“I stand in the mist and cry, thinking of myself standing in the mist and crying, and wondering if I will ever be able to use this experience in a book.” ~ Erica Jong
Writers don’t “reminisce.” We tell stories. There’s a difference. Everything (every experience) is potential grist for the mill, if not right away, eventually. Some part of every writer is ever the observer translating every moment into (possible) narrative. I think it’s one of the things that non-writers don’t grasp about what it is to be a writer.
I was also thinking the other day how being a writer is one of the few professions where so many people who aren’t writers seem to have some comment on it. I think that’s because it is generally viewed as a talent more than a skill, by those who aren’t writers. I think people don’t know what to say when they find out someone is a writer. If someone says, “What do you do?” and the answer is, say, “I’m a pilot.” People don’t usually say, “I used to fly planes all the time. I grew out of it.” If someone says they’re a gourmet pastry chef, you generally don’t hear people responding with, “I’ve got some great cup cakes ideas I’d like to run by you.” It’s just one of those things I’ve noticed about professions that are viewed to be “talent” based. “I play pro-basketball.” As if only…”Yeah, man? I love to shoot hoops. State champs my senior year.”… it had gone another way. People really don’t know what to say if you say you write horror. Just an observation.
Just an observation, which would bring me back to the first point. Observation isn’t judgment, or isn’t necessarily judgment. Noticing the way someone holds a glass so you can describe it later doesn’t necessarily involve any kind of personal opinion forming about the person, the glass, what’s in the glass, etc. In many cases, the reader attaches far more meaning to whatever it is/was than there was for the writer at the writing of the thing, and that’s kind of how it’s supposed to be. Though certainly there are some things that are personal for every writer. What writers have to beware of is allowing/absorbing the imposition of reader perceptions on themselves. Writers tell stories, it is how we process our reality.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…” Joan Didion, The White Album
“I stand in the mist and cry, thinking of myself standing in the mist and crying, and wondering if I will ever be able to use this experience in a book.” ~ Erica Jong
So, I am a poetess
And I knowitess.
April is National Poetry Month. Here is a link to poets.org, if you are interested, you can check that out.
Rarely have I discussed my favorite poets. Some of that is because it has been very personal to me, and some of it is because if you came up to me wanting to talk specific poems, quite honestly, there are a few poems that have stuck with me but I’m not walking around like an encyclopedia, but, I’d try. To that end, though, I will share some of my favorites with you and, perhaps among them you will find something that speaks to you also.
Sara Teasdale was a lyrical poet, given to simple yet eloquent, and elegant, rhyme. Some background- I had been writing poetry for a good ten years before I really started to read any poetry, completely true. I understood rhyme-scheme from the simple poems and nursery rhymes that we all used to learn during the normal course of our youth, also, likely from Dr. Seuss. I also understood it from song lyrics. But, I didn’t read a lot of poetry because I wanted to learn to write like me. I picked up a book of Sara Teasdale’s poetry from the library sometime in the early 1990’s, after reading one of her poems in an anthology. I felt like I had found a poetic soul-sister. Rhyming poetry is sometimes frowned upon because it isn’t an easy thing to do well. Sara Teasdale is wonderful, old-fashioned and romantic though much of it is, her poetry is also filled passion and heartbreak, longing, a depth of understanding of what it is to truly pine for someone. Sara Teasdale was in love with poet Vachel Lindsay, women of her day, however, were often traditionally very practical in their choosing of a husband, forgoing passion for stability, and Teasdale chose to marry a more secure suitor. It is often said, believed, that Sara Teasdale’s suicide, in 1933, was ultimately brought on by this unfulfilled love and longing for Vachel Lindsay, who had taken his own life in 1931. Though I moved on to writing a variety of other verse, Sara Teasdale’s poetry still speaks to me, and she remains a personal touchstone, and one of my favorite poets.
Make no mistake, when it comes to poetry, Anne Sexton is a cold-blooded killer. Listen to some of her readings, they’ll just about curdle your blood. To me, some of what is interesting about Anne Sexton is that coldness, she plummets through the underside of passionless detachment to a hollowness that is devastating. Anne Sexton comprehended nothingness as an emotion, but not only that, she could translate it and put it on the page. What I also found interesting was her re-writing of fairy-tales with the reality of the bitterness of unfulfilled promises, with an anger at the bill of goods they sold her and then failed to deliver on. Given to fits of suicide, often on or around the time of her own birthday, she was cold enough to be somewhat jealous when Sylvia Plath succeeded in dying, and finally managed to end her own life after a lunch in 1974 with long time friend, poet Maxine Kumin. Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Live or Die, in 1967. Anne Sexton was a woman who mapped the abyss with a shuddering fuck.
As previously stated, I love old books. Wandering in bookstore one day, I happened to find a copy of “The Spell of the Yukon,” from 1907, opened it up, read one of the poems, laughed, and his work has been a favorite of mine ever since.
Dorothy Parker is perpetually annoyed, and she’s perpetually annoyed with you because you’ve got a brain, but, apparently you haven’t evolved beyond figuring out ways to use that brain for anything other than being annoying. Dorothy Parker also had a lot of heart, it caused her to drink to excess sometimes so that she might better tolerate all of the stupid. Yes, how very funny, but she was quite seriously, however wittily, sick of people’s nonsense. Her failed romances led to a suicide attempt, or two, but she never succeeded in that and finally gave up on it, and I, for one, think the world better for it. I love the titles of her books, “Enough Rope,” “Sunset Gun,” wonderful wit. She was also something of a humanitarian, she left her entire estate to Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr, believing in his life’s work. I think that was an incredible statement about how she felt about the world, she wasn’t a jokester, she left her money to someone she believed had the integrity to do something good with it. I think that Dorothy Parker is the prime example of the kind of writer, person, that we look at and don’t really see for what’s really going on there, this was a woman who cared deeply and who was in a tremendous amount of pain, but, oh well, she was just darling at it. Who’s really cold, callous, and shallow, in that equation? She left us with a wealth of wonderful writing, and timeless witticism.
Like so many other books, I picked up a translation of Fleurs du Mal in a thrift store. I’ve read nearly all of it but I don’t know that I could tell you one poem in it, though certainly, SPLEEN, comes to mind. It’s dark, its dreary, but it is also quite beautiful.
Some of my favorite books of poetry, some of which I am still in the process of reading.
Happy National Poetry Month!
I’ve kept some kind of a notebook, or journal, since junior high. Thankfully, the majority of them have gone the way of the wind. I suppose that’s a nice way of saying that I destroyed them at one time or another. I recall erasing every word one January, in some other life a million years ago in the year of 1981, when it occurred to me that the gift of a journal, even one with a cheap lock on it, was possibly a clever plot on the part of some household spy to discover my innermost thoughts and feelings. That sounds paranoid, except that it wasn’t. I was an impenetrable vault, I gave nothing away to no one and my ability to do so caused quite a bit of frustration on occasion. I then, for a time, kept two journals, one that was the approximation of a stand-up movie facade, “We had chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes for dinner, it was very good. The dog chased the neighbors cat through the other neighbors flowers again,” yawn, and one that was filled with the general gossipy ramblings of a girl that age, “I wonder if he likes me. I hope he likes me. I hope he calls. He better not call her.” But, ultimately, I could not keep up with that, and the keeping of the decoy journal fell by the wayside. Though one day, not long after I stopped recording in it the mundane workings of the average day, I was assured that I had been correct as to the subversive nature of the gift of a journal, when I was suspiciously questioned as to whether or not I was still writing in it. A-ha!
