Sunday, 26 October 2014


I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do---the actual act of writing---turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.  ---- Anne Lamott

 So many of my posts seem to be on the same theme---the notion of writing, the beauty of writing, the pleasure of it all, the freedom of the process...compared to the business end of it. Being published. 

Yes, I do write about this often because my attempt to balance them both is sometimes the pin that pricks the beautiful bubble of being an author. It's the element that I've found most frustrating---and, hell, even heartbreaking---since I've become a published author. Note: I did not say since I started writing. I said since I became a published writer. 

Once that baby of yours, that book you wrote, becomes the property of a publisher, you've sort of signed an invisible contract with yourself that this talent of yours, this beautiful escape of yours, this passion of yours, has in its own way, become a job. You have become an employee. An employee whose job it is to write. And it is such because you are now being paid for this product. It's still---oh, gods, if you will let it be---a wonderful art and form of personal pleasure. But you are being paid by an employer to do it now. And it's official. It's not just you and your private passion. It is out there, baby. 

Okay. So now you are an employee, now that this thing has become a job, things change a bit. Like it or not, whether it's still the lovely get-a-way that it's always been, it still has changed. Into your world comes an entire staff of people to produce your product. Into your life, just like in a real, physical office...there comes a bevy of co-workers. 

Just like in a real office environment, because you are new to the business end of this new job, you have to learn the ropes. Sure, your new staff are behind-the-scenes----and hopefully with you---preparing your product for its release. As though with any product, a team preps your work to get it ready to hit the market. 

This network, this staff---as in a nine-to-five type job you drive to everyday---should be, most importantly, your support. In all working situations, the employees should be a support structure. That is the ideal. 

Sometimes, though, it is not. And, in the constant comparison to the literal office job, the lack of the support, the isolation from this needed strength, is damn scary. Discouraging. Often folks just keep on working in spite of it. Maybe the money's too good to walk away from the negatives. Maybe they just don't have enough confidence to walk away. 

Seems daily there are reports of authors running into nightmarish situations with publishers---publishing houses folding, publishing houses not folding but making themselves inaccessible to their employees. That, too, is just the same as in any business. There is good and there is bad. There are places where respect is potent. Places where it is not. 

The point is: writing, once you have become the employee of a publishing house, is no different than the office job. Whatever guidelines you would embrace in order to navigate in the literal office should be the same in publishing. Your own guidelines, how you would treat fellow staff. Your expectations---no, your rights---of being treated fairly and without prejudice or favoritism by your employer. Your ethics in general. Your professionalism. Your employer's professionalism. Their ethics. 

Your employer should be equally available to all staff, from oldest and best to newest and most inexperienced. 

There should be no exceptions.

Believe it or not, this all really does come back to Anne Lamott's quote. 

Because this new job you've launched is, in reality, a...job...complete with all the positives and negatives of any other employment, you've got to go into it holding on tight to why you started this whole show in the first place.

Because you loved writing. Because you could not not write. Just because you decided to go that extra step to turn that passion into a job does not---cannot---mean that you should abandon the tea party beauty of it all. 

Letting go of the love of it all and trying to make it into nothing but a paying prospect will be very obvious in your writing. Your voice will suffer. Sure, readers might still embrace your product and, sure, you might still make bucus of bucks. 

But will you really, really, really be happy to have walked away from the magic of it? The beautiful tea party?


Friday, 3 October 2014

Don't Even Get Me Started on The Da Vinci Code...

You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect.   -- John Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

I tried to carefully arranged my thoughts on what I'm about to say. The last thing I want is for my words to come across as a complaint or a tirade on an old subject. I'm just thinking. Out loud. 

And those thoughts are: Opinions. How everyone is entitled to them. And how they can send a writer soaring to the heavens or they can kind of hurt. (As my ol' pal Vastine Bondurant says, they should not make us or break us, remember). 

So to the point I go.

I just read a couple of reviews of a book. What got to me was not whether the reviewers liked or disliked the book. Hey, do you like every book you read? Oh, hell, no, you don't. 

What did strike me was that bits of the evaluations were based on what the reviewers felt should have been. What might have been added to make them like the book more.

Aha! You think I'm going to go on a rant about reviews, don't you? Well, I'm not. As Vastine and I have said, I love reviews. I love good ones. I even love bad ones. Yes, I do. Why? Because, good or bad, my work is being read. And I cannot please every reader. But I love them all. The readers, that is. 
I'm honored when any person takes the time to give feedback on my work. Hey, I've known the sad, left-out feeling of having had my work rejected by some popular review sites. Plain and simple, I am not well-known. My work is no draw to anyone's visibility ratings should they review me. So...for those beautiful people---whether they have good to say or bad to say about my books---to host my name and my book? I am, as I said, honored.

But, when I read those reviews on this particular book, I realized something very important. I read that same book. I loved it. The writing was stellar, beautiful, passionate. I did not even notice---for an iota of a second---the shortcomings that the reviewers had cited. To me, the work was perfect. It was unconventional, bold, refusing to concede to popular codes just to be accepted. It was what it was and it was fabulous.

And that is my point. Can you see it? How opinion really is just that---opinion. A bad opinion of a book does not make it a bad book. 

Want some examples? I found some awful reviews on some of my most beloved books. Books I adore, books I have read over and over, books I wish I'd written because they are so damn good.

Salman Rushdie said this of "The Da Vinci Code", Do not start me on The Da Vinci Code ... a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name.

Of "Wuthering Heights", George R. Graham had this to say, How a human being could have attempted such a book [Wuthering Heights] as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.

 It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only that he did not burn it afterwards, complained Thomas Wentworth Higginson about "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman.

And, again, on "Wuthering Heights", the North British Review made this prediction in 1847,  Here, all the faults of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read.

Mark Twain hated one of the Brontes' writing so much he claimed to want to hit her over the head with her own shinbone. Ouch. 

Ahem. So there. And that is only the beginning.  So many citations on readers hating books that...well...went on to literary immortality in spite of those who did not quite cotton to them. 

Steve Maraboli says, I am self-propelled; fueled from within. I appreciate people’s opinions, but I’m not attached to them. I learned a long time ago that if I give them the power to feed me, I also give them the power to starve me.

I must emphasise that my thoughts this morning aren't only as an author but as a reader.

And my biggest point is, somewhere lost in all my rambling: books are written to the tune of an author's heart. They are not written to the expectations of those who have expectations for their words. They should not be written to meet preconceived notions at all. They should also not be evaluated on such.

I, personally, have found myself trying to streamline my thought process while writing into putting out what I think will meet the expectations of what is popular. Bad, bad, bad. For one thing, my individuality just plain won't let me do it. Epic fail for me. 

I honestly don't know if the expectations upon reading a book are based on what is popular, that everyone is supposed to write within the same guidelines. All I do know is that, if that is so, it's dangerous for an author's artistic soul to try to meet those expectations. To force characters into tried-and-true molds. To sell, sell, at any cost to the integrity of the book. 

Expectations. A good word, really it is. But...