Guest Post: N. Frank Daniels

On November 11, 2006, I wrote an article for Susan Henderson’s lit website LitPark, titled “After the Goldrush.” The article was a death knell for my pursuit of a writing career and a salute to all of us who have this same affliction. I’d doggedly chased a publishing deal for close to 3 years. I built a fanbase, I self-published, I marketed, I went on a self-funded book tour. Countless, innumerable hours had been spent writing and editing and editing and editing and chasing down leads and trying to connect with already-established writers, as well as up-and-comers like myself. Alliances were formed and broken. Invective was spewed and tension came to the breaking point at home between me and my wife. Money was tighter than ever. I worked a few bullshit “normal” jobs but my main concern was somehow getting a publishing deal so that not only would I having some sort of significant income, but to justify that irretrievable time spent howling in frustration and leaving my family in a self-imposed exile while I conspired for yet another angle to make my work known.

By the time I wrote the piece for Susan Henderson I had made the decision that enough was enough. I couldn’t continue on in the same trajectory or I would destroy myself and everyone I loved. So I quit. For a week. Maybe two. Then I went back to the office I had tucked away in the back corner of my garage and I was worse than ever. It was a drug, this desire, this need for recognition in my vocation. I had decided that my need to write was far more than a career decision. You decide on a job. This was something far more ingrained in me than a mere job. This was a yearning to create, an unquenchable desire to defy every odd that said what I was doing was impossible.

Needless to say, with renewed vigor I went back to work like a drug addict in need of just one more fix; a permanent search for validation and an acknowledgement that I hadn’t wasted three years of my and my family’s lives. By the following summer I had gotten no closer to a book deal. So I did the next logical thing. No, I didn’t change my focus to finding a “realistic” career. I wrote a second book with the brilliant idea that this time I’d have better luck in doing what I couldn’t do with futureproof. Do you see the insanity of this shit? Of course you do. If you’re reading this you are as intimately aware of the psychosis of the writing bug as I am. It’s the stick with the carrot perpetually out of reach.

“But wait,” you say. “You’re being published by a major. You are proof that we do make it if we just persevere long enough.” And I reply to you, “But at what cost?” You are a little more wrinkled every time you look in the mirror and attempt to reevaluate your entire life, this life spent on chasing dreams that the great majority of us will never reach.

So what’s my point, right? Only that maybe each and every one of us needs to step back and really decide what is most important in our lives. Is it really so important that our writing is acknowledged as being OK? What would you give to land that dream deal? The pinky on your hand? A year off your life? Ten years? I come to you as a man who graduated at the top of his college class and was expected to make great waves in the world through whatever profession I ended up pursuing. I come to you now as a man with two beautiful children, 8 and 12 years old. I come to you as a man married to the woman of his dreams. And I also come to you as a man who has lost EVERYTHING. The house with a fenced-in acre of land and the four cats and the two dogs and the treehouse in the back yard—gone. Every stick of furniture—gone. All but a few books from a library of over 4,000 volumes—gone. The wife and children living in a different state 900 miles away. My every possession fits in a duffle bag and a fucking backpack. And this is supposed to be the realization of the dream? Seriously?

I have literally lost my entire life in exchange for the success we all crave so desperately. But I have an agent. I have a publisher. I’m incredibly well-connected to other amazingly successful authors, authors who I have read and idolized for years, writers who I could never imagine talking to let alone speaking with on a professional basis. I have these writers’ phone numbers in my cellphone. I could call any of them right now and talk about how fucked I feel. But I don’t. Because that would be ungrateful right?

Look, I know this all comes off as ungrateful. I can understand how any one of you could read this and think I’m a giant prick for living the dream and not appreciating it as much as you would. To which I smile and nod. And then look down at my Doc Martens and see them worn to nearly nothing because I have been wandering the streets of four different U.S. cities in the last six months, trying to find something to root me, to somehow make this “success” feel like that and not like some sick joke.

But for me the juice, as the man says, was not worth the squeeze.

