Monday, May 17, 2010
Timing is Everything
Let's talk Dick. Okay, before you get too excited, I'd like to talk about Moby Dick. I know, I hear the groans from here. "Jess, that joke got old in High School, and so did the book."
I know, I know, the great epic of the most humorously named whale in history was probably not my favorite read of all time. It was interesting though, even then. You have to admit that while thick and heavy it is a book that is loaded with history, meaning, and cultural relevance, especially now.
I'm not going to start about the whaling industry in the 1800's, or misuse of a natural resource that eventually destroyed the viable sustainability of that resource, or even the morality of killing whales.
I found out something interesting and I thought I'd share it with you. Herman Melville at the time that Moby Dick was written was a writer on the rise. He wanted very much to be famous and successful as a writer. He had some momentum going, then he wrote what he believed was his masterpiece, an epic adventure/spiritual reckoning about the nature of man, industry, and nature. He believed in it with all his heart.
Then it tanked. The book was released as the whaling industry was beginning to wane, and the Gold Rush had captured the interest of the reading public. All minds turned to the West as a new source of adventure and excitement. He got creamed by the critics, and the great white whale sank into obscurity. Nobody read Moby Dick, because the Whale had missed the boat.
Does anyone else find that disturbing? Melville died, not as a famous author, but as a custom's agent. (I'm pretty sure) He never lived to see the revival of his work, or revel in the satisfaction that millions of American High School students now have to read and study it as one of the greatest examples of an American novel.
It's all that he wanted for the book, but it came too late.
We often hear about how timing is everything in this industry, and half of what drives us crazy as authors is trying to "catch the boat," of what readers want. That is our great white whale, and we'll chase him to the gates of Hell. But he'll wreck us and leave us clinging to the coffin, alone in a vast ocean of books that all seem alike because the market is saturated and "it just doesn't sell."
Then we can give up on the stories of our heart because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Our personal Moby Dicks remain under the bed, sleeping. A great leviathan of effort that will never rise to the surface of the ocean of publishing.
But like the ocean, this business has waves. All things come back around, then maybe it is time to awake the beast and set him free. Just hope he doesn't take a leg with him.
I don't know what to think of the fate of Herman Melville, other than it made me sad. I'm a writer, and so was he. I can feel for a man who put his love into a book. If you're out there, Ishmael, I read your book. I thought it was good. Thank you for your effort. There is a comfort in knowing at least one great story found its place in time.