Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why peculiar?

If you're wondering why I'd call my blog THE PECULIAR LIFE OF A WRITER, I'll give you some hints.

In general, most writers are peculiar.  I used to think it was only me until I joined a writers' group who met every two weeks in downtown Houston.  Later, I ran into many more writers at writers' conventions.  I discovered I was not alone in my peculiarity.  Every single writer I met was in some way or other peculiar to some degree.

Most writers are solitary, some sedentary, and many are eccentric.  I am all three.  It's not something I have any control over.  I must be solitary to write my novels.  I'm sedentary when writing and when reading, so that takes up a lot of my life.  And I'm as eccentric as can be.  The funny thing about being eccentric is that you don't know it unless someone points it out.  You think you've just as normal and average and pedestrian as anyone.  Being eccentric is like being schizophrenic in that there's no way in hell you know it without outside references.

My daughters finally told me how eccentric I was. I argued, no, I'm not, what could you be talking about?  You're not like anyone else, they said.  In what way, how am I so damn different?  Lots of ways, Mom.  Lots.

I had to sit back and ponder this.  I had to do what I do when I write characters in stories and novels--stand back at arm's length and look over this eccentric character carefully to make a truthful determination.  It didn't take me long to realize my daughters were right.  I was not at all like most other people.  I wasn't gregarious.  I didn't gravitate toward groups, participate well in conversations with others, or seek out companionship.  I am always content with solitude.  People, on the whole, get on my nerves.  I can be with them for a while, but there comes a point when I want to get away and be alone and not hear any other voice.  If given a choice between meeting someone for lunch or going for a short walk to photograph trees, I'll choose the latter.  It isn't that I don't like people.  I just can't take them on any extended basis.  I suspect that's because my inner life is so rich already that I don't need a lot of stimulation and interaction from others.  Or maybe it's just because, yes, I'm eccentric. 

Failing to be people-oriented might be the least of my eccentricity.  I'm so stubborn and bullheaded that it's almost a joke.  Early on as a writer with one of my first agents, I  was treated to a phone conversation from him that caused me to stiffen up.  He wasn't crazy about a book I'd sent him, called WIREMAN, which turned out later to be my first published suspense novel.  He wanted me to write something "softer," something...well, like THE THORNBIRDS by Colleen McCullough--a book on the bestseller list at that time.  I tried to explain that I wasn't interested in romantic sagas.  I was interested in psychopathy, the insane, the criminal without a conscience, the serial killer, the abnormal, the weird, the strange.  The agent kept pushing and pushing, saying I really should try another genre.  I hung up the phone, went to my electric typewriter, which is all writers had at the time, and began a letter of dismissal to my agent.  "You don't get me,"  I said.  "You have no idea what I'm doing." 

Now I needed an agent at that time, I needed him badly.  But I didn't need one that was so out in left field he was past the bleachers.  A more cautious writer, especially one unpublished, might not have immediately fired what was otherwise a perfectly good and legitimate agent.  I had to.  That kind of stubbornness is probably unique to eccentrics.  Come hell or high water, you mean to do it your way or it's the highway.  I eventually landed with an agent at William Morris who LOVED my book, loved my work, understood what I was doing, and who sold the book post haste.  Thank God there was never a THORNBIRDS in my future.  It would have been a catastrophe.

There are many other times when I took measures concerning my writing and my career that seemed so willful that my actions bordered on craziness.  And every single one of them worked out well for me.  I trust myself and my instincts, for after all who else can we know?  I knew when the work was good, when it was correct, and when to fight for it.  One writer in one thousand might have done some of the things I've done--firing agents, refuting agents, withdrawing books from editors clamoring to buy, ignoring some editorial advice, refusing writing club members access to critique my work.  I expect this mindset has a lot to do with being eccentric.

Eccentric people lead peculiar lives, therefore this blog will be in some ways about this one peculiar writer.  I hope it will be about other things than myself, for I find myself pretty boring to tell you the truth.  So I'll post about books and publishing and other writers, so on and so forth.  I just thought it might be good to explain my blog's title and get it out of the way.

How peculiar am I?  Keep reading this blog and you may find out.


  1. I read your post, "Barbara Bush showed her little son, George, her fetus in a jar that she miscarried. I knew that was a weird family!" and of course after that status grabber had to do a little more digging. What a refreshing change from weather/word count updates. I look forward to reading your peculiar doings.

  2. Having read the description for Bad Trip South, you'll be happy to know, I have to read it.