Monday, August 08, 2005

My first book of short stories is published this month

I said in an earlier post that I was moving towards becoming a Writer, with a capital W, and this month I sort of get my membership card: my first book is being published. It’s called “Writing Naked” and it’s available from Amazon at either of these links:

I thought I’d use this blog to work out what this means for me.

Well, the first thing it means it that I can now go to Amazon and see a book with my name on it being advertised. That brings a smile to my face. I’ve had my nose pressed up against the bookstore window for so long that it feels strange to find myself on the inside.

Of course, I’ve been in print before as part of an anthology and that is a wonderful feeling. I remember being stuck in the US on business just after “Deserving Ruth” was published in “Best New Erotica” and passing the time by browsing Barnes and Noble (I love how late book stores stay open in the US) and they had the book. I stood there holding it and realising that anyone could come in and buy it. I had no control over my story any more. It had a life of its own.

The other thing I realised was that I wasn’t going to tell anyone. Normally, being published is the kind of thing that you put on your CV/Resume, even if it’s only to show what a well-rounded chap you are, but saying “by the way, did you know I write erotica in my spare time?” doesn’t play well in the business world. In my case, it doesn’t play well at home either. My wife hates that I write erotica. She would be happy with me writing just about anything else but not this. If the erotica I write is too speculative then she sees it as a grubby attempt to get strangers off. If the erotica is too truthful, she sees it as too intimate to be shared with outsiders. True, none of my erotica is autobiographical but there is always a link between life and fiction, even if it’s only the things that the writer chooses to pay attention to.

So I won’t be going to book-signings any time soon and you won’t find my photograph on the back of the book – although that is no great loss. There’s joke that sums up this situation – skip the next paragraph if jokes bore you.

Rabbi Levi is a golf addict so when an opportunity comes to take a round of golf on his own on a course he’s always wanted to play, he takes it, even though it means playing on the Sabbath. He plays an extraordinary game, finishing the round with three consecutive hole-in-one shots. This is little short of miraculous and raises a problem of faith for the rabbi. Rabbi Levi falls to his knees, looks up at the sky and says, “Oh Lord, why, when I break your law and play golf on the Sabbath, do you reward me with such a magnificent score?” The sky darkens and a deep, God-like voice says, “So who ya gonna tell?”

But, jokes apart, I’m excited about having a book of my stories published. The fact that all of the stories are mine makes the choice of book by the reader much more personal. I mean, if someone buys “Sacred Exchange” or “Porn to Poetry” I have no means of knowing if they even read my story, but if they buy “Writing Naked”, then it’s because they want to read what I’ve written. And when they’ve finished reading it, they will have view, not just of the stories but of me.

I remember when I found Barbara Kingsolver’s first book of short stories “The Bean Trees”: I enjoyed each tale but what I enjoyed most was the idea that I’d found a new author who’s perspective on life and who’s use of language excited and refreshed me. In my most honest moments, that’s how I want people to feel when they finish reading “Writing Naked”. It’s a big ask, as my Australian colleagues say, but it’s one that gives me something to aim for.

Of course, with a book of short stories, it isn’t true to say that the book is all mine. I’ve discovered that the editor plays a crucial role here.

When Susannah first asked me if I’d like to put a collection of short stories together I was at a loss to know which ones to choose, so I sent her everything. I’d been writing for years by then and “everything” was a lot. Susannah had the distance and the skill to sort through them and find the best. Not just the best individual stories but the stories that would work best as a collection. She also gave me feedback on where a story might benefit from a re-write, and, as new stories came along, she changed the line-up to incorporate them.

By the time that I got the unproofed galleys to look at, the book had taken on a life of its own. Susannah had managed to sequence the stories so that the reader is constantly finding something new. She’d also turned a thin suggestion from me into a distinctive cover graphic.

So now the book is there. Too late to change anything. It is what it is and we’ll see what people think of it.

So what did I learn from this process?

Getting a book of short stories together takes a long time and you need support and commitment from a good editor.

You need a largish body of work to choose from and you need enough variety in what and how you write that when you pull the stories together they don’t all feel the same.

That it is tremendously helpful to spend the time going back over all the stories you’ve written so that you can see what works and what doesn’t and what underlies what you’ve written in terms of theme, imagery, language, characterisation and plot.

One outcome of the re-read for me was to question whether I’m writing erotica at all. In “Writing Naked” all of the stories have sex in them, usually multiple sex scenes that are, I’m told, hot to read. And yet, when I re-read the stories, what I felt best about was that these stories will make people laugh and cry. I think they will also put them in touch their own sexual experiences and fantasies. But they are not the best material for reading with one hand.

Which gets us into questions about the nature of genre writing. But they will have to wait for another day.

Thanks for listening.


Kathleen Bradean said...

Big congratulations Mike!
Your book is now in my reading queue. I've always enjyed your stories, so I look forward to reading your collection.

Seneca Mayfair said...

It was just a matter of time before a collection of your stories was published. I anticipate that this will be the first of many such publications. A very special congratulations to you. Seneca

Zillah said...

I quite look forward to reading more of you. Although I am a bit dissapointed that there will be no booksignings. Congratulations Mike, I can't think of anyone else's erotica I'd rather read.

mambolady said...

I am so looking forward to reading your book...YOUR book..just YOURS.
Great, Mike. You are my favorite
male writer....have always enjoyed
your work...starting with Deserving Ruth..and My Brother's Wife...and loved the Am Holiday stories....and your Reflexes...
superb !!! keep writing !!!!!!
all the best.