Beauty will save the world.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Yellow-blue morning

Four male and three female goldfinches perched on the feeder, backed by a lawn that is a low meadow in shades of blue scilla and a few yellow crocuses. Plus a persistent squirrel. I am recalling my father's electrifying squirrel-defenses....

More on my wanderings, for the curious or downright nosey--

Grovewood Gallery by Grove Park Inn
After I returned from Paris, I devoted three weeks to a North Carolina trip. This one was entirely personal, as I went down to give my mother (now 88, not 89, as I had thought--weak math!) a hiking companion (thank you, Etheree Chancellor, for being a good hiking friend) and more. My mother is still active volunteering for the North Carolina Arboretum, gardening at her home in Cullowhee, and weaving, so she is still up for many outings and for hiking in the Nantahala Forest or Panther Falls Trail (near Tallulah Gorge, GA) or Pinnacle Park in Sylva or near Fontana Dam, etc. We also explored interesting or just plain wacky museums (rocks! tartans! historic houses!) all over western North Carolina. We ate out constantly (when we weren't home with such deep-South favorites as green boiled peanuts and field peas and okra) in Asheville and Franklin and Sylva. We marched all over the Asheville arts district, rambling through studios and galleries (stopping to eat at White Duck Tacos because my mother said she had no one who wanted to go there with her) and to the Grovewood Gallery at Grove Park Inn, and to see weaver Susan Leveille at Oaks Gallery in Dillsboro, etc. etc.

Now you know.

I came back in time for a wonderful Holy Week, and now here I am, company departed and ready to work. I have a batch of manuscripts to read, a novel to revise, poems to write for a special project in the fall (I'll write about that in The Rollipoke, for those of you who are subscribers), and a talk for Buechner Workshops to contemplate and begin.

Jordan Murray and self-publishing

As Jordan is a friend and daughter of friends and was in Cooperstown to sing (we have occasionally sung together in choir, though she is a far better singer than I am) and babysit doggies, I invited her for Easter dinner. I'm curious about self-publishing and have been interested in her progress. (Remember when her possible covers were posted? "Help Jordan Murray Pick a Cover." She picked one and The Emperor's Horn is now out.) Since she writes fantasy and science fiction, I'm fantasizing that she will find the pot of gold at rainbow's end and go to Clarion and meet lots of writers and have the fun of going through the fine-tooth comb that is Clarion critiquing. (It is transformative fun, or so say the Clarionites. Though the ones I've met also say they didn't sleep all that much for six weeks.) I've asked her for some comments on her road to publishing, and here they are:

There is undeniable value in the artistic freedom that self-publishing enables.

Respecting that value with high quality work takes vigilance and sacrifice, and it takes a great deal of time. Commitments to goals are easily sabotaged by impatience, one of the ugliest enemies of any author or artist. After all, isn't self-publishing supposed to be faster and easier than the traditional route?

Self-awareness is an essential part of the process.

Self-publishing requires the author examine their work with staggering levels of humility and honesty. They must learn to recognize their weakest skills and confront them until they either get better at it or hire professional help. There's no shame at all in hiring a professional editor or artist. True, it involves more up front expenses, but, it also provides the rare opportunity of choosing your collaborators.

It's important for independent authors to realize that extensive editing is only the beginning of their commitment to self-publishing.

Repeated, time-consuming tasks that have very little to do with the simple joy of writing will fill days, months, and years of their lives. Will it make them a better writer? Yes. Will it teach them valuable life skills? Frequently. Will it make them a bitter, frustrated person who resents their choice? It might. But, the choice for one person to do it all need not be a permanent one.

Contracts with editors and publishers elapse, change, and evolve in traditional circuits just as self-published authors may choose to become traditionally published during their careers. There need not be such a strong division between the two. The path an author takes to crafting and publishing a good story can be uniquely suited to their own needs. That is an exciting prospect, and the pursuit of art for art's sake is equally important to keep alive during the process.


  1. My impression is the editor's trade is like the farriers: it hasn't disappeared and won't, but few practice it, and only the extravagant find employment for it. On any given Sunday, there are works on the NY Times best-seller list of amazing illiteracy and inaccuracy. The self-published author who has learned humility is well ahead of some authors with big contracts.

    I'd say that I'm wounded that my choice for the cover wasn't picked, but in truth I had forgotten the matter until just now. Still, if I were the fellow on the left of the cover, I'd see my dermatologist, or maybe my gardener.

