Everybody should write a book. Wait –I think they already have. There’s too much to read these days. I can’t keep up, I can’t read half of what I’d like to, and still the words keep coming! Everybody knows somebody who has written a book. Can this be a good thing?
Absolutely! It’s a wonderful thing. Everybody can publish a book these days. Our forbears would be amazed.
But who is going to read them all? Who has the time or the desire?
Maybe it’s not the quantity of books we read, but the quality. We should read what compels us. Which may or may not be what our friends are reading or what the bloggers are blogging about. Or what the New York Times says are the best-sellers. Or what the ladies in the book club vote to read (which is almost never the book that I want to read, but the majority rules.)
I’m not a fast reader. I could never be a professional book reviewer. I like to read slooooowly, savoring every sentence. What I like best is to read a page and then reflect on it, maybe the rest of the day. The stack of books on my nightstand has long overflowed to the floor and continues to grow, like stalagmites, surrounding the bed. My e-reader contains hundreds of books, quite a number of them free downloads, that I can’t possibly read, because I keep adding more. Not to mention, all those old favorites I’d like to read again, and some of the classics I missed along the way.
I always read my favorite contemporary novelists, but sometimes their new releases disappoint me in a vague way. Like they were trying to produce a best-seller instead of what they were compelled to write. And then there are the new voices, what we used to call “the literary brat pack,” who are no longer brats, but old men now. What happened to them, I wonder? Did they burn out on cocaine? Did they run out of words? No time to look them up.
I try to stay current with the new releases, but I’m hopelessly behind. Often, I start a novel, find it good, but don’t finish it. Because it didn’t really engage me. It didn’t speak to me, I didn’t connect with the author, or give a shit about what happened to the characters. Sometimes I give these books another go. Sometimes I just give them away.
As a writer, I find the surfeit of books and blogs to be daunting. With so many people writing and publishing, who is going to read my books? Many of my author friends voice the same sense of insignificance. What do we do in response? We all become social hucksters, hawking our product on facebook, twitter, tumblr, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and every other virtual street corner that pops up. Most of us are spending way too much time shouting to the universe, READ MY BOOK! I’LL GIVE IT AWAY IF YOU JUST READ IT AND TELL YOUR FRIENDS AND POST A REVIEW! LIKE MY AUTHOR PAGE! LIKE LIKE LIKE. I’m guilty of this too. It’s pathetic, really, when what I really want to do is write write write.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve managed to get myself invited to a swanky party where everyone around me is talking at the same time, and I’m trying to decide who to listen to, but nobody cares if I’m listening or not. So I gulp my wine and make my way to the powder room. Sometimes I go outside, looking for the little klatch of smokers, even though I don’t smoke. Among the smokers, or in the privacy of the ladies room, I invariably run into another soul, somebody with a nicotine habit, or social anxiety, or maybe they just needed to use the toilet. It’s in one of these places, away from the deafening din of the party, where I often have a brief but meaningful exchange with another human being.
“Got a light?”
“Brrrr! It’s freezing out here!”
“Excuse me, but this stall is out of toilet paper, can you hand me some under the door?”
And for a moment we are intimate. We hear each other, we connect.
Which is what writing, for me, is all about.
These day I’m not just a writer, I’m a publisher as well. My latest novel, Looking for Redfeather, a coming-of-age road trip story, was recently released under my own imprint, Fiction House, Ltd. I had an agent who believed in Redfeather, but he was unable to find any of the major players in today’s publishing society who liked it as much as he did. We had some good feedback, like, “I loved the author’s voice”, or “well-written and engaging,” but when push came to shove, there were no zombies, no S&M –there wasn’t even a body in the trunk! The big houses he pitched it to were looking for high concept novels, the more shocking and outrageous, the better.
Like the coming-of-age movies, American Graffiti and The Diner, Looking for Redfeather is somewhat episodic and contains no special effects. It’s just a story about some kids living their life on a typical Saturday night. Only Looking for Redfeather takes place over two weeks instead of one night. Spoiler: Unlike the American road trip movies, Easy Rider and Thelma and Louise, no one dies in a fiery blaze. Ramie, Chas and LaRoux live through the book. They don’t kill themselves and they don’t kill each other. Yet they are changed. The three teens, each on the run, have an experience on the road that changes them forever. It’s called growing up. Coming of age.
I loved these three characters, Ramie, Chas and LaRoux. It took me nearly six years to write their story and I was not willing to forget it. I wanted these kids to have a chance. Their story is, in some ways, a tribute to my own children; to my nieces and nephews and grandchildren –to myself –for playing the cards that fate dealt us. All families are fucked up, but there are varying degrees. I think people relate to that. I do.
In 2007 I wrote the first draft of Looking for Redfeather in thirty days, during National Novel Writing Month, which happens every November. At the time, I was on the road promoting my first novel, Star-Crossed –nautical historical fiction Knopf had published as a young adult novel. Star-Crossed had taken six years to complete, so writing a novel in 30 days sounded terrifying, in a thrilling sort of way. I had to do it. In writing the first draft so fast, I was able to capture the exuberance of the characters and the energy of the story. The re-writes and editing would take me another six years. Six years seems to be my time frame.
Apparently in this brave new world authors have to be marketers, event-planners, and sales people as well as writers. I’m doing it, but it’s wearing me out. I refuse to spend any more time and energy in the social media marketing scene. I find Goodreads to be overwhelming. I’ve got a giveaway for Redfeather on Goodreads now, but I have a feeling it won’t reach the right readers. (sighs and shrugs) We’ll see. Facebook is fun –but it’s mostly for looking at my friends’ grandkids and cats, and reading political rants. I tweet, yes, but who hears me? Who cares?
After much trial, error and a lot of wasted time, I’ve decided I’m going to market my books the same way I try to buy my food. Locally. I’ll market to my family and friends, and to the community –including my local independent book stores, which I, in turn, support. Buy local, eat food in season, read local –that’s my new motto. You’ll see me on social media, but not so much. I’m going to avoid the big parties. I don’t have the right clothes and I don’t know the right people. From now on, I’m making my own party. We’ll see who shows up.