Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: publishing

The Hail of Fire, Maple Tree: On Friendship

image: Jane Eaton Hamilton, The hail of fire: maple tree, 2018

This was woodpeckers! Probably trying to eat the gloomy scale!

So, this thing. I was at a holiday party for a bunch of Vancouver publishers recently, and told a new writer that I had really enjoyed her book. The blood drained from her face. I am clumsy sometimes, and very shy. I thought I’d hurt her somehow until she said that not one other writer had ever mentioned her book, published, I think, a year earlier. That broke my heart. My god, Canadians, for all we say we’re friendly and welcoming, we are a shallow and parsimonious bunch.

Please, let’s support each other. Let’s be fulsome and giving in our praise.

How is it possible that this really good writer with her first really good book with good reviews had never heard from a single one of us? I’m sure many many of us read her. What is wrong with us? If that was you, it would break your fucking heart, wouldn’t it? If that was you, you’d be crushed. You might even be suicidal. Is that actually the point, that we crush each other?

I increasingly believe as I get older that the act of creating a book is akin to a secular miracle. Even when the seams show in yours (and they will), I will still consider it a remarkable achievement. It is. I mean, how do we do it, continue to do it, against the forces arrayed and pressing for our failure? I’m not talking to cis white men, here, where everything lines up to favour them (altho of course I understand there can still be considerable obstacles), because I choose not to read cis white men, for the most part, wanting to put my energy into writers I find more intriguing, but to the marginalized: POC, WOC esp, the disabled, the queer, the trans, the penurious, the traumatized. We all make breakfast. We look after kids. We go to work. We vacuum. We change beds. We deal with email and social media feeds. We pay or wish we could pay bills. We fret. We love. We worry. We grieve for our lost loved ones. We deal with addiction, or mental health issues, or cancer, or death. We take our kids and pets and selves to the doctor. Our bones ache. Our jaws ache. Our hips ache. That knee? It hurts. But still, we put words on the page. Sometimes, we hate the words we put on the page. Sometimes we love the words we put on the page. We put the words we put on the page into the world that really doesn’t care very much for 99% of us as people or authors. We speak and we say, Hey! We matter. I am here. Count me in.

What a brave and foolhardy occupation.

What older writers know is this: You will probably “fail” according to whatever your standard of that is. But failure is actually not that bad, and, in its way, is even liberating. Remember when you wrote your first book without any pressure? It’s like that again. That sophomore book production thing really sucks eggs. When you’re older, and you are already a proven mediocrity, you’re free … and you rise to surpass your own expectations.

Older writers really understand that we’re all in this together.

Sometimes young or new writers think that CanLit is a fierce competition, that they have to knock someone down a peg or two, or off their pedestal, to make room for their own work. Believe me, we published writers with multiple books don’t really need you to tell us our literary flaws; we’ve had decades to flaunt them. Guess what? You have just as many. They may be different ones, but you have them. Listen up. I’m telling you what I’ve learned, kids: I am not a perfect writer. You are not a perfect writer. But even so, there is a big enough pie if we support each other. We can remake Canlit in our image/s so that this will always be true.

And until it is, we can at least promise each other to do what’s free: and that is to offer up a compliment or three here and there, or some stars on Goodreads or Amazon. You know how long that takes? Stars with no review? Like, once you’re logged in, maybe three seconds? Or to say, “I really admired this book?” Fifteen seconds.

Here’s what I ask: Lift a writer today. I don’t care who you choose. You choose the writer you want to lift. But make it somebody who isn’t already being lifted by the system, okay? Lift Indigenous writers in 2018, or trans writers, or disabled writers. Lift only womxn authors. You choose. The fine writer Marnie Woodrow and I talked about this once for queer writers, and it never really got off the ground because of busy-ness. But maybe it still can. Maybe we could do it on the first of every month, every time we pay our rent or mortgage. Make kindness to other writers a habit.

To quote Jen Pastiloff, “don’t be an asshole” to other writers. Don’t be a literary asshole, all right?

I tell you sincerely: I love your book for being its perfectly imperfect self. I love the wild life and the heartbeat and the longing you poured into it. I wish with all my heart that it could bring you the relief  you want and crave and need … the admiration of your peers, money to pay your rent and put food on the table, the way clear to another book, prizes and awards. I wish this for you, because this is what you deserve after your efforts. I’m sorry when it doesn’t happen, when your career seems to coast even though you’ve worked like a dog.

But even if it didn’t go that well when you published, or you were a one-book wonder and Canlit’s attention wandered after that first book, we still need your talent and your skill and your vitality and your yearning and your vulnerability and your trauma and your stories and your fierce fucking fighting power.

At the same time, I wish we would stop with the cult of awards. We’ve gotten narrow and lazy, only responding to the same five or ten books in a season when there are delights galore if we look a little more widely. And a season is only a breath. Those good books are still there the next season when publishing churns out more.

 

 

“A Sexual Violence Reckoning is Coming In Publishing” Or Is It?

From Bitch Media, S E Smith’s great piece on sexual harassment and assault in CanLit. Where are we now? Where have we been? Where are we going and how will we get there?

As someone pretty much drummed out of a traditional literary career, and who (mostly) speaks their mind, I have to tell you losing hopes of getting ahead is a lot better than the alternative of shutting up. It’s a coming out, if you will. There’s great and abiding strength in it. There’s passion and direction and a waiting army of feminists who refuse to shut the fuck up about the harms that have been done to us.

Nothing will stop us.

