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Desert Tale - No. 4 - Vol. 1

Why Write?

Television writers, including yours truly, aged forty plus, (ugh, I have just told you my age!) have just won, or should I say settled, an age discrimination class-action case against TV networks, studios and talent agencies. The terms of the Confidentiality Agreement, do not permit me to disclose any information regarding the amounts of the awards in connection with this Settlement to anyone, except of course, the IRS. The Agreement was approved by the Court for multi-million dollars to be shared by writers and their attorneys.

This leads the way for writers to write shows that are of more interest to the – pardon the expression – “older” generation. I am glad to see Betty White still working, and shows like Heart to Heart with gorgeous Stephanie Powers, making a return, albeit sporadically, so we don’t have to suffer through so much violence and bad language. We get enough of that on the nightly news. Even Lawrence Welk’s “ah one and a two...” smiling face is still on PBS, which encourages specials like Andre Rieu’s musical feasts entertainment to be enjoyed by all ages.

Writers must write, it is akin to breathing for us, whether screenplays or novels, or even poetry, and we don’t care whether or not there is an audience. It would be nice for profitability and business purposes, but if we are read by millions or just a few, it is equally satisfying, as our passion needs a perpetual outlet.

I do not pretend to be an authority on the elements of writing style, but if a person has lived with the idea of writing the great American novel, then I say, sit down and start writing, but don’t give up your day job, and expect to become an instant best seller in a world which produces over 90,000 titles a year in this country alone. Also, I am involved in another lawsuit against Google for stealing my copyrights and digitizing my books without my knowledge or permission. In this business, I keep my lawyers very busy. I don’t even go to the bathroom these days without calling my lawyer first. So, if you can’t handle the business end of writing, my advice to you, is content yourself with just writing creative letters to family.

It was not until late in his life, that William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and a check for $40,000 prize money at a time when all his books were out of print. Also, Tennessee Williams, Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote, had their share of the grim task of opening rejection envelopes. I can wallpaper my office with the ones I have kept to prove to the IRS that I am “professional,” and to keep my CPA happy. Lawyers and certified public accountants for some sadistic reason want us to keep these ego-deflating reminders of what lousy writers we are. They call it “proof”, I call it suicidal evidence.

The last years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing career were full of failure. Virginia Wolff suffered intensely, and many other writers succumbed to alcoholism, divorce and even suicide. So how do I survive? By getting periodic checks in the mail and my cheery disposition. Working in musical comedies helps balance out that solitary occupation which makes my dog despise me.

So why become a writer? I don’t know why writers write; they all have their own particular reason: be it a catharsis of sorts, or maybe to be a success; or as Robert Frost so aptly put it: “I don’t know why YOU should write, but I don’t get the same satisfaction out of doing anything else.”
Great advice came from Sinclair Lewis, “if one applies the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, and ignores rejections, you might get somewhere in the end.” (I agree with the “end” part – sometimes I am glued to my chair for 14 hours a day.)

To become involved in an art you have to give up something, or somebody, because most family and friends resent the time you dedicate to the art and not to them. The incurable writer (moi) will happily admit that he or she uses the power of their concentration to become emotionally involved with their characters and disengaged with spouse or family. Somerset Maugham, asserted that “we do not write because we want to; we write because we must.” In my case, it is because I flunked math and accounting.

I was born a raconteur and always had a fertile imagination and many tales to tell. (Please see: Travel Tales, Tropical Tales and Desert Tales on my website: Some believe that a writer’s life is exciting and full of compensations such as financial rewards and fame, but I can assure you it is very, very hard work. I do have the luxury of setting my own hours to work at home, and feel a sense of satisfaction for being paid for the pleasure of having a love affair with a gorgeous man in an exotic location in fantasyland, but I am forced to meet deadlines, trouble shoot with office equipment, run around doing clerical tasks, stand in line at the post office, not to mention read overly-broad contracts which only benefit the publisher, and pay up front for office expenses. I become slightly neurotic when my husband interrupts my train of thought with stupid questions, or when the phone rings and somebody wants to sell me something I don’t need. If I have to finish writing a chapter, I withdraw from society and demand solitude, which then creates guilt when you finally surface and friends think you have been avoiding them.

Luckily authors are permitted a few idiosyncrasies in their lives, and everybody knows I have an “artistic temperament” which translates into, “she’s odd” – you either love me or hate me – there is no in between. But for me that is a compliment because I do not want to be put in the pile of “average.” I prefer “crazy like a fox, different, not belonging and eccentric.” Because writing is its own reward. After all, it is the journey, not the destination that counts.

I love to purge all my sins, insults, tragedies, and humor into my characters; and when continuously asked, “did you write about yourself in that novel?” I can honestly say, “yes, but only ten percent, and you can’t guess which percentage that is, and I won’t tell.” One may commence with some degree of talent and a burning desire to write, but unless you can do it without giving a damn about contradictory reactions of others to your work, and their perversities of an audience’s taste, and you are totally self-disciplined, and prepared for failure and doors closing in your face, then my honest advice is don’t waste your time in such a competitive field, as talent is not enough. In this business, as in Hollywood, it is who you know that counts.

The big bonus we have as authors, above most arts, is the availability of great teachers, and life itself is the best tutor. Great writers such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Mann, Flaubert, Joyce, Proust, Frost, and my favorite, Oscar Wilde, inspire us to go deeper into the human condition and let us be our own psychoanalyst. Where else outside of love or religion can the burdens of living and dying be so freely expressed? Whether it be through poetry or characters we give birth to, we are in control of their destinies and flaunt fate in its face, at least for a while, and that is satisfaction supreme. Even Margaret Mitchell had no intentions of publishing Gone With The Wind. She wrote it to amuse her family.

Drama is created from an author’s awareness of human inconsistencies and absurdities, such as when man cannot walk away from the consequences of his own deeds, as I wrote about in Forbidden Passion. In Murder by Roses, I talk about a family’s overwhelming need to control money. So I hope I have brought a freshness to vision, and original treatment to both a new and old subject matter.

As a writer, I bring my own unique experiences and outlook of the world, and hopefully my own footlight sense to my readers, because an author definitely needs an audience to read on with appreciation, and to applaud till the end of the last chapter – or I will go back on stage and perform what other writers write, and gain that applause from the last act.

Alinka Zyrmont


Read other Travel Tales in the archives!