Achilles was, of course, the greatest of all the warriors of Greek mythology and the magnificent champion of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. Here’s a brief (and, I hope, mostly accurate) retelling of part of his story.
Achilles’ father was Peleus, a mortal human, but his mother was the immortal sea nymph Thetis.
Thetis, being a good mother, wanted to protect her darling offspring, so she held the infant Achilles by one of his heels and dipped him in the river Styx to make him invulnerable. (What mothers won’t do for their children!) That one spot left him defenseless on his heel, but it also lent his name to the strong, fibrous cord that connects the muscles on the back of the calf to the heel bone, an area that’s susceptible to overuse injury. Ask any runner.
Back to the story: Although Achilles’ physical body was well protected, his ego was easily bruised. At the start of The Iliad, the epic poem about the Trojan War, we find Achilles pouting in his tent because the leader of the Greek forces has commandeered Achilles’ war prize for himself. Achilles can afford to be a spoiled brat. The Greeks need him to win the war, and he knows it.
Without Achilles on the battlefield, the tide of war turns against the Greeks, and a team of Greek leaders visit Achilles to try to convince him to return to battle. But Achilles isn’t ready to abandon his version of victimhood, and he tells them he’s considering giving it all up and going home. So there. He explains that his goddess mother told him he would have two options in life: a) he would fight in the Trojan War and die gloriously, or b) he would return home to live a long, but uneventful, life.
It’s a great metaphor for the options we have and the choices we make in our own battles.
* * *
As writers, we’ve made a choice to bequeath something of ourselves to posterity.
So, TKZers: in the manner of the Achilles options, I present two hypothetical possibilities for your writing life and livelihood. Please pick one of the following:
Option A) You are a wildly successful author. Your books live on the New York Times best seller list for months. You make millions, and you’re sought after for interviews and guest appearances on the most popular talk shows. But fifty years after your death, your books are considered prosaic. They’re almost never read, and your name has disappeared from all things literary, never to be seen again.
Option B) You’re a midlist author. You may eke out a living with your writing, or you may have to work another job to stay alive. But you have a story to tell, and you work hard at the craft. Fifty years after your death, your books are “discovered.” You’re hailed as one of the hundred best authors of the twenty-first century, and your books are cited as classics for hundreds of years.
Which option would you choose?
Option A describes Louis Bromfield to a T. I don’t think anyone reads him much anymore except for Malabar Farm and that only rarely.
I’ve got a long term WIP in which a couple of back to the landers buy an old run down farm and name it New Malabar.
I’ll take B.
Interesting observation about Louis Bromfield. I haven’t read anything by him.
I like the sound of “New Malabar.” Good luck with it! Sounds like Option B is the right choice.
No signs yet that Path A is likely. I have some small hope that my novels and monographs may possibly follow B.
Good morning, JG!
Excellent choice. Although we never know what good fortune may come our way tomorrow, it’s a good idea to look beyond that. Besides, who would want to be famous?
Best wishes for all your writing.
B – Legacy. I’d like it to be guaranteed, and maybe have a taste of it, but I’ve spent 23 years on my mainstream trilogy, it’s going to take as much as five more years to finish, and people keep telling me they like it – but it’s not for everyone.
Obscurity with praise and no help is difficult; the good reviews keep me writing, but my total lack of finding the right marketing is starting to get old. That’s not quite true: I would finish with or without the reviews.
But as much as that is possible, it’s been designed a certain way, and I’d like to see that succeed by finding that rarefied audience. When a small percentage is multiplied by a worldwide population of eight billion, the actual number of potential readers is very large, just widely scattered.
It’s a digital world: scattered shouldn’t matter any more. Hope it gets figured out.
Good morning, Alicia!
“Obscurity with praise and no help is difficult.” You’ve identified one of the main issues so many of us face. But a life’s work deserves to be remembered, and your devotion to your project is inspiring. Best wishes for much success – whenever it comes.
Your answer made me think: I need to pay attention to the money side of marketing. Figure out how to make it matter to someone/something that benefits. Clearly, if something indie sells well, the author has benefited.
But that has no multiplication effect. Legacy needs more than, “It was a good book and sold well in its time.” Legacy needs FUTURE ‘why do we still read this, what can it teach us?’ answers. Legacy needs teachers who name a book part of required curricula. Jane Eyre is still taught.