So what are you willing to do for this Klondike Bar? Walk like a chicken? Swim to New York? Whatever it is, be sure it is worth it because I promise you, there will be sacrifice. You will most likely walk away, but there will be a noticeable limp.

I know you think I exaggerate. Jesus Christ is this guy melodramatic, right? I don’t expect you to look at this as the typical result. Typically none of you are going to reach your goal. That’s not me being mean, it’s me being realistic. It’s pretty much dumb luck that I have the success I have (not) enjoyed. It’s all about connection. And random passings. And the trading of one thing for another. You know that’s why all writers have been divorced at least once right? We can’t be lived with. We can’t see anything but this. We can’t be anything but this. Or can we? Can you walk away? Would you?

When my wife left she sang me a song by Regina Spektor called “Samson.” The lyrics kill me every time I hear the song.

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first, I loved you first
Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth
I have to go, I have to go
Your hair was long when we first met

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
He ate a slice of wonder bread and went right back to bed
And the history books forgot about us and the bible didnt mention us
The bible didnt mention us, not even once

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first , I loved you first
Beneath the stars came falling on our heads
But they’re just old light
They’re just old light
Your hair was long when we first met

Samson came to my bed
Told me that my hair was red
Told me I was beautiful and came into my bed
I cut his hair myself one night
A pair of dull scissors in the yellow light
And he told me that I’d done alright
and he kissed me till the morning light the morning light
and he kissed me till the morning light

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
Ate a slice of wonder bread
and went right back to bed
We couldn’t break the columns down
No, we couldn’t destroy a single one
and the history books forgot about us
and the bible didnt mention us
not even once

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first

I’m sorry you guys. I don’t want to be like this. I’m just broken and I can’t stand the thought of anyone else within my earshot going through this. We have to stop being ghosts. We have to find some kind of balance and maybe come to realize that this isn’t what we have built it up to be in our heads.

So in the meantime I continue writing in my isolation, determined to make something of this, to somehow prove myself still worthy of my family. I would have given anything to understand that that had been the case all along. With or without the Book Deal.

Frank Daniels reads from his newly published novel, futureproof (Harper Perennial), on the following dates:

Feb. 10, 2009
A Cappella Book Bash at the Highland Inn Ballroom
Atlanta, GA
7:00 p.m.

Feb. 17, 2009
Davis-Kidd Booksellers
Green Hills
Nashville, TN
7:00 p.m.

March 11, 2009
Book Soup
w/ Jerry Stahl
Los Angeles, CA
7 p.m.

  • This is really sad, Frank.

  • Sad, but honest – which makes the best writing.

  • I’ve had the pleasure of talking and emailing with Frank a few times. This post is incredible in its honesty. I would give my pinkie to avoid being so honest out loud quicker than I’d give a pinkie for an agent.

    Admittedly, I’m one of those who, even after hearing about what Frank (Frank, if you’re reading this, what YOU) have gone thorough, envied him the agent, the big publisher. But, of course, not the loss – and if you envy someone one thing, you have to envy all of it. That’s just how it works.

    Frank’s is not a typical story in any way, like he said. POD turned Harper, the family for book-deal trade. It’s the most unfortunate thing I can imagine, as someone who wants to see my book on a real book shelf, to be given that opportunity but to not be able to enjoy it, as happened to Frank.

    But, having talked to him, I’m convinced this is like anything else in life: a temporary phase. It can’t, and won’t, last forever, and one way or another, the family stuff will be worked out, and more books will be written, and with any luck he’ll see his family wasn’t the price he paid to get published. It was just bad timing.

    And I hope that at least every once in a while, while sitting alone at night and wondering how the hell he ended up in Nashville (where I, too, live), he is able for at least a few seconds to recognize that he’s realized a dream and, if even for those few seconds, appreciate and enjoy it. Or toast to it. Or something.


    P.S. (True about the divorce stuff. I’ve been divorced twice! I don’t know if it’s because I’m a writer, though.)