Will the Chairs Turn?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASandra Parshall is celebrating the release today of Poisoned Ground, the sixth title in her series about Virginia veterinarian Rachel Goddard. Kirkus Reviews has called the series “fast-paced, chilling, and compulsively readable” and says “Parshall expertly maintains the tension until the surprising conclusion” of the latest book. Publishers Weekly adds, “A fast-paced plot with plenty of false leads keeps the reader turning the pages.” Visit Sandra’s website for more information: http://www.sandraparshall.com.

I admit I’m hooked on The Voice.

I think it’s on too often — two “seasons” a year are one too many — and like most fans I grumble about a couple of the coaches, but every episode finds me glued to the TV. I enjoy the singing, but what I find mesmerizing is the raw yearning the contestants display as they strive to realize their dreams.

They remind me of aspiring writers.

That’s why I get so caught up in their journey through weeks of nervewracking competition that leaves contestants falling by the wayside one after another. Talent guarantees nothing, because even a less talented rival might have that special something extra that gives her the edge. And not everybody can win. They can have everything going for them, but most will lose out in the end. I know exactly how they feel every step of the way.

Unlike other TV talent shows, contestants on The Voice do blind auditions for the superstars who will decide whether to let them continue or stop their dream in its tracks right then and there. Whether they’re pretty or homely, old or young, they sing to the backs of four chairs and let their talent speak for itself. Like aspiring writers, they throw everything they’ve got at a bunch of powerful strangers and hope and pray for a positive response. Sometimes more than one chair will turn around, with its base flashing the magic words “I want you!” and a kind of auction ensues, with each coach pitching the reasons why he or she is the one, the only one, who can help the singer achieve ultimate success. That the coaches make virtually the same promise to every singer they woo doesn’t matter. For the unknown performer who is suddenly the object of such attention, the whole situation must feel magical and surreal.

Kind of like an unpublished writer getting multiple offers from publishers.

Sometimes performers sing their hearts out and all four chairs remain stubbornly turned in the wrong direction. Even if I think the singer is blah, I feel a little sick with disappointment as I witness the struggle to keep up a brave front, to hold back the tears. I know that what I’m seeing is a crushing blow, possibly the final blow to somebody’s dream. And it’s on national TV. In this, at least, writers are fortunate; we can throw a pity party in private, then move on.

Even for the chosen, the auditions are just the start of an arduous trek, just as signing with an agent is often only the beginning for a writer. Singers work with the coaches to improve and polish what they’re offering, to make their talent irresistible. Rejection can come at any step of the way. Kind words mean nothing if they aren’t accompanied by acceptance. Week after week, gifted singers go home, perhaps never to be heard from again if they don’t have the inner resources to pick themselves up and keep going.

Poisoned GroundIn the end, one person wins. But even that final triumph is no guarantee of anything. The person who’s caught the brass ring is suddenly staring at a bigger challenge: winning the hearts of the general public and building a large enough audience of paying fans to keep a career afloat. So far, none of the winners on The Voice has become a household name. I’ve read that the first winner is back where he started, without a contract.

Still, I keep watching, not because I want to discover a star but because I find the process  compelling in its familiarity. An endless supply of talented people, many of them as good as anyone already on the charts, all of them pursuing a stardom that will prove elusive for most — I see the same thing happening every day in the writing world.

I went through it myself, for a staggeringly long time. I know that a lot of aspiring writers look at my six published books and think I’ve achieved my goal. But the goal keeps moving, and I’m nowhere near it. Fortunately, I’ve learned that I’m unstoppable, and that in a weird and unexpected way I enjoy the striving, probably more than I would enjoy achieving superstardom.

In the end, I take the most pleasure in simply doing what I do, exercising the talent I’ve been given, and I’ll go on doing that, even if the chairs stop turning around for me.