Throwing in the Towel


About a week ago, I came across a thread on a private forum I frequent from an author I know in passing. He wrote a nice, long, heartfelt post about how he was quitting writing because he didn’t feel he was good enough at writing fiction. He compared it to a fighter who knows he isn’t good enough to make pro, so he gives that shit up, but might stay involved in training new talent or whatnot. He said he’d be staying involved in one way or another (he’s also an editor). There were the sort of reponses you might imagine:

  • “You’ll come back. You always come back.”
  • “I’ve thought about quitting before; Hell, just yesterday!”
  • “I’ll never quit, it’s in my blood, etc.”

You get the idea. Of course, I had to chime in. And what kinda pal would I be if I just rehashed what had already been said? So, here’s (most of) my post from the forum:

If you CAN quit–and I believe this applies to anything–YOU SHOULD. Life is too short to spend time doing things you don’t feel like you can’t live without.

End of 2010, I realized that I was juggling a family, a military career, a side-business with my wife, a writing career and drum or bass guitar (sometimes both) practice at church for over three years. It was getting to be too much. Something was gonna have to go.

I gave up the music. I’m a much better author and editor than musician–I was good enough to play bars, but that was about it, and with the military moving me around so much, the only steady playing I could do was in church. Do I miss it? Absolutely. But I can encourage my son to play. His grandfather bought him a drum set for Christmas, so I still get my jam time in. Who knows what’ll happen when I retire from the Army? But…like I said, the very fact that I COULD walk away was a pretty good indicator that I SHOULD. And so far, I haven’t had any regrets.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Today’s douchebaggery is brought to you by the letter “L.” Now, a word from our sponsors… But hear me out. Aspiring to be a pro author is a shitload of hard work. First, you have to write. Then you have to make sure your writing is technically sound. You have to find a publisher. Sometimes, you have to find an agent. You might have to find another publisher or agent if the first one rejects you. You have to do all this with multiple projects at one time, while looking for your next project. You have to promote your work. Maintain a website. Interact with readers. Contact reviewers. Attend conventions. Network with colleagues.

Conventional wisdom has it that something like one percent of authors are pros making their whole living from writing. One percent. A recent college study showed 1.37% of women would say yes if a stranger offered sex. The average person has a better chance of finding sex in the street . If there’s anything you like to do that would fill the void left by quitting writing, it makes logical sense to do that other thing.

For me, there’s no substitute for telling stories. Everything I’ve done for the past six years has been worth it. Many other writers feel the same way. But not everyone is wired the same way. Just something to keep in mind. If you realize you can’t live without it after all, you can always come back.


Could That Have Been Me?


Cho Seung Hui, the guy that shot up Virginia Tech, was apparently a writer of sorts. Yay. For the second time in my life I have something in common with a school massacre.

You see, back when Columbine happened in 1999, I was a high school junior. I wore a black trench coat. I studied the occult, read books by Anton Lavey and distributed metaphysical and philosophical essays around my school. I hung out with Goths and punks. I had a mind, I used it and was therefore thought dangerous by many of the students and faculty.

It got so bad that one day, a few weeks after the Columbine massacre, a fire alarm was pulled and I was blamed. The police escorted me from the school in front of the entire student body, after tossing my locker and personal belongings and searching my person. The funny part was that I was in the Dean’s office when the alarm was pulled; she was making sure that no one had threatened violence against me due to my resemblance to the ‘Trenchcoat Mafia.’ There was no way I could have done it. It turned out that a janitor had pulled the alarm, in an effort to save the students from a bomb threat that had been ignored by school officials.

Trench coat killer; I was a shoo-in back then. All the cues were there. I “would sit by (my)self whenever possible” and “fit the exact stereotype of what one would typically think of as a ‘school shooter’ – a loner, obsessed with violence, and serious personal problems.” Quotations provided by a former classmate of Seung. Not only that but Seung has been credited in news articles as a writer of disturbing stories. Here we go again.

So I was a gothic loner back in high school and I’m a writer now. Good thing I’m not in college, huh? Because the things I think of disturb people even now. My wife is scared by some of the crap that comes into my head and out of my mouth. She won’t read all the stuff that comes into my head and onto the paper. That’s okay with me; not everything I write is suitable for everyone; I’d no sooner want her to force the average Oprah’s Book Club selection on me.

The problem with this is that people like labels. Republican, Democrat. Liberal, Conservative. Punk, Goth, Rebel, Jock. People like to lump other people into groups and expect the same behavior from every member of that artificial group. That’s the kind of mentality that kept women from achieving equality for so long. It’s the reason why minorities get shit upon to this day. It’s the reason religious and tribal groups in the Middle East fight for control of various tracts of desert land. It happens at school, at work, in the media and in pop culture.

This only worries me to a certain extent. Not only am I not a big name, I am a big boy now. Things that bothered me in high school don’t faze me now and, unlike in high school, I’m not as likely a target. But if someone has to spell it out, it might as well be me. It’s as stupid to label all loners as potential killers as it is for school-shooters to label all jocks and preps as deserving victims. And, since we know that all sorts of whackjobs are going to use this tragedy to push their agendas (we’ve seen it before, folks), it’s not any more fair to blame horror for this crap than it is to blame Mr. Rogers.

Horror writing, a cry for help? Maybe on a case by case basis; I’m sure some wannabe killers use writing as an outlet, just as others use painting, music, video games or the maiming of small animals. A guy in my critique group said a church in his community was going door to door this past week looking for books to burn. If anything, those idiots should be the ones on the fire. Burning books reeks a little too much of the Dark Ages (or Nazi Germany, for that matter) for this enlightened feller.

Let’s rip the artificial groupings wide open. Cho Seung Hui, writer or not, was a troubled dude with a weak mind. The only group he should have been lumped into was a support group. Me? The only group I belong to is my family. Tonight I grilled, helped my daughter reorganize her room and discussed home-buying plans with my wife. No world domination. No pipe-bombs.

My fellow creators are at least as normal as me, by and large. Just about all of us have families, just about all of us have jobs. We can, however, disturb the HELL out of you, and you want us to do that or you wouldn’t be reading horror. Thing is, we can do it without being bad people. Writing about the stuff of horror doesn’t make us crazy any more than writing about wizards and dragons means a fantasy author lives their whole life in a fantasy world.

Don’t kid yourself when crap like the VT Massacre happens. It’s the result of one sick sucker. Not Manson, not Quake and certainly not horror writers. Group us if you must, if your little brain allows you to do nothing else. You won’t be hurting us a bit. Besides, deep down, you want what we got, too.