2014 marks my twentieth year working as a legal secretary in the entertainment industry. Just before the lawyers found my crazy typing speed and my unnatural compulsion for correcting grammar mistakes, my first Hollywood job was for a tiny television production company.
This rag-tag bunch of caballeros made sports-related specials, a fairly popular travel series starring the company owner’s wife, and odd little shows about the inner secrets of magicians. The core players were a good group of hard working souls who all had some other creative/professional agenda. At that job, I first heard this accompanying pair of phrases so often uttered in Hollywood:
“What do you do?” (translation: how are you paying rent?);
immediately followed by:
“What’s the real gig?” (translation: what did you really come to Hollywood to do?).
Ah, the Real Gig. Such an ominous concept.
Depending on where you are in your process, this question might incite either a gush of enthusiastic details of your success, or the will to curl up like a pill bug and weep over the stagnant waters of your dreams. Hollywood ain’t for sissies. Trust me on this. I’ve seen it spit out the chewed bones of many a strong soul.
Most of those who choose to work as “assistants” in the entertainment industry are a drunken mix tape of wannabe filmmakers, actors, screenwriters and producers. Few among my toiling brethren have been fiction writers—at least not by choice. I ran across several screenwriters who had back-adapted their script into a book in order to sell it, and then optioned themselves as the adapting screenwriter. No, seriously. This actually worked.
For years I kept hearing people say the only reason books were being published anymore was so they could be adapted for the big or small screen. Just like in 1981 when video killed the radio star, the modern need for instant gratification seemed to have killed the novel writer.
But we are intrepid—as are our beloved readers. Novelists will always write because we simply must. This is not a choice, you see, it’s a calling. We will do whatever is necessary to support ourselves while we continue to write. Those fortunate few of us who can actually support themselves with their writing have attained our version of the Holy Grail. Blessed be to them all.
Well, maybe not all. Unwarranted, ludicrous success still pisses me off. But that’s the world we live in—the world where Kim Kardashian is a star. Anything can happen here. Obviously.
And yet, here I am typing a blog post on my lunch hour while my boss is out with a client. In a moment, I’ll start rolling calls with him as he drives back to the office to continue our endless work day.
I’m not complaining—this is a good job—and my boss is a prince among men. What makes him even princelier is the fact that he knows being his secretary is not what I want to be doing. He is fully aware that this is not my Real Gig.
He’s supportive of my writing regardless of its content (no, he hasn’t read any of it—and I’ll never ask him to). Not only does he encourage me, but he’s standing by to represent me when it comes time to enter negotiations with a publisher or studio or whatever sort of entity I end up with. I drew the King of Hearts with this man and I’m grateful for him every single day.
But the Real Gig is still the truth about me—still the person I want to become and the life I want to live, even though my current situation is certainly nothing to sneeze at. I’m not struggling; I have a beautiful life and a wonderful family of friends. I am blessed, without doubt. If this is all I’m ever to attain in my life, I would die proud—yet unfulfilled.
I don’t want to publish in hopes of becoming wildly wealthy—although I’m watching that happen right now to writers of varying degrees of skill and talent. Success as a novelist has very little to do with skill and talent anymore, but with a writer’s ability to connect to the right readers. I know where those readers are . . . and a lot of them already know me from my years of writing fan fiction. It’s been ages, but I can still feel them there out on the edges of the internets. I know they loved my fanfic, but I truly hope they’ll be willing to give my original work a fair shake.
But, for now, two of my boss’ lines are ringing. Back to the work of working.