Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Clubs and Broomsticks

25th April 2014

Since the last blog, a few things have happened to do with my book and promotion that might be of interest to anyone still following this blog as a map of how the process unfurls along the road from just-contracted author with a big publishing house to publication and (hopefully) beyond.
The book club at my local library read my book this month, and I showed up at the round table in the turret of said library with champagne in hand and snacks in a bag to celebrate. So we drank bubbly in paper cups and ate cheese popcorn in paper cups and the literary ladies (ladies all - doesn't that tell you something about the publishing industry?) asked me questions, not so much about the book, but about myself as a writer, how the whole thing came to be and what my writing routines were etc. A good time was had by all - I do like the question part of these events and feel a bit sad when it is over. Bottom line is, everyone likes talking about themselves. It's as close to relishing the limelight as yours trully will ever get.

Another book club,  I am told, and in Scotland this time, is going to be reading my book in the near future.  Scotland is where this story belongs, of course, the ins and outs of it, the history, the interchange between people, the landscape. It will be a sort of homecoming. Even though I don't live in Scotland anymore, this part of me shoots out and finds its home in the old country, in the bogs and the moss and the rain on the window. After all, it comes from a part of me that has no home here in the old US of A. What do I know about homecoming queens and gatorade and the fourth of July? I belong in the wet country, eternally green, damp but never that cold, where a nod passed between people says as much as anyone needs to know. Small country that Scotland is, there is little sense as you stand on a hill overlooking the sea with the wind doing its best to topple you off, that man and his    ambitions have any currency there. It's just the land doing what it has always done, with species laying a footprint on it in cycles until they pass on and new footprints emerge. From the perspective of the trees and the lochs and the bracken, man is just one more small indentation in the soil.

On Tuesday, I participated in my first Tweetchat with some other authors who will be attending The Muse and the Marketplace with me in Boston next week. The chat was moderated by one of the faculty from the Grub Street Writer's Foundation. It's an odd thing, a Tweetchat, sort of like being hit from all sides by a meteor shower and not knowing which way to duck. 

We were discussing (all at once, like a rowdy but silent town hall meeting) the topic of publishing and the effects of social media on the various genres. There seemed to be some consensus that self-publishing is really hard for literary fiction, but less so for genre fiction which has a built-in platform and audience. Next time I will just have some pre-written pearls of wisdom to insert whenever possible in the hopes that they get retweeted. That's the gratifying part. In retrospect, I would like to have made the comment that separating literature into various genres might well just come from a recent Lit-snobbery. I might have pointed out that were Jane Austen to be published these days, you might find her in the paperbacks along with other "chic-lit." And Charles Dickens, iconic writer of all time, stocked on the shelves with other historical fiction. Point is, no need to sweat being thrown into one genre or another. A book stands or falls on its own merits. I see that now.
So, you live and learn. Whatever else the publishing process is, it is that.

Friday, April 18, 2014

TS Avatar

18th April 2014

I am only two weeks away from delivering a speech in Boston about the nature of writing. Not being a public person, this feat has been looming on my horizon like a fusion of threatening clouds, and yet the more I get into the topic of this speech, the less nervous I become, because I really feel passionately about what I am saying. It turns out that passion can conquer fear, as though you were playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, and the passion position was able to envelope the self-conscious one and score a point.
The topic of the speech, as it is advertised, is actually about getting out of the way of your writing by looking at the creative process, not as one of pulling stuff out of yourself, but by hooking yourself into the creative ground. If you're facing writer's block, I argue, then you are standing in your own shadow and need to shift your position and let the light in. But there is more at stake here, and this is what gets me going, what floats my boat, as the saying goes.
We are living in a time of paradigm shifts. This is how I begin. This paradigm of the tortured artist/writer which has given rise to the tradition of the writer and psychotic bouts, the writer and heavy drinking, needs to shift, too. A better image for the artist of any type is this one from James Cameron's film Avatar.

In the film, the Na'vi people connect themselves to The Tree of Souls by connecting their ponytail to one of the trees branches. Isn't that a better paradigm of what happens in the creative process than this?

Carl Jung says that art (meaning all creative functions) is "a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument." The artist "is 'collective man' - one who carries and shapes the unconscious psychic forms of mankind." I argue that in the modern era, art (more obviously in the visual arts, but also in music and the written word) has lost sight of this universal function and has instead reflected the mind of the individual artist, not the subtext of humanity at all: If you don't understand Jackson Pollack's motivation for splattering paint on canvas, you don't get the painting. If you don't get the tradition of dissonance in modern music, you won't appreciate Benjamin Britten. 
Anyway, judging by the post-modernist thrust into a new realism, I think I am not the only one to make this observation. It seems to me it is never the way to go backwards, however, so I think that the pendulum swing will eventually find its rhythm slightly off the realist track. Religion is doing the same thing - we can't go back to the goddess, but we can touch base with it again and come to something new out of the old. 
In TS Eliot's timeless line, "The end of all our exploring will be to arrive at the place where we started and know the place for the first time."

