An article in today's New York Times about the recent performance by the Rock Bottom Remainders reminded me of an essay I'd written a couple years back and published in Absolute Write. My desires haven't changed since I wrote the article and it became all the more apparent this past weekend as I trudged up and down every aisle at the Jacob Javits Center to see what publishers were offering. As usual, the crowded booths of the huge corporate publishers were difficult to navigate while the booths of the smaller independent presses eagerly awaited for passersby. Nor has the slow demise of fiction changed, which is discouraging for this novelist.
However, the Rock Bottom Remainders are still occasionally performing, so if I hang in there, there just may be a place for me someday with this band, as I wrote about some time ago and will share here:
Anyone who has put pen to paper and believed the words they'd written were as moving as the Gettysburg Address or as weighty as War and Peace dreams that one day it will indeed happen. These scribes know what I mean, because they believe it will be only a matter of time before their name is as recognizable in the literary world as is Roth's, Irving's, Byatt's or any other author who has somehow managed to get his or her book on the shelves and then off just as quickly by brisk sales from word of mouth. They chisel away the words that don't move their story along and end up with nothing short of a masterpiece -- in their eyes, anyway. I know of what I speak since I'm in the midst of writing my third novel. Pretty impressive, if not prolific, huh?
Okay, so my first award-winning novel, Without Grace, took years to be published, the characters tapping their toes and rolling their eyes, waiting for me to be discovered so that they could have their stories told and live on for generations to come. But right up there with their needs, I have needs, too. I need to be validated and recognized. I need the hours I write to be justified. I need to be financially compensated so that I can give up my day job. However, and perhaps even more importantly, I need to fulfill my longing aspiration and become a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders!
Unless you've been hiding under a stack of used, musty books, then you should know about this very unique group, which was originated several years ago by Stephen King, Matt Groening and James McBride. Not much later, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom and Scott Turow were all on board -- all accomplished writers, to be sure. As for all being accomplished musicians -- well, let's just say it's more about their ability to pull in special musical talent that adds credibility to these literary movers and shakers. For instance, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds fame has joined in on some of their performances, in order to lend a hand, not to mention that much needed talent.
It makes sense that these acclaimed authors take some time away from their writing in order to do some rockin' and rollin'. I get that because, next to books, music has always been a love of mine and if it weren't for the fact that I have no tone or pitch, I may have taken the route of being a musician instead of a writer. Ah, the road not taken yesterday doesn't necessarily mean it can never be taken tomorrow, which is one of the lessons of the Remainders that I am clinging to. Until I get more novels published, though, I don't think they'll invite me. After all, serious publishing accomplishments do seem to be the criteria in order to be a part of these enviable rockin' band mates.
Not one to relent, or allow my characters to remain trapped on the page, I keep writing while hoping my agent is eventually successful in finding a home for my latest work. I'm fearful, though, that when publication does happen, it may be too late to join the band. My luck, one of the Remainders will get all caught up in the madness of rock and roll fame and create a schism in the group and they each decide to go their separate way, having nothing left from their tour but a shopworn T-shirt. Or, what if after Frank McCourt has sat in with the band playing his harmonica the rest decides a Pulitzer Prize is something they need to write their way toward and put down their guitars and drumsticks and hole up in their writer's den for an interminable length of time?
Never mind that even though the music is deep within my blood, my very soul, but struggles and strains when I attempt to give it a voice; I've got my tambourine, leather pants and all the words memorized to Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." I'm ready to join the rock and roll scene, my novels on the bookshelves or not; Rock Bottom Remainders or not. It's up to me and I have just the answer: I'll create my own group. I'll christen us the Slush Pile Punks!
Now that's a novel idea. But before I amp up the mike, tune the guitar and slip into those leather pants, there's a voice that won't let me go, a plot line that's itching for an outcome, and I need to heed the call. So for now, I'll keep on keeping on, standing offstage in the shadows, letting my characters scream and shout and demand their voices, not mine, be heard. Eventually, someone's got to notice.