Thursday, February 18, 2016

Seven Years, Six Words, no Hat

Today is the seventh anniversary of this blog, which is not about hats at all, but is plenty about words. I created this online presence, back in February of 2009, because I had completed a novel and was just beginning to shop it around to literary agents. Literary agents, I had discovered, expect an author to have an online presence. Preferably, an author will have a blog, a Facebook page, a twitter account, an Instagram account, a Pinterest page, a MySpace account, and a million-and-five loyal followers foaming at the mouth to buy the author's novel as soon as it hits the stands (or, better yet, to pre-order the novel on Amazon as soon as it's available). So I got a free blog on this thing called blogger, which is apparently owned by Google or something, because I wanted to get a literary agent to represent my novel. I do not have a million-and-five online followers, loyal or otherwise. But I did get this blog.

Time flew, as it does, and I got an agent and blogged about it, and I wrote more books and blogged about that, and then I parted ways with that first agent and got a new agent and I blogged about that, and I blogged about books I was writing and gave a lot of bad and simplistic advice about writing novels to nice folks I'd never met and then my second agent shopped two of my novels around to a couple of dozen publishers who admired the writing but not, alas, the novels themselves and then my second literary agent wished me well and we parted company. Eventually that original novel was published, and then republished, and has so far sold a few thousand copies (and like every other novel these days, there are scads of pirate digital editions all over the internets and who knows if anyone even looks at those). You can read all about this on the blog. It is not a particularly interesting or useful tale, so you'd be better served looking at other people's Instagram accounts. I do not, I pause to reveal in dramatic fashion, have accounts with Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or MySpace. I may be lying about Pinterest, but I'll be darned if I know how to access it if I have that account. I digress.

Time continued to flew, as it sometimes ungrammatically does, and here I am. I have learned to stop giving advice to aspiring novelists, especially as my own standing as a knowledgeable writer is sketchy at best, and for the last several years I've been mostly blogging about the books I've been reading. This harmless change in the direction of the blog resulted in the loss of most of my regular readers. I miss them, whoever they were. Now I only blog about the books I write when I am weak or overly excited about something, which is still far too often. I rarely look at blogs written by other writers (though there are a couple of exceptions). I do look at a number of blogs written by some very perceptive and interesting readers, and I attempt to model my online work on theirs, because they seem to know what they are doing, and I don't know what I'm doing. To those perceptive and interesting bloggers: thanks.

What I do at six words for a hat is, I tell myself, write about the experience of reading a book; I don't write reviews, and usually by the time I've finished reading a novel I have lost all enthusiasm for writing about it, because most of the book's mysteries have gone away and I am attracted to--excited by--the mystery of the experience, not by the sum of the work, the conclusions drawn by the author, etc*. I don't care how novels end; I am a huge fan of middles, however, and I tend to start blogging about a book when I've reached the end of the first act. That's where the good stuff is usually found. S/he's going to do what? I expect to be amazed, and I frequently am. A good middle is a good book, and vice versa. Despite my abnormal enthusiasm for mostly middles, I think I've done some okay work here, especially that weird and pointless series on Chernyshevsky and the posts I've written about D.H. Lawrence. If I keep writing this blog, I might come up with a few other posts that are worth reading. That would be good, I think. To anyone who's ever left a comment here: thanks.

Today is also the feast of Blessed John of Fiesole, whom you might know as Fra Angelico. I add this note for no particular reason except that I like Fra Angelico's paintings.

* Also, usually, I'm too busy being excited by whatever new novel I'm just started to read.

19 comments:

  1. Congratulations! In the sense that congratulations are appropriate with this enterprise. "Congratulations - your folly house has not collapsed yet!"

    My impression is that you write far less about your experience of reading and far more about the book itself than 90% - 99%? - of book bloggers. You often, for example, use an example from the text to support what your claim, a rare and surprising move.

    I emerged from the Convent of San Marco thinking that Fra Angelico was the greatest painter of the Renaissance, and that the pre-Raphaelites were right, dang it. Then I thought, well, no, but talk about the mystery of the experience!

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  2. I think of this blog as a hot air balloon: I have to stand underneath and constantly fill it with hot air to keep it up. I seem to have plenty of hot air.

    I am--or at least I like to think I am--more interested in the books themselves than in myself as the reader. I confess that I consciously began to model my posts on yours, and regret when I'm too hastily assembling a piece to quote anything from the book.

    A good painter can always convince a viewer, at least for a little while, that his personal vision is the only way to look at the world. Maybe that's a commonplace idea, but I still think it's true.

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  3. why am i thinking about the frenchman who decided to go to the north pole via hot air balloon in the late 19th c. and the hot air got cold and the balloon collapsed and him and his partner wound up on spitzbergen and starved to death but only after catching trichonosis from eating raw polar bear? because i'm gullible that's why; my brain comes up with images to match what i read or hear and same gets regurgitated. i've not been seven years commenting, but i've greatly enjoyed both of you poster persons; please keep it up so my mentation has some where to go...

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    1. That's good: I've begun plenty of posts which crash, my air not so hot as I'd thought, me frozen to death on the ice floes of literature (or perhaps devoured by the polar bear of literature; bears gotta eat, after all).

