Ahh, the publishing business, or, why do I write? After more than fifty years in the news business, I’ve seen my own name in print so many times, I’m sure as hell not doing this to see it again.
On the other hand, yes I am. There’s a much deeper thought behind writing every day for two to three hours. I just plain love it. And I have for a long time. Since June 1 of this year I have submitted queries on more than half a dozen short stories, more than five queries to agents on novels, and have written two short stories and two poems. There’s a thrill to writing a piece, there is dread at starting a piece.
Here is a piece that I wrote for the Laissez Faire Electronic Times in November of 2002 that might explain part of this. And, yes, I own the copyright.
Why I Write
by Johnny Gunn
So why am I feeling this way, and what does it mean? My sensible self says, it means nothing, it’s just a part of life. My paranoid self says beware, there are forces about which you know naught. To which should I listen? Maybe I should just go back to bed, pull the covers high, set the pillows on my head, and burrow, deep into an ostrich hole, protected from the forces of reality. Ostracize myself?
When one can’t see, feel, or hear that which frightens, then one isn’t frightened, but right now, I’m frightened; I want to hide, I want to challenge that which frightens, I want to run away, I want to stand tall and win. Win? There is nothing to win. This is life, and when life is through defecating and puking and evicting, we die. There is no winning. Our bodies purge that which keeps us alive, our soul is farted into the ether, and we’re gone.
So why am I striving? What am I striving to accomplish? Is bashing one’s head against a theoretical wall that separates winning from losing, worth the war? I could set all this aside, pack a bag, drive until the tank is dry, and walk into the high mountain desert to await the fate of the cosmos, which of course would be death. And if I didn’t set it aside, continued battling my windmills, at some point, some morning, days, months, years from now, I wouldn’t awaken.
On the other hand, if I packed a bag, probably a couple of sets of underwear and socks, after all, I would want to be in clean underwear when I’m found, and did venture into these craggy old mountains, spread across what’s called the Great Basin, the first thing I’d find would be a Mountain Bluebird, all shiny and tiny, an antelope following along behind me, so curious and proud, and later that night, I’d be serenaded by singing from long nosed, bushy tailed, coyotes, and in the morning, I’d feel compelled to write about it, it being another day in my journey toward oblivion.
It’s just ‘round and ‘round we chase, oblique at times, with little insight or perception, just onward, floundering in our intelligence, proud of our wisdom, block headed in our understanding, until we reach that ultimate goal. We die. Is putting words together in such a manner as they are pleasing to eye and ear a noble effort? Putting it another way; is it worth the effort? A newspaper columnist once called me a wise person because of what I wrote. An editor once railed against everything I stood for because of what I wrote.
Often the wise come in groups of three and seven. The three wise men, the three kings of Cologne immediately come to mind, along with the seven wise men of Greece, the seven sages, the seven wise masters. All astute, all sagacious, even referred to as being sensible. And, along with those who bring wisdom and knowledge to light, there are those who bring so much joy and love through their own lack of sanity. Did Mozart have a grasp of reality at any time in his short life? What’s even more profound to think about, those who were considered to have a grasp of reality, were attempting to stop his efforts. His mania was genius, his zeal and obsession, his legacy.
None of this helps me in my efforts to understand what’s going on in my own mind. Am I simply frustrating myself with my desire to put words together, to create beauty, to open doors to understanding? Writing from fact, I’ve been published over and over, for almost a half century, but writing from invention - fabrication, I rarely solicit a personal comment from an editor. One of the people under whose tutelage I’ve progressed to this point, calls writing fiction the act of simply telling a lie. An invention of one’s stimulated imagination, plotted and planned, characterized and surrounded by fiery narrative isn’t an obvious best seller, but coupled with a knowledge of the art, and a sincere desire to become a true craftsman on the part of the writer, should make the story one that would garner at least a gentle comment or two from an editor.
That would be my sensible self talking, wouldn’t it? What would my more paranoid self say? The powers that be in the publishing world are not interested in the kind of work that makes one think, nor are they interested in hiring editors who might tend in that direction. Paranoid or not, the first part of that comment is probably the correct one. Write to the masses, write to those who have already been dumbed down, who actually believe the characters on Star Trek exist. That most families live as the Simpsons. Homer, not O.J.
Once again, Johnny, sir, in your paranoid thoughts, read the Peter Principal. Almost all publishing today is controlled by giant international corporations, and those corporations are headed by men and women who have risen through the ranks to their personal level of incompetence. Editors too? Taking the Peter Principal idea one step further along this journey to oblivion, maybe I have simply risen to my own level of incompetence, and those editors are aware of that.
Stick to what you know and understand, they say, and write from that perception, but I don’t want to be a reporter or editor. I love fiction, but what I’ve discovered is, I love the old fiction, writers who probably would have their submissions rejected by today’s standards. I like Hemingway and London, Kipling and Laxalt, and I find myself not fully understanding so many of the short stories that are being published in so-called literary journals and magazines, most put together in university MFA writing programs.
I participate in public readings on a fairly regular basis, offering poetry and short fiction, and am well received, by the general audience and my peers. So, I think the best way to end this rant is to make a simple declarative statement of what the hell I’m doing with the time left to me.
1. I’m writing. I will continue to write, poetry, short fiction, essays, free lance articles until there is no thought pounding my temples, no words flying through the vapors and invading my conscious and unconscious psyche. No word shall be unused.
2. When all the free flowing words and phrases are used up, misspelled, misplaced, broken and ruptured, I will die.