by Jerry Waxler
Writers who aspire to publish a book are eager to reach the finish line. Then when they cross the line, that particular race is over but life goes on and presents new challenges. I asked Stephen Markley a few questions about how what changed after he published “Publish this Book.”
Does writing a memoir limit your life?
Jerry Waxler: Your writing teacher didn’t want you to publish this book because he warned you that your first book defines you, and he said the memoir “wasn’t you.” Is this another bit of satire? I’m not sure how a memoir wouldn’t be you?
Your writing teacher’s advice is probably not that far off from one of the common fears I’ve heard from many aspiring memoir writers. They are afraid that if they write their memoir, it would mean their life is over, as if at the end of the memoir they are supposed to put down pencils down the way you would during an exam, and everything after that is cheating.
So what do you think, now that you’ve published it? Was the writing teacher right? Did it lock you into a direction you didn’t want to go? Was it the end?
Stephen Markley: I certainly hope it’s not the end. Look, I want from my career what every writer wants: the ability to choose whatever project interests me regardless of commercial relevance. Whether this will ever happen remains to be seen. I certainly found it was easier to publish a non-fiction book, so I can’t disregard that, but I do want to write fiction and follow my other passions and let my intellectual curiosity take me where it will. What my professor feared was that I would be essentially trapped in this young-guy-snarks-on-the-world shtick without any way of returning to some of that darker literary territory that I was writing when we first met.
To a degree, that trap has been sprung and I am caught in it, but I’m not worried yet. “Publish This Book” is partly an advertisement for books to come: it’s saying to readers, “Hey, here’s what I did with a memoir. Any interest in other genres?” To the extent that I get people telling me that they look forward to reading a novel, I think it’s succeeding in some small way.
Basically, I’ve resigned myself to being a writer with a small following. I doubt I’ll ever have the mainstream success of some of those big-timers who can throw together a book based on a reliable script every year or so. It’s just not who I am, and writing the same book over and over again does not interest me.
Marketing the book
Jerry: Are you really running around to colleges the way you planned to do in the book?
Stephen: Well, I just quit my job at Cars.com and plan to spend the summer out and about on the east coast driving around doing bookstore signings. Then in the fall, I’m going to go full bore at colleges again. My reasoning is that if ever there was a time to be young and unemployed and a little stupid, this is it. I’ll stay with friends, drink a lot, and kiss a pretty girl or two. I doubt I’ll look back when I’m fifty and wonder what would have been if I’d stayed in my cubicle making a reliable $35k a year.
Jerry: What are you working on for your next project?
Stephen: What I’m working on now is either an unwieldy disaster that I will give up at some point or an inspired fictional experiment. I feel the same way about it now as I did when I was at roughly the same point in writing “Publish This Book”: I’m not at all sure if it’s going to work, but I’m having a hell of a lot of fun writing it. It’s about writing (again), but also about the current cultural and political epoch. I have a feeling almost everything I write for the rest of my life will in some way be about the past decade: the years 2001-2010 have just been too breathtaking in horrific and wonderful ways to not dedicate an entire branch of literature to them.
Mostly, I just want “Publish This Book” to sell enough copies and garner enough fans that I can write and publish for the rest of my life. It’s really rare to get an opportunity like this: to be young and single and unattached and constantly inspired and ferociously hungry. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get every idea I have onto paper. I sometimes blink and wonder if all this has actually happened for me. Only once, I spotted someone in public reading my book. It was on the Brown Line in Chicago, and I did a double-take when I saw the cover. I just wanted to walk up and hug her.
To read my review of the book, click here.
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.
To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.