who needs another dead novel?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Yesterday, a day of challenges and breakthroughs, I read just two things, briefly. The first was the James Wood essay in the October 20 New Yorker, "No time for lies," about the Australian novelist, Elizabeth Harrower.

I feel the need to share the entire first paragraph. If you are skimming, please read, at least, the last line.

The Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower, who is eighty-six and lives in Sydney, has been decidedly opaque about why she withdrew her fifth novel, "In Certain Circles" (Text), some months prior to its publication, in 1971. Her mother, to whom she was very close, had died suddenly the year before. Harrower told Susan Wyndham, who interviewed her a few months ago in the Sydney Morning Herald, that she was absolutely "frozen" by the bereavement. She also claims to remember very little about her novel—"That sounds quite interesting, but I don't think I'll read it"—and adds that she has been "very good at closing doors and ending things.... What was going on in my head or my life at the time? Fortunately, whatever it was I've forgotten." Elsewhere, Harrower has cast doubt on the novel's quality: "It was well written because once you can write, you can write a good book. But there are a lot of dead novels out in the world that don't need to be written."

I don't know what these words do to you, but I am filled with melancholy as I read them. I am thinking about all the times we writers question our own work and purpose. How often we wonder if we are done in, or perhaps diluted. How greatly we fear this fate, of producing well-written dead novels. Bully for Elizabeth Harrower for being brave enough to name the fear. To care about the quality of the work she yields. To recognize that merely well written isn't good enough.

The second article I read yesterday was written by Alexandra Alter for The New York Timesan update on Anna Todd, the twenty-five-year-old erotica writer who "found inspiration in Harry Styles, the tousle-haired heartthrob from the British boy band One Direction." Todd shared her tale on Wattpad. Simon & Schuster has paid her a sweet six figures for the right to rebroadcast the Styles erotica under its Gallery imprint. The whole will be coming soon to a theater near you, thanks to Paramount Pictures.

Here is Todd, as reported by Alter, describing her process:

Then she found her calling — in the unlikely form of a baby-faced pop star. Ms. Todd started out as a reader on Wattpad in 2012, and quickly found herself spending several hours a day reading serialized fictional stories about One Direction. Last spring, she started writing her own story. “It took over my life,” she said.

With her husband’s support, Ms. Todd quit her job working at a makeup store counter to write full time. She updated “After” with a new chapter every day to meet readers’ demands and tapped out much of the book on her cellphone. She wrote for five hours a day and spent three hours trading messages with readers on Wattpad, Twitter and Instagram and drew on those comments to help her shape the story.

“The only way I know how to write is socially and getting immediate feedback on my phone,” she said.
One established, well-respected novelist pondering whether a book is alive enough, choosing to live quietly, without fanfare. A debut novelist tapping out a book on a phone based on a band, building a story according to Wattpad comments.

The bookends of my yesterday.

The ironies of publishing.


Joanne Fritz said...

Oh, Lordy! I sometimes feel as if I'm beating my head against a brick wall trying to get a book published. Apparently, all I need to do is write erotica about a boy band member...

A.S. King said...

I just....I just...

Ringo the Cat said...

OMG, I just had a kid doing a book report on about this thing called After and I had no idea what it was about and I had never even heard of it and I thought I was massively behind on things. But now it all makes sense!
That being said, unfortunately I am not surprised. It saddens me deeply, but surprised I am not. Publishing houses don't care for ideas or a writer's doubts, they have only one law: money.
If there is one upside, it might be that luckily not all digital content is necessarily fodder and some of that will hopefully also find readers...

... but I 'd have to see it first. Or read a book report about it :)

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