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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Terrible and wondrous all"

I skipped my voice lesson this morning in hopes of preserving my voice for tomorrow night's reading at The Green Toad in Oneonta (7:00 p.m.), though I may try to sing with the choir later... Meanwhile I have scoured the internet, answered mail, read some depressing articles from VIDA that deal with the inequalities between men and women in magazine publishing and elsewhere (there's nothing like a blue-and-red pie chart to set out the facts with boldness!), felt reasonably cheerful despite them (because, well, nothing has changed, so why be depressed?), looked at my first Amazon reviews, dutifully read a bunch of marketing ideas (silly, mostly), and now am about to do a little rebounding. They say it "moves the lymph" around and helps you get well. I don't know if "they" know anything, but I shall move myself around and see what happens.

One of the most sweeping remarks from the VIDA-collected essays was Roxane Gay's summation: Here’s the truth. In this day and age, the publishing climate is rather untenable for all writers — men, women, writers of color, straight writers, queer writers. Getting your foot in the door doesn’t even mean what it once did. You may get a book deal, but then what happens? What’s an advance, again? Most publishing contracts don’t come with the necessary publisher support to adequately promote a book. It’s difficult to get books reviewed in major publications. Contemporary writers will probably agree that we’re all in this together — mired in the same depressing circumstance, quietly seething about our relative obscurity. Once in a while, we look up and see the bright twinkling star of a prominent, critically acclaimed novelist like Jonathan Franzen or Jeffrey Eugenides wearing his magnificent vest high above Times Square, and think, “When will it be my turn?” Most of us grudgingly accept that our turns may never come for any number of reasons that have little to do with the quality of our writing.

I must have gone through such thoughts and come out on the other side because I do not "seethe." I do not "grudgingly accept," either. While I may feel a flash of regret that I've never received the desired "push" from a big publisher that launches one into a wider readership, I am determined to live my life in light and joy, to go on making poems and stories, in thrall to the love of language. Yes, publishing can sometimes be difficult and discouraging and cruel; yes, it has broken writers who could not bear to have their work ignored, who could not endure the ways of the world.

But much of what writing is about is living a larger life, and I will live that life and not be like a flower that blooms and then cramps inward, brushed by frost. Besides, I've just published a new book, and you may go and take a nibble from it here, and you can learn more about it here. And I think you will like it. Although certain painful elements from generations of my family history streak the story, I wrote it with a sense of joy and good cheer to the world, despite all--despite and because of the terrible and wondrous all.


  1. I wish I could do something to make people read Death at the WCO. I did so over the weekend (not an easy weekend for completely other reasons) and I am quite overcome with joy from doing so. Not really got any clever or perspicacious or trenchant or anything else comments, and persuasive reviews just aren't something I'm very good at, but I did want to tell you I loved loved loved the book, and it will stay with me for a long time. I enjoyed 'Val - Orson' very much, but felt this one was in a quite different league.

    I was interested in how you knew so much detail about the period and settings, and am intrigued by what you say about elements of your family history. But that's not really the point, I know.

    Thanks Marly, I'm honoured to know you!

  2. Marly,

    Sometimes we become so myopic - so focused on who we perceive as our peers in our own little world - that we forget that folks of *all* vocations feel this way at one time or another.

    For example, I am now at the age where if I read "Wired" or "Fast Company" I see many high tech moguls many years my junior - and some age peers - who have done things with their lives that make me truly jealous! Things I should have done. Hell, things I could have done. But I didn't. They did.

    Was it skill? Perhaps. Was it luck? See discussions last year on your blog. Do they have a guiding angel I neither have nor deserve? Maybe. I am delusional in that my skill levels and energy are creations of my ego and I don't, in fact, have anything in common with those I aspire to be? Could very well be.

    I guess my point is that it is not just Writers (with a capital W) who encounter this practical and existential career wincing woe. It is all of us in all vocations that experience this.

    The woe of the suffering writer who just can't, or won't, or didn't, or couldn't, receive the accolades and success they deserve isn't truly specific to them.
    I think it is just a part of the human experience of the work world.

    Marly I think you put it best when you recommended we live. Continue to live a full life, continue to write (or heal, or build widgets, or sell cars, or teach 3rd grade, or play AAA baseball...)

    And life goes on for the writers and the non-writers alike.


  3. Oh, a different and less important matter, but I was wondering - any chance you could change your comment thing to pop-up window in your settings, or are you attached to it like this? Thing is, with all your links and sidebar stuff and so on, your blog takes quite a while to load, so navigating back and forth between blog and comments can get a bit sticky and frustrating. With a window you can just open and close that and leave the blog where it is.

    Just saying, of course, not being bossy. Well, only a bit.

    Oh, and good luck at the reading, if I'm not too late.

  4. Lucy,

    Oh, that loading business is good to know! It's often different for somebody else than for the blogger. Thanks. Shall look at my template.

    I am glad you liked the book so much! Yes, "Val/Orson" has a lightness and frothiness to it--definitely was thinking of Shakespearean forest romance. But "White Camellia" is deeper and wider and I hope will find its path through the world.

    And thank you for talking about the book. I think that word-of-mouth is still absolutely essential, whether its face-to-face talk or posting or a letter or something else.

