22 March 2019

Staying a Writer

by O'Neil De Noux

"The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer." Harlan Ellison.

So true. So true. I've seen it more than once.

In 1988, when my first book (GRIM REAPER) was published, it debuted with a book by another New Orleans writer, a younger man with plenty promise, the critics declared. The same critics praised my book for its hyper-realistic depiction of police work, albeit the cops in my book drank too much coffee and used too much profanity. Never been in a police station. Obviously.

The young writer was Tony Buchsbaum and he wrote a good novel called TOTAL ECLIPSE, which deserved praise. According to Amazon.com, it is the only book Tony wrote. I remember him lamenting the fact his book was not a bestseller and the lack of a large advance for a follow-up book.

He seemed to fade away. Never heard about him again.

Not long after, a fellow named Seth Morgan was released from prison and wrote a book called HOME BOY. He became the toast of the New Orleans media and literary society. An ex-con who  wrote a good book. Only problem – he was jerk. Met him at a signing and he was loud, crude, rude, and bragged about being on cocaine. One night, he crashed his motorcycle into the steel railing of the Saint Claude Avenue bridge over the Industrial Canal. He took his girlfriend with him. He was a jerk. No, he didn't fade away. He killed himself and an innocent person in an horrific crash.

Sheila Bosworth wrote two excellent novels - ALMOST INNOCENT and SLOW POISON. Have not heard anything from her since the early 1990s.

Other local writers faded away from writing over the years. Some ran out of gas. Some bemoaned the writing life, the depressing business side of writing.

One who did not and inspired me is Valerie Martin, whom I met when she was between publishers. She told me to never stop writing, no matter how your career is going. It was not long before she linked up with a new publisher and her new book came out – MARY REILLY, nominated for the World Fantasy Best Novel Award and nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel. It was made into a movie.

I met Kate Wilhelm when I lived in Oregon and she was nice enough to ask about my writing. One thing she said was to keep writing and hone your craft. It is your craft.

We writers know the desire comes from within. We just cannot let the world put out that fire in us.

One of our cats helping me work

That's all for now.


  1. If all's one in it (the writing biz) is for money, and if they don't have that major success, I think they will fade away. It has to be in your blood and you have to do it because you *have* to do it and then you will likely succeed at one level or another. Maybe not Michael Connelly/John Grisham level, but at least enough to sustain you in your desire, if not financially.

  2. I strongly suspect you will see more writers fade away because of the current economics of the publishing scene. People may not stop writing, but with the plethora of free reading material, the consolidation of the industry and the omnipresence of the big on line giants, publishing may become ever more unsatisfying and difficult.

  3. Great post O'Neil.

    I remember reading Seth Morgan's Home Boy and being blown away. But I also read what he was like as a person. I loved Mary Reilly, too.

    I agree with Janice that there will be even more (N)one-hit wonders from now on, too. I conduct writing workshops where people consistently tell me about their masterpiece in progress (but won't hire me to edit it), and I keep waiting so see a publication date. It's hard, even harder now for the reasons Janice mentions.

    I've encountered many people who say they're going to self-publish...until they discover how much effort THAT involves. Self-publishing means you have to know some of the stuff the publishers, editors, and agents could do for you back when.

    Ernie loves the picture of your cat, too.

  4. Some people only have one novel in them, or is that an excuse for quitting? Gone with the wind, Mr Roberts, To kill a mockingbird...

  5. While a great many writers drop off the radar because they stop writing, sometimes we just lose track of them. A writer may disappear under one byline but reappear under another, or a writer known in one genre may shift focus and begin writing in another.

    What many beginning writers—especially those who quit writing altogether—often don't understand is how difficult sustaining a writing career really is. Being a writer isn't as strenuous as coal mining, but it does involve a significant amount of soul-crushing rejection, and not every writer can deal with the stress. The rest of us are masochists.

  6. O'Neil, nice article.

    And, to go along with what Rob said, I didn't have that one great novel in me, so I wrote a lot of short stories. Not literary ones, mind you, but rather a good commercial quality (in my mind anyway). Kind of a write what you know type of thing.

  7. Sometimes a writer needs someone else to prod them back to writing. Around 2007 or so, I'd had two short stories published, gotten one award nomination, and stopped writing. I was so busy at work and when I came home at night all I wanted to do was read and watch TV and play with my dog. But a very good published author (and friend) who lived nearby invited me to join a new writing group she was forming. She told me I didn't have to write anything. I could just read what the others were writing and give critique. It would enable me to meet more people, she said. So I said yes, and as my friend expected, I soon was inspired by this writing group and started writing again, and I haven't stopped since. Sometimes a nudge really can help.

  8. A great post O'Neil-this was the shot in the arm I needed. Perfect leading off w/ Ellison, a tough won't-back-down writer if there ever was one. Love how Ellison stood up to Sinatra in Gay Talese's Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.

  9. Thanks for the comments. Glad I did not put anyone to sleep this time.

  10. Allan and I have often talked about the days when we lived in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta - all artists (of every kind) and wanna be artists and winos and druggies and very cheap rent. And how few of the artists from then are still at it. It's a hard life, because most of us have had to work 9-5 to pay the bills, and then come home and work on the art. And you have to be able to shake off rejection like a dog shakes off water. But... we're still here. Still doing it. That counts.


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