Guest Post: Bill Baber

Recently, CS DeWildt was interviewed on The Unknown Show w/ Bud Smith. Hopefully, this will bring some exposure to his excellent new collection of short stories Dead Animals. I really think- and I don’t say this just because I know him- that his novella Candy & Cigarettes is one of the best things I have ever read. DeWildt is an original and if you have not read his work, well, I don’t know what the hell you’re waiting for.

Okay, now that I have pimped the dude for asking me to write a guest spot here and dropped my name during the interview I’ll get to the heart of the matter.

Old Bud asked Chris what other writers he was into and he mentioned some great ones- Joe Clifford, Isaac Kirkman, (another Don of the Tucson Noir Mafia) Brian Panowich, a pair of “Chris”es – Leek and Irvin, Chuck Regan and Ryan the Walnuts Sayles. And me.

But here is my dirty little secret, I consider these other guys to not only be pretty damn good writers but serious ones as well. I write, and have for a number of years yet I don’t consider myself a writer. Yeah, I used to write a newspaper column in Oregon that I got paid (little) for. And I had a gig writing for a blog that again, earned me a small amount of compensation. I have also had a book of poetry published that has sold about 104 copies and that is due to the fact that it was a pairing of chapbooks and the other fellows subsequent collection went on to be nominated for both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award.

Because of his stature in the Poetry World, we did a number of readings around Oregon. Looking back on them, they were excruciating. There were always middle aged woman at these readings who wore pinched up looks and I kept waiting for them to shout out right in the middle of a poem, “Your writing sucks!” It never happened but I know that’s what they thought. I have come to the conclusion that poetry is subjective and that at least half the people that attend poetry readings are there just to be critics. It didn’t matter than someone would buy a copy of the book; ask me to sign it telling me that one of my poems touched them in some profound way. I would still remember that woman in the second row with curly hair streaked with grey, Teva sandals and the North Face jacket that spent the entire night looking like her hemorrhoids were inflamed.

Poets themselves tended to be a touchy bunch, other than the fellow who I shared pages of the book with. He was a retired English professor who had grown up on his families Central Oregon cattle ranch and went off to New York to teach for thirty years.  After retirement, he returned to the ranch and spent his days writing. He is a wonderful guy and in some circles considered a major poet. He was always supportive as hell and I sure enjoyed the fact that the profits we made from book sales at readings were immediately spent on beer at the nearest pub.

However, as I said, I grew weary of the surliness of poets and the majority of folks who attended readings. Maybe it was just Oregon; they tend to take their poetry seriously up there.  Besides, I don’t like to read poetry so why was I writing it? Why not write what I liked to read? I sent my first attempt at crime fiction off to The Flash Fiction Offensive way back when Rey Gonzales was the editor. Much to my amazement, it was accepted.  Wow, I thought this is easy stuff. A string of stories followed at the usual places. When I thought I was good enough, I tried submitting to some publications that paid. That’s when I found out the truth, I wasn’t that good.*

After moving to Tucson, Chris invited me to read with him, Isaac Kirkman and Rich Osburne who made a special trip from L.A.The room was packed and it was the first time I had read my crime fiction. It was an amazing time, and it was the first time I felt as if my work was being completely appreciated. It was a damn fine feeling. And seeing Isaac Kirkman read was incredible. That’s right; Isaac has to be seen to be believed. DeWildt read From Dead Animals and the entire thing was just magic.

So, I write, I’ve been published and had a few successes. Last year, the respected British crime writer Paul D. Brazill even added a story of mine that was at Shotgun Honey to his best of the year list. So, why don’t I consider myself a writer? For the same reason I can change my own oil and don’t think of myself as a mechanic- it’s not what I spend most of my time doing. The other guys DeWildt mentioned? They write. Sure, some of them have day jobs but they still find time to write and I suspect most of them to it daily. Will Aiken is a friend from Bend who is the finest writer I know. He would wait tables all night, come home and while his family was asleep he would write. Chris DeWildt is a teacher yet he finds time to write every day. I use my job and family as excuses not to write. I snatch pieces of time to write like a kid stealing from the cookie jar. Sometimes, I feel guilty for doing so. A recent lit reactor piece mentioned ten ways to evaluate your writing career.  I failed every category miserably.

Really, as honored as I feel to have Chris mention me with a bunch of guys I really admire I don’t think I’m worthy. I might consider myself a writer when I earn a check for a story. Or when Joe Clifford accepts a first draft from me. Odds are I’ll cash a few checks before that happens.

Now go buy DeWildt’s books. That dude is a writer.

*editors note: Read Bill’s stuff. Not only is he a writer, he’s a damn fine one.

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Guest Post: Bill Baber

6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Bill Baber

  1. ryansayles says:

    Whatever, Bill. Your stuff is solid as a rock. It’s solid and worth a read and then a re-read. Good column here. I like DeWildt’s page more now that I’ve been mentioned on it a few times.

  2. Great post, Bill. You are a writer, through and through. And don’t judge your work based on whether you got paid for it… The phrase ‘crime doesn’t pay’ is especially true for short crime fiction, where many excellent and well regarded publications do not pay (unfortunately, though this is changing…) or pay token amounts. Trust your gut.

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