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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Artists Fail . . . It's What We Do

I just read a wonderful essay by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner about his many years of failure prior to success. And one of the quotes that especially got to me was this one:
. . . the most stinging responses I heard were along the lines of, "This is one of the most beautiful, well-executed, exciting things I’ve ever read, but I’m afraid that we just don’t do this kind of show." Those comments made me feel as if I were alone in the universe.
I honestly don't think I've ever read that particular loneliness articulated: when somebody actually sees and appreciates you and then they reject you.

In the documentary A Sense of the Sacred, a portrait of Jungian Helen Luke, the revered analyst and author talks about the difficulty of individuating via a path that has never been taken: “If you go a way that is not a conventional way, you have no right to think that on that account you are absolved from the duty of sharing your truth that you have experienced, no matter if it is totally rejected. There may be one person here or there that may be affected—that’s what we base our lives on.”

Both of these statements catapulted me back in my own history:

In 1986, after performing a workshop of the one-woman play that I’d written called Darleen Dances—about a girl who is trying to rock ’n’ roll dance her way into the Guinness Book of Records in order to feel as if she’s mattered by the time she gets “old and decrepit and eventually dead”—I was delighted when the phone started ringing with queries about producing the play.

“Do you have the script on paper?” asked the first producer. “Or did you just improvise it?

“It’s on paper,” I assured him. “I’m a writer.”

I sent the play script. Sent it other places. It was the best I could do, everybody had told me how good it was, and yet all interest died. Like Matthew Weiner, I could not give up. So I surrendered to the impulse of the character of Darleen Rosengarten and she morphed into the first-person protagonist of my first novel, Plan Z by Leslie Kove. Writing this funny novel about negotiating the Vietnam era was one of the most profoundly joyful periods of my life. I experienced complete peace for the months that it took to write the first draft. I remember having the sense that everything was so familiar that I knew what people were going to say before they said it. It was a time of such bliss that it was impossible for anything to be wrong; if something was wrong, I so accepted it that there was no conflict. This is really the only time that I’ve ever experienced such an extended state of meditative serenity and arousal (yes, the two go together).

Lots of agents were interested in the book, most rejected it (in a refrain of the Weiner quote), but finally one said yes. All the publishers he submitted to rejected the book. I left the agent and sixteen years after I’d drafted the novel, I saw an ad for Mid-List Press’s First Novel Series Award. “This is mine,” whispered a voice in my head and I entered the contest. Months later, I saw what I thought was a list of winners. My name was not on it. “How can that be?” said the incredulous voice. “This was mine.” About a month after that, Mid-List Press publisher Marianne Nora called and told me I’d won. The list I’d seen had been for the previous year. My novel was published a few months before 9/11. It is a story that deeply touched some people who read it. It’s about war, being clueless, PTSD, confusion, terror, loss, and acceptance. I am still in love with Leslie Kove and her friends. But in keeping with the theme of failure, the novel has not sold very well, and in the decades since the 2001 publication, I’ve moved on.

However a couple of weeks ago, I got one of those gifts that drop out of the sky that writers cherish. A man named Fred Jeffers on Goodreads reviewed the book:
As an avid reader, I have a very strong affinity for good writing and feel compelled to share with other avid readers when I've stumbled upon it. Well, I have stumbled upon it, fellow avid readers!

I know NOTHING about publishing or distribution but have to wonder if some oversight by one of those industries may be at fault for this book having never appeared on a Best Seller list. Yes, it is worthy.

Helen Luke is right: One goodreader seeing and appreciating it makes all the difference.

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