I woke up to one of those days. If you’re an artist of any sort, you probably know the kind of day I mean: questioning everything, probing the work I’ve done with a sharp stick, probing the work I want to do with an even sharper knife. What am I doing? How am I doing it? How well am I doing it? What do I want to be doing? Should I be trying to make a living with my writing — or trying to make a life?
I know it all relates back to the ‘time of change’ thing, to the end of one journey and the beginning of another. I’ve been productive here, certainly, but have I been ‘good’? Not meaning have I been righteous or the opposite of evil, because we all know that answer to that. But have I produced writing that makes me proud, that was as good as I could make it, that paid homage to all that amazing writers and writing that I admire? Yes. and No. Have I learned anything about writing, about my process, about story and characters and plot? Yes. and No. Have I pushed myself, immersed myself in the work, gave it my all? Yes. and No.
I was just putting together my goal list for September, and I realized it sounds much the same as July’s and August’s. Lots of little pieces, things that may or may not excite me, things that may or may not stretch my boundaries or challenge me, things that may or may not make me any money.
And then I’m thinking of other things: a few of the recent books that I’ve been excited about being in are now nearly finished and when I look at the covers, I just have to sigh. They covers are… bleh. When I look at a cover like the upcoming Blood Fruit, I get excited about being in the book. It’s gorgeous and subtle. Dangerous and sexy. It’s unique and unusual. Not to mention that it’s well-done from an artistic standpoint. And then there are other books. I know the insides are amazing, and I know that it’s superficial to judge a book by its cover, but … how hard is it to make a fantastic cover? I mean something that really does the story inside justice? And how do I, as a writer, reconcile my joy and desire to be in great books and my disappoinment at the packaging?
And then there are those great responses, like this flattering and funny acceptance letter I received a few days ago:
Good God! Yes, ma’am! That is what the hell our unfortunate Mr. Edgar Allan Poe was talking about when he laid down the rules for short tales to prospective contributors to his publications. I love this story. It will remain fixed in my memory forever. This is a short film, television episode – anything you want to do with it. It is that most important thing of all. It’s a story.
Which made me feel fantastic about my work for about an hour or two, and then slipped away into the grey fuzz of all responses, as I turned back to what matters: the work at hand. Do we, as artists, ever figure out what we’re doing? Or are we always just bumbling our way forward through the brambles, seeing only a few inches in front of our faces, never knowing whether we’ll round the corner and stumble into a dark, algae-ridden bog or come over the hill and find a pristine circle of standing stones? And is one better than the other?
In an email this morning, one of my first readers (who reads two stories of mine every week, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to my work), wrote this:
And something else that I’ve been wondering as I have read your work, some edgy and near brilliant. Some chatty and light. Some jokey. Some literary and some formula. Do you ever think you might find a “voice” you like and stick with it for a while?
And I don’t know the answer to that. Is it a detriment to have such variety? To not have a ‘unified voice’? I’ve always thought that every story and every character deserved its own voice. Lately, I’ve come to realize that when a story doesn’t work, it’s often because I have matched it with the wrong voice. In the past, I’ve been proud that I can write in so many ways (although other readers tell me that there’s a sensibility that my stories carry that mark them as mine — an intangible thing that is hard to put one’s finger on). Perhaps my “writer’s voice” is to have a million voices, like someone whose signature is that she always wears perfume, but a different one every day. Or someone who always wears something red, but in different shades and on different parts of her body. Or perhaps there is something that I’m not grasping, some thing that I am supposed to have, a silver and sapphire brooch pin that I wear every day, that says, “This is the voice and work of Shanna Germain.” I don’t know.
And, that in essence seems to be the point of this long, rambling, reflective post. I don’t know. There is so much I don’t know. And today is one of those days when I wish I knew it all, and could hold it inside a little lead box and carry it around with me so that it is heavy in my hands and a reminder of all the things I’ve learned. And I could go anywhere, secure in the knowledge that I know something, anything, anything at all.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.
“Do not mix the galloping of your horse, my knight, with the beating of your heart.” ~Old Chinese Proverb