Friday, February 3, 2012

Can the dalmation change its spots?

Yes, I admit it. I do get depressed.

This is like a Dalmation saying, yes, I do have spots. Or something.

Just trying to set up this particular post, everything stopped. Quivered and flickered back and forth for a while, then froze.

I feel the twingy, warning signs of a toothache deep in the left side of my jaw. A few months ago I had to have an expensive root canal, a crown replacement and surgery on an abscess. Because of the inflammation the freezing didn't take, so had to be injected four times until I couldn't feel my whole head. (Up until then I didn't think such a thing was even possible. FOUR doses of novocaine? Actually, the last one was delivered in four shots, making it seven.) If this is going to be another dental disaster, it had better happen NOW before our insurance runs out.

I don't know.

I know you're supposed to be chipper, no matter what happens to you, or doesn't happen to you. It's fashionable, and when something's fashionable, 95% of people follow it in great sliding herds like lemmings without even looking at it, let alone questioning it.

If a lot of people are doing it, then it must be right. I even had this used on me (by a minister, no less) to prove the validity of Christianity. Nobody mentions Eichmann and his merry band of assassins.

There's a new documentary out called Pink Ribbons, Inc. which no doubt echoes many of the things I said about breast cancer fundraising in an earlier post. Not that I mind, but why does the damned movie get all this attention when my writing on the same damned subject doesn't?

No, I'm not being gracious, because I don't feel like it!
A very few of my 600+ blog posts have attracted hundreds of views, and one freakish one on Carrie Fisher's ECT treatments drew 12,000, but for the most part I get less than ten views per post, sometimes even zero. Imagine posting something that no one looks at, at all, ever.  It happens to me with alarming frequency. Does this mean I'm: (a) a shitty writer, or (b)cursed?

I've heard pop psychologists/New Age philosophers (an oxymoron if ever there was one) say, "Never take anything personally." They mean anything. I mean, even if your best friend socks you in the face, then laughs. Even if your name is left off your mother's obituary (no joke - it really happened to me, indicating they are so ashamed of me they won't acknowledge that I was even born.) Even if NO ONE is taking your manuscript seriously, not even looking at it! For I am convinced that no one in the publishing industry has read it yet, in spite of well over a year of attempts and even a few promising leads.

It has been completely ignored. Whited out. And I'm supposed to be OK with that.

If I express any of these feelings, certain predictable things happen. The first one: advice. Torrents of it. Even if I haven't asked for it (and I haven't!). This indicates that my feelings are "wrong" and I must be "advised" out of them. (No one thinks just to listen.) The most predictable advice is, "Just write for your own enjoyment and don't think about publishing any of it."

Hm. Dickens would've gone far on that, eh? Or how about Mickey Spillane. Anybody. Writing isn't knitting (and even when you knit, which I do, copiously, you like to think someone, somewhere is going to wear the thing that you're knitting. Or should you be happy to throw it in a drawer somewhere, or even just throw it in the garbage?)

But writers are told to do this ALL THE TIME. I know I go over and over this, it's probably pretty tedious by now, but no one expects a concert pianist to play in an empty hall. But writing is a cheat, something you can't really study, so it doesn't count as "art". Wanting recognition for it is somehow deeply embarrassing. 

There's an unexpected phenomenon now that might have helped my chances enormously if I'd only been able to use it: the flukey runaway success of the European indie film The Artist. It's a silent movie about silent movies, and it has stolen the critics' hearts (which means Oscar nominations, causing the public to rush lemming-like to the box office and rave about it afterwards,not because they liked it but because it's the thing to do). 

But when I began marketing The Glass Character, which BY THE WAY is about the life and career of the phenomenal silent film comedian Harold Lloyd, I didn't mention The Artist because I had never heard of it. I had never heard of it because IT WASN'T OUT YET. And even when it did come out, I brushed it off as too hokey. There was no way anyone would pay attention to something so marginalized and odd.

Woody Allen also made a period movie, now up for several Oscars, called Midnight in Paris. It's all about a writer disillusioned with his own times who is somehow magically transported to Paris during the 1920s and the great flowering of arts and literature called the Jazz Age.

I didn't think to use that as a marketing tool either because, well, I just didn't. It didn't occur to me, and the way I'm feeling now, with a major dental catastrophe only a wet blink away, I wonder if it would have mattered anyway.

Listen, this is a damn good book: Jeffrey Vance is probably the only person who has really read it, and he loved it. Jeffrey Vance co-wrote (with Suzanne Lloyd, Harold's granddaughter, whom he raised) perhaps the definitive Lloyd biography. My favorite one, anyway.

No one else is giving it the time of day. Even my queries aren't being read, and it's killing me.

Over and over and over again, I am being told to either self-publish, or e-publish. I am still hanging back. Though it doesn't mean I will never do it, every instinct in my body tells me to wait. I had enough trouble with distribution and promotion when I had a whole publishing company behind me. So many writers are doing this now that I think the market is being flooded. And I don't know how they put together a promotional tour with readings/signings, how they get the book into stores or reviewed in newspapers and magazines, or even significantly noticed on-line.

Are there editorial standards? I'm just askin', though I have that crawling feeling I shouldn't.

As far as I know, a novel published in this way would not be eligible for the Governor General or the Giller or the Booker or any of the other awards that can propel a writer from the literary doldrums into a position where (though we aren't supposed to want this, it's vanity, ego and other nasty things) people actually read our books.

Do I think the revolution will never happen? Things are in a state of flux now. Come back in ten years, maybe five. Maybe even three. But I wonder what the statistics are. How many self-published/e-published writers are becoming best-sellers and making decent money, or even a profit? One can usually pull out a single smash-hit, but what's the average? But even by askin', I'll be making a lot of writers angry and defensive (that is, if they read this at all). 

It's as if you can't ask anything or say anything (unless you're a non-writer, in which case you are required to give floods of advice on a subject you know nothing about), have to tiptoe around on eggshells or you'll end up a pariah, disloyal. I figured out a long time ago that there is a secret code among writers, one that I will never crack. But once a writer crosses over, is there any chance of reverting back to more traditional methods? I think publishers are pretty freaked-out by all this, though I think some of them are beginning to get on-board. Maybe it's that perceived lack of editorial standards. How should I know?

Along with the reams of other unsolicited advice, writers are forever being told to "toughen up", but guess what: if you toughen up, then you can't write any more. Writers are like tuning forks vibrating sympathetically with whatever buzz is going on around them. Not to agree with it, but often to criticize it and stand up to it. They serve a crucial but often completely unheeded function: to be the conscience of the world.

Being this cranky isn't popular. It exposes things, bare nerves that people don't want to see or feel. There's only so much novocaine in the real world. Another favorite ploy of people who know nothing about this is, "Well, I don' t feel that way about it, and I don't know anybody else who does." More lemming syndrome? Maybe. I can only have a certain emotion, or objection, or opinion, if others share it.

You're the only one. And don't you forget it.
I see why writers commit suicide, I really do. I can't because of my family, but if I did not have them, well, I see why they do it anyway. I don't see why successful writers do it however. I can't see why ANY successful person does it. They do, but it doesn't make a damn bit of sense to me.

Mothers, don't let your sons grow up to be writers! One way or another, they'll be shot through the heart.

P.S. if anyone actually does follow this blog, they will read this post and say, "Oh, I can't read it any more, it's just too negative and depressing." Then they will abandon it. (Not that I have any abandonment issues. Being left off my mother's obituary is totally OK with me.) Never mind that 95% of the posts are NOT negative or depressing. Every once in a while I just feel weighed down with all this and have to try to get words around it.

It's what writers do. Isn't it?