James Lee Burke – perseverance furthers

In my mailbox this morning I found the thick glossy program from the Mystery Writers of America ‘s Edgar Awards Dinner. I didn’t attend; it’s too pricy for me. But I did splurge enough to attend the symposium* the day before. I was especially inspired by Julie Smith’s interview with this year’s two Grand Masters, James Lee Burke and Sue Grafton.

The program’s  article about Burke by his daughter Alafair Burke brought back memories of his talk. He published three novels as a young man, but his fourth, The Lost Get Back Boogie, was rejected over 100 times in the next nine years. Throughout that time, he never stopped writing. She quotes from an article he wrote for the New York Times:

“A real writer is driven both by obsession and a secret vanity, namely that he has a perfect vision of the truth, in the same way that a camera lens can close perfectly on a piece of the external world. If the writer does not convey that vision to someone else, his talent turns to a self-consuming bitterness.”

Since he’s published 27 novels and is still going strong, he obviously managed to write his way through that tough period. Note his emphasis on reaching “someone else” through writing. How many readers do we need in order to steer clear of that “self-consuming bitterness”? And how long are we willing to toil away in solitude without them? For me, it’s not all that many and not all that long. That’s why I chose the POD option – for the time being, anyway. Endlessly delayed gratification is not for me.

*The MWA’s Edgar Week Symposium is available on CD’s and/or DVDs. You can order individual sessions, but a better deal is to order a complete set of three MP3 CDs for $35 or six DVDs for $50. I’m not getting them because I heard them all live and in person, but it would be a worthwhile purchase if you have a local writers’ group to share it with, or even just as a treat for yourself and your friends. Details are on the Mystery Writers of America website.

8 thoughts on “James Lee Burke – perseverance furthers

  1. Oh, I know that song well. Got it memorized. The writing life is a constant line of rejections and discouragement. You have to believe in your vision in order to keep going in the face of almost constant battering against your ego.

    POD is wonderful. Once the stigma is removed, when people really do judge books by their contents, we will have a more encouraging market. Small sales will not be a barrier to reaching the people who will enjoy a book, and popular books will be just as successful — but the writer will get more of the proceeds.

  2. The love of telling stories is what drives me. And a good story, as you say, can take many forms: written, spoken, acted out on a stage …
    You just gotta keep going. 🙂

  3. I think POD stigma is declining, especially if some of the self-published authors get better reviews than some of the traditionally published novels.

    Readers are very smart. They look for what they want to read, not just because of brand…

    Steamy Darcy

  4. Dear K.A., Enid, Alexis, Karen and Jane –

    Thanks for all your positive responses to last night’s blog. I’m trying a group response this time – hope you’re not offended! I’ve gotten behind trying to respond to people’s responses separately. On the other hand, have you noticed that when you do respond to someone individually, it shows up as a comment on your stats? So if you’re trying to boost your numbers, commenting over and over on your own blog is one way to do it.

    I agree that POD has changed the landscape of publishing dramatically – we writers are taking back our own power! I’m no longer prone to “self-consuming bitterness” (In part, I give the credit to Zoloft and Lunesta, after which drugs I named the two cats in Eldercide.) But doing the traditional query letter-partial manuscript-rejection routine did send me into a severe clinical depression – which POD publishing cured (along with the meds.)

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