I’m going to start a blog, my sister told me. Good, I answered. I will be your follower. She continued, if I’m going to write, I need to be out there on all the social media sites. True, I said, my heart sinking. She is right and I know it well.
My brush with the publishing world has convinced me of the importance of that mystifying other world called the web. If her name is going to become well known, she must put it in places where people will see it. Not in bookstores, libraries, bookseller conventions and editors’ desks, but on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter and book reviewers’ blogs.
I’m reading a collection of short stories published in the 1950’s. So marked is the difference between the writing in these stories and what I’ve seen endorsed by the largest bookseller on earth that I am perplexed and disheartened. Authors like Willa Sibert Cather, James Hilton, Kenneth Roberts, Donn-Byrne, Flannery O’Connor and Paul Vincent Carroll contended with knowledgeable and critical editors, publishers and peers, and their work stood up to the scrutiny. Now, who decides what is good has changed.
I’m not trying to imply that there aren’t currently any writers of quality work. I love the creations of many contemporary authors. But for those of us who aren’t established, who have promise but not a following, trying to rise above the “popular” work that inundates the web is akin to thrashing out of quicksand with gumboots on.
Compare this descriptive paragraph by Willa Cather with a book I read recently. The premise of said book was compelling, but the author described many of her characters by comparing them with celebrities: he looked like a young Harrison Ford.
This is how Cather describes one of her creations: ‘Olena, too, was rather inconveniently plump, handsome in a smooth, heavy way, with a fine color and good-natured, sleep eyes. She was redolent of violet sachet powder, and had warm, soft, white hands, but she danced divinely, moving as smoothly as the tide coming in.’ I aspire to that kind of writing.
There used to be writers who had a firm grasp of grammar and a familiar and easy relationship with language. Clearly that’s not universally true anymore. Somehow one fellow has a book, Unforeseen, that became the top seller on one of the lists at Amazon at one point. His grammar is appalling, punctuation is hit or miss and I’m not sure if English is his first language.
Here are some of his more memorable lines:
It was lucky for Gregory my cell phone rang, or he would have ate his next slice of pizza through a straw.
He didn’t, but I could have sworn I glimmered the salient shadow of a stern amid the high waves.
And my personal favorite – In the dim light reflecting off the lens I witnessed Alex’s delicate features form into complete aghast. I can feel my own delicate features doing the same!
This self-published volume has sequels, most of which have hundreds of favorable reviews. I couldn’t make myself read another, but perhaps he found an editor (other than Spell Check) who taught him how to use a dictionary and respect the language.
Here is the struggle: good writers without a voice or a platform or a following, working to make a name in a place where excellence, beauty, depth and heart are no longer important. My sister, a masterful writer, will work hard. I will keep writing myself, and we’ll both strive toward quality and distinction among the teeming masses who believe mediocre is the new brilliant.