The challenges to becoming a professional fiction writer, an entertainer, are no different or less difficult than trying to become a rock star. Sitting in with a band for the first time I think it is damn near impossible not to have a sudden rush of blood to the ego filled with delusions of grandeur. I, like countless others, once was fueled by the same dreams. Now a bit wiser, and certainly much older, I have found that writing a book isn’t all that different from recording an album except I don’t have to worry if the drummer might die in an alcohol fueled car crash or the guitar player overdosing on a Dimetapp and Xanax cocktail or about a Yoko ruining the band’s karma. Still, there are some strange, wonderful, beautiful similarities to be considered.
- Listen to the bands they listened to.
Everybody starts somewhere. There would be no Metallica without Black Sabbath just as Kiss and Marilyn Manson owe their careers to Alice Cooper’s crazy ass. We all stand on the shoulders of giants as artists. The best thing is to know this, acknowledge it, embrace the fact that you can only be so original and, believe it or not, people will respect you for the fact you are carrying on a proud tradition of stealing fire from the gods.
- Being a one hit wonder is nothing to be ashamed of.
I know guys who would punch their mother in the face for such success. There is nothing worse than toiling away year after year and having nothing to show for it. The whole idea of starting a band is to get rich and famous! A popular song is a pop song forever. The same can be said of a good book. To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, and Wuthering Heights are all going to be read forever. Even the big guys rarely have more than one big hit novel. Stephen King may have over fifty books in print but he would dig up the corpse of Chaucer and make love to it for an over-the-top success like Fifty Shades of Gray.
- Sound the same, but different.
Nobody will deny that every AC/DC song is absolutely formulaic or that Nickelback is completely forgettable yet instantly recognizable to devotees of FM radio. Personally, I don’t care if somebody compares my work to Don DeLillo or James Patterson. As long as whomever they are lumping me in with has done what I hope to do: sell a heap of books. As long as you’re being compared to something good it’s all good. It is when your work is referred to a unique or avant-garde, God help you. Yngwie Malmsteenmight have been arguably one of the best electric guitar players ever to shred but he couldn’t buy a hit song. The thing he forgot, the thing I think many writers do as well, is that you can be arguably the best at something and still nobody will give a shit if you are boring.
- Everybody is going to fuck you.
No one is ever going to be this blatant about it, but it is as true as fat kids will always love ice cream and cake. Money breeds greed, fame magnifies neediness. You ever wonder how somebody like an M.C. Hammer went from multi-millionaire to filing for bankruptcy: He needed something that fame doesn’t offer, friends. That is not something you’re going to find after the spotlight comes on. When the money is gone so is the entourage. Of course, they will pop up here and there as they “write” tell-all books about how they helped to destroy someone’s career and make it sound like they had it coming. The people who cared about you before your ship came in are the only ones you should ever trust with your love or your ATM card.
- There’s no business like show (snow) business.
Musicians and writers seem to both love drugs and booze in excess. The damndest thing is that these lunatics do some of their best work zonked out of their skulls. I look at The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan like I do at Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner. They drank like fish, fucked like sailors, and smoked dope by the pound all because they could. Say what you will about them, their music and books will still be being appreciated long after we’re all dead. They all have one magic ingredient in common that you can’t buy, steal, borrow, or beg – talent. Without it you’re just another doomed contestant on ‘American Idol’ certain to be forgotten next season, or worse, sardonically remembered for how awful you truly were. But I say so what, cash the checks and never look back with an ounce of regret.