Real writers, we snobbish scribes believe, get agents when they plan a book. Publishers pay advances on their ideas, and the writers then wait for fat royalty checks when the hardback hits the best-seller lists.
People who arent real writers, but who want to be published anyway, can pay a company to print their book for them. These businesses are called vanity publishers, partly to ridicule the writer whose vanity needs stroking and, thus, feels compelled to pay for his very own paperback monument.
That unfair attitude, sad to say, colored the reception David DJ James got when he walked into the office a few months ago. Ive written a book of poetry, he said, and I wonder if you could do a story about it?
Just what we need, I thought - another James Joyce wannabe who not only is egotistical enough to pay for publication, but who wants the paper to pump him up with a story for free.
It didnt help that, in nearly 20 years in the media, I have seen lots of poetry - much of it written by adults who should know better.
If I made a list
of all that verse,
most is bad;
the rest is worse.
So here we had a guy with a vanity-published book, seeking publicity, and on top of that its all poetry, titled Whispers of Love. Ugh. But were all about being polite to the public, so James and I had a nice conversation. I thanked him for leaving the book, promised to pass it on to a reporter, and snickered about him when he left.
We then made jokes about which sucker, uh, reporter would get the job of boosting our hometown poets ego, and passed along the book to a new hire. That staffer resigned before writing the story, so James paperback gathered dust.
Another reporter, Louie Villalobos, found himself in need of a topic for a people-profile-type story. James book happened to be on Louies desk with the contact information paperclipped to the cover, so Louie met with James and wrote the story.
And made me feel like a jackass.
It turns out, as with so many snap judgments, that we were wrong. But James was accustomed to dealing with bad first impressions. He wasnt some self-aggrandizing egomaniac; instead, he was a courageous man who had suffered his entire life with seizures - nearly 45 of them a day for more than 25 years - and who had gone through brain surgery to bring his epilepsy under control.
James life had been one of fear of strangers because of their reaction to his seizures. Just like the smug jerk in the newspaper office, those people didnt take the time to understand what they were seeing. They saw a man losing control of himself, and reacted with sneers.
James response was to realize that there were others like him out there - suffering from conditions or circumstances that strangers couldnt, or wouldnt, understand. He wrote the book for them, not for himself, to help them realize they arent alone in their anguish. He wanted them to know that there is hope, even when people are laughing and pointing at you.
The book turned out to be David James first, and last. He passed away Dec. 17, leaving a gift of poetry and hope to a coarse world that doesnt take time to understand or appreciate it. If he were still alive, hed likely be working his station as a Martinez Wal-Mart cashier, enduring with a smile the impatience of customers with skins worn thin from the holiday rush.
Through it all, James would offer a warm smile and kind words, knowing that its the rest of us who really need help, that its the rest of the world looking for the ego-boost when what we really deserve is comeuppance.
Thanks, DJ, for delivering just what we need. Rest, finally, in peace.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.