer friend of mine, Estaban Silvani, as well as Mark Canada, associate professor of English at UNC-Pembroke, and I were interviewed together by Frank Stasio on WUNC, a public radio station in Raleigh, N.C. (Hear the interview at http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/sot1031b.mp3/view?searchterm=)


It was Halloween, and the anthology Horror Library Vol. 1, published by Cutting Block Press, had been out just a few weeks. Purely by chance, five of the collection’s 30 writers resided in North Carolina, so the station decided to do a little piece on horror and fear in literature and invited the three of us to participate.


The interview was great fun. Afterward, Estaban and I went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. During our conversation he mentioned to me that the Horror Library Vol. 1 was the first paying market he had ever submitted work to.


I recall looking at him, not sure how to react. I knew Estaban, with a wicked sense of humor and a love of the dark and twisted, had been published here and there, and the man could definitely tell a tale.


Why in the world would you submit to a non-paying market? I screamed.


Okay, I didn’t scream. Didn’t even say it, but I sure thought it. While I have enough of an artist’s heart in me to wish writers and painters and musicians were valued and paid handsomely for their work out of a sense of simple appreciation by the public, I have always understood if one wishes to make money at writing, then one must approach writing as a business. There was a time, about a decade ago, when I made most of my income – meaning most of the income for a family of six (we’ve since grown to seven) — from writing.


I wrote business articles mostly, along with some work for trade or specialty publications, a Web company, and I did some part-time weekend copy editing for the local newspaper. Believe me when I tell you, as the sole bread-winner for the family, writing was strictly business, and I learned to value my time. There were plenty of publications that would pay seventy-five or a hundred bucks for a story, but I couldn’t afford to do that. I might contact those magazines with a story idea I could piggy-back on an assignment from a much better-paying publication, but no way was I able to spend 10 or 20 hours on a piece that didn’t pay well.


While I figured out the small press and fiction world was different, I’ve still been loathe to give credence to freebie publications. I think I’ve been in large part justified with that belief, because in much of the small press world, someone starts a little freebie magazine or Web site or puts out an anthology, and publishes his friends in there, who in turn start their own little publishing enterprise and return the favor, with very little professionalism. I’ve also found many freebie publications to be…well, let’s just say lacking in quality control.


I work hard on my writing, and by gosh, I’m not going to give it away, or be associated with those sorts of people who do. At least that was my thinking at one point.


Over time I’ve evolved a bit as a writer and a person, and I sometimes think back to Estaban’s comment — “I’ve never submitted to a paying publication before.”


It took a few years, but that statement, it turns out, was deeper and more profound than either of us thought at the time. At least what I now take away from that simple declaration is.


Estaban wrote what pleased him, because it pleased him. Publication, even non-paying publication, was a bonus.


That, I’ve come to realize, is at the heart of the artistic side of what we do. Writers write because it’s simply what we do. It is part of our DNA, the same as artists draw or paint, musicians play, cross-stitchers stitch, masons lay block and stone.


As writers we are fortunate if we find a following, maybe make a little money at our craft. And yes, approaching it as a business is necessary if one ever hopes to derive anything more than the occasional twenty-dollar check, just as plying our craft every day — with our without inspiration — is necessary if we truly expect to seriously evolve as a writer.


But not everyone has that in their make-up. And that’s okay. Spending a life time of writing with work appearing in freebie or low-pay magazines is just fine, if that’s what you want to do. If that gives you joy.


Because, in the end, fat paydays or not, writers writer, because that’s just who we are, and we should not let someone else define what is or is not success.

Categories: Horror, werewolves, spinetinglers, saint, scary, ghost, revenge, vampire, shape shifter, buried alive, Writer, Frank Stasio, WUNC, public radio, interview, Halloween, scary, horror, literature, erotica, anthology, fiction

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