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On Being Read

April 14th, 2008

It’s a bizarre experience, encountering strangers who’ve read something I’ve written. Humble middling writer that I am, it hasn’t happened to me that often. I could probably count the occasions, virtual and actual, without running out of appendages.

But arguably, deluded financial aspirations aside, it’s the reason any of us write, isn’t it? To be read? As a result of the nature of publishing short fiction, (and, let’s be honest, the nature of blogging about publishing short fiction), chances are, if you’ve read my work, I know you rather well—if not personally, then at least by reputation. But the object, in the abstract, at least, is to acquire a readership consisting of a whole array of faceless representatives of the human condition who see something of themselves in what I’ve written.

Having been at this now for going on four years this summer, having sold some six or seven stories to respectable venues, not to mention blogging this here blog for what seems like forever, I am seeing the beginnings of that effect. But the odd part of it—and the reason I bring it up—is that the vast majority of the people I’d consider “fans” of my writing (and here I am not counting those who were first fans of me personally, i.e. friends) are fans only of that which I have self-published.

Yes indeed, it’s true—I have in my past committed acts of self-publishing. In the eyes of writers and publishers, one can lose a lot of credit for owning it, but I own it. I self-published a children’s fantasy audiobook called Joskin and Lob and the Lemon Juice Job, about a pair of young Wixy who enter into a business partnership in the fast-paced industry of roadside lemonade sales and production—10,000 words in length, and occupying 60 minutes of my listeners’ valuable time. I wrote it (with help from my coauthor Michael Purpura), voiced it (in about twelve different very silly voices, with direction from my coauthor), recorded it, edited it, designed the packaging, printed a thousand copies at great expense, and then attempted to sell it.

It didn’t work. Not to make a big deal about it. You don’t gamble unless you’re prepared to lose. It was an educational experience. The point is: I have more fans from that venture than any other before or since. Once in awhile, I meet one of them. The other day I learned that a four-year-old neighbor of mine has listened to Joskin and Lob (what his dad refers to as “your Wixy story”) twice a day, every day since he got it.

Yeesh, I thought. I’ve probably annoyed the bejeezus out of this poor kid’s parents with my silly Wixy voices. But the thing is, when I meet this four-year-old neighbor of mine, he is completely floored. In awe. He is a fan. And this isn’t the first time this has happened. It is most unsettling, being looked up to in that way. I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve it.

Now when adults compliment my writing (and it has happened), it means something very different. I assume, rightly or not, that they are better judges of literature than my four-year-old friend. On the other hand…. They’re not likely to be rendered speechless by my very presence, are they?

I met Terry Pratchett once. He pretty much rendered me speechless. Does this mean I am to Terry Pratchett as these kids are to me? And if so, well, what exactly is the point of submitting myself to the judgement of the publishing establishment? Credibility? The distant possibility of financial solvency? Ha.

And yet onward I go.

We had two sequels lined up to Joskin and Lob and the Lemon Juice Job, both with equally tounge-twistery titles and equally silly characters for me to devise voices for. They are gathering dust, despite the demands of my midget fanbase, because my short story writer lifestyle precludes me from ponying up the capital for another print run when I know there is zero likelihood of my recouping it. Instead I write strange, often dark, occasionally interstitial short stories, and go on nursing my pseudo-literary aspirations.

Occasionally, though, I have regrets.

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