When you choose a career, it’s not always a straight line.
In my case, I started out at age 7 wanting to be an astronaut or a baseball player.
My father had always wanted something else for me.
“Be a dentist,” he said. “You get as much money as a doctor, but no one wakes you up at night and says you have to come into the hospital to fix a toothache.”
But by senior year in college, I was on a straight line: I wanted to become a novelist. I pretty quickly published my first short story, in an august journal called North American Review, which Hemingway and Twain had also published in.
“I pay for four years of tuition at UCLA,” my father complained to my mother, “and he wants to become a novelist?!”
He never told me about his complaint, though. He was too decent to say it out loud to me. I learned about it only years later from my mother.
After graduation, I didn’t find any companies who wanted to hire someone as a full-time novelist, so I started doing journalism, small-time at first, but within six years, was publishing in Mademoiselle, McCall’s, Harper’s Bazaar, and a host of other glamorous and glitzy publications. I was flying in to New York twice a year to meet with editors. I had bylines galore.
But I wasn’t glitzy by nature. I still wanted to be a novelist and I had no time for it. When Joe Weider offered me a full-time editor’s job in his fitness empire, I answered, “Oh no, I’m sorry, I’m working on a novel.” I was still under the delusion that freelance writing might allow me some free time to work on fiction. It didn’t.
When I finally realized that freelancing had failed me, I jumped ship and became a full-time magician. I had heard that cruise-ship magicians worked only two hours a week, got paid a couple thousand a week, and had lots of free time. That was the job for me. I would travel the world and write my novels for 38 hours a week. But in the meantime, I had to become a master salesman, selling my show to cold-call customers, which once again took all my time.
The only thing that gave me enough time to write my novel, finally, was poverty. Just giving it all up and writing. Not worrying about jobs, not worrying about getting new things, not worrying about going without health insurance, not worrying about what people think, and they think some pretty bad things, believe me.
I started writing the novel six years ago, after thinking about it for 24. I wrote much of it at night, when I had insomnia. It would calm me to write on it, chip away at it. There are so many different parts of a novel that it’s like a whole country, and you work to create that geography, climate, and culture. It was compulsive. It was the one thing I knew how to do. I didn’t know how to be happy, exactly, or worldly successful, but I did know how to write. You scribble a first draft, go away from it for a few days, thinking about it, and then ideas come to you in the shower, on the bikepath, before going to sleep. If you’re smart, you write down those ideas when they come to you.
But at the end of that path, which is a long one, I can assure you, winding and endless, you have something solid and real that you’ve been hoping for all your life. You sit in front of the computer and smile. You read the last couple chapters to your girlfriend and she cries. Sometimes, you even choke up reading it. You give it to your girlfriend to read aloud because you know you can’t do it yourself. There are gorgeous sentences that sparkle as if they were pure sunlight. There are characters who have lived in your heart for years. There are turns of phrase that only appear after the 80th draft. There’s a plot that fits together like a Mitrokhin puzzle. And there’s a dream that you’ve finally fulfilled, rather than letting it die.
And that’s why you should buy my novel, if only to support someone who’s had a dream.
[Terry: This guy is fascinating. Every blog item is a new story. Plus he’s a bit chubby and wears Hawaiian shirts–what’s not to like?]
I’m heading to Kansas in a couple days, and am remembering something that I often discover about the red states: that there are political differences between them and my native California.
I’m not just talking about the obvious factors, such as people looking askance at men holding hands with each other, or at women dressing more skimpily, or people in general looking older, even though they may not be. I’m talking about looking up the bus fares for Hutchinson and discovering to my shock that it costs $4 compared to the $1.50 fare in Los Angeles. Not only that, but I’ll have to walk 1.2 miles just to get to the bus stop. Kansans don’t believe in tax money being spent on frivolous things like poor people’s transportation needs. They believe in what they call “self-sufficiency”–that is, every man for himself, period.
I’ll be doing some genealogical research while I’m in Hutch, and discovered another red-blue split: The state government doesn’t believe in transparency. While birth and death records are public in California and many other states, they aren’t in Kansas. They are available only to immediate family and “anyone who can prove a direct interest.” The red-state mentality is authoritarian rather than transparent, as explained in the fine book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, by George Lakoff.
