Writing inspiration comes from everywhere. Looking out a window or considering how a person might react to a situation or watching your kids play. In this example, it came from the song “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls.
“You bleed just to know you’re alive.”
When I wondered what might cause a man to literally, not metaphorically, do such a thing, the story erupted from me. It was the writing experience I’d always imagined, though rarely had. And it came from questions that followed one after the other, piling up until I couldn’t type quickly enough.
More than fifteen years later, I still recall the first scene. A man in a cheap apartment staring at himself in a grimy mirror and hating what he saw. He picked up the razor blade, as he had many times before, and cut his wrist. A single droplet of blood fell into a claw-footed bathtub. As he watched, his cut healed and he screamed in helpless rage. He slashed again and again, healing again and again…until he didn’t. He breathed a sigh of relief. Soon, it would finally be over.
While there’s a violence and hopelessness to the scene, I believed the book would be a beautiful take on the unrequited love story: A man who heals others and himself, and the nurse searching for the person performing miracles in the streets. He falls in love, but will never tell her, never end his self-imposed exile, because his body is too scarred, his psyche too damaged. He’s unworthy of redemption. To further quote the song, “I don’t want the world to see me ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand.”
A few months later, I had the draft of a 30,000-word novella.
Fast-forward to sometime in 2006. Goo Goo Dolls were promoting their latest album, Let Love In. I worked in the Best Buy Music department, and we were often a stop for such junkets. Artists would talk about the album, maybe spin some tracks or perform, and then we’d often get a chance for handshakes and pix. It was the coolest job perk I ever had.
It’s key to understand that “meet and greet” is a brief encounter. Obviously, no one’s making friends, but it is a chance to say a few kinds words or ask a question before quickly moving on. Sometimes, it’s idle chitchat; other times, you get to thank someone for a meaningful impact they had on your life.
I had an opportunity to thank a band for inspiring me to write a book.
At this point in my career, I’d met dozens of famous artists including David Bowie, Duran Duran, Ice Cube, and Jewel. I didn’t get starstruck as a general rule, but this was going to be different because I had a different kind of connection. I practiced what I would say, over and again in my head. I’ve always had challenges speaking aloud, so this kind of rehearsal is typical anyway.
The band did their promotional bit, though I don’t recall any of it. I was still mentally reciting my spiel. Suddenly, it seems, it was time to meet them.
Robby Takac was first in line. We shook hands, and then I shared my story. I was eloquent, passionate, entertaining, and succinct. I beautifully recounted how they had inspired me and made a meaningful difference to my writing.
He seemed thrilled. “You should tell Johnny. He wrote the lyrics,” he said enthusiastically. “It would mean a lot to him.”
Suddenly, this encounter was different. At least that’s what my fevered brain suggested: a band putting together a song was not the same as a lyricist sitting down and pouring his soul into the words. This was now going to be one writer talking to another (i.e. having a “writer talk”) and thanking them for the inspiration in their words. How often does a person get a chance to do that?
It’s cool. I’m cool. It’s going to be cool. I’ve already got my speech planned and practiced. I’ve literally just recited it to someone else in the band. It’s cool. It’s going to be cool.
It wasn’t cool.
I shook hands with John Rzeznik, and immediately blurted out some disorganized version of my tale that focused waaaaay too much on a man in a bathroom cutting his wrist with a razor blade. I might have continued to shake his hand like you see in movies where the fan doesn’t let go. I don’t remember.
Of all the things John expected to hear in a meet-n-greet line, this interaction certainly wasn’t on the list. With typical rock star grace, he listened to my story, though I picture him having the face of someone being presented with a severed limb. A few minutes later, we had our photo taken.
I’m not saying that John’s posture or my distance from him are the result of this interaction, though that tiny insecure voice in my head still suggests it.
Then it was over. I probably shared a laugh with some colleagues as I described the disaster in hyperbolic detail. John went on with the promotional tour, probably never encountering another writing weirdo again.
I share this cautionary tale because it’s funny, but also as a reminder to writers to practice their pitches (even if it didn’t work so well here). As much as we’re probably more comfortable typing up a quick 10,000 words of “summary”, sooner or later you’re going to have to talk about the project aloud. The spiel is a critical step in finding an agent or someone willing to pay you. It’s probably going to be uncomfortable because you’re trying to sell your work, not yourself, but both are being judged (fortunately, your friends and family are helping every time they ask “What’s it about?”). Your performance, so to speak, could be the difference between a request to see more and a polite rejection of the severed limb you’ve presented.
Good luck with your writing and your pitch!
Postscript: As for the book, Healed, I shelved the project for reasons unrelated to this encounter. However, writing this post has inspired me to take another look at the ending. It might be changing.
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© Michael Wallevand, July 2021