And Mrs Fringe Takes the Bait

again.  Even though I know it wasn’t meant for me, personally.  Let’s face it, I’m a complete unknown–which is kind of my point.

Plate coral eating a silverside.

Plate coral eating a silverside. So how come I feel more like that fish than the coral?

Earlier this morning I was going about my usual morning procrastinations, checking out Facebook, Twitter, etc, and I came across a link to this piece in the NY Times Book Review/bookends.   I know this is a rant I’ve indulged in many times, but aaaargh!  First let me say I haven’t read the original Lionel Shriver essay referenced, where she apparently wrote about feeling nostalgic for her previous commercial failure. Mmm hmm.  I adore her work and believe she is truly a brilliant writer.  Frankly, I’m pretty sure if I read her essay I’m never going to be able to read her fiction with an open mind again.  At the moment I’m wishing I didn’t click the link and read what I did.

Francine Prose and Mohsin Hamid each respond to this question of author success, the pros and cons.  Of course there are benefits and disadvantages, as there are to every choice, every person’s life/lifestyle/career.  Both Ms. Prose and Mr. Hamid are successful authors, and it was Mr. Hamid’s (who for the record, has achieved both commercial and critical success)  closing statement that has me pacing and ranting at my dogs.

“It’s a radical thought, but I wonder whether in some way we professional fiction writers might be better off if, like poets of old, we were to make nothing from our writing and had to earn our living elsewhere. Radical or not, it’s how most writers actually live today, working their day jobs, and writing — unpaid, alone, with passion — at night.”

Maybe my reaction is because I’m not part of that lovely “we.” I’ve yet to be paid for any of my words, therefore I am not a professional fiction writer.   But I make no secret of the fact that I want to be, and won’t accept being shamed for it.  If you want me to, I’ll admit to being a calculating bitch who wants my words to be read and I want to earn a dollar for them.

How unfortunate that my calculations are off.  If they weren’t, I’d be part of the we, one of the published, one of the eek! successful.

math disaster

math disaster (Photo credit: the mad LOLscientist)

What was I doing before screwing around online and reading this link?  Obsessing, again, about when I might hear back from agents, and debating with myself about whether or not I’m doing the right thing by holding off on sending more queries until I do. Because I would like to receive an offer of representation, and I would like to be published.  I’ll even go so far as to say I dream of being well published, and having my novel be well received.  That dirty whisper of success.

I am not the voice of the unpublished everywhere.  There are people who say they write solely for themselves, the work is enough, and if they’re never published they’re ok with that.  Though I can’t relate to those thoughts, I accept them at face value.  But they aren’t my thoughts.  As I’ve said many, many times before, I write to be read.  When I write, yes, I write the story as I see it, the characters as I imagine them, but I write with readers in mind, thinking about which words might be most appealing, which images will make sense to readers other than myself.

I do appreciate Mr. Hamid’s statements about commercial success involving luck.  I read no hint of dismissal or condescension in this, the talent and skill have to be present for any writer to be in a position to receive such luck, but yes, it’s a part of “big” success.

No doubt, there is a certain luxury in the process of writing without contracts or deadlines or expectations.  If other areas of my life are extra busy–hell, if I don’t feel like it! I don’t actually have to produce any words.  And I’ll go further, at this moment, I don’t have to think about bad reviews on Goodreads, or worry about what my children’s teachers–or my children–will think of me, personally, when/if they read my work.  That isn’t nothing, negative reviews and sometimes personal attacks are hurtful, even if you’re cashing a check. From my limited view of the world and the publishing industry, would I trade these luxuries for a few readers and a contract?  Absolutely. Am I crass for admitting this?   Maybe I’m just not that deep.

When Man Child talks about becoming a chef, and I see him busting his butt putting hours of hard, sweaty labor into it–not just cooking, but learning about other cultures, becoming fluent in other languages, and learning the business skills necessary, I don’t pat him on the head and tell him how wonderful it is that he can cook his own dinner.  And no one else responds to him by saying hey, maybe one day you can be a fry cook at McDonald’s.

The reality is that very, very few of those who attain publication will achieve such success that any of this is even a question.  As quoted above, not many published authors get to “quit the day job.”  No one argues this, not me, not Mr. Hamid, not anyone with any remote connection to the publishing industry.  I know this is the reality, but when I dream, that’s what I dream of, not nobly burning my pages for warmth and starving in a garret.

 

 

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23 comments

  1. “If you want me to, I’ll admit to being a calculating bitch who wants my words to be read and I want to earn a dollar for them.” Here here! Add me to the calculating bitch list.

    I read the Shriver essay, perhaps because I’ve enjoyed [some] of her novels so (I’ve only read three just yet). And I can sympathize, too. Because i do want to be published, and paid. I want some modicum of success and recognition. Conversely, I also have a deep-seated need to be left the hell alone. Can’t have both, right? The Salinger schtick won’t really work nowadays.

