Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp: Now it can be googled.

Figuring out my audience while trying to communicate with them

So Alicia, my dear friend and co-conspirator, recently informed me of this wonderful new channel of communication called the Internet.  While most have dismissed it as little more than a fad with the staying power of Nu Shooz (they made a song with video that had all kinds of stuff moving around), Lis is an irresistible saleslady, and so I gave in.  Thus, about a month ago, with the power of WordPress in my holster, I have begun work on the Legends of Steragos blog.  It’s pretty bare-bones now, but it’ll grow.

Legends is a book for young readers I self-published in August, whose story is centered around the battle between three talented, enterprising, tough-as-nails princesses and the very vengeful, heavily-armed Baba Yaga, who has kidnapped a prince that the Royal Trio are trying to rescue.  As if her inestimable help with the book wasn’t enough, Alicia has also helped me build this Frankenstein, drawing on her experience in building this very website that you’re reading.

So, Steragos.  It’s a fictional, fairy-tale country where all the action takes place, a peninsula on the planet Unica.  As if I have some kind of genetic deficiency which prevents me from making my stories short and sweet, I’ve been unable to resist my compulsion to build a big, whopping world and history around my characters (I haven’t yet established the longitude and latitude of the country on a Unician globe, but gimme time).  While the primary use of the blog will be to promote the book (as well as future books in the series), I’d like for it to take on a life of its own as the place to read about the universe of LoS.

Have you ever had any experience in doing this kind of thing?  I stink at self-promotion, so any advice offered would be appreciated.  This is a project that Alicia has a lot of enthusiasm for.  Let’s not let her down!

KMS

25 December 2013

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp 6: Sublime felines.

Holy cats, I’m self-published.

(Blinks)

Oh, there’s a bunch of digital rigmarole [rigital digamarole] I’m still sorting out – such as the appearance of the actual Amazon page that features the book, getting the “LOOK INSIDE!” feature set up, and all that other none-too-challenging jazz to do.  But then, I stop dealing with that (and the student reports I have to type up, and the Flash games I’ve been playing, and the constant Rifftrax Twilight vids I’ve been watching), and it hits me …

Holy cats.  I’m a self-published author.

The book’s been available now since about lunch today (August 22, 2013).  And yet, I’ve been a little hesitant to toot about, given that I want to make the amazon page and other associated webpages really sing.  But for now, I can’t help but toot like crazy (or tweet, I guess they call it), because today, for the first time in my life, I have published a book. Two emotions hold sway over my mind right now.  The first is thankfulness – to God, to my friends, my dear family, my awesome editor, my great collaborators, my inspiring students, my amazing illustrator, and the gallons and gallons of cola that fueled the whole ordeal.  The other feeling I have is indescribable, so until more sophisticated language comes to mind for me to more adequately express myself,  I shall simply have to settle for the following:

Holy cats.

EDIT:  BTW, if you want to check out the fruits of my (and my illustrator’s) labor, you can find it here.

LoS Large coverLoS back cover

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp 5: Back at Last.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited upon you, good reader, the plights of an aspiring writer trying to self-publish his first book.  Admittedly, a large part of my absence has been due to the pronounced lack of such plights.  Some delays were inevitable – waiting for illustrations to be finished, which my very talented artist finished at amazing speed.

There was the slightly panic-filled adventure where I found myself desperately trying to find and master an inexpensive (free) layout program after figuring the Word Starter bundled with my laptop wouldn’t do the trick.  The problem was easily settled by changing my mind and using Word anyhow.  Turns out it works pretty well.  It’s not professional level layout software, but not being a professional layout artist, I wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of software anyway.  So, everything worked out.

After a trip to a printer, I discovered to my pleasant surprise that what I feared would be some unruly monstrosity actually looked pretty good in the industry-standard pocket book size that I was aiming for.  And, during another episode of You Don’t Know What You’ll Find on the ’Net until Needs Demand You Look, I also found some neat software for drawing maps.  The Kingdom of Steragos and surrounding nations can now make an appearance in my book.