    1. Hahaha! I remember someone who had a seed sprout in his eye...

      I believe you about editors (and farriers!) And many people don't particularly want to be edited, it seems. Elaine Chubb, the great copy editor at FSG, now retired, once told me that it was only the ones who didn't really need it who were into her persnickety pursuit.

  2. Welcome back.

    Re. "There's no shame at all in hiring a professional editor..." Not shame, perhaps, but the statement carries an element of what the French call Qui s'excuse, s'accuse. In effect, if there is no shame (or whatever) why bring it up? The answer: some writers believe there is shame (or whatever).

    Here's my view. However hard we work at our MS, the likelihood of being published - as a first-time author - is remote. And the sad thing is rejection may not depend on the quality of what we've written, as responses from agents and publishers (where they stoop to do so) suggest. Choice of subject may cause the horse to fall at the first hurdle. I'm conscious that the theme I've chosen for the 4½ novels I've written - that we are shaped and defined by the work we do - may fascinate me but is probably a non-seller. Even so, that's what I want to write about.

    I've nothing against professional editors (I was one myself, of a sort) but given I'm likely to face literary oblivion I must find rewards where I may. I must be able to look back at my unwanted orphans and say - to my own rigorous satisfaction - I gave them my best shot. The key word in that sentence being the personal pronoun. Had I employed a professional editor and had I still been rejected (still the most likely outcome since, otherwise,07:32 AM 23/04/2017 all pro. editors would be successful novelists) I would not have this comfort. I realise there's more than a hint of arrogance in this but given the privations I associate with writing I believe arrogance is only one of the qualities needed when one opens up Microsoft Word, stares at the blank screen, and says to oneself: "In about 120,000 words I'll be done."

    1. In my opinion, you are making your self when you write. The more you make art or sing or whatever, the more layers of nacre you add to the piece of grit that is your soul, your self, your mind, your you. One hopes for a pearl, however misshapen, some day.

      Arrogance... That's one thing I've never been called--arrogant. Maybe I'd be better off if I had a dash of it, but I don't think that I do. I dunno, maybe it's different for each writer, the whole reason for doing. Or maybe I have some kind of subtle arrogance that people don't recognize? Really I am tactful to a fault most of the time, and I value being nice and kindness. Part of that is my Southern upbringing, and part is coming to realize how much trouble I caused for myself when I was younger and wasn't consistently thinking of others but of myself. So it's hard to see myself in that quality.

      I do write exactly the books I want to write, certainly, and I would write them no matter what. I have never grasped people who write but don't enjoy it. There seem to be a lot of them. I write for the joy of making, bringing something out of nothing, twisting words, finding surprise, etc.

      Long ago I realized that the publishers choose lead books and push them, and that I'm not a commercial book sort of person. I'm never going to write something just right for the times and just write for people in large numbers. Eh, too bad for me! And I also realize that in any of the arts, it's a combination of push and luck and timing. Even if you write Moby Dick, the time may not be right for anybody much to read it.... But what a wondrous thing to have that unreel from your mind and heart. Wouldn't that change you forever?

    2. In other words, write your books and don't worry about who will read them! That's what I meant to say. I love it that you write books and are besotted about becoming a better singer. What a grand thing!

    3. After thinking about it, I believe have have fibbed massively in my first comment. Yes, I enjoy kindness, niceness. But no, I have a stubborn core that is not particularly nice because it is determined to accomplish certain things in its own way and in despite of all the people asking for my time, etc. Being a Southerner raised by a ninth child (that is, by a mother who was raised by someone from a radically different time than our own), I am going to be very, very polite about going my own way and accomplishing what I wish to accomplish.

      Definitely a big fat fib in that first comment. Directed to myself.

      Now we both know.

    4. Oh Marly, the perfect re-comment/re-re comment. Not just in terms of subject matter (which I'll get around to responding to later; I'm on the verge of a singing lesson and thus my state of grace is otherwise directed) but for the flattering impression that you were finding it difficult to break off. I may of course be wrong but if I am I'll stick with the delusion, fairly certain I'm right because I know you've uttered these comment-trains before, to me and others, and they are the best expression of your desire to engage in and encourage dialogue. And what else is a blog for? And who does it best of all?

      More when I'm all sung out.