A prime example in that kind of thinking (and I’m wondering how much of it was design, how much luck) is The Handmaid’s Tale. I read it when it came out. Eerie. Remembered it, but wasn’t that taken with many of Atwood’s other books. Atwood benefited from original content with a highly visual component – in the days of streaming services greedy for ideas.
And now all you have to say is ‘Gilead’ to invoke a whole host of side effects we’re seeing now as some states try to control what is none of their business without paying for the consequences. Eerie – in a different way, and all too real. Luck – and being in the right place at the right time?
Some luck can be manufactured.
And even going viral can fizzle quickly if there is no staying power.
It’s out there somewhere.
Door A. Who cares about fame after you’re dead? Not me. Gimme the instant gratification, please.
Good morning, Laura!
You’re the first to pick Option A. There’s a lot to be said for getting that recognition and reward while you can enjoy it on this earth.
Good luck. (And don’t forget to mention TKZ when you’re being interviewed after winning the Pulitzer! 🙂 )
If “A Confederacy of Dunces” can win the Pulitzer Prize, ANYBODY can win the Pulitzer.
That’s an interesting question. Call me shallow but I go with A. I can control my destiny only to some degree during my life. Fifty years after I lay down for the dirt nap, not so much. I’d rather ride and guide (and enjoy) the success in the here and now.
Thanks for the great brain worm that I’ll be thinking about all day, Kay. Have a great week.
Good morning, Joe!
Another vote for Option A. I can understand choosing it. Riding and guiding success can open up a lot of other options.
I love the way you put this: “Fifty years after I lay down for the dirt nap …” It brought a big smile to my face.
Have a great week.
A very interesting question. After I leave this earthly life I’m not going to care what anyone thinks of my writing so if my stories go into obscurity, so what?
Financial success would be great but I cringe at the thought of having to do talk shows etc. I’m an “under the radar” type of person. On the other hand, I have occasionally entertained the notion of what it would be like to have something I wrote ‘discovered’ after I’m gone.
So my answer is a firm “C” – a workable combo of A&B. LOL!!!!!!
Good morning, BK!
Our first Option C! Choosing A or B can be hard when we really want parts (or all) of each. But that’s what makes it so interesting. And so much like real life.
When I wrote the post, I originally added a sentence that you had to choose A or B. No combinations. But then I deleted that restriction to see if anyone would make up their own option. I have a feeling you’re going to start a trend.
Have a great week!
Although I doubt either would happen, and I’m definitely closer to the B category, some immediate gratification might be nice. When I’m dead, I’m dead. And, honestly, given my current body of work, it’s not going to be hailed as anything other than an interesting way to pass some time.
Good morning, Terry!
As my mother used to say, “I think you’re selling yourself short.” We don’t know how the current market will change or what lies in the future. (Just ask Vincent van Gogh.)
Here’s to a legacy where the good guys always win and justice is always served.
Have a great week.
Interesting, fun discussion, Kay!
I’m all about legacy, so I’ll go with B. I doubt that my books will ever be considered “classics,” but I am content hoping that my books will be discovered by my grandchildren and their children and so on. My last teen fantasy was about a wizard who hoped to achieve immortality by passing his “life code” down through the generations with immunizations. We can hope to achieve a legacy of life lessons that will persist in this world while we pass on to another.
Great post. Have a wonderful week!
Good morning, Steve!
I thought about you when I was writing this post. What could be a better example of Option B than writing stories to provide entertainment and life lessons for our families? Yours is a wonderful legacy, and your children and grandchildren are fortunate indeed.
Have a great week!
I also choose option a, but for very different reasons.
I feel that “classics” very quickly lose their power and their message gets diluted down to “what’s the theme.” Also, I firmly believe that people should be reading modern authors, exploring issues with a modern lens. So if option a comes with having a great impact on readers today, I’d gladly choose it.
Good morning, Azali!
I like your perspective. Option A would certainly have impact on modern readers, so it’s a valid choice.
I hope you books will impact many readers, both now and in the future.
