Monday, March 28, 2011

Okay, Internets. Enough already.

Everywhere I look I see someone else telling me how impossible this all is. Impossible for a first time writer to get an agent. And if you do get an Agent, they won’t be able to sell your book and they’ll dump you in six months.
And if they do sell it, you’ll have to do all your own marketing by way of Social Networking. And don’t forget that you can’t just advertise or shill your books, you have make a personal deep connection with all 80 gazillion followers because we only buy things from people we have a personal connection with.
 And don’t forget that bookstores are all going out of business and books are going to be museum pieces by this time next year anyway so why bother? Self published e books are the way to go.
But of course, this is also impossible without doing the Publisher’s work all on your own. And all that overwhelming publicity, layout, editing, cover art – don’t forget that this cuts into your writing time down to next to nothing. And it really doesn’t matter because books are only worth .99 anyway. (Cat Valente has already written, quite articulately,  here, about why this is problematic.)  And don’t forget that you’re probably not going to sell any self-published e-books anyway. J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking have already gotten there, so there is No More Room.
No Room. No Room. No Room.
This is all I’ve heard for weeks. Hundreds of Internet Chickens crying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
I’m sorry, Internet. But I just can’t listen to you anymore. You have officially become hysterical. Internet, you are Faye Dunaway in Chinatown throwing your head back and forth crying “Mydaughter!Mysister!” You might need to be slapped.
On one blog, we’re told Writing is a job and to treat it as such. Professional correspondence and web presence, putting the hours in, networking, etc.  On the next, we’re told not to expect to ever get paid. I’m supposed to do it because I love it. But if I don’t get paid, it’s not a job. It’s a hobby. (A tedious one. Like knitting. Says Marge Piercy)  
I hear the same crap about teachers, and that makes my skin crawl, too.
Now I understand why they say this. If my job were sitting in an office reading somebody else’s “surefire blockbuster” take on Stephanie Meyer or Robert Parker, I would certainly go out of my way to discourage it. Publishing a novel is no winning lottery ticket for millions of dollars. But isn’t there something between J.K. Rowling and Dying in Poverty? Is there some kind of shame in wanting to make a living (however modest) doing something that we don’t just “feel passionate about”, but something we are actually Good At Doing? Is this actually impossible?
If  it’s impossible for a new writer to get an agent or a book deal, why is it that I keep seeing new books by new writers on the New Book Shelf of the library every week?
If people are no longer reading books, why do I see so many people doing JUST THAT on public buses and subways?
Books and stories aren’t going anywhere. People actually do have to write them. And if the competition is fierce, let it be fierce. Maybe if I put more energy into Becoming More Awesome (as Catherynne Valente often says) instead of worrying about e book royalties and social networking I would not be tearing out my hair.
Things are changing, certainly. But I wholeheartedly reject the notion that writers are the ones making candles while Edision just starting selling light bulbs. For .99. On Amazon. Books are not going to become marginalized, something to see only in museums, at least not for a while. Sure, on a long enough time line, everything’s life expectancy goes to zero. But for now, let’s just Calm the Fuck Down.
You guys keep freaking out if it makes you feel better. Me? I’m off to try to Become More Awesome. I’m off to Write a Better Book. I’m off to read some of the great books out there. Some of them by first time Authors. (See list below) And I’ll write up more proposals and query letters and keep on trying. Because there is NO WAY that the *real* reality of the situation matches the hysterics that I’m seeing.
Some Good Books:
Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente
What I Didn’t See by Karen Joy Fowler
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Fear, or How Long Until the Monkey Funeral?

