Cold, as in Siberian, as you’ll see below.
And very real comfort, too. Though not quite enough. At least not yet.
This is what has been happening in every other corner of my writing life during the past month, while The Book of Bunk has traced its whistling, blind arc through the black void where New York publishing used to be, and which now resembles the sky near the end of last year’s “Doctor Who” finale where the stars are going out, one by one.
The stars not named Blagojevich or Niffenegger, anyway (and may both of them write books worthy of the money they’ve been handed):
1. Roughly eighteen months after the fact, I’ve been informed by the wonderfully thoughtful, literate, and kind Larissa Zhitkova (admirer of Henry Miller, translator of The Snowman’s Children and other, worthier works into Russian) that The Two Sams has debuted in Russia to solid sales and decidedly enthusiastic press from radio, print, and internet alike. Supposedly, I’ve been called “Lovecraft’s disciple” and have “outdone King or even Poe.” Best of all, if funding comes through– a huge if, given the world– I have been invited to give readings and talks at the Modern Book and Literature Centre and the University of St. Petersburg there, which will also give me a chance to research, rethink, and finally get right my nearly-there ghostly novel, Sisters of Baikal.
The Lovecraft/King/Poe comments are ridiculous, obviously. Not ridiculous enough for me to decline to mention them here, but still…
2. “Esmeralda,” my first story in a new series tentatively called “Book Depository Stories,” has been selected by Ellen Datlow for Best Horror of the Year, the book that will take the place of the late, lamented Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.
3. “Like Lick Em Sticks, Like Tina Fey,” my story for last year’s Rolling Darkness Revue tour, was also apparently a strong contender for that book, and will soon be reprinted in Shivers VI from Cemetery Dance.
4. I’ve finished a new Book Depository Story called “After-words,” which I’m having my circle of readers take their chainsaws to before shipping it off for hopeful publication before the end of the year. (This is the single best piece of news, as far as I’m concerned; the first totally new thing since I finished Bunk, and the only work to clear my head of everything else since then.)
5. The fine people with my novella, “Mr. Dark’s Carnival,” currently under film option, wrote with their latest plans. “Mr. Dark 3-D,” anyone? I know my son liked the idea. How do I know? He hopped, that’s how.
6. “After-words” marks the final story I needed to complete The Janus Tree and Other Stories, my next collection, which I will be shaping and sending off within a week or two.
That’s a good month, for me. A great month. A month rife with evidence that I do in fact have a career, that there are at least some people out there who are interested in what I do.
I also know the following things:
1. Of all the insane times to try to sell a novel (and they’re all mad), this may be the worst.
2. The surviving New York editors mostly are functioning under professional death threats: buy the wrong book, join the water-cooler chat at the guillotine.
3. For better or worse, The Book of Bunk has no obvious ragingly successful best-seller which it strongly resembles.
4. Even if it was a straight rip of The Time-Traveler’s Wife, I have a three-volume Bookscan record that doesn’t add up to 50,000 copies. Lots of nice press, some lovely prizes. That’s all.
5. Even if no one, anywhere, buys Bunk, one of the wonderful smaller presses who have been so brave with and good to me will pick up The Janus Tree, and so I will have a new book soon, one way or another.
6. The Book of Bunk will come out. And not too long from now. Because radical options are surfacing all over the place. And I’m damn near ready to jump and swim for one.
7. Very little of the work stamped by the current cadre of tastemakers in New York as either great literature or a great read proves to be either, for me, so it’s unrealistic to hold out much hope that those same people will suddenly turn around and anoint my work.
8. For twenty years, I’ve been telling my students –and myself– that the work itself is the only thing that matters. Prizes are lovely, but you don’t want to peek too closely behind the curtain at the processes that produce them. Ditto for good reviews. Ditto for bad ones. The reason most of the writers I know, contrary to popular myth, are among the healthiest people I know is that most of them have realized that they have no choice but to accept that they’re going to have to assess their own worth for themselves. This is something I truly believe. Believing it has helped me build a life I would not trade to be one of the last stars left.
9. I know– in a way I have never known before in my entire career– that The Book of Bunk is a book worth reading. Worth talking about. Worth arguing over.
10. I know that when it does come out, little about my life will change. But there will be readers here, and in the Balkans, and in Germany, and in France, and in New Zealand, and in Russia, who will be happy to see it, and who will write to tell me blunty and directly what they think. Because they have with everything else I’ve written.
And these aren’t things I have to remind myself of. They aren’t even things I believe.
I know them.
So why can’t I sleep?