In 1946, J.B. Pick and Charles Neil, editors of Gangrel magazine, published an essay by George Orwell called “Why I Write.” Orwell’s essay became famous, and when I first read it, it was a revelation, from his early life that shaped his mind, to his military service and early jobs that focused his point of view. His thoughts and opinions are, shall we say, bracing. So, whenever I want to think about why I spend so much time by myself in a small room, I look to see what other people who do what I do think about it. Continue reading
For the last couple of decades, I’ve traveled during the holidays, enduring the long lines at the airport, the crowds, and the bad tempers that the season seems to bring out in revelers. This year I stayed home. I went to a small dinner party, I had a couple of people over, and on New Year’s Eve, I stayed home and watched most of Good Omens with David Tennent. I thought I’d probably get the new year off to a good start if I had good omens.
Alas for my other activity, reading. I spend two weeks reading. A lot.
No good omens there.
I hope everyone out there is having a good Boxing Day and happy holiday season. I’m continuing the Ladies’ traditional Christmas story week, using Elizabeth’s random words. It’s a little longer than I usually do, so I hope you bear with me. Here we go:
The Gift of the Wise Man
The pale winter light was fading rapidly from the northern sky as Birdy Dove entered the warm kitchen. She hung her coat on the peg by the door and accepted the unspoken invitation of her brother to join him at the hearth. She sat down with a sigh and stretched out her cold hands to the flame. Continue reading
Probably most of us following this blog started our reading careers in a library. I know I did. I worked in a few, too. They were cool places in the humid summers of the American Midwest. Libraries in California, where I live now, struggle for funds to stay open. Thanks to a local referendum that passed with more than 2/3 majority, my main library is now open 60.5 hours/week, and my local branch is open 28 hours/week, a gain of 12 hours over previous years. Thank you, fellow taxpayers!
So it was with interest that I read in The New York Times about what libraries are doing to attract and keep patrons. The amenities some of them offer almost (or absolutely) overshadow their book collections. Continue reading
For those of you who are interested in publishing news and trends (and who among us isn’t?), Jane Friedman’s newsletter for traditionally published and indie-published authors, The Hot Sheet, is a great resource. The annual subscription cost is $59, but there’s a free trial period. And for those who don’t want more stuff coming into their inbox, Friedman did a roundup of trends on her web site that I thought was interesting. She covered both fiction and nonfiction; here are a few highlights about fiction for 2019:
- Print sales are flat, and the ebook market for traditional publishers has declined every year since 2014.
- Digital audiobooks are doing well. Binge listening is a thing. One editor received an audio rights offer for a wordless picture book. (I wonder how that works?)
- The top YA fiction category is science fiction/magic.
- Psychological suspense remains popular, but has started to fade. Horror and dystopian novels are experiencing a resurgence.
- The current reader mood: escape combined with nostalgia. Millennial readers are nostalgic for life before social media (the cutoff is around 2006).
- High concept can sell a book, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to a long sales life. Long-term sales success depends on good storytelling and voice, books with deeper layers that move readers, who give it strong word of mouth. However, a good hook never hurts.
- Authors are more responsible than ever for marketing. Authors who think of themselves as public figures are well positioned to succeed.
- All publishers are buying graphic novels, and readers of every age group are reading them.
- Studios and producers are open to all kinds of voices and stories and are buying more middle grade and YA work for TV and movie adaptations. Works that are better suited to episodic format find a place among the streaming options.
Some of these trends looked familiar, but I was surprised by some of this news, too. My view is that authors shouldn’t try to write to a trend, but if you have a bunch of ideas rattling around and you can write fast, maybe it’s worth trying to hit a current sweet spot.
What about you? Have you witnessed any of these trends yourself, or does any speak to what you’re working on?
A long time ago, I entered an ugly period in which I had four weeks to finish my master’s thesis or be thrown out of the graduate program. I’d taken too much time; the administration was done with me. And if I’d been thrown out—and if I still wanted the degree—I’d have had to start over, take the coursework over, choose a new thesis topic, start a new thesis.
This ultimatum hit me especially hard because I was ready to move across the country. I’d given up my house. I literally had nowhere to go, no place to set up my typewriter.
Until a friend said to me, Come to our place. We have a spare room. I’ll bring you tea and sandwiches. You don’t ever have to go out. Just come and stay and write your thesis. You can do it.
And because she gave me a room of my own, I did finish the thesis in record time and defended it before I left town.
This year is the 90th anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, a critique of a literary tradition dominated by men and an exploration of female exclusion from independence, income, and education (“Woman have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves,” she writes at one point.).
Essentially Woolf says that for women to write, they need the physical and emotional space to do it, and the monetary means to sustain themselves. This aspect of Woolf’s analysis no doubt points to her middle- to upper-class upbringing, and Alice Walker wrote expanding on Woolf’s theme, pointing to the women of color who have found careers as authors without either room or means. Still, Woolf isn’t wrong. As journalist Suzanne Moore says about the anniversary of A Room of One’s Own:
When we ask, “What are the conditions necessary for women to write in?” we are really asking, “What are the conditions necessary for women to think in?” It’s that simple. And it’s that complicated. We are asking if what we think may ever be taken seriously or even valued.
What are the conditions women need to write and think? Maybe you don’t have a room of your own. You share, you have a family, or roommates, or whatever. Maybe you have a desk, a corner of the dining room table, a sofa after 10pm. I see people writing in cafes and other noisy, public spaces. I could never do this, but I’d never say it’s a bad idea for everyone.
You can’t reinvent the conditions you’re in, but these conditions are your fuel—anger, frustration, despair, revenge, love, silliness, need—whatever. Writing is your way to clarity, to understanding what’s important. That is its power. It’s about listening and thinking through all the information that’s thrown at us, finding a voice in the cacophony. So go for it.
What about you? Do you have a room of your own? Or have you read Woolf’s essay?
Now that we are in the month of NaNo, many of us are hunkered down,
grinding out a daily 1,667 words letting our imaginations take flight in a concentrated, one-month writing extravaganza.
You can maybe tell this is not my thing.
However, I am deeply attracted to the idea of a writers retreat, where people can go and maybe write or maybe just cogitate or brainstorm. I like the idea of getting away from daily life, a healthy disruption that removes us from our routines and can jar those neurons into bouncing in new directions.
So here’s a retreat I’d like to try: Continue reading