Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Hidden Price of Success.

Scott Sigler got his contract with Crown Books. His dream is in the process of coming true. He quipped: "I'm an overnight sensation that has taken fifteen years."

 As I continue to follow his career I am reminded of the hidden price he has and is paying for the hard cover book release, five city book tour and finding out how many of the 100,000 copies of INFECTED have actually sold.

As I sit at my computer happily consuming his wonderful audio version of INFECTED, it seems so easy. How hard is it to tell a story? I've written stories and have imagined plots. But I am nowhere near being even a wannabe writer.

I produce this blog, but this is not truly professional writing. I have vague illusions about someone picking up my blog and seeing the potential for a book, but reality lets me know that it probably won't happen. Why?

Because I don't put in the time and effort to make it happen. Crown decided to back Sigler because of the quality of his work. Sigler has been working and reworking INFECTED  for about twelve years. He is also involved in continuing research of scientific topics, to add to the plausibility of his fictional horror yarns. 

Twelve years ago, Scott discovered a book on Parasitism. His brain latches onto the beginning of a story idea. That part is fun and exciting. The hours of rereading, rewriting and more researching can feel oppressive. Boredom lurks after the blush of "newness" wears off.

Scott is married and can't pursue career success at the expense of his family and friends. He has learned to walk that tightrope between career and personal life.

Scott has embraced the discipline of learning the rules of grammar, style and storytelling. He is willing to slash and burn his own work to make sure it is ready for the "break" when it does come. He balances opposite parts of himself.  His head may be in the clouds but his feet are on the ground. He'd like to be the biggest thing in publishing history, but what will he settle for if he not the biggest thing in publishing?

This part of the journey I'm somewhat familiar with.  I am coming to terms with having several disabilities, large aspirations, champagne tastes and a beer budget. I discovered I must like the "process" of what I'm doing, not just the result. Therefore the achieving of a goal isn't the only time I find enjoyment.

I killed myself to become a computer programmer, only to discovered I'd been happier as a data entry operator! Ooh, that realization was a real sad moment.

So Scott's pre-launch shin-dig with family and friends is held on the eve of his book launch. He has some candy, that turned out to be spoiled. He got a nasty case of food poisoning, a condition with which one can't argue. It is hard to do a phone interview with a radio station in New York when you are too sick to speak.

I know he never fantasized about having those radio interviews while fighting nausea! Crown, having dealt with a legion of authors, took it in stride and Sigler is still in their employ. People do become ill.

Day two (April 2nd) he's on a plane for Los Angeles and the first of a five city book tour. Success is tiring and after the first three cities, he found his bed at home and collapsed into it. I'll bet he didn't daydream of this aspect of success either.

One of the reasons I know I wouldn't make it as a writer is my tolerance for depression. The level of depression at the "let down" phase of success would be more than I could handle.  After several days back home Scott is off to New York and sees that he has strong sales, but not as strong as he'd hoped. How does he handle what must be a terrible personal disappointment?

All of these emotions are thrashed out alone, or at best with a few trusted friends. When you get noticed, people come out of nowhere and want to be your "friend". Usually not with your best interest at heart.

I know I'm a fan, more then a friend. Yes, I care about Scott and his work deeply. I want the absolute best success for him. But I'm also having my own money fantasies about owning what will become the equivalent of a first run copy of a signed book by Tom Clancy! My daydream is something like this. I bought it for $30 and now people are willing to pay $30,000. Wow, that would be SWEET! This kind of thinking makes me a fan, not a friend.

I study Scott's career and continue to mine personal inspiration from his honest and shoot-from-the-hip interviews. The hidden price of any successful endeavor is hours of just plain hard work.

I reflect on my current success with my church and the computer. I looked for that "hidden" work pattern and realized it was indeed present. I got a computer, programs and manuals. I had a real difficult time figuring out Adobe Acrobat 5. It took me days of reading and rereading their documentation to actually successfully use it. But from that adventure I found I could read much easier on a computer and bought serious Bible software. I love history and began the ridiculous task of reading the works of the Church Fathers, all 37 volumes. I'm in Volume four now.

Continuing with self education, my next difficult task was comprehending how to use Nisus Writer. There as still things that program could do I don't understand. But I learned more of how to learn and how word processing on a computer works.

When I made the leap to my first Internet capable computer the world exploded open to me. I read a lot of almost everything that came my way. Sometimes I long for those days with nothing to do but what I wanted to do, with no external responsibilities. My days are not like that anymore.
I have projects, deadlines and the challenge of learning when something is too difficult for me to tackle alone. I just turned over the project to create church stationery to someone more experienced with business stationery. It feels good to admit I need help.

Today after a little over three weeks out there in bookstores. INFECTED is doing well, nearly in the top 35 of the New York Times Best Sellers List. He'd published before with a much smaller company and when he sold 3,000 copies of a book, the company could barely fulfill the orders!

Crown sees potential in Sigler, because of his proven success in the podcast arena. So they gave him an unusual 100,000 book roll-out. Most first-time print runs are around 3,000 copies. Scott mentioned how that pressure weighed on him, in the beginning. I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it, and it isn't even my life.

