Why do we even go to the trouble of writing?
April 19, 2016
THERE’S ONE GOOD THING about being a writer.
We hang around with a lot of writers.
I was with one of the best recently at the Silver Leos Writing Conference at Texas A&M Commerce.
I’ve known him for years.
And I’ve always been fascinated at Jim Ainsworth’s lyrical and literary way of stringing words together to tell a compelling story.
Pound for pound, inch for inch, and word for word, he is as good as any writer I have ever read.
His stories are mesmerizing.
He’s a poet writing prose.
Just read a passage from his novel, Firstborn Son:
But the auction and the deaths of his brothers and father had changed Ben Tom. Always upbeat and positive, he now seemed morose, often secluded himself for days at a time to grieve over his failures and losses. The regal house on the river mocked him as it deteriorated daily. He had let his lovely wife down, disappointed his children. He spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about how the people who depended on him would fare if he departed this life.
Joe Henry and Tee still sought out their old friend, sat down with him for coffee and bagels or a platter of Ben Tom’s homemade biscuits, usually at the old bank in Mesa, but sometimes on Ben Tom’s small farm. His back troubles were compounded with a variety of other ailments that he tried to conceal, but could not. His eyes revealed constant pain. His posture revealed a broken spirit. But his voice still expressed unbridled optimism and the confidence of better days ahead.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
As far as I’m concerned, Jim Ainsworth should be one of the best-known, best-read, and most popular novelists in America.
Sure he tells stories.
But his words paint pictures of life as it was and as it is on the Great American Southwestern landscape.
This is Jim’s land.
These are his people.
They may be fiction.
He knows them like family.
In real life, somewhere out there in the hinterland, they exist.
On the pages of Jim’s novels, they will always exist.
But, as a writer, Jim has a problem, and he knows it.
He knows what’s wrong.
He doesn’t care.
The books of Jim Ainsworth can’t be neatly classified or packaged in a particular genre that’s acceptable to powers who run the publishing world.
He says he writes Texas Fiction.
And that’s good enough for me.
He and I have spent many hours talking about the plight of authors as they confront today’s publishing world.
So many great writers.
So many great novels.
But who buys them?
Who discovers them?
A novel no one finds, a novel no one reads, is a novel that, in reality, never been written.
At least, it feels that way.
So often it seem we spend months weaving a story together only to throw it off a cliff and into a black abyss of lost and abandoned words.
Several months ago, Jim’s frustration boiled over.
He was tired of beating his head against the wall.
He was tired of writing books that didn’t sell.
He was tired of it all.
Jim Ainsworth was getting out of the writing game.
And good riddance.
He rode away into the sunset.
Now he has ridden back, and it’s about time.
“I’m writing again,” he told me at Silver Leos.
“What made you change your mind?”
“It’s a letter I received a month or so ago.”
He did not know the lady who wrote the letter.
Maybe he had met her.
But she told him she had gone through one of the darkest periods of her life.
She was down.
She was depressed.
But she had read one of his books, and it touched her.
It had eased the pain and turmoil that was troubling her life.
She could face tomorrow with a renewed spirit.
“That’s why I’m writing again,” Jim said. “I figured out why we do what we do as writers.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“We’re not here to sell a million books, although it would be nice.” He shrugged. “If our words reach out and positively touch one person,” Jim said, “then writing the book has been worth the effort.”
Why are we here, he wonders, if not to help someone else?
Sometimes a story is all it takes.