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April 16, 2016


A sensible discussion of something that's often mysterious to others. I'll have to include links to both parts on my blog next week. Enjoyed them.

I admire your attitude towards selling but it seems to be an American thing. Marly's good at it too though she confesses to being "a marketing moron". Not by my standards. I'm a typical Brit snob; once the token email contact with two dozen litererary agents is over and the sense of anti-climax has been established, I retreat. Start writing another. I'm nearly 20,000 words into my fifth.

The friend who published my first two asked me about progress with the third. In effect I shrugged my shoulders. I'm grateful for the reviews you wrote for Amazon and to the others that did their bit. Then things became silent for several months. Suddenly another review appeared. Not long but approving and proof positive he'd read to the end; summarised the plot quite gracefully. Someone I'd never heard of. If it didn't risk spoiling such an unexpected and altruistic gesture I'd buy him lunch.

Obviously a line for the tombstone: "Reviews were rare but of a high order".

Marly, thank you for the links and all the sharing and networking you do. That's another part of the art-life that I neglected to mention: being generous and being connected and supportive of the community of co-creators.

Robbie, your proposed epitaph makes me smile! Canadians, especially the British ones, tend to share the attitude you describe and although they are lovely people, it frustrated the hell out of me when I'm charged with trying to make something happen, or get the word out. Americans don't cringe at marketing, obviously, though many artist/writer types find it harder than those of us with business experience. I've never understood why it's perceived as brashness to put one's work out there, or publicize a worthy organization's efforts. So many wonderful works die on the vine because no one ever hears about them. It's certainly harder to do for my own work, though, than for a group project or for other individuals I believe in. I suppose we all need a champion.

Oh, all this time and I didn't know he's called Robbie!

I like doing things to get the word out about others, though I can't say it ever translates into much that helps my books--I don't do it for that reason. I just think too many people are discouraged (or bitter--I've known people like that, full of bitterness, and it's very sad) by their work being invisible in an extremely large country. An artist of any sort has to be so strong in that situation.

It is very different to live in a small country than in a large, very populated one. People in the arts don't know one another unless they live close by, and artists are simply overwhelmed by the scale of things. With books, only the lead books at big, muscular publishers get a fair hearing, for the most part. There's really little that a writer can do to change a book's position on his/her own.

I have never forgotten an incident that happened to me when I was biking the perimeter of Ireland long ago. The food on the road did not agree with me, and for a few days I became very weak and ill in Galway and so camped for three days in the yard of a playwright who was the boyfriend of a fellow student. (Of all the places I could have been ill in that country, I picked the only place where I had a connection.) While I was there, a well-known sculptor from Dublin showed up. He had two poets in tow, young men who were not even as old as I was. I must have been around 24 at the time. He was taking them on a tour of Ireland, introducing them to people he thought they would like to know. Introducing poets! How wonderful.

Afterward, I longed to live in a small, supportive country. A thing like that would simply be impossible in this country. Maybe you could do it in New York or L. A. But I've never heard of anyone doing such a thing.

Marly, thanks for this story, because it illustrates what seems to happen in Iceland, too, a small country where everyone knows everybody else and the society as a whole is committed to the arts. There is some of that here in Quebec within the francophone community, but they are not good at marketing and the francophone aspect creates an insularity and self-protectiveness that doesn't include immigrants or anglophones. Why don't we do this in, say, Vermont? I think there is definitely interest and good will for local and regional artists and writers - the gallery/arts center I was part of in Lebanon, NH, (AVA Gallery and Arts Center) has done a great deal in that direction, and it has definitely resulted in sales and a higher profile for those artists. But the problem with books is that we all seem to think in national terms, and the U.S. is huge (for that matter, Canada is huge) so we measure "success" against a national model. If any reasonably well-selling Phoenicia title had been published in a country the size of Iceland or Ireland, things would have been far easier and we wouldn't be discouraged at the sales numbers because they would be on a par with other poetry books. A lot of this has to do with our own perceptions, I think. To be "known" as an author by, say, a thousand people -- family, friends, colleagues, contacts through various media -- is not such a failure, even if each of those people don't buy every book we write.

...And also, the communities of which we ARE a part tend to feel disconnected and unrelated. My Twitter friends and FB friends and Instagram friends don't overlap that much, nor do they with real-life friends and community. So it all feels fragmentary, impossible to manage, and temporary. Many of us have also moved several times, each time leaving our community behind and having to form a new one. I've come to appreciate being a borderless person whose home is within, but at the same time I think we long for a virtual "country" to hold all of our human connections within some sort of manageable boundary that feels more solid and "reachable" than this loose network of virtual contacts to which we've had to adjust over the past decade and a half. Perhaps it's easier for younger people, but for those of us who grew up in a different world, I think we tend to feel it's like grasping at fog when we try to "see" or "feel" or quantify those connections. (Hmm. Maybe I should move this conversation to an actual blog post where it will be read by more people!)

Oh, definitely! To have a circle is always good. But we move around so much in this country that even a carefully created circle of readers / supporters can disintegrate, and now in the world of big publishing, numbers and sales trump the merit of individual books. If people did not move, we could focus on states, say, but everybody moves, and rather often. So it's hard. Writers move, readers move. (I still have some support in western North Carolina and the Triangle, but I've been away 17 years... attention ebbs. And I've moved to a place more interested in opera and painting and baseball.)

That said, I've been impressed by how much Georgia does with annual banquets and awards to call attention to its writers...

Poetry is a bit of an oddity, of course. Anything over 300 copies is considered quite good in the current context in the U. S. Yes, Phoenicia would have an easier time in a smaller world, and so would most poets.

Hah, we were posting at the same time and homed in on the same issue of a fragmented readership. Yes, it is quite difficult to build a stronghold for art out of fog.

This is very frank and certainly good advice for serious artists. That print is very pleasing.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.