That Titanic feeling

It’s a strange feeling, it is. While calling it after a massive maritime disaster isn’t really appropriate–my situation is not disastrous, but hopeful–it conveys a similar feeling. Within five weeks, six at most, I’ll be leaving the state in which I came of age. I look around at all the familiarities, and know that their days are numbered, just as the ill-fated passenger liner’s crew had to confront reality: in two hours, nearly all that they saw would be submerged.

A part of me is tempted to mourn early and often, which is irrational. I should not mourn. I lived thirty-nine years in Washington without considering myself a Washingtonian (nothing against the concept). What is ahead is appealing, reuniting and promising. How many local vendors am I eager never to give one more dime? I will be saying farewell to a city government that is a poor steward of the public trust, a library that cannot find useful volunteer work for an author, provincial myopia about the region’s past and present, complete social stagnation, mostly mediocre dining, and dust storms. I just placed a simple phone call to my ISP and got four different answers from four different people, only one of whom seemed the least bit concerned about the variance. The rest were resigned to it. Said it all.

Yet for a long time it was home, and here I met some of the finest people I’ve known, had many good times, loved our house with its strong natural privacy and kind neighbors. And though I should not mourn, I know I will. My last ride to Boise will be a contemplative and emotional four and a half hours.

Soon we part, Washington. Thank you for all that has been good and wonderful. You’re a beautiful state with many fine folks, and you will always be a destination for those seeking climatic diversity and free spirits. People will also come for the weed.


In a complete topic segue, it’s about time I made written record of my usual analogy for my status as a published author.

I am not the sort of published author most people think of, and yet I’m not self-published (though I may change that). I have contributed to a good number of books, but all had other contributors. One might say I’m a freelance writer who is entitled to call himself an author, having done his share of authing for pay and print. I edit, write and proofread. Most of my paid writing work is done on contract, which puts me at the lowest tier of the authorly ziggurat. I usually describe it thus:

You probably saw Titanic. In fact, you’ve probably seen it eight times in reruns whether you wanted to or not. You observed that the ship operated according to a class system, which had direct relevance to one’s chances of ending up in a lifeboat. This has direct analogy to the security of one’s position in the literary world. Thus:

Suppose that the literary world is a Titanic. (The way New York is handling things, the analogy is apt enough). The highest class are, of course, first class passengers, would Madame care for some more champagne, veddy good, sah, socializing in that rotunda with crystal chandeliers overhead and an orchestra playing, more caviar, please, waiter. These are the J.K. Rowlings and Danielle Steels, anyone who is always on the endcap at the bookstore. Almost all of them are getting off the boat.

The next class, second, are the leisure tourists. They do not receive the fawning deference reserved for the big spenders in first class, but they are treated well. They enjoy some amenities and general respect. They are the top-selling science fiction authors, the more famous travel writers, and sometimes the self-help book gurus. Most of them are getting off the boat.

Down in steerage is the third class, the people making their own music who live in a different world than the prominent. This category includes most of the crew. These are most indie authors, history writers, the folks that pen Harlequin romances, cookbook authors, most children’s authors, writers of books on religion, and so on. Most people have never heard of most of them. Most of them aren’t getting off the boat.

Continue into the bowels of the monster and you will come to the engine room, full of people stripped to the waist and sweating quarts as they shovel coal into the boilers. These are the stokers. Without them, the ship couldn’t have set sail, but no one in first class can name a one of them. Not only have they no security, but in time of danger, more important people will shut the watertight doors on them. They aren’t getting off the boat.

I’m a stoker.


4 thoughts on “That Titanic feeling”

  1. Esteemed Great Bearded One:
    I essentially agree with your three-tier caste system. Yes, it’s oversimplified, but accurate enough for a teaching lesson. But one must take into account the intellectual and professional contributions that the various non-author contributors, i.e., literary collaborators, ghostwriters, editors, proofreaders, graphic art designers (and occasionally, but not often, literary agents) and book manufacturers contribute to the success of any given book. Just as Hilary Clinton (and her literary collaborator) demonstrated with pointed out, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.” Writing a book is a team effort. Period. Hilary’s book was great and inspiring. And her literary collaborator made that possible. Clinton had the vision and experience. Her ghost had the skills to help her express them clearly. That’s what ghosts and collaborators do. As the sole author of ten books and the collaborator / ghostwriter of twenty more, I know the difference between having a fascination experience and being able to translate its value to the reader.
    Without a decent self-education in the basic skills of writing (which few have), and professional literary collaborator or editor or both, most “authors” couldn’t write themselves out of a paper envelope. Astoundingly, most of them have never read very many books themselves! And 90+% have never even purchased a how-to-book on how to write books!
    None of them will ever become known as a first-timer who is the equal of a Dickens or a J.K. Rowling, but the first-time author who does not make the effort to learn the basic tools of the trade will virtually always crash-and-burn. Why? For the same reason that no taxi driver will ever win a Formula One international GT race. They don’t have a clue about how to write a good book [or drive drive an F1 car].
    Yes, The Great Bearded One is a stunningly proficient editor, but also a fine expository writer and a fabulous proofreader. I pay him money for his work.
    Go forth, study and learn the writer’s trade, call in the specialists who know more about writing than you do, and reap the satisfaction and benefits! Only because I practice what I preach have I been able to successfully work as a professional writer and pay my mortgage every month for the last 25 years. Best wishes — Dick


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