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FXXK WRITING CAUTIONARY TALE 10: DEATH AND THE WORKING WRITER

You will die. What happens next is beyond what you can fathom. What will you leave behind? As a writer and historian, you don’t tend to look to the future. Most of your time has been surviving the present and recovering the past. Besides, the future is where death lives. Best get to work making things that might last far longer than you.

But it’s a powerful thing, reading an author’s bibliography. Tom Piccirilli and Joe Lansdale’s work often had a page dedicated to “Other Works by this Author”, and they were inspiring – so many novels, short story collections, volumes of poetry, a non-fiction omnibus, series tie-ins, comic books, plays, and more.

Reading that was was a joy, but not as a completist. These lists did not evoke a drive to read everything and get a badge. It was proof that these writers pulled so much out of their minds, hearts, and guts and turned them into things. And, unlike a lot of pulp writers, these writers had merits beyond their speed of production. You could spend a career making, selling, and getting better as a writer. And when you died, you left behind not just a corpse, but a body of work.

Writing is both a way to live and a way to avoid life, though. You’ve done both. You’ve denied problems you should have faced by turning writing into a substitute for life. But you’ve also found yourself lit and alive by working on a novel or a project. The key, it would seem, is to harness the wisdom and check in with your brooding mind so that you can know the difference.

You are coming up to an anniversary. In September, you will have spent twenty-years dedicated to being a professional writer, the first decade exclusively short stories, then novels, and, on top of that, history and non-fiction of all sorts.

You have yet to tackle a complete bibliography because, well, it doesn’t pay.

But you do know the milestones.

Close to seventy short story sales; five self-published novels, one self-published collection, two major monographs of historical work; two novels from a medium-sized publisher, one novel due from a medium-sized publisher; and one novel being sent out this month while you work on your next project.

If you died tomorrow, your work would have reached thousands of people who otherwise would not know your name otherwise, you would have entered thousands of skulls and etched in their minds a part of your imagination –

Which makes you reflect upon these words.  

“Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever.”

The Ultimate Warrior, 7 April 2014(1959-2014)

You couldn’t have imagined the first twenty. So let us make the next. And the next. Until all that’s left is a body of work from a life well lived.

Jason S. Ridler

Jason RidlerJason S. Ridler is a writer, historian, and actor. He is the author of The Brimstone Files, and his latest historical work Mavericks of War was called a “visceral read that is also an important piece of scholarship” by Pulitzer-Prize winner Richard Rhodes. He is a Teaching Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and teaches creative writing at Google, Youtube, and for private clients.

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