My Brilliant Career

“To win through by sheer force of genius is one thing; to survive and continue to create when every last door is slammed in one’s face is another. Nobody acquires genius — it is God-given. But one can acquire patience, fortitude, wisdom, understanding. Perhaps the greatest gift [is] to love what one does whether it causes a stir or not.” Henry Miller

Last fall I entered Savior in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and this afternoon we were told, via Facebook (that lovely organ of communication) that we’d be emailed if we made it to the list of anything approaching a win — finalists or winners. “We should have finished emailing all the winners by later today. We are only emailing winners. We wish you and your book all the best. Don’t forget to check your spam folder!” This is the first time I’ve “watched” my email the way I used to wait for a boy to call and the result has been pretty much the same. Just as I knew he probably wasn’t going to call, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to win. OH WELL. You can’t win if you don’t show up, right?

Today, in preparation for talking with agents at the upcoming conference, I went through some of the books these people have represented. I can’t do anything like most of what I read and I don’t know how to talk about what I have done, what I will be pitching. I ended up discouraged and stymied.

I don’t think there’s any way in the world I will ever write a best selling book. I think my brother was right years ago when he told me I wasn’t on the public pulse. Sometimes here on WP some one goes into a tailspin over receiving their first rejection letter. Invariably they say, “All I ever wanted was to be a writer!” I can’t even count the number of rejection letters I’ve had. When I read one of those posts, I want to hunt down the writer, hold them down and say in no uncertain terms, “You. Don’t. Fucking. Get. It. You. Moron. That’s. What. Happens. Take it or shut up. You’re not special.”

The same with people who are producing their first book. I want to yell “Whoopdeedoo!” and throw a pie at them — in a kind way. I have no idea why other than when I produced my first book it went completely unnoticed in the world. Less net effect than throwing a tiny pebble into the ocean. Not even the butterfly effect. The butterfly shrugged. Worse. The caterpillar said, “Fuck it.”

You can’t be a writer if what you really want is a lot of attention. Writing is solitary and 99.999999% of the time your effort goes completely unnoticed and/or unremembered by anyone but you.

So, the market. My books are serious and involve a lot of research and great care to make sure they don’t read like history books. That’s the particular challenge of historical fiction. My stories have to walk the narrow ledge between a history book and completely invented fiction. The same is true of good, futuristic science fiction. In my mind, they’re almost the same genre — in fact, popular historical fiction might as well be science fiction. These days dystopian “realities” are very popular and it’s just as easy to make the past gray and hopeless (and filled with vampires) as it is to make the future gray and hopeless (and filled with vampires).

So, in preparing for this conference, I’ve read some awful stuff. Because my work seems to be focused on the evolution of Christianity in the western world, I decided to talk to an agent who represents Christian historical fiction, particularly for the book I’ve just finished which is about the Protestant Reformation. Doing my homework I checked out some of the books this man has represented. I was kind of nauseated. One of the most popular writers in this genre has written historical fiction loosely based on the lives of women in the Bible. They are not long, they are essentially romance novels, and they purport to bring these women to “life.” She spends a lot of time in the beginning describing the way the people look, what they eat and what their houses are like. Most of all, the books satisfy the expectations of their audience. The books are written for women and they support the fundamentalist Christian ethic of a woman’s “place.” They sell like crazy.

Not long ago I took a survey about what I, as a writer of historical fiction, read. I don’t read historical fiction. I read history. I had a short interesting conversation with the woman who built the survey because it seemed to me that might be true of a lot of people who write historical fiction, moreso when a writer is focused on a time that’s not very familiar to anyone.

I’ve learned a few things. People want to read what supports what they already believe. Women want to read about women. Men may not think that a woman can write well about men. I do not write about women. In all honesty, I don’t understand what motivates them — why? Simply because the primary motivation for most women is children. I never had any (or wanted any). I did not share that motivation and I have not had that experience. I was wondering today about the whole gender thing. I never wanted to be a man, but I always wished women had more of the kinds of adventures and experiences men are known for. I know I’m not the only woman in the world to feel this way and maybe THAT’S the woman I should write about — the thing is, she wouldn’t end up a lesbian or trans-gender. She would just and always be a woman who craved adventure, took risks, liked new ideas, made big mistakes and followed her own star. I don’t even think that woman is uncommon. And, among women who do the “normal” thing, later life is often when they come into their own and kind of “join” my world. My character would NOT ultimately meet “Mr. Right.” I think that book was written some time ago and made into a beautiful Australian film called My Brilliant Career.

It came out in the early 80s and my friends went to see it. Afterward, they came to my apartment and said I had to see this movie. “It’s about you,” they said.

It still is.

15 thoughts on “My Brilliant Career

  1. I’m glad I don’t have to write another book. I always suspected I was not a novelist. I was right. You, on the other hand, really are a writer and a good one. So you have to keep at it. Where there’s life and a manuscript, there is hope. You may get that break yet. It could happen. I’m rooting for you.

  2. Seems like a feeling for the public pulse would be a terrible place to write from. Better to read something original and written at higher than a 3rd grade reading level!

    Am 10% along on Martin of Gfenn – seems you have the pulse of THAT time period and it’s full of interesting detail:0).

  3. I love this post. (Definitely something for London.) I now pre-empt the caterpillar which is OK because I write fluff, but you don’t, and the ultimate frustration is that sop like the lives of biblical women can make it into print, while a good writer (you) with something interesting to say can turn handsprings and still be overlooked. Hang in there. Think of ‘Catch 22’.

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