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Holly and Dan | 2013 | A Room of One's Own


There is no point at which you can say, "Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap."  

-Carrie Fisher


Success in the Arts

In the last month, Amber and I have done The Pine Bush UFO Festival and Parade and the Berkshire Anime and Manga Convention. I can see how people would presume that these events are cake walks. After all, we just sit there, not doing much of anything, while fun things occur all around us (n.b., usually when you are having transcendent amounts of fun, there is someone nearby being paid minimum wage to sweep up after you or help you stay hydrated at a premium).

For the UFO Festival, we woke up at five in the morning on a Saturday, drove over an hour, set up a tent and a half dozen displays, unloaded thousands of dollars worth of Amberís art and my books that I bought from my publisher months ago at no small expense, all while sitting outside ten feet from terrible DJs who put on a mix of the worst songs in history, turned up to level that genuinely caused my body to shake, and then left it on random for the next six hours while pollen from the trees attempted to make sweet, nonconsensual love to my every mucus membrane. I did a free reading and then took questions at the library, but was initially met with nervous stares. My parents came and tried to prime the pump, but the only succeeded in arousing the attention of an elderly man in a suit, who took it upon himself to try to debunk my fiction. I restated that I am not out to prove or disprove anything, simply to use the mythology to tell a good story. At the end of the talk, he shook my hand and said, "Look me up. Iím the last entry in the phone book. Youíll laugh when you see it. The government made me take myself out of all books, but Iím allowed to put myself back again. I expect to hear from you." The only things that seemed to sell at the fair were vastly overpriced alien balloons. We did not get back home until eleven that night, at which point I could barely do more than croak. For this, Amber did not sell enough to cover the cost of her table and I sold a solitary book, the proceeds of which went immediately to buying Amber lunch because I left my wallet at home. With materials and mileage figured in, we likely ended up paying over a hundred dollars to be there.

BAMCon wasn't better. The positive was that it was indoors and the pollen couldnít booty call me. The negatives were that we spent three day at a convention where we were ignored by the convention-goers, who numbered in the dozens rather than the hundreds we expected. I did a single panel - though I informed the organizers that I was game for at least three if I were made an official guest - that did not seem to be nearly as well-received as it was during No Such Convention. For want of a comped hotel room by virtue of my being a guest, Amber and I commuted three hours a day and subsisted on beef jerky, popcorn, and whatever fast food we could stomach for dinner. I sold a single issue of Beside the Still Waters to a man who had no real interest in who I am or what the book may be about. Ours was simply the first table he came to. Amber again barely made the cost of her table and didnít come close to making this worth her while. As we packed up on Sunday, I overheard one of the officials of the convention blaming the poor turnout on the artists and vendors and saying he would charge them 15% more next year to make up for it.

These are far from glamorous. However, they are a form of success. While Amber sat bored, she busily made denim bracelets to meet an order. An advertising firm initially wanted three and five thousand. Amber said that she could make five hundred and suggested some other Etsy sellers who would make up the difference. They asked for a thousand and increased their offer 50% on each bracelet, which is one hell of a way to negotiate. While I didnít sign proper books, I came very close to finishing my fourth novel. I need only give it a thorough read before I can send it off to my beta readers for their input. Flies to Wanton Boys could be out by the end of the year.

These are not the only forms of success in our lives. Not only did my day job not shut down, I was guaranteed at least another year of employment with the state and given a contractually mandated raise, meaning I am now making significantly more than I was at this same time last year. Owing to this, Amber and I are moving to a bigger place so she can have a studio, though we had to put off for half a month to preparing for Pine Bush and BAMCon. Two years ago, I had never done a solitary signing and lived in a studio apartment alone, where I barely managed to substitute teach enough to keep myself fed and out of debt. Now, I have the privilege of exhausting my weekends watching people not buy things I've slaved over, which is honestly a wonderful step up.

There is a misapprehension that success is when the work becomes easy. While I love the anecdote about Douglas Adams being kidnapped by his publisher and kept in a hotel room until he finished his promised sequel, that is not my life. Very likely, I will have dozens more signing events where I do little more than read other peopleís books and pester Amber with hypothetical questions in order to provoke conversations. Things will not be easy for a long while yet, but this does not mean we are not sowing the seeds for further successes.

At BAMCon, I told Amber, "I wish these people understood how great we actually are. You are being solicited by an ad firm to make a thousand bracelets, I have three books out. They donít know because they have no reason to. Short of shouting a resume at them, they canít know."

It is all about perpetuating the myth of myself at this point. (At least, this is what I try to tell myself after I fail to sell anything.) What if this is a good event, as NonCon was in February? What if just the right person gets her hands on one of my books, someone who would otherwise never hear my name except I was sitting in the right place at the right time? I have heard dozens of stories of authors whose big break came simply because some teen shoved their book at daddy and said, "This is good. Have your publisher acquire it/turn it into a movie." These events are the price of admission to being a real writer and, I am pleased to note, several newspapers mentioned my presence at the UFO Fair.

I donít expect that it is a closely guarded secret that signings are not always pleasant experiences. I can sit for four hours and deal with nothing more than people looking at the back of my books and then walking away or, as was the case in Pine Bush, pointing at the cover of Artificial Gods and pronouncing that they witnessed that very ship before ambling away. Several people walked up to my books, on which my name is emblazoned, and ask if these are all by local authors. I pointed out that they are all written by me, so yes. Then I get that look, one that seems to say, "I was about to fake an interest and buy nothing, but now I feel pressured by the fact that you are sitting there and do not match my assumption for what the author of these books should look like, so I am going to awkwardly shuffle and walk away." (It is a loquacious look, no doubt.)

I don't know how often beginning writers hear from struggling, though arguably successful, ones. I think I nursed the mistaken belief that authors at events sold well because I know I gravitated toward them and have several signed books by authors I happened to run into. I found the very concept exciting and heartening. However, I did not then spend six hours watching people not buy their books, so it is possible there was some sampling bias.

Still, I remind myself that all this hard work means I am growing more successful. How many writers never get published, let alone three novels in a series with no clear end? How many published writers don't acquire readers because they sit at home and do nothing more than hope? I am in the minority if just because I am proactive in making myself so, even if it feels as though I am very far from it when people with robotic cat ears pass by my books in favor of stale Pocky and Ramune.

Soon in Xenology: Summer.

last watched: The Fourth Kind
reading: Flies to Wanton Boys
listening: Fiona Apple

Holly and Dan | 2013 | A Room of One's Own

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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