“Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yeah, Waldo! We’re still listening.
I enjoyed reading ‘s ongoing saga of how she’s dealing with being a published author. She writes:
“The dreaded Second Book. And then the routine Third Book.
I did not enjoy writing these two books. Was it because I wrote them under contract? Was it because I wrote them in collaboration with my editor, sending her chunks at a time for approval, discussing every next step with her? Was it the pressure to perform, the knowledge that I was being watched, the expectation that I now had to confirm myself as a Published Author? […]
Maybe all of those played a part. But I can best sum it up in four words: the magic was gone.
I had written _Of Marriageable Age_ in a lightbeam of enchantment. Every day I had entered my own little private world where the characters were my closest friends, their story a journey I travelled with them, eager to know its outcome. […] My novel was a magic carpet that took me far away, but at the same time, entered me and drove me and moved my fingers. And somehow that magic entered the novel; “magic” is the word readers most often described it by. Not magic in the waving a magic wand sense, but in a more personal sense. Readers felt touched.”
Isn’t that a wonderful way to describe the flowstate when you’re on a roll with your writing?
I hope she’s feeling better about those two books now. This was a cool thing to quote, as we’ve all felt that magic. The flowstate, chess players and artists call it.
But o’course I saw another side to this situation. I’d like to make it clear that I’m not attacking her, or at least I don’t mean to come across that way. Her post just sparked this reaction in me. It’s just that I wish I had that kind of problem to complain about! The magic is gone AND nobody gives a crap about my books . . . that’s a LOT worse. *grin*
Does anyone else admit to remembering Joel Chandler Harris and the tale of Br’er Rabbit and the briar patch? How the rabbit convinced the predator that the worst thing for him would be to get thrown in the briar patch? Well . . . you can throw me into that briar patch anytime, Br’er Bear!
My jealous rant and further musings below the LJ cut. Partly because it’s too long, and partly because it’s pathetic.
Yes, I understood her angst. But at the same time, her explanation made me jealous, envious, and angry. Yes, that’s because I am a Bad Person; I already know this. I understand that she lost the magic smoke like a motherboard that has just blown an important chip, and that this is bad for an artist.
But hell, I can’t help it: I only wish that I had the “problem” that an editor (!!) was waiting to get the next chunk and would actually DISCUSS it with me from the POV of “I like this, and I’m trying to work with you rather than just trying to pick a nit and shoot you down to show you how superior I am,” which is the way some critiques come across [no, Dennis, you know I am not talking about you, or about RonnieBeeGood, or about Linda D.] I mean . . . you’ve seen those interviews with beauty queens where they complain about having to keep up the hair and nails and always having those flashbulbs going off, but while you can see their point, kind of, you think, “Grrr.” *GRIN* I work well under pressure, as long as it’s pressure of encouragement rather than “we knew you couldn’t do anything right, and there you are screwing up again,” as it usually is around here.
Yes, I’m wicked. I told you. Regular readers already know this.
She continues (another great quotation):
“Writing is such an intimate occupation; the words you put down on paper are the visible symbols of who you are and where you are. Each word is a portal through which the reader enters your world, your being. As if by magic, readers were pulled into the same enchanted world in which I’d written it. What more could a writer want?”
Yes, that’s great. When readers are actually willing to read your stuff, that rocks. This is another good quotation.
Okay . . . y’know, I am trying to work up more sympathy, as I know I should be able to. But y’know, ALL my books have been thrown out into an uncaring world. There have been so very few times when anybody was even willing to look at “that dreck,” let alone be waiting for it AND know the market and therefore make good suggestions. *gnash* Give me a chance to experience that situation (having a book contract to fulfill and having people bug me and ask me to send chapters!), and I’ll feel empathy then.
When I was finishing up _Dulcinea_ for the Warner contest, I had a co-worker who became my then-best friend* who was waiting eagerly for each chapter as I pulled it off the inkjet printer. (Yes, ancient times.) I’d print this at work over my break (wicked, wicked woman), and she would read them over lunch and make suggestions. It was a great motivator. She took the book seriously. She was a Robert “Wheel of Time” Jordan addict, and she knew the reader-mind of fantasy readers. It was glorious to know that someone cared and was pulling for my character. That someone would ask, “And then what happened?”
However, some of her suggestions made the book a bit less marketable . . . though they were neat suggestions. Had she been an editor/agent, though, it would have been dreamy. That would have been a mentorship, and all the suggestions would have been something that made them want to print the book, so . . .
