Thursday, August 02, 2007

Wanting Lightning to Strike

It's the monsoon season in Denver.

That's the North American monsoon, which in late summer brings water up from the Gulf of Mexico over the desert Southwest, triggering flash floods and washed-away SUVs in Arizona and, if we're lucky, rain in Denver. Unfortunately, we rarely get just rain. We get stupendous thunder storms, with blinding flashes of lightning and deafening cracks of thunder (especially deafening when you're downtown, and the thunder echoes off the highrise office buildings), and all too often violent, damaging hail.

A really loud storm passed over downtown this afternoon as I was leaving work for the bus. I used my umbrella, because it was raining buckets, but I felt nervous the whole way because of the blinding-and-deafening mentioned above. Lots of other nervous people scurrying around. I've read awful stories about people being struck by lightning. Many die, of course, but the survivors often suffer the strangest and most untreatable disabilities and lingering pain.

So no one in his right mind wants to be struck by lightning.

Unless he's a writer.

(Wotta segue!)

When we - or artists in general, or entertainers, or gamblers - speak of being struck by lightning, we're thinking of the brilliant light of success, the crack of, um, cash registers (okay, I'm reaching). In short, of fame descending from the sky like a slightly unnerving gift from the Olympian gods.

When I first started going to science-fiction conventions, I'd sometimes listen to panel discussions where the panelists were published writers who assured the audience that good work always gets published, that success is entirely a matter of quality and talent, and that luck is never involved. I had sold my first book, and selling the next two followed quickly and fairly easily, so I knew that they were absolutely correct. Lightning is simply not involved.

Then I had the rude awakening that awaits so many snotty young writers. My sales numbers weren't up to snuff, and my calls and letters (this was, gasp, before e-mail!!!!) suddenly went unanswered. And then I found myself looking for an agent and a publisher, and not having any luck. And that's when I realized: It is luck! Those panelists were just smugly mouthing self-serving claptrap.

And then I started getting published again, and I realized that it's only partially luck. And not all that much luck, really. No, come to think of it, it's really talent and quality, but it is true that even the talented quality folks can have rough patches.

And then once again ... And I realized that ...

And so on. The cycle repeated. Being published: luck is not involved! Can't get published: it's all luck, and mine is rotten, sob!

Anyway, I've settled on a balanced view in my battle-scarred late middle age. (Hey! CNN says that 60 is the new 40! Let's party! But not too vigorously.) It's a combination of luck and talent. There's certainly nothing novel about this balanced view, but I finally really believe it.

Just as with everything else, there'll always be the statistical outliers - people who can't write a coherent sentence but whose books are all bestsellers, and people whose work is brilliant but who can't get published. But still, you pretty much need to start with at least some talent, and you need to polish and nurture and train that talent, and you need to produce oodles of words, and then you need to contact every (good) agent in existence because that is the step that increases the chances that lightning will strike. That's the only way you can optimize the luck.

At least, that's my opinion now. If I sell Time and the Soldier and have a successful career again/after all, then it will be as clear as day that it's really all a matter of talent. Or maybe as clear as a lightning flash.

4 comments:

Chris said...

How close are you to querying it around? Being in the midst of that myself, I can say I approached it with excitement and abject terror. With luck (and/or hard work), I hope to have some very, VERY good news in the next couple weeks...

David said...

Sigh. The endpoint seems to keep receding. That's not helped by not working on the ms.

I'm close, in the sense that the story is written and now it's a matter of fixing and polishing, but I think there's a fair amount of that yet to do.

Here's hoping that you do have that good news. I assume you'll announce it on your blog and not hide the light under a bushel. :)

Chris said...

You assume correct. As soon as there's something to report, I'll do so -- until then, I live in fear of being the guy that starts his touchdown dance on the five-yard-line, only to get unceremoniously tackled before he reaches the endzone.

Funny side-note: when I began my blog, I did so to create a web-presence as I began to submit my manuscript around. I was convinced I was weeks from finished. As it happens, I was about 52 weeks from finished. the best-laid plans, I suppose.

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