What I noticed is that as I got older, I got to where I very rarely recorded the actual events of any particular day, despite the fact that it often seemed to me that I should be. It has seemed to me that certain things likely should be written down, “This was the day that Aunt Tilly married that gold digger, Harlan, and this family will never be the same again! If he’s got oil wells, I’ll eat my hat!” Or that we had a good Christmas, “It snowed this morning and the lights from the tree reflected through the window onto the glistening white, icy, blanket that covered the lawn in the night, it is beautiful. We’ve got a ham and and a prime rib for the feast, the house smells of cinnamon and cider. I could stay snuggled up here forever like this. Everyone is well and we are blessed.” It seems that because history is happening all around us every day that some of those things should be written down too, that in the future those things are the stories of how it really was from the people who were really there, or at least, their experience and perception of it. So every now and then when I’ve thought of such a thing, I guess there’s been that. However, generally, at some point it became ramblings, for my own sake, and more often than not it’s digressed from letters to myself to randomly jotted notes to myself and of things that I sometimes wonder why I wrote down and sometimes don’t know what they were or are. I think sometimes that I mean them as prompts for the full entry that I meant to write, or wanted to write, and in that moment, couldn’t. Write that down, like some scrap of a morsel collected for later when there will be some shortage of random nonsense, I can open a notebook and see that, ah, yes, I wrote down the lyrics of, “Do your ears hang low?”
Like many writers, not only do I do this, but I quest for the perfect notebooks to do this in, as well as the most excellent pens, and since, despite the fact that everything is allegedly available online now, I can never find the ones that I really want, I get the ones that will do, and I keep looking. This adds up to a lot of writing, a lot of pens, paper, notebooks, etc. Writers fill file cabinets and boxes and shelves with this kind of thing, really. Getting rid of it is useless. For a good decade I carted around two file boxes that contained every scrap I’d ever written that I was still in possession of. Many years ago now, I spent most of one night burning at least that much material only to discover that to be useless, it only re-accumulates. Sorting through files the last few days, I found no less than ten copies of one manuscript, each of them slightly different from the others in some infinitesimal way. I thought, Do I really need to keep all of these? Then I thought, Why get rid of one just so you can type it again at some point? Just keep them, put them away, be done with them, but keep them.
Why though? Why do writers do this sort of thing? As I noticed that I did, in fact, write down these words, “Camp songs – 99 Bottles of Beer- Do your ears hang low?” in a notebook as some kind of prompt, or often, too, I’ll think, ‘Oh, that would be good to stick in a story somewhere, write that down for later’ and then I never use it but what for, really?
I was reading again an essay by Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook,” that explains it perfectly, it is, in large part, to remember myself.Which then, for the thinking person, might bring up the question, am I forgetting myself? Am I worried about forgetting myself? It isn’t like forgetting to buy dish soap because I didn’t put it down on the list. No, it isn’t that, but that it seems that there are all of these good bits that are chasing away like butterflies on the spring breeze and fireflies into the night and if you let them get away, ah well… It’s some random observation in some crystalline moment of perception when the mundane or the average is so unerringly valuable and beautiful, Didion describes a woman who is losing the hem on her dress, which may not register the same with some of the younger set as a metaphor for coming undone or being out of sorts, because in that time when Didion wrote it down, well, you wouldn’t be out and about with your hem coming undone if you could possibly help it. We know something about ourselves in those moments and so we write it down, to remember ourselves. We know something about time in those moments, stopping it, capturing it, and the passage of it, I’ve been running around wearing a pair of patched, ripped, jeans lately, and there was a time when I’d have never worn such a thing for anything other than doing yard work or painting something, let alone out in public, though I have been doing those very kinds of chores lately, but still. An undone hem, I observe, and I am set to rambling myself because I’m a writer too, God help me, and so I write down in my notebook the last words that ever need to be said about why writers keep notebooks, “undone hem – Joan Didion.” I think I’ll write that at the beginning of every new notebook from now on, I think I will.
Up early this morning, though I don’t generally make it a habit to discuss my habits. There was, however, a great write up recently about how author Megan Abbott spends her Sundays.( You can read that here. ) What I loved about this piece is that as a writer it is sometimes helpful or comforting when other writers share such things because this tends to be a solitary gig that is comparable to precisely no other job on earth. Though I have considered the possibility that astronauts might have some idea what it’s like. Here is where I have to keep myself from going off on a tangent with regard to my imaginings about space travel and the like. So as a writer, to read about the day of another writer can feel like… I’m normal. Writers spend a lot of time very much in their own world, the world of stories. However, what you learn is that most folks, regardless of occupation, are constructing their own realities, it is how we all live in the larger world.
I’ve ordered my proofs, or advanced copies, ( also sometimes call ARCs) of the novel. I’m nervous, excited. I have a feeling of accomplishment that has brought to me the realization that I so needed it. I needed, and need, to feel like I am getting somewhere, like I am getting something done, accomplishing something, achieving something. I’ve realized that this was/is part of my difficulty with traditional publishing. Please don’t misunderstand me, in and of itself, traditional publishing is fine, I mean, I’m not opposed to it, that isn’t what I’m saying. Traditional publishing puts everything on their terms, they like your story, they don’t like your story, you could wait months to hear. I got a rejection notice this year after waiting a year, and that is pretty common depending on the market your submitting to. People outside this business hear things like that and it sounds unfathomable. I’ve already addressed a lot of those issues in previous posts. But what I’ve realized is that it left me feeling like I wasn’t getting anything done and like there wasn’t a lot of hope to get where I wanted to be, or to be doing what I want to be doing, and that is, having my work published on a regular basis.Going the route of traditional publishing, very honestly, often left me feeling like a groveling idiot, if not acting like a fool. It left me feeling like it was less about whether or not my work was any good, and more about whether or not I was likable and socially adept. I also felt like if I had walked into the proverbial room with a master’s degree in English from a respected college, I might have appeared to be more talented. Other times I felt like I was being relegated to being “fan girl” and again, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being fan girl, on some level, I most certainly am every bit the fan girl. But when you’ve written as much as I have written and are as serious about it as I am, have been writing for as long as I have been writing, being met with the attitude that you’ve just shown up to get autographs, kind of sucks. Worse though, perhaps, is feeling like you can’t say anything about it. In that though too, there have been people who have been incredibly supportive and those are the people who helped to keep me from quitting. I’m so thankful for those people.
What I wanted was for it to be about the work. From the beginning there was someone saying But who is she? I guess it would be kind of like if you were the new employee and didn’t put any family photos out on your desk. I was unprepared for that. I think that I knew how to be professional, or I knew how to be personal. Not knowing how to juggle that is certainly on me. It simply wasn’t an issue I’d expected to encounter. It’s a tough business, one that often isn’t structured very much like a business, or didn’t seem to be. It got to where it felt hopeless to me. I thought, I’m talented. I’ve got all of this great work, and no matter what I do or how I approach it, I’m spinning my wheels.
