On continuing to write at length despite the numbers

Poets know the drill better than anyone except short story writers: the thoughts that creep into the back of your head; when you’ve sent your book to the publisher, but haven’t started on something new, or when your royalty statement comes and you realize you haven’t earned out your meagre advance, or when you never even get an advance at all because the publisher already knows something you do not…. It’s he cold, creeping fingers of doubt that scurry around your occipital bone, like an existential panic attack, but without fear of death. Or at least biological death. If no one is reading you, why do you bother?

But experiencing this polar dip into futility is good for some of us. It’s as freeing as freezing.

When you’re new at writing and pretty sure you’re going change the world with your words, it can be a big high. But when you grow up a bit and realize you might only ever change five people’s worlds (Hell, even 100 people’s worlds), well, that’s a bummer. Except, once you get past feeling sorry for yourself that no one recognizes your genius, how freeing is it to have decided to not care? To not please everyone? How far can you take your art when you’re not worried about it being consumed? So, is no-readers the end of the line for an author, or the start of the race? Time will tell with each who goes this way. But I suppose if we’re still thinking about it, I suppose we’re not quite there yet.

Books are now published in numbers so vast that the writing of one can no longer be presumed to be an act of communication between writer and reader. Yet even books that aren’t read, and stand little chance of ever being read, can have their value.

Extended prose offers the author a chance, one never to be encountered in conversation, no matter how patient one’s listeners, to comb slowly through her own mind at her own pace, sorting out her thoughts, reflexively exploring her sensibilities. Along the way, catharsis too may be in the offing; any troubling feelings discovered by the author, either in advance or in the process of writing, may be discharged, if the writer can only figure out how—without needing to involve readers in the least.

Wednewsday

Middle of the week and only a quarter of the week’s work done? Sounds about standard.

What the actual frig is “domestic fiction”?

A writer who finds herself in the category explores its history and current state. We like our labels, that’s for sure. I don’t know why, but I suppose I get it. It’s like the wee signs that hang over the aperture to each aisle in the grocery store. Ah, THIS is where the cereal is (even though I have been going to that same damn Sobeys for 15 years.) There’s something comforting to not having to spend a moment thinking or exploring options if you are simply looking for whole grains. That said, when it comes to words on a page, I prefer a wider lens on the whole thing: “fiction”, “poetry”, “other stuff”. Etc. Allows me to sometimes find something outside my comfort zone. And the term “domestic fiction” is certainly outside my comfort zone.

The phrase “domestic fiction,” to me, brings to mind oval-shaped rag rugs catching embers and a cast iron skillet full of hash-browns and women in calico dresses setting the table. Basically, it is Little House on the Prairie. Why would my novel, about an itinerant bilingual mother and daughter who do not have a permanent home and zigzag across the Atlantic at a frenetic pace, the long and complicated legacy of the Spanish Civil War overshadowing their every move, be in such a category?

A bit of research shows my instincts about the label aren’t far off. Going back to the 19th century, I learn that “domestic fiction” is often synonymous with “women’s fiction” and “sentimental fiction.” There are a range of authors, from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Jane Austen, and conventional themes, including struggles with class, religion, and marriage. It is a fascinating genre, and some would argue it had a major role in bringing womens’ lives into literary and social discourse.

Two centuries later, I ask, what I am doing in this category?

Friday dig out

So, we’re under a couple feet of snow again. Seems to be becoming a tradition. Anyway, my mind says, Oooh, what’s happening in the news today, while my post-shovelling back says, Hurry the F up so I can stretch out on the floor. You get what you pay for around here, reader.

Thursday dump

It’s going go blizzard here today, so I am trying to speed things up here in order to get my emergency chips and beer for hunkering down. See you on the other side, snow angels. Also: Biden, eh? Who knew old Joe could pull that speech off? When it started, I started a timer to see when he first said “Now, look…” but it turned out to be only halfway through or so. Not bad. And the sentiment is well timed. Here’s hoping more than half the country listens to it.

Are there alternatives to the GoodReads cesspool?

Apparently the answer is yes. Look, I signed up for GR when it first arrived, much like I do with most every social media platform, but I quickly realized it was not the place I’d hoped for. Few real reviews (and way too many skewed toward the low end of the IQ spectrum), lots of mere “star” ratings, and too much trophy-casing (people putting up books they’ve likely not read, but look good…. like resume padding.) Anyway, if you’re in the market for something better, this article might interest you.

I started using Goodreads in 2009 when I was still in high school. I’ve used it off and on over the years, weirdly dropping off use around my final year of college, and then—inexplicably—picking it back up again to do a 52 books reading challenge in 2018. I’ve been a regular Goodreads user ever since. In good company, I’m one of the 19 million others who use Goodreads today.

I primarily use the site for cataloging—it’s my method for keeping track of the books I want to read and the books I have read. That, and the handy reading challenge counter, help me track my progress toward my yearly reading goal. But that’s about it. For book discovery, community, tailored reading recommendations, I tend to look outside Goodreads because I’ve found there are places that serve these needs better.

On the acknowledgments page

Should you thank everyone you ever bumped into or pare it all back to the basics? Depends, says the Agony Editor at Q&Q. Personally, I’ve spent the last few books paring back: simple covers, no author photo, short bio, short acknowledgments, etc. But this was an aesthetic choice after years of just following the trends. That said, I have a new and selected coming next Fall that spans 25 years of writing… A few people needed thanked for keeping me in art, food, and friendship over the years. I promise I’ll get dour and Methodist again once this is all done.

Publishing a book is truly a team effort. There are editors and copy editors and designers and publicists. And there are supportive family members and friends, first readers, and the writers who have inspired you. All of these people should be – and deserve to be – thanked. The question is whether all of them need to be included in your acknowledgements section.

Your friend is right about one thing: people do read the acknowledgements. But that doesn’t mean you’re under any obligation to pander to a reader’s expectations. How a reader interprets those acknowledgements and what they say, or don’t say, about an author is completely subjective.