f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: A (True) Story

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, March 29, 2004

A (True) Story

In lieu of me talking about a book I haven’t read (burnout on Christian fiction hit 40 pages into Diary of a Country Priest,) I will instead tell you a very random story of my life as a writer. And announce another Foundational Truth. See here for #'s 1 and 4.

My first book was published in January 2001. In March of that year I received a voicemail from a woman representing the Kenai Peninsula Writer’s Conference. (I guess it changed its name.) She wanted to talk to me about coming to Alaska to present at the conference in early June. I sprained my finger dialing her back.

She started her pitch by apologizing for Alaska being so far away and saying that she understood that might prove problematic. I tried to assure her that you could volunteer to fly me to Alaska in the middle of January and I’d still go, let alone the beginning of summer. She sounded pleased and said that another woman involved with the conference really liked my writing and they would be so grateful for me to come up.

I asked a little more about the conference and learned that the keynote speaker would be Russell Banks. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, you can click here. I knew the name and found out what writers mean when they describe someone as nearly swallowing their tongue. I’d written one little book that I assumed would be mostly ignored. How in the world was I going to deign to show my face in the same building as this guy?

We chatted about Russell Banks. Chatted a little more about the conference itself. Things seemed to be coming to a wrap. I was dazed and, to be honest, terrified. Something still didn’t seem to be right so when the woman asked if I had any final questions I asked, “I’m just wondering, how did you even hear of me?”

“Oh, well, Judy [not real name] just loved your short stories.”

First thought that went through my head—“They tracked down my senior thesis?” Second thought—“They’ve got the wrong author.”

David Long is the author of Blue Spruce, a collection of short stories. He’s also written a novel or two. I am not he. I haven’t yet brought myself to read his books because it’ll depress me greatly to be only the second best writer of my name. (Or third or fifth, who knows. It’s a common name.) I looked through the book once, however, and was terrified to see he quotes from Bruce Springsteen, my favorite music artist, and chose an epigraph from Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire a relatively obscure movie I’ve long considered a favorite. Maybe I am this guy after all?

Part of me wanted to keep the charade going and to get my chance to fly up to the Kenai peninsula, but I’m neither a con artist not much of a short story writer and the gig wouldn’t have lasted much past me stepping off the airplane. So I pointed out the conference’s mistake and received a very sincere apology. I was also offered free tuition to the conference, but alas, no free travel.

Which leads us to Foundational Truth #3: The act of writing is arrogant and masochistic. (“This deserves to be heard. Why won’t you listen?”) The nature of writing is to humble you. In a million small and large ways. Be prepared.