I don’t live my life competitively or by comparison. I’ve dealt with a chronic illness from a young age and what that taught me is an appreciation for individual ability and accomplishment, an appreciation for, What is the best that I can do today? So my sense of accomplishment has nothing to do with what anyone else has going on. I also have a keen sense of time. A year’s response time may be normal in some quarters, but that’s longer than I care to wait. ( There was a time when I was very quietly submitting work to some pretty large markets because why not? Those are some slow wheels.) I need to feel like I’m getting something done. Regardless of what any other person thinks of it, I’ve written an eighty-five thousand word novel, edited it, designed and formatted the interiors, designed the cover, formatted it for publication, it is four hundred and sixty-six pages total, by myself. That is an accomplishment. It’s something that I can be proud of having accomplished. It has helped to restore my sense of confidence, something that had been completely destroyed over the last however many years. Does it matter to me that this isn’t a big traditional publishing book deal? Not one whit. I love this. I love being able to do this myself. Whether or not others recognize the accomplishment or take me seriously as a result of it, again, that’s their prerogative. I don’t feel like a groveling fool waiting to see if someone likes me enough, or who I’m “friends” with, ( which can work for or against you, depending), or whether or not I’m cool enough or popular enough, marketable enough, to publish my story. Whether or not that that’s the reality of it, that is the truth of how it felt to me. For all of my life, I have known that I am a writer, and I never felt like less of one than I did at so many moments in the last five years. Traditional publishing often made me feel like, You’re a writer when we say that you’re a writer. And that’s bullshit. There was a tremendous loss of my sense of self-respect in that, one that I didn’t realize that I had acquiesced to, until I put this book together myself. I’ve been through one of those tremendous phases or personal growth and learning. I really cannot wait to write and publish more books.
Obviously I read a lot of traditionally published material, and enjoy it. I’m simply speaking to my own experience as a writer trying to get published, be paid for my work, and get something accomplished. I’ll still buy a copy of The Paris Review. What I’m saying though, is that for me, this was the better option. I also really believe in the independent publishers and small presses that are out there getting it done.
So, I’m waiting for my proofs! Yeah! Hoping to have The Slick Furies available for purchase prior by Halloween.
I’ve also been working on a collection of poems, on breaks from getting the novel ready, that I should be able to published and have available before the end of the year. They are thirty-nine pieces of poetry and prose that I wrote from 2005 to 2008, while recovering from a bought with physical illness, mourning the deaths of my beloved grandparents, and leading up to a very real,completely devastating, nervous breakdown around the time of my fortieth birthday. The selection of poems, and prose, is titled WINSOME VEIN. The poems are darker than anything that I had written up to that point, some of them have appeared here on my webpage, and what I had said about them early on was that if I had to describe them, it would be like if Anne Sexton and Edgar Allan Poe had a baby, and that baby was slightly more ethereal or given to romantic ideas occasionally, along the lines of Sara Teasdale. The title, “Winsome Vein”, came out of a quote about writing, to paraphrase, that there’s nothing to it, that all you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. Some version of which was said by Ernest Hemingway, and also by a sports writer named Red Smith. So that’s fun!
What works for one person, isn’t necessarily the way for another person to go. This is what is working for me right now. This is what I know that I need to be doing right now. I’m excited about writing again, about making books, about life. What’s more though, I’m hopeful.
12 September, 2016
I’m super tired. Is that the best time to write a blog post? Hopefully this won’t be too rambling.
I have surpassed the sixty thousand word mark on the edits/re-write of the vampire novel. I have approximately sixty-six pages of the original text, about twenty thousand words, to finish, knowing that I’ll likely add a chapter or two. I’m right on time for the schedule that I set for myself with this.
I started writing this novel in January of 2013 and finished writing and started a sequel that same year. I did not want to write about vampires. I threw numerous fits about it. I quit writing it at about twenty-three thousand words, walked away, said “I hate vampires, I’m not doing this.” At which point the rest of the book wrote itself in my head over the course of a couple of days and I had to get it all down on paper. Not only did I have to get it all down on paper, I wanted to.
In the beginning, it made me feel really sick to write it. Headaches, sick to my stomach. For me, writing has involved a lot of catharsis, thus far anyway. People might say, “Well, why would you write horror?” I didn’t set out to write a vampire novel, like I said, I don’t like vampires, and perhaps, I’m not that much of a planner?
Why do I dislike vampires and where did this idea for this book come from?
|My actual blood, actual.|
I dislike vampires, and I mean no offense to anyone whatsoever in this, but because I was deathly ill when I was an adolescent, there was a time when my blood was being drawn twice a week, every week, for several months. There was a time when I was in the hospital and they’d come in while I was asleep, take my temperature with one of those then new temperature things that they’d stick on your forehead, and if I had a fever, I’d often wake up with a nurse standing on one side of me, gently holding me there, and a phlebotomist standing on the other side of me, with a syringe already stuck in my arm. I had nightmares for a quite a while, I think that it’s a lot to have to toughen up about at any age. However, I think that being that age, being faced with mortality, the constancy of the blood work, it might have been abnormal had I not equated it to vampires at some point. One of the first R-rated movies that I was allowed to watch was during that time, “Altered States,” and the transformation scenes resonated with me because, what the heck was happening to me? Was I dying? They said I might not live. What was I becoming? Needless to say, the idea of vampires as any kind of romantic, immortal, creatures, wasn’t something that was going to fly with me.
But that time of my life passed, I lived, I went on, and it isn’t that we forget, it’s simply that we put such things behind us, we continue on in the present. I’ve been through other bouts with illness, some equally arduous. I live with Still’s Disease, rheumatoid arthritis. Suffice it say that vampires haven’t ever been my favorite thing. I felt like I turned into some strange wolf creature, was turning into that, all of those years ago, and they kept taking my blood trying to figure it out, or turn me into a vampire, one of them. But, it still wasn’t what I intended to write or would have said that I wanted to write.
But I wrote some horror stories trying to push my own boundaries and that’s something that I’ve always done, push my own boundaries, something that I’ve never need prompting to do. Years ago I knew that I wasn’t comfortable writing about sex. So I got comfortable writing about sex. When I started writing horror stories, I wasn’t comfortable writing violence or about violence. Without realizing it, I had begun to think in terms of How am I ever going to write whatever kind of book if I can’t write a sex scene? If I can’t describe a violent crime? How I am ever going to be free as a writer to write whatever if I’m holding myself back from ever writing any kind of fiction that might offend someone? If I’m not getting outside of my own beliefs as well?
From that came a story called “The Love” that was originally published at Solarcide and appears in the “Solarcidal Tendencies” anthology, a story about archangels in love with each other, having become carnal, battling a Lucifer character. It was a really fun story to write, surprisingly so.
