I read my first Shakespeare play when I was eleven. My family took a day trip to Hay-On-Wye, the famous city made almost entirely of used bookstores, on the border between England and Wales. In a dusty old shop, I found an antique copy of All’s Well That Ends Well still with uncut pages. It had never even been read! On the long drive home, I hunched in the corner of my seat, tearing open each page as I got to it, devouring the story the way my dog devours his breakfast.
For years, I was in love with Bertram. This may explain a little something about that abusive boyfriend in college… but I digress..
As a teenager, I read War and Peace end to end, mostly for the bragging rights. Ultimately I was pretty ticked off that Natasha got such rough treatment.
In college, I read the predictable roster: Paradise Lost, Canterbury Tales, most of Shakespeare’s plays, all of Homer, and so on. For fun, I read To Kill a Mockingbird (several times), A Separate Peace, Kurt Vonnegut, and yes, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and the entire Dune series as well.
I went to graduate school and studied the Greek classics, in their original languages: Homer, Aeschylus, Xenophon, Thucidydes, Plato, Euripides, Sophocles, Sappho.
So forgive me if I’m a bit of a snob, but I don’t think my book quite measures up.
It’s a story about a bunch of kids, written for kids (with my kids specifically in mind), and worst of all, it’s in English. 20-21st century MODERN English.
As if that weren’t bad enough, I’ve been working pretty hard to make it actually marketable. A hack, I believe, is what we call it in the literary world: A person who writes for money and not just the art of it. That’s me.
And you know what? I’m okay with that.
I’m okay with library shelves filled with mostly “mediocre” work that doesn’t “measure up.” At least those authors are trying something, writing something, speaking their piece, telling their stories. Which is more than 99% of the people in the world who think they have a story to tell and might want to be writers–but never actually finish something. Maybe what’s stopping them is thinking they have to do something “great.” Well, if that’s you, don’t. Don’t let it stop you.
Sure, some of that “mediocre” work is going to be forgotten in a few years, a few decades, a couple centuries. Most of it, by then. That’s okay.
Here’s a picture for you. One kid. He’s about five feet tall and kind of scraggly. There are holes in his shoes. His mom doesn’t have a lot of money, but lucky for him there’s a library right down the street, and its shelves are packed full of books–worlds upon worlds of magic, and zombies, and kids with super powers. Most of those books are pretty mediocre, but he doesn’t know that yet. He just likes to read.
So every week, he fills himself up on books and stories. By the time he hits junior high, he’s read plenty of junk and a few good classics too. He’s starting to develop taste. By the time he’s a senior in high school, he’s visited so many worlds he’s long ago lost count. It doesn’t even matter that his backpack’s been repaired three times and his shirt is some hideous orange thing Mom picked up at Goodwill. It doesn’t matter that nobody in his family has ever been to college. He knows what’s out there. And he knows he wants it.
Maybe someday that kid will walk into the library and check out my book. Maybe it will be only one of hundreds he reads that year. Maybe he won’t even remember it later. You know what? It doesn’t matter. Because for the length of the two hours or four or six that he is reading my book, he gets to live in my world, the world I created just for him. That’s an honor I’m willing to work for, even if it’s the only honor my books ever receive.