I was remembering a former acquaintance/co-worker/maybe friend this week when I was thinking about this subject. He's one of those people who seems to enjoy the idea of fame from writing more than the writing. He was writing in one genre and having some success with it, though nowhere near what he wanted. Thus, he switched genres in an attempt to try to become famous that way. He's gone through a number of ventures over the past decade to try to finally get whatever recognition he thinks he deserves, but he has largely left his writing far behind.
I have to admit that it took me some time to get over this, as well. When my first book came out, I did have some success. I was invited to Colorado to give a reading, and they paid my way, something that I had never imagined happening. One of my poems showed up on The Writer's Almanac, and I received emails from strangers telling me of the effects the poem had on their mornings (in looking up my poem, I find that it was five years ago today that poem showed up; odd that I should be thinking of it this morning). I expected the emails and invitations to continue, but they didn't. I just had to go back to work writing poems, finding the pleasure there, which I did, thankfully.
This week, I received an interview request, not from The New York Review of Books or Paris Review, but from The Mockingbird, the literary journal from East Tennessee State University, where I received my Master's. I was thrilled and honored, and I accepted the request quickly. This request will seem small to most people, but it matters greatly to me. I grew up on the campus of ETSU long before I went there for any academic reason, as both my parents worked there. My two years pursuing my Master's degree were two fabulous years, as I made great friends and finally began to take myself seriously as an English student. I didn't yet know I wanted to be a writer, but I was beginning to try (I submitted to The Mockingbird both years I was there, and I was rejected (rightly so) both times).
There are other students there right now, and they're trying to be writers, as well. Perhaps they're just starting to take English seriously, as I did. They need to see that there are people who come from ETSU, who attended a poor county high school, who can still have some success in the world. It would be better if I had the name recognition of a Morrison or Franzen, but I can only bring to them what and who I am, and I can hope that is enough for them.
After my first book, one other opportunity I had was to go on a local radio show done by a friend of the family. It was in the upper level of a Food City, and it broadcast on an AM station. I didn't sell any books from that appearance, and I don't even know who heard it that morning. I just know that I had a great time talking about poetry to people who might not care about it otherwise. That's success and fame enough for me.