on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2013 29 Mai

R. J. Ellory: „Writing is my religion, and music is my philosophy.“

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I recently completed the book for 2014, as yet untitled. I also received proof copies of the book that is being released in June of this year, entitled „The Devil and The River“. Contractually speaking, I am not now required to submit another book until the middle of 2014. This is – frankly – an utterly impossible scenario for me!

I am a writer. I write all the time. During the last ten years I have published eleven books, but I´ve written somewhere in the region of sixteen or seventeen. Beyond that, I still have twenty-five unpublished novels in my loft. I once asked my wife what we were going to do when we reached our mid-sixties and we had no money because she had spent it all on shoes. Her response was immediate and very specific: „I´ll just take all those manuscripts in the loft and put them on e-bay,“ she said, „and then I´ll buy more shoes.“

And so I am at a loss for a while. I will start a new book sometime in the forthcoming weeks, and – all being well – that will then be published in 2015. The simple truth is that whatever we do – when we create on an individual basis, and when we are creating out of a vocational passion – then it is not something that can be turned on and off like a tap.

Leo Rosten said that the only reason for being a professional writer is that you just can’t help it.

I think it´s just the same for musicians, athletes, painters, photographers, ballet dancers, architects, and anyone else who occupies that frame of mind where – in essence – they create something from nothing. That was my conclusion when I thought about it … that there is a type of personality or mind-set that is compelled to create. My mother was a dancer and singer, my grandmother a ballet teacher, and every time I travel and meet people who pursue some sort of aesthetically- or artistically-orientated activity, I find a common denominator. The simple fact is that the creative mind never really stops working. John Lennon said „Find something you love and you´ll never work another day.“ I would concur. Even though writing a book is a considerable amount of work, even though it consumes your attention every waking hour (and sometimes your sleeping hours as well!), it is nevertheless a tremendously pleasurable activity, even at its most frustrating.

An athlete´s training program, the work involved in choreographing a ballet, the thousands of hours needed to attain competence with any musical instrument (as I know all too well, and the battle goes on!), a photographer´s efforts in putting together a portfolio are all the same. Even after finding a publisher (which took fifteen years and twenty-three novels), my desire to write the best book I can is still as strong as ever. And when we embark upon such activities – not knowing whether it will ever come to fruition, unaware of what the future might hold for us – it takes an enormous amount of persistence and willingness to continue despite the inevitable obstacles and frustrations.

I remember a quote that I read many years ago, and this quote really inspired me to go back to writing after an eight-year break during which I had almost given up on the idea of ever finding a publisher. The quote came from Benjamin Disraeli, and he said, „Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose.“ Such a thing has been said before, and will be said again in different ways, but the message is the same.
I also remember something my grandmother used to say to me when I was a child. „Never be one of those people who lead a What if? life.“ Essentially, don´t get to the end of your life and wonder what would have happened if you had asked that girl to marry you, if you had taken that job offer in Minnesota, if you had decided that no, you wouldn´t continue in a job that made you miserable just for the salary.

I have made mistakes, as we all have. Hindsight is always the cruelest and most astute advisor. It is inevitable that we face situations where the outcome is unknown, and we just have to trust our intuition. It is inevitable that we might find ourselves in situations where we react or respond in an irresponsible or inappropriate manner. This is life. None of us are faultless, and none of us are saints. The true test, I feel, is recognizing when you are wrong, doing everything you can to rectify the damage caused, and then – as the rodeo guys say – „Dust yourself off and get back on that horse“. The horse isn´t going away, figuratively speaking. Well, you know what I mean, right?

Unfortunate as it may be in some instances, you don’t get to practice your life before you live it. It is an unrehearsed performance, live, off-the-cuff, often improvised. Of course we are going to miss cues or fall off the edge of the stage. The question is, do we get back on the stage and press on regardless? The show, as they say, must go on.

So, to the year ahead. I will start a new book. I will nag and harass and annoy my bass player and drummer back into rehearsals and get this damned band on the road once and for all. And if they don´t straighten up and fly right, then I´ll find some other musicians to work with and we´ll make a different sound. That is inevitable. As I have often said, I am not sure whether writing is my religion and music is my philosophy, or if music is my religion and writing is my philosophy. Sometimes they feel interchangeable, and I know that if I was ever prevented from writing, or if something occurred that made the publication of further books impossible, then I would pursue a songwriting and performing career with as much enthusiasm and drive as I pursued my goal to write.

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