At times like this, I find myself dwelling on how many great resources I’ve had helping me make this mess.  One of my dearest friends is a mother of three, and a fan of fantasy.  Not only was I able to get her valuable input, but the input of her daughter as well.  At eight years of age, she may not yet be in the target demographic, but she’s a smart kid with a lot to say.  What’s more:  she’ll grow.

I don’t know where I’d be in this project without the help of my dear friend Mae.  If you hadn’t met her before, Mae’s the founder of this site, and can be recognized by her piercing blue eyes, physically visible love of punk music (there was this one time where she raised her left eyebrow, and the Edward-Scissorhands guy from the Clash just appeared right next to her.  Man, he was baffled), and the massive supply of classical and modern literature being fed directly into her bloodstream via IV.  She has been of inestimable help to me in this adventure, pointing out my gaffes (on my request!), serving as a fashion consultant (the book is set during a fictionalized 1920s period, a part of history Mae is fascinated by), and being a much-needed soundboard in many different ways.  She’s been an awesome friend and consultant, and I value her counsel greatly.

Kurt and Tessa, my bosses and friends at my teaching gig, have put in a tremendous amount of helpful input, including the suggestion of putting a map of the fictional country I created in the book.  This was something I’d have never thought of doing on my own, simply because I didn’t think myself capable of doing so.  Never made a map before; how do I do one now?  Well, as it turns out:

Steragos

Now, I may not be the greatest cartographer ever, but I’m proud of this.  I didn’t know I could make anything like this at all, and thus, didn’t think I could do it.  It’s funny to think about how this project has presented me with seemingly daunting tasks which turned out to be skill-broadening challenges.  If you’re going to write a book, you’re going to have to bring your A-game.  I don’t know if I’ve done that, but I made a map anyhow.

Next time, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of print-on-demand.  I’m going with Createspace this time; I’ve heard good things about them.  I’ll be sure to hit you with all the details of any skull-bursting headaches if they come knocking.

’Til then.

 

 

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp 4: Hey, first draft’s finished. AAAAAAARGH!

Figuring out my audience while writing a young reader’s book.

#4

You know, I would’ve thought that the spirit-crushing doubt that one experiences while stitching up their monster of a writing project was the worst part of the creative ordeal.  Turns out I was wrong.  The trepidation that kicks in after you finish the first draft can be just as daunting.

Ever hurt yourself in one of those “Ssssssssssssst-OOH!!” kind of ways?  Like, you’re shaving a part of your body that you can’t see all that well with a cheap “safety” razor, and then you zig when you should have maintained a nice, smooth, even zag?  You hear that “KRTCH!!” of flesh being ripped open, that uncomfortably familiar feeling of something viscous and sticky running from some intimately internal place, and the reality-boggling pain of having shredded the skin off of an inconceivably tender area?  If you haven’t, stop reading and go do it, and then you’ll know what I mean.

Arright, so now, you’re in this amazing amount of pain, and you know you’re bleeding.  But do you look at it right away?  Logically, you would – but there are many of those in this world [me] who would pause before taking a look at his handiwork.  There’s something about not looking at the thing that somehow puts off the magnitude of what happened. If I don’t see it, it’s not as bad as it feels.  Out of sight, somewhat out of mind.

Right now, I’ve put my story out of sight.  I finished the first draft of The Princess Project one week ago (28 October), and I haven’t really looked back since.  There’s something mildly unpleasant about reviewing the work I’ve done, as if doing so would show just how truly incompetent I am with the written word.  You would think that not glancing back at the finished draft would be a comforting thing, but no – it really only serves to ramp up my sense of dread about what I’ll find when I double-click the file once more.

The theme of this post was going to be doubt, but I find there’s plenty of that to write about here just by thinking about what I wrote.    The fear that I will inevitably be razzed for anything I put down is a powerful one, and it works on my whether I’m actually writing or not.  I gotta find a way to get over it, to surmount this dread and move forward.  It’s really not helping me meet my deadline at all.

