Writing any Book is an Accomplishment

Last week I was invited to participate in the Local Authors’ Showcase held at the Buena Vista Library in Burbank.

For me, the event gave me an opportunity to talk shop with fellow writers, and to meet interesting people such as the executor of famed film director and screenwriter Richard Brooks who made films such as “Elmer Gantry,” “In Cold Blood,” “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” and “The Blackboard Jungle” (whose title I adapted for the title of my column).

Another encounter involved a former long-time substitute teacher who gave me an earful about how awful teaching kids are nowadays.   I stood there with a non-committal expression, politely letting her finish her rant, hoping that by not engaging in a debate with her I would encourage a sale. No such luck.

This wasn’t surprising when you think about it. Holding a “books for sale” event at a library is a hard sell (pun intended) since the people circulating from table to table are those who visit a library expressly because it is a public space with free wi-fi, books, and DVDs.

That’s why it made perfect sense when one elderly looky-loo told a fellow writer that she hasn’t bought a book in several years.

Having plenty of time sitting there watching people pick up my books and put them back down allowed me to ponder the plight of a writer.

While the vast majority of authors present were self-published (I was one of the few there who wasn’t), even the worst book took a certain level of dedication to complete.

If the ultimate goal of writing is to make a pot of gold, then most writers are failures.

Just as with other art forms, only the upper echelon of writers make the real money. That explains why publishers like Scribner pour millions into publicizing established moneymakers such as Stephen King, but will not fund the publicity of lesser known writers.   Why take a chance on a no-name when one can sell even more copies of what already works?

Yet success should not be measured by one’s Amazon sales ranking.

One writer with a walker, after receiving no takers at her table, decided to make the rounds of other writers, figuring she may as well make good use of her time by informing them of her memoir based on seven generations of her family.   This woman clearly poured her soul into this book even if no one was buying it.

By documenting her family’s history, she ensured that their lives mattered.

It’s the old philosophical question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

If a book is published and no one reads it, does it exist?

Emphatically, yes.

This is the lesson I try teaching my students when they write their short memoirs. They get it “published” by having classmates read it. Knowing that there will be an audience, no matter the size, makes a big difference in the effort they put into the work.

So even though vanity presses and self-published books may be the step-children in the publishing world, there is some value to these works.   And that’s why events like a local authors’ showcase serve a purpose; even if it means no books are bought, stories are shared . . . and are worth hearing.



Saying goodbye to your child and his childhood is hard to do

Just a few weeks ago Dads Take Your Child to School day occurred in New York City. Another one of those head-scratching official proclamations that makes one wonder: do we really need to remind parents to do parent-like things?

For me, taking my youngest son to school is a pleasure, especially since I rarely do it due to my work schedule; my wife usually drops him off.

Whenever my wife can’t, I get to take my little 5th grader to his elementary school.   Only it is not a drop off.

After we get out of the car, we walk to the school gate, the closest point outside school grounds where parents are allowed to congregate.   Past the gate, parents must remain behind as their children walk on alone.

While most kids carry their backpacks as they walk to school, I willingly carry my son’s; after all, the backpack is much too heavy for his still growing spine.

When I hand off the bundle that would be charged extra if checked onto an airplane, I give him a tight hug, encourage him to do well on that day’s assignments, remind him that “Daddy loves you,” stand away from the small group of guardians in order to be better seen, make eye contact with him through the apertures of the chain link fence, and wave both of my arms as if I’m doing jumping jacks.   Looking ridiculous to others around me is the last thing on my mind.

My son is at an age where a full blown wave might make him look too much like daddy’s little boy to his peers so he settles for a half-wave with his left hand, arm bent at the elbow. He turns towards where his classmates line up, and every 10 seconds repeats his turning back with the half-wave as he maintains his forward march.

This dance of ours continues until he blends in with a sea of other blue/green backpacks 40 yards away.

Not until I am secure that he can no longer see me do I walk away.

What races through my mind is a mosaic of memories from my own childhood and from his, of saying goodbye to parents and children.

How quickly they outgrow the cute sailor suit in the window of the children’s clothing store, the swings on the playground, the annual trip to Legoland.

The next transformation will occur when the little boy skin symbolically falls away replaced with an adolescent armor, impenetrable by hugs and kisses.

With my oldest boy, I’m lucky if I get in a pat on the back goodbye.

What a shame that childhood can’t be twice as long, shielding them from the ugliness of the world that seems to worsen with each tomorrow, from Ebola epidemics to ISIS beheadings, before their enchantment of life evaporates.

Only 145 days remain of the current school year.   Hopefully I get to take my son to school a few more times before his wave turns into a shrug, his glance back is no more when he moves on to middle school. If only every day was a Dads Take Your Child day.