Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Following Mystery's Approach to 2014

First, I know it’s a bit late, but let me say Happy New Year.  I enjoyed a restful vacation with my family and am now ready to get my nose back to that proverbial grindstone.

Every year, I usually do a December blog post talking about what I want for Christmas. And every year since I started doing that post it’s been the same thing; an offer of either agent representation or publication. Considering that I ask for the same thing every year, I’m sure it goes without saying, I’ve yet to get what I want. 

If you’ll notice this traditional post was noticeably absent last month. Instead, I took an early vacation. During that time, I took a step back from writing and used the time to evaluate what I wanted as a writer. I wanted to figure out what I wanted from my literary pursuits. The answer to my soul searching came from a most unexpected place, Mystery Alaska. I don’t mean the town. In fact, I don’t know if there is such a town. I’m talking about the highly underrated movie with an impressive cast that includes the likes of Russell Crowe, Lolita Davidovich and Hank Azaria to name a few.

Mystery Alaska tells the story of the town’s obsession with the sport of hockey. That obsession takes on new heights when one of the town’s former residents, a fledgling writer played beautifully by Hank Azaria, manages to get an article about his hometown’s religious devotion to the sport published in Sports Illustrated. The article catches the eye of the National Hockey League who devises a plan to put the skills of the Mystery players to the ultimate test by having them play an exhibition game against the New York Rangers. The crux of the movie’s conflict is that the professional players have no interest in playing the Mystery team and have their union file a grievance on their behalf.

Naturally, the National Hockey League isn’t going to stand for this and take the matter to court to compel the players to participate. Having a great deal of money and even more pride invested in hosting the game, Mystery sends a lawyer to argue on their behalf. That lawyer is accompanied by one of the hockey players, a gentle giant affectionately referred to as Tree by his teammates. Court room arguments become heated on both sides, and it’s during one of these pivotal moments that I felt a connection to the Mystery team and realized it was an uncanny metaphor for my writing career.

Mystery’s lawyer Bailey Pruitt was in the midst of making a passionate plea to allow the game to happen. At one point, he gestures toward Tree and tells the court: ‘He don’t make a million bucks a year. He plays to play. He skates to skate because he loves the game of hockey. He loves it.’ That statement struck a chord with me because I realized it was how I used to feel about writing. I didn’t write to be rich or famous. I wrote because I loved doing it and I loved connecting with readers who identified with my characters and my stories. Somewhere along the way, that feeling got pushed to the back of my mind and my heart and was overridden by the need to be offered a traditional publishing contract.

After watching the movie, which I’d seen before, and hearing Bailey’s words again, I realized how much I missed that feeling about writing. I also realized that with all the changes in the publishing industry in the last several years, it’s possible to reach a broader audience and not compromise my artistic integrity without needing the weight of a big name publisher behind me. From this day forward, I’ll be following Mystery Alaska’s approach to my writing. I’ll write what I want, when I want, the way I want for the people I want because I love it.

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