I'm published! Yay!
The first edition of Travelers' Tales China
is on bookshelves (or order
it from Amazon.com). It includes a story from my cross-China
bicycle tour in 1998. I'm not saying which story; that's a surpise.
I'd submitted a package of 11 stories and Travelers'
Tales selected the 9th on the list. There are a couple ways to
interpret this. First, I don't have much of a clue what Travelers'
Tales is looking for in a story. I believe the general practice is
to submit a sample containing a few stories to prospective publishers
and agents. 11 is several more than a few. Second, I'll boldly observe
that the reviewer didn't put the package
down after page 10 (the "must impress by" page) but kept
reading, ever onward, for 57 double-spaced pages, through an introduction,
a bio and eight other stories to reach the story they eventually chose
to publish. Evidently, I was on the right track from the beginning.
Being published for the first time is an oddly giddy feeling, even
before holding the thing in my hands, even before it has reached the
shelves. Actually, my words have been published before, though just
brief blurbs of about 50 words in a theatre festival review newsletter,
and another brief comment in a literary
journal , post 9-11. My essay, Reciprocal
Madness, received the unusual distinction of appearing in
an art gallery show, "In
Honour of the Bravest." And my textual work has been performed
on stage in two productions. For the first production a playwright
story of mine into a larger play, and for the second I wrote and
produced the play
myself. Of course, a giddy rush accompanied each of these and writing
the play proved to be the most spiritually moving experience of my
life. Nonetheless, there is something undeniably unique about the
experience of having a respected editor and publishing house choose
to publish my work.
The pay is about 10¢ a word for my 1,000 word story, apparently
low for a book, and I receive no royalties on sales. On the other
hand, I've never been paid for writing before; indeed, my play lost
money. And that is 10¢ US, afterall.
But being paid is only one aspect of what is largely part of the process
of considering myself a "professional." More than cash is
the respect of people I can now refer to as peers. Being
published in professional, reputable, popular publications differentiates
authors and writers. It's less about the implicit credentials than
the sense of belonging to a tradition. I'm in the club.
This thought really strikes home when I consider some the authors
whose stories appear in the TT China. Have a look in the sidebar for
titles by Peter Hessler, Orville Schell, Pamela Logan, John Kirch
and Zhang Xianlang. That they are not named Bryson, Theroux or Cahill
does not diminish their accomplishments in travel writing and other
genres. It's a talented club.
There's another aspect to this, perhaps more important than the professional
implications Writers write to an audience. Many people write in their
journals, or to friends and acquaintances. However, I write not for
my own mind's ear, or a specific someone else's. And I don't write
for just anyone who will read. At the lower levels of consciousness,
I write with a type of reader in mind: someone I respect, who shares
fundamental aspects of culture and is interested in appreciating and
creating beauty in all its manifestations. I write for the kind of
person I'd like to get to know personally. Being published represents
a kind of contact with that audience. In a sense, having a story appear
in a widely published book is like standing on stage in front of a
stadium filled with cheering fans. OK. That's hyperbole (unless you're
JK Rowling and actually have read in an indoor football stadium for
tens of thousands of wildly adulous pre-teens) But it's not far from
the truth. It's like being the guest of honour at a party, the atttendance
to which has swelled beyond all expectations. That might seem odd,
but it is an odd occupation.
See, writing is a solitary effort. Sure, few writers succeed unless
they have a life outside of writing, but the work itself, while underway,
has no audience. I suppose in that sense it's not much different from
composing music, or making art of any sort. We all take what is outside
us, internalise it, interpret it, and create something we think beautiful,
or evocative, or entertaining or otherwise important, and then try
to get others to have a look. More often than not, we're not even
present for the "performance." I think, for writers, eeing
the cover of their soon-to-be-published book is a bit like standing
on stage receiving applause. You might think a public reading would
be the more rewarding experience, but we're not performers and many
writers are shy of the public. We write to be read and being published
in a book is the purest form of accomplishment and can only be improved
upon by wide public and critical acclaim.
All that said, I am oriented towards performance, though shy of performing
myself. The single biggest thrill writing has ever provided was while
in the audience while my words were performed on stage. There is nothing
more moving than a troupe of trained professionals bringing what I've
written to life. No matter that their interpretation often varies
from my intent. Sometimes this is a departure from my vision but more
often it is an expansion on it. Being in love with film from an early,
early age, that's the obvious next step in my writing. But there's
something else I'd like to "close the book on" first.
the acceptance letter a few months back motivated me to renew efforts
toward completing the manuscript for Movement:
Seeking Perfect Lines, an anthology of my travelogue stories.
There are too many stories in the collection, currently about 56,
making it quite long. I need to reduce it to 40 or so, leaving some
difficult decisions to make. (Hey, they're all my babies!)
Travelers' Tales just confirmed my suspicions that I may not be the
best judge of my own intended audience. The stories I submitted were
in more-or-less priority order, and TT chose from near the bottom
of my list. Had I selected the content I felt represented the strongest
few works, rather than just throw the whole catalog at them, I might
not have been published at all. So, I'm looking for readers to review
the book and let me know which stories they like best/least. Do help
out if you can. (For those of you who already are: thank-you,