On the pain and anguish of the unsold book

What happens when you and your agent have done all you can and no one is biting? When is it time to shut the book away in a drawer and start over? Even contemplating this gives me the sweats and screaming willies. I have done this with many poems over the years, and with one novel. Now, in fairness, I never tried to sell anything I’ve put away. They just weren’t good enough to really go for it. That said, it was still difficult to accept with some of it. Especially the 250 pages of novel. I’m over it now, but it was six months gone. That’s a lot of months.

My situation being that my agent had begun submitting my book nine months prior (not that I was keeping track), and it remained unsold. Admittedly, there had been close calls with two different editors, but, as everyone knows, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I was in the same place I’d been back in September. That is, unpublished. The waiting game was starting to char my soul; if you drew a finger across it and put that finger to your tongue, it would taste bitter. Joking with my husband (“Now that I’m nursing, I’ll send them a new author photo, cleavage and all!”) was one of the few coping mechanisms I had left in me.

Now that it’s almost September (“If anyone in publishing actually worked in the summer, I would’ve sold my book by now!”), the jokes aren’t as funny. The truth is, my novel isn’t selling, and it probably won’t. There, I’ve said it. Eventually, a writer must accept rejection, accept the death of her first true darling, and move on. Can I face that sobering reality? Can I put my first book into the drawer, and shut it?

Who knew the apocalypse had hump days?

It just keeps going. I am surrounded by kids and teens doing homeschooling, Trudeau is single-parenting without staff help because he sent everyone home for safety while his wife convalesces and he’s sometimes late for virtual meetings because of bath time, and now it turns out Prince Charles got The ‘Rona, too. No one is safe! (A few years ago, I wrote a poem called “The Queen’s Flu”, about HRM getting sick. Off by a smidge in my prophet game. So many stories out there, I’m bound to strike paydirt soon.) Won’t it be nice when I can re-combine Coronanews with the regular news again?

Please socially distance yourself from the urge to write a Coronavirus novel

I would extend this to poets as well. The other day I asked Twitter to take a guess at how many poems titled “Flattening the Curve” are currently being written. Too many, is my guess. My suggestion for writers is to keep a journal of what life is like, then come back to it in ten years (haha, like we’ll be here in ten years) when you have enough distance and perspective to actually write a decent piece of literature instead of an opportunistic panic attack on the page. I’ve written two things on 9/11, one a commission for CBC a year after the disaster and another called “State of Emergency” in my 2012 book Whiteout. You can really see the difference waiting makes.

From an artistic standpoint, it’s best to let tragedy cool before gulping it down and spitting it back into everyone’s faces. After all, “Don Quixote” was published about a century into the Spanish Inquisition. Art should be given a metaphorical berth as wide as the literal one we’re giving one another. Right now we are distracted and anxious beyond measure, but things will settle (how much and when remains to be seen), and then? I think of the opening scene of Noah Baumbach’s first film, “Kicking and Screaming,” in which two young writers start taking notes on a fight as they’re having it.

“What if I want this material?” asks the boy.

“We’ll see who gets it first,” says the girl.

We all know how limited this kind of get-it-while-it’s-hot writing will seem in the future. That’s never stopped us from doing it. It’s not stopping me from indulging in a version of it right now. Look at the narratives that came out in the years immediately following 9/11. They have not aged well. Really, we’re only just now nailing World War I. But like everyone else, writers feel the need to distill life as a means of surviving it.

"Reading is fundamental to the soul"

So says Indigo head Heather Reisman, pictured below posing in a store setting that is more than half pricey housewares.

Uncredited photo from the Star

After shutting down their bricks and mortar stores to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, ramping up online and phone ordering, and arranging pickup and delivery services, stretched booksellers were nervous about another potential blow to their businesses: being labelled a non-essential service and being forced to shut down entirely for 14 days.

“I think books are essential,” said Sarah Pietroski owner of A Novel Spot Bookshop in Etobicoke about the announcement the Ontario government is ordering all non-essential businesses to close as of Wednesday. “There’s not much else to do (when you’re social distancing). The phones have been ringing like crazy; the online orders have been coming in like crazy.”

Writers and their pets' names

Authors and their pet names. What is the name of you pet? When I was in my early 20s, I had a cat named Hamlet who I subsequently found out was Ophelia. Now we have a dog named Mitsou (yes, like the French Canadian pop star from the 90s).

I suppose there’s no reason Thomas Hardy would name his cat Kiddleywinkempoops, except maybe to shame him. Mercifully, he also had a nickname: Trot. “But perhaps,” one writer muses, “that was because he was a bit mean. It would save on the cost of the inscription on the cat’s gravestone. Hardy had his own pets’ cemetery that he made at Max Gate, his house in Dorset.”

Librarian as detective

I suspect many librarians fancy themselves detectives after a sort, so this sort of story, in which a librarian solves a decades old cold case via research, should turn on some of those stern, pointy-glasses-wearing authoritarians — sproinging-out a few stray strands of hair from their buns and putting a few points in some tight cardigans.

The benefits of reading YA

Does reading YA fiction make you a better person? Apparently, yes.

Black and Barnes developed a two-part research study to deepen the exploration of earlier research on reading and its impact on morality. The study sought to make connections between reading different types of books—YA fiction, adult fiction, and nonfiction—and the impact each may have on empathy, moral identity, and moral agency.

“Moral self is the salience of morality in people’s sense of identity (Blasi, 1980),” according to the research methodology, “and integrity refers to the preference for consistency between moral principles and actions (Blasi, 1983).” These two definitions have been standardized enough in research to have tools making them quantifiable for researchers. The third, moral agency, is defined as “the ability to do what one believes to be right and to avoid doing what one believes to be wrong (Bandura, 2006).”