KM Scott is an aspiring writer currently teaching English in South Korea.  He is currently sweating over a young-reader’s book, the development of which he chronicles in this blog.  Pray for him!

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp 3: Arrested Character Development.

Figuring out my audience while writing a young reader’s book.

#3

I’ve always felt that my writing process was akin to the evolution of living species on planet Earth:  It is crushingly slow and a lot of things develop that are going to prove unnecessary to the success of the end product, kind of like having a second appendix.  One of the things that causes me to drag my feet when getting something down on paper is the “incubation period”, the length of time that I let an idea marinate in my mind before trying to manifest it somehow.

This is where I heavily contemplate detailed elements of the idea, from character quirks to the history of the world the story is set in (the term “thorough daydreaming” would work as a good shorthand, except it’s longer).  Normally I’m content to do this to a certain degree, so long as I’m actually producing something.  Usually though, the truth is that the incubation period is criminally long in comparison to the production period.  It is far easier to think about the story than actually work on it.

However, with this Princess Project that I’m working on, I haven’t allowed myself the luxury of time.  I’ve a deadline now, and need to meet it if I’m going to reach my personal goals, not just as a writer, but as a teacher who wants to give his students a gift.  That’s not to say that I haven’t gone whole days without writing a darn thing, but nonetheless, the level of dedication I feel that I’m supposed to have is admirable.

Having to work without an extended cooking time is an interesting [frustrating] experience.  In truth, I’d come up with the idea several months ago, and so had plenty of time to think casually about the characters, technology, setting, et cetera.  This, I found, was the easier part of the story to write.  Those parts of the story that I hadn’t already envisioned were pretty easy to make up on the spot.  From a technical standpoint, the writing wasn’t a problem.

The voice of the story, on the other hand, was another matter (I’m writing in the past tense here because I’ve finally gotten the first draft done HALLELUJAH).  What I mean here is, what techniques should I use to tell the story?  Should I use narrative tricks, employ ambiguity to inspire the imagination, be explicit in the detail of the narrative?  What kind of language should I use?  I mean, my main characters are royal princesses.  Keeping my inscrutable audience of young readers (8-14, I guess) in mind, should I write down to what I would have to assume is their level, or should the ladies speak with a learned, scholarly, regal vocabulary?

And how do they speak to each other?  The protagonists can be described as Z, the Leader, Ayomi, the Adventurous One, and Ballista, the Smart One Who Shoots Things.  There are several different creative avenues to explore here.  Should Z be pedantic and virtuous, as Leader heroines are often depicted as, or should she be sly and forward thinking? How exactly do I present Ballista as both a reserved bookworm and wisecracking action heroine at the same time?  Does she actually crack wise, or does she make simple, somewhat philosophical statements that turn out to be witty one-liners when one sits and thinks about them?

There are two challenges here.  First, I have to get the voices of the characters straight.  I know who they are (roughly), I just need to develop how they sound.  Second, I have to bring those voices together in harmony; establish how they contrast with each other, bounce ideas between each other, and finish each other’s sentences.  In short, they need to become an old married couple (in an all-female, polygamous relationship way).

I find myself missing the incubation period.  This would have been spent composing the music of the characters interaction.  Sure, it would have taken a ridiculous amount of time, but I would’ve felt more comfortable going into the project.  And yet, maybe comfort is not what I need here.  Maybe I need to be a bit on edge here, unfettered by any sense of security, in order to challenge my limits and get my best work.  This could be a perfect opportunity to train my brain to produce more over a far shorter period of time, which would be an excellent talent to bring into writing for television.  Indeed, come to think of it, comfort only delays my desire to create.

I sure liked having it, though.

Next time:  DOUBT.

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp. : Always with the self-editing!

Figuring out my audience while writing a young reader’s book.

#2

In my previous blog post, I outlined a writing project which initially started as out as a children’s book, then became a short story for young readers.  As I’d already started the book out with simple, child-friendly language, I found that my workload had doubled up: not only did I have to finish the story, but I had to re-write what I’d already written it for my new audience as well.  This endeavor was made all the more complex by the fact that the notion of who exactly my audience consists of is a bit fuzzy to me.

