Monday, August 19, 2013

A Frank Conversation

   I'm a website builder.
   I can do enough graphic design to offer it as a service.
   I'm training as a receiving clerk at a local hardware store.
   I'm a chimney technician doing everything I can to grow a business.
   I'm a father to two terrific young ladies.
   I'm a husband to the girl of my dreams.
   I'm also the author of three novels currently in circulation.
  At first impression, you would assume I'm awash in cash but that image is so far removed from reality. It really is a struggle just to make payments on rent and utilities each month. It's an uphill climb.
At present, I've failed to compensate my editor on a timely manner. I did not set out to take advantage of her understanding, but it angers me that I haven't been able to come through with my part of the deal after all the work she put into it. 
   I'm cashing in bottle deposits and watching every mile I have to drive. I'm adamant of shutting off lights and the occasional pizza is a major luxury.
   I'm not crying out or throwing this out to feel sorry for myself. It's just the reality of my life at present and I'm merely sharing so much just to set the scene if you will.
   I left a job that paid well and gave us quite the comfortable life precisely because it was no life at all. I have little regrets on that front.
   Truthfully I left to regain the love and support of family and lifelong friends. I left only because after writing The Gaze, I truly felt like I could accomplish anything.
   Perhaps most of you out there heard the speech from Chris Ashton Kutcher, the one he delivered after receiving an award. The most striking quote to me was "Opportunity looks like a lot of hard work."
   It resonated with much of my life now.
   I learned long ago that realizing a dream does not always mean credits rolling to a nostalgic theme song. The sense of triumph fades quickly, especially when what you love to do is threatened by struggle.
   I will not go into how much time and practice it takes to understand the whims of software and graphics. Obviously, there are facets of this endeavor I enjoy otherwise, I wouldn't do them. I won't go into how confusing the world of retail really is or how mundane it quickly becomes. I won't tell you how frustrating it is to compete with thieves and scam artists that make tatters out of the image you try to build as a business. How difficult it is to get enough people to notice and understand you're trying so hard to do a job worthy of becoming a lasting relationship with a customer.
   I will go into the writing because it most parallels life in every aspect. 
   If you speak to any real novelist out there, they'll tell you writing is in their blood. We're unable to stop the plot from unfolding. We're bound to each and every one of our characters, and the emotional investment is far more than what Mr. Trump could claim on his biggest business venture. 
   The committed will be on an endless quest to improve their voice; to hone their writing skills to produce the kind of prose that can stop a heart or shock every brain cell in a reader. It's the Holy Grail for every courageous man and woman who penned a piece of writing and threw it out there for everyone to take a shot at a piece of their souls. 
   The mediocre will be happy to claim they wrote something and anxiously expect to be hailed as the next Stephen King.
   The ignorant...well, they'll probably just remain in the dark for readers are not stupid people. Their time is sacred and we should feel so lucky they find it in them to devote those hours to the pages we write.
   Opportunity looks like a lot of hard work.
   You think you've written the next great novel and the masses will shower you with acclaim until you walk into a bookstore and you see an entire table filled with the works of Raymond Berry, Suzanne Collins or whole shelves teeming with John Grisham novels. You think you've written something no one else has written until that review shows up telling you that they thought they were reading Twilight or Hunger Games
   It's at that point when you feel the walls of your illusions crash down around you, leaving you to drown in a sea of doubt. 
   You let your baby into the light and suddenly, like the expanding circles in a pond from where the pebble sank, a small group of people reads your work and asks for more. The highs of that roller coaster allow you a glimpse into everything you've wanted, everything that until then, was only on the other side of your own fears.
   The lows, the bad reviews, the dozen people that received a copy of your book at your promotional giveaway who never even let you know if they even got the bloody novel, let alone post the review they were supposed to do in exchange. The friends who tell you they have no interest in reading because they have no time, and those who mean well, but are ultimately false in their praise, you know. The ones who give you the appropriate ooh's and aah's and promise to read your book because they find you "so interesting" but who quickly forget, making the next time you see them infallibly awkward. Those are major tests of character.