    5. Trala! I hope you had the most marvelous time with V and the out-streaming of song... Sun is also streaming (another best kind of streaming--not the computer kind) and all the chilly flowers on the lawn are awake.

  3. Stubborness is of course miles away from arrogance, as you well know. In any case what you appear to be describing is determination. I'll allow you that possibility but there isn't a shred of evidence in what you've written in The Palace at 2 am, or in your open-hearted and constructive reaction towards those who drop in, that it's had any malign side-effects.

    Here's arrogant: Having a feeling of superiority over others, as revealed in a haughty overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims. As a way of describing you it might have its uses, provided it was used antonymically. I'm regularly arrogant and I wish I wasn't.

    As to determination, you need it to finish any piece of writing beyond 10,000 words. QED.

    Writing what one wants. Quite. Even so, there are times when one may become woebegone. In my third novel, Blest Redeemer, the central character is a woman who is transformed, by cruel circumstance, into another woman. The chronology plays with time such that the second (obviously older) woman appears first. I was about 15,000 words into the MS when I realised I hadn't truly envisaged the younger woman, all my invention had gone into what she'd become. I rewrote, deleted huge chunks, rewrote, deleted, etc, as I reached out for some form of conviction. It was a bad time and it lasted months. What kept me going was that my love for the older woman insisted she deserved resolution. But how can one love, or feel obliged to, a fictional character one has created? In the way authors do, I suppose. But I never fell out of love with writing. For good or bad it would have been like falling out of love with my backbone. Moral (which you've already put, albeit more concisely): keep on trucking.

    Besotted? Too true! And V has said 2017 is the year when things become serious. This morning was tied up with the minutest minutiae of Papageno's line in the duet, Bei Männern from Magic Flute. Imagine me, singing de luxe Mozart as seriously as I could manage. There is no literary parallel other than acquiring a time machine, hying yourself to fictional Long Island, sitting down with him, and saying: "Tell me Scott, what is the secret of literary compression?" Yeah.

    1. Hah! But you are British, and my impression is that Americans often see to find British arrogance as rather weirdly charming. We give a pass to the Old Country, I suppose, because we are young sprats in comparison.

      I like "falling out of love with my backbone." Keep on, indeed!

  4. Right after I read your wise warning about the heavy responsibility of self-publishing, I came across this little parable from Thoreau. It struck me as delightfully apt:

    Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. "Do you wish to buy any baskets?" he asked. "No, we do not want any," was the reply. "What!" exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, "do you mean to starve us?" Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off—that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed—he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man's to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other's while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one's while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?

    1. Well, that warning is from Jordan!

      I remember that parable of the baskets... And we seem to be in a particularly somebody-else-knows-best sort of time, where all sorts of people are shouting (often in groups) about how we must live and act. Then there are a few martyrs offering up their singular counter-cultural views and being tormented in public. And I suppose the latest is the controversy over millenials returning to traditional definitions of family and work. Nobody much seems to believe that their own way is "but one kind." And exaggeration is popular, as is "at the expense of the others."

    2. p. s. I congratulate you--for some unknown reason, you have finally quit landing in the Gulf of Spam!

  5. Oh, yikes—I missed the introductory blurb and thought those were your comments! She seems to be approaching self-publishing with wisdom and forethought.

    And yes, when I was growing up, people at least paid lip service to a "live and let live" attitude. For all the current talk about tolerance and respect, I think I'd find this a very conformist era if I were a teenager.

    1. Lately I have had a number of people write me about some mutual friend (usually because I know at least one of them in real life) to ask what is "wrong" with them or why they think about a certain thing a certain way. It has surprised me to find that a lot of people have mental litmus tests that they are using, and they don't want to know anyone who fails them. Usually the person being questioned is not far enough left or else is a quirky thinker with many different opinions, sometimes contradictory.

      Strange times.

      Bad for writers, who ought to want a world of different characters and opinions, and to see them bumping together and all sides changing and growing. I think artists and writers need to go volunteer at the local food pantry or feed-the-hungry program in order to learn what wildly different people are like.

      A problem (there are others, of course!) with a post-Christian and postmodern nation seems to be that many people no longer have the fundamental respect for others, and no longer have any wish to listen and have a dialogue that might change all involved. Once the thought that each person is made in the image of God dies, well, we can feel scorn for one another. And I'm seeing that a lot.

    2. In fact, that's why I gave up Facebook for Lent and now just check there for messages.


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.