Thursday, March 23, 2017

Magic, Belief, and the Art of the Elevator Pitch

I was doing a book sale/signing last weekend with a group of local authors I know. We were one table among a myriad other vendors selling their wares. I’m not really one for talking about myself but I did grow up with a few performers in the family and understand the necessity of hawking one’s wares. So I talked to people and did point out the books we had for sale. But then somebody asked me what my books were about and suddenly I sounded like Maimonides attempting to describe God. All I was able to say is what my books weren’t. Yes, my books involved magicians, but they weren’t the kind that waved their wand and turned people into animals. I mean, they’re stage magicians, but they don’t have supernatural powers. Well, they sort of do have supernatural powers but not the typical kind of powers. I mean they can see into the future or talk to the dead, sort of, but it’s not from saying hocus pocus and gazing into a crystal ball…well, not exactly.

And I could see in the eyes of my potential customers that the light had faded and they soon walked on towards other booths. I had failed to make a connection. And instead of getting to the root of why I had failed to make a connection, I closed the chapter in my mind and started thinking about something else. You see, when things become uncomfortable, when questions arise which cause us to question our reality, we humans often have a tendency to change the subject or look the other way. We become comfortable in the world we have fashioned for ourselves even if it is not helpful to us.

Fortunately, my fellow author, Tara Meissner (this isn’t a plug, but buy her book Stress Fracture) told me something like “you don’t have an elevator pitch. They were looking at your books and you couldn’t even tell them what they were about. Why would someone buy your book when you can’t even explain what it’s about?” At which point that trigger response in me wanted to reply something like “It’s art, baby, don’t even try to categorize it. Don’t label me, because labels are limits.” Fortunately before I could say anything stupid like that, she followed it up with something like “It comes off as kind of arrogant”.

Aw, cut to the quick. And I knew she was just being honest. More than that, she was right. She tried to beg off it a bit as though she thought I might be offended but I knew just what she was talking about and agreed with her a hundred percent. Of course, we all need others to point out the obvious from time to time, especially us authors or, dare I say it, artists. See, as an author, I see the picture as it exists in my mind, as it should be, rather than as I have actually put it down into words. A writer first has to conceive of an idea, and then put it into words. If you cannot put it into words so that others can share what you have conceived, then you are not a writer but a dreamer. Which is totally cool, too. The world needs more dreamers, they are beautiful people. It’s only bad when you are a dreamer who thinks he is a writer, then you are a delusional dreamer. So in order to be a writer you have to express the ideas you have given birth to. You have to awaken those same ideas in the minds of others that you yourself have experienced. And if you aren’t able to tell people why they should read your books then you are doing a poor job of it.

It’s just that I’m a writer, not an advertising agent: on that I am firm. For me it is the writing and not the sales that must always be my motivator. I hate the term “elevator pitch” because it suggests to me some sleazy self-important climber sucking up to a superior or a client in whatever manner is necessary. And that’s what I’ve spent a lifetime avoiding being. I have to place honesty above all other considerations.

Okay, but I should be able to explain what I do honestly, shouldn’t I? Below is one attempt to do so. It might sound a little pompous, or arrogant. It might sound grandiose. I guess I’ll have to risk it. Perhaps it is not merely misrepresenting myself but having people see me too clearly that I fear.

I write about real magic. I write about what is left after you get rid of all the illusions. And the world is full of illusions. We never really are able to cut our way through the illusions. But magic is the belief that there is something beyond the illusions, that in smashing through the simplistic answers we more closely approach the reality, though we may never see it fully. To disbelieve in magic is to believe that there is nothing more than illusions, that beyond them there is simply nothing. Ultimately, neither answer will have definitive proof. Ultimately it is a choice, the choice of limiting ourselves or giving ourselves up to an unseen and invisible something that turns mundane existence into a miracle. We create magic within our souls, by choosing to believe, by opening ourselves up to something beyond what we are presently aware of.

Perhaps it is a decision to believe in God. Or at least just believe, believe in something even if I cannot express in words what exactly it is that I believe in. Life after all is not about living the life that we can understand but the life we can briefly catch a glimpse of. It is being humble in order to grasp the vastness of the universe we exist in. And it is having faith in that universe. It is believing you are a part of that universe, and it and you have a common goal/destiny, potential for harmony. It is believing that the division between you and the outside world is an artificial distinction we draw because we have not yet pierced the veil of illusions to reach what lies beyond.

I guess I have not worked it down to an elevator pitch yet. In time I’m sure I can winnow that down to a couple of sentences in order to give people an idea of what it is I write. Until then I’m afraid I’ll be staring at the walls of the elevator anytime someone else enters.

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