As for the current state of progress on the project, well … allow me to let my inner monologue hold forth on that a bit:

AAAAHHH IT STINKS IT STINKS IT STINKS IT STINKS IT STINKS AAAAHHH!!!

Yeah, that just about sums it up – but not accurately, and not fairly either.  There was a certain confidence and ease with which I had written the initial story, two rare aspects of my writer’s mind that were very blatantly absent as I sat in the McDonald’s that night, gently coaxing my simple tale into a complex monstrosity.  How could rewriting something be so difficult?!

Upon reflection, the reason why is obvious:  The story (let’s call it Fighting Princess Story for desperate lack of a better title) was indeed simple; I’d written it not merely for children, but children for whom English was a foreign language.  What’s more was that the students I had in mind were my students, so the text, tone, concepts, and plot of the adventure were strongly informed by the familiarity I had with my small audience.

So now I’m trying to write for an unfamiliar audience, and as one of the posters on my debut article mentioned, writing for “young readers” is difficult in that such a group can mean a large number of people at different levels of maturity, even within specific age groups (8-10, 10-12, and so on).

This has resulted in a bit of a creative paradox.  On the one hand, as the upper-limit of maturity of the reader is vaguely defined, I feel a bit freer in what I can do, including lengthening the story, adding some complexity to the plot (not too much, of course), and expanding on the opening badminton game (two of the protagonists like badminton).  On the other hand, the lower limit of the potential reader’s skills is almost just as ambiguous, and as such leaves me to wonder just how advanced should the vocabulary be, how much detail is too much detail, or if the dialogue/narrative ratio equals out.  Or should it?

Now, honestly, having to deal with such questions would be no massive problem if I were to simply think them through before writing. I’m on a bit of a schedule, however, and so have to deal with these issues as I write the thing. And it was then that I discovered one of the reasons why I am so reluctant to fire up the word processor (or screenplay software) and just spit out one opus after another:  self-editing.  Not the act of going through a finished piece and looking for typos or places where improvements could be made, oh no – this type of self-editing happens just as you’re beating against the keys.

A line of snappy dialogue pops into your head, and you can’t get it down fast enough.  However, what emerges onscreen isn’t the Wildeworthy bon mot you heard in your mind.  So, you stop – you stop the whole #*@$ train! – just to rewrite that line.  And … okay, so, this time, it’s a little closer to what you wanted, has a little bit of that spice – but then the issue of whether or not your audience will get it starts nagging at you before you’ve even looked it over good.  Will they understand the irony?  Is “predicament” a word too high over their heads?  Will they comprehend what the character said to begin with?  Was the line actually witty, or is the reality that you, the writer, cannot communicate wit, irony, or even a coherent sentence in English even if possessed by the spirit of a dead grammar book?

This, I realized, is literally quite tiring.  A wealth of creative energy is being used on these pathetic little hiccups that could probably be resolved far more casually in a second or third draft. It’s hard to see that when in the thick of it, of course, at which point the idea of doing a second draft seems ludicrously cruel since you haven’t finished the first.

But nitpicking and over-agonizing ain’t the half of it, oh no.  See, when you start dealing with one tiny conundrum after another, those conundrums seem to pile up.  Soon, the belief begins to creep in that what you’ve written is not a story so much as it a gigantic collection of inadvisable, self-important screw-ups which serves better as an example of how to fail as a writer than a piece of literary entertainment.  This kind of thinking eats into your self-esteem. You feel bad because this thing that you made in your mind is not behaving the way it should.  What kind of writer are you if you can’t control your writing?  Maybe you should have done what your mother insisted and become a neurosurgeon.  Pft.  Shyeah, right. You would’ve blown that too.

Then after slinking off your laptop and letting things sit for a while, your level-headedness kicks in (though not enough to tell you to stop being a writer) and reminds you that you haven’t cleared the middle of the story yet.  It’s too early to start cutting yourself down.  There’s plenty of time for that after the story is finished.  But no, seriously – the thing is not that bad.