Yes, I know, sometimes the editorial suggestions go against your knowledge of what is the true artistic vision of the book. But hell, it’s going to go out to bookstores! And to libraries! So maybe a bit of selling out is in order. I should’ve thought of that when I had a taker, shouldn’t I?
While I do understand the dilemma she describes, at least intellectually, I just can’t work up the appropriate sympathy here. I am a Bad Person, I know.
* [We broke up. The boss took a liking to her and they became best buds. She had to dump me so she could be Popular.]
Anyway . . . I don’t know if I could write a book set in a venue I didn’t know, but I can write ’em set in Texas. So as long as they’ll read about Texas, I wouldn’t have that particular booboo of the editor wanting more set in that last venue. Here I am, in all my shit-kickin’ glory.
*sigh* So anyway, throw me in that briar patch, Br’er Bear!
Today I’ve lost all faith and all interest in the mystery I’m writing. For whatever reason. Yesterday I was blathering on about the idea I’ve had for the way the crime is committed while I was making a damn meatloaf because we were snowed in and couldn’t go to the cafeteria as planned, and Mama said it sounded completely idiotic and too convoluted, then told me she could tell me a plot that would be a best-seller.
She proceeded to expostulate her favorite book idea, which she tells me every few months. She thinks I should use the lives of her “friends” (and I use the scare quotes for a reason) Jor-Jor and Dahnn, whose lives she sees as a soap opera, and whom she thinks are really representative of America. But those two are VERY boring, pedestrian, and have NOTHING TO OFFER. I cannot sympathize with them and their choices. I think they’re a bunch of materialistic airheads who’ve missed chance after chance for happiness, missed the joys of their kids growing up, and are still wondering why the new Hummer hasn’t made them the happiest girl in the whole USA.
It wasn’t the right time for her to tell me yet again to write about their stupid little conformist corporate-wageslave lives and the intrigues of their slutty daughters and shoplifter-pervert son. So I said. . . .
“I know a book that WOULD make it to your favorite Lifetime channel and maybe to theaters. You use YOUR life. You open in 1941 with Grandpa having his first onset of schizophrenia, or what would now be called ‘bipolar disorder’ and would likely be treatable with a few pills and some counseling.”
“I’m thinking of an opening scene in which Grandpa and Grandma come out of theater that was showing “Blood on the Sun” with their three kids–you and Aunt and Uncle–frolicking and getting candy out of boxes. Ruby looks up and says, “Bill?” Because he’s looking disoriented and furtively glances around. Then he comes to himself and they take the children’s hands and go home, walking past war bonds ads and various 1941 posters. We see a lot of servicemen joining up and the war thing is on–people have stars in windows. The radio talks about the war, and Grandpa is shown holding his head like “Ai-yi-yi” in the bathroom alone. He heads to work, at a foundry where he pours molten lava to create cast-iron pans, and voices echo in his head. He thought the movie was speaking directly to him, that God spoke to him through the narrator of the film, and that movie made him go crazy, the authorities later say . . . it wasn’t bad enough that he lost the family farm in the Depression and had to get this awful job in town, but now he hears these voices. . . .”
She started crying. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you about that. You can’t imagine how it feels for your daddy to be reaching through the bars and crying, ‘Help me, [her real name],’ as they take him away.”
“That’s the point. Your story would make the audience feel that. It would be cathartic and resonate with readers or viewers because it’s a universal kind of experience on some level.”
“It’s too personal!!”
“But see, that story has power. It would have them falling into the aisles sobbing. It wouldn’t be someone else’s dumb story that you tried to tell, but YOUR STORY that only YOU can tell. They would know how it felt.”
“I couldn’t do that to my family! Nobody knows about that except your aunt J. and uncle D. and his wife and a few of the cousins! Everyone else old enough to know about that–which was such a shameful thing at the time–is gone, and I would not want people to know! I couldn’t tell that.”
“Well . . . that’s what a writer does, lays herself or himself open for ravaging. And we do it on the off bet that perhaps the story will resonate with others, teach others and guide them. Illuminate the universal eternal human condition and let people feel the trials of others, or at least help them to understand our place in this crazy world, or at least how others have coped with it.”
She shut down completely and clicked up the volume on the TV. “Shut up and let me see the end of my movie!”
The background of that story would be WWII and their friends’ sons going off to war, etc. I’d show how my grandmother had to go to work at the cleaners and Mama took the job as a telephone operator after school as soon as she was old enough (fourteen!) and met my dad’s youngest sister, who was also a telephone operator. (They had plug-in switchboards.) I’d have a scene later where my daddy would come home from the war and ride his horse up to her bedroom window to ask her on a date (this really happened). The tale would be Woukian in scope.
