I have never smoked anything in my life. As a kid with chronic bronchitis few things scared me as much as being unable to breathe. I have not assassinated anyone or consorted with aliens—at least not that I know of. Otherwise I think I understand the Smoking Man. As far as my X-Files rewatching saga goes, I recently reached “The Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.” I remember the first time I saw it I found it improbable that the assassinations of the 1960s were the work of a single man. What hit me this time around, however, was the Smoking Man’s real frustration in life. He wants to be a writer. Having completed several novels myself, none published, I have received pin-head letters very much like those he does in this episode, only in greater quantities. When he finally finds a publisher, he writes his resignation letter to whomever hires assassins and those who change the course of history. I know just how he feels.
You’d think that by the logic of any reasonable system that those who work in an industry might have some inside tracks. Some, no doubt, do. Others of us in publishing are just like the average, uninformed person on the street. Publishing is a cliquish place. A friend with some success getting novels published advised me to look at the names of editors and editorial boards on the literary journals that get noticed. “You’ll see the same ones coming up over and over,” he said. It is, as the Smoking Man discovered, a kind of cabal, which is, I suspect, the point of making him out as a frustrated novelist. He can set the course of history, but he can’t get a legitimate novel published. Cue the X-Files theme.
I know many academics who write fiction. My second novel (depending how you count these things—this one was never finished) was a pet project while I worked at Nashotah House. I knew I wouldn’t be able to publish it when I worked there. In fact, my first fiction publication only came three years after being shoved out of the nest of academe. I’ve completed seven novels now and I’ve managed to get some short stories published. Then again, I don’t have clandestine knowledge from a lifetime of access to the truth about alien-human interaction. I don’t shoot people for a living. I’m not even a professor any more. Still, I think I can begin to understand why someone might turn toward a more interesting career, given the situation when it comes to getting published.