I get so bogged down in silly little details and self-consciousness that I forget (neglect) to get the thing done.  I have to remember that sometimes the best thing to do is just smash through to the end of the story, let it go for a while, and then go back and revise.  Trying to be peerlessly brilliant on the first attempt is simply putting myself in a pressure cooker for no good reason.  I need to learn to relax and, if humanly possible, enjoy the writing experience.

To this end, I have made it a point not to worry so much about what I should or shouldn’t write – I’ll just write it.  The fixes will be simple and readily available after the first draft is completed; there’s no reason to worry about a poor result so early in the development stage.  You must first learn to walk before you can run headlong into a telephone pole.

Next time, character development on the fly.

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp.

Figuring out my audience while writing a young reader’s book.

It was earlier in the year when I had the inspiration.  My work as a kindergarten teacher in a hagwon gave me the idea for a book series featuring heroic princesses in action-packed adventures written for kids. Excited about the idea, I shared it with my students (all between the ages of 7 and 8), and banged out an excerpt of the story with drawings to give to them as birthday gifts.

At some point – I cannot recall when – it occurred to me to make the thing bigger.  To go from a six page excerpt to a completed work wasn’t good enough.  Now, the dream had expanded: I wanted to bring the plights of my heroines into the world of young readers.  The method?  Self-publishing.  The resources?  My laptop, Lulu.com, and an artist commissioned to do the illustrations.  All that left was the story!

Hm. The story.  Well, the story pretty much wrote itself – good guys (gals) vs. bad guys (a woman with a machine gun, air superiority, and an extremely anti-social attitude).  The problem was that, for some reason, I decided to write for a new audience.  So now, my quest is to write my story for a nebulous, hard-to-define, kinda cloudy group of readers somewhere between the ages of 8 and 13.

It’s not an easy task.  I’ve always found it easier to figure out my taxes than to figure out my audience.  When my focus was narrowed to kindy kids who were learning English, things were relatively simpler:  if I wanted to use a word longer than three syllables, I instead put in a substitution a smaller word or phrase that meant the same thing.  I even intended to put a glossary* in the back for certain words, with the intent of hopefully helping ESL students expand their vocabulary.

Writing for this older group of readers is a different story as itt’s a group that I’m unfamiliar with.  I was 8-to-13 years old myself once, but it was only for a couple years back in the early 80s.  At 38, I feel that I’ve moved on since, and as such I don’t quite remember how challenging reading was.  Heck, I was a good reader; it was never really a challenge for me – just boring.  I was a movie fan.  So, when it came to all the books you were supposed to read from 8-13, I never bothered.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Lizard Music, Old Yeller, Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret, The Anarchists Cookbook, and so on, never had an impact on me.

That’s what this blog is about.  I’m pretty much going to have to figure out how my new audience works. How complex should the vocabulary be?  How much detail should I use when establishing background, character, settings? Should I concern myself with whether boys will like reading a book where the protagonists are all young women?

Now, I’m not going to pretend that readers are going to be clamoring for this thing-– it’s really just a personal project I’d like to see done before my students graduate in March, so I can gift it to them as a reward for putting up with me all year.  Perhaps it’ll be a little over their ability now, but it could end up being something they could use to sharpen their reading skills later.

So, for anybody out there who’s ever struggled in trying to figure out just how to write for your readers, here’s your chance to watch as I fly face-first into such and adventure.  I’ll be glad to have you along for the ride.

* glossary: a list at the back of a book, explaining or defining difficult or unusual words and expressions used in the text

Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon Supplement –

Fan to Pro by Steven Savage

A Review

The engineering major gazing at the movie screen, wishing he had been at the computers of WETA studios when Gandalf took on the Balrog.  The retired warehouse worker with his Steelers jersey, hat, socks, beer mug – and faded fantasies of being on the gridiron during the big game.  The overworked store manager who had been told her singing voice was angelic, but that her dreams of singing for the masses were impractical and childish.

