|Posted by nancyfreund11 on August 30, 2014 at 3:50 AM|
Andre Dubus III told me to relax... write this novel right... remember, there’s no hurry. Au contraire, mon frère! Dude’s got to be wrong. Even if he IS Andre Dubus III. I’m an unbearably slow writer. Ten years for Rapeseed. Effort of Will is is now going on seven. Hurry is a relative term.
He also said, and I quote: “I offer you this: Harper Lee.” I get it. Write one good book. One change-the-world novel to put your indelible stamp on literature. I taught To Kill a Mockingbird in LA – my first, floundering year at Whittier High, where Richard Nixon went to school long before kids called the book Tequila Mockingbird. An excruciatingly gratifying professional experience. Believe me, I love Harper Lee. And I love Andre’s point and the split-second invitation to compare myself to Harper Lee. (As if). Write one good book. Don’t rush it.
Do not aim to gain a swamp of pseudo-fans with a bunch of also-ran publications. But times have changed since Tequila Mockingbird -- publishing times I mean -- print-on-demand and digital technology and so much fabulous literacy in the world, everyone you know both reads and writes books, and they blog, and they publish. There’s a lot of stuff out there. You might as well get in the game, rush or no rush. Also, perhaps I’m a swamp creature. Fetid, gloopy mess... I don’t know. The point was about hurrying. I am often distracted, side-tracked, waylaid, but in fact, I am in a hurry! Andre Dubus III!
You know that scene in the movie Airplane where a bunch of passengers line up to “encourage” a nervous woman to relax, each with progressively more encouraging methods? Fists, sticks, brass knuckles, numchucks. Yeah – Andre Dubus III tells me to relax and I want to, I really do, there’s no hurry, ok, check-mark, got that. But the more people tell you to relax, the more you can’t. And this novel I’m writing might be good. There are people I want to be able to read it while they still can. That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? One’s people? Mine are scattered and drifting away. That’s not a metaphor. I’m in a hurry.
Here’s the deal. In case it wasn’t clear -- I recently met and workshopped my work-in-progress novel, Effort of Will, with National Book Award finalist Andres Dubus III, author of The House of Sand and Fog. I try to mention it often -- often as possible, in case you didn’t know how awesome a writer’s life can be (my writer’s life, in this case), in its glimmering moments. It was in Positano, Italy, in April... olive trees and lemon groves and sun over the Amalfi coast and limitless prosciutto and Prosecco and the most luxurious terracotta tile private balcony imaginable. I was lying out there in the sun with my headphones listening to a song my son put on a playlist before he moved away for school, the lyrics “...drifting away... slowly drifting...” and tears came and wouldn’t stop. That doesn’t happen to me often. I took note. It was the drifting. I’ve been dealing with more than a normal person’s share of that these days, and it got me.
It was the 5-star Le Sirenuse with its outstanding spa. (You get the idea yet, how entirely wonderful this thing was, how fabulous, in turn, I must be?) Let’s just be sure that’s established. For a week! I met remarkable writers all over the place – Judith Sarah Gelt over breakfast, Sandra Jensen in the sauna. Ten incredible people in my workshop. It was the Sirenland Writers Conference with the aforementioned Andre Dubus III and his gorgeous wife Fontaine and their sons, and Dani Shapiro (Dani Shapiro!!) and her amazing husband screenwriter Michael Maren (whose film about Altzheimers, A Short History of Decay, also got me), their son Jake, and Meg Wolitzer and her tall and brilliant husband Richard Panek who writes with Temple Grandin, and Andre Aciman, Scott Cheshire, and perhaps my favourite person I’ve met in a long time, Hannah Tinti with blue hair and cool boots. But enough about all these famous, fabulous people I met, let’s get back to me, and you know – the big question.
Is there a hurry? Goethe says “Do not hurry, do not rest.” Perfect. But we still face the tricky balance. No writer should put their work out there until and unless it’s ready. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. We’ve removed the gate-keepers, levelled the playing fields, opened up publishing to all-comers, so as indie writers, as new publishers, it’s incumbent on us to produce highly professional work. We hire proofreaders and editors and graphic artists and publicists, yet we remain our own gatekeepers as we usher ourselves through those golden gates. It’s a bit like the agnostic – self-professed atheist, even – who firmly (perhaps secretly) believes in God, or certainly behaves as though they do. A topic for another novel I’m working on, in fact. But I digress. (I warned you, didn’t I? I do digress). Do not hurry, digress if you must, but do not rest.
I was asked by an eager writer at the Geneva Writers Group, couldn’t he just put his book out with a text-only cover? Good God, no. Now I don’t know the content of this man’s book – I know it’s philosophy and serious non-fiction, and I know his studies and his multi-national background and his crazy Einstein hair might give him access to something brilliant... and the way he talks about it, with a brave and soft-spoken insistence, I suspect his book might give readers access to something brilliant. But he has to get the book to readers – bottom line. HE has to get the book to readers. Indie writers usher themselves through the gates, they also have to usher the work to its audience. And usher and usher and keep ushering.
I want to quote my pal Andre Dubus III and tell the man: relax, dammit. Instead I gently say no. Take the time, hire the artist, get the cover that shows your writing in its best light. Luckily there were a handful of writer people at the table with me who jumped in and told him the same. Also, know that your book is not going to sell. At all. Ever. Start with that, and the rest is gravy. It’s not going to win awards, though you’re going to market the book, you’re going to mail it off with fingers crossed and hope in your heart and a deep-seated awareness that the Society of Authors will not even turn the five copies of your book over to look at the back cover before it gets trashed. The Saroyan Prize -- ha!
But we must enter. We write the best books we can write, we hire the best help we can find, we fix and fine-tune and invite feedback every step of the way. We learn to ask for help, often, which is a very hard thing to do for anyone who calls him or herself independent. Speaking of drifting, you’re now floating so far from your own tried-and-true version of self, you will have to simply let go. We learn to gracefully accept help. We fail and learn that lesson again. We’ve got work to do, and people who might read our stuff if they get the chance. Remember what matters, why we’re doing what we do. Every writer has his or her personal reasons. Those reasons, those readers, will help you find and find your own tricky balance.
And now, I should return you to your day... return myself to my projects and plans... make actual progress on my work-in-progress. As you may have suspected, this post (both writing it and reading it) might be a form of procrastinating, but that’s not bad! It’s how one can slow down, think things through, get things right, and not hurry.