Though not a voracious reader, I still prefer books over movies or television. I’ve always believed the little cinematographer in my head to be more capable than some hatchet-wielding director hell bent on robbing some poor author’s work of its finer bits. I’d like to cast the given script on my mental screen myself. In my college-going years, when I embarked on the obligatory quest for truth, non-fiction displaced fiction. Why would I want to waste my time reading someone’s hackneyed version of Jack and Jill going up the hill? You only get to engage in a few hours of cock-and-bull thrill, flipping through their twists in the tales: Jill came tumbling down the hill… pregnant, deciding to kill the heavy-handed Jack (ass); or Jill discovered atop a pleasant Michigan hill, her real soul-mate—Janet—who proposed and they lived happily ever after. And thus, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu dethroned Salman Rushdie and Ernest Hemingway, and their books have occupied the hallowed book shelves ever since.
Ten years ago, I was searching for a topic on which to write my dissertation. While I was people-watching at London Heathrow, I saw a man with a New York Yankees logo prominently tattooed on his neck. That poignant vision implored me to adopt the commoditization of corporate logo tattoos as my life’s purpose. Ten years perhaps is a long time, but that’s how long it took me to sufficiently understand human behavior: why do humans adorn themselves with brand logos, what transforms average fans to devotees, what causes or changes one’s beliefs? My research took me to Sturgis, SD and Daytona, FL where, among other things, I immersed myself into Harley tribe subculture. I’ve conducted ethnographic interviews with blindly devoted patriots of iconic brands such as, Google, Nike, Apple, et al. At one time, tattoo artists dominated my Facebook friends. I’ve even cheekily infiltrated religious cult groups for weeks at a time just to examine their brainwashing techniques. To sum, my research has been compiled during the years that saw America elect a black man as its President, get their revenge against Osama Laden, and completely lose their shit over deflated footballs. Who knew all this work would pale in comparison to the work that lies beyond the horizon?
Ideating and researching, though significant, form only a small portion of the writing process. Writing is bloody hard work. When the writer puts ink to paper, he sits as a cat stranded on a hot tin roof. I’ve seen vapors emanate from my ears. A clear sentence is never an accident. Think about writing as stringing together a few sentences to transfer worthwhile thought from one head to another. As a debuting author anxious to reach a wider audience, I understand that you can never knock at the doors of creativity and expect an answer. Writers wait for creativity to hunt them down, hoping their meticulous application of scents and well-practiced calls will attract it to within striking distance, only to accidentally run it over on the way home. How succulent is literary road kill!
Writers hang in there during moments of despair by myriad bizarre ways that resemble a deranged person in a funny farm. Personally, banging my head against a wall when no one is looking has proven efficacious, as has gnawing pencils like a graphic zombie well past the midnight hour into the dawn of morrow. More recently, I’ve discovered a healthier tactic; I reread the written, and I’ve mercilessly transformed into a murderer, hacking away at every sentence to find its cleanest form. Every word that serves no function deserves no place in the book. The superior writer is empathetic, knowing the focus should be placed on the the reader, not on himself. By the way, did you realize your brain did not recognize the second “the” in the previous sentence? Perhaps this also explains why proof-reading one’s own copy often drives writers to the impact-wall or chew on nonfood objects like the pencil-gum. Same hopeless result.
Even after successfully completing the footnotes and tables, constructing bibliographies, listing indexes, illustrating frameworks, and designing the cover, a writer’s destination is still not in sight. In fact, after the hard work of getting everything on paper, writers have to take a back seat. The book proposal needs to seduce a literary agent who must then sell the work to the editor of a reputable publishing house before the book hits the stand. Even then, readers have to be convinced to adopt their screaming child, and post a five-star review on Amazon. In these times of electronic diffusion and social media, authors are required to elicit direct sales. Instead of spiritlessly brooding about how I can’t be a J. K. Rowling, like every other writer in the world, I am crawling by the inch, word by word, and forcing a more reductionist view of the ominous mountain ranges to be scaled, to lure an agent or an editor into selling my ten-years worth of work.
Authors of nonfiction relay specialized knowledge. They can hide behind the wall of science or research. On the contrary, fiction writers have no scaffolding with which to brace themselves; they just stand there with naked words. The characters of fictional work need to be created; their personalities sculpted; their environment crafted; their story developed. Emotion needs to be aroused through these characters and their interactions, in their environs, and in the profound impact of their adventures.
Recently, while incubating a Jersey park bench that overlooks Manhattan’s impossible skyline, I realized I’ve been disrespectful to the works of fiction, to the men and women who have shared many memorable stories with the world. I got back home a changed man. The thought of the extra pain the fiction writers endure gives me renewed vigor as I try to make the words shine and pop in my own manuscript of vade mecum. No wonder that since the time of the Akkadians, storytelling has always been attributed to divine sources. Even this sentence is a goddamn miracle.