I’ve had this button since the ’80s and I still don’t know the answer. Back then, as an art-loving, art-making student, I took this question very seriously. Those two (white, male—but let’s not get into that right now) critics, although humorously drawn, were exactly the sort of gatekeepers I thought I wanted to impress. Now, not so much. Now I’m just looking for genuine connection with like-minded readers. Those are the people I want to impress. I’ll let them tell me if it’s art.
It still boggles my mind that people are not only reading my debut novel, NOT ON FIRE, ONLY DYING, but that some of you have been kind enough to let me know you liked it. Some of you liked it a lot, and said so publicly, via reviews posted to Amazon and Goodreads. These reviews mean everything to me, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the aspects of book publishing I enjoy least: Marketing! Publicity! No, seeing these reviews fills me with such deeply-felt gratitude because they confirm that my writing has resonated with you. You heard music in my language. Something made you think. You wanted to know what happened next. It connected you to me, however briefly.
I serve as Reviews Editor for the webjournal Necessary Fiction, so every week I read many reviews of books forthcoming from independent publishers. These are publishers taking real risks. Not burdened by the extraordinary commercial expectations that have ruined—too strong? okay, how about: damaged—so much of mainstream publishing, these small pubs fiercely support, rather than discourage, controversial form and subject matter. They embrace traditionally marginalized authors and characters. Their authors are my comrades. From tiny platforms we shout our stories into a large, noisy world. Each and every reader who shouts back in recognition is a hero, truly.
So, is it art? You tell me. If you are so moved, please write as little or as much as you like about NOT ON FIRE, ONLY DYING, on Amazon, Goodreads—or, if you’re a writer who publishes book reviews, please consider submitting one to your favorite literary journal.
Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for shouting back. I hear you too.