Gerry Boyle here, and maybe some of us do. Write for the money, I mean. But even writers who have more money than God keep typing away. Why? Because like the rest orf us, they feel like they have something important to say.
I bring this up because last night I was in a pub. I was waiting for my dinner date and she was a few minutes late. I was a few minutes early. So I was sipping a pint and watching the people and then I turned to my left. Behind me was a bookshelf filled with random books, one of those little touches that’s supposed to make a pub feel like a living room. Being a book person I perused the titles and reached one down. It was a worn hardcover of All Sail Set: A Romance of the Flying Cloud, by Armstrong Sperry. The book was published in 1935. A faded stamp on the frontispiece said it was from the Richmond, Maine Public Library. It looked very well read.
The book is a young adult novel about the famous clipper ship Flying Cloud. It’s about the adventures of a boy named Enoch Thacher, who goes to sea on the ship. I skimmed it at the table and it looked pretty good, if you like books about the heyday of sailing ships (I do). It also has these great pen-and-ink illustrations. This was a time when publishers cared about every detail in their books.
So anyway, I get home and I look up the book online. It won the Newbery Medal in 1936. David Godine did a reprint in 1984. For a time you could order the illustrations as postcards. Armstrong Sperry had a very successful career, in advertising and as an illustrator for pulp and other novels (he did a Tarzan cover). He also wrote quite a few books for kids. His books about natives of South Sea islands were popular in the 1930s, winning national awards, but today would be seen as patronizing, one article said. Sperry, who lived in Hanover, New Hampshire, died in the 1970s.
Sperry was of his time, as they say. His books have faded into obscurity and barroom bookshelves.
This is the kind of thing that can make a writer feel a little queasy. After all, people buy our books. They read them and sometimes say good things about them. They even come to see us talk about ourselves.
So the notion that we can go from working author to oblivion in a few short years (unless we’re one of that select group of luminaries whose work survives for centuries) is sobering.
But it shouldn’t be. We write, not for fame and fortune, but because it makes us very unhappy not to. We write because we feel a need to create stories, and maybe because those stories have something to say about our time and place. We write because we’re called to this just like a musician has to play music, an artist has to paint.
So we hope our works outlive us but there’s no guarantee. If decades from now, somebody in a pub finds one of my books on a shelf and finds it intriguing, that’s a bonus. All I ask is that after they read it, they bring it back to pub and put it back on the shelf for the next guy whose date is late.