I’ve run into this in other red states, too. While I was in the Carolinas in the late 1990s, I noticed that their state and local governments don’t spend much money on infrastructure. I tried to bicycle in Charleston, for example, and discovered that there were virtually no bikepaths, few sidewalks, and very little or crumbling road shoulder. Get out of historic Charleston and it was dangerous just to walk down the street, with cars whizzing by so close to you. You had to trudge through the weeds and brambles just to keep from getting hit. The city is designed, it seems, for the convenience of those in Cadillacs and limousines, and not for those who have to walk to their destinations.
While driving from Charleston to Raleigh, too, I noticed a definite red-state complexion. I wanted to stop along the way and walk onto the beach, take off my shoes, squish my toes in the sand, feel the salt air on my face. But in the Carolinas, there are miles upon miles upon miles of seaside mansion estates that preclude any public use. In 1971, California passed The Coastal Initiative that codified into law the idea that the beach (such as Carmel Beach, above) belongs to the public, and that no more private or commercial building would be allowed there. Obviously, that is too radical an idea for the Carolinas.
People often throw up their hands at politics, saying their vote makes no difference. But here, that concept is disproven. Not only does politics have an impact on the large issues, such as war and who’s going to chair the Fed, but also, on the issues that affect us every day, such as sidewalks, streets, and beaches. And so I head off towards a red state, hoping for the best.
Last August, I performed street magic for two weeks on Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. I had a good time and polished my Linking Rings routine. When summer ended, I left. Last week, I returned. Within the first ten minutes, a homeless guy called over to me.
“Hey, I know you! Welcome back!”
He was big and smiley and had wild hair and a booming voice that filled the waterfront.
Then another homeless guy called over a big hello, too, even repeating some of my joke lines back to me, saying that he had appropriated them for his own show.
“Reach into your pockets and take out a 5-dollar bill. Keep that for yourself and give the rest to me!”
I didn’t begrudge him stealing the line from me; I had stolen it myself.
Playing the street is an on and off thing for me. I started busking in 1994, when I was trying to get good at stage magic. In 1998, I published a book called Be a Street Magician!: A How-To Guide (Aha! Press, http://www.amazon.com/Be-Street-Magician-David-Groves/dp/0966814703/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214804689&sr=1-1), which made me semifamous in a niche audience, magicians.
These days, the vast majority of my business consists of big-paying inside gigs. But when business is slow, I like to road-test my new material by performing on the street for an endless stream of new audiences. Last week, I happened to get hired to perform for a couple of fancy parties at the classic-car show in Carmel, so while I was up here, I decided to play the wharf.
My first day back on the wharf, I did well. I was even approached by a couple who saw my show and wanted me to come to their 6-year-old daughter Jasmine’s birthday party the next evening. We negotiated on the spot. They wanted me to go down $50 on the price. I said I would do that if they bought my newly published enovel, What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, and got five of their friends to do so, as well. I didn’t tell them that I hadn’t brought all my best kids’ show props–the die box, for example (see video).
The next day, a Sunday, I went back out to the wharf to get in a couple hours of busking before the party. A man walked up to me with his kid.
“I’m glad you’re here!” he said. “I saw you yesterday, and I liked it so much that I brought my boy to see you!”
It was strange to make such an imprint on this community without even trying much. I felt like I was becoming accidentally famous.
In one of my audiences was an 18-year-old guy with the wild hair of an intellectual. He said his name was Forrest.
“Man, you must get all the damn Gump jokes,” I said.
“Stupid is as stupid does,” he said, grinning.
During the show, I ended up casting aspersions on Forrest’s wealth because he lived in Seaside. Everybody laughed. Later, when I held out my hat for tips, Forrest came up and dropped in a $20 bill.
“Not all people in Seaside are poor,” he said.
I couldn’t believe I had benefited financially by making Forrest feel insecure. It seemed to be against my philosophy of life, which is that being relentlessly positive is the way to happiness and wealth. Still, I didn’t give him the twenty back.
Come evening, I did the kids’ show at the park and kicked ass. Afterwards, two separate guys came up and asked me if they could have my card.
“I live in Los Angeles,” I said, handing it over, but then warned him. “I’d have to charge a lot more for the show.”
“Like $1,200 at least.”
- I Had a Dream (whathappenstous.wordpress.com)
- The No Trespassing No Sidewalk No Road Shoulder Blues (whathappenstous.wordpress.com)
Let’s escape together!
Isabel Burt is a children’s author currently writing novels of the fantasy genre. Having begun to write at the age of six, she took a forty year break to be sure of the publishing climate. As it is currently in turmoil; with children’s fantasy being the most difficult area to enter, she decided it was an excellent time to return to her first passion.
