Creative Reckoning, Part 2: Back to the Drawing Board

The drawing you see accompanying this blog is one of the early works of my recent foray into the fine arts. I call it Una farola solitaria en Barcelona. It recently placed third in the prestigious Marcel Duchamp Prize competition, handed out by Les Association pour la Diffusion Internationale de l’Art Français.

One of the above sentences is not true. I’ll let you figure out which one.

What is true is that I have taken up drawing in recent weeks, when I can carve out the time. I am both a little better at it than I thought I might be and not nearly as good as I imagine I should be. I live in a house full of talented artists, none of whom are me. Our young daughters are both excellent at drawing and painting. They have that elusive and mysterious gift for imagining images and then putting them on paper in proper form, with all the details just right.

I’m pretty sure they didn’t get that talent from me.

As you can see, I can sketch a recognizable street lamp (and a building!). You can look at the drawing and probably tell what’s in it. The angles seem a little funky to me, and the lines aren’t necessarily straight, and I’m not sure I have the depth perception correct. The image itself is from a black-and-white photo my wife took in Barcelona some years back. I have it on my computer and decided to draw it. Here’s the photo:

Fabulous photo, yes? And how about my rendition? What think ye? Not bad, I am right? I’m 42% pleased, considering I haven’t drawn regularly since high school, when I would sketch cartoons of long-haired stoners in the margins of my notebook when I should have been taking notes. That was centuries ago.

I’ve made more than a dozen drawings over the last few weeks. I bought some graded blackhead pencils, an electric pencil sharpener that kind of sucks, and a book titled “You Will be Able to Draw by the End of This Book.” The book has drawing instructions as well as blank pages to work in. It assumes readers know more about drawing than they probably do. I’ve also watched a few instructional videos.

My idea to take up drawing came during one of those fits of inspiration where a light bulb goes on over your head. In my case, the light bulb told me I needed to find some other creative outlet besides writing fiction. I blogged about this recently, my secret desire to do anything else in the world besides write fiction.

Well, I didn’t think I’d actually pursue another creative outlet. But I did! I am now drawing semi-regularly, and writing fiction not at all.

I’m still writing, mind you – a lot. Just not fiction.

I write this blog. And I write thousands and thousands of words every week for various websites, mainly about business, finance, and sustainability. The work has been pouring in. I have assignment sitting on top of assignment. I’m probably cranking out 50 pieces of web content a month, at around 400-600 words per article.

This is the kind of writing I actually get paid for. The money doesn’t look like much when you calculate it by the word, or the article. But it’s a numbers game, my friends. And those words and articles have been coming in fast and furious in recent months.

I am making a pretty decent living at it these days. I should be doing it now instead of writing this blog. There are a ton of assignments backing up. If nothing else, I should at least be sleeping. It’s nearly 1:30 am right now. I have to wake up in six hours to get the kids’ breakfast and start my day. But anyway…..

I’ve never had a hard time earning money as a writer. I’ve been doing it my entire professional life, since I graduated from college (and even during college). I parted ways with the newspaper business in 2016, so now I earn money as a free-lance writer and editor. This gives me the flexibility to schedule my work around various house chores and bike rides as a stay-at-home Dad.

It also gives me time to write fiction, and I’ve been doing that pretty steadily for five years now. I wrote a novel that was published this year by Atmosphere Press (Voodoo Hideaway – buy it!). I self-published a collection of short stories in 2017 (Money, Love and Blood – buy it!). I’ve written an unpublished novella, and probably 30 short stories of varying lengths. If you want to see some of the awards and recognitions I’ve won or received, check the About Me section of this website.

I feel like I’ve been a fairly dedicated fiction writer since I decided to devote more time to it. But the truth is, I can make more money in a few months writing web content than I have in five years of writing fiction. And that’s a problem for me.

Most fiction writers probably don’t care about the money, and shouldn’t. It’s not what drives them to write. They write for the love of the craft, because they like to tell stories, because they like to create – need to create – and because it feeds their soul and makes them happy.

I also like to write. I just don’t like it enough to do it for free. And the problem is, what I like to write the most doesn’t seem to have a very thriving market right now.

My preferred genre – the one I enjoy the most, and that I have the most skill for – is pulp fiction, crime noir, cheap private-eye novels, the kind with sketchy characters and dark streets, full of desperate souls who smoke, drink, lie, cheat, kill and steal, and don’t feel bad about it. My novel has some of these characters. A lot of these characters.

