Because he's my thesis adviser, I had to stop by TC Boyle's office yesterday to get his signature for my fall class schedule, which is always the perfect excuse to kick it for 30 minutes + catch up on things. Among some of the highlights of our conversation:
1. Tom confessed that the only thing he felt really needed from his teachers at Iowa (+ in general) was a little encouragement now + then, and maybe a couple edit suggestions every so often.
--That's exactly what I need, I said.
2. After I asked him when his favorite time to write was, he said: I like writing from 10:00am to 2:00pm. I get a lot of writing that way.
3. When I asked him where he liked to write, he said he liked writing in the mountains. I confessed that I was surprised because his writing has such energy + his language is so creative + intense, all adjectives I associate with the city. He admitted he likes the country + the city for different reasons. I think he may be right though. I'm considering applying for a Yaddo residence fellowship next year for that reason. . .
4. I told him I was thinking of going on a mediafast soon (because I waste too much time on crappy reality television, reading the same news stories + facebook).
--What's that? He asked.
--Oh, no cell phone, no internet, no tv, no movie, just writing.
--Well, you'll probably need that for your novel, to really get into
it. But short stories work great with all of that noise in the background.
5. When we talked about the LA Times Festival of Books, he told me: they put me at the end of the reading list to stop people from leaving early, but really, I think they're just taking me for granted because I do it every year.
6. I lamented that it was sad that if I'm lucky
, I'll be just another author that "makes it" in America, which means going on a 10-city bookstore and reading excerpts of his/her book to three people in the audience (if it's not just canceled out right) + often, they're not even there for you, they're the leftovers from the author before you whose fifth book on the secrets of wealth just became a NYT Bestseller. Either that, or the bookstore's deli was giving away free brownie bites with purchase.
Tom looked at me, raised his eyebrow + said: --I don't see another way. I mean, you have to build your fan base, and in the beginning, you don't have that many readers.
7. I told him that I thought the publishing industry has changed a lot. Now, it seems like a lot more is asked of the author in terms of self-promotion. Writers have to be willing to market their own shit, find their own audience, maintain their own website, befriend their own fans on FB + MySpace, send out their own submissions. He said I might be right, but he wouldn't know because he's been doing the same thing since he left Iowa City.
8. I described the writing relay using literary blogs I'm doing with some other fiction writers like Andrew Whitacre, Christina Zilka + Alexander Chee, to name a few.
--It's sort of like an exquisite corpse, I explained, but with writing blogs instead of pictures.
He paused, then said: --Alexander Chee, why do I know that name?
--He wrote Edinburgh
--Don't know that. He looked around his crowded office overflowing with manuscripts + magazine covers, then he pushed a book towards me on the desk. I zoomed in. The book was called, Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives.
And sure enough, there was one of Chee's (many beautifully written) essays on Annie Dillard.
9. As our conversation came to a close, I realized--as I do so often in this industry--how far I have to go before I'll be able to say I've really made it. The distance is always greater than the longest distance I imagined it being, which is odd because I have an insane imagination, so I already imagined it being really really long. And that's the scary thing, it's even longer than that. When I got my first print publication, I thought I was on my way, slowly but surely. Before that, I remember sitting down in my boxer shorts one afternoon in Astoria, with the summer light filtering in through the windows, thinking, wow, I just got my first good online publication. In neither instance was I anywhere close to making it. The only thing I can say is that I got a few hints that my writing was really good. A few hints + nothing else.
I didn't know in either instance--and thank god I didn't because maybe I would have folded--that that it takes forever just creating momentum for yourself as a young writer + only after things start moving do you begin to realize that they move a 100 times slower than you can possibly imagine (or endure). But because writing is who you are, you persevere. You can't turn around now. You wouldn't even know where to go. I didn't know then + I try not to think about it now that failure is the rule + that publication is the exception in this industry. But even slowness is momentum + momentum is the only change you're got as an author to reach other people, so of course you take it.
10. As we said goodbye, Tom turned to me + said: --Jackson, Congratulations on everything you've done this year + everything you're going to do.
I laughed + told him I'd see him in the fall. But of course, I meant, I'll see you at the Festival of Books where I look forward to taking you for granted like everyone else.