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    1. Thanks Jen, it’s comforting to know I’m in good company. 🙂

      I do see what you’re saying, and I think this would be true for many, if not most, writers. If we weren’t “behind the scenes” people, we’d likely be drawn to a different creative expression. That said, even among the hugely successful, how many authors would be recognized as they made their way through a grocery aisle? It isn’t the same as a hugely successful actor or musician.

      Luckily, I’ve got plenty of time to daydream about how to balance future success with Greta Garbo’s (I want to be alone) inspiration. 😉

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      1. Yeah, I’m not sure I would recognize writers I like in the grocery store. I’m not sure I know what a lot of them look like (Neil Gaiman I definitely do). They definitely don’t get the same kind of “face time” as rock stars or musicians, and writing still is at its heart a rather private enterprise. That said, I probably wouldn’t mind a conversation with a fan at the grocery store, but might mind a publicist calling me for the seventh time in three days. Or whatever. My phone aversion is probably a story for another day 😉

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  2. I won’t call myself a calculating b-i. Can’t do it. But I hope you let me join your little club anyway, Mrs Fringe, because I want what you want, and I want it badly, and I want it fucking soon.

    eek.

    I don’t think it’s a waste of time to dream, especially when one’s dreams are rooted in reality. The reality is, you can flat-out write, Mrs Fringe. The rest of it–the stats, the luck, the capricious nature of getting one’s stuff noticed and published and read–that’s a given, too, but it doesn’t negate your talent. And in that vast field of writer wannabees, you are a special flower indeed, ripe for picking, should the right agent happen to look your way.

    So rant if you must, Mrs Fringe. As long as you keep that dream of yours alive.

    ❤ kk

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    1. You’re always welcome, kk–no clubs, by definition, they’re exclusionary. 😉

      You are such a tremendous source of support for me, not easy when you’re doing your own waiting and angst-ing. ❤ I appreciate your perspective, as a friend who is a gifted writer, but for me, this isn't so much about whether or not "it" can/will happen, but rather, whether or not it's acceptable, respectable, to say I want it. 😀
      I don't believe I'm special, there are many gifted writers out there, so yeah, I want that validation, I'm the horse who wants that carrot of an offer and a contract.

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  3. Oh poo. Of course it’s acceptable. Why wouldn’t it be?

    For some, writing is enough. For others–like you and me and Jen–the work is incomplete without that validation you speak of. We put our writing–our yin–out there and wait for our yang: agent, publisher, audience. We won’t feel complete without it.

    Why spend time second-guessing yourself? You want it, you need it, you’re trying to get it. You’re not hurting anyone in that quest and when your dream does come true, there won’t be a downside, save that possible loss of anonymity Jen spoke of. You live in NYC, shouldn’t be too tough to slip into that admiring crowd of yours and disappear. . .

    🙂

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  4. First of all, you are already read. You blog. You have a readership. I totally share your desire and determination to be read through traditional publishing. The reality is that it is getting harder because the publishing industry is an…industry. It is the privilege of editors and their job too, to pick manuscripts that have financial potential. It doesn’t mean that you should not write and seek readers. Don’t focus too much on the publication part. Write. Submit. If this is the path you want. Meanwhile post on your blog where you will be read. Good luck and best to you.

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  5. Life’s full of all these damn questions…Chicken or egg? Nature or nurture? Is there a God? Should I keep querying or wait until I hear back? Can’t we just get some reliable guidance so we can stop worrying? As someone who’s about to jump into the query waters, I’d really like some definitive answers. 😀

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  6. I can feel how much you want this Mrs. F and I want it for you too! I don’t know much about the process of getting published, but I do know what it is to have and hold on to a dream. If you don’t believe, don’t hold on to your dreams, no one else will. ❤

    Diana xo

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  7. Lol! When I did my Masters in Creative Writing, at one point, the teacher stuck a length of tape on the floor and said on one end is “for the love of high lit”, on the other is “money”. She asked us to stand on the tape according to which one we value most. I was the only one who stood right on money. 😉 I’m all for writers writing for the sake of the art, but I want to do it as my job. Also I love being able to, you know, make the rent and have enough to eat.

    Ironically, two other students in the class ended up publishing highly commercial books shortly after the program ended. How commercial? Enough so that they didn’t dare tell the course director! Phtphtpht.

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    1. Love this story, Putt!
      I would have been right on the money line with you. Writing (fiction) is far from a get rich quick scheme, or even reliable income, but it is work, and yeah, I want to be paid for that work. ‘
      🙂

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  8. I respect the hell out of those who claim they write for the art and beauty of creation. But I’m with the money crowd. Once in a great while I get an idea that sounds artsy and meaningful. But the stuff I work on and pull my hair out over is due to daydreams of the big paycheck. One day. Maybe. Or not. But I’ll keep trying!

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