There used to be a thriving market for this kind of thing. There used to be a dozen crime fiction magazines, and a like number of publishers churning out lean, disposable books you bought at the dimestore.

There used to be dimestores.

Now, this genre hasn’t completely shriveled up and blown away. But it sure has lost a lot of weight since its heyday six or seven or eight decades ago. There have been some really great pulp fictionish books that did pretty well over the past 20 years or so – “Drive” by James Sallis (2005), “Tough Luck” by Jason Starr (2003), the Detective Jack Wu series from Henry Chang. I suppose James Ellroy (another favorite) falls into this category (but then again, he’s more of a category unto himself).

A modern publishing house I also love, Hard Case Crime, specializes in noir/pulp novels. But a lot of what they publish is either Stephen King or old crime novels from back in the day.

Not many people are making much money off of it, if anyone. In terms of fiction genres that sell well, there is mystery, but it’s not the same as crime fiction. I cannot write police procedurals or legal thrillers. Too much research. Not interested.

Sci-fi/fantasy is a huge genre, but it’s not exactly in my wheelhouse because I don’t read a lot of it.

Young Adult is another successful genre. No thanks.

Kids’ books? Non, merci. (Not yet, anyway).

Literary works? I’ve tried, I really have. I enjoy reading the occasional literary book. Hell, I’ve been reading a lot of them lately, much of it by women authors, which I wrote about in my last blog. These writers can do some truly stunning things with words and language, the genius of which I recognize immediately as a reader, but very little of which I can replicate as a writer.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I don’t love writing fiction enough to do it without some kind of monetary remuneration sliding into my pocket. Writing fiction is hard work. I don’t want to do it just for the love of it.

So, I am setting it aside for the moment. I’ve fulfilled my lifelong dream of publishing a novel. It took me years to write, and several rewrites, and dozens of rejections, and more angst than I care to think about. But I did it, and I’m pretty proud of it. Now it’s up to the world to decide if I can earn enough money off of it to convince me to write another one

As far as sales go, Voodoo Hideaway is doing okay – it you gauged its sales the way you gauge house sales. If the novel were a house, then I’d be plenty damn happy with its sales. But it’s not a house. It’s a book. The margins are small. After the distributors and retailers and printers and everyone else gets their cut, there ain’t much left over for the authors. You need to sell a ton to earn a decent penny. I haven’t sold a ton. Not yet, anyway.

Here’s something you might not know about having a novel out there against the 2 million or so other books competing for shelf space: There are only so many readers, and only so much money, and only so many ways to reach them and their money. If your book is from a big publisher, you get the premium space and the never-ending reviews and promotions. But if your book is from a small, independent publisher without a lot of clout, well…..

So, I took up drawing as a way to fill in the creative space. Plus, it’s another way to tell stories. I thought maybe I could sketch out comic books or screenplays or something. I like comic books and graphic novels, and read them every so often. It might be fun to sketch one out myself. Much of the best crime noir work right now is done in comics. Maybe I could try that. I’ve bought a couple books on how to make comics, and how to draw noir comics.

If I don’t sell anything, that’s okay. When it comes to drawing, I don’t much care if I make money. It’s kind of fun and relaxing – and I don’t have to be good at it to enjoy myself. Some people have the same attitude about writing fiction, God bless them. I’m just not one of them.

Oh, and here’s another drawing. I call this one “Bathroom:”

4 Comments

  1. Stunning work when compared to my stick figures 🙊. But as long as it fulfills you, it’s great. Maybe the trends will come back around in time for you to catch the wave in your favoured genre. You never know…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Yacoob. Watching tutorials is a big help when it comes to basic drawing. It’s more or less just something to relax and have fun with for me, even though I sometimes get into a fever erasing lines that refuse to go straight. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s cool that you’ve never had a problem earning through your words. I myself stumbled across the industry, and have never turned back ever since. It is a numbers game indeed, and your thoughts on writing fiction mirror my own. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stuart, thanks for the feedback! The main reason I could find work writing is that I was trained as a journalist, so I would just latch on as a writer/reporter for newspapers, magazines, websites, etc. It’s not nearly as easy for people starting out these days because there just aren’t as many media outlets. Timing had a lot to do with it for me, because I built up a lot of experience in previous decades that make me marketable now. Fiction is another story, though. If I had to depend on that to support myself I would quickly go broke. Best of luck with your writing!

      Like

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