  5. Gary,

    Yes, I think it's a human problem, not just a writer's problem. Although I must say that I know so many people who feel to some degree shattered by the business of writing. Perhaps that will change now with indie publishing--although that brings its own new problems, and the law of unintended consequences always comes into effect.

    I feel proud of you, in fact. What a good single father you are, and how you have gone on through all obstacles with imagination and determination, though life has thrown you a few extra-hard difficulties... You were an interesting student, and you are an interesting man.

  6. Lucy,

    I forgot to answer your question about period and settings. If you look at the interview list and topics on the book page, you'll actually find some in-depth talk about those things. But I strongly feel that one of the great gifts of my childhood was to be able to live in an earlier time--that is, my paternal grandparents were still sharecropping on the same little farm and living in the same little shack that they had been in for many decades. It was very much like moving into the past to go and visit them.

    Then my maternal grandmother lived in Queen Anne house and was much older than the grandmothers of friends--her husband was older still, and the house felt as if it stood in another time from mine or that of my other grandparents.

    Huge gifts for a writer! To know that past time was a place I could get to...

    And I took your advice--I switched to the pop-up box and also shortened the number of posts that could show at one time. Thanks!

  7. Thanks Marly, I'll go over and read up more, I didn't think to, and thanks for changing the comment setting, it is easier.

    In terms of experience, I know a little of what you mean about having older grandparents, since my parents were quite old enough to be my grandparents, unusually elderly parents at that time, and had lived in times and places quite different from those in which I was growing up. The downside of that was that I didn't really have grandparents, since they mostly died before I was born. I imagine you as a curious child who asked the right questions and stored the answers!

  8. Having said I hadn't thought to check that page out, of course I have read quite a few - but not all - of those questions and answers before at the blogs where they were published, but alas, without really paying them proper attention. But then I've long known that I don't get anything out of reading introductions to books until after I've read the book.

    I'm now enjoying re-reading the interviews having read the novel!

  9. Oh, good!

    Rather sad not to have grandparents... I remember three and had them for a good long time. They were so very different from the times that they seemed to come from another world entirely.

    My mother was a post-menopausal baby, born as a ninth child to a woman married to a man 25 years her elder. So that reached way back, almost to the Civil War. Time was very odd when I was with my grandparents.

  10. Marly,
    I am glad you don't get dragged down as I am now feeling with far far less reason to expect notice than you! By all means, keep doing what you do, and we will all be the richer for it.
    I'm looking forward to reading the book and talking it up to everyone I know.

  11. Robbi,

    Thanks for that!

    I certainly went through depressed times about the state of mid-list writers earlier in my life... I've had bad luck (like a book at 9-11 or editors departing at the worst moment) and I've been disappointed in unkept promises at times.

    But I have left all that behind. I care about pushing my writing beyond what I know I can do and about readers (whatever the number.) I refuse to let anything about the state of publishing get me down for more than a few minutes.

  12. I am determined to live my life in light and joy, to go on making poems and stories, in thrall to the love of language.
    Yes, that's kind of where I am, too.

  13. It's a good place, I think! I feel sad for a good many writers I know who did not find it.

  14. I'm sending you some of my energy M. I hear its unbeatable.


  15. Hurrah! I need it with a reading tonight and a big event next week after being sick for two weeks... Thanks!

  16. I feel that I have no good reason to complain, because I am not an author, and the books Peter and I produced last year... The Book of Ystwyth and the Clive Hicks-Jenkins monograph... are probably a one-off event.

    We couldn't get a single review for the monograph, online or off. We sent copies to all the newspapers and periodicals we could think off. We cast our net wide. Nothing. Luckily two of my Artloggers left glowing reviews on Amazon, gestures I was mighty grateful for. The Book of Ystwyth, too, languished. A periodical here in the UK asked for a review copy last year shortly after the book became available. A number of issues passed and no review. I made enquiries. It's in the next issue, I am assured, due out due this month. So, one review, nearly a year after the launch. I hope it's a reasonable one, though the reviewer who contacted me is a poet, and we know though I fear don't get on with each other, I await his verdict with trepidation. I think it not a good idea that an ambitious poet who I have never approached with regard to collaboration, is the person writing a review of a book containing the works of six poets whose work I love. You get the picture. Sigh!

    Earlier this week I did my first reading from The Book of Ystwyth to a group of some fifty members of the North West Wales Art Fund. The poems were wonderfully received and I sold a healthy couple of boxes of copies. I know from what authors report, that no matter how rapturous a response from an audience, that doesn't always translate into sales, and so I was heartened by my experience. But I don't get many opportunities to read, and so this is a bonus rather than any way in which I can bolster sales with a book tour. Hey ho. It's a learning curve. Because I am not an author, and because I regularly have exhibitions, the books will probably stand their best chances every time I have a show and can promote them. I'll keep pitching. I owe it to all those who worked so hard to produce the poems and texts, and to Peter and his brother Andrew for editing and designing them so beautifully.

    I'm with you Marly. We must live the life, regardless of the knocks!

  17. Today life is all trala! and pleasure--had a lovely reading last night and have been getting some gushy private responses to the book.

    But yes, it's a hard slog, the business side of art!


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.