My mother and father were both writers, and I planned from my youth to follow in their footsteps.
by F.R. Duplantier
Over the last 25 years, I’ve written dozens of poems, plays, and short stories; hundreds of newspaper articles, commentaries, and comic strips; and thousands of billboards, bumper stickers, brochures, and commercials. Occasionally, I’ve even been paid for my services.
I remember, when I was just starting out, how hard it was to first get published. That first publication was a real thrill, even though I got nothing for it — no money, not even a byline. Eventually, I got the byline, but still no money.
Finally, my first check arrived. My first paid article. Yippee! Yahoo! Hurray! How much did I get? A whopping $10. Ten dollars for an article that took at least a day, maybe a week or more, to produce. How’s that for a minimum wage? But $10 is better than nothing, and we all have to start somewhere, right?
Eventually, I built up a portfolio, and that material (even the stuff I hadn’t been paid for) allowed me to get my foot in the door at an advertising agency, and later on led to a job with a news magazine. So, what once seemed like time and effort wasted turned out to be valuable preparation for the future.
I’ve even gone the self-publishing route on occasion, and that too has paid off. I published a boardgame in 1978 and lost a couple hundred dollars on it, but more than 20 years later people in my hometown of New Orleans still remember reading about my game on page two of the local newspaper. I committed $10,000 earned in various free-lance projects to the publication of a book of cartoons in 1984 and broke even on it. I still manage to unload some of the remainders now and then (and am looking forward to my first ebay auction).
The thing I try always to bear in mind is that I’m doing what I was meant to do — and making a living at it, though sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, six or seven years ago, I persuaded the president of a New Orleans supermarket chain to publish my Christmas poem (“A Visit from the Christ Child”) on the side of his grocery bags. Talk about your alternative media!
I didn’t get a cent for my verse, but more than a million of those bags were distributed that December to stores all over New Orleans, and every shopper who asked for paper instead of plastic got one. That may be as close as I’ll ever come to a best seller. Or (who knows?) maybe literary grocery bags will become the new rage and I’ll be regarded as some kind of publishing pioneer, like William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce. Then again, maybe not. But this much is certain: Those bags will lead to something else, and someday I’ll know why I invested so much energy in a seemingly pointless exercise.
Week of: May 2, 1999