Readers.  You should know that usually I am quite brave about things.
She pauses, jack-rabbits up from the desk. First her sweater, then coffee, then another cigarette. She is uncomfortable with monologue. Even here, she must narrate.
Not necessarily about things like Mean People or Strangers or Big Hipster Parties. These things do frighten me, quite correctly, I think. I mean brave about my life. While I certainly don’t live in a commune, my lifestyle, for some, is unconventional. I don’t work in a cubicle. I don’t have a car or use credit cards. I do not have, nor want offspring. These are very deliberate choices I have made, in order to facilitate my Writing.
She pauses again, wondering at the capitalization of that last word. Wonders if it is too pretentious.  Thinks of the Theater/Theatre question. Decides to leave it.
Yes, it is a risk for me, for my family (childless though it may be, it still is one) – for me to only work part time at the divine Providence Athenaeum in the hopes that one day I’ll sell my books and  be a Real Writer. A Professional Novelist. Most days, I am brave about this risk.
But that day is not today.
I have manuscripts out at three highly reputable agents. (I haven’t even been waiting that long which makes this reaction even more ridiculous) As of now, I have only received one “No”, and that was from a long-shot agent – an agent that I couldn’t believe even wanted to see a Partial manuscript in the first place.
 And yet.
 And yet. I have allowed this to spin out into my ultimate failure as a writer, as a person. This no means they will all say no. And I will have to start over again. With another book.
And while the idea of working on another book as an Agented Author thrills me, working on another book as an Un-Agented Author, at least today, makes me feel positively ill. I will get over this feeling, certainly. And certainly if I have no agent at the end of this process I will write another book. They are just feelings, after all.
She doesn’t understand the use of the word “just” in that last sentence. Lights a cigarette. Leaves the sentence intact. Has a flash of Crazy telling her that an Agent might see this post, see the narration about cigarettes, and decide that they don’t want to work with a smoker. The Crazy is pretty loud today.
And what’s worse, I feel terrible for feeling terrible. I’m supposed to be so brave, with my defiance of convention, with my
Here she drops off, stares out the window. In the distance, the buzzing of some yard work. Her view, the parking lot of her two bedroom apartment. The sunlight brightens and swells, and this chafes her, as it does not match her mood. The icy spring snow yesterday did a better job of that.
…with all my “believing in myself” and “Acting Like It” and “Working Hard” and “Being More Awesome”.  But today I wonder when “Believing in Myself” turns into Norma Desmond style Delusion. How long until the Monkey Funeral? How long until the wire cigarette holder and the “comeback” script of Salome?
Trying to find a way out of this maze, I turn to other writers. And I keep thinking of Louisa May Alcott who said, “I shall take fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.”
Or something.   
Something about this post leaves a bad taste in her mouth. Is it unprofessional to complain, to admit fear and weakness? Even if it’s not unprofessional, does this really add to any kind of conversation about writing or reading? Then why doesn’t she just Shut the Hell Up? Do either of these questions matter, as no one is even reading this?
She takes another drag from her cigarette, and a long pull of cold, four-hour-old coffee. She imagines her hands around Fate’s throat. She imagines shaking her, hard. She imagines the tinkle of a few coins spilling from beneath Fate’s coat. She imagines using them to pay for the monkey funeral.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On Reading and Pleasure

            The first thing for you to understand, Reader, is that what I read now is not what I read then, and this is due in large part to the nature of my job.  And because books cross my hands at the Circulation Desk I would not normally see, the job has expanded my reading circle in ways I did not expect. This included Popular Fiction, something that as a Serious Student, and then a Serious Writer and Scholar, I had no use for.  
Then, on a lark,  I took home a copy of Barbara Michael’s The Master of Blacktower. I was feeling a bit sick (or maybe just a bit sad), so I took it straight under the covers with a large cup of tea and box of mini cupcakes. This book is, by no means, Great Literature. The Jane Eyre tropes were apparent, as they are in much of Romantic Suspense, and while the writing may not have been beautiful, it was seamless and invisible. The plot was far-fetched, but it was so ridiculous and it was paced so well, I was just pulled along. And it was fun.
Really, really fun.
            Fun, remember? Remember Fairies? Remember Kissing? Remember Pirate Ships and Space Aliens and Werewolves? Remember, guys?
            As children the adults in our lives – our parents, librarians and teachers – went to great lengths to find books that we would actually like, to make sure that reading became something fun to do, something we would want to do, so that … well, to ensure that we would be Readers. And then we grow up and become adults and all the Pirate Ships and Fairies get put away leaving us with what? Couples going through a harrowing divorce. People sitting across the table from each other dealing with their Alcoholism and Not Telling Their Father How They Really Feel. And any book that might contain a character or a situation that would Not Be Possible In Real Life, all too often gets shoved in the children’s room, whether that’s appropriate or not. Because , if it’s not Something Real, how could a Real Adult be interested in it? N’est pas?
            It all makes me so bored I feel like I’m going deaf.
            And the books that give us something else, that might give us something exciting, like a murder or zombies and an airship or a tragic romance are dismissed, noses are wrinkled, hands are waved in front of faces and people say, “Oh, I don’t read those kind of books.”
            I’m not talking about excusing bad and sloppy writing.  But I just don’t understand why a crappy ‘GENRE’ novel is somehow so much crappier than a crappy Literary novel. I also don't understand why the use of an established structure demeans the book. We don't say this about Sonnets, for example.  And for that matter, I don’t understand why Literary Novels don’t see themselves as a genre, why they too often take themselves so seriously, why they feel the need to take 50 or 100 pages to ”teach us how to read it”.  There are “literary” novels I enjoy, but most of these end up using some of the same structures and tropes at work, in say Mysteries or Adventures. And some of the “genre” books I’ve most enjoyed use a level of language or an innovation of structure often seen (or at least attempted) in Literary Novels.
            What are the books that have been the Most Fun for you? Do you even think about books this way? What’s the last book you read that really surprised you? Or do you shy away from reading books altogether, because you’re afraid that you’ll be bored?