Thursday, January 06, 2005

Being a no-name small-time author

"Who the hell are you and why should I read your book?" I wonder every time my eye falls on a book on a bookstore shelf.

Wandering through a bookstore is like going through a still-life subway station of ideas, all silently vying for attention. As a small-time no-name author of two books (a collection of fiction titled As My Sparks Fly Upward & Other Stories and a volume of poetry, Forever & a Day) I'm eternally preoccupied with the problem of differentiating my work from the others. It's great seeing my books in my local Chapters bookstore. Once, while I was in browsing the stacks there I went by to see if any copies had sold since I was last there. As I entered the aisle I saw a guy paging through a copy of my book. My inner Donald Trump wanted me to rush up to him and sell my book. My greater inclination -- which I went with -- was to leave him alone and let the book sell itself. Doing my best to appear as any other shopper, I lingered in the aisle long enough to see the guy put my book down.

He walked away, and that was that. I should have intervened at that moment, but I didn't. Next time I will. But what to say? As a small-time no-name author all I can say to prospective readers is that I am the "genuine article." Is this my way of calling myself a genius, calling my work brilliant? No. By "genuine article" I mean that my work is my own unvarnished truth rendered in as entertaining a manner as I can manage. It's work that wasn't created to impress anyone. They are stories that slowly seared into me, and much as I tried to abandon them over the years, I found myself honing them until they were almost unrecognizable when placed next to their first drafts.

While the local literati in my city gas on around cafe tables, I'm at my desk writing. It's not a burning Lord Byronesque yearning I have to write. I simply enjoy it. I'm most myself when I'm writing. As a young writing student subjecting myself to creative writing seminars at university, my work was continually hammered because my stories had plots, sometimes endings with a twist. Much of that early work makes me cringe now, but never didI write anything that felt phony, forced, or worse, wasn't in my own voice. I wrote in my own voice even when that voice was as inarticulate as knocking two stones together.

So, what to say to the next person in the bookstore I see holding my book in their hand? If the moment allows -- and likely won't -- I would quote from my book's title story: “... When full dark came I got to looking at the stars and thinking they weren’t stars at all but sparks of memory, experiences lodged in the firmament. That in the night sky above the park where I first kissed a girl one of those glowing pinpricks held that moment. Above the neighborhood where I lived as a kid, above Jessica Fountain’s house where I first fell in love, above Dillon Hall where I taught my first writing class—one of those brilliant specks in the sky held each particular moment...”

As My Sparks Fly Upward & Other Stories and Forever & a Day each retail for $13 (U.S. funds, postage paid) through Murphy's Law Press.

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