It was a little “slice of life vignette,” a bit of self-conscious dialogue stuck between humorous, unlikely, and cliché – spoken between oddly-named characters in a stereotypical café – yet my creative writing professor’s only criticism was, “Nobody wants to read about writers.” Imagine my fleeting resentment when Stephen King’s Misery skyrocketed to fame and fortune.
It was an impromptu, academic exercise. But, given time, I thought, those oddly named characters would have cooked up some mischief, left that café, and embarked on adventures worthy of a bestseller.
Thus stifled, Maury and his girlfriend Michael never left their seats. They are stuck in an imaginary coffee house, doomed to a half-life of banal banter, forced to smile precious little shy smiles across the rims of kitschy mugs of bottomless, bitter coffee. Their long-suffering waiter is unamused, but I amuse myself by mentally giving him the face of my creative writing professor.
If you imagine that writers are constantly sizing you up, trying to figure out whether you will be the protagonist or the villain of their next brilliant work, you are partly correct. Generally, it’s not you we want to ensconce or abuse on the page – merely a mannerism or a turn of phrase, an accent or an accessory, a habitual quirk that we plan to steal. You needn’t worry – or brag – that we have made you the centerpiece of our imaginary drama. You might, however, refrain from idly scratching things in public.
If you prick us, do we not bleed? Of course we do – we bleed ink all over the pristine page. We stab you back with our pointy-nibbed fountain pens, and the more creative the next demise, the more you understand the depth of our contempt. Never fear – most of us have a deep well of magical wishes from which to draw the cards of our characters’ karmic fates, and would never willingly do jail time over anything you might do to annoy us.
We are sometimes caught between the desire to create and the desire to eat. Few of us aspire to the Bohemian lifestyle, except somewhere in the coldwater garret flat that exists (we hope) only in our imaginations. We go there often enough that it is nice to return to a home with central air and a flat screen TV, and something a bit more modern than a typewriter on which to practice our beloved art. This requires a thing called a “day job.” With luck, it is not soul-killing and lifeless.
I will admit that my former professor had a reasonable point; our characters tend to lead far more glamorous, intriguing lives than we writers do. Especially when we’re merely living comfortably well – neither struggling to earn our bread nor struggling to find ways to spend it all before we die. And yet, there is a certain mystique – mostly manufactured in the fevered imaginations of aspiring writers – there really seems no shortage of interest in the lives of writers.
Mystery writer C. Hope Clark, featured this week on Patricia Stoltey’s blog, writes, “Maybe we hope that duplicating the schedule of a successful author will infuse an extra dose of success in our own. Maybe we just need to feel part of a family, the family of authors. Or we dream of being that full-time writer and wonder what it’s like.”
I’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s like moving to Daytona Beach when you’re thirteen, full of fond vacation memories, never once stopping to think about how life is not vacation. Vacation is just a little bubble suspended in time, where we declare ourselves free – liberated from the ordinary, humdrum, daily doldrums of laundry, grocery shopping, and applying butt to chair to put in the work. It isn’t a whole life, with its rich tapestry of people and experiences to draw from, in a palette that ranges from gray, wispy clouds and muddy autumn leaves to sparkling flashes of faceted emerald and fiery opal. Vacation is just that slice of life vignette, set on a warm, sandy beach covered in oddly shaped people, punctuated by the shrimp-envy squabbling of gulls wrestling over a wadded-up ball of white bread tossed into the brilliant blue sky by a twelve-year-old’s hand.
Life, for the writer, is the other fifty weeks of the year it takes to capture that on the page.
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