Now I’m excited. It has all the earmarks. Awaken by a producer who wants me on television. I was being, dare I say, discovered! That was the way it always was, wasn’t it? The writer from nowhere submits the dogeared manuscript to the sleepy editor and genius is discovered on a nondescript morning. Wasn’t that the way it happened to Fitzgerald and Hemingway? Waking one morning to find that and fortune had knocked on their doors. I had opened that door many times to find no one there.
In the early part of the century, Fitzgerald was pulled from an uncertain career in advertising and Hemingway rescued from obscurity on Paris’s Left Bank by the legendary editor Max Perkins. Their books published , the writers were left to explore the world. Fitzgerald went on a 10 year party from New York to Paris to Switzerland and back to New York. Hemingway drained absinthe from cafes in Paris, then on Africa, the Germans, loyalist Spain, and basically had a hell of a time while his books propelled him on. That was the fare modern writers grew up hearing. That was the way it was then.
Now lets take a modern writer such as myself. After more than 100 rejection letters, I found a printer in Chicago who would bring out my first novel. A printer. Max Perkins had changed vocations. My book, RIPPLES, received critical praise. I kept my job on the night shift in a bakery. My second book, armed with the good review of first, was roundly rejected again. I went back to the printer. My second go round started with a starred review from Publishers Weekly for Tobacco Sticks. After 10 years publishers came knocking, I sold the paperback rights, the foreign rights, Book of the Month Club rights, even the movie rights. I received money. it was time to explore the world as my predecessors had and reap fortunes bounty.
But things change. Oh, it was time to hit the road alright. Muncie Indiana was where I started with a book signing. Then I was off to the South , pushing my novel in the area where it would be read, talking to newspapers, TV stations and radio along the way. This was gritty hard work. Not even remotely glamorous. Where the hell were the book parties? The tete-a-tetes on the Left Bank? The drunken brawls of the success in the Plaza Hotel?
The literary author of today must write what he or she believes in or perish. It is the only way one can stay with it. The money is scant for so long, the work outrageous, the future uncertain. But the work drives one. The novel becomes a grail that, like your children, you will do anything for. In today's mass culture the task is titanic. To quote a rejection letter from an agent, “You write well, but unfortunately, serial sex murders are what is selling. Keep at it. Quietly good books get published.”
Still, one cannot help but feel a little like the huckster. Wasn’t talent supposed to be discovered? Wasn’t a book supposed to catch fire like a lightning storm in a dry forest? It seems unnatural to fight for something that should be natural. Surely the days of Hemingway and Fitzgerald can’t be completely gone. I dress quickly because fame has finally knocked on my door. I am about to leave when the phone rings.
Mr. Hazelgrove, sir, this is the producer at Fox. Yes, I’m on my way. Yes sir, well…there is a fire on the west side and our crew has been called away…so we’re going to have to wait on this. I see, I say slowly. But listen, we can do this sometime in the future…Let me know if you get in PEOPLE magazine and we’ll do it for sure.
I hang up the phone. Fame, that willowy ghost had slipped away again. I look at the front door then open it. There is the dewy morning and the sun on the porch. I close the door slowly and stand there. Maybe it was my imagination, but I swear I heard someone knocking.
William Hazelgrove's latest novel Rocket Man is due out in the fall