There was also a poem that I wrote in January of 2012…
They bust the rusted meadows gate,
They wait the darkness for the dawn,
They drink the stars,
They curse the moon,
They wander on and on,
They steal away the slipstream sleep,
And purge the soul with fire,
They promise everlasting life,
And all that you desire….
I’ve been writing poetry all of my life, essentially, at this point so that for me now, it’s simply something that I can do, after decades of practice. But I looked at that poem and I thought, “They bust the rusted meadows gate…” What the heck is that? From there I think that it was only a matter of time before a longer story began to present itself because I could see the vampires from the poem trying to get in some huge gate somewhere like zombies. Sometimes the poetry that I write is “with intention,” I’ll think I want to write a poem about a butterfly, however more often than not I’ll get the first line or two and then it just goes from there. I didn’t know that it was a poem about vampires until I wrote the last line.
Other inspirations that went into it are obviously every other vampire thing that I somehow know after this many years on earth. I’ll likely get more in depth about those specifics another time though many of them are included, listed, referenced, in other posts here on my webpage. But I’d never written a full length novel before.
I wrote it, I started to write a sequel. Then I set it aside because I just felt like it was making me sick and I kept fighting it. In reality, it was making me well. In reality, writing this novel has mapped my maturation as a writer, and is the book, the story, that graduated me completely from poet to novelist. I will write many other books, but there will never be another first novel. During the course of this process, from beginning it in January of 2013, to finishing the first edits in July of 2014 and filing my copyright, to submitting it and having it ( quite nicely) rejected, to now, I’ve learned so much. Practice.
|What seventy-two thousand words, two-hundred and forty-four typed pages looks like.|
I’ve almost quit this book more times than I can count. But I’m not a quitter and at some point it became not only about the fact that I believe in this story, but about learning to to be a novelist. How do you get good at something? I decided that I didn’t want to abandon this story. I decided to type it again, to re-write all seventy-two thousand plus words, from the beginning, for my own learning if for nothing else. That’s more than two hundred pages.
I learned that not only do I love writing fiction, I love writing genre fiction. I truly have fallen in love with writing longer stories. I never would have anticipated that I would because poetry involves so much instant gratification for me. I’ve discovered that the “short-story,” from about twenty-five hundred to five thousand words, is my least favorite form/length to write. I’ve found that writing flash-fiction is another thing that I’m in love with doing. My idea of myself as a writer not only evolved with this book, it has come into being.
I look at the first poem that I ever wrote and I know that to be the beginning of all of my writing, though not necessarily my fascination with language. This is the book that made me a novelist. Far from being my first attempt at writing a novel, there have been many other tries over the years, many, I think that the first time that I tried to write a complete novel I was eighteen, and that’s important too because just like all of the poems that I was writing without realizing that I was practicing every time, honing my skills every time, all of those other attempts at completing a novel went into this one, and this is the one that I will see through. This is the one that I decided that even if I have to publish it myself, it is getting done. I wanted to take a moment and kind of think about that, savor it a little bit, before I begin the big push through the last fifteen or twenty thousand words because I hated this, because I fought it and it couldn’t be fought or I never would have finished it in the first place. I’ve come out the other side of it with the understanding, the knowing that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, writing fiction. I’ve learned so much about the value of fiction, of the emotional truths that can be expressed with it, of story telling, about how I misunderstood the limitlessness of genre writing and I feel like I’ve been given this incredible gift.
Before this, I understood how it is that I write poetry, I understood myself as a poet. Now I understand how it is that I write novels, and myself as a novelist.
When the time comes, of course I’ll be offering up the synopsis, the pitch, the what is this vampire novel about anyway? That I’ve spent three years on it?
I will always be a poetess and write and publish poetry. Now I am a novelist, a fiction writer, and really, I couldn’t be happier about that.
The original title of the book was “The Slick Furies.” I decided to change it, to “Travel Long the Night” from an old poem of mine, and then I decided to change it back, because that’s the kind of book that it is, a caper book. I may yet use “Travel Long the Night” for another book.
I’ve listened to a lot of Shinedown, Stone Temple Pilots, Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry, Audioslave, over the last three years while writing this thing. Some Better than Ezra too. I’ve made playlists, deleted, made other ones, while wrestling around with this thing.
Some of those songs….
Near Dark, Love at First Bite, Blade, Interview with the Vampire, Only Lovers Left Alive, What We Do in the Shadows, Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Underworld, Queen of the Damned, Last Man on Earth.
My favorite vampire movie is “Only Lovers Left Alive.” I think that it’s beautiful and perfect, and I didn’t think that I could love a vampire movie. “Blade” is still my favorite anti-vampire movie. “Near Dark” will always be a favorite for a reason that I’ve never fully revealed because it would be a spoiler but it’s kind of fitting because like I said, writing this book made me sick, and then it made it me well.
I wanted to take a moment. I know now that I’ll be done working on this book, Travel Long the Night, this year. I know that whether or not I write the sequel, I’m going to work on and complete some other writing project first. There are so many things that I want to write, so much.
~ Teri Skultety
~ Red Smith
Eighteen hundred and twenty-seven days ago, 1827, or five years and one day, this year being a Leap Year, I set out, once again, to become a published author. I knew nothing about the publishing business as it functions today. One could reasonably argue that I still don’t know that much about it.
Twenty years ago I put together a collection of poems and stories that ended sweetly, after what I thought some serious grit in places, with my first little poem about a flower, written in 1977 at the tender age of nine. I then set it aside.
That was back in the days of typewriters and copy machines, stuffing a copy or your manuscript into an envelope with an accompanying professional quality business letter and mailing it off to a publishing company/editor who was more than likely a stranger to you, and, perhaps more importantly, you were a stranger to them. Your work was your representative. You’d send along, perhaps, a notice of receipt to be returned to you along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, and possibly return postage for the manuscript itself because making copies was expensive, though I had invested in not only a good electric typewriter, but also a copy machine, and then you’d wait.
I went through the process several times back then, a few of my poems had been published prior, and the responses that I received were not wholly discouraging. However, I was going through a divorce at the time, mother to a three-year old, working, and writing the book itself had left me exhausted. Though I never stopped writing, scribbling in some notebook or another, I set the manuscript aside and went on about family life.
I imagined a publishing world of integrity, filled with sophisticated, intelligent, honorable, if not noble, people, committed to the work, the writing, and that world as art.
Someday, I would have an agent, perhaps a publicist to refer you to, ( who knows, I still might someday), and the luxury of just turning out my stories and poems and many novels, saying, “Here you go!” Handing them off to my editor while all of those other people in the publishing process did whatever the heck they do. I’d be able to really only concern myself with the creative part. I didn’t think about millions or money at that point. I didn’t think about fame or signing autographs. I just thought about the writing, the creative part, about doing that, and being able to get that done. What I thought about at that point was that it would be my life, my job, my career, like any other job, I’d be paid for it. I knew nothing of writing or industry conventions, I did not like giving readings or being on “stage,” as it were, still don’t, and have always been comforted by the fact that writing- novels, poems, stories- generally isn’t a group activity. I am from the days of writers generally only being of any further interest if their work was of interest, and that still then being the focus of things.
It is a lovely dream.
