5 reasons why I don’t aspire to be a famous author

I used to be like that. I used to have fantastic dreams about my books becoming best sellers: Oprah told everybody how good I was; I made money hand over fist; I went on talk shows, and all the eyes staring at blinking cursors spent half their time hoping to emulate my success and half their time resenting it.

I’ve changed. The more I thought about it, the more I realized fame and fortune would be too much hassle. I’m content being a regular guy with a modest income. People leave me alone. Sure, my kids will have to collect 47 scholarships to be able to go to college, but it’s good to establish goals early.

Here are five reasons why I can’t be bothered to become a rich and famous author.

Paparazzi

I can’t have people chasing me around with cameras, waiting for me to do something embarrassing. They wouldn’t have long to wait. An individual as socially awkward as I am would become a feeding frenzy for the press. People forget all my gaffs because I’m just some random guy. They just shake their heads and walk away, and that’s how I like it.

Spain

All my new, hoity-toity friends would be constantly hounding me to go back to Spain again this year. “That little villa overlooking the Mediterranean you took last season was just so charming, you simply must rent it annually.” I’m used to driving to my vacations in a minivan. I don’t think there’s an interstate to Spain from here. Plus, “I’ll turn this private jet around right now!” rings hollow as a threat to bickering children.

Charming as all hell, but where do I park the minivan?

Mega-Signings

People lined up out the door, all of them wanting their books personalized, and the names people have today. I can’t spell any of them. They’d have to spell them out for me, and my penmanship is bad enough when I’m not distracted by trying to listen. At my little signings, there’s a short line and it moves fast, because everyone gets a book inscribed “To Jim”.

Impatient fans

Everybody would always be wanting to know, “When’s your next book coming out?” With all the mega-signings, Mediterranean vacations, and remembering not to pick my nose in public, when the hell do I have time to write a next book? As it is now, I have a much less stressful relationship with my public. By unspoken agreement, they don’t ask me when my next book is coming out and I don’t ask them if they bothered to read my last one.

Complacency

I’d get so wrapped up in carting my big royalty checks to the bank, I’d lose my fire and start writing lazy prose instead of sharp, insightful pieces like this one. I’d wear pajamas for a way-too-large segment of the day. Maybe I’d just do underwear. Not being distracted by constant trips to the bank, or Spain, and not having to worry about how to spell multi-syllable names, leaves me plenty of time to be thoughtful and stay hungry. For example, right now I’m thinking about how hungry I am. I bet the famous guys haven’t had gritty, real-world thoughts like that in years.

Fame? Who needs it?

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If a novel had a baby would it be a short story?

A reader once asked me if I thought short stories were smaller versions of novels with fewer plot turns. It is a good question for writers to consider before transitioning from one form to the other. It’s helpful to remember the form you are writing and what its purpose is.

A short story is as much a mini novel as a chipmunk is a baby squirrel. They are completely different beasts, put on earth for different purposes. When a chipmunk grows into a squirrel, I’ll start writing short stories that are condensed novels.

I define a novel as a set of conflicts, illustrated through a series of plot turns, resolved in such a way as to leave the reader satisfied that some Wisdom was served by the narrative. This Wisdom may be love, justice, retribution, fate, or any other force in human experience that will lay the characters of the story down peaceably to rest.

This is a chipmunk. With any luck, it will grow into a bigger chipmunk and nothing else.

A short story should have one resounding point that will stick with the reader after the story is over. That point is revealed at the end of the story. Everything preceding builds the effect of that revelation.

Since the crux of a short story comes at the end, I often construct them backward. The ending is the kernel of the story, and everything leading up to that is set into place afterward, trailing back to the most natural starting point. Only what is necessary to bring forth the point is built into the story.

Novels demand to be conceived going forward. Even with a general idea of the ending, there will be too many shifting sands there for it to be the foundation. The characters have more say in the direction of a novel. They create the resolution as they travel the narrative, perhaps making the ending quite different than first imagined. Building a novel backward prevents the characters from developing into the people they should grow to be.

Short stories and novels demand different skills. Novels require more devotion to the characters, but they are more forgiving than short stories. A novel can survive a small lull in the narrative; a short story cannot. Each word carries more weight in a short story. A few ill-chosen words, or a few too many words, can quickly derail the narrative.

A squirrel, properly crafted and distinctly its own art form.

Short stories were once more popular than they are now. Their fall might be linked to the decline of literary magazines, but it may also have something to do with writers not appreciating how different the craft is from the art of writing novels.

Some short stories appear to have been aborted novels. Have you read stories that seem to come to a crashing halt, leaving you to wonder, “What was the point of that?” When I encounter one of these stories, I question if the writer set out to write a short novel, waiting to see where the story would take him. It took him nowhere, and he ran out of words.

Storytelling is about coming to a resolution or making a lasting point. The story written as a baby novel does neither. Infant novels labeled short stories are a turnoff. A chipmunk is bound to be a disappointment to his parents if his parents are squirrels.

Do you agree or disagree? Comments are open.