But it’ll never get told. Hurt too many people.
Thank God I’m like my daddy’s side of the family, where there wasn’t any bipolar stuff (at least not diagnosed) but the drawback was that they all dropped dead of diabetes-related illnesses far too young. (sigh) There’s always a trade-off.
Speaking of Wouk . . . I caught a flick on TCM this morning starting Margaret O’Brien. It was a camp story of love at summer camp with much intrigue, scripted by Herman Wouk. I got sucked in even though it was an old-fashioned story: the maguffin was not really that believable (the secret formula for the family business’ cleaning product is written on a blue piece of paper, and when she and her brother sneak into the family business’s safe to get $25 for her to do her camp project and win the boy, they accidentally take that paper to write the IOU on the back of and then have to flee and don’t get to leave the IOU, and then the business will have to be sold to a takeover person because her dad thinks the Secret Formula has been stolen by his competitor, and she has to figure out how to confess or get it back to him.) And of course the attitudes and costumes are those of the 1940s in which the piece is set. Still, Wouk is a master storyteller. He was born a storyteller.
I used to be a good storyteller. But if I said something imaginative at the dinner table when I was a child, I was scolded. “That’s not true! God is listening! Your lies are your downfall! Shame, shame!”
One of the cutest LJ reads I’ve had in a while was when Deanna Hoek interviewed her children. I fell out when her son said, “I have powers, you know. I can turn into a bear!”
Deanna handled this perfectly! My admiration for her as a person and a parent increased even more as I saw how she drew this interview out of him. What a cute kid. And her daughter, too. I hope they keep their imaginations intact, and I think they will.
What if I had said that to my mother at ANY point in my childhood?
MY mother would have said, “Oh, really? Then do it right now.” (hands on hips) “Well? I’m waiting. See, people can’t turn into animals. That’s just more of your lies. Don’t be a storyteller.” This was her Southernism for “lying.” Unfortunately, it interfered with my storytelling abilities and still does to this day.
I finally figured out by the time I was about five that I should not tell her any of my stories or pretend games, and to keep them to myself. Once I got into school, however, I found that it was seen as Creative and Intellectual for me to write down and act out these stories *as stories*. I was fascinated with the language and how you could say the same thing different ways and communicate through subtext, nuance, and connotation, and became a grammar/punctuation wonk. Even though I knew I didn’t have any interesting stories that I was ready to tell, I had a natural way to turn a phrase. So I became a good WRITER.
But that isn’t the same as being a good STORYTELLER. So that’s my downfall. I can write page upon page and the narrative can be funny or engaging or interesting, but there are now so many other criteria by which your storytelling is judged. If you look at the strict pulp-fiction approach promulgated by Saint Dwight Swain and his acolyte St. Jack Bickham, here summarized by Randy Ingermanson, you’ll see that there is no room for anything but the forward motion of the telling of the events. That isn’t the kind of book that I like to read very often and isn’t the kind I write . . . and I believe there’s room for the Other Kind of story, as I said on Matociquala’s comment thread.
Anyway . . . it’s all too exhausting. I don’t know whether I can work up any more eagerness for any novels for a while. It’s the knowing that there probably isn’t going to be an audience that bugs me. I guess I was raised with the “approval meter” being a major way that I evaluate my success. If I am getting disapproval from the boss, the friends, et alia, I don’t work well. The self-fulfilling prophecy (“you can’t do this–you’re a failure”) comes true.
This probably stems from childhood issues, as well–everyone telling me in school that I had to please the teachers and Mama saying that I could charm them by being the best, and that all that mattered was getting their approval and having people think you’re good. (*Sigh . . . ever-pathetic*) I am relieved to know that kids are no longer being brought up this way, for the most part, except maybe those who have stage mothers.
But anyhow, Hubby is supportive in the sense that he says “keep writing,” but he does NOT want to hear about it, and if I accidentally start blathering about some plot point I am working through or something I discovered, he says, “Remember, I don’t care about that . . . don’t want to hear the details. I don’t like anything but F/SF, and I especially hate mystery because I hate the entire idea that someone has to die and the book is not about mourning them, and I hate chick stuff because it’s totally boring.”
So it gets kind of grindy around here. That was what was so nice about the crit groups I’ve been in: there was someone who at least pretended to have read the stuff and was willing to talk about it in return for my talking about their work.
The green-eyed monster has subsided. Now he’s going back to sleep for a while. He needs to be evicted, but he’s part of being human, I suppose.
I really need to clean up this house. Maybe scraping the crud off the toilets will help to restore some perspective.
Have a cookie. The electronic ones are calorie-free.