I’m going to guess that perhaps the top three percent of writers in the business have something close to that situation, James Ellroy, Anne Rice, Danielle Steel likely runs her pages through a noodle maker in the kitchen and straight to the presses from there at this point, people at the top of whatever their writing game is.
That dream was all way before the internet.
The internet has given way to a glut in the market of several professions, keeping things clean and legit for the most part for the sake of this discussion, everyone wants to be a writer, or a photographer, or have something to do in the writing and/or publishing business these days. Writers and photographers have become the proverbial buses of the internet, there will be another one along in five minutes.
“I imagined a publishing world of integrity, filled with sophisticated, intelligent, honorable, if not noble people…”
Well, there’s a good chance there are some people in the business reading that and laughing at it, hard.
There are some truly decent people in the writing world, just really cool, decent, awesome, completely wonderful, people. I cannot overstate this enough.
But I did mention that we’re talking about “people” and “business?” Here is where I have to say that I completely reject the seemingly pervasive notion that everyone in the publishing industry is somehow completely noble, saintly even, and harboring nothing but good intentions and the want to help. What on Earth sets these individuals apart from the foibles of regular people in every other industry? All the saints went into editing and publishing? We know of the many stories of those in the music industry who were not given their due in some way, whether financially or when it came time to give credit for the work. We know of the corruption of the Hollywood casting couch. We accept the idea of there being a level of “dirty business” in every other area of the entertainment industry or the arts, and yet when it comes to the literary world, suddenly we are expected to believe that everyone is really just there to help you and with your best interests at heart, an idea that is ludicrous, lacking in logic or common sense. This, the publishing business is very big business, just like any other big business, and with people and big business you often find… what?
Corruption at worst, perhaps pollution of the process, in some way or another, at times, at best.
No! Surely it isn’t so! Yes, sadly it is very so.
Some people are there to “help,” while others are there to “help themselves.”
(I’ve since become aware of the level piracy of manuscripts that goes on as a result of unscrupulous people on the internet, those who are lacking in any kind of pride in themselves or concept of morality or self-respect.)
As I’ve much discussed here on this very web page, I write some of everything, across several genres. I never thought about it before the last five years in those terms. I sat down to write and I wrote whatever I wrote and that was that, it was whatever it was when I was finished with it. I never thought about the fact that most writers do not write in a variety of genres. So, I thought all writers were simply writers, in this great big ocean of writers, regardless of what they wrote, they were writers. Well, there are horror writers and Noir writers and crime writers and sci-fi writers and fantasy writers, etc., and that is all that they write, in that one genre area. Then of course there are poets. It’s enough to make a gal quake at the question, “What do you write?”
Stammering the nervous answer, “I’m a Cephalopod. I write some of everything.”
The general response to that answer is simply, “Oh.”
To help clarify it somewhat, perhaps it would help to think of those genres as each one being a designated table in the cafeteria. The horror writers table, the Bizarro table, the Noir table, and so on. I didn’t think that it was like that, because as I said, I really hadn’t thought about it much at all, but it really kind of is like that. In some regard, that’s fine because don’t we all tend to gravitate towards those who share our interests? Sure. But, the idea that a writer should be restricted to one genre, or that one genre is “better” or “more relevant” than another, really isn’t too cool. Now, I will say that I do see that changing, somewhat, here and there, and hopefully more and more, but for the most part, people sit at their group table, and that’s normal, people find their “people.”
The glut in the markets has created a super intensified level of competition, at all levels of publishing. There are varying degrees of envy, jealousy and cattiness, at all levels of publishing, as well as cliquey-ness and cronyism. There is something of a class system at work. There are editors who only, or usually, publish solicited stories from certain writers ( specifically asked for material, stories requested specifically from that writer or group of writers) writers that they know, have worked with before, perhaps for years, with whom they have a rapport, a reliable working relationship, perhaps no time or interest in messing with instructing new talent. So that super cool anthology that you’re hoping to get into, it could take you years, unless someone wants to help you. This creates a vacuum of talent, another kind of exclusive clique if you will, of the same mishmash of authors on one table of contents after another. There’s also, I’ve gathered, some bizarre balance of the right amount of sycophancy involved, because if you are perceived as having some kind of special “in” or “privilege,” then that really may not help you in the long-term anymore than not having any “in” at all. But, of course, everyone is there to help everyone, of course, at least on the surface of things. Quality work from “unknowns” not only often goes unpublished, but it doesn’t even get read. Relegated to the slush pile never even to get a response. The other factor that figures into that is formal education. If you can slap some educated initials after your name, you’ve got a better shot at having your stuff read by someone, underling or not. You’ve also likely got a better shot at having it be taken seriously or treated with respect. This is a terrible truth, your work might be better than that of the person who has the Master of Fine Arts, or whatever other degree, but the educated person has a better chance of being published.
“Oh, have you read Slarser Goppengop? She’s got an MFA, a PhD. in Humanities, and a Bachelors in Ancient Sanskrit. She went to Harvard.”
“What’s the story about?”
“What it’s like to be a high school drop out and be a completely independent woman at a young age. She really captured the authenticity of the thing. Great imagination!”
There are as many different kinds of publishing as there are genres. Publishing houses of all sizes and configurations from self publishing to Mom and Pop operations to Indie presses, right on up the food chain to the big five publishing houses. Overnight success stories are incredibly rare, it takes most people at least a decade to get anywhere near that kind of thing. A decade of working to get stories published along traditional publishing lines, networking, making connections, friends, and so on. But, there are those who get the agent, get the book deal, and then that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success either. Hundreds, if not thousands, of authors get their book deal, receive their initial advance, and then for whatever reason, or reasons, the book languishes, does nothing, goes nowhere, and chances are, it could be years before they see another royalty check, if they ever do, that’s why everyone wants that advance on future sales. Book publishers are in business to make money. ( The Truth About Publishing, by Ian Irvine.) (Please note, I don’t have ten thousand dollars lying around, what I have is a loving husband who is a Teamster, who works his ass off driving a truck. We do, occasionally, play the Lotto.) Ever see former best sellers or main stream publications on the shelf at the Dollar Store? Here’s an article on how that happens.
