A story is told, in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, of a little alien who communicated great danger by farting and tap-dancing.
He lands on a golf course frequented by redneck businessmen and is soon dispatched with a nine-iron.
Ah, how many of us are farting and tap-dancing these days.
So many budding authors waiting for The Call, the telephone message, the fax, the e-mail.
I fear I am one of them. Three million words in print and one novel jammed into the nervous system of a company that seems more into political correctness than literature...I have a sneaking notion that all fiction is politics in Canada. Poltics to get the grant, politics about being angry only about government-approved things, i.e., AIDS, the shoddy way we treat women, novels of reverse utopias set in the future usually better done by William Burgess or even John Updike. We have no imagination, it seems, but these are our novels, our Canadian novels, we with the garrison mentality (Damn Frenchies will come any day now to get their country back).
And yet, even when you produce government-approved second-rate work, there is some skill required, some bragging rights once the book is out, air time, you might get on CBC and CPAC and bore the hell out of everybody.
I have been waiting for a year now.
Friendly notes. One is advised to be patient. And all the while the AIDS and ANTI-SMOKING crowd is coming out with all sorts of titles. And they are from the publishing house you'd sent your novel to.... Those evil pharmaceutical companies, those demon tobacco giants. Everybody is making a fine living, and probably sneaking a smoke or a hooker, female or male, during the lavish food fests.
And we marginal writers still harbor the naive notion that if you speak from the heart, you will be heard.
The heart is left to the Health Care crowd and Howard Healthcare is fast beconing its prime novelist.
The rest of us dangle.
How fingernail-on-the-blackboard a feeling. Either/or. Fame or nothin'. Heisenberg Uncertainty principle.
Well, myself being so old that I distinctly remember the fall of Rome, I've had it happen before.
A disastrous attempt at local politics had left me fired from two prime writing jobs (There are Masters and they don't like what you're saying) and working in a wood shop, my apartment consisting of a berth under the saw machine...The sawdust kept one warm....yeah, yeah, I know...mawkish, Dickensian.
The call came to my boss in his glass-ronted perch above the machines.
"Come on up, Ivan. I want to talk to you."
Uh-oh. Fired again.
But no. This was Hollywood.
This was The Call.
"It's Moira Dann. Globe and Mail. She likes your first-person essay.
The contract came in through the fax (so lucky the boss had a fax) and uh, the cheque was in the mail.
Sweet Jesus Christ. Six hundred thousand readers.
I had to do even better than this. I had to write another novel.
I now had a real friend in a real publishing world.
Sent Moira the part-novel. Nothing.
Nothing again three months later.
I checked out a proper publishing house and sent them the outline.
Hemingway: Y nada Y nada Y pues nada.
This is bullshit, I decide and immediately invest in a computer and run the damn thing off myself.
Luck. Another website picks it up and the book was, sort-of, published.
In the middle of all this, I set up a Creative Writing programme all by myself, actually putting up a shingle. "Put a Doctor in front of your name, one girlfriend advised.
Soon I was making money, albeit on the backs of my poor students, largely seniors with time and money on their hands.
So many had so many good novels, but they would, some of them die before actual publication.
This tended to scare the hell out of me. A completed novel by 74, you are about to submit and you die.
"I am a failure, one old gent is lamenting on his deathbed.
I am an ogre, I say to myself, assuring the poor old writer that he had in fact reached me. He had reached another person. Yes you did, Mr. Maxwell. You can die with some comfort.
The dying and crying soon got to me.
I may well end up like poor old Bill Maxwell and die unpublished, or, at least, not published widely.
So I invested in this old computer, hoping Google at least would pick me up.
Google scoops up everything.
My poor novels are up and listed.
But I fear I'm still farting and tap-dancing.