No reason to choose, really. I strive for Option A, but I also set up a holding entity (corporation) and estate plan so Option B will carry on without me. The right people can make a lot of money on my IP over the next 70 years after I go off-planet. 🙂
I quoted an IP attorney today on this very topic at https://hestanbrough.com/a-great-comment-on-estate-planning-for-writers/.
Good morning, Harvey!
Thanks for mentioning estate planning. An important part of the legacy.
I took a look at the link and the listing of your works. 72 novels! Plus novellas and short stories. Bravo!
Excellent comment and link, Harvey.
Thanks for mentioning this, Harvey, and for the link!
Thought provoking question indeed, Kay. My birthday was yesterday, and these days, that reminds me that my time here is not forever, and at the same time, what matters is each moment and how we spend it. That is so very true for writing. When I began dreaming of selling novels years ago, I imagined myself as a best-selling novelist. When I finally began publishing my novels, I dreamed of indie bestsellerdom.
Now, what I want to do is reach readers and make a difference for them by creating and sharing compelling fiction. Which is a round about way of saying Option B, but not for the reason of being “discovered” fifty years later, but rather, for telling my stories and working on my craft now. Those are things that give me pleasure as a writer. Writing for love of story more than for money–provided I’ve covered expenses and am in the black.
Thanks for a great post to start the week with!
Good morning, Dale!
“Writing for love of story more than for money.” Well said. The desire to learn and grow in the craft will certainly produce works that will stand the test of time.
Have a great week!
Kay, thanks for the review of the Achilles story. I read The Iliad way back in sixth grade and had forgotten the details.
What a tough question and thought-provoking answers. I like Brenda’s C option. Fame is definitely not my choice but it would be gratifying to have an effect, however small, on present-day readers. And I wouldn’t turn down the fortune. But it would also be nice for the books to stand the test of time.
Good morning, Debbie!
You were way ahead of me. I read The Iliad in college! It’s one of my favorite books.
Yeah, this is a tough choice. An Option C would definitely be nice.
Btw, kudos on your new book. That may get you Option C.
Fame and fortune isn’t the reason I write, but extra money to travel the world would be nice, as is recognition for all the hours I spend at the keyboard. I also want to leave a legacy. So, I’ll have to go with the new option C. 😉
What would you choose, Kay?
The new Option C seems to be getting popular, and it’s easy to understand why. I especially like “recognition for all the hours I spend at the keyboard.”
You ask what I would choose. I have no interest in fame. As a matter of fact, I recoil at the thought of people invading my privacy. As far as money is concerned, I hold to Proverb 30:8 that says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” So Option A isn’t very appealing to me.
However, I do write purposefully. Like Terry, I harbor no illusions that my books will ever be hailed as classics. However, if any young women read my books and understand that life is deeper than the latest trend of fashion or lifestyle, and that a humble search for wisdom and truth is worth the effort, then I’ll be satisfied. More than satisfied–I’ll be honored.
I think that puts me squarely in Option B land.
Very few people are destined for great fame (or infamy) in life, along with the wealth that often accompanies it. Most of us slog along in whatever career we’ve chosen (or which chooses us).
As a Christian, I know where I’m going. What’s required to get to eternal life? Certainly not fame or wealth. Now, if we’ve worked hard at something that helped people, even if it was only enough to provide them with a few hours of escape or entertainment, that’s something. If our work helped inspire people to lead better lives, even better. But none of that does any good, either, if you don’t have faith in the first place.
Well said, David.
Great discussion, Kay!
First, I have to define success for myself.
Success is when just one person stops me, and with tears tells me to my face that she couldn’t put my book down, and what the story meant to her. I really can’t put a price on that.
And as far as a legacy, I go with Mark Batterson in “Chase the Lion”: “Write, not just for today’s reader, but for the third and fourth generation.”
I guess that means I’m a B, huh?
Love the quote: “Write, not just for today’s reader, but for the third and fourth generation.” Definitely sounds like a B to me, Deb.
Option A isn’t going to work in the time I have left. Option B is a nice thought but not likely. Option C – sounds good, but I’m going to go for Option D and that’s to keep on creating stuff and see where this ends up. Good topic, Kay!
Option D! “keep on creating stuff and see where this ends up.” Sounds like a good way to look at things.
Have a great week, Garry.