Saturday, January 13, 2007

Success begets success

One of the things young writers learn early on in a writing career is that success opens doors and offers new opportunities. For example, shortly after the success of Christmas at the Juniper Tavern on public television (it went on to win a cable ACE award), I got two commissions that were great gigs even though neither made it to screen. Both were from co-producers of Juniper Tavern. From the TV station, I was commissioned to write a teleplay based on the life of Oregon's maverick senator Wayne Morse. By the time I finished this, the administration at the station had changed and the new guys weren't interested. Decades later this became the one-man drama American Gadfly: the story of Wayne Morse (original teleplay). From a co-producer I was commissioned to write a screenplay based on the classic of world literature, Man's Fate, which sizzled after the producer realized he, in fact, did not have rights to the novel, which he thought he had secured. So even though neither script made it to screen, each was a great experience for me, each put money in my pocket, and each increased my confidence.

Sometimes "success begets success" becomes ridiculous. Once I was a regular contributor to Northwest Magazine, the editor accepted virtually everything I sent him. I sold a lot of "opinion" articles that are rather like my blog entries today. I remember a writer friend once asking me, "How the hell do you get them to publish that stuff?" Well, the editor's assumption, I'm sure, was that my byline was the attraction. Whether right or wrong, he apparently thought so. Most of these contributions are trifles, though I continued to do good work for them on a less frequent basis. But it got to the point that something came up, I needed a bit of money, and I dashed off something for the magazine.

As an editor, both at the business magazine and a journal I edited called Sweet Reason, I've gone after work from writers who wrote for me before or whose work I knew and admired. I do this now at the review. The current issue features two full-length plays by OyamO and an interview. He didn't send them. I asked for them. He sent me five plays and I chose two. We did the interview by email. I've admired his work since the 80s. I wanted him in the journal. Through the net, I tracked him down to the University of Michigan and emailed my request.

Success begets success. What's also interesting, however, is that the cycle of success ends. Maybe there's a changing of the editorial guard, a change in the tastes of pop culture, a new direction for the writer -- any number of things can change the practical landscape for a writer. For me, my playwriting career changed dramatically for the worse, at least regionally, after a theater did a retrospective of my work. "Charles Deemer's Oregon" was like a wake. My screenwriting career took a turn for the worse when my most enthusiastic agent went to another company and couldn't take me. My short story career halted when I simply stopped writing them, at precisely the time I was getting national recognition for them.

Ebb and flow. Doors open and close. You learn to roll with the punches.

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