Writing from the Cheap Seats By Laurie_Steed
In fourteen years of writing, I’ve established something of a reputation.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t get window seats at restaurants or all that many free books, aside from the considered review copies, as sent by a handful of Melbourne-based publishers. I made more money participating in a Twitter novella than I did for any short story I’ve published, and I’m often told that my writing is ‘a bit gritty’ or ‘difficult.’
I write this on a plane, on my way to the Melbourne and Sydney Shibboleth launches. While MRP publisher, Caroline Wood has helped with an airfare contribution (Thanks, Caroline), I’m bearing around two-thirds of the flight costs, and all of the accommodation.
I took the trip because I believe in publishers like MRP, and just as much in the writers they publish. I believe that Australian literary culture can be a lot more vibrant and diverse than it currently is. That every time Margaret River Press publishes a collection, I find a new writer, or twelve, to love, or rediscover.
I booked the wrong terminal for my airport parking and so sat, at 7 am waiting for a terminal transfer. The driver asked why I didn’t just buy a ticket for the closer terminal when I realised my mistake.
I wanted to say, nappies, marshmallows, and corn crackers for my baby boy. I wanted to say the cost of mailing my manuscript to publishers, hoping, praying that someone gets this book, that they understand what I’m trying to say, and why it matters. I wanted to tell her that it’s hard to believe so much in your work, in the inherent value of books, and literature, and yet there’s little if any money in being a writer and editor of note.
I’m friends with many emerging writers, who hug me as though I’m a teddy or beloved blanket. ‘You’ve made it,’ they say, while I write pro-bono, edit for the cost of a doctor’s appointment, and check my bank balance, past ten at an all-night ATM.
So I’m on a plane, and everyone’s up, waiting for the one toilet or they’re watching Modern Family on their iPads, and it’s cool, and I’m lucky, and I’m broke.
But I love it. So I do it. I believe in many things that may or may not exist. The greater idea of a literary community, online or in person. Hope that a piece of feedback on another writer’s story will give them wings. That the years I’ve already spent writing are the early steps on the journey.
Hoping that the sun is only temporarily behind the clouds. That it matters that I made the trip, if only to the writers, like me, who write because it makes sense to them, and liberates them, and sometimes leads them out of darker spaces.
For fourteen years I’ve been writing from the cheap seats. They’ve been fourteen amazing years, too. I fell in and out of love with pie shakes in Iowa. I’ve been flanked by stray dogs in Sofia, Bulgaria. I’ve unintentionally broken down in tears at Varuna when the night’s conversation turned to topics I’d been trying to avoid.
I cry and laugh. I turn my pockets out, broke but still breathing, hoping one day there’s another book that bears my name, in time, when it’s ready.