Published in The Monterey County Herald, September 26, 2004

As I launch my first novel into the marketplace, I'm reminded of what English composer, Vaughan Williams, had to say when he startled the music world with his Fourth Symphony: "I don't know if I like it, but it is what I meant."

Like Vaughan Williams, I didn’t set out to compose a crowd pleaser. My literary “symphony," once conceived, took on a life of its own. I poured my entire self into it, laboring longer on this project than I'd ever labored on anything before. Of its own accord, the plot out-maneuvered the shallows of the short form into which I'd originally cast it, and wandered into the deeper, uncharted waters of epic storytelling where this myopic wordsmith might otherwise have feared to tread.

I kept the story compact. I plotted it with urgency, keeping the climax at bay for as long as possible, but never out of range of the narrative's headlights. I squished out the air, packed every moment with emotional energy, and provided enough peaks and payoffs (I hope) to keep the impatient reader from falling asleep, or tossing the book into a fish tank.

Still, a part of me frets because my work does not represent what I imagine the world wants to see. Why should that matter? Winning unanimous acclaim was never the motivating impulse behind this unsolicited endeavor. Unless one is already a hot commodity, publishing is hardly a get-rich enterprise. Not that there is any monetary reward, short of breaking the World Bank, that could possibly compensate me for the time, the sweat, and the mental gymnastics that went into it. Much as a writer longs for approval, there are times when he must consider his own appetites first. Because if what he produces doesn't ring true for him, it's not going to ring true for anyone else.

What can an unproven author hope to achieve in an industry where success is normally measured in sales? What possesses him to labor in solitude for months on end, unveiling his most private visions before people he will never see, and whose reactions he may never know? Call it an act of love, wherein a creator desires above all else to transcend that solitude by sharing it with others—to connect with those readers, however few they may be, who discover something special in his work, something personal and unique, that they didn’t realize they were looking for.

On the one hand, I’m pleased with my creation. It has my eyes. It has my soul. It obeys its own logic, its own set of laws. It’s true to itself. It contains, within the parameters I have established for it, a sense of inevitability. It’s everything I raised it to be. It has exceeded my wildest dreams. Like any proud father, this author loves his brain-child because he’s NOT like every other kid on the block.

That is, until he sends him off to school for the first time. Although he knows it’s foolish of him to second-guess his creation, he finds himself comparing it to the other kids on the bus. He notices the blemishes and the facial ticks and thinks: If only my child were more comely, less quirky; I wish I’d dressed him better. He knows that whoever sees the son has, in effect, seen the father. Perhaps, what makes this author most uncomfortable is not the quality of his work, but the realization that he has made a crucial piece of himself fully known.

"I don't know if I like it, but it is what I meant"

Yes, the kid's got my eyes. I just wish sometimes, when I see them, that they were a different color.

Of course, I never say these things to his face. Instead, I tell him to stand tall. Don't let the bullies intimidate you. Go out there and be everything you were meant to be. Do your damndest to make your dad proud.

And then I whack him on the bottom and send him on his way.










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