I’m so grateful for Kristen M. Ploetz’s fierce, thoughtful review of Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology, just published at JMWW Journal. It means everything to know that our intention was understood and that the quality of the outstanding work collected in this book is appreciated. ✊??
Born and Dying: My First Book’s First Year
It’s not like I had no idea what to expect. As a bookseller I assisted with author events both swanky and huge (Pat Conroy at a Connecticut yacht-club brunch) and tiny and spare (local writers at my used bookstore in Kingston, New York). As a book buyer for the wholesaler Baker & Taylor, I bought everything from small press titles to kids books to some of the largest adult trade lines (all of which have since folded into Random Penguin–yes, I know they prefer the names reversed.) Book promotion is an enormous challenge at every level. Even backed by a corporate publisher’s PR machine, many books struggle to attract interest. Every year, thousands of excellent books are published and ignored. It’s an honor to reach any readers. And if you hear from a few who loved your book and got what you were trying to say–well, let that wash over you, because that connection is everything. You get used to the non-responses from places you’d hoped to appear. You get used to leaving readings with unsold books. To empty seats in the audience. To other books getting more attention and praise. You stay grateful throughout.
So, to celebrate Not On Fire, Only Dying‘s first year, a multimedia look back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you for hearing me.
Pics or it didn’t happen: proof it wasn’t a strange, beautiful dream with too much public speaking:
Original music composed by Naomi Hamby for Not On Fire, Only Dying:
“Marko’s Theme” was used for the book trailer. Here it is accompanied by the previously unreleased “Lola’s Theme.”
Speaking of the trailer:
Maybe you’d like another listen to Marko’s mixtape?
Select blog posts written through acceptance, publication, and promotion. Short and honest:
Thank you for hearing me. (12/31/14)
Cats get in the way. (1/23/15)
No big deal, but…MY BOOK HAS A COVER. *swoon* (3/26/15)
Blurbs and Preorders and THANK YOU. (5/4/15)
Presenting my book trailer! And insecurities… (7/3/15)
Brooklyn, beginning. (9/5/15)
Have I mentioned I have a new book out? (9/29/15)
But is it art? On book reviews. (10/18/15)
More than chocolate? (2/4/16)`
What do you want? (5/11/16)
Thank you to everyone who read this book (and to those who have a copy and might yet get around to reading it–no worries. Trust me, I know how that goes. Maybe once in a while something small and unrelated will remind you of Not On Fire, Only Dying.
Happens to me all the time:
Nature isn’t dependent on an audience. Life happens, often without a witness. -p. 213, NOT ON FIRE, ONLY DYING pic.twitter.com/MIRlO23kIR
— Susan Rukeyser (@SusanRukeyser) May 19, 2016
"She is bright and loud, in surreal contrast to this place." p 147, NOT ON FIRE, ONLY DYING https://t.co/v0jh4l3EO4 pic.twitter.com/BR141jD2p8
— Susan Rukeyser (@SusanRukeyser) April 29, 2016
What do you want?
Today I am the youngest I’ll ever be again. And I am older. Birthdays aren’t so exciting anymore, are they? Not like when you’re nine, the age I am in this picture. What a great age to be–a kid, not a child. A BIG kid. But not yet ten which is SO OLD, a DECADE!
We were in Jacksonville, Florida, with my dad who was there to give a speech. He gave speeches all the time, but this one was special because it was MY BIRTHDAY and some wonderful stranger made me this DOLL CAKE. I wish I could say I’m grinning because I’m taking a knife to the Patriarchy but that is genuine joy on my face because I LOVED DOLLS. They had everything to do with making me a writer. But on that day in 1977, it was just about that DRESS which I hope you realize is made of FROSTED CAKE.
And the doll really was beautiful, you can’t see that in this picture. With big blue eyes like I wished I had.
On my ninth birthday I knew what I wanted: that cake, that doll. Now? Well, my characters are my dolls. And I can eat cake whenever I want although I try not to because ugh carbs and sugar and but f*ck it–it’s my birthday. I’ll never be this young again. What do I want, this birthday? The best gift I could receive is support for my novel, Not On Fire, Only Dying, which came out last fall. NOFOD is the truest part of me, the most eloquent conversation I’ve ever managed. If you get it, you get me.
So tell me if you read it. Tell me what you liked about it (I will squirm with discomfort but I’ll love it and be grateful.) Ask me questions. Tell other people about it. Review it. Show it off in your hands. If you have a blog, invite me to contribute. Mention it to your book group or favorite bookstore. I’ll read from and discuss it, wherever I’m asked! You’ll make this birthday girl as happy as a DOLL CAKE once did. And that is VERY happy.
Talk Talk: news about interviews
I recently found myself in the completely new (to me) position of being interviewed while at the same time I interviewed someone else. Everyone involved is a writer: MaryAnne Kolton, who had wonderful things to say about Not On Fire, Only Dying, is conducting an interview with me. I hope to be able to share news of its publication soon. Her perceptive, thoughtful questions send me into deep memory and contemplation. I find it thrilling and terrifying. It’s a challenge for this introvert, stepping out from behind the veil of fiction.
Of course I am wildly grateful for the opportunity to discuss the book, which I always believed in, even when it seemed it would never find its home. I never expected it to have a huge audience, but I believed–and have since had it confirmed–that some fine people would read it and get it and love it hard.
At the same time I interviewed Grant Faulkner. He is a fascinating contradiction: co-founder of the journal 100 Word Story and author of Fissures, a collection of his own spare, exquisitely crafted 100-word stories. He’s also Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), that month-long marathon in pursuit of a 50,000-word novel, however rough. This happens to be an exciting time in Grant’s emerging career. The interview was published at Necessary Fiction, where I serve as Reviews Editor.
All this Talk Talk-ing about myself reminds me of the 80s (honestly what doesn’t? I’ll use any excuse.) Gwen, you’re fierce and I love you, but you almost ruined this song for me. The antidote is listening to the original. And for a few minutes: no talk.
But is it art? On book reviews.
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.