It took me nearly my entire adult life (I am 62) to come to the eventually undeniable conclusion that I am unpublishable, that no editor in the world was going to read a cold submission of mine and think, “Oh, we simply must have this. The reading public is dying to read and pay good money for exactly this type of narrative.” My website, where I am, month by month, slowly releasing all the fiction I currently am engaged in and contain in my file, is called FREE EXTREME FICTION, and its introduction reads “Think of a sixties-era Marvel and Underground comics mash-up written rather than drawn. It’s pretty twisted, pretty intesnse, pretty extreme.” And it really is. Most of my stories are “R” rated, and some go way beyond that. Personally, I am a very PC sort of person; my stories are hardly that. I no longer even show my work to those that I meet in my everyday life, although I am quite proud of most of it. The response, when I do, is generally not good.
So, the next inevitable question would almost have to be, “So, okay, why are you doing that, then? Why do you insist, after practicing your art daily for nearly fifty years without the slightest bit of material success, on continuing to churn out stories that will never earn you a single penny but instead will only alienate?”
The answer to that, I believe, lies in the two questions that prompted me to write this article in the first place: What does writing mean to you? How do you approach it? The answer to the first question, for me, is, simply, Everything. Writing means Everything to me. At my age, after all these decades , what joy I find in life has winnowed down to being with my beloved wife, reading, watching movies and old time movie-serials, and writing. That’s it. Very few friends. My “job” is a means of staying alive so I can continue to write. A co-worker said to me the other day, “Aw, come on, let’s face it. We don’t write for the ‘love’ of writing. We do it so that someday we can become successful enough at it so that we don’t have to do anything else.” That’s a valid point, I didn’t disagree with him, but that’s certainly not what it’s all about for me. I write because, at four in the morning, with my coffee and my radio turned low and my mechanical pencils and my college notebooks, I am myself in a way I am not allowed to be at any other time of the day. I write because it is the only way I can return myself to who I am.
A little obsessive perhaps? A little sick even, perhaps? Whatever. I am content.
Especially here in the twenty-first century where I can download my stuff to an audience of, conceivably, a billion people or more, that’s very satisfying. And as far as making my living from it is concerned, hey, I’m going on Social Security soon. I should be able to to continue FREE EXTREME FICTON for the next twenty-five years, if I choose.
What it comes down to is this: I’m writing my fiction at the very highest level I know how, and, when I do, the result is often juvenile and vulgar and base. Unpublishable. So be it. I love to write fiction, and that love has never abandoned me, where many friends and family have. It strikes a chord in me that thrums at the pit of my soul. That’s what writing means to me and that’s how I approach it, not as an enterprise for making a living but as a way to draw me as close as I can ever get to the fire and passion that burns within me. Who could ask for more in this cynical, hard-scrabble world?
(c) Dann O’Keefe