Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Ella called this afternoon and commented on the bleak pronouncements on prospects for fiction writers in my previous post. For some reason she and Billie have been reading my blog closely, as if looking for clues to my mental health and wellbeing. I'm glad that they're reading it, but also annoyed.

In any case, she's my brash daughter and also the consummate pragmatist, while Billie is the idealistic dreamer. Ella's attractive. Her beauty is raw and abundant, with huge, black eyes and a wicked laugh always hovering at the edge of her lips. She's a lesbian, and it's interesting that we share similar tastes in women, physically speaking. Spiritually, emotionally and intellectually I find that most or even all women tend to be my betters.

E.Trout: So anyway, Daddy, what's the point of it all?

B.Trout: Kind of a broad question, isn't it?

Ella: I mean writing...why would anyone do it if they, as you suggest, "should give up the notion of success?"

BT: Why not?

Ella: But if there's no hope of succeeding?

BT: It's not about success.

Ella: Then what's it about?

BT: It's a very basic and essential form of communication. It's kind of like cooking.

Ella: How's that?

BT: Cooking is probably the most direct form of human communication outside of sex. Sex, of course, being the most urgent and engaging of all of the senses, is the ultimate form of interaction, but then it's only appropriate in very specific circumstances. Cooking is a close second and more ubiquitous. If you don't eat, you die. In preparing a meal...whether for family, a lover, or a stranger who shows up at your door, you're building a conversation that contains the sum total of your culture and your life's experience. From the table setting to the spices. From the way you operate the flame on the burner to how you wield the wooden spoon. From everything you've learned from your grandmother to everything you've invented on your own, or out of necessity by way of poverty, abundance, season, climate, etc. You lay out this elaborate composition on the table. It's a delicate ritual. It is direct communication. It is something that you do with passion and care even if there's no hope of financial remuneration. You don't require "success" to cook. You do it because it's a part of the human condition.

Ella: But I'm studying to be a chef, so there's a financial aspect as well...

BT: True...you will eventually get paid to cook. But if there was no hope of ever making a living through food you'd still cook anyway, wouldn't you? You'd still be passionate about the table, right?

Ella: Of course.

BT: Same thing with writing. Storytelling, behind sex and food, is the third most direct way of communicating with fellow hominids. Music, dance, visual arts all follow after. When you read something that's written well, or when you hear a story told, you are living inside the author's brain. You are swimming with their soul. You are experiencing what it is to be human and alive. And let me say that I'm not talking about Tom Clancy here, or anything that is written with any consideration for a market. So, in order to write well, you have to take the potential of success out of the equation. If there's no feasibility of financial "success" and you'd be willing to spend five hours a day writing anyway...just like you'd still cook or make love without remuneration, then you'll be a fine writer. But if the possibilities of financial reward were removed and this would cause you to quite writing...then you're not cut out for it. If there's no book release party in a Manhattan apartment near Central Park, and no book tour, and no guest writer engagements in your future, and no options on the screenplay, and no royalty checks, and you go to your grave with a stack of pages read only by those with the patience to love you, or perhaps they'll never be read at all, and if this promise of obscurity lessens your interest in prose even slightly, then give up now. Go take the LSATs. But if you're still eager, despite all of that, to plunge ahead...then write. If the process of writing is as essential to you as eating and breathing, as inherent as the procreative impulse, then by all means continue.

Ella: I see. So...have you told your students any of this? Or do you just growl at them and basically tell them to quit?

BT: Well...

Ella: Daddy...you can kind of be a bastard at times.

BT: So true, Ella Trout, so true.

Ella: I think you need to lighten up. And maybe, just to be fair, the next time you give a reading and that guy asks for advice for novice writers, maybe then you should tell him what you've just told me. It might come off better. He might actually buy some of your book after you're done speaking. That might even bring you a little more satisfaction than your usual scowling and brooding. And then everybody wins.

BT: My dear, as always, you offer sound advice.

Ella: Just thinking, Daddy. Gotta run.

BT: Peace and love, Baby Trout.

Baby Trout: Peace and love, Daddy.

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