This blog was originally intended to keep readers posted on my books both published and in progress. But I have an ADD-class tendency to get distracted by other matters like politics, religion and life itself. Maybe not such a bad thing, but I realized today I haven’t posted an update on my writing activities for some time. Not that the world has ground to a halt on this account. On the other hand, there have been developments, and I would like to share then with you, perhaps over a series of blog entries if you can stand them.
Big Picture: I now have five novels and a short story collection in print or pixels or both, plus three science fiction novels. In addition to Billy Boy and Look at Me Now — both already written about in this blog (see the tabs at the top of this page) — there are also My Bess, Song of the Mockingbird and Father Walther’s Temptation plus The Jew’s Wife and Other Stories.
I’d like to discuss the short story collection first, because it encompasses just about all the subject matter I usually write about in both my short and longer fiction. The Jew’s Wife is titled after my most successful published story (“successful” meaning best-liked), partly for that reason and partly because it just struck me as a good title. The story itself, though still available online, was published in the most obscure of magazines, a publication that lasted, I think, just two issues, an irony that was not lost on me, of course.
By contrast, another story in the collection was broadcast on the BBC World Service and reached an audience of about 1 million listeners worldwide (out of a weekly listenership at the time of 34 million; the story was broadcast three times). It’s called “The World,” a woman’s retrospective of a failed marriage and her somewhat ungrateful son, both considered against the backdrop of a moment in her religious education that takes on an unintended meaning twenty-some years later.
Perhaps if I had submitted “The Jew’s Wife” to the BBC instead of “The World” I would have had an audience of 1 million for that story instead of its being virtually buried buried in the deep bowels of the Internet. Those two stories also represent opposite ends of whatever spectrum represents the range of my short stories (“The Jew’s Wife” is about a tobacco farmer, an immigrant who works for another immigrant, a Jew from the same part of the world as himself where their roles, the farmer realizes bitterly, would have been reversed).
My influences, as best I can tell, have been Anton Chekhov, Eudora Welty and a handful of other writers who principally or exclusively wrote short stories. This was because I never intended to write anything but short stories, considering novels a lesser art form, just as ballads are inferior to lyric poems. At one point I thought I would support my short story-writing by producing mass-market science fiction novels, which worked for a while, a very short while, then failed when my publisher was sold to an owner who stopped publishing sf altogether and I wasn’t able to connect with another.
Meanwhile, my head down over my last and well out of the mainstream of the literary influences of the day, I missed the postmodern movement and all the other lit-fads entirely, having opted many years earlier not to get a Masters of Fine Arts, though I was accepted at the University of Iowa back when that program was one of the few offering an MFA and was full of people who went on to have big careers. I didn’t believe there was anything to be gained for a writer in an academic setting. In fact, I was a bit ashamed of myself for not dropping out of college once I had made my mind up to spend the rest of my life writing fiction.
I was wrong about one aspect of that decision. Had I obtained a masters degree from Iowa I would have graduated armed with a Rolodex full of invaluable professional contacts, much like someone graduating from Harvard law or business schools. I never did learn the business of writing as opposed to the craft. And writing is like every other activity people engage in. It ain’t just about talent. It’s not even principally about talent. But I underestimated how much business savvy a writer, or any artist, needs to develop if he or she is to succeed in the sense most people understand the word “success.”
Still, I like to think my ignorance also saved me from the contagion of those literary fetishes, mostly cooked up in universities, as well as from the opinions of other people generally. I might have been as susceptible as so many American writers have who soared for a while and then self-destructed or ended up trying to please the professors and their acolytes in the upscale review venues rather than what used to be called the “common reader.”
Lack of success is painful, even debilitating, but it can also be liberating if you don’t let it cause you to eat your heart out. I have written the stories and, I confess, eventually the novels, I wanted to write in the way I wanted to write them. That’s cold consolation some days, but I think it amounts to something more than self-delusion, much as I still wished I had learned how to play the game of writing better.
But, as usual, I’ve gotten sidetracked from my original purpose in writing this blog entry. Lest I risk losing you entirely (I assume I haven’t if you’ve read this far), let me stop here and continue in a few days with more talk about my newer titles along with, no doubt, more deviations despite the best, or at least, entirely innocent, of intentions.
For them what cares, all my published work is available at Amazon — still the largest pool of potential readers despite their increasingly autocratic ways — Barnes & Noble and, most recently, Smashwords (.com), the latter being the new good guy on the block, at least for the present. Samples of each book are available at each of those venues. The Jew’s Wife & Other Stories is currently free at Smashwords.com (available in eight different formats).
Till next time, happy reading.