Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Extraordinary piccolo players, and the madness of writers.

The good thing and the bad thing about this journal is the sheer volume of feedback, and sensible intelligent comments and questions and so on. Which is good because I never don't know what to write in here -- I just grab at random a few things from the mailbag and everything takes care of itself.

For example: one offhand comment about authors being a few piccolo players short of an orchestra generated the following:

Dear Neil:

"they've been convinced their father was several piccolo players short of a full orchestra for many years"

Orchestras generally have at most one piccolo player, if that. If the piece doesn't call for a piccolo, the piccolo player can sometimes be found playing the flute.

So you're okay, since you don't need the piccolos for a full orchestra. (And everyone hates the piccolo player, anyway. Prima donna, just flits in and out, with an instrument that get shoved easily in a school bag. Tuba-players really hate the piccolo player)

Former clarinet player
PS - I'm finally visiting Manhattan! Any recommendations on weird travel advisory websites?

Well, is very wonderful (I've plugged it here before).

An orchestra short of piccolo players would be unusually pleasant and harmonious, and you can tell your kids I said so, and I play the damn instrument.

And I was ready to tell them, when this came in, from my son Mike.

"which will undoubtedly make my kids feel vindicated: they've been convinced their father was several piccolo players short of a full orchestra for many years"

I think I should point out that we think you're "several piccolo players short" not because you are a writer but because we know you and you are several piccolo players short...


Love lots,

your son

Which I thought was hilarious.

Someone else wants to know what I think about the article I linked to that inspired the comment in question.

Hi Neil, I just thought I drop a line, after reading Michael Blowhard's "Read this first" (which, as much as it should have put me off, hasn't...). The question which bubbled to the front of my brain as I read this was: "What would Neil(or Jeff, or Chuck, or Janice, whoever) say?"
I noticed your quiet (very english) semi-evasion of the topic, and it aroused my curiousity - what's your point of view, as a published, "Professional" writer? Is it an impossible dream? Should we all snap our pens, pour black coffee onto our Imacs and go to hollywood to chase a less elusive career?
I'm sure you've recieved many such FAQ questions, but I thought another voice in a crowd couldn't hurt.

I don't know that I can be objective. On the one hand, in a country of, what, nearly 300 million people, there are a few hundred novel writers, if that, who support themselves only though writing fiction, maybe another few hundred, at most a thousand, who completely support themselves scriptwriting for films and TV, and at a guess somewhere around 50 people who support themselves writing comics. And as someone who is earning more than a decent living wage from all three fields, I know I'm in a tiny, very very lucky minority.

On the other hand, it really is 90% just showing up and doing the work, and doing it as well as you can. (I remember one comics writer, now long gone from the field, telling me I was an idiot for spending 3-4 weeks on a Sandman script. She'd figured out how much her time was worth, and never took more than 24 hours to write a single issue of a comic. On the other hand, all the Sandmans have stayed in print, in trade paperback, for year after year, and have more than repaid the effort I put into them.) A certain, single-minded, idiot persistence in the face of all odds is certainly very useful.

So it's obviously not an impossible dream, as far as I'm concerned. And it probably is for a lot of other people. And some of them may find, as with any dream, that once you've got it, it's not what you want any longer.

And furthermore, when you take away the condition of "making a living" and add in those writers who teach, or doctor, or police, or do another kind of writing, or whatever, to make the money to supplement or to support their writing habits, you get a lot more "working writers" out there -- and a lot more varied author biographies.

And while I was typing that, another message came in about Piccolo players...

several piccolo players short of a full orchestra

As I try to imagine the effect of having more than one person playing piccolo at a time, I pray whatever powers that be that you may indeed be several piccolo players short of a full orchestra. Have you ever heard multiple piccolos? There's a reason for the joke:

How do you get two piccolo players to play in tune? Shoot one.

(I didn't know there were piccolo jokes. I'd heard viola jokes, and banjo jokes, and too many accordion jokes, but no piccolo player jokes.)

Okay. Time to be helpful before bed -- I'm looking for a link you mentioned a while back - somebody that makes very strange, well, teddy bears and plush toys, with big teeth, horns, eyes and so on. I hope that this makes sense.

Thanks. Love the blog and the books, BTW.


Ah, you're probably thinking of Windy Lewis's Morbid Tendencies site: is a good place to start, but make sure you click on the info about the Bunny of the Month Club. (The last one to arrive, about ten days ago, was a Bunny-skin Rug. The one the month before that had two heads. "Oh," said my wife. "Finally one that isn't disturbing. Two heads. Well, compared to most of the bunnies she sends, that's kind of sweet." "Yes," said Maddy, happily, who had seen what I had seen immediately. "And look, one of the heads is dead!")

The Onion from the past (today, it's 1957) contains my favourite Onion story: Science Fiction Writers have the Bomb!