Guest Blogger: John Levitt, Author of Dog Days


Today we have a special guest blogger! John Levitt, author of Dog Days, (currently number NINE on the Locus Magazine Bestseller List), guitar player extraordinaire (you can check out his band here, and great guy.

Thanks first to everyone here at the League for inviting me to guest blog. My urban fantasy, Dog Days, is currently out from Ace and the next in the series will be out this fall.

When I wrote Dog Days, I made my main character a musician. (Well, actually I think the main character is really Lou, the "dog", but that's another story.) And by an incredible coincidence, I too am a musician, as well as a writer. This has definite advantages, the main one being the opportunity to avoid responsibility for the quality my playing. If someone thinks my band sucks, I have an easy out-- "Hey, I'm really a writer. Music is just a sideline."

This gives you an automatic pass. If you're halfway decent as a musician you can play an acceptable solo, although people may simply shrug. But if you are a published writer, you go up a notch. People are suddenly amazed and gratified that you can play anything at all. It's like the dog who plays checkers-- the skill level isn't the issue; it's astounding the dog can play at all.

But the great thing is that it works both ways. If someone doesn't care for my writing, poof--magically I'm a musician who just happens to write books on the side. Again, it gives you a pass. Very few people have both read my books and seen me play, and they're easy enough to avoid.

I used to play jazz, and still do the occasional wedding casual, but these days I mostly play with my pop/rock band, The Procrastinistas. I often write about the similarities I find between music and writing, but that's mostly about the commonality of such things as rhythm and melody, genre vs. classical, etc.

But there are other similarities.

Making a living is the main one. Sure, a writer can make a billion dollars. Just look at J.K. Rowling. Or even Stephen King with his paltry hundreds of millions. But most of us have set a more reasonable goal: making enough to be a full time writer without needing a day job. Still a very difficult proposition, but not impossible.

But you think it's hard to make it as a writer? Try being a musician. Paul McCartney, like JK, is a billionaire, but the dream of making a living as a full time musician is closer to impossible than it is for a writer. I do know a few full time musicians. But it takes talent, luck, and full time hustling. (Or as writers call it, relentless self-promotion.)

But you can't simply kick back and take the gigs that drop in your lap, any more than a writer can quietly churn out manuscripts and ignore all the rest of the business. Blogging, calling bookstores to set up a tour, cons, promotion and marketing--sound familiar? That's not writing, but without it you may not be able to continue writing. And likewise, if all you want to do as a musician is to play music, and screw all the rest of that stuff, eventually you'll find yourself alone in your basement.

But what if you're an aspiring writer, hoping to hook up with an agent or editor? We all know the drill--polish your query, send off partials, pitch at writers' conferences, and get used to dismissal and rejection. But it's no better for a musician; in fact, in many ways it's worse.

When I first moved to San Francisco, I left my musical community behind. How then do you find a gig or a band? If you are of such astounding talent that people's jaws drop (in a good way) when you start to play, that's not a problem. But again, most of us aren't the musical equivalent of Stephen King or Neil Gaiman, and there are a lot of good musicians out there, just as there are a lot of good writers.

The answer to getting gigs is networking. But that's difficult if you don't know anyone. If another musician is looking for a guitarist to sub in, they have quite a few options. They know a lot of talented guitar players. Some of them are friends. Why bother to give you an audition when they have perfectly good player available that they already know? It's kind of like an editor looking for a story to fill an anthology. She knows many fine writers who can fill the bill, again, some of whom are personal friends. What possible reason would there be to invite an unknown stranger to submit a story?

So the other option is to audition for a band who is just starting up or is looking to replace a member on a permanent basis. Kind of like a pitch session. Except, you're not presenting your polished work. You're asked to learn a song on the spot and do what you can with it. It's like a first draft, but that's the only chance you get. It's tough. Would you care to submit a first draft of a story to an editor, written on the spot, as an example of your work?

And rejection? I've been rejected by bands that I didn't even want to play with, because they weren't up to my standards. Talk about humiliation. Like having a story turned down by someone with a Xerox copier and a mailing list.

Of course, all my examples involve music as a collaborative effort, which is very different than the solitary process of a writer. A better example would be to compare writing to being a solo performer, like a singer/songwriter. But then none of my analogies would work as well, so I didn't. Besides, I'm allowed to make things up. I'm a fiction writer. When I'm not a musician.


Be sure to visit John's website for all the latest news and reviews, and look for his next book in the fall!

Thanks so much for visting, John!

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