I was told a long time ago that “writers write because they can’t not write.”
Meaning, writers write for the story, the craft, the achievement of conveying “story” that others can live, then own themselves.
If you’re a writer, no one wants you you to do that. Everyone from Socrates to your mom is against you. Well, my mom is anyway. She said of my first novel, East Jesus:
“I’m offended by the title, I’m offended by the language, and I’m not going to read it.”
Despite that, the novel won critical praise and some awards (runner-up, “Best Novel of 2017,” North Texas Book Festival). But that wasn’t why I wrote it, which is good: if the approval of family and friends was the goal, I’ve failed. That wasn’t the goal.
I write because I can’t not write. I write to convey story–not “a story,” or “the story,” but the concept of imaginative experience lived and conveyed in words. That’s what I teach my university students, what I believe in, and what I like to read myself.
Sure, Socrates warned me: words can’t stand alone, can’t defend themselves. But Plato simply insists we must create a way to share meaning beyond the verbal realm which simply vanishes when we do. And Aristotle made a longwinded career specifying how we could do just that.
And on goes the quiet, endless writerly battle to create habitable, liveable prose that others can not only read, but live themselves. We write alone. We write without approval. We write on.
The end game is that readers live the story and thereby own the meaning. Socrates? Dead and buried, my friends. And the lonely writer toils in silence and anonymity.
This year I was stunned to see Voodoo Rush named “Best Novel of 2017” by the N. Texas Book Festival. I was honored simply to be a finalist among the multitude of entrants, much less the other talented writers who were also finalists. When I heard third place announced and it wasn’t me, I was grateful and even thought, “Well, at least Rush won’t do worse than East Jesus.”
When second place was announced and it wasn’t me, I was stunned. I’m a grown-ass man, but I had to suck a flood of tears right back in. I told myself, in addition to take that, Socrates my so wrong, so dead man, hold your shit together to go up to the stage and accept this award.
Because as it turns out, somebody read the book, lived the story, and found it to be worthwhile.
Okay, so my dad reads novels in the Voodoo Rush genre. He said, even though he has a paperback copy, that he’s been “too busy” to read it. My son tried but “couldn’t get into it.” My wife didn’t like it and put it down.
Regardless of who ever reads what, the best novel I ever wrote, Blood and Remembrance, will be released in May 2018 by Dark Horse Fiction.
It’s a stand-alone prequel to East Jesus, a strong, liveable, breathable prose you can ride like a thoroughbred, broad shouldered, head tossing, hanging on for dear life bareback, thundering across west Texas to Death Row and back. That’s why I wrote it.
Dead Greeks and family notwithstanding, I wrote it because the story needed to be written and lived and owned but mostly, because I can’t not write.
That’s what writers do.