From an early age, we are told that our various fandoms – be they for sports, entertainment, recreational sciences, art, whatever – are just silly wish-dreams that should be put aside for the rigors of the seemingly more practical day-in-day-out of work.  We may find no joy in ‘work’, in fact, we may even hate it – yet, we attend our duties faithfully while dreaming of more desirable activities.

Why do we do this?  Sure, we have to keep from starving, but why are people always encouraged to relegate their fandoms to their off hours, always warned against turning their passions into paychecks?  Are we obligated to condemn that which brings us happiness the joyless realm of Never-Everland?

Fan-to-Pro: Unlocking Career Insights With Your Hobbies is a work that doesn’t merely seek the answer to that question; author Steven Savage and editor Jessica Hardy intend to help you get past it.

Fan-to-Pro is a book that revels, praises, exults, and joyfully rolls around in the world of fandom.  Though he has a background in science-fiction and fantasy fandom (as well as extensive experience in IT and career recruiting), Savage makes it clear that fandom covers any number of celebrated subjects, from the aforementioned sci-fi, to sports, and even art.

As the title implies, Fan to Pro refers to turning your hobby into a career that you would love.  What makes the book special is how much it puts itself in the corner of the fan.  A touching element of Chapter 3 is where Savage delves into “Fandom Edges”.  These would be common traits seen among die-hard fans that give them a particular advantage when striving for their goal.  In these fans, Savage sees qualities such as experience, knowledge and passion, tools inherent in any successful artist, football player or entrepreneur.  The goal is to get the reader to recognize these qualities in themselves and fan them into confidence to move forward, improve their skills, and excel in their endeavors.

The book lends itself well to being read.  It is written in a straightforward, informal and funny tone in which it presents sage advice and several exercises meant to help the reader get past the common hurdles, both physical and mental, of making their dream come true.  It’s not simply focusing on what you like that matters; it’s important to look at what you like from different perspectives and see practical ways to turn it into a profession.

The reader is implored to turn away from the disheartening, ultimately empty criticisms of how futile and unprofitable fandom can be, and instead is advised to focus on the actually pragmatic benefits fandom can provide.  Organizing a convention would be a fantastic way to network, for example.  The author himself mentions that his math skills were greatly enhanced from having to work with math while playing RPGs in college.

Fan to Pro, however, is not simply a warm-fuzzy meant to make you feel that all the hours you spend chatting on a Skyrim forum is actual work.  In addition to the exercises mentioned, important topics such as learning about the industries you’re interested in, connecting with others, and even the particularly tricky subject of relocating is thoroughly addressed.

Savage and Hardy have comprised this short (127 pages) work from a series of blogs that had explored the world of fandom and fandom-based careers thoroughly. Through gentle, good-natured humor and encouragement, the reader is instructed to take their passions seriously.  History has proven repeatedly that no great writer, inventor, physician, linebacker – geeks all, in their own way – could have ever made it otherwise.

Fan-to-Pro: Unlocking Career Insights With Your Hobbies is available to order from www.fantoprobook.com in print, Kindle, ePub and PDF format.  To see the blog that brought about the book, check out www.fantopro.com.

Check out Steven Savage’s additional work at seventhsanctum.com and stevensavage.com.  Point your browser to the following for his other books.