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  4. I always wish I could write all this insightful stuff like what you produce, but that doesn't seem to be something I can do, so I admire from afar. But then I find the writing to usually be the most painful part of being a book blogger. I was not very good at being a lit major, either. :D Happy blog birthday!

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    1. Thanks! What my blog sadly lacks is the enthusiasm, the sense of enjoyment, you have over at Howling Frog Books. You're always so happy to be reading, whereas I look over my own posts and I wonder what sort of fusty old crank is behind it all.

      I could never write on assignment, at least not very well. I hated being in the classroom. I remember wishing my Intro to Fiction prof would drop over dead. I was a Poli Sci major, though.

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    2. You don't sound as if you're not enjoying yourself. You seem factual, more than anything else: this is what has happened in the book, here is an excerpt; this is what it is like.

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  5. besides, it's all politics and money anyway; true worth is only found in bits and pieces, scattered randomly throughout the blogosphere and understood and appreciated by the cognoscenti; nowadays, surviving the technological culture that threatens to eat up everything is about the only meaningful endeavour left. don't pay any attention to me, i'm just babbling this morning...

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  6. Having recently finished reading a novel the end of which I found disappointing in contrast to the rest of the work, I am particularly taken with your "middle of the book" approach. No wonder your posts about literature are so engaging. My own posts tend unfortunately towards the whole snout-to-tail approach, such that I don't often zero in on the tastiest bits. I also greatly enjoy reading the view from the inside when you write about your process of writing and the ways in which that impacts how you look at other writers.

    Congratulations on seven years, and yes, by all means, please keep writing this blog.

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    1. It can be hard to finish a novel, to force the end of it into the shape of a story, to pretend that there is any truth to the beginning/middle/end shape. Some novels are explorations of character or idea or whatever, and don't lead to solid ground so much as they just run out of wind on the open sea. They should be allowed to stop where they stop, but writers are told to create "well-formed stories" and that doesn't work in many cases. So I tend to have low or no expectations of endings. A lot of times, even with books from writers I respect, I can see them turning the crank on the Novel Machine to produce The Sense of an Ending. Like Chekhov said, writers should cut the first and last pages of everything, "because that's where they tell the most lies." I appear to be ranting.

      Thanks, is what I mean: thanks! I'll keep writing if you'll keep reading. That's all any of us ask, isn't it?

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  7. Were you able to see the 2005-06 Fra Angelico show at the met? I only had a few hours there, and wished I could possess a whole day. It was a properly hair-raising experience.

    I have clipped off great swaths of beginnings to novels. Not so much on endings. Same for poems, too. Often one tap dances for a while before getting into the proper swing. (Although, having seen Andrew Nemr tap-dancing, I expect that sometimes tap-dancing is quite enough.)

    Congratulations! I have no idea when I started blogging, as I used to delete a lot of posts. Now it's all a great snarled mess, and I don't bother.

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    1. It's mostly by accident that I know the date I started this blog, because I have deleted most of my early posts. I'm not sure why I deleted them, but I'm not sure why I wrote them in the first place, so I think it all evens out.

      I did not see that Fra Angelico show, darn it. "Hair-raising" sounds right. His work always makes me feel that the walls of reality are giving way.

      For the last several novels I've written, the beginnings have come pretty late in the process. I seem to be starting drafts in the middle these days, discovering the opening chapters only during revisions, when I have a better idea of the intended shape of the book. It's easier to do that when plot is a tool rather than a structure, if you see what I mean.

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  8. I seem to be the only reader of SWFAH who thinks of a liqueur when I see the words "Fra Angelico." Happy Anniversary, you crazy old writer/reader/haberdasher blog!

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    1. "...in JAIL!"

      We'll have to see what Drinking With the Saints recommends for the feast of Fra Angelico. What a handy book that's going to be.

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    2. I find myself keenly interested to learn what manner of drink is recommended for the feast of Fra Angelico! Meantime, this reader generally looks forward to future posts on your fine blog.
      -Sal, J.D.

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  9. Funny how blogs evolve, isn't it? When I started mine in 2007, most of my readers were professional medievalists, nearly all of whom fled the blog-world like elves out of Middle-Earth when Facebook popped up. I really like the community that remains, though: writers, artists, readers, and eccentrics who crave their own spaces and don't follow trends.

    Glad you're still at it! And I'm eager to see what you write and publish next.

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  10. blogging is an addiction, and not all addictions are bad for you, so hang in there if you believe that second independent clause; on the other hand, if you think blogging is a toxic addiction, go cold turkey, enroll in a blogging 12 step program, and take one day at a time away from the keyboard. None of the foregoing makes much sense, but it proves at least there is a reader out here who pays attention every now and then, so you do not have to feel like the tree falling soundlessly in the forest, but I understand that feeling!

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    1. I've given some thought to addictions, and I believe I don't really have any. I have habits, but I've broken plenty of habits over the years. One thing I can do is walk away from things I no longer want. So blogging about books is a habit, and I still seem to want it.

      I think this blog got a whole lot better the day I tried to stop trying to be useful and started to just enjoy myself. My favorite book blogs are written by people who are always saying, "Wow, look at this!" about the books they're reading.

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  11. Congratulations, and thanks for still going after it! Looking forward to reading all the good things you will read and write.

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