I don’t often review books by people I know personally. It might be because I’m one of those writers who doesn’t have a lot of friends who are writers, or it might be because it’s challenging to review the book of someone whose wedding I’m going to in a few weeks. If I were a famous writer with a gaggle of famous writer friends, this probably wouldn’t be an issue, but, like me, most of my friends who are writers are struggling to break into the field and make a name for themselves. We don’t read each other’s work all that much, and when we do, it’s with a healthy dose of ego interfering.
This is not an issue limited to the field of writing either. I struggle when eating other people’s cakes, or lifting at the gym, or playing Bananagrams. It’s a streak of competitiveness that spikes in direct relation to how talented I consider myself to be at a given task. I’m not even going to give you the opportunity to pretend this doesn’t happen to you. It does. In some area of your life, you feel superior to others, and it can make it more difficult to accept that the talents of other do not necessarily impact you.
Of course, sometimes they do. There can be only one valedictorian in a class, and there are only a handful of spots on any given team. Publishers only take a tiny percentage of the manuscripts written every year, and call backs cull hundreds of hopefuls in the process of looking for the right person to fill a single part. Competition is part of life every single day, in just about every single job, and it has been this way since the beginning of life on this planet. Animals and plants compete in order to survive, and unfortunately, in some places in the world, the competition for food, clean water, and access to things like basic health care and an education is still fierce. And trust me, when I start to think about it like that, it seems silly to worry whether the book written and published by a friend kept me from success in the same field.
For the record, it didn’t. Travis and I actually have remarkably similar styles, and the manner in which Lost in Clover got published (he originally submitted the piece as a short story for an anthology; it was rejected for the intended project; then the editor contacted him and asked if he would be willing to turn it into a novella instead) is not completely unfamiliar to me. Honestly, he should be My Nemesis, but he isn’t. Instead, I’m just happy that someone read his short story and was smart enough to tell him to keep working on it because I can’t imagine this book as less than what it is.
I’m sure it wasn’t easy to take a piece that he had completely imagined as one thing – a single compact moment in time – and turn it into another that covers eight years of a young man’s life. I’ve tried to convert my own flash fiction into longer stories before, with varying degrees of success, but I’ve never attempted what Travis has in this book. He manages to take one horrific day in this boy’s life and then, instead of pumping the story full of unbelievable action, he explores the path that unfolds when a character’s decision to do nothing becomes the choice that defines the rest of his life.
I was moved by this story because it taps into how most of us live. Maybe we can think back on a few opportunities in life when we weighed the pros and cons, made a decision, then acted on it. Most of the time though, it takes a lot less energy to choose not to choose, doesn’t it? It’s so much easier to keep our mouths shut and our heads down, and if we miss something great by doing that, well hey! At least we didn’t open ourselves up to failure, right?
There are times when it makes sense to just keep on keeping on, but we use an awful lot of excuses to protect ourselves from the uncertainty of choice. The problem with that, as Jeremy Rogers discovers in this book, is that doing or saying nothing is still something. There is no “nothing. ” There are only somethings that we either choose to control…or not.
For more about Travis Richardson, head over here.