At other levels of publishing, email and electronic submissions, the internet, can make it too easy for those who are unscrupulous to, shall we say “borrow,” from the work of others, and worse than that, depending on whatever process is at work, an author dealing with a crooked editor might not even know better than to adjust their work too much or take too much “specific” direction. I think my work has been stolen from a couple of times, that I’m aware of. You can find plenty of articles on the internet regarding such occurrences. The internet has created a glut of that as well. I was looking up Sara Teasdale poems one evening and found a page where a woman was claiming many obscure poems from other eras as her own, including the work of Teasdale. I wonder how common an occurrence it actually is, as people are perpetuated by greed, perpetuated by their own narcissism, and desperate need to be perceived as whatever it is, not to mention sometimes being motivated by what is simply flat-out envy when they see someone who has talent or any kind of spark. I would guess that in this day and age, there could be any variety of motivations. Personally, I don’t understand how someone could feel good, in their souls, knowing that they were receiving undeserved recognition for work that they’d stolen. But, psychologists say, we’re all deluding ourselves about something. Sometimes that’s a big deal, work or ideas being stolen or borrowed from, sometimes, really not so much. Sometimes it’s even somewhat complimentary, that can all get technical. Writers in the same general talent pool, are going to have some effect on one another, and, that’s a good thing, a cool thing even. Look at the writers of The Lost Generation, or The Beats, for example. None the less, it can be galvanizing to realize that you came up with something unique, something that you worked hard at, were excited about, perhaps even suffered for, and you can’t use it, or you can’t use it unless you change it, something that you shouldn’t have to do since it is yours in the first place, or can’t use it without a fight, and to realize that if you can’t prove it, where are you at then? Several authors right now are in dispute with publishers and editors, because several authors are always in dispute with editors and publishers because, in some way or another, it happens all the time. Then you’re risking damage to reputation, yours and others, and whose knows what else. I’ve read several stories and articles on the subject and the general consensus is most of the time, it isn’t worth the trouble, that piracy is so out of control you could spend all your time doing nothing other than fighting it. It reminded me of reading many years ago, like decades, that Anne Rice had it stipulated in her contract that her work was to be published exactly as she had written it for some of these reasons, that grammar and spelling could be corrected but that no re-writing, restructuring, rewording, of any kind was to be done to her work by anyone other than her, thus maintaining the unpolluted integrity of the work as hers. (I wish I remembered where I read that, and apparently that isn’t so much the case now?) Editors sometimes suggest things, or have to me, a change of location for a story, or here, “Add this in right here, it’ll do xyz for your story.” But where did they get that bit from? How do you know? It isn’t at all an outlandish possibility, though, hopefully, it is rare. I might have set a story in one city, and the editor might have wanted it moved to another. I think, with things like that, you pick your battles but I learned, finally, to ask, “Why? Why do you want this changed? Why do you want to relocate the story to a city other than the one I wrote?” To ask, because it’s my name on the story.
Along those lines the internet also lends itself to an atmosphere of distrust because there are so many imposters out there. I would guess that charlatans submitted work to publishers back in the dark ages too, but the fact is that the internet makes that too easy for some people. But back in those days, if you mailed in a story about drug addled dragons swooping in to be killed be Aztec Warriors and Roman Gods, all anyone cared about was whether or not the story was good, and not whether or not you were “authentic,” pardon me, whatever the hell that means. No one was going to call you up and ask for your pedigree. No one was going to look to see if they agreed with your political views, your religion or lack thereof, the color of your skin, your sexuality, and/or whether or not they deemed you to be a nice enough human worthy of publishing, because that would have been unprofessional, biased, perhaps even discriminatory, and not about the work.
When I started submitting horror stories to horror publishers, I started getting rejection notices. One female horror editor, who I had not as yet submitted any work to, commented about me in a thread on a social network, “Who is she? She’s irrelevant.” The tone of it was disdainful in such a way that I had the impression that I’d been further discussed, and that what had been discussed had nothing to do with my work. I’m not saying that crying in my corn flakes, because as far as comments on the internet go, that’s pretty tame, obviously. But what I’m saying is, that the tone was, “Who is she? She’s NOBODY.” And worse, “WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?” Straight up, I’m not holding a grudge, self-important jack-asses on mid-level power trips are nothing new, but I’m not ever going to forget it either. I thought, “Who the hell are you?” Point being that from there it seemed not to be about my work, but about who I was, or who I am. That should not be the case. I’m going to say that again, that should never be the case. Your friends, your enemies, your politics, your opinions, your religion or lack there-of, the color of your hair, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your gender, who you are sleeping with, or speculation about any such matters, should have no bearing on whether or not your work is considered to be good or of value.
You see, because when you start judging whether or not any of us is worthy as a human being, or worthy enough, then at some point, no one is. I’m just going to say that among the over twenty-five set, there are no saints, no souls without sin. Everyone lives in a glass house and people used to know that, not only about others, but they were smart enough to know it about themselves. Kept people out of each other’s proverbial yards, so to speak.
“She’s a diva. She’s a dog. She’s a woman. She’s an Atheist. She’s a Christian. She’s crazy. She’s a prude. She’s uptight. She has gender issues. She’s got opinions. She wants to sleep with so and so. She is sleeping with him?! She thinks she can write in every genre? She listens to disco. She’s friends with them? She isn’t friends with them? She isn’t friends with us? She won’t let us look up her sphincter. Well, she’s so white- Anglo-Saxon- Upper- Middle-Class. Well, she comes from a trailer park, what do you expect from white trash? Do you know what I heard about her from a totally unverified source of gossip that probably has some agenda? She can’t make up her mind. She’s too pretty. She thinks she’s pretty? She’s not that pretty anymore. She thinks this is about being pretty. She’s irrelevant. She’s a ball-buster. She’s speaking her mind.” —– All that complete tripe is what is irrelevant, or should be. Is the work/story good? And if it was/is good enough to rip off, I’m going to go with it was good enough to pay me for and publish. To that end, and this is something of an aside, my work has been “appropriated” both from my web page and through “proper” channels, and I’m certainly not the only writer that has happened to. What I’m saying is that in any such situation, at some point, you’ve ever only as much protection as is provided by the scruples of whomever you’re dealing with.
Gone are the days of those mostly anonymous envelopes sent off to publishers where only your work would be judged. When that editor said that about me, that I was irrelevant, it wasn’t about my work or whether or not my work was good or important, or might be, had the potential to be. It was about whether or not I personally was somebody she felt worthy of noticing. It was a personal judgment, not a professional one, as to whether or not I was personally someone worth treating professionally with common decency, and respect.
Make no mistake, when someone does that to you, that is NOT about you, that is about them and how they treat people, which, make no mistake, is UNEQUALLY. It’s kind of tough to maintain a sense of professionalism when you’re at the bottom and a lot of the people above you with a tiny taste of power can’t keep themselves from wielding it like five-year-olds on the playground. Which led to a feeling that I had not expected, and that was that the gloves were off from the start and that even common courtesy was out the window. It’s also difficult to listen to admonitions regarding “professionalism” from people stripping down to their bras, and less, while telling you the “proper” way to communicate and behave online. Which, do whatever, but don’t have a double set of rules, one for people “in the group”, for whom it seemed to be okay to engage in everything from posting cartoons of dick jokes to stripping down to their underwear, posting cleavage shots, and a set of rules for people not part of the clique, or whatever it is. “Liliarabeth can post pictures of dongs all day if she likes, she’s one of us. We know she’s good people. You, put your reading by the pool pictures away. How unprofessional.” Perhaps they are unaware that is how it comes off, that it often looks to be the railings of some at a very wild party telling other people how to be “professional” or behave. Do whatever, only check that double-standard hypocritical mixed message about what the rules are, or aren’t. Like I said, that’s really the least of it, and of course, not everyone is engaging in that. This isn’t a nice business at times, and nearly no one ever starts at the top. That door into the horror writing community seemed to keep getting slammed in my face. For every bit of ground I gained, it was one step forward, two steps back. I could get stories published in other genres, and for each one of those, there would be the rejection of a horror story. There have been highlights, of course, but you start to think that your being relegated to a certain area, pigeon- holed. Not something that I’m a fan of, it’s stifling to creativity, for starters. Needless to say, there are a lot of egos involved in this business and if you don’t have something of an ego one way or another, you’re probably not going to last long.
