The Importance of Being Earnest
by Weston Ochse
Can too much success too soon hurt your career?
What happens when a publisher comes knocking and you don’t have anything to offer?
I never thought success would be a problem, then again, I never thought I’d succeed so fast and to such a degree. Let’s go back to 2000 and the World Horror Convention and let me set the scene. Not only was it the first convention that I’d spent more than a few hours at, and not only was this the first convention I’d gone to where I knew people, but this was the first convention I’d attended that I actually had something published.
I was stunned that everyone seemed to like Scary Rednecks so much. This was just a project David Whitman and I wanted to do to get our names out there. We never thought people would actually like it. I mean we did want them to like it, but we were happy for a roomful of polite applause, or even a year’s supply of Riceroni as a parting gift. But instead the most amazingly horrific thing happened…
I forget exactly where I was when it happened. It was Saturday night when Mike Oliveri and Brian Keene came up to me at a party and they said something like, “Dude, did Don D’Auria hook up with you?”
“Man. You better find him. He really wants to talk to you.”
After checking to see that they weren’t messing with me, I bolted, ricocheting off party guests as I maneuvered my way through early evening revelers on my way down to the main floor. It turned out that Richard Laymon and Doug Clegg had talked me up to Don D’Auria saying how wonderful they thought Scary Rednecks was and how I was coming into my own and how Don really needed to sign me to Leisure.
Don agreed and began asking people where I was.
Now let me put this in perspective that I think most of us can understand. The idea that a publisher is seeking me out was perhaps the pinnacle of my dreams and as unattainable as Sophia Loren in her prime. Never did I even believe such a thing could happen and I found myself in a hyperventilative panic, trying to figure out what I was going to say while looking for Don in the debauchery we call a writer’s enclave.
When I finally found him, he was walking out the door to attend some super secret publishers meeting where I’m sure they have all the names of all the really good writers on the wall and throw darts at them to see which will be published next. Damn but I wanted to be on that wall. And now I had my chance.
“Mr. D’Auria,” I stuttered.
He turned and looked at me. At that moment I realized I was sweating, out of breath, slightly tipsy, with a muscle shirt, jeans and combat boots. I could see the fight or flight flutter going on in his eyes. For a second I thought I terrified him, and I swore he’d run.
But he stood his ground. “Yes?”
“I’m Weston Ochse,” I said. “I heard you were looking for me.”
He stared for what seemed like an epoch and with each stretching second, I knew that my boys had tricked me good. But then he smiled. “You’re the guy who wrote Scary Rednecks.”
At last! “Yessir. That’s me. Or I wrote part of it, David Whitman wrote the other part. We co-wrote it you see.” My mouth snapped shut as I realized I’d begun to babble. “Anywaaaay, I heard you were looking for me.”
So we found a few chairs and he invited me to sit. Then he asked me about myself and I told him the five minute version of my life story. Then he asked me about Scary Rednecks and I spoke at length about it, stressing how stunned I was that people had responded so well, especially Mr. Laymon and Mr. Clegg. I tried to act humble and proud at the same time, which is so hard to do as some of you know.
Then he asked me the question.
“What else do you have?”
Sidebar 1. Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation that you thought was going so well and the other person asks you a question that makes your heart stop, sweat to bead along your brow and your jaw drop? That was this type of question.
“What do you mean?”
“I publish novels. Do you have any novels completed?” he asked. “You come highly recommended and I’d love to take a look at what you have.”
Sidebar 2. Have you ever had a dream come true only to wish it would have waited for better timing? Here I have a real live publisher asking me if I have anything he can read. How many times does this happen? I know entire writing circles who’d slit their wrists and chant I Love Donald Trump’s Toupee just to have a chance at what I had happening to me. And there I was wishing for Christ that this publisher wasn’t asking me this question.
I think I hesitated too long, because he gave me a look. I focused on his question. Do you have any novels completed. Define completed. Hmm. Maybe I had a way out.
“Yes, Mr. D’Auria. I have a novel called Scarecrow Gods that you might be interested in.”
His concern vanished as he smiled. “Tell me about it.”
And I did. I told him about the main characters. I told him about the theme. And then I stopped. I smiled broadly, hoping he’d be satisfied.
“What happens next?”
I thought a hundred ways to obfuscate, but I decided to come clean. “I’ve only just started,” I said, but hurried to add, “But I finished the outline,” which was a lie.
The light of interest died in his eyes. He sto
od, shook my hand and turned to go, but before he left he had one last thing to say. “Let me know when you have it done. I’d like to take a look at it.” Then he was out the door and into the night.
And I sat there. And I knew that I’d been granted something that hardly anyone is ever granted and I’d blown it. I’d peeked too early and had nothing left to show. I should have felt like I’d conquered the world, but I felt defeated instead.
So, I vowed then and there that I’d never feel that way again. The only way to guarantee that promise was to write, keep writing and then write some more. That was 2000. Since then Scarecrow Gods was finally finished, published by Delirium Books in 2005 and won the Bram Stoker for First Novel. In addition to a trunk load of short stories and articles, I’ve written six other novels and four screenplays since that conversation with Don. Some are being published and some are doing the agent-publisher dance. Some are languishing on my computer, waiting for that perfect time.
Recently I had a conversation with a publisher. Roy Robbins of Bad Moon Books was going to go from being strictly a bookseller to a book publisher and he asked me if I had anything that might interest him. He wanted a novella.
That grand night of UNsuccess with Don D’Auria had taught me more than anything and gave me an almost maniacal drive to write. So when Roy asked me, I remembered a novella I’d written for myself a year before, pitched it to him, he read it, then signed me to a four figure contract.
A private part of me knew that if I hadn’t been working all this time, I never would have come through and had a novella he’d want. The public part of me cheered the success. But all of me knew that I’d missed an amazing opportunity back in 2000 when a publisher had come knocking and I had nothing to give.
Never ever agian.
So come knocking.
I’ve been writing and have some things to show you.