I've been thinking a lot about success lately.
Success is a really subjective thing. Broadly speaking, I think we can all agree that Bill Gates is a success. So is Patrick Stewart. Even the Kardashians are, though I still have no idea why.
But what about the guy who runs the busiest and most well-known restaurant in Boulder. Is he a success? What about the most talented sax player in Baton Rouge? Is she successful? Does fame factor into success, or is it a state of mind?
The reason that I've been thinking about this is because of my career as an author. I'm still at the start of the adventure, so I have no expectations of selling million of copies of Typo Squad or somehow landing on the New York Times best-seller list. Those metrics take hard work. I haven't paid my dues yet.
But there is one thing, just one thing, a very simple thing that I want to happen before I consider myself a success. It hasn't happened yet, and I can't say what it is because then it won't happen organically. Just that one thing, and I'll consider myself a successful author.
I look forward to the blog post when I announce that the one thing has happened. Until then ...
With the release of my novel Typo Squad imminent, I've spent this week in full-on shill mode, talking up the book to anyone who would listen. And even some who wouldn't.
People, for the most part, have been really supportive, and more than a few of them have asked where the idea came from. The simple answer is that I spent years and years as a proofreader and copy editor, and knowing what a thankless job that is, decided to give folks in the editorial business some heroes.
The less simple answer is that Typo Squad had been kicking around in my head for a very, very long time. Truth be told, I can probably trace its roots back to 1992. That was the year that the much-maligned (and deservedly so) hair metal band Faster Pussycat released their swansong album, Whipped!
On that album was a very clever song titled "Big Dictionary." Have a listen:
The pause that they put in between "dic" and "tionary" always made me think that it would make a great character name - Dick Shonnary. And how people might call him Richard.
That bubbled in my subconscious for a very long time, until about five years ago, when I decided to build a story around Richard Shonnary. But it wasn't going to be a novel. Typo Squad was going to be a movie.
I made attempt after attempt to get the screenplay written, but I could never get it off the launch pad. I'd get five or six pages in and the whole thing would just fall apart. It was maddening.
And then a couple of years ago, I found myself sitting at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas with the great Chris Whigham and our wives, and he asked me what I was working on, writing-wise. I told him of my frustration with writing the script, and he said four words to me that changed everything: "Write the book first."
So I did. I sat down and I wrote Typo Squad, from beginning to end. It took me a really long time, and you know what? It was shit. That first attempt at Typo Squad was absolute swill. I reluctantly torched the entire thing and started over from scratch.
The second iteration of the book was better than the first, but it still wasn't where it needed to be. So yes, I put attempt number two aside and started it again. This time, though, I was able to take big chunks of what worked from the second version and use them in the third. And the third time was the charm. That's the version that the world will shortly see.
So I don't find it strange at all to be thanking Chris Whigham for his sage advice that day. (I actually modeled my favorite character in Typo Squad after him in gratitude.) I do find it strange to be thanking Faster Pussycat, but I suppose I must. So thanks, guys.
And now it's time to release Typo Squad to the world. And hope that the world enjoys it.
To this day, I don't know how the conversation steered toward types of cakes.
I was 15 years old, on my way into Boston with three friends to attend the rasslin' matches. Scott was on my left in the back seat, Mito to my right. Mike sat up front in the passenger seat since his mom was driving us. And, as I say, the conversation inexplicably turned toward cakes.
In the confines of the back seat, someone insisted that some cake in question was a Bundt cake. Someone else just as stridently said that the cake was a carrot cake. (Seriously? We had nothing better to talk about?)
The conversation grew increasingly heated, Bundt cake versus carrot cake. I suppose none of us considered that it could, in fact, have been a carrot Bundt cake. But that's neither here nor there.
"It's a Bundt cake!" someone shouted.
"No, I'm telling you, it's a carrot cake!" someone shouted back.
It was at that moment that Mike turned around from the front seat, and in an effort to settle the dispute, said, "Guys! It's a cunt—!" and stopped dead, eyes wide in horror. He had just accidentally combined "carrot" and "Bundt" and said "cunt" in front of his mom.
