I have a special guest post tomorrow. Today, I have some thoughts.
I was finishing the first of what will be a half dozen sessions sorting the bibliography of my work on writers and history and it got me thinking about a few communications from readers. Every time I have a new novel I get these and I’ve never seen the pattern before and… it’s got me thinking. I know I fall between genre categories and I know I get less critical attention than most, but I’ve never quite understood why I can have all this and readers, too.
I can’t give you the text of any of these emails. They’re all intensely personal and very special. Every time I read one I have to take a step back and look at what I’ve done.
There’s a a lot of talk around the traps about our need for diverse stories. There’s a hashtag for it. There are campaigns for it. I’ve participated in these campaigns, but for other people. I’m so neatly between minority and majority in so many ways that I’ve never felt as if that platform is for my writing. I don’t get invited to write for the anthologies – even my feminist self didn’t merit an invitation to write a letter to Tiptree. I’m not evaluating this here, I’m evaluating me. I look mainstream. Even when I’m not. I”m one of the people who help others, not one of the people who write issues into their novels.
Except I always do. I write these things. I don’t mind if they’re not seen as issues, because what I want is deep narrative changes ie I care more for the story being read getting out there, giving narrative choices, than I do for my ego as a change agent.
This is why I was surprised by the reader communications. I underestimated them until today, for they started as a trickle. We’re no longer talking one or two here. Given my moderate sales, that’s important. When Life through Cellophane was first published, I received direct communications from nearly half my readers (small press, limited print run – easy to track). None of them are quite the same, but they have a shared theme. The shared theme is “You wrote the novel for me, about me, about my fiend, about my dreams.” I’m not going to detail the personal responses here. They’re private and some of them are very intimate. Public servants have said “This is our narrative.” Middle aged women have said “Finally, a novel for us.” Older women have said “Finally, a novel for us.” Some people have told me amazing things about their past and said “And this is the novel that gives me my fantasy perfect solution” to problems that they faced in their lives. And this was something they were happy about.
I write the novels I think ought to be written. I write them because I love to write and because these are the kind of novels I write. I’m prickly and difficult until they’re written, so they’re full of prickly and difficult issues. Politics and history and feminism and all kinds of big picture issues are integrated into my work the way they are in my life. I can’t imagine writing about a peasant boy as king-in-waiting, but I can turn a once-homeless girl into a hero, because I have met many once-homeless girls and they have to draw on such amazing inner strength to get through: they’re perfect heroines and some of the best people I know. Same with elderly women.
I write what I know. I didn’t know that a significant portion of my readers would be quietly passionate about my work and would identify with it so very strongly that they can’t speak up in public about it.
To those who have spoken up in public – thank you. To all of you – thank you for making my writing your own. Thank you for seeing what I put in and for understanding that it’s yours, the moment it’s in print. And thank you for letting me know how much you care and how personal it is.
I’ll keep writing strong women of all ages in my writing, and people from normal (complex) backgrounds, for these are the people I know. What I’ll change is how I read the public narratives about writers. I need to write, even if there’s no glory and not much money. I need to find a way to keep on writing, even if I don’t get a job in my field. I need to do this because I’ve been very, very lucky and achieved the dream: my writing matters.
I’m still astonished about this. It might take me some time to absorb. Each of my novels matters to different people for different reasons, but the more I challenge tropes and stereotypes and what ought to sell, the more emails there are and the more notes through social media, and… my writing matters.
Thank you, everyone who’s written to me. It means a lot.