For my first post, I selected something I wrote a little over a year ago. I consider it to be part appreciation, part manifesto, and a good place to start.
Larry Brown is dead and I don't feel so good either (apologies to Lewis Grizzard, also deceased)
The news coming out of my radio Thanksgiving morning made me gasp.
"Larry Brown," intoned the NPR news announcer, and I smiled, anticipating an in-depth story about one of my favorite writers. Something to strip the saccharine coating off the holidays. Perhaps a brief tale of a hard-luck Thanksgiving with a protagonist more likely to overindulge in Wild Turkey than turkey and pumpkin pie.
"Is dead," the announcer finished.
This one really hurts. I bought a copy of Brown’s first novel, Dirty Work, on a whim, shortly after it was published. I read it straight through and wanted more after it was done. So I read it again. I scarfed down his short story collections and novels as they came out. I was just reading a collection of his essays when he died.
Brown became revered in critical and literary circles, but he never reached the mass market, the New York Times Bestseller crowd. That was fine with me because I preferred to keep him as a private pleasure. I loved talking about him with people who had never heard of him, the way that music snobs will tell you about the great band they saw in a tiny club or the latest rare or bootleg CD they acquired.
Those who knew Larry Brown personally certainly have a lot more to mourn than I do, but I can't help feeling that the world, my world, has lost a big chunk of its reading future. Not only was he a great writer, but the story of how he reached success is an inspiration to all would-be writers. With no extensive formal education, no contacts in the publishing world, he worked several jobs, but decided to try to make a living as a writer. So he sat down at a typewriter and wrote.
Dirty Work was not actually his first novel, just the first that was published. He wrote five novels before Easyriders magazine accepted one of his short stories. Not exactly the Paris Review, but Brown’s characters probably felt more at home in the pages of a biker magazine anyway. Five novels rejected, and he kept at it, although he did burn one of his manuscripts in his backyard.
One of the things that I most liked about Larry Brown was the respect he showed for his characters. Many of them were despicable, but they were believable because Brown never shied away from letting the best and worst in their nature come to light through their actions. I learned never to get too attached to them because they often died in sudden and violent events, exactly the way that death comes to so many in real life. He was as committed to them as he was to his craft.
For anyone who ever dreamed of being a writer, Brown stands as a testament that the dream can be realized, but it may require almost unthinkable dedication and perseverance. I want to be a writer. I left my job and have spent nearly a year networking, marketing myself and occasionally pecking away at an essay or short story idea, but I haven't finished anything that I thought was good enough to send out. Sometimes I think that I should be a lot further along than I am, but Larry Brown’s example makes me realize that I have much, much more writing to do before I can claim to be a failure. I don't know if I will become a successful writer, but it's time to make the commitment, to sit down and find out.