I took a step back to try to get some perspective.
Was it just me? Was it the work?
I published pieces on my web page that had been rejected, some of them had been rejected several times. They were good enough stories that people liked them, enjoyed them, and asked, Why didn’t you sell those?
It can be very difficult to find the right publishing home for your work. By then I had become leery of submitting work because I was seeing a lot of things that I didn’t like and that didn’t sit well with me, getting stolen from will do that. Recent controversies and scandals within the horror community speak for themselves. ( You can catch up on all of that particular situation if your interested at the webpage of author Brian Keene.) As someone who was still something of an outsider, this has all been quite the learning curve and ultimately, I’m glad that I didn’t get involved in some things, though obviously there are good people within that organization ( the H.W.A.) and they’re trying to clean things up. I believe that they really are, and figure they will.
Then there are all the things that are part of the general course of doing business. People who aren’t writers don’t quite get the time involved in the publishing process, never mind the time it takes to write. It could be months after submitting a story before you hear anything back. I submitted a story to a major market over two years ago, haven’t ever heard a word, that happens all the time, implied rejection. Other things fall through. Several times in the last two years something has been basically looking like it was ready to go only to have communication cease for no apparent reason, then you try to find out. In once case the magazine had been bought but no one would even say as much and so eventually you hear it through the grapevine or find something on the internet on your own. On another occasion, a contract was unceremoniously terminated by the publisher, the story released back to me, no explanation was ever given. But that’s all part of the regular course of things as you write the story, you send it out, you wait. And you wait. And then you wait.
In the meantime, the internet has created a public forum where it seems more a personal popularity contest than anything else. Writers tend to be a somewhat odd, strange, solitary creatures, given to bouts of moodiness and sequestering themselves away to do what they do, that is write. Social networking often has an “office politics” atmosphere mixed in with real politics, among other things. Gone are the days of your manuscript being free of the specter of your recent vacation photos, your personal opinions that you lost your shit about and took the ever plentiful bait on, your religion, your squabbles with whoever, the gossip that isn’t really happening but it is, and whether or not you still looked good at the last whatever it was and “Are you one of us?” While I am certain that it likely helped if you knew someone back in the day, you still had a shot if you didn’t. A good deal of the time, the last few years, it has often seemed like less of a professional business involving some of the most intelligent people around, than a free for all food fight in a high school cafeteria, or a flat-out popularity contest of about the same maturity level. Will the quarterback and the prettiest cheerleader be Homecoming King and Queen again this year? If not that, then tokenism, or a knee jerk presentation of a statement in the exact opposite direction. All of which is polluted.
I loathe such nonsense. I always have. I always will. I’ve no interest in it. It is a waste of time and doesn’t do anyone any good. It doesn’t get any work done either. This is supposed to be about the work, the writing, getting the job done. You show up, you do your job, you go “home.”
You realize and learn very quickly that you could be the most talented writer who ever lived, and that that in and of itself, still might not be enough.
For me, this has always been about my work itself, regardless of what anyone thinks of me. I’ve been writing all my life at this point. I write because I love writing. All of the rest of it is just distraction and bullshit that keeps any work from really getting done. I don’t feel the same way about any of it anymore. I don’t feel the same way about my writing as I used to. I have to fix that for me, and I don’t much care what anyone thinks of that at this point. I’ve always been one to think for myself, as much as I sometimes think that I want to fit in or belong. I’ve always been one to kind of go my own way.
I want to write, publish my work, and be paid for it. I’ve got bills to pay just like everyone else. There are things that I want, not just material things or needs, but I have goals for my writing. I happen to have a great deal of integrity about my work, it matters to me. I want people, fans, potential fans, to be able to read and enjoy my writing without me having to always, completely, give it away. I want the amount of time from the completion of a piece of writing to its publication and availability for purchase by the reader, to be a reasonable amount of time, one that I have more control over.
I’ve learned a lot and no doubt, I still have a lot more to learn. Having given it a great deal of thought over the course of the last year, thinking about what I want to accomplish, what my goals are, I have decided that I will be going the route of publishing my own work. I may still occasionally submit stories here and there with other publishers if something interests me, or I may not. Perhaps, someday someone may even ask me to contribute work, and I may want to, it could happen. There are a lot of really great, decent, talented, people within the writing and publishing business, and communities, a lot. I have gotten to work with some of them, and there are those whom I still hope to work with eventually. And sincerely, really, I’ve no hard feelings about any of it. I just don’t. I have other things to do and I figure, this was how it was supposed to go, for whatever reasons. At this time, I’m not unhappy about that.
I have composed and self-published my own work before, for personal reasons, and I did a good job with it. So this is not an idea that is new to me. I’m not unaware of the amount of work involved, though this is a different endeavor in so many ways. Not getting anything done though, not getting anywhere, and being reliant on the approval if not the validation of others, many of whom I don’t like or respect at this point, to the point of being at a stand still, doesn’t sit well with me. Everything that any given writer creates, isn’t going to be the best thing that they ever did, but I know that I am a good writer. If you’re a writer and you don’t know that you’re good, or think that you’re good, what are you doing writing?
I believe in my work. I care what I think. I believe in myself.
Is it more of a risk to self publish?
In some ways, yes. Publishing with others provides a built-in support system. Your publisher obviously has an interest in seeing your work, you, succeed. Other authors within a publishing house tend to be supportive of the other authors as their “co-workers,” after a fashion, and their friends, especially at the Indie publishing level, so yes, there’s that. By that same process, however, sometimes mediocre work gets elevated. But yes, it is more of a risk in those terms. I’ve read several other authors and publishers takes on the subject, I have my own comprehension of such things.
I guess I’m as prepared as anyone can be for the possibility that it could all go terribly wrong, that once available to be purchased, the work won’t sell, or that it will and it will be hated, panned. There’s the possibility that that could happen even if it’s great work, for all the reasons why I’ve made this decision in the first place. There are a lot of variables. If I make twenty bucks a month at it, that’s more than I’ve been making, and my work, my writing, will be published and in the world as art. Though I’m hoping to do slightly better than that obviously. If things had gone differently the last five years, I probably wouldn’t have made this decision. This wasn’t the route that I wanted to go or intended to go. But, things have happened the way that they have. I have a lifetime of writing available to me so I certainly have plenty of work to publish, writing new things too, I am still thinking about that.
Though I haven’t decided which book I want to publish first, or whether it will be a collection of poems, or stories, I hope to have one book out before the end of this year.
Who knows, it could all go very well.
Thank you, so much, for reading!
Best wishes and warm regards.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live. To see enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some day when I am only going through the motions and doing what I am supposed to do which is write, on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there.” ~ Joan Didion, from The White Album
“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” ~ Joan Didion, from The Year of Magical Thinking
From Slouching Toward Bethlehem
“The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without.
