Tuesday, November 06, 2007
What You See Isn't Always What You Get, Or ...
Be Careful Jumping to Conclusions ...
I had a buddy once, a writer, with whom I got along pretty well. He was local, we did some work together. We weren't blood-brothers, but now and again we'd go hang out for a beer or lunch. If we had any kind of gathering, we'd invite him and his wife and they'd usually show up. If they had a party, we got asked to drop by. The four of us would go out for dinner now and again, and he and I would run into each other at conventions.
Nice guy, smart, clever, talented, and very funny.
I'd have said he wasn't quite at the help-me-bury-the-body level, but we were somewhat above wave-at-each-other-at-work friends.
He and his wife decided they had to move to a new town. Portland was cold and chilly, there were some health issues, so they wanted a warmer, drier climate.
I could understand that. We wished them well, and assumed that they'd stay in touch.
They moved, and far as I could tell, dropped off the face of the planet. No forwarding address, no email, no letters, phone calls, zip. Dropped off the the e-groups he'd been in that I knew about.
I sent emails to the address I had; they didn't bounce, but they didn't get answered, either. My buddy's web page went fallow. Nobody around here had heard from him.
What the hell? Maybe they got run over by a truck or caught in an avalanche or something.
After a fairly long time with no word, I put on my private eye hat and, in a couple of degrees of separation, tracked them down. They weren't hiding, they just weren't talking. So I made a call, left a message, and eventually, heard back from the wife.
Why, yes, they were fine, moving along, how are you? and all like that. In the course of the conversation, it came up as how my buddy had more or less quit writing and gotten a job teaching.
I had known he was depressed about his career. He had talked about bagging it and getting a teaching credential, but I hadn't taken him seriously. Over a long period, he produced some good books, and his most recent one had been terrific , one that impressed me. However, despite great critical reviews, the novel sank like a stone into the midlist pond, leaving hardly any ripples.
He was discouraged, and he decided to back away from it. When I heard this, I didn't expect that would last forever -- writing was too much a part of him -- but there has been a sizeable gap in there -- almost ten years since his most recent novel was published.
That call was the last we've heard from them, and since it was pretty obvious they weren't interested in continuing whatever relationship there had been, I shrugged it off and went on my way. That's how it goes, and AMF.
Still, it was troubling for a while, until I came up with what I thought was a reason. Might be wrong, my deduction, but it makes a certain sense to me. Since he had mostly quit writing and gotten a real job, he might think that other writers would look at him askance. As if he were a failure because his books hadn't hit the jackpot, and because he had walked away in disgust. I wouldn't think so, but I can see how he might feel that way.
And as long as he was corresponding with other authors, the subject of writing would naturally tend to come up, and I think he just didn't want to deal with it. Me blathering on about my books, and him steaming because his hadn't gotten the recognition they were due. (That I could surely understand -- all writers feel that way ...) Unfortunately, talent doesn't always get rewarded in this biz. Several of the best writers in the fantasy and SF field died as poor as church mice. I knew (slightly) three of the best -- Ted Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, and Bob Sheckley. None of them had a pot to piss in when they shuffled off, and at their best, all of them could write rings around most of us; that on a bad day, using a leaky pen. Harlan Ellison once allowed as how most of us in the biz weren't fit to carry Fritz Leiber's pencil case, and he was right.
I could understand that.
Or, maybe my buddy and his wife, as some people do, just moved away and never looked back because they didn't want to leave any strings connecting them to their history. Fresh start. I know others who have done that. Packed up, left town, started over, never gave a thought to the old town and friends there. Past is prologue, and have a nice life.
I dunno for sure, but it was -- and still is -- certainly food for thought ...