fatal or fatalism

Odd things going on today in my head. Some of that has to do with Book Six (why oh why did I think I could write a sixth novel in this series? and why did nobody STOP me from signing the contract?); some of it has to do with the trade paperback release of Tied to the Tracks

(tuesday)

and the sinking feeling I’ve got that there will be no marketing for this book other than what I can cobble together in my amateurish way. Which is not unexpected — every other midlist author out there is in the same boat — but it’s still discouraging.

When Homestead came out in hardcover with a teeny tiny little press, I fully expected it to sink quietly into oblivion. A novel in an unusual format about women in rural Austria a hundred years ago, doom and gloom on every page… no surprise if it didn’t even make a blip on the radar. I was still proud of it, but I didn’t have any expectations.

But in the odd way the universe has of screwing with expectations, Homestead won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. I found myself flying places to talk about it. I was standing near Margaret Atwood at the Orange Prize ceremony because we both had books shortlisted. Never, ever would I have imagined such a thing happening when Homestead sold to Delphinium Press.

There was no marketing budget for Homestead. Somehow it was in the right place at the right time, the indies took it under wing, and it began to roll downhill.

A lot more energy was put into Into the Wilderness by Bantam, and it did better than I expected. It is still in print. I don’t know about the sales figures because I just refuse to look at them. I know my own weaknesses, and obsessing about numbers I can’t control is a big one. I do know one thing: it paid out the advance. I don’t know if that’s true for the other books in the series.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m standing at a kind of crossroads in my career as a novelist. Pajama Girls is in production; I’m working on Book Six. Beyond that I have no contracts. Nor am I actively looking for any at this point, because on paper I don’t look like a great bet. TTTT did modestly in hardcover. If it does better in trade paper (please dog), and if Pajama Girls does well, at that point I’d have some bargaining power — or better said, my agent would.

At this moment it could go either way. In a year’s time I might be looking at going back to the traditional workforce and writing in my spare time.

Please note: THIS IS NOT A COMPLAINT.

If you look back at the early entries in the original weblog you’ll see that I have always been keenly aware that this ride could end before I was ready to get off. I’m doing what I can to promote the work so that it has a chance of finding a readership, but there are hundreds of novelists out there doing the exact same things I am. Some of them have written better novels, or novels with a more popular theme. Some of them will do something in terms of marketing that goes viral, and then the lack of publisher support won’t be as important.

At the end of the day, I can look at the novels I’ve got out there and be satisfied. Some of them I like more than others, but I’m proud of all of them. Maybe things will start to roll and ten years from now I’ll still be going strong. Maybe not. In either case, I have no regrets.

sing it sister

This woman should speak her mind more often. Here’s the beginning of an essay by Erica Jong originally from Publisher’s Weekly, just showed up on Huffington Post. And here’s a link to the whole thing.

Just for the record: Fear of Flying came out when I was seventeen, and I read it almost right away. It was one of those books that changed the way I looked at the world.

Ghetto (Not) Fabulous

Jeffrey Eugenides had his moment, then Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Safran Foer. But the chair for the Serious Novelist is rarely held for new women novelists — unless they are from India, Iran, Iraq, China or other newsworthy countries. American women novelists are more often bracketed as genre writers — in chick lit, romance, mystery or historical fiction — and quickly dismissed.

Critics have trouble taking fiction by women seriously unless they represent some distant political struggle or chic ethnicity (Arundhati Roy, Nadine Gordimer and Kiran Desai come to mind). Of course, there are exceptions, like Annie Proulx and Andrea Barrett. But they tend to write about “male” subjects: ships, cowboys, accordions. There’s Pat Barker, who gained the most respect when she began to write about war. Margaret Atwood, who is Canadian and therefore gets a longer leash than most North American writers. And Isabel Allende, a wonderful writer, who has become our token South American female.

But deep down, the same old prejudice prevails. War matters; love does not. Women are destined to be undervalued as long as we write about love. To be generous, let’s say the prejudice is unconscious. If Jane Austen were writing today, she’d probably meet the same fate and wind up in the chick lit section. Charlotte Brontë would be in romance, along with her sister Emily.

a little perspective would be nice

I like most of Margaret Atwood’s work; The Handmaid’s Tale is on my list of 100 favorite novels. When I met her a few years ago (backstage at the Orange Prize ceremony in London) I liked her too. She was funny and engaging. So I’m wondering why this bit of news about her is so irritating to me.


The Raw Feed reports
that Atwood has invented a robotic hand called the Long Arm. This invention will sign her name. So imagine this: you get in the car, on a train or bus and travel to some bookstore or event specifically because you’d like to get your copy of [insert title] signed. You wait in line. When you reach the front of the line you find a mechanical hand, and a video screen. She’s sitting at home in Canada watching her Long Arm sign her name for you. A face in a box, a mechanical hand.

I know the woman writes sci-fi, but this just strikes me as silly. I do like to get my books signed by the author when possible, sure. Having a book signed by a hunk of metal just isn’t the same thing. And why go to all this trouble? The reasons to do this that come to mind are not complimentary.

I am The Handmaid's Tale

I have confessed elsewhere my weakness for quizzes. Usually I can keep the results to myself, but this one made me laugh out loud.

Handmaid's TaleYou’re The Handmaid’s Tale!
by Margaret Atwood
An outraged feminist, you have been oppressed and even silenced in
your life, fueling your fury against the society as it stands. Your role has been
strictly defined by society and you are almost certainly unsatisfied with it. You
have some vague idea of how this has come to be, but insufficient power to stop it,
let alone reverse the trend. And somehow you blame yourself for everything because
people ask you to. Beware people renaming your nation a Republic.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Aside: I met Margaret Atwood in London when we were both there for the Orange Prize festivities a few years ago. Neither one of us won, but all the nominees got along well behind the scenes. Margaret will live forever in my memory for her performance (while the photographers were busy with somebody else) of Frost’s A Road Less Travelled to the tune of “Fernando’s Hideaway”. Correction: that should be Hernando, not Fernando; thanks, Ter.