Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mark Blagrave: The Implied Author Part VIII

Today we present the eighth and final installment in Mark Blagrave's (Silver Salts) series of posts. Here, Professor Blagrave speaks on possibly the biggest pitfall in becoming a big time novelist ...

The Implied Author Part VIII:
Never Enough Attention: Becoming a Monster

Six months after the publication of Silver Salts, I can finally get up (most) Saturday mornings without racing out to buy the Globe and Mail. In another six months, I suppose I will have gotten over the feelings of neglect and resentment that come with not being reviewed. I know I didn’t write the novel so it could be reviewed in the Globe, but there’s still that provincial feeling that if it wasn’t noticed there then maybe the book wasn’t real at all. Or perhaps I just want my grade six teacher to read the paper in her nursing home and think ‘that name rings a bell.’ And it couldn’t hurt sales, could it (there being no such thing as a bad column-inch)? Or maybe I have just become a monster. What happened to that pledge to a life of obscurity I took when I finished my Ph.D.?

Review-envy is only one of many symptoms of my new-found egomania. They range from mild and common to strident and unforgivable.

First, there’s Googling myself. I always include the book title as a limiter in the search; I’m not that far gone yet. Fortunately, the threat of endless returns to those undead blogs that chronicle their writer’s struggle with my opening chapters keeps that practice down to a minimum.

Then there’s moving the books around in stores, making sure the face of mine is out, thereby ‘spining’ somebody else’s precious creation; or sometimes adding a pile of mine to the bestseller table. When I have confessed these Darwinian practices to other writers, they have guiltily admitted to doing the same or worse. And I don’t get into that many bookstores, so I’m protected from myself a little there too.

When I do get into bookstores, and when I am not changing their displays, I have been known to offer to sign copies. Actually, my wife is the guilty one with this, sidling up to managers with a copy and whispering that she has the author handy if they’d like him to deface their stock. She puts it more temptingly than that. And it looks like it’s her devotion talking more than my ego, so they say yes. Similarly, our local indie (even after I sent them a panicked, mildly harassing, e-mail when our local MLA reported he couldn’t get hold of a copy in town) has agreed to her request to display a small sign advertising the book. Sometimes, in airports, I get Sheila to ask for the book, knowing they don’t have it but hoping that (if we fly enough) they will bow to consumer pressure.

Once, we bought a copy of a magazine that had a mention of the book and we went into Watermark brandishing it and wondering why they were so out of the loop. We figure they’ll forget our faces from one time to the next, and what’s the harm if they actually do order the book? Some other traveler will buy it. I’d even buy a copy just to say thank you. If they ever find us out, I hope they will think it’s her pride, but I suspect deep down they’ll know it’s my insatiable appetite for attention.

Another form of collateral damage in all this is what I appear to have done to my mother. Legally blind for many years, she is able to read the newspaper using her peripheral vision, but a whole novel (not in large print) presents a Sisyphean task. Nevertheless, for a recent stay in hospital she packed Silver Salts. She tells me she has read quite a lot of it, and I know that other family members have read her pieces, but the real reason she had it there was so she could promote it to anyone who happened by. She assures me that sales are about to be brisk among the medical set. But then she has always had to love me.

Friends and colleagues have come under the shadow of my burgeoning ego too. I don’t actually keep a written list, of course. That would be crazy. But I would be able in an instant to categorize any name you fed me. There are those who have read the book and said so. They are on the side of the angels. There are those who have bought the book and have yet to read it, but who keep telling me that, and promising to get to it when life settles down a bit. Still friends. But then there are those who I am pretty sure have bought the book but have not reported having read it or not. Did they hate it? Love it and forget it? Bought it, not read it, and forgot it? Finally, there are those (some whom I see every day) about whom I have no information. Will they ever buy it? Ever say something? See? What kind of a person puts his friends and colleagues into these boxes?

I plan to swear off this monstrous behaviour soon — probably when everyone I know has bought the book and ‘fessed up about how they felt about it; or when The Globe prints a review; or…. writing this blog is probably only feeding the sickness. I’ll stop.

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