This is a story. It is fictional. Any resemblance to actual people, while intended as an honor, is not intended as a re-telling of any event that has actually taken place, or ever will. It is a piece speculating on how a writer might find a second novel in among his musings, and a reminder to remember why a writer writes, in the first place.
We must find that agent and that publisher, in our writing journey, who will be as loyal to us–and to our first book, be it a mega-seller or a modest performer–as to our last.
The book was a big hit. It was after it hit, the sound reverberating through the “book world”, that several media outlets clambered to know what he’d do next. A sequal? A new novel whose characters have only minimal ties to the characters people grew to so love? they speculated.
He was scared. Sure, readers had loved his book–his baby, had treated it with the kind of reverence he could only have dreamed of previously, before anyone knew his name–but what if they detested his next effort? What would his next effort be? Despite the speculation, he had no idea. He didn’t like any of the ideas occupying his mind right now. No wonder Harper Lee never wrote another book, he thought. I don’t blame her.
He called his best friend for advice. Since childhood, Luke had always been that guy, the guy he trusted to tell it to him straight, even if straight wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. Often, it was the one he needed. Am I freaking out for no good reason? he wondered, to pass the time as the phone rang.
“Hey, dude, what’s up?” A second-ring answer.
Yep, that’s Luke. Glad I called. And happy to help, if I need a hand. Which, in a figurative sense, I do right now more than ever.
“I’ve finally got everything I’ve ever wanted,” he explained, despensing with any preamble. “Readers. A real publisher. So why aren’t I…?” He searched for the word, couldn’t find it.
“Happy?” Luke ventured.
“No, that’s not it. I’m happy. I’m just not…”
“Yeah. When I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a writer. We both did. I struggled like hell to get there. But I finally did. So, now that I’ve got what I wanted all those years ago, why aren’t I content?”
“How long has it been since we hung out? You and I?” Luke asked, after a pause.
“I don’t know,” the author said, not liking the taste of that truth on his tongue.
“Six months. It’s been six months, dude. Now, you know me. I’m never gonna begrudge you your dream, and I know you wouldn’t begrudge me mine. But what was it you said to me when we were kids? You said, and I quote, ‘If I ever lose sight of why I write, you be sure to let me know, okay?’ Today, I’m letting you know.”
“I’m sorry that we haven’t hung out in a while. But we both got busy. You have to admit that.”
Luke gave an mm-hmmm in acknowlesgement.
“And then my book hit. And, just like that, the roller-coaster started. I finally had the chance to prove all those people who ever doubted me were dead-wrong.”
“I’m your best friend, man,” Luke said. “So you can go half a year and not talk to me if you want–I hope you won’t, from now on; I hope you’re back to stay–and our friendship won’t change. But there are two things you need to remember.
“Your book may be big right now, bud, but in the end it’s just a book. It’s just a story printed on pages bound between covers. A humble piece of art. It may have struck a chord wit the public, but that chime, as so many others before it, will fade.”
“What’s the second thing I need to remember?” The author wanted to change the subject, in any way he could.
“That the people who believed in you from the start, before the agent, the publisher, the readers, the book signings, the whatever-else–I’m talking about your brothers and your sister, your parents, your girlfriend, me–we didn’t need your book to sell to have your talent confirmed to us. We knew it was there and it was real all along. You used to be someone who believed in loyalty and humility…”
“I think I still am that person…” I hope, anyway.
“Someone who had a fire in his belly to be great. And now… sure, your book’s big, but are you the great man you always wanted to be? I’d be willing to bet you’re not there yet. Because, somewhere deep inside, you’re worried that you were just a flash in the pan. That that one book might be all you’ll ever do. And that worry is frightening your talent, so that it doesn’t want to show itself. It doesn’t want to give you anything more. And you waited so long to call me… because you didn’t want me to confirm what you already feared you knew.
“Now, it’s time for your talent to stop being afraid of what it might accomplish, and it’s time for you to stop being afraid of your talent. It’s there to help you, if you’ll let it. You’re a writer, no matter how many books that publisher of yours asks you for. Who cares if they don’t like your next book, as long as you like it? You’re a writer because you want to be a writer, and no one can take that designation away from you but you.
“But, more than that, you’ve always tried your best to be humble and loyal. That effort isn’t lost on the people who appreciate you most. Don’t let that guy get lost in all that you’re doing now. And, just because loyalty is a lost art in business, that doesn’t mean it should be a lost art in life.”
“Now, how about we meet up for lunch?” Luke finishes. “Giving my friends advice makes me hungry.”