A Sexual Violence Reckoning is Coming in Publishinghttps://www.bitchmedia.org/article/sexual-reckoning-in-publishing

Dorothy Allison on Lenny

The inimitable Dorothy Allison on Why Working-Class Literature Is the Strongest

CWILA: Canadian Women in the Literary Arts

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“CWILA (Canadian Women in the Literary Arts) is an inclusive national literary organization for people who share feminist values and see the importance of strong and active female perspectives and presences within the Canadian literary landscape.”

What is the story for 2015? After months of counts and compilations by hard-working volunteers, the counts have been released here.

Thank you to CWILA.

Sometimes, all it takes is a WEEKEND…

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In stores May 6th.

Sarah Schulman and The Cosmopolitans

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“If a lesbian writes a book, but no man reads it, does it actually exist?” asks Marcie Bianco in Slate. “It may sound ridiculous, but this tree-falling-in-the-forest analogy will feel all too apt to lesbian authors, whose systemic exclusion from cultural recognition and mainstream success has a long history and continues apace.”

 

 

A Stern Look at the World for Writers Today

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Nicola Soloman, posting at The Writing Platform, dives into the rough tide that waits for today’s authors. For the average writer, income has plummeted to below the poverty line. A grim read.

The State of the Author

The Big Boo–Rejection

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Kavita Das wrote an excellent article for The Atlantic about how we romanticize writers’ rejections. Many top-notch writers endure a lot of it before moving on to other things/smaller publishers, and she makes the point that the fault lies not with the work, but with the publishing houses. She lands this at racism’s door, but I’d add homophobia, too. The numbers of times I’ve heard that a work of mine is too “avant garde” or that it would be “better suited to a [journal/publisher] with a more eclectic list” or “we published a lesbian a few months ago” are legion.

We shouldn’t be glad that prejudice spurs fine writers to almost quit or to actually quit, as I did. Rather we should expand ourselves, and trust white readers to read outside their own comfort zones. Rejecting well-written works? A disfavour we do writers/ourselves. Potential is soured. The books that would have been finished with a little encouragement and support die in drafting or stuck in a drawer.

Pubs, if you think writers don’t recognize phobic rejections, you’re quite wrong. We may not call you on it to your faces, but we sure do talk about it, pretty much forever.

And it doesn’t serve you.

Writers Shouldn’t Romanticize Rejection

Lit Rejections

Authors: Lives in the Underworld

 

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton ’13

Kelly Cherry wrote this gorgeous rumination on situating our careers at Agni.

Agni

The Adequate Writer: Perseverance

FullSizeRendersketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

Know what separates the people who’ve published books from the people who haven’t?  You think it’s connections, talent, luck, skill, but it’s something a lot more basic–it’s tenacity.  It’s perseverance.  It’s not giving up.  It’s sticking with a piece after you screech and tear your hair out.  It’s staying put, bum to chair, for as long as it takes.

The Adequate Writer: On Editing

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I just finished a travel essay, The Blind Warthog, about a trip I took to Namibia.  The essay grew too big for its britches, fast, and broke off into the possiblity of multiple essays, even a book of essays if I include other countries.  I pushed and pulled and snarled and snarked and moaned and groaned, tried this, tried that, and eventually, over days, a 2000 word piece strung itself together because writing is, at its essence, allusive, and the secret to getting the first draft is just staying put and getting any words on the page.  I didn’t ball those up, all those wrong words, and toss them.  I hung tight with them because one wrong word suggested another wrong word eventually suggested another right word in that freeway pile-up way words have if you let them have their heads.

Eventually, that gave me a schematic from which to go forward, a hint of a piece.  A friend offered an ear so that I could identify the flaws while reading aloud, always, for me, a productive process (because the embarrassment of having my mistakes seen by someone else highlights them for me).  A little too much this.  Not enough that.  Stylistic blunders.  Bits that got dropped in but not expanded.  Bits that need to be moved out.

Back to the hopper it went.  Squash this this way.  Squash that that way.  Tinker this, tinker that.  Absorb central metaphors; working?

Leave some time.

Rinse and repeat.

At that end of all that, I had a first final draft of just over 3000 words.  This is the one that’s good enough to submit.  This is the draft that’s like a small goat proinging through a meadow; all joy and exuberance.

But here is where the best person in my world comes in:  My editor.

I’ve had hundreds of these folks, and working with each is different than was the last, but working with each is also, always, deeply satisfying.  All those things that were suggested in your piece but didn’t make it to fruition because you were busy with nuts and bolts?  She will find them.  She will ask you to enhance them.  The things that kinda sorta worked but really didn’t?  She will ask you to turf them.

DO WHATEVER SHE ASKS is my rather-strongly-held opinion.  If you don’t trust her, keep a copy of your piece as it stood before the changes.  But make the changes she suggests with an open heart.  And here’s why:  Your editor is engaging your work with fresh eyes in a way that you have not and can not, and because of her suggestions, so will you.  It will open your work up.  You will learn things.  Your piece will very likely get much better.

You can see it as criticism.  You can see it as plundering.   You can see it as mean.

But trust me when I say if you participate, your work will come alive (and if it doesn’t, you still have that original to fall back on).  Understand that you and your editor share a goal:  to make the piece the best it can be.

Here’s how I see it:

An expert’s got her fingertips on my work–for free.  If she doesn’t pull her punches–please, editors, give me a hard edit–luckier still, the luckiest author alive.

I can’t wait.

Think writing is a good career?

It’s not good for the average writer in the UK.

How Much They Earn

 

Matt Haig and 30 things you should know

About Being a Published Author

The Hard Truths

Some really tough stuff to hear about publishing…

Tough Truths

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