The end of my literary rock star ambitions

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An idealistic me reading at Plymouth State in 2013.

I did a reading from my latest book of fiction at SNHU Thursday for a small audience of college students, faculty and a few stragglers from the general public. It was my first time reading to an unmasked audience since the pandemic closed down the world in 2020.

Like many authors, I had the hard luck of having a book published smack-dab in the middle of COVID-19 when many businesses—particularly local bookstores—were struggling to stay open.

Most of my promotional readings for “Fly Like The Seagull” were done while sitting in my basement with a remote audience on the computer screen in front of me.

However, I won’t bemoan my luck, seeing I’ve never sold a ton of books, even in the best of conditions. All of my books of fiction and poetry are published through small presses that have limited marketing budgets and, to quote “Spinal Tap,” my appeal is “more selective.”

While reading on Thursday, at one point I paused and looked out at the audience[1]—many of whom were college students required by their professors to attend and far more interested in happenings on their phones. And something occurred to me, something that took two decades since the publication of my first book in 2002 for me to admit.

I’m never going to be the literary rock star I once envisioned.

An even more idealistic me, reading at a bookstore in Kingston, New York, in 2012, as Sly Stallone cheers me on.

When I first started publishing my poetry and fiction in the small presses in the late ’90s, I yearned for literary fame and adoration more than I cared about the quality of the writing.

At the time, the literary rock star still existed. Young writers like David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen packed bookstores throughout the country and dropped bras throughout college campuses.

While I was never that good, I was ignorant enough to believe that I was.

In my 20s, before I settled into family life, I would perform at poetry readings throughout New England as the featured reader for a couple of bucks and some free beers, often drinking too much and pretending I was Charles Bukowski.

From a bygone era when people read books and attended live author talks.

In 2009, when I was in my mid-30s—after gaining some modest attention for a book of poetry I wrote about teaching high school—I went on a book tour of the Midwest where I really should’ve gotten the hint. At some of my readings, I could count the audience member on one hand (with a severed thumb).

But I didn’t get the hint. The tour ended three weeks later, and I was dispirited but still believing that someday I’d become a household name.

I later signed with a literary agent who represented a few novels I wrote and figured I was closing the gap between me and literary fame.

The novels never sold, and the agent and I amicably parted ways a few years later.

However, by this point, with more people watching videos of teenagers snorting cinnamon than buying books, I failed to realize that the myth of the famous writer—not named Stephen King or James Patterson—was already a relic in our culture.

I’m going to skip the “get-off-my-lawn” sermon about people addicted to their cell phones and not reading books anymore. What people do with their idle time is none of my business.

Someone took the time to create this lovely promo poster for my reading, back in the day.

But as I stared out at the small crowd of people kind enough—or required—to listen to me read last week, it punctuated the fact that I’m never going to be that literary rock star I once envisioned.

And it’s all right. I’m still going to continue writing books of stories and poems because writing them was never a choice for me; it is the only way I can make sense of my world and stay semi-sane.

After the reading, a few people bought copies of my book, and I signed them exuberantly, humbly, gratefully, just a regular guy with some of his stories printed on some pages.


[1]  Full-disclosure: I teach adjunct at SNHU and required my Composition students to attend.


 

About this Author

nathan-graziano

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Fly Like The Seagull was published by Luchador Press in 2020. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: http://www.nathangraziano.com