Random choice, I know.
That’s kind of how life is, though; how people are. Some days a certain or image is in our minds and the next, something else. For a while I’ll be madly in love with a certain band and later I’ll think of them fondly, with a certain nostalgic affection. Celebrities are hot one moment and yesterday’s kitty litter the next. People spend time and money trying to track and, better, create these phenomena. They can’t. Our attention is riveted, then lost.
Yesterday I read a published author’s blog post about a conversation with her agent. They’d been discussing what she’d write next. They went over a number of ideas and the agent said, which one are you most excited about – except this one. Of course the idea the agent eliminated from discussion is the one the author was most excited about. But the market has been tepid for her books. She’s had a bad run and the publishing houses aren’t picking her up like they used to. She and her agent are trying to reposition her and it’s clear she’s feeling down about it. Like everyone, she frequently refers to the “changing publishing industry.” Things are just difficult right now, she says.
I also have a couple of friends who are querying their manuscripts and getting not much response. They’re not getting requests for even partials. These are good writers with good books. But people in the industry, in the top tiers, aren’t looking for that right now. They’re looking for hot and hip. They want the next phenomenon.
Earlier this month, I mentioned Oprah’s interview with JK Rowling. You can watch it on You Tube and it’s worth the time. The best moment, I thought, was when Oprah asked JK if she had ever imagined Harry Potter would become such a phenomenon. She said no and turned the question around. It was fascinating to hear these two vastly successful women, both of whom had once been in the poorest of circumstances, discuss the amazing serendipity of their successes. Especially now that both are at the end of their particular comet-rides. Oprah is ending her talk show and Rowling has ended the Harry Potter series.
Oprah asked Rowling if she’d try to do something like it again and Rowling instantly said no. She said, in fact, that people regularly warn her that she’ll never do anything that huge again. She’s promised herself that she’s not spending the rest of her life chasing the phenomenon, trying to top what she did with Harry Potter. Oprah said she finds herself thinking about how to do it with her new network, how to make it be the sensation like her show has been. She stops herself, too.
They both referenced a moment in an interview with one of Michael Jackson’s people. How no one had expected Thriller to become such a worldwide phenomenon. And how Michael Jackson then spent the rest of his career and his life chasing it, trying to make it happen again.
He is now, of course, the great cautionary tale for all creative types.
Ambition is a necessary thing. It’s what keeps us going in the face of adversity. In the face of people who just aren’t sufficiently enthusiastic about your work. But it’s the love of the work itself that’s truly meaningful. Neil Gaiman (my hero, you know) was featured in an episode of a children’s show, Arthur. It’s only something like 12 minutes long. I thought I’d only watch a minute or two, since my boy did the voice. Then I got so drawn in and, yes, even a little emotional, I watched the whole thing.
It’s about writing a story – a graphic novel, actually – and sticking to what you want to write, rather than what people like. (I admit I did grumpily mutter, when Neil tells the little girl that he wants a copy of her book when she gets it published, something along the lines of “easy for you to say, you’re Neil Fucking Gaiman.” But it was just a little spat – he still has my heart. He can be my inner Neil anytime.)
At any rate, I think those “lessons for children” are good lessons for all of us. You never know what people will like. And what made them say ho-hum yesterday might be OMG tomorrow.
I do know this: we need to love it first.