   Sometimes it's tough to fight that sense of indignation. After all, we spent however many months composing, fixing, adding, deleting, and pulling every available trick out of our arsenal to evoke a reaction to our characters. The least the world can do is read it! Right?
   But this is the path we chose and if we haven't gotten a huge response, we can't waste our time wondering why or what's the point. We just haven' written our best work yet. We've got to accept it. Get back to the keyboard. Dream big. Create. Compose. Write. It's what we do. It's in our blood.
   Writing cannot flourish if it's done for fame and wealth. It's a self-imposed challenge and one of the loneliest professions a human being can ever choose. It's not meant for just anyone.
   It's a struggle. It's a lot of hard work .
   I imagine that if I had gotten paid one penny for each word I've written, I'd be a wealthy man. Not only does that mean that I've had a prolific enough run to produce three novels, but it also means I have worked ceaselessly for fractions of pennies on the hour.
   Perception is everything in the world of writers. I've met one or two authors that by all appearances were making it and making it big. What a strange disappointment to discover I've been blessed with more effusive reviews on one book than one of them has in all nine together. Stranger still to rank higher than the other one, and I'm talking a good 120,000 spots higher. I was stunned.
   Perception is everything.
   I haven't done anything. The day I feel otherwise is the day I stop composing another sentence. I'll share the messages I receive from readers or the one or two reviews I'm lucky to get, but it's difficult to define a measure of success in writing.
   The best authors out there will tell you they wrote for themselves. They wrote out of their hearts for the enjoyment of no one else but themselves. They adore their characters and are often shocked and fascinated by the way they fleshed out. It's the only way really. I had to fall head-over-heels in love with a British girl who took me on one hell of a ride. I found a hero in a man-another Brit-who found his way in the end and helped me find mine. I recreated my past though taking liberties to edit at will and in so doing, I surrounded a kid in a new country with all the people he'll need on his journey to that last epilogue.
   Where will it go? I wonder often.
   What is all this writing for?
   And why keep doing it when I should work more, firmly plant both feet on the ground and spend more time doing and less time at the keyboard building images and emotions that may go largely ignored?
   Why do we write?
   Why take on the struggle and the upstream swim in the rough waters of competition?
   Why hope for a stranger to devote their time to reading and coming to enjoy the story?
   Because writing is in our blood. It cannot be shut off. And speaking for myself, as long as I have breath, I'll take on those journeys and accept the accusations of escaping reality or dreaming my life away. I'll respect the efforts of those who make it and praise the works of those of us, jacks of all trades, masters of none, doing whatever it takes for shelter and a bite, devoting a few minutes to their stories in those lonely hours of the night when stress bites hardest.
   Maybe there's little point to this blog post. I've wondered where it's going much like you are at this moment. 
   It's just something I had to write because it's in me.
   Now, fresh after venting, I can go back to tweaking a website with more tricky graphics. I can wash my red shirts and go over the receiving clerk duties for the store. I can go over my list of preparation for upcoming jobs and hoping for more phone calls from new customers. I can read a book to my little one and hear the latest jam my soon-to-be-tween deems cool. I can worry about bills and school shopping with my wife, oh, how our conversations have evolved since those days when we both felt we could conquer the world...
   And when they escape into their own dreams, I'll be back at the keyboard. I'll thank God for giving me enough opportunity to keep a roof over our heads, a yummy bite of something in the fridge, a comfortable chair, and I'll even thank Señorita Linares for teaching me how to type back in eighth grade. 
   And then...
   I'll write for me.

   Javier A. Robayo


  1. A good vent, an excellent and heartfelt vent, and an honest one too. Just let the sheer joy of creation keep lifting you. It is the explosion of the right word onto the page that keeps the mind crackling. And for an author, it is the crackle that makes the blood run.

    1. I couldn't agree with you more Kaye. Thank you so much.