To do without self-respect, on the other hand, is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals with one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening. There’s the glass you broke in anger, there’s the hurt on X’s face; watch now, this next scene, the night Y came back from Houston, see how you muff this one. To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, the Phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.
[C]haracter — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.
Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts.
[S]elf-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth. It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag. As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that, but the psychological effect alone is incalculable: it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag. There is a similar case for all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves; imagine maintaining any kind of swoon, commiserative or carnal, in a cold shower.
To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out — since our self-image is untenable — their false notion of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan; no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meting the next demand made upon us.
It is the phenomenon sometimes called ‘alienation from self.’ In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.” ~ Joan Didion
A question of direction.
Lately I’ve realized that the last few years the main focus of my writing has been something of an untoward wrestling match trying to come to some kind of terms with it. There have many discussions about “voice.” I’ve bristled at the idea of being “pigeon-holed” and in that have tried repeatedly to find something thematically that would cover all of the bases, so to speak, so that if you arrived here there would be sort of something for everyone ideologically and I would feel the wonderful limitlessness of…everything.
However, as things have progressed and continued on there have been recurrent questions and “situations” that have continued to reveal themselves to me and finally, I thought, I need to take a look at those things and that, address it for myself once and for all. There is no judgment of anyone or anything else in this as what we are talking about are matters of personal taste and preference and that is all.
A couple of things, a few things, kept happening in the natural course of things and those things were that my feelings kept getting hurt or I found that I often times was offended by or didn’t appreciate certain social situations. It took a while to realize that there were certain situations that kept revealing themselves, very often in that was the idea of “ladies” and “gentlemen.” Reading the things that I had written about my own personal preferences in life, I became aware of how often I expressed a distaste for crudeness. Going out of my way at one point to make the point that my opinion, and knowing that it is only that, my opinion, is that anyone can easily master those four letter words and express things in that way. It isn’t that there is anything wrong with that, not at all, it is simply that it is not to my taste for matters of public conversation, particularly in mixed company. I realized that while I’m certainly no stranger to profanity, not at all, smiling here, I prefer to save those words within my work and the worlds of public expression for where they will have an impact, are congruous to the story and not gratuitous, believing in a sense of decorum, a time and a place. My feeling being that if a woman, a person, says the f-word all the time then it loses its meaning and impact. The same can be said for the use of it in one’s work. However, there are pieces of writing, and pieces or work, for which such crudeness is most certainly necessary, though one must keep in mind that writers of fiction are not necessarily what they write. I would urge the reader to familiarize themselves with the definitions of the words “fiction” and “imagination.” I began to realize that I prefer, that is that my personal preference is, a more subtle, nuanced, and perhaps genteel, palette.
I had thought, for a time, that, well, there are of these areas of my life that I could “mine” so to speak, and this is true of every writer in some regard, though inspiration isn’t the finished product. So perhaps you got the idea for a story from the time you went skateboarding in a neighbors empty pool when you were in junior high, but the story then takes off from there until it has nothing to do with the reality it sprang from at all. This word “authenticity” kept coming up, a word that I’ve decided is largely the tool of those who have some need to find a way into manipulating others into wasting a lot of time “proving” themselves about whatever all it is. You know, like someone trying to goad you by calling you “chicken” or “fake.” But in that I realized, well what difference does any of that make if what we are talking about is fiction? Fantasy, imagination, and making up stories? And who is it that is so worthy that I need bare all with regard to…anything? That’s kind of presumptuous, isn’t it? I know who I am, and writing about my so-called “past” or my ancestry or whatever else all day long isn’t going to alter what I already know and it isn’t going to prove anything to those who want to doubt. Am I legit? Have I got cred? Can I prove it? Frankly, that simply makes me feel as though I need some soap. But then if we read that Anne Rice was born in Louisiana and lived in San Francisco does it add something to her writing of vampire fiction, does it read slightly more believable to us, Gothicly speaking? Somehow, does it have more of an air of authenticity? Perhaps. Perhaps it is a harder sell if you’re writing stories about the South or the West or wherever, if you’ve never been there and so on. But, no one has ever set foot on Mars, and there are plenty of stories about that. The conclusion that I’ve ultimately arrived at with regards to that, is that the proof is in the pudding. In other words, the work itself should convey that believability and what is the point of writing fiction if you think that you’ve got to have some kind of real world authenticity to back it up? A writer can either write a particular thing or they can’t.
Lately I’ve heard myself uttering the phrase “finding my niche” with regard to my work. As I’ve ventured here and there I’ve taken a look at what I’ve found myself attracted to and what I’ve found myself shrinking away from. Again within that there’s been much talk about “comfort zones,” something else that I have come to realize is sometimes a manipulation of those who want to get something from you or get you to go somewhere that you either aren’t ready to go or simply have no interest in going. Owing to the fact that I’m hardly a little girl, suffice it to say that in my time I’ve been around the proverbial block. I’ve been not a little upset with myself a time or two for “falling” for certain things however that too has ultimately increased my learning and understanding. These are matters of personal preference and taste and that is all.
So the back and forth between not wanting to be or feel as though I had been pigeon-holed, and not wanting to pigeon-hole myself, and finding my niche has been nothing less than an epic interpersonal wrangling that I’d just as soon not repeat. I didn’t want to let go of anything, as it were, I wanted all of the goodies on my plate. However, there were certain things that anytime I got near them I found over and over again that they just weren’t for me and in some cases it seems a subtle thing and perhaps difficult for some to understand. I’m of the firm belief personally that discretion is the better part of valor, in most cases, and erring on the side of caution, a good idea. Cinematically, my taste runs more toward Skeleton Key or the likes of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil than say Sin City. I prefer a sense of the macabre as opposed to more graphic expression, something with more of a sense of mystery and romance to it, or a different element of romance, if you will. Again, matters of personal preference and taste. I prefer Dashiell Hammet and James Ellroy to Quentin Tarantino, in most cases, when it comes to noir, if that makes any kind of sense to anyone. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever watch or read anything more graphic, not at all. It is a matter of how well something is done and appreciating it for what it is.
I thought, finally, what am I writing? Really? What do I want to write and what it my natural inclination, because I believe that that will always be one’s strong suit, and within in that, who is my primary audience? I’m writing poetry and prose, stories that have meaning to me. I’m writing about relationships. I’m writing about love. Sometimes, I’m writing about monsters. I’m writing about watching the day fade and slip and glide below the horizon each evening on the whisper of a breeze and the promise of night. I’m my main audience, an intelligent, mature woman with a sense of humor, not interested in being disgusted or offended simply for the sake of it, gratuitously, and generally not finding that to be in the least bit entertaining, truly preferring ladies and gentlemen to broads and brutes, not that both don’t have their merits or place, or usefulness, within the telling of a story and/or life. There’s no judgment in that, some folks live gravy on their mashed potatoes, some like butter, and some don’t like mashed potatoes at all. It is only a matter of finding one’s own place and way. I am a romantic, however well schooled in the areas of logic and reason, I’m looking for that sense of escape in what I read. I’m writing fiction. I’m writing whatever I want to write.
It isn’t easy you know, being a writer, it isn’t ditch digging either but it isn’t easy.