People can do a lot worse than to read Joe Clifford. Not just the books; the blog. Maybe especially the blog. (Not that the books aren’t good. Nomination for the Bill Crider Award, anyone?) True, Joe can be a depressing SOB once in a while, but never without purpose. His blog is always thought-provoking, and one can only hope he’ll get more consistent about posting them.
Joe’s been re-examining things lately, and on March 15 he reminded me of something I’d forgotten in a post titled “Dennis Lehane’s Note.” Regular readers know how I feel about Lehane and his work, so I perked up right away. What Joe mentioned wasn’t news to be, but it was a worthy reminder:
One of my favorite bits of advice re: writing comes from Dennis Lehane, who carries a little reminder in his wallet: No one cares. Yeah, that can be depressing to some. To me (and Dennis) it’s freedom: No one cares. You can do whatever the fuck you want.
I typed up no one cares and taped it to my monitor next to the desk placard The Sole Heir bought me that reads, “If you were in my novel you’d be dead by now.” Joe’s right. It’s not depressing. It’s liberating.
It occurred to me several years ago why more people don’t buy my books: they don’t need them. Not just my books. Anyone’s. My personal library has hundreds of books. It’s smaller than many writers I know, but still substantial compared to the general public. I looked at those shelves one day and realized that, as a man in my early 60s, I never need to buy another book. I have enough books I’d love to re-read that I could live happily going through my library from one end to the other and starting over. I buy new books because I want to, not because I need them.
Sure, there is a handful of people that I’ll read whatever they publish. And a couple I wish would break their self-imposed hiatuses and write something new because they were in that handful but haven’t put out anything lately. (I’m looking at you, John McFetridge and Declan Burke.) I’m not actively seeking new authors, though I occasionally stumble onto someone in social media and check them out.
I’m a writer, and if that’s how I feel about books, imagine how the average reader feels. Lehane’s right: No one cares.
I’m okay with that. It means I can take a few months off to get my head back together after what The Beloved Spouse calls The Chaos™ disrupted large chunks of my personal and family life. It means if I want to re-boot the Penns River series and switch out a bunch of characters, I can. If I decide to write the next novel more as a loosely-connected series of vignettes with the same cast and location instead of a through-written novel, I can. You know why? Because no one cares.
Except me. I’m the guy who has to live with the book every day for twelve to eighteen months. It needs to be what I want it to be.
Down & Out Books has been great. Very supportive and patient, but they don’t really care. It’s not like they came to me when I suggested what I might do for the next book and said, “Whoa, take a deep breath. That’s a money-making franchise you’re fucking with here.” Maybe a new approach will get me over the hump. Maybe it won’t. No one knows. So what the hell. Roll with it.
This is something writers don’t want to hear, that no one cares, no one needs our books. Sorry. I like writing and I’d almost certainly write something even if Down & Out cut me loose. (Note to Eric and Lance: Not that I’m interested in finding out. Just saying.) The Beloved Spouse loves me. The Sole Heir loves me. My mother loves me. My ex-wife’s dog loves me. None of them care a bit about my writing except for how it affects me; they care about me. If writing makes me happy, they’ll want me to do it. If it doesn’t make me happy anymore, they’ll be good if I stop. It’s liberating and exhilarating to know the only person I have to please when I sit at the keyboard or with a pad of paper in my hand is me. You know why I get to feel like that?
no one (else) cares.