THE LOVIN’ OF THE GAME
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
When I wrote Song of Sorcery, my first book, I lived in Alaska in the woods outside Fairbanks. We had no running water, erratic electricity, a great many cats, an Irish setter fond of biting porcupines at 3 AM, and a husband who was working on the North Slope most of the time.
There was no TV. Video games were fairly primitive compared to these days–I think PacMan and the Super Mario Bros. were state of the art.
I worked as a nurse, then a janitor (I got fired. It didn’t seem as important to keep awake at night as it did when I was nursing), as a sales “associate” and as owner of my own weaving business, Howling Woof Weavers. The weaving business was on the upper floor of a gift store where I also worked part of the time.
I’d always wanted to write a novel–a craving many people share these days–and had no outside distractions other than work, friends, and the weather. The friends were encouraging.
Every night after work I went back to the Goldstream Valley, parked my car, picked up my note pad and pen, and walked about 3/4 mile down the road to Moose Creek, where I sat on a rock and wrote my story in longhand. I borrowed a typewriter and started typing it up after I wrote each section.
This may sound like a writer’s version of “In my day we walked 5 miles to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways” but there were advantages. Though I wouldn’t want to have to do it again, typing and re-typing the pages of my story helped me focus on it and polish it. When the publisher accepted it, there were no editorial changes required. I didn’t realize at the time how rare that was.
Another advantage was that the weather and isolation usually allowed me to focus, when I wasn’t coping with one disaster or another. Don’t let anybody fool you, life “off the grid” in the woods is hard work and it can get scary.
But the most helpful thing was that when I lived there I had a lot of friends, all of whom were anxious for me to succeed, all of whom read my book, and gave me the gift of their attention. One of the doctors in the clinic where I worked for awhile took home the pages I had typed the night before and put them on my desk the next morning with a big note that said “MORE!” on top. The Fairbanks Arts Association hired me as a writer in the schools for several short gigs that actually paid. My bosses at the 2 bookstores where I worked (though not at the same time) threw really nice book parties when I put out a new title, with cake and balloons, bought a big stock of my books, and sold them too. I invited all of my friends and dressed up and was so hyped I couldn’t think straight during the party.
Has that sort of thing happened to any other beginning writer out there lately?
Occasionally maybe but it’s by no means a common occurrence. When I moved to Washington, I was invited to attend book parties in big cities, making me think my fame had spread. But when I got to one place, a drive that took me several hours, oops, the bookstore had books of the other authors attending, but somehow had forgotten to order mine. I had known I was a large amphibian in a large but sparsely populated snowdrift before, but found the change disheartening anyway.
I thought being around more writers would be fun but usually it’s fleeting at best. I have a few writer friends here and around the country, but usually they’re busy trying to scratch out time for their work amid their other responsibilities. If we meet at conventions, we are very busy trying to be good guests and doing programming and being exhausted and don’t get to visit very much.
What made all the difference in how I felt about myself as a writer was how much attention others were willing to give me and my books. I think that’s the part everyone looks forward to (along with being able to quit their day gig) when they decide they want to be a writer.
That public attention is as fleeting and fickle as the greater and more lucrative accord given to media and sports “stars.” In the end, even though the writer can see behind the curtain the mechanics of crafting a novel, just as an actor can see the cameras or footlights, the thrilling part has to be the story being told. Otherwise, it’s very hard work for no job security, fairly poor pay (more about that later) and not much fun as you put off the good bits of real life to meet the next deadline.
To quote a favorite song by Pat Garvey, “The pleasure’s not the taking, it’s the lovin’ of the game.”