Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, January 12, 2017, 11:50 a.m.
I am in a state of paralysis. I haven’t ground completely to a halt. In half a day, I’ve written 305 words of fiction. They’re 305 decent words, so, like Bill Murray in Caddy Shack, I’ve got that going for me.
I am depressed. Not clinically depressed. Depressed for a damned good reason.
Why? It’s not one reason. It isn’t hard to come up with a list of reasons. What’s hard is ascertaining their relative significance.
I’m old and out of style. The world has passed me by, in part because I have spent four years in relative isolation. The charms of home have played out. If I had money, more money than what is necessary just to scratch by, I think I’d just leave and move somewhere far away. Somewhere that would offer a new start. I was talking to an old acquaintance the other day at a local hangout about the effect of living here. He works out of town four days a week. He said the people here are deathly afraid that someone else might make some money. I mentioned to him the title of a song: “You’re Always 17 in Your Hometown.” I’ve written five novels. Numbers six and seven are in the pipeline. Two weeks ago, I wrote an email to a local library, pointing out that I’d like to (“be willing to”) hold some kind of event there to tell folks about my fiction. I noted that Cowboys Come Home is less controversial than the first four. It’s violent, frank, and profane in places, because the characters act and talk the way they do when I try to live through them, the same as all my characters in all the others.
I’ve yet to be afforded the courtesy of a reply. That’s the way it is with most of my news releases. I can’t complain. When I go through the morning emails, I delete most of them, some right away and some because I just don’t get around to them. The people who see mine are the same way. I’ve tried lots of ways to promote them. Most have not been cost-effective. For some time now, I’ve assigned my life a slogan.
Nothing. Ever. Works. It used to be a joke.
People who read my novels seem to like them. I have my fans. There just aren’t enough of them. I keep hoping someone significant will notice. No one has, and the evidence is building that no one will.
Last night I was on a radio show, or maybe it was a podcast, or whatever a radio show on the web is, and the host flattered me to the point of embarrassment, saying that I was deeply missed on the race-car circuit where I toiled a little but mostly wrote for 20 years. I hear that all the time, and my reply is always the same. Everyone seems to want me back except for anyone who can do anything about it. Mine is a populist appeal. I don’t absolve myself of blame. I believe in the cruel justice of free enterprise. If my books don’t sell, it’s because, in some way, they aren’t good enough, and that is self-evident and undeniable. It’s all I know how to do, so I just keep on writing, figuring I’ll keep getting better and, eventually, find a niche. I don’t have any business evaluating myself because I am not objective. Another slogan: Nobody writes shit on purpose. There’s a lot of shit out there, but it’s not shit to the poor slob who wrote it.
When I left the NASCAR beat, it wasn’t by choice. My job got eliminated after 16-1/2 years. I vowed not to return unless it was worth my while. Worth my while has since become a relative term. Last night I decided I would go back to the track, if asked and if paid enough to make it, well, less worthwhile than the previous definition of worthwhile.
Part of it was that I realized NASCAR has passed me by, too. I have written two weekly columns, for separate websites, for several years, by watching races on TV and following the news through transcripts of interviews and the like. I now have a sinking feeling that one is going away. The feeling is sinking more because I asked for some confirmation that it would continue, and the silence has been deafening. I write a lot more emails than I read replies.
The other part is I just want to get out. If I’m going to live here – and it’s not without its charms – it’s no longer enough just to get out in the community. The community is largely ambivalent to me. I’m somewhere between village eccentric and idiot. I’ve got a lot of flaws, and made many mistakes, but it’s a recent phenomenon where people, mainly on social media, call me stupid, ignorant and/or both. To quote another old song, I’ve run afoul of “narrow-minded people on their narrow-minded streets.”
Another song of which I used to know more went: Someday I’m gonna leave this dirty little town / Where the talk is cheap on the dirty little streets / And the leaves are dying underneath the sky that’s purple and brown / You can’t drink the water, can’t breathe air / If you go out at all, well, you better beware / People packing heat on the mean old streets of this dirty little town.
This place isn’t that bad. The water’s great. The sky is blue. There’s not a cloud to spoil the view.
I’m nobody, and it’s not altogether bad. When I wrote about NASCAR, here was where I got no respect, but it was also the place where I didn’t get my ass kissed, and those imaginary smooches have always left me uneasy. Until lately, my biggest surprise was how little I missed driving all those miles, and sitting in all those airports, and renting all those cars, and writing all those stories, columns, notebooks, and fact sheets.
The mix – three days at home, four on the road – worked for me, though.
It seems to me that quality doesn’t matter anymore, but I’m jaded because I’m old and set in my ways, and my rules are grounded in the experience that used to be beneficial, but now it’s just passe. I am so last decade.
In short, a powerful body of evidence exists that I am doomed, but I’ll do what the late Mo Udall said when he was running for president. He said he’d keep fighting till hell froze over and then lay siege to the ice. He didn’t become president, though. He was like me now. He just kept going because he didn’t have any other choice.
If you’d like me to mail you a signed copy of Cowboys Come Home, or any of my other novels, you can find my address and instructions at montedutton.com. (montedutton.com/blog/merchandise)
I’ve written five novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve also written a number of books about sports, mostly about NASCAR. You can find most of them here.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is on sale all January as a Kindle download at amazon.com.
The Kindle versions of my books, where available, can be found above. Links below are to print editions.
My new novel is a western, Cowboys Come Home. Two World War II heroes come home from the Pacific to Texas.
I’ve written a crime novel about the corrosive effects of patronage and the rise and fall of a powerful politician and his dysfunctional family, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.
I’ve written about what happens to a football coach when he loses everything, Crazy of Natural Causes. It’s a fable of life’s absurdity.
I’ve written a tale of the Sixties in the South, centered on school integration and a high school football team, The Intangibles.
I’ve written a rollicking yarn about the feds trying to track down and manipulate a national hero who just happens to be a pot-smoking songwriter, The Audacity of Dope.
I’ve written a collection of 11 short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, Longer Songs.
Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing), and/or @wastedpilgrim (more opinionated and irreverent). I’m on Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Instagram (TUG50), and Google-Plus (MonteDuttonWriter).