Sadly, Scott and his family now have to concern themselves with personal security issues. There are dangerous people out there who seem to glom onto folks in the public eye. Scott rarely talks of his wife or his marriage. I'm sure partly to shield his mate from some of the insanity of being in the public eye.

So when you find yourself angry because somebody else got the promotion, praise or recognition, remember all that went into that "moment in the sun". I am content with my life and am not angry or jealous of someone else's "five minutes of fame". I have learned to remember those lonely, hard times of grinding effort, that "hidden" price of success. 

Taking Responsibility In Our Crumbling Society.

I have been shaken up badly to realize I am now treating others the way some professionals treated me. They treated me harshly when I was strong enough to start accepting responsibility for my life. At church I got tricked by a homeless person, who spun a tale of family suicide. She conveniently neglected the details of her resent hospital release, destitution and homelessness.

I assumed I was dealing with a middle class person being rocked by the suicide of her 11-year-old grand daughter. I now question whether that actually happened to this lady.

I started receiving calls from her in various states of hysterics. "I have no place to go. No one cares." Being I've lived among the very poor I recognized this ploy. I refused to buy into the idea that I was now totally responsible for her well being.

She managed to secure a temporary hotel extension from the hospital she was released from. Her check comes in next week. I then get the call this morning that she has no food. I heard that Lilt of victory in her voice as if to proclaim: "Now you HAVE to do something!" Again, I had to decline to assist her. I gave her information I had about various feeding programs in Oakland, but beyond that, I will do no more.

I have that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have food, money and a place to stay. If-I-were-really-a-good-Christian... Common sense redirects my flight into unrealistic guilt.

Neither I, or my church are equipped to handle a person in such desperate straights. We can refer her to The Red Cross, The Salvation Army or The Lighthouse Mission. These groups are set up to render emergency assistance. True to the nature of the mentally ill and or very immature, this woman refused all three options. She ran down everything that was wrong with each group. At that point, I hung up the phone.

Oh how I remember my own battles with agencies and doctors. Here I was a seriously messed-up mental patient ((self-committed, but now only able to leave when someone else judged me sane). I had all the answers for everything except my life and current circumstances.

Yes, I was suicidal. I'd been that way for years and knew that played right, someone would do something to make it stop. So, I dragged myself into yet another doctor and showed him my drawings depicting my desire to die.

I whipped the drawings out as a kind of victory. I thrust them into his hands with the triumphant feeling of: "Now, even a dumb-ass like you will see how badly I need YOU TO DO SOMETHING!"

The doctor's response shocked me into stunned reevaluation.

He rudely threw the papers on the floor at my feet and angrily growled: "So? What do you want me to do with these? Its your problem, not mine." He then walked out of the conference room. As cruel as this may sound, at first, it was a continuation of my real recovery.  This man was the beginning of my understanding that I was responsible for my own life and problems. Oh, what a series of painful lessons I had to endure before embracing the idea of carrying my own butt through life.

I truly hurt for this homeless and obviously troubled woman. But part of what Christianity is preparing us to become is leaders. We will rule and reign with Christ. What are the qualities of leadership? One big one is knowing that you can't be everything, everywhere to everyone.

If I have information the Director of the FBI needs, I'd go through the phone-channels and eventually I'd be put in touch with the Director, or one of his close associates. You have to go through channels. The Director of the FBI can't field every request for his attention, he no doubt receives.

Our 50-member church has limits as to what we can have and do. We can and do give occasional emergency food and or hotel stays. One night with the related referrals given to the people the next day. If they refuse to act on our information, we don't continue to give them aid. It can get ugly, but sanity dictates that our church isn't taken for a ride by people who refuse to seek out appropriate forms of assistance.

Leadership demands that one knows their skills, weaknesses and very real limits. I have a friend back east. It would be totally unreasonable and unrealistic for me to request him to fly across the country because I'm lonely. While he would be happy to speak to me on the phone, he would no doubt refer me to my local sources of assistance. This isn't being cruel, or irresponsible. He has a family of five to support and precious little time which isn't accounted for. When you are friends with busy people and they give of their time and resources, it is a truly loving act of friendship. 

As a writer I know always acknowledges to his readers. He tries to make his work worthy of our TIME. Once time is given to something, you can't get it back. Before my life got busy I used to laugh at such a statement. Now I thank God for the loving friends I have who are always there when I'm going through a rough spot. Thankfully, those times are becoming fewer and farther apart.

I also must manage my time. I have several types of part-time work, needs for rest and study as well as needs for some "down" time. I get overtired and ill, when I ignore these limits.

I no longer will give my phone number to strangers. I don't have the time, or resources to adequately help them. When I give out my number, I'm implying that I have the time and resources to help.

It is painful to see my old self for what it truly was: mentally ill and desperately immature. I thank God, He didn't give up on me. I knew I'd changed, but it was a shock to realize that I've come full circle. I am now acting like some of the professionals who used to work with me. I repent for some of the nasty things I thought about them at the time they were introducing me to that nasty concept of taking responsibility for my own life.