www.conventioncareerconnection.com

www.focusedfandom.com

It’s a Small (Press) Life For Me

A surprising majority of the finest writers of the early Twentieth-Century found their only ready audience in the small bands of readers, usually subscribers, of the “little magazines”. These were often kitchen-table affairs, funded on non-existent budgets and the hard-wrought words of dedicated and often neglected artists. The rostrum of publishers,editors,columnists and contributors to these independent journals offers an amazing roll-call of the innovatory,diverse and brilliant talent so associated with the writers of that era. To list them all here, while impressive,would be ridiculously space-consuming. I will make do with a representative few:James Joyce,Ford Madox Ford,Kayle Boyle,Gertrude Stein,H.D.,Marianne Moore,T.S. Eliot,Ernest Hemingway,Ernest Walsh,Mina Loy,Ezra Pound,Wallace Stevens,Edith Sitwell,Robert McAlmon,D.H.Lawrence,Glenway Wescott and Djuna Barnes.
As with countless wordsmiths before and since,many writers and poets of the ’20’s had to make do financially,often only scraping by,working day-jobs or accepting hand-outs. T.S. Eliot famously worked for a banking house in London while Kay Boyle was the shop girl for the Parisian retail establishment of Raymond Duncan, Isadora’s half-charlatan brother. Across the Atlantic,Marianne Moore was a librarian in New York City and William Carlos Williams a small-town (i.e. poorly paid) doctor.
Eighty or ninety years ago,these small,passionately produced magazines weren’t just a romantic,idealistic alternative to the big glossies. For many,publishing works in the always-revolving coterie of arty mags was the only way to get published at all. There were a few “big name” affairs to be found in New York City,Chicago, Paris and London. They tended to be traditional,stuffy things, exclusive in their outlook and hard to break into.
Groups of artists,sometimes with the help of a moneyed backer or two,more often relying on their own spare change or donations,formed reviews and journals as a method of disseminating their work.They wore many hats while touting the work of themselves,friends and often complete strangers.In their limited way,they served a function similar to that of the Impressionists when they broke free of the Academy and its esteemed show, the Salon de Paris,to exhibit without restraint as the Societie Anonyme Cooperative des Artistes Peintres,Sculpteurs,Graveurs.Both came about through a combination of forced circumstances and exceptional avocation. Neither was a cohesive movement at the time;labels came later.
Their writing careers were usually padded with the occasional book deal,often with equally independent publishing set-ups,such as:The Hogarth Press (created by Leonard and Virginia Woolf),Contact Editions (Robert McAlmon) and the Black Sun Press (Harry and Caresse Crosby).Literature,no less than any other art form, is a tough world in which to find one’s way,or to even stay afloat. For every true star–by which I mean anyone widely known outside of company circles–there are hordes of aspiring or working writers piled leagues deep. The difference between an aspiring writer and a working one can be as simple as taking matters into your own hands,i.e. the willingness to act as publisher,editor,agent and anything else that may be required. That is exactly what the aforementioned poets,novelists and essayists did.Many of us,even in a world of vaster choice,continue to do the same.
Today,there are countless outlets and,with a bigger population,more readers to be engaged. The Internet alone has drastically changed how,and who,any one writer can reach. Yet,limiting ourselves to paper editions alone,we still find our selection to be much superior, at least in number, to what Boyle or Eliot had to pick from a mere 80 years ago.Even the big glossies are more numerous in our time.A career can,if one is willing to tow the line of writing to order,in subject and style,be found in penning product for the fancy,still well-read magazines.
For certain of us,myself included,that could never be an option.I am an avid,unashamed reader of a plethora of magazines that I would never write for.I may be a Cosmo girl but I am not a Cosmo writer.The world has enough of those:I would rather lend it my small,eccentric voice than change it to suit others,however gargantuan that audience may be. Don’t misunderstand:I wish to have readers for my writing.If I didn’t,I would not be here nor would I work with the wonderful independent presses that publish my work elsewhere.I would,doubtless,write on the sly,hiding my work in a sewing basket whenever a family member entered the room.No,wait.That is another Austen, Jane.
I wish wish to maintain a level of control over my work that I would be forced to cede if working for glossies. While I am happy and eager to have others edit and critique my writing,I would become demented and austere if unable to be the full mistress matter;it is mine,not a foreign thing to be dictated and directed by others.
There is a satisfying synchronization to what I do that I believe would diminish if the end-result of my art was writ large rather than small. Every encouraging comment,erudite opinion and insightful appreciation that I have ever gotten has been genuinely received.
My refusal to go mainstream with my artistic and intellectual goods is not born of ego.It is the result of a conscious choice to be sovereign,to be connected to a lasting movement, of creators creating what they choose and helping each in the endeavor.