About thirty years ago, my first book, Jar-head, came out. This is a good time to take a look back. It would be an excellent time to reflect on the changes in the publishing industry if, in fact, I had ever paid attention to the publishing industry.
It is a privilege. I have held, since 1986 when I quit my day job, that writing well enough to publish is a matter of hard work and dedication, and making a living at it is a matter of dumb luck. I had a lot of dumb luck.
I’ve gotten lucky in my covers (I mean, holy shit have I gotten lucky in my covers). Early on, a lucky break (that I still don’t entirely understand) gave me what is called a “lead spot” sooner than skill or sales ought to have provided it. I’ve had amazing editors, who know what I’m trying to do, and want me to do it better, and know how to help. I’ve had an absolutely amazing critique group that did the same. Above all, I’ve gotten lucky that, when I tell the next story I wish someone else had told, it turns out that enough other people like it to keep a roof over my head, food in my mouth, and the lights on.
I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some of the best. I’ve had the opportunity to teach (which, as anyone who has ever taught can tell you, is one of the best ways to learn). And learning is a joy. I’ve been a process geek for almost the whole thirty years; I’ve developed a fascination for what makes a story work, what makes it fail to work, and where there are boundaries that can be pushed. Of all the emotional changes writing has put me through, “bored” has never been one, and I think that is in part because I happened (there’s the luck again) to have a deep fascination for process that constantly plays into my love of story. Sometimes I think of a cool story idea and I go, “I must tell that.” Sometimes I think of a cool way to tell a story and I go, “I must try that.” Sometimes I think of a really cool line: “I must write that.” Sometimes I think of a fascinating thematic question: “I must explore that.” Sometimes I think of a fascinating person: “I must follow him around.” All of these things bounce off each other, and keep me interested, and indeed, delighted.
Yes, writing has been good to me. Professionally, ten years ago I promoted myself to senior writer, and five years ago I gave myself a corner office, so it’s all good. Maybe in ten years I’ll give myself a gold watch. Writing makes me proud and keeps me humble. It makes me crazy and keeps me sane. I make a living doing something I love. It sometimes infuriates me that so few people have that opportunity. I hope and believe that someday that will change. In the meantime, for as long as I’m able, I’ll keep writing the next sentence.