Friday, February 22, 2013

Strange Bookfellows

Why hello, there! Blog? Is that you? It's so good to see you! My, you've changed. Have you lost some weight? Probably, because there's been NO ONE TO POST ON YOU TO KEEP YOU PLUMP AND HEALTHY!

Consider me shamed. Now, to fatten you up with some empty calories.

I have had a full week with plenty of ups and downs. It has been a little heavier on the downs, but I persevere. I persevere, and I write. Those are my two best tricks.

On the writing front, I've been working on my novel a bit. "Working" here means "staring at the text and sorting through countless notebooks looking for that scene I just know that I already wrote that would be absolutely perfect for this transition, but apparently either evaporated or was a figment of my imagination." The latter is likely because, after all, even the stuff I have written is still nothing but written-down imagination figments. That's all fiction really is anyway, right?

Since trolling through my notebooks only affords me so much quality procrastination even on my super-limited schedule, I've also been thinking about who I'm actually writing this novel for anyway. The obvious answer is, "myself." That is the truth in many, many ways that could get all metaphysical and sappy if I was to expound on it, but it is also a limited answer. Once this beast is finished, I want to get it published with all of the want my big, bursting, wanting heart can want with all its want. That means I am really writing it for anyone and everyone and no one all at the same time.

I am under no illusion that any amount of publishing of my work will ever net me the kind of walking-around money that the Stephenie Meyers and J.K. Rowlings of the world have, and I'll probably never win a Pulitzer unless it is for something to do with rambling blog entries or government social-service grant activity sheets. I just want my book to be published because then it will exist.

Sure, it exists now. It exists on my hard drive, in countless notebooks and on napkins, in my writing buddies' inboxes, and as several reams of printed manuscript. It just doesn't exist in a way that makes it separate from me enough that it can belong to another person. It isn't final. I don't care how many times I print it or email it or read it or tap-dance on top of it, I'm going to see some little something that doesn't sit just right with me, and out comes my ruthless red pen. This phase is maddening for me because it seems never to end, but I've begun to think of it as a period of gestation. Once my novel finally grows itself a proper pair of lungs and gets its heart beating with a regular cadence, then it can join the rest of the world on the outside of my mind.

Lately, I've been thinking about what kind of market my book will be born into. The publishing world is in a state of flux. People are reading differently on a number of levels these days. The rise of e-readers and instant downloads has made it tough for bookstores to keep afloat, which hurts my story-sweetened old bookseller's heart. That said, in addition to a mountain of hard-copy books that will someday probably fall on me and kill me, I also have an e-reader.

E-readers brought with them a convenience and anonymity that have ushered in a new zeitgeist of popular novel. Self-publishing is easier than ever, and many talented authors are choosing that route only to be picked up after the fact by traditional publishers. Readers are worrying less about what their friends would say if they caught them reading that book and making their real reading interests known by what rockets up the e-book bestseller lists.

I'm noticing more and more ironic juxtapositions in book marketing:

I realize that alphabetical order was, is, and always will be the almighty dictator of shelf position, but the choice of face-out display speaks for itself. Sorry, James Joyce. Ulysses just doesn't have enough sex-appeal to catch the modern reader's eye. (No offense to Valerie Joyner. I'm sure her book is perfectly wonderful, it just struck me as a product placement which would baffle Joyce if he were to wander through a Barnes & Noble.)

It's almost like people aren't sure what they want--something to speak to their inner desires, or their outer ones. Maybe they can't tell which ones are which. Either way, Wal-Mart makes it easy to grab an inspirational paperback to take to the church retreat and a steamy Harlequin for the drive up to the location:

In this schizophrenic market, there are a lot of opportunities for writers to wedge their little fingers in the cracks and pull open a book-sized hole for themselves if they're willing to give it a shot. It's heartening in many ways, because pubs are having to look at a lot of factors they once ignored and readers are paying attention to writers they would never have had access to just a few years ago.

All any of this rambling really means is that I'm still writing my book in my own head and that it is a patriot without a country at this point. It takes me full circle and I remember that at least it has me, and I can always just write for myself.

Then someday, when I put my foot down and make the time, when I stop doubting, when I stop procrastinating, my book will exist. Here's hoping there will be someone other than myself waiting to read it.

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