This is the last piece of writing ever found by Alexander H. Cochran, a self-described failed novelist. His work was never published.
My folks died when I could barely call myself a man. Fresh out of college and ready to face the world I was, when that truck hit ’em on the highway back from my grandfather’s funeral. They never had a chance. There was a lot of death in the air that day, I guess.
My daddy made his money in oil when I was a young ‘un, so I never had to worry about nothing from that day forward. Looking back, I like to think that was the first mark against me, as a writer. I never had to do it, never needed it to provide my next meal, would never not be alive the next day if I didn’t sell a story. I never needed writing to survive, at least not physically. But hell, maybe that’s just me making excuses in my old age.
Not that I hadn’t always wanted to be a writer, far from it. When I was going through my adolescence I could barely believe people got paid anything to write, let alone could make a hell of a living off of it if they were any good. Words had always had a strange old draw for me, they provided a kind of haven for my imagination, somewhere that worlds could be created and personalities fleshed out that were far more interesting than anyone I’d been unfortunate enough to meet in the real world, where they teach ya that a firm handshake is more important than a good story. Bullshit.
And it wasn’t that I was no good, or that I didn’t try neither. I wrote some stuff that I was kinda proud of too, but it never saw the light of day. My words were fine for me, but I couldn’t imagine how anyone else would be interested in any of the things I had to say. A curse of being even a moderately good writer is to be forced to be a great reader, and to be a great reader is to be aware of just how damn good so many others are at this writing business.
How, then, knowing the work of Papa Hemingway and Fitzgerald, of Verne and Faulkner and Whitman, how am I supposed to let my thoughts out into the world and try and compete with them? Anything I could think of in a year any of them could do on a bad morning. Hell, Hemingway wrote drunk better than I ever have sober.
I tried that too, tried every trick in the book to try and get something, anything that I wasn’t sick of the sight of by the time I finished writing it. I drank bottles and bottles and bottles of scotch, and it never did nothing for me. It didn’t make me no Hemingway, just made me tired and sick and cranky.
I tried to travel myself interesting, but that didn’t work, the cultures jumbled and produced a mess, so that nothing I wrote seemed honest or believable. I even locked myself in a damn cabin out by the lakes with nothing but a typewriter, a box of cigars and some matches, but I ended up using the matches to burn the mediocrity that I’d written and hightailing it back to the city with nothing.
You might wonder why I’m writing this now. I’ve asked myself that question too. Well, I know the answer, I’m going to die soon, my heart’s finally given up on me it seems. I guess I wanted to write something honest before I went, ’cause I think that might have been the problem all along. I worked so hard to create worlds, and emulate my heroes, that I never put an honest word down on paper. Not once, in my 45 years of trying to write, did I ever write anything that I would want to represent me, that I would want my name attached to once I’m gone. That’s why I never sold anything. Oh, I had the offers, would have made a tidy sum too. But like I said, I was never in it for the money. I’d’ve only sold if I knew it was going to go down real well in posterity, not some market pleasing fiction that anyone can churn out if they turn their mind to it.
I wanted to be a novelist remembered as a great, but in chasing that dream, and stubbornly sticking to it, I failed to be a novelist at all, and in ten years it may be that nobody even remembers my name. In trying to change the world, I overreached, and couldn’t even change my own. But that ain’t to say I ain’t proud to have tried. Better to shoot for the stars and dance with the moon than content yourself with changing to please the masses. Never forget that.
Alexander H. Cochran
A Self-Confessed Failure