Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, January 04, 2013

Most questions answered, no. 1

Paul Digby said... 
I'd like to see a post that discussed how your approach to writing might differ if there were no such things as publishing houses and ebooks and the like. How would you write for hand-bound limited edition stuff (as though 'literature' were no longer published or read). 

Would there be changes to your approach? Would there be differences in the way you completed work if there were never any deadlines. 

In other words - How would you write if your work were purely for your own joy, and that of those you know? The same?

And then I'd like to know what on earth David R is doing here and how did he slip through your very thorough screenings?

If no longer read at all, there would be no need for me, but since you ask about "hand-bound limited edition stuff," I suspect you mean exactly that. The answer is that I'm already pretty close. I broke up (sweetly, mind you) with my second agent and have depended entirely on requests for my work for publication ever since.

This method does not smack of "savvy" behavior, but it pleases me, in all but matters of distribution and wider sales--please go and buy some more copies of my books and give them out on the street corner! Better and easier, just assist Lady Word of Mouth in her much-needed work of sending out little messages when you like my books.

All this change means that I have been publishing with some of the houses who asked me to submit because they liked my writing. It has been a great relief to me to find that publishers and presses do ask for work, and that I don't have to go hunting for a publisher (though I may hunt for one for a children's book eventually.)

I have lately published with a range of these publishers: university press (as, my 2012 novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, and my 2011 collection of poetry, The Throne of Psyche); houses that knew me well through prior requests for my work for their anthologies (novel Val/Orson and collection The Foliate Head); and small press (Thaliad, where the publisher knew an excerpt before asking for the whole poem.) Several of those publications were labors of love by artist and designer and writer in a way that approaches the hand-bound aesthetic. Three of the books appeared as limited editions in hardcover. (See tabs above to read more about any of them.)

Deadlines aren't usually much of an issue because I appear to be what's considered fast in the world of writers, though I am slowed down by other commitments at times (my three children, the NBA judging stint, etc.) To me, the way I work does not seem fast and is often punctuated by times empty of writing . . . But I can say that if it took me 14 years to complete a book, I would not bother. It's really unfair, isn't it, how time spent and years of labor don't always help and do not mean some greater virtue in the work?

I do write for my own joy and can't say that there's another way for me with poetry and for many passages of fiction. Nonfiction and blogs are not that way but have an interest of their own. Fiction demands workmanlike bridges and ladders that are sometimes less than joyful, of course. Re-writing and tinkering are oddly satisfying. My joy comes from playing with language and also from the splendor of a flooding pleasure that comes with bringing something out of nothing--the influx of creative spirit, delicious and vital.

In the end, I look at all this in a simple manner. I have a gift that I did nothing to earn. What matters is what I do with the gift, and that I turn it into further gifts to go out into the world and live. For me, it feels magical and like a return gift that out there in the world, somebody is reading my words and so completing a story or poem.

P. S. I almost forgot that important matter of David R and the ongoing facebook tilts and tourneys and occasional friendly wars. The Balrogs have become very fat on spam and do not guard the gates any longer but lie around burping extravagantly (the borborygme!) and letting out tiny moans. Feel free to pop over and let out a lusty You shall not pass! when David R wanders by with his pack of cats and lemur.

2 comments:

  1. You may not have 'earned' your gift with words and imagination but you worked extremely hard to nourish that into something. A seed is not a flower, naturally : )

    I think your move into more bespoke publishing, tailored most specifically to your writing and audience is an extremely canny move, Marly. Amazon and ebooks are ubiquitous now, but we are swamped with generic material and the kind of literature you write is lost in all the ephemeral stuff written for immediate, incidental entertainment.
    The present problems that publishing houses are having as they transition into new positions makes your move very canny indeed!

    'Somebody is reading my words and so completing a story or poem.' I like that!

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  2. Glad your answer pleased, Paul!

    And that you find the move "canny." I am not so sure. I just move toward what feels right for this part of my life, but I never feel clear that it is the correct thing to do. But I don't spent a lot of time mulling and agonizing!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.