Why We Do It (Besides the Money)

Dick here, prepping madly for the launch of Burton’s Solo on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at Longfellow Books in Portland. 7:00 PM. Actually not prepping too madly because the book has been dribbling out into the universe over the past couple weeks and the cookies are baked. Please come, I would love to see you, and you don’t even need to buy books. The occasion of a new book this year started me thinking about the manifold joys of writing and publishing and though we writers tend to the lugubrious and depressive, I’m here to remind you that there is joy to be had.

Attended a family memorial service on Cape Cod a couple weeks ago, for my father’s brother, who died at 90. Thomas Cass was a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and one of the most poignant aspects of the memorial was the presence of three cadets from the Academy, rock-steady at attention for the duration, in honor of my uncle’s service. It moves me as I write to think of the respect they showed a shipmate seventy years removed.

In the social time afterwards, I sat with cousins I hadn’t seen in some years, including two who grew up around the corner from us in Hyde Park. I have a very small family (it keeps getting smaller) and we are not terribly close, either geographically or temperamentally, but I was tickled to find out that at least one of the cousins had discovered my Elder Darrow books and was reading them. After a certain amount of gentle joshing about my being the famous cousin now, Gordon said something to me that I will treasure more than if I ever sell a million books.

He allowed as how only twice in his life had he read something in a book that articulated for him something that he felt but could not put fully into words. Once was when he read the description in George V. Higgins’s book Progress of the Seasons of the young George walking up the ramp in Fenway Park for the first time and seeing how green the grass was. The second was something (I’ll omit the specific detail out of respect for how it affected him) in one of my books.

It reminded me of another time when I was a featured writer at a conference in the West. I read a story I’d written from the point of view of an old woman confined to a wheelchair, deciding whether to end her own life with painkillers. A very good writer named John Rember took me aside after my reading and thanked me for the story, telling me it helped him understand his own mother’s situation after the stroke that put her in a chair.

You might think published writers are concerned about the sales, number of readers, the acclaim (such as it is), and we are. But these other things drive me, and many of the writers I know, as much as the desire to tell a good story and entertain someone: saying for readers, or at least helping them hear, the things they know but can’t quite say themselves. There is pure joy in that, and if you are ever a reader so moved, I encourage you to offer this bit of gold to any writer who has so moved you.

About Richard Cass

Dick is the author of the Elder Darrow Jazz Mystery series, the story of an alcoholic who walks into a dive bar in Boston . . . and buys it. Solo Act was a Finalist for the Maine Literary Award in Crime Fiction in 2017 and In Solo Time won the award in 2018. The third book in the series, Burton's Solo, came out in 2018 and Last Call at the Esposito in 2019. Sweetie Bogan's Sorrow was published in 2020, to thunderous pandemic acclaim. The sixth book in the series, Mickey's Mayhem, will come out in 2021. Dick lives and writes in Cape Elizabeth.
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