Monday, October 6, 2008

Mark Blagrave: The Implied Author Part I

Today we present the premiere installment in a series of original posts by Silver Salts author Mark Blagrave, recording his thoughts and reflections on the experience of being a new novelist in the 21st century.

The Implied Author Part I:
The Virtual Audience

by Mark Blagrave

“Sequestered.” I think I first encountered that delicious word when reading about the Brontes many years ago — long before I knew it was something you could also do to a jury. The writer’s life, the way many of those nineteenth-century types lived it, was a fine and private place. They and their readers usually met only on the page of their books. My own writing these days happens anywhere from the quiet of my study to the bustle of my car dealer’s service department. But even when I am writing in a crowded waiting room (maybe especially then), I create a kind of bubble of privacy around myself. Writing is one of those intensely pleasurable things you can do by yourself (and, unlike some others, it doesn’t necessarily make you go blind.)

The other day, this arrived in my e-mail inbox: “Allison sent you a message. Subject: Silver Salts,” it began. Then: “ name is almost your characters name...thats a first for me, Now i'll have to read it :)” Maybe I know Allison Dempster’s actual smiley face, though I can’t place it. But I do know that I will now feel utterly guilty if this complete stranger hates what I made of her (sort of) namesake, Lillie Dempster. That is, if I ever hear from Allison again.

My initiation into the agony and the ecstasy of being an author in a wired universe began before the book was published with a casual invitation by someone at Cormorant to join the Facebook group he had set up for the book — casual for him; utterly threatening for me at the time. I wasn’t “on” Facebook, had even made a lot of hay out of how awful I thought it was. But I dutifully created my profile, posted a head-shot, and joined the group. Friends and family and some students actually joined too. Apart from the people at Cormorant and I, though, nobody has yet posted anything. It is all very civilized, supportive, and Canadian, I think. But I can now poke my son — when I remember to log on.

Definitely more unnerving are the posts to the growing varieties of reader-profiles and blogs. Of course I love the ones that say it was a good story or they liked the prose. This is the kind of exchange the internet was meant for, I assure myself. And in some cases I know the writers, or know of them. But then there’s the post by a stranger that reports its writer has just started reading the book and really can’t get into it. That’s not great, but still fine, admirable for its honesty even, until you realize that this judgment will stay on the electronic record, in a kind of suspended animation, for what might as well be forever. As far as the casual browser a year from now will be concerned, that reader was never able to get into the book. Kind of like somebody on Keat’s urn. And maybe she wasn’t, but before the advent of the blog I would (probably) never have known, and therefore not have felt rotten and inadequate.

Allison’s was not my first message from a stranger in the ether. In August, I heard from someone whose daughter had taken home a signed copy of Silver Salts from her “work” (I hope in a bookstore and not a recycling centre). She wrote: “I found Lillie's story to be a tragic one, but liked the fact that she, not once, complained about it. She made do with whatever was thrown her way. The story kept me wanting to find out what was going to happen to her, and I hoped that she would be truly happy at the end. I think she was happy at the end, and I'm glad.” It’s not a review in The Globe, but who could wish for more from a reader? Maybe I envy the Brontes just a little bit less now.

Thanks for reading! Please keep an eye out for Mark's next post: On meeting actual descendants of people portrayed fictionally in the book ("aka You Can't Libel the Dead")

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