Write, and Live Forever

by James Scott Bell

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Growing up in SoCal I was privileged to meet Ray Bradbury on a couple of occasions and hear him speak several times. He loved libraries, and one evening spoke at the local branch were I first learned to love books.

There he told his famous story about a meeting that changed his life. As he recounted:

One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end….He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.

And Bradbury does live forever…through his books! His wonderful body of work will always be there to be discovered by new generations of readers. In junior high I read The Illustrated Man. It fired me up to think that perhaps someday I could write things this marvelous. In college that desire got knocked out of me by some who looked at my attempts and sniffed and told me you cannot learn to become a writer. You either have it or you don’t, and I didn’t.

Only many years later did that desire re-emerge, and I knew I had to try and keep trying.

Bradbury’s work was still pulsating inside me, like electricity. I picked up his book, Zen in the Art of Writing, and the current got hotter. I started living forever.

We have various reasons we write. Of course, we all want to make some dough, but there are other reasons, not the least of which is the pure joy of storytelling.

And for others (like Mr. Steve Hooley) there is the desire to leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren.

When I started to get published, I knew I wanted to write books that my kids could someday look at and not be embarrassed. Or think, Dad wrote THAT???

One of the joys of being an indie writer is that my forever books become available within 24 hours of completion (meaning done, edited, corrected, proofread and with a good cover).

But one of the challenges of being an indie writer, especially for the impatient, is putting out a book, as Orson Welles used to say about wine, “before its time.”

I recall reading a piece by an early indie pioneer who posited that maybe the idea is to be fast and not worry about top quality. To wit:

Why write longer? Why write better? What’s the benefit?…Now, I’m not talking about releasing a book with errors in it; plot problems, story problems, typos, formatting probs, and so on…I’m talking about releasing a book that would average 3.7 stars from readers, whereas if I spent an extra month on it, I could average 4.2. Seems like a gigantic waste of time.

Admittedly this was a thought experiment, and presented a rational argument. I thought about it for awhile. Then decided I couldn’t do it. For me, the extra time is worth it because…living forever!

It’s like the corpse of Sonny Corleone, shot up at the toll booth. Don Corleone has the body taken to the undertaker, Bonasera. As the Don looks at the body, he begins to weep. “Look how they massacred my boy.” He wants Bonasera to use all of his powers and skills to make the body look presentable for Sonny’s mother.

Now, this metaphor is not perfect. I don’t produce corpses upon first draft (at least I hope not!) But I do want to use all of my powers and skills to make my books the best they can be. They will be here long after I’ve gone to my Final Review.

Do you think about that when you write? What your books will mean to others—especially those close to you—after you’ve gone? Do you have legacy in mind? Perhaps not, which is okay. I’m not advocating any one position. Let’s talk about it.