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Promised Land

12th April 2014

"Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs, about the lilting house and happy as the grass was green...."
This apropos of nothing - they are just magical drooling lines by Dylan Thomas that emerge every so often when I put my mind to writing....even a blog.
On to the topic of said blog:
Given our advanced technical age, it's funny how after the book launch everything really still comes down to word of mouth.

My published friend tells me that after her first book came out (one that I should add has in the ensuing year sold over a hundred thousand copies - "The Bloodletter's Daughter," check it out!) it took months for it to start selling. Malcolm Gladwell in his book "The Tipping point,"talks about how movements depend on the 80/20 rule - that eighty percent of the work will be done by twenty percent of the people. And these people tend to be movers and shakers and well in touch with the zeitgeist. Oh, it all sounds very complicated! Who cares how many people it takes and what they are called and what they do, just so long as they get the job done. But I am at their mercy.
I suppose I am haunted by that phenomenon where an author who subsequently does very well (an understatement if I mean by such authors someone like Dan Brown, and I do) comes out with a dud initially. Dan Brown's "Angel's and Demons" did not do well until after "The Da Vinci Code" broke all records; there was an author in Aspen last week called Maria Semple whose book "Where Did You Go, Bernadette?" has done fabulously well, but who also had to suffer through a first stinky fish. She described that time as "public humiliation."
Well, I am much too vain and egotistic to want to go there myself, so may all Gladwell's Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen do their stuff and lead me into the Promised Land.

                                                            Karen Gilllis Taylor

The problem with promised lands is that they don't hold up too well to reality. It can be like Bert's chalk paintings when it rains in Mary Poppins. They tend to dissolve into globs of dreams and empty pavements. Still, being publicly humiliated is like never getting to jump into the painting in the first place. I'm not expecting this first book to be a block buster, but I think the series as a whole could do well, because the more I get into the story, the more it is exploring questions that we face in sterile modernity, namely what we sacrificed for this world of ours with its fading patriarchal religions and materialist vacuity.
I believe that this Homo Erectus that we went on to rename Sapiens ("wise" - don't make me laugh!) should have been named Homo Religiosus in the first place, and then we wouldn't have got everything so wrong. The "erectus" element has played much too big a role in how things have played out for our species. Time to turn the kaleidoscope and let the patterns re-emerge in a more satisfying order for this homo religiosus, this Femina Religiosa (that's what we lost, way back when the kaleidoscope got stuck on the erectus thing.)
There's a great song by Capercaille called "Waiting for the Wheel to turn," which is actually about Scottish nationalist hopes, but the wheel is a good metaphor for any paradigm that needs changing. Homo Erectus effectively threw out the wheel with the bathwater, and it's time for it turn again.
Check it out!

Friday, April 4, 2014

All Quiet On The Western Front

April 4th, 2014

..After the buzz and spectacle of the book launch, my world has turned very quiet. I suppose it is the nature of the beast at this point; I was just talking to another recently published author who was experiencing this same lull. And yet it isn't something I had anticipated. So much of this publishing experience has been that way. The book launch was like the publisher throwing me into a pool, where I made a big splash and people noticed, and now I am under the water waiting to see if I will come up again.  But it is quiet down here. I ought to like it, and I think I do. This is my domain, the stillness that is the creative touchstone, the thing you keep going back to when you start a new piece of work. I know Stephen King plays raucous rock and roll while he works, but I suspect that it is just a circuitous route to the still centre. Most writers like to shut out the world, so they can hear nothing and then hear everything. I am giving a talk about this in Boston next month - about how the writer or any artist needs to be a good listener, how the creative process is about tapping into the still collective and not a teasing out of images from our own stock.
I really miss writing. My creative space has been too noisy for too long. But it is a self-imposed exile. I've been up front of the shop listening to the cha-ching cha-ching, worrying about numbers and abandoning what I do best, which is listening to nothing.
To compensate I am filling my head with thoughts that split open my horizons in another way. I am reading Anthony Peake's book "The Infinite Mindfield," and Bernard Haisch's book "The God Theory." I think it is very difficult for a creative person to be a no-God ("God" in the broadest understanding) materialist believing that nothing exists outside the mechanical workings of the mind-machine, that consciousness is simply an epiphenomenon of evolution.  Because the creative process is a shamanistic ritual, isn't it? You're already in no-man's land when you put paint to a canvas or ink to paper (or finger to keypad.) You've gone beyond the material and you'd have to believe in materialism to a religious degree to think of what you are about as the mere workings of mechanical parts. The creative act is already drowning out the noise of turning cogs and is instead whispering to the ghost in the machine.
                                              Robert Price

But only like this picture if the ghost is a bearded lady. We don't need any more men in the works. The ghost in the machine is definitely feminine. Right, Dan Brown?