To use my blog – FOR MY READERS – posts are meant for my readers (!)
As I write for older children and young adults – that is to whom I speak.
But of course parents might find them first – so please feel free to read and share with your parents!
To fly into the world of words; a world of limitless imagination and excitement…
Let’s escape together!
SYNOPSIS OF TOXICS by Isabel Burt
Felicity Penfold, a girl of 14, finds herself mysteriously deposited into an alternative world. In the misty opening scene she links up with Reuben, an ‘Orion’ embarking upon a quest in which it seems Felicity is prophetically implicated.
This ‘Old World’ is in a state of impending crisis. Its entire ethos was one of balance; this has been irrevocably altered by the illegal birth of a new species, called ‘Toxics’. Each plant or beast has an ‘enharmonic’ which is its counter-species balance. The Toxics had none. Their exclusion over the years has led to them becoming bitter and by the time of Felicity’s arrival, very dangerous. Their leader, Arrass, seeks the destruction of the traditions of the Old World which he feels has betrayed them. His final destination: the Sacred Caves.
These caves contain the roots of all knowledge, and they are guarded by the ‘Taureau’.
The story follows Reuben and Felicity as they are joined by other key troupe members who seek to save their precious world by joining Reuben’s quest to protect the Roots, and shift the Old Ways to include the Toxics; thereby restoring its balance.
The salvation of the Old World and ultimately of the Toxics becomes a race between the gathering of the quest troupe and the gathering of the Toxics.
For my readers – MEET THE ORION
Last time you visited, it was to find out a little more of the Old World. As I write these posts ‘For my readers’, I imagine I am talking to you, someone who loves reading and escaping into the world of your book. I hope you will enjoy visiting this Old World, when Toxics is finally available.
I am sorry you cannot read it straight away – I wish you could – but I am having to learn about the world in my laptop, just like Felicity has to learn all about the strange world she finds herself in.
So…back to the people and creatures who live in the Old World – well I talked a bit about The West, homelands to the Orion, and the Fragrants. Reuben is an Orion. He leads the Quest to save his world. If you go to your local wildlife park, you might spot ring-tailed lemurs. The Orion have tails very similar to them. Otherwise you wouldn’t know the difference between an Orion and a human, really. Except when they have to move fast. Or escape. Then they can use all their hidden talents! When I was creating them, I wrote, ‘mostly human but with slightly deeper skin colours, and slightly more hairy. Mesmerising eyes – intense like a cat’s. A very attractive species. The special light of the Old World seems to light up their downy skins to rich hues. The essential difference is their extra jointed legs like a cat, hence their great physical skill for climbing and leaping etc. oh, and one tiny thing…massive black and white stripy tails like Lenny the ring-tailed lemur [that is a teddy we own]. Like a monkey they can hang from it and use it as a third hand.’
Let’s meet the Fragrants next time…
‘The block of granite which is an obstacle in the pathway of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the pathway of the strong’
For all who write…
- For my readers – MEET THE ORION (isabelburt.com)
Why, Do i think I’m the baggage handler.
I made the impossible “EASY” in both Worlds!
Excerpted from the forthcoming memoir, The Baggage Handler.
My DEA Handler “Johnny”
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to introduce you to the cast of characters in my forthcoming book about my years as a drug smuggler and then a confidential informant for the DEA. (To protect their identity their names have been changed.) ”Johnny” was one of my two handlers at the DEA. That means he was responsible for supervising me. He really took me under his wing and wanted me to succeed. That may sound funny to you, but it’s true.
I always want to do my best no matter who I am working with. Johnny saw that in me, and he and everyone at the DEA really showed me how to be a better man. I’m grateful to them for that. > > Johnny is an undercover agent. He’s the guy who wears a ski mask when the > news cameras come out to hide his identity. The ladies loved Johnny, because he looked like the actor Johnny Depp, but he was a loyal family man. He liked the heat of the moment, the action. He was confident, street smart, well trained. He was as serious as you can be, but he was a prankster as well.
I once asked him, “Why the pranks?”
He said, “Our job is very dangerous. Humor makes the moment more bearable!”
- Alitalia baggage handlers arrested (bbc.co.uk)
- Dozens of baggage handlers working for Italian airline arrested in crackdown on suitcase thefts (dailymail.co.uk)
- JJ Gonzalez “The Baggage Handler” (thebaggagehandler.me)