Thursday, 20 December 2007

A Fingerpost --------->

Michael Stephen Fuchs (author of the MNW books The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters) has been rather quiet for the last few months, with only the rare mutter on his blog.

He has made up for this prolonged stillness by publishing a long post reflecting on the topic of life post-publication. It's marvellously written, and, though not the most uplifting thing you might read this holiday season, well worth a look.


Brian McGilloway said...

Hi David & Happy Christmas

A very interesting post and one which explodes many of the myths. I'm interested more though in the urge to publish. Writers will write anyway - we all did it for years before being published. But the publication is about sharing your views, your beliefs, your vision of things with others. James Lee Burke said:'A real writer is driven both by obsession and a secret vanity, namely that he has a perfect vision of the truth, in the same way that the camera lens can close perfectly on a piece of the external world. If the writer does not convey that vision to someone else, his talent turns to a self-consuming bitterness.' Is being published part of that secret vanity - part of that need to convey your vision to someone else? Michael himself asks does the world need another novel? Maybe not. Is it then a secret vanity that drives us? And whilst it's not making people rich or famous, is that why anyone writes anyway? There are more easy ways to make money or become famous - audition for Big Brother for example. Is conveying the vision more important? I think my experience of life post-publication has been a little different. As a writer I believe you have a responsibility to your readers and to yourself. Writing gives us a chance to expose the wrongs we see, or the evil that people do to one another - or perhaps that's particular to crime fiction, which may be why I like it. The Devlin books increasinly allow me to examine thnigs I'm not happy about and to ry to convey my vision of the truth as I see it. I consider myself very lucky to have the chance to convery that beyond a pile of paper on a desk. Publication is the obvious completion of that process. Even hanging a watercolour above the mantel piece is still public display - akin to self-publication perhaps. Every 'artist' (excuse the term) wants to share their art with others - to have it validated in some way though the sharing of the experience. A book hasn't failed by not being published - but in being published an extra layer is added to it through the response of thse who read it and the extent to which they share its vision. Or at least that's my view. What do others think?

David Isaak said...

Hi, Brian

Lawrence Block says (I paraphrase)that fiction writers are shy exhibitionists. We want to say "Look at me!" and also be able to say, "But it's really not me, of course..."

I don't think there's any right or wrong motives for writing itself. For me, writing is usually a sort of grappling with issues and situations I can't seem to analyze by thinking them through; I need to create people and let them be my proxies.

But, yes, the centrality of publication for most writers is an oddity (though it's certainly not a rarity!). Some of it may be Block's Shy Exhibitionist, but I also think that it's something about the form itself. A novel is interactive, and that means that it isn't really completed until it is read--preferably by someone other than your mother. Sorry, one's mother.

It must be a little like writing orchestral pieces; I think the composer is bound to feel it isn't really a finished work until it is performed. (Is this a version of the tree falling in the forest?)

On the other hand, every writer I know is a lifelong obsessive reader. So maybe in some sense it's just the urge to join in the conversation.

Or maybe Sylvia Plath was right: "Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing."

Well, that muddied the waters. In other words, damned if I know.

Happy holidays!

Tim Stretton said...

My perspective is that of someone who self-published two novels before being picked up by MNW; so not only have I been on both sides of the fence, I've been on it as well, in that betwixt and between world of print-on-demand.

Many of the things I wanted to get out of writing I achieved through self-publication: the enjoyment of creation, a sense of achievement, a sense of self-satisfaction (which is similar but slightly different), the possession of a physical artefect, the informed esteem of a number of discriminating readers. But what you don't get with self-publication--and there is no way round this--is that no-one reads the bloody thing. This obviously has a commercial implication, but it's by the by--as a first-time writer in hardback I'm hardly going to be able to retire in any event.

What I get from Macmillan that I can't get from self-publication is the ability to reach a larger audience. As writers, we all have to believe, at least with one part of our brains, that we are producing the greatest works of literature ever written (if only to counteract the other part of your brain which whispers as you sit at your keyboard: "you schmuck"). The vanity which makes us write in the first place also makes us want to share it: Macmillan get my book in Waterstones, and for me that doesn't have a downside.

I'm not the only MNWer who's ended up here only after multiple rejections of multiple novels. Yet still I kept writing, even when I'd gone beyond the point of believing I'd ever be published: so almost by definition, it's not about publication at all. But none of us turn it down when it's offered...

Happy Christmas!


Matt Curran said...

This isn’t the most uplifting post for the festive period, but it is certainly one of the most engaging. The whole raison d'ĂȘtre for writing is an arguement that goes round and round, usually between three camps: those who are after the money, those who are after being published, and those who simply like to write. I fall between the latter two camps, sometimes straying into either one like some lost foal.

Like Michael (and I suspect 99% of would-be authors) I too struggled for years to get into print, yet while it was an inevitable part of the process, I would not say it was my drive to put pen to paper.
By virtue of being story-tellers we all desire to have an audience for our tales, either on the web, on the page, or around the camp-fire.
Tim's route would have been a little daunting, so I'm not sure I would have gone down that path out of ignorance. However, if web-publishing had been the norm say ten years ago I would have ditched attempts to get through the door of a publishing house and gone the route of say Lulu or settled for publishing my stuff on the web itself (my first piece of published fiction was on a now defunct Sci-Fi site).

My own experiences of being published for the first time are quite different to Michael’s, but I can see where he is coming from. While admittedly, publication day was largely an anti-climax for me (I spent much of the day trying to find out that most bookstores around the country weren’t holding copies of my book), the launch party ranks up there as one of the best days of my life. I think this was due to the support of family and friends. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve built quite a community around me who have always urged me on, hoping that one day I would be published. In fact part of me believes it was the will of these people that got me published in the first place.

I think another thing to mention is that a writer thrives, like anyone, on their own well-being outside of their chosen career. I’ve been with Sarah for nine years now, and we’re very happy. This helps enormously, as you have one ally who will stand by you, pick you up when you’re down (as she did on publication day) and someone you can share the great moments with. In effect, she’s my number one fan and supporter. To have that makes a huge difference, especially to your raison d'ĂȘtre.

Michael’s paragraphs on trying to attract the opposite sex only compounds the problem of expectation: that being published is the route to all happiness. I think the only joy I’ve had from being published, is the joy of seeing my book in print, knowing that people are reading it and that finally someone in the industry likes what I write. I’ve earned a nice tidy sum so far, but nothing to give up the day-job for...

...But then I don't think I expected much more than that.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the New Writers


David Isaak said...

Nicely said, Matt.

And, Tim--you mentioned the "artifact" aspect of all this, one I hadn't identified before. But you're right--just the physical fact of a book is a cool thing, whether published by Lulu or by Random House.

And, thank god for Lulu. Certainly no publishing house would ever print up copies of "Atlanta Nights" by Travis Tea (a collaboration of writers who set out to write the worst book ever written, and succeeded brilliantly). It's also a way to pick up a few of Grumpy Old Bookman's recent novels that otherwise must be PDF'ed.