The county library of my adopted hometown of Fresno knows how to celebrate writers, even those whom they cannot claim (Of course Saroyan is the star of stars, but Connie and I, who have both adopted this city, intend to change all that, come the Day of our entombment, ash scatterings, peace-pipe smoking rain dances or what-have-you.)
Forgive our/my gothic penchant in the spirit of Halloween; this year Fresno celebrates the literary idol of my adolescence, Edgar Allen Poe. His funeral was reenacted last week and he has kindly raised himself from the dead to meet the public at various venues throughout Fresno and its outlying regions for the entire month of October and a teensy bit of November. I have half a mind to brush up on “The Raven,” long ago memorized for junior high speech class.
As I was perusing the library literature on Poe and the events to commemorate his literary voice, I paused while reading the historical tidbit that Poe was the first American writer to ever insist on living by his pen, which thereby explains his marked poverty.
What does that mean to us now, when the predictability of young teens becoming enchanted by Poe’s brooding verse or haunted tales is more reliable than a satellite clock-setting? It means what it has always meant: you cannot force people to pay for your literary work, but if it is good, it will survive you.
Truly, most good, even wonderful literary work will not gain a living for the writer when it has just been written, and it will certainly gain no more than one penny a paperback copy for anyone but the writer him or herself ten years down the road (unless you do a reprinting on your own and sell on your own), but if it strikes a significant chord that resonates in the hearts of others and continues resonating because of the attractiveness, gothic or otherwise, of its themes and style, then it will surely be remembered one, even two, hundred years later.
Connie and I are learning this lesson, and we advise our writer friends to pass it on: write what you love and enjoy writing it. Become a better writer just because you feel like it. Learn how to get your writing “out” there–for the sake of your passion. Don’t think of it as marketing, and by all means, do not imagine you will live comfortably off your writing. Only about one in a million manage, and Edgar Allen Poe, enduring literary hero of too many to count, was not able to cut it.