What science fiction writers and comedians have in common

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Dear Marc Maron

For some reason this is a hard letter to write. I'm a relatively new fan of your podcast and your comedy, having come to it all through the broadcasts on WBEZ, but it seems like ages I've been trying to compose a thank you to you in my head. I mean, how hard should it be just to say I appreciate what you do and your show means a lot to me? Especially for a writer like me.

WTF with Marc Maron I'm 44 years old. My wife and I live in Chicago. I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction. Nothing glamorous like film or TV—I'm talking the basic stuff, prose on a page. None of which really explains why I've been chewing my way so voraciously through your podcast archive, or why I feel such a connection to what you do.

Part of it, I guess, is some of the weird correspondences with my life. I was born in Highland Park, for instance, where you now live, though I only lived there until I was six. (I was in L.A. in February, and I called my mom in Utah and told her I was planning to go visit the old house on Aldama Street. She said, "Oh, I don't think that's a very good idea." I went anyway with my buddy Ashir—the neighborhood was fine—and was surprised to see how small the house was, to remember how steep the hill was, and to hear parrots or some shit squawking in the big old trees.) I lived in Astoria for a long time, same as you, and it might be the best place I've ever lived. (Did you ever eat at Kabab Cafe on Steinway near 25th Ave? My favorite place in the world.) 5340 Aldama St. You have hassles getting into Canada—I can't even go to Canada, thanks to a ridiculous incident in Calgary when I was a stupid young 19-year-old Mormon missionary. (It's a long story.) I was on Air America ... um, one time, when Ron Kuby interviewed me a couple of years ago about a podcast I was doing. (See how I'm grasping at straws already? I should reassure you that I don't think there's some mystical, brothers-under-the-skin bond here. Cats are nice, but I'm a fucking dog person, okay?)

And I've pretty much toiled away at my chosen craft, the the thing I wanted to do from the time I was a kid, for the past twenty years without much tangible reward. I mean, other science fiction writers know me, and I have a handful of fans, but I've somehow managed to dodge widespread attention and financial security all these years. I've published about thirty short stories and novellas, and one slim collaborative novel, but the most popular thing I've written by far is a guide to professional manuscript formatting that gets thousands of times more hits online than my fiction ever has.

Whoa, let me veer back from the precipice of bitterness here for a minute. Didn't mean to go there so quickly.

A big, big part of what I love about WTF is the sheer joy of hearing two professionals talk about their craft with intelligence, passion, and familiarity. It doesn't matter that your craft is comedy and ours is making up stories about spaceships and virtual reality. There is a tremendous pleasure in listening in while people who have thought hard about their art, worked tirelessly at it, and internalized the history and craft of it reflect on what a life dedicated to that pursuit is like. I identify with it. I hear things that seem like they're lifted right out of my own life and out of my friends' lives, and it strikes a deep chord in me. (It also makes me miss my writer friends in New York, and explains why I take every opportunity to meet up with them and others at conferences around the country and talk about writing and get smashed together at the hotel bars.) Damn, there's just something about the way professional artists talk—especially ones to whom language is so crucial—that sucks me in and takes me to a better place.

But okay. If listening to WTF helps me feel a little bit more connected to a community of artists, helps me feel a bit smarter and more insightful about my own art, the absolutely biggest part of what inspires me is your personal journey.

I feel like I've walked a lot of those roads. Early promise, steady publication, but not much notice. Near misses with success. Projects I poured my heart into that went nowhere. Shitty agents who didn't get what I was about, content to sit back and wait for me to generate my own buzz. Good reviews, respect from my peers, even major award nominations—great things that nevertheless mean fuck-all to anyone outside the industry or to my ability to support myself. Professional jealousy—the soul-killing bitter envy at seeing my friends' names on best-seller lists, or getting optioned for movies or TV—that has led me to pull away from important friendships, to my own detriment. Undermining myself in a thousand other ways. Asking myself time and time again whether it's worth it to keep on doing what I do, worth the cost of my sanity, worth the cost of lying awake at night knowing the clock is ticking, I'm 44, and what the fuck have I done with my life so far? Wanting to give up, stop writing, but unable to because there are still things to say, and still a little, perverse, unkillable germ of hope down in there somewhere.

Listen, Marc, I know you're not rolling in dough, and I know you've still got plenty of demons. But goddammit, you hung in there and did stuff even when it seemed like there was nothing left to do. The fact that you kept yourself in the game and turned it around in what must have seemed like the bottom of the ninth—that is a giant fucking inspiration to me.

And I'm trying to hang in there. I have a good agent now, who is also a friend and who gets my stuff. Finally, after twelve years of work, I've finished the Big One and handed it in, the memoir about that missionary incident in Canada. (It really is a good story.) He'll start shopping the manuscript around after Labor Day, and I will try to stop thinking about it and start working on the next thing, a novel. Because I'm a professional, you know, and that's just what you do.

Look, we both know that talent and craft and hard work are not in and of themselves guarantees of anything. But what you and your show remind me, and what I need so badly to believe, is that sometimes the final necessary ingredient for success is just fucking hanging in there long enough. Just fucking gunning the engine until the tires stop spinning in place and some traction catches. Thank you for that from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.

Please believe me that I mean it as the highest of compliments when I say that listening to WTF is the next best thing to sitting around and talking about science fiction. With my friends. Which is what you seem like.

Best wishes,
Bill Shunn

P.S. I fucking love your new album, This Has to Be Funny. I keep playing bits from it for my wife. I think she's getting annoyed with me and amused by me in equal measure.

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/537311.html ]

TrackBacks

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.shunn.net/cgi-bin/managed-mt/mt-tb.cgi/5756

Leave a comment

Featured Book

William Shunn

About This Entry

This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on October 27, 2011 8:33 AM.

Boxed in was the previous entry in this blog.

The Ella Vader 2012 13-month calendar is available! is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Archives