If anyone ever comes to this site, I hope you’ll read and post comments about this.
I’m still working in Bluffton and I wonder why.
Look: I’m a writer who has published a bit here and there; had a bit of success–two Bram Stoker nominations from the Horror Writers Association (one for a Bluffton story, “God Screamed and Screamed Then I Ate Him”)–but not enough that I’ve become a “name.” I’m not A-list, mid-list or even listed as an author. You’ve probably only heard about me on the HWA board, through the Chicago-based Twilight Tales reading series or heard me at a convention or two. I’m not one of those people who can sell anything he writes based on the drawing power of my name.
That’s enough for now on how unknown I am. We’ll come back to it.
Twenty-three of my stories are set in Bluffton, a fictive small town in the bluff-country of the upper Midwest--in the so-called “Driftless Zone.” I’ll explain what that is at another time and point you to some sites where geologists meditate on why glaciers from the last ice age missed this part of North America. Okay?
Okay. All 23 Bluffton stories interconnect...more or less. They share location, characters, story lines. You can read some of them and get a full story, but you really need others to complete and flesh out the picture. One story’s central figure might be a supporting player or an extra in another; a subplot of one tale become central to another. A piece of extraneous conversation, something overheard casually in one tale, puts forth the plot of a subsequent piece. You can’t, for example, appreciate the Ruth Potter stories without reading them in sequence. You can’t read “Lightning Harvest” without also reading “The Eephus Pitch and Hanging High Fly of the Consolidated Catbirds” and “The Ninth Goddamn Kid.” You can! But each is much better when you’ve had the experience of the others!
This makes them a hard sell.
But I keep writing them; keep making those internal connections, building in the links that make each Bluffton story unsalable by itself. I could leave them out, make the tales more desirable as stand-alones. I don’t. I want them in. They are better stories that way.
This is unprofessional of me -- Jesus, am I unprofessional -- and arrogant, too.
Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it) I don’t have to depend on fiction writing for my living. I make decent money and get great benefits by being a writer for the City of Chicago. Writing at that job, doesn’t seem to diminish my urge to do the fiction when I get home, in fact, it seems to encourage it.
If I made my living from my fiction, I’d probably have to write what the market wants.
Years ago, when I was in theater, I saw actor friends turn down dream roles in good plays because they conflicted with shooting a commercial or doing a piece-of-crap part in a hack film. They had to. They were professionals.
Nobody made us become directors, actors, writers. Our parents didn’t nudge us into it, society didn’t need us to go forth and write.
We did it because something in the doing captured us. The thought that we could scribble out some pages and our friends would laugh or giggle or shudder or...
...that we could stand on a stage and make people cry or...
Get the idea. We got into theater, writing or whatever...because something in us needed to do that thing!
Become a professional at it, though and, unless you’re at the top of your field and able to choose your next project or sell anything you write, you’re trapped by the market. It’s the quandary in which the non-A-list worker finds him or herself all the working day: Doing what your heart tells you, doing the thing that propelled you into the life in the first place or make your rent. After all, the landlord’s not going to wait for the rent. What? Is he supposed to loose money?
No. No, of course not. No one should have to loose money. Right?
So: is it just my arrogance that keeps me writing the Bluffton stories? Do I do it because I just love the place, love hanging out at the Wheel and watching the weekly punch-up between the Sons of Norway and Lanesboro Grange, love sitting out a thunderstorm under Bunch’s bridge with him and Vinnie the Cop? Do I love slipping into the library and getting Ruth Potter to send me back to a Bluffton that was but never was? Yes. I do. I love being there.
And am I supposed to loose money at it? I guess.