The Writing Business
Before I start today, I want to thank The Laurel of Asheville for hiring me to do some pieces on bluegrass music. The editor, Mr. Paul Howey, is a fine fellow who decided to take a chance on an unknown, and I appreciate the opportunity.
Mr. Howey wrote an award winning book on Pet Therapy dogs. His book came out of empathy for a stray dog he happened upon in the Arizona desert back when he when he was living there. He sensed the dog was special and indeed his intuition proved well founded- Freckles became a star in the field of pets and healing.
I’m lucky I ran into Paul, as he is an empathetic man with a soft spot for stray dogs and old Docs. He is a busy editor, but took the time to make the piece magazine worthy. It was my first good paying writer gig, and I’m glad Mr. Paul Howey was the man to give me a chance. As we say in bluegrass, he’s a good’un.
Today I wanted to share some of the business aspects of writing and agents. I am a Doc and an artist, not a business guy, but I am a fast learner. In the literary world you gotta have an agent. They come by all the best gigs, and they know the business end of things. (Someone has to take care of Dr. B.)
Take today. My agent found me a gig writing for a University Press up north. They have a book compilation project on rural medicine in progress and wanted one chapter from a country doc who played bluegrass music. (Can you believe my luck?)
My man has all kinds of writers in his stable and he chose me for the project. I wonder what made him think of ole Dr. B? Maybe it was ’cause my six word memoir is “World’s first physician bluegrass fiction writer.”
He really wants to see me get this gig, ’cause he says it will be a springboard for even bigger publications. It is hard for me to imagine anything much bigger though. Old Dr. B has spent his entire adult life as a country doc and bluegrass picker and now is gonna be rubbing elbows with University scholars. Too dang much. I hope they want to have a pig picking and a bluegrass band when their book comes out; I know all the best ones.
When I got my Bluegrass First Class gig, my agent negotiated all the details, and it was impressive. I couldn’t believe I was going to get paid all that money for having so much fun.
Right from the get-go he had me ready for the role right down to the little hat with the press ticket tucked in the band. We had the run of the entire place and backstage access to all the shows. To tell you the truth, as Buck Owens would say, I was just acting naturally; only difference was now someone was paying me to do it. I had a little notebook I carried in my back pocket, but I forgot to pull it out. It didn’t matter. Who could forget the events anyway?
The writing business is new to me, but I have been around bluegrass music all my life, and I can see some parallels. Both of ’em have a fair amount of overhead. (One bluegrasser told me you don’t know what overhead is till your diesel fuel bill is in the tens of thousands of dollars.) I remember talking to one boy who signed on as the bass man for a mid level band, and they went all the way to California and back on tour. They flew in airplanes and stayed at fancy hotels, smoked fine cigars, and had steak every night. (They warn’t the ground up kind either, but them good Delmonicos and such as that.)
When he got home and got to figuring, he had fifteen more dollars than he’d left home with. He called his old boss and asked if he could get back his job at the hardware store. (He still plays but now balances a day job with weekend music work.)
This writing gig, like playing music, is also a tough way to make a living, though I don’t think my overhead is in the same league with the folks on the music tour. We did have a lot of expenses though. At the end of the weekend, me and my agent sat down and went over the line item financials. We got our press passes for free, and of course I understood all the travel expenses. I didn’t realize he had rung up quite such a bar tab, and room service each day does tend to accrue. I wasn’t sure exactly why his mama needed a room, but then he told me her sitter had quit her, and she was scared of staying alone, so I let it go. The Doc side of me empathized with his circumstances. (I never was much of a businessman.) As we say in bluegrass, it was a large time, and I’m ready to go at it again.
They say the best Docs know they ought to be out making an honest living but enjoy practicing medicine to much to quit. Music has always been that way for me too, and now so is writing. (My wife says I’m gonna get all the way to the end and never go to work for a living.) To play a whole weekend, get paid, make expenses, and have seventeen bucks left over was a huge success. Maybe that is why I like to write so much- it’s a lot like bluegrass music.
So I guess I’ll persevere on as long as y’all will put up with me. I am having too much fun to quit.
See you this weekend. Let’s see. Medicine, music, writing or golf? Hm, I’ll have to see what transpires between now and then. One thing about it, when you don’t go to work every day, a lot of material surfaces on a regular basis.