The car filled with a heavy, awful silence, which was only maintained because we were laughing so silently and hysterically in the back seat that tears were running down our young faces. Mike's mother, God bless her, never said a word about her son's gaffe.
Years and years later, well into adulthood, by pure happenstance I bumped into Mike. His first question to me: "Do you remember the cunt cake?"
Do I remember the cunt cake? I will never, ever forget the cunt cake.
Okay, let me set the table for you: I'm a big fan of Subway's turkey sub on flatbread. Toasted, American cheese, little bit of honey mustard, mmmm. Delish.
The problem arises when I order lettuce.
Those who know me are well aware of how much distance I generally keep between myself and vegetables. If you want me to eat greens, you'd better be talking M&Ms, Jell-O, or Shamrock Shakes. But in the case of the turkey sub on flatbread, toasted, American cheese and a little bit of honey mustard, I make an exception. I like a little bit of lettuce. I feel like it enhances the flavor. So when the sub comes out of the oven and arrives next to the veggie display, I always ask for a little bit of lettuce.
FOOM. What's foom? Foom is the sound of the Subway employee sticking his or her arm into the lettuce container up to the elbow and extracting the equivalent of 17 heads of lettuce. Which they then dump on my up-until-that-moment beautiful sub. Now I no longer have a turkey sub on flatbread with American cheese and honey mustard. I have a lettuce sub with a little bit of turkey, American cheese, and honey mustard.
For the record, I've tried variations on the phrase "a little bit of lettuce." I've tried a tiny bit of lettuce, just a hint of lettuce, a wee bit of lettuce, a small amount of lettuce, not too much lettuce, a slight amount of lettuce ... it makes no difference. FOOM.
There's one guy who shoves his hand in the lettuce preemptively, assuming that I'm going to want it. And when I order a little bit of lettuce, he empties the entire container on my sub and then calls to the guy in the back to bring him more lettuce, which he then dumps on my sub. He builds Mount Everest out of lettuce. And then he looks at me innocently and says, "That enough?"
And the thing about lettuce is that they can add to the lettuce, but never subtract. Once the lettuce is committed to the sub, that is some non-refundable fucking lettuce.
On a few occasions I've eschewed the lettuce entirely, which, since I don't order any other vegetables, makes the Subway employees look at me like I'm a Communist. Or from Saturn. And also, that makes me feel like I'm caving. And I don't want to cave. I just want a little goddamned lettuce. Is that so wrong?
If anyone has any advice, or knows the secret code word to say to actually get a little lettuce when you only want a little lettuce, I am all ears. Until then ... FOOM.
So, yeah. I published a book today. I mean, holy shit, I published a book today!
Along with the very kind well-wishes and likes and shares and so forth, many folks are asking the same question: "How do you feel?" And I thought I'd answer with something like, "Fucking unbelievable, man!" But I don't.
Don't misunderstand — I'm extremely proud, not only of the book, but of myself for learning to navigate a very complicated system to get the book out there. Seriously, I think amazon has set things up so that you have to prove your worth before they'll show your work to the world. I suppose that makes sense, in a way. If there was a button in Microsoft Word that just let you convert what you're writing into a book just as easily as you can convert it to a PDF, amazon would be choking on all kinds of poorly written shit. Maybe they are anyway, I don't know.
But getting back to how I feel — I think it's very different for authors today than it was in days gone by. I'm sure it was an unparalleled thrill for Stephen King to hold a copy of Carrie in his hands for the first time, or to see it on a bookstore shelf. I don't have that. I have a .mobi file on amazon, and maybe people will see it and buy it and maybe they won't. But either way, it's all virtual, so I don't have that weighty sense of reality that some authors have had.
Still, yesterday I wasn't a published author, and today I am. No one can ever take that away from me, and if amazon lasts another thousand years, then so will I. I have a legacy. I've left something behind for future generations to enjoy. And even if they don't pull it off a virtual shelf (or whatever they'll be doing a thousand years from now), it's there. My book.
So maybe I don't have that exultation that some writers have, but I